The Evolution of Washington Wine

by Douglas Zellers, General Manager

Photo courtesy of Seattle Dining
Photo courtesy of Seattle Dining

Washington Wine month is upon us again, spring is in the air, and we find ourselves preparing for another great Taste Washington event! As we go about our planning, we focus on the multitude of wines that Washington offers us, and we frequently find ourselves looking for the next great winery, vintage, or bottling. To truly understand the level of where Washington wine has risen to, I feel it important to take a look at how we got here.

Ray’s Boathouse was host to the annual “Rays Retrospective” where we would host a dinner showcasing the greatest wines of last release. It was a retrospective on the year. But what about a retrospective on the entire Washington wine timeline?  What are the pivotal moments, people, and events that helped bring Washington wine forward to the place in history that we hold so dearly?

On February 24, I invited a few industry professionals, sommeliers, and private wine collectors to taste through 20 wines that represented the earlier years in the state’s history. During this tasting we discussed our thoughts on the pivotal moments and I wanted to share a few with you.

Tasters: Terry Adams (Chateau Ste. Michelle), Teresa (collector), Chris Horn (Purple Cafe), Joseph Linder (Fairmont), Bob Bertheau (Chateau Ste. Michelle), Doug Zellers (Ray's), Edan Schmitz (Ray's), Richard Adatto (collector)  Photo courtesy Seattle Dining
Tasters: Terry Adams (Chateau Ste. Michelle), Teresa (collector), Chris Horn (Purple Cafe), Joseph Linder (Fairmont), Bob Bertheau (Chateau Ste. Michelle), Doug Zellers (Ray’s), Edan Schmitz (Ray’s), Richard Adatto (collector) Photo courtesy Seattle Dining

1960’s Bob Bertheau, Head Winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle, asks us to remember founding pioneers such as Walter Clore and great ground work was laid down. Bob Betz, Master of Wine, reminded me of the visionary work done by André Tchelistcheff, a storied winemaker that would be our early guiding hand.  During this decade some of our first wineries (Associated Vintners and Chateau Ste. Michelle) produced our first vintage wines.

1970’s Washington wine is in the national limelight when the 1972 Johannisburg Riesling is tops in the Riesling blind tasting at the 1974 LA Times Annual Wine Competition, beating all national and international competitors.  Chris Figgins is proud to remind us of the importance that family wineries played in Washington State such as Leonetti Cellar and Quilceda Creek. These wineries come on line in the 70’s, closely followed by Woodward Canyon in 1980. The great work of the Figgins, Small, and Golitzen families continue to be leaders in the State as their wines garner great acclaim.

1980’s Doug Gore launches Columbia Crest Winery and Mike Sauer plants Syrah at Red Willow Vineyard under the initiative of David Lake. Yakima Valley becomes the first AVA in Washington State and both Columbia Valley and Walla Walla earning recognition in 1984. In 1987 we see the Washington Wine Commission established, further unifying the industry and reaching out to the public, generating interest and hosting events.

1990’s The beginning of the global connection ushered in by Allen Shoup and Chateau Ste. Michelle partnering with Italy’s Marchesi Antinori to produce Col Solare.  Kris Patten, Vice President of Wine  for Young’s Market Company reminded me how the partnership between Chateau Ste. Michelle and Germany’s Ernest Loosen bought Riesling from sweet to complex, forever changing the perception of the varietal here in the state.

2000’s Quilceda Creek earns the first 100 point wine (Robert Parker) in Washington with their 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon. They will go on to earn this distinction three more times with the 2003, 2005 and 2007 vintages. In 2009, the 2005 Columbia Crest Grand Reserve Cab earns the #1 Wine of the Year and the cover spot on the Wine Spectator.  In 2003 Allen Shoup continues his legacy by furthering the global connection and establishing Long Shadows Wineries and Vineyards.

2010’s I leave up it to you. What do you think will be the defining moment of this decade? What dynamic moment will further propel Washington wine to the forefront of the global wine scene?  I welcome your thoughts in the comments section below.

While I can’t possibly list all of the things we discussed, I thought these are some of the ones that we should think about as we look forward. To truly understand your future, you must know your past.  I urge us each to seek out an older bottle of Washington wine and take a trip back in time. Re-explore some of the tried and true brands such as Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Winery. Raise a glass to the people and families that helped provide this opportunity for us.  Seek out the exciting new wineries and help drive Washington forward.

In vino veritas!

Note: This article first appeared in Seattle Dining

Doug Zellers is the General Manager of Rays Boathouse, Cafe & Catering. He received the Walter Clore Honorarium from the Washington Wine Commission for his dedication to the advancement of the Washington wine industry, and serves as Chef du Sommelier for the Auction of Washington Wines.



Did you know? Ray’s also offers event catering in Seattle, off-site and right next to our restaurant in Ballard, for special events, ceremonies, wedding receptions and more. Enjoy a spectacular front row view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains!



