Ever since 1976, when Chateau Ste. Michelle planted its flag in Woodinville, this area 20 miles northeast of Seattle has been the wine hub of western Washington.
Lately, the balance has shifted slightly, as more wineries explore the industrial neighborhoods south of downtown Seattle. In the past few years, several wineries, tasting rooms and also a brewery have opened in a complex in Seattle’s SoDo (south of downtown) neighborhood.
One of them is Sleight of Hand Cellars. With its winery located in Walla Walla, Sleight of Hand recently opened a satellite tasting room in a development called SODO Urban Works.
Sleight of Hand co-owner/winemaker Trey Busch searched two years for a Seattle-area location. He considered Woodinville, but decided on SoDo.
“We found music was a great way to disarm people. Instead of being intimidated talking about wine, people can talk about music and what they want to listen to. It makes them more comfortable and relaxed, and then we can talk about the wine.” —Trey Busch
“Woodinville seemed a little crowded,” says Busch. “Plus, SoDo is more of our style. It’s sort of a grungier neighborhood in Seattle.”
At its tasting room, Sleight of Hand takes a unique approach in marketing its wines. It embraces music, with space devoted to a turntable and vinyl records.
“We found music was a great way to disarm people,” says Busch. “Instead of being intimidated talking about wine, people can talk about music and what they want to listen to. It makes them more comfortable and relaxed, and then we can talk about the wine.”
The winery also sells merchandise from notable local record label Sub Pop. “It’s not for everybody, but it really resonates with some people,” he says.
At 2,400 square feet, the floor plan is wide open and features a tasting bar in the middle. The walls are papered with vineyard images and large photos.
“It’s a way to bring eastern Washington into our tasting room, visually,” says Busch.
In the same complex is Kerloo Cellars. Owner/winemaker Ryan Crane also considered Woodinville before deciding to move to SoDo in 2014. “I just didn’t feel like Woodinville was me,” he says.
Crane says of the style of his winery, “We wanted to build a swanky, urban, sexy vibe while telling a story.”
“Everything in the tasting room tells the story of what it takes to make a bottle of wine,” says Crane. “From the deconstructed barrel wall, to the concrete floors, to the restored oak on the bar, to the stainless steel in the office. You walk into the production area and that’s what you see: oak, concrete and stainless steel.”
Crane says that he wants everyone who walks in to know that it’s a functioning winery.
“They can see the fruit fermenting,” he says. “They can see tanks. They can see barrels.”
Kerloo was one of the first wineries to move into the complex.
“It was a bit risky,” says Crane. Two years later, with seven wineries along with a wine retailer housed there, all that has changed. “It’s become this really fun, hip spot for tasting wine.”
Email-based retailer Full Pull Wines was also one of the first wine businesses to set up in SODO Urban Works, opening in 2013. Owner Paul Zitarelli says SoDo makes a lot of sense for wineries.
“SoDo is great because it’s close to the nexus of several major highways, so it’s a pretty easy place to get in and out of, and the zoning is easy for wineries,” he says.
Zitarelli says that having several of the wineries tasting outposts also function as production centers adds to the unique feel of the area.
“We just wrapped up crush recently, and you could definitely tell it was crush,” he said. “It feels like a community of working wineries.”
Full Pull, which has its own house label called Block Wines, was previously open just one day per week for customer pickups. Full Pull is now open Thursday through Saturday to take advantage of the influx of new winery outposts, which, in addition to those mentioned above, also include Latta Wines, Rôtie Cellars, Structure Cellars, Waters Winery/21 Grams as well as Schooner Exact Brewery. (Nine Hats Wines will be opening a tasting room in 2017.)
It’s likely that Washington wineries will continue to expand into southern Seattle’s urban neighborhoods in the years to come.
“It feels vibrant here,” says Zitarelli. “It’s one of the beating hearts of the city.”