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Tuesday
Dec072010

Mancation – A Man’s Vacation In Washington Wine Grunge

By Allan Kissam

The view from Bainbridge Island. (Allan Kissam)Once again, I am on the road and looking for interesting things to do while participating in wine tasting (good activity) and less enjoyable shopping.  I am in a sort of time warp of suburban Seattle across Lake Washington.  This is Woodinville, next to Redmond where Microsoft lives.  Back in the 80’s I lived around here. What a change, but life marches on and I just try to keep up these days. Woodinville is getting big into wine tasting at traditional wineries and tasting rooms.  The tasting rooms, I am told, are looked down on by the wine snobs.  One big advantage of the tasting rooms is I didn’t drive across hot and dusty roads towards Yakima.  These tourist-designated areas let you quickly jump from wine-to-wine and get on to lunch in a great family-owned Mexican restaurant.                       

I am not going to try and tell you about all the great wines that I tasted because that is not my expertise.  Wine that I like is usually the expensive one, like jewelry that I pick for my wife.  The thing that I can tell you about is great Mexican beer as a break from wine tasting.

It takes good beer to make really great wine – this expression, so I am told, is famous in the wine business because during harvest and working in the sun, lots of beer is drunk.  I broke from wine tasting to a cold beer at the Mazatlan family-owned Mexican food in Woodinville; ask for a Negra Modello.  To my shock, I was asked if I wanted a pint!  I buy Negra Modello all over California (when the Mexican restaurant is any good they stock it) and now I have to go to Woodinville to be asked if I want it from draft.  This is the first time that I don’t have to enjoy my favorite beer by sucking on a bottle.  What a cool, tasty treat— along with the guacamole and traditional #2 plate of enchilada, shredded beef taco, rice and beans.                                   

Mark Ryan’s Idle Hands Syrah. (Allan Kissam)Mark Ryan’s 1928 Indian Scout. (Allan Kissam)Full of beans and beer, I can now enjoy wine tasting or at least pretend when it drags out.  To my continued enjoyment, we go to Mark Ryan wine tasting room and there is a beautiful 1931 Indian motorcycle!  It is old and black, like a black Model A Ford, with the original gold-colored Indian on the tank.  After taking half a dozen pictures of this old treat, there inside the tasting room is another Indian, this time a red 1928 Indian Scout in original condition. This Ryan guy is for real. He has the weirdest bottle labels that I have ever seen. Check out the Hands bottle and the grunge art around the room. I don’t know if people keep showing up just to see the place again, or the wine is all that good.  But they keep driving into this mall and filling their cars with this guy’s wine.  After all, I am still burping beer and beans from lunch and can’t taste much in wine.

On to Bainbridge Island                                                                                                                       

Washington State Ferrries run regular routes across the Puget Sound. (Allan Kissam)Do you know the old song 45 Minutes from Broadway?  I understand… I do, but only because of the old movie Yankee Doodle Dandy with James Cagney. Remember now?  Forget it.  The point is this town is just above the Winslow Marina on Bainbridge Island (near the ferry terminal) and across Puget Sound from Seattle.  I am at The Eagle Harbor Inn and overlooking a beautiful bay full of sailboats.

Real estate is about location and this is a great one; just above the marina and a block down from Winslow Street wine tasting, restaurants, ice cream, book store, and man-type-shopping.

Don’t underestimate the enemy, however.  The Churchmouse Yarn & Tea store threatens to bring boredom to my mancation.  Fortunately, around the corner is outdoor clothing and supplies and the store is full of Seattle-style clothing.  I see all these guys around wearing ball caps and it is neither sunny nor hot.  Most of them sport slightly worn brims.  It isn’t overly sunny here normally, and it isn’t currently raining as usual – this must be a style thing.  These $22 perfectly-and-uniformly worn hats (identically spaced brim wear on each cap) are Idex brand.  Nearby is a truly green (the PC kind of green, not a color) ball cap made from genuine recycled threads, and only $25!  This reminds me of genuine Hippie clothing sold in expensive shops during the 60’s.  Dumb things aside, there are cool pants with leg pockets in this store from Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Elsewhere, bicycle riding gear and backpacks of all types were able to keep me so entertained that, for once, my wife had to call my cellular to find me in a shopping district.           

For dinner, I was able to dodge the $125 dinner bill because of the local fine food market.  We got a quart of excellent clam chowder, fresh baked bread, salad, and an unusual Savignon Blanc from Eleven Winery ($15).  Then we ate outside above the harbor on our deck at The Eagle Harbor Inn and pondered our good fortune to be here, in the Puget Sound region, again.

An irrefutable fact is that I write about active trips, but in fact only sit around and drink beer, whiskey, or wine while surfing the net.  This is because my mental age is 25 but my physical age is over 60 – I need to be more careful.  The Eagle Harbor Inn owners took into mind the target market for the rentals as the unit has three floors, two above a garage, and a complete personal elevator.  I appreciated the lift instead of stairs with full bags and a full belly.

Leaving Bainbridge is easy since the Washington State Ferries are running regular routes across the Puget Sound to downtown Seattle.  Later, I will stay in downtown Seattle but first we go to Dawg Heaven.  I graduated from University of Washington so on the way to a friend’s house we stopped in the U District.  Just outside the campus near Lake Washington, go to the University Book Store for Husky stuff and books of all types.  I quickly dropped $140 here but at least have a new straw yard hat with an official “W” emblem on it.  Around the U District there are many coffee houses, novel shops, music, and things to make you feel 22 again.

