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Where’s Matt?                                   Washington State



The world in your backyard
Just outside of Seattle exist two towns that feel a world away.
By Matt Wilson

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
-- William Blake, from Auguries of Innocence

Has inflation and peak oil put a crimp in your travel budget? You don't have to travel far to embark on a journey of discovery. It is the state of mind and not the actual state that creates the sense of adventure. So, can we experience the wonder of traveling abroad in our own backyard?

To find out, I selected two towns, both within a short drive of Seattle. One east, one west. The towns were Kirkland, Washington and Port Ludlow, Washington.

I selected Kirkland because, less than 20 minutes from the city, over the 520 floating bridge, it is considered by some the Sausalito of Seattle and is home to Washington's oldest and arguably most famous winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle.

The roots of Ste. Michelle are old. They penetrate deep into the history of the region, dating back to the repeal of prohibition in 1934 and the days of the lumber barons. The winery is housed in a French Chateau and is surrounded by a mature, park-like estate brimming with rare and beautiful species of flowers, shrubs, trees and sculptures.

Deep inside the chateau is a labyrinth of bottling equipment surrounding massive stainless steel holding tanks. The tanks, over 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide, cover the floor of the vast cooled production warehouse in impressive rows, and hold what must be a fortune in wine. Each tank probably holds close to half a million dollars in wine, enough to fill a very large pool. You could swim in all that wine. But of course swimming was not on the tour.

After visiting the production facility, I was ushered into a private tasting room. A large wooden bar runs the length of the room and several wine tenders smile up at our group as we arrive. Our server Hamid has a clear love for the wine he is pouring and takes the time to educate our minds before informing our palates. You can see a short video of Hamid talking wine here. Each wine is better than the last but ultimately, it is the sweet dessert wines that seduce me and, having skipped breakfast, I shortly find myself in need of sturdier fare. Here are my favorites:

o Ethos 06, Late Harvest -- Dessert Wine -- Whoopee, Scored 97
o Ice wine 2006 -- Chenin Blanc -- $40, The ultimate wine for a hot day

Bridle Trails State Park is a 482-acre, day-use park, well known for its horse trails and equestrian shows. The forested park is on the northeast edge of the Seattle metropolitan area in the town of Kirkland. It is just a short drive from the chateau and is a perfect place for a picnic and stroll.

I am walking under stately old Douglas fir trees heading towards a picnic. The forest is open and inviting, the buzz of civilization fades as we move deeper into the green. Suddenly, a tiny horse, 24 inches tall, comes walking ‘round a bend in the trail. At least I think it's a horse, but as I have never seen a dwarf miniature before, I am a little taken aback. Seattle is home to a rapidly expanding biotechnology infrastructure and for a moment, I'm convinced that this animal must be a genetic hybrid. It's a pygmy horse and much like the fabled pygmy elephant, it could only be manmade. I feel like Gulliver. What's more, this tiny horse is wearing a small blue blanket with a police badge. It's a teeny tiny police horse! It turns out that Polka Dot is in fact a good will ambassador for the Kirkland Police Department and her owners have brought her out today in support of the Lake Washington Saddle Club junior horse jumping show, just down the way. Polka Dot joins us as we make our way through the forest and into the open horse ring, where our picnic awaits. While eating, we watch little children jump great big horses and one little horse master the hearts of great big men.

Belly full and blood balanced, it was time to leave the dappled sunlight of the forest for the open waters of Lake Washington. The Woodmark Hotel, Yacht Club & Spa is a luxury lakeside hotel located in Kirkland, just minutes away from Seattle. I had arranged for a tour of the lake through the Woodmark Hotel on their private 28-foot, 1956 Chris Craft, the "Woodmark II". Designed to inspire emotion, this classic mahogany boat is drop dead gorgeous. With a brief introduction, we set out over the waters and headed towards the city of Medina where Bill Gates built his humble 40,000 square foot dream home. From there, we headed towards Seattle and Lake Union to see the houseboat neighborhood, the fishing fleet docked near Fremont and Gas Works Park. The boat ride is free to guests of the hotel and impossible to rent otherwise.