It’s “Home Sweet Ballard” for April Brewmasters Dinner

“Home Sweet Ballard” is the theme for the April 13 Brewmasters Dinner at Ray’s Cafe, as we feature five talented breweries from our own Ballard neighborhood!

The dinner features one seating at 6:00 pm in the Cafe, and guests will be greeted with a glass of Seattle Cider Company Semi Sweet Hard Cider upon arrival. Brewmasters from our five featured breweries will be in attendance to talk about their beers as they mix and mingle among the guests during dinner.

Ray’s Chef de Cuisine Paul Duncan is creating a fabulous five-course meal for the dinner (vegetarian options available), pairing one featured beer with each course:

Starter Course
Hot + Salty Mixed Nuts
Seattle Cider Company ‘Semi Sweet Hard Cider’, Seattle WA
First Course
Yellow Fin Tuna Sandwich – capers, celery, pickles
Hales Brewery Cream Ale, Ballard WA
Second Course
Smoked Tomato Salad – arugula, Farmstead bleu cheese
Maritime Pacific Brewery ‘Imperial’ Pale Ale, Ballard WA
Third Course
Wild Boar Ribs – sweet soy, cilantro
Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Co. ‘Habañero’ Amber Ale, Ballard WA
Brasied Lamb – horseradish + cheddar mac and cheese
NW Peaks Brewery ‘Magic Brown’ Ale, Ballard WA
Stoup Porter Cake – housemade bacon brittle
Stoup Brewing Company Porter, Ballard WA

This event typically sells out so reservations are strongly recommended. Please call the Cafe to make reservations 206.782.0094


Yours In Service

by Douglas Zellers, General Manager

photo 2 (13)Ray’s was presented an opportunity in February to host a group of six private wine collectors who wanted to enjoy a very special tasting and dinner. My task was to personally help plan and execute a 5-course menu with wine pairings and coordinate both wine and food service for the group.

The challenge was apparent when I was told that they would be bringing M. Chapoutier’s top tier Ermitage wines. For those of you that like scores, these were Robert Parker 100 point wines from the 89, 90 and 91 vintages.  The game was on.

I decided right then and there to have some fun and provide technical wine service adhering to the Court of Master Sommeliers protocol for this group.  Among other things this involves table side decanting…in the middle of our small dining room…on a Saturday night at 7pm… and that is where we really had some fun.  Our culinary and service team performed flawlessly and we shined the entire evening.  Our guests were overwhelmed.

photo 1 (12)

The wines were absolutely amazing, our guests were beyond cordial, and the food was spot on (thank you Chef Paul). But that’s not what stuck in my head as I was driving home that night.  In preparing for the evening I was able to raise the level of attention to detail for the entire team, for the entire night. It took me almost two hours to polish and set six place settings, 30 glasses, five decanters, etc.  Every single detail counts.

In serving this group, I was able to connect with almost every other table in that end of our dining room; From a husband and wife in the corner enjoying a quiet night out to the bubbly eight-person party celebrating a friend’s birthday. Every guest counts.  I realized that what we did that night, however detailed, was not that far out of the ordinary for Rays. Ray’s Boathouse provides excellent service each and every night.

Do we provide technical wine service each and every night? No. However, we excel at “reading” our guests. We treat each group as the individuals that they are, and in the manner that is appropriate for the occasion.  Our team is skilled at engaging you, defining the level of service you desire, and reacting properly. Some people just wish for a quiet night with a loved one looking out over the water. We do that. Some come here for a casual celebration with lots of interaction from the staff. We do that too.  Technical service by the book has changed. The “book” has become our “guests.” And it’s up to our team to read.

We urge you to join us for dinner at Ray’s Boathouse and be treated to our team. We have some of the best seafood Seattle has to offer.

Did you know? Ray’s offers event catering in Seattle, off-site and right next to our restaurant in Ballard, for special events, weddings, official ceremonies, and more. Enjoy a spectacular front row view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains!

Welcome Washington Wine Month!

18514_9_Hero_Banner_01“Taste Washington Wine Month” is an annual celebration of Washington State’s award winning industry, celebrated each March. In support of this event, Boathouse Manager/Wine Director Edan Schmitz is pairing each entree on our Dine Around Seattle menu (March 2-27) with a standout Washington wine.

The featured wines are available by bottle and also by the glass during March. We will have other notable Washington wines – typically offered only by the bottle – open to sell by the glass in March. Selections change frequently as we wish to showcase multiple producers and styles. Be sure to stop by as you never know what wines will be open!

BRAISED LAMB SHANK with whipped Yukon Gold potatoes, grilled asparagus
Suggested pairing: 2012 Andrew Will Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, WA  $20/gls
YELLOW FIN TUNA (GF) with ginger-jasmine wild rice, seared tomato, ponzu cream
Suggested pairing: 2012 Poet’s Leap Riesling, Columbia Valley, WA $12/gls
HOUSEMADE PAPPARDELLE with Spring vegetables, Pecorino Romano, fresh herbs
Suggested pairing: 2010 Tre Nova Bonatello Sangiovese, Columbia Valley, WA $10/gls