On to Bellingham, Anacortes, and Friday Harbor of the San Juan Islands

North of Seattle, I enjoyed wine tasting trails and great seafood dinners.  I recommend Anthony’s at the Bellingham Marina with the best view of the harbor.  I walked over to Bellingham Yacht Sales offices to see listings of what most people cannot afford in a boat.  In prior years, I have taken a bareboat charter from BYC and gone to the San Juan Islands or the Canadian Gulf Islands.  Fly into the jet-capable airport in Bellingham, and rent a night sleeping on your chartered yacht.  This gives time to get food stocked up and look around your new home.  Depending on the boat chartered; it costs about $3,000 for the week.  This is a reasonable way to experience the $400K yacht of your dreams – and skip the moorage cost.

Watching the extraction process at the Red Barn Lavender Farm was an education. (Allan Kissam)Would you believe that I, the most bored shopper, went to a lavender farm and enjoyed it?  I hit it just right; we visited while extraction of the oils was in process and I got to watch.  This process is like being back in chemistry lab of high school or college.  In a closed barrel is a mash of fresh lavender being heated to drive off moisture, which is condensed out over a cool water heat exchanger.  Oil is lighter than water, so in the beaker the oil is run off the top layer while still useful product with more water is pulled from below.  Funny how simple processes are so fascinating, like watching a perpetual motion machine or some Rube Goldberg device.  This is the Red Barn lavender farm near Ferndale.

The peak of my trip in this area is riding the ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbor. In Friday Harbor after a morning ferry from Anacortes, the easiest way to see the sites is a city bus round trip on the island.  Having been here before, I know that sightseeing from the bus is more important than spending time at a specific location – unless you get a car or a taxi it is 3 hours for the next bus in most cases and the history isn’t all that consuming.  After seeing the sights (and wanting to pack up and move here), I grabbed lunch at Herb’s Tavern.  This is a local landmark for draft beer and burgers, along with displays of the past on the walls.  Come early afternoon; I am back on the ferry for the express run back to Anacortes.  Now I am back in Anacortes for a wonderful seafood dinner at Randy’s at Pier 61.  Sit in Randy’s at any seat to watch the ships load and the boat traffic on Guemes Channel.  Perhaps, I should have gone to Randy’s the night before hitting Herb’s and the draft beer since I was still a little stuffed.

Relaxing in my suite overlooking Burrows Bay, close to Anacortes, in the photo you can see my whiskey glass on the table.  In my youth, I once anchored a survey ship in this bay and the memories are flowing.  This gives the view from the Heron Inn, but not the comfortable high-end furnishings of this near perfect lodge.

On the home stretch now, I am on the freeway back to Seattle downtown overnight at the Vintage Park Hotel.  Each suite is themed on a Washington winery with the name above the door.  Nightly, there is a featured winery and expert-hosted tasting for guests in the hotel lobby.  Since driving from Anacortes to Seattle is about only 90 minutes, I still had plenty of time to fight the crowd at Pike Place Market to see the famous Salmon toss.  They ship the fresh fish to your home or office, so this being your last day in town works well for being home to accept delivery.

Evening mealtime I wanted to stay local and get back for packing or rest.  Tulio Ristorante shares the property and is famous as the best Italian food downtown. I had my linguini with clams but at Tulio this is a special experience because the pasta is made in the kitchen, crab is boiled in the water for taste, and the clams come in shell with unique spices.  Chef and owner, Walter Pisano, will be around checking and watching his staff but is available for your questions about his unique taste achievements.  This is also astoundingly reasonably priced, to boot.

The Great Gallery at Boeing’s Museum of Flight. (Allan Kissam)I am well-pleased with my 7-plus day circuit around western Washington.  There are many other things I could have done, and I have done most of them in years past.  Just for ideas, from Bainbridge Island consider a drive around the Olympic Peninsula for a two day jaunt of beaches, rain forest, charter fishing, ports, Indian crafts, and breathtaking scenery.  Local in Seattle is the Boeing Field museum; with… you guessed it… airplanes.  The Museum of Flight is located South of downtown Seattle, at the south end of Boeing Field / King County Airport; Exit 158 off Interstate 5. There’s free parking adjacent to the Museum and Airpark, and it’s on Metro Bus Route #124.  Or, see who is performing at the 5th Avenue Theater just down the street from your hotel (I remember seeing Bette Midler here, once).  Send your kids to UW or go yourself for a degree, and have an excuse to keep returning, like me.

Pilot Guide

Bellingham - Recreational and Corporate pilots are drawn to BLI for its excellent services and low airport fees. Just 90 miles by air from SeaTac, BLI offers a full range of aviation services in a region known for its natural beauty and proximity to major metropolitan cities. Bellingham International Airport is the most convenient Northwest port-of-entry airport with 24-hour US Customs services. Tie-downs are available for single, twin and jet aircraft. Call the BLI Airport Administration Office for rates and tie-down availability at (360) 671-5674.

King County International Airport/Boeing Field - one of the busiest primary non-hub airports in the nation. Located just five miles south of downtown Seattle, it averages more than 300,000 operations (takeoffs and landings) each year. The airport serves small commercial passenger airlines, cargo carriers, private aircraft owners, helicopters, corporate jets, and military and other aircraft. 24-hour Operations line: 206-296-7334



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