WOODINVILLE, WASH. — The long, winding road cuts through lush forest and eventually leads to a curving driveway that leads to the doorstep of Mike and Kate Sharadin, makers of fine wine.
He worked as a swim coach most of his life; she was a business consultant. In midlife, the California couple moved to this semirural suburb northeast of Seattle and, soon after, started Northwest Totem Cellars out of their home.
In 2007, after three years in the business, they produced 2,000 cases of wine -- mostly Cabernet, Bordeaux blends and Syrah -- with each bottle selling for $24 to $30. Most of the work takes place in their garage and on their outdoor basketball court.
Kate Sharadin, 41, calls it a boutique operation. But Mike Sharadin, 53, prefers the term "craftsman winery": small, family-owned and aspiring more toward quality than volume.
"This was a way of forming a deeper connection to our community," said Kate, referring to the communal aspect of wine-making and -tasting. Increasingly, Woodinville, once a sleepy backwater, has become a community of connoisseurs.
It seems as if every road here leads to a winery -- or two or three. The main streets have become winery rows. At last count, the Woodinville area was home to 42 registered wineries, not all of them garage operations. The best known, Chateau Ste. Michelle, sits like a grand old manor a mile down the road from the Sharadins.
The town, population 9,100, is but one epicenter in the ongoing explosion of wineries in Washington, which sees a new one open every week. The state went from having 19 bonded wineries in 1981 to 530 today, according to Gaby Matthews of the Washington Wine Commission.
Washington's wine industry is the state's fastest-growing agricultural sector, attracting 2 million visitors and generating more than $3 billion a year.
Last year, Washington vintners harvested 127,000 tons of wine grapes, a 300% increase from the late 1980s, but still minuscule compared with California's 3 million tons.
As late as 1993, there were only half a dozen or so wineries in Woodinville. The most intense proliferation has happened over the last decade, according to Cynthia Daste, executive director of Woodinville Wine Country, an association of local wineries.
"People keep asking, 'When is this going to stop?' " Daste said. "We don't see the end yet."
Daste said the growth has been largely fed by Californians -- vintners and non-vintners -- seeking more affordable acreage. And Woodinville's proximity to Seattle, a 30-minute drive, adds to the draw.
Chateau Ste. Michelle, founded in 1934, paved the way.
Once a logging town, Woodinville and its still largely pristine environs in the Sammamish River Valley have become increasingly attractive to urban refugees. The town has been called a miniature Napa Valley, but it has little of the provincial chic -- or pretentiousness.
Woodinville feels like a small working town. Nondescript strip malls sit along the main roads. Frontyards and storefronts appear slightly messy. The entire scene is nestled in a landscape of Douglas fir, pine and cedar.
It was the lay of the land that brought the Sharadins to the Pacific Northwest. When they bought their two wooded acres and rustic cabin-style home, they hadn't intended to become winemakers. That came later, as the couple got to know local vintners and attended wine tastings.
In 2003, Mike Sharadin began an unofficial apprenticeship at a winery and in 2005, he and his wife hired a wine consultant to help them start their own business.
Now oak barrels sit neatly stacked on racks that line the inside of the garage and barn. On the basketball court, one-ton containers, used to haul grapes, squat on the concrete.
Like most Woodinville vintners, the Sharadins buy their grapes from eastern Washington and truck them over the Cascade Range.
She still runs a consulting business out of the house, while he runs their winery. It's a costly operation -- a single oak barrel runs $1,000 -- and December marked the first month that Northwest Totem Cellars turned a profit.
Their wine label shows a silhouette of a Native American totem pole and an eagle set against a blazing orange sunset over Puget Sound. Kate Sharadin designed the label.
"It's definitely a labor of love," she said of Northwest Totem.
Given their limited facility, he said, they probably would reach their capacity at 2,500 cases a year.
Still, that's plenty of work for what amounts to a two-person (plus friends who volunteer) operation.
Mike Sharadin likes it.
He gets to spend a lot of time outdoors. He said he felt connected to the earth and the seasons, much like his Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors. Best of all, at the end of the day, he likes to kick back with family and friends around a dinner table and enjoy the fruits of their labor.