Our captain drops us off at Carillon point, part of the extensive Kirkland waterfront and from there we head up the steps to The Grape Choice for a quick introduction to the Kirkland Uncorked Wine Festival. Both a retail wine shop and a wine bar specializing in choices from the Northwest, the Grape Choice is off the beaten path and has a well worn local feel to it. The festival is a celebration of the Washington wine culture, which exploded here over the last 11 years and highlights some of the top smaller producers. In addition to wine tasting, there's gourmet food, including an outdoor grilling stage for competitions and demonstrations, a music stage with classical and jazz bands throughout the day and over 70 artists, part of the NW Art Alliance. Sans kids, it's a totally enjoyable afternoon. The entrance fee, which gets you 10 tastes and a nifty souvenir glass, is $25.

After a few hours soaking up sun, sea and grape, I was starting to feel a little lightheaded. It was time for something substantial. Something like the Trellis Restaurant. When I go to Europe, I want to eat at the restaurant that gets its greens from the garden, its poultry from the farm next door and its seafood from the boat that just pulled into the marina. Whereas at home in America, I have come to accept the fact that my food is genetically modified to survive extra pesticides, hormones and long distance travel from distant countries. How odd then that the experience of eating farm fresh produce and poultry feels foreign while eating foreign produce feels like home. Is it me or is this backwards? Either way, eating at a place like Trellis, where the food is grown within walking distance of your plate and the flavors and presentation are exquisite, rivals anything I have sampled in Europe.

That evening, I spent the night in an elegant vacation rental located in the lower Queen Anne area of Seattle. I chose this location because it is two blocks from the new waterfront SAM Sculpture Park; two blocks from the Seattle Center where the Space Needle, EMP and international fountain are, and a short, three-minute drive from West Lake Union and the Kenmore Air seaplane harbor.

Early the next morning, I drove over to Kenmore Air and checked in for a private charter to Port Ludlow. You can see a video of the flight home here. Kenmore Air is a fantastic local resource. I have watched the seaplanes lift off from Lake Union for over a dozen years, never imagining the rich possibilities that lay within reach of those wings. Frankly, I always assumed that seaplanes were for the wealthy. But having searched through some of the destinations offered by Kenmore, I am no longer sure that's true. The regularly scheduled flights run around $56 one-way. But considering the amount of time you save, the fact that some of these destinations can only otherwise be reached by boat, and the experience of flying in a seaplane right out of downtown Seattle, I have to say I think it's well worth exploring. And though a private charter can be considerably more expensive, the places you can go look simply amazing.

During summer in the northwest, the sunset takes a long, long time. I have been sitting on the grand porch of the lodge at Port Ludlow for over an hour looking out over the yacht filled harbor, where our plane flew in, and up to the Olympic mountains, and I am nursing a deliciously full cup of wine as the light gets longer and richer. A waitress came by a while ago and took our order, but the food, save for some fresh bread and a side spread, has yet to appear. Meals take a long time at Port Ludlow. They nearly match the pace of the sunset. Anywhere else and this would be a problem, but over the course of my stay here, I have come to believe that this is an intentional part of the experience.

Both the quality of the food, which is mostly exquisite, and the pace of the meal feel radically foreign to me. I cannot remember the last time I sat down to a meal and did not feel rushed. Most restaurants want to turn over tables as fast as they can. The sooner you're out the door, the better. But here, it's not about turnover. It's about an experience. It reminds of meals I had in Russia, shortly after the wall came down. You would go into a black market restaurant and sit down for hours and hours. It was all about celebration. Celebrating life. The meal was the destination, not the fueling up station.

After a while, a young woman walks up to our table, escorted by an older gentleman, carrying a large platter of cheeses and fruit. The cheese flight has arrived. The woman sets the platter down neatly at the corner of our table and introduces the gentleman as Paul Wolman, the hotel's new General Manager. Paul is going to give us a tour of the cheeses, where they come from, how they were made and more. At first I'm thinking, That's nice, but let's just cut to the cheese. But when Paul talks about food, his eyes twinkle and his voice, already heavily accented, takes on a happy, enthusiastic undertone. It's obvious that, of all the things he does during the day, talking about the food, maybe even these cheeses, is one of his favorites. I am instantly captivated, and as he takes us on a journey through Spain, France and Belgium, through caves and monasteries and over mountains, I am transported, once again, to a place that feels much farther away from my home than I actually am.

Afterwards I am so full of cheese that I actually have to skip dinner and instead spend a bit of time talking to Paul about his life and the journey that brought him to this place. In the course of this conversation I realized something. He was more than just a GM. He was an artisan. And the resort at Port Ludlow was his canvas. Let me put it another way.

What makes a diamond such a luxury? Are diamonds born flawless or does it take the trained eye and patient hand of an artisan to shape the rough stone into something remarkable? And what would happen to a priceless stone, were it to fall into the hands of an untrained cutter? It might very well end up like the Resort at Port Ludlow, prior to Paul's arrival. Something potentially priceless, cut the wrong way.

Of course, I should be writing about the resort. The comfortable bed. The in-room massage. Kayaking in the bay with the wind at my back and eagles overhead. I should tell you about the world-class golf course and the all-crab crab cakes, the island of seals in the marine sanctuary and the abundant ripe wild berries. I ought to take you on a tour of nearby Port Townsend and rave about the Dungeness crabbing adventure. But my impression of Port Ludlow was ultimately shaped not by the things, which you will find on their website brochure, http://www.portludlowresort.com/ but by an artisan, Paul Wolman and his vision. In the years to come, if Paul's vision continues to manifest, this resort will be one of the top romantic and corporate meeting destination resorts in the Northwest. Think Relais & Châteaux. Not everyone can afford a stay at a Relais, but for now the resort at Port Ludlow is extremely affordable, while still providing the guest with that rare sense of experiencing a slower, gentler refined life.

If you do go to Port Ludlow, here are my recommendations for a great stay. Fly into the port via seaplane from Seattle and then get out to the award-winning golf course. This 30-year-old course, on par with Semineu or Golden Mountain, was designed by Robert Muir Graves and is a great parkland course. I played Timber, which has gorgeous views of the Olympic mountains and the Puget Sound, is quiet and has no houses. It's friendly and playable with a continuity, consistency and rhythm in the undulating greens that is world class. Afterwards, spend a few hours on the porch for sunset and try to get Paul to give you a tour of the cheese flight. Later, you can have Piper from Ludlow Bay Massage and Wellness give you an in-room massage. The next day, you can rent a kayak to tour the port and marine sanctuary and then have a driver take you into Port Townsend. Here, the local artists sell their work and the coffee houses are full of salty dogs, for shopping and, if you are feeling adventurous, a crabbing or fishing, adventure. If you do catch a crab, make sure the chef at Port Ludlow's Fireside prepares it for you with his special recipe.

So go in search of an adventure in your own backyard and keep these three things in mind. Believe in nothing. Pay attention to everything. And don't take anything personally. In the end, that little world in a grain of sand is always right in front of your nose.

*Please tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!

Pics From

The Trip


Chateau Ste Michelle


Chateau Ste Michelle wine barrel


Chateau Ste Michelle Wine Tasting


Bridle Trails Park


Polka Dot


Worlds smallest horse


Woodmark Hotel 1956 Chriscraft


1956 Chriscraft Interior


Boat Tour of Lake union


Bill Gates House from water


Kirkland Uncorked Wine Festival


Trellis Restaurant Kirkland Way


Seaplane caution sign


Kenmore Air Seattle


Under the wing


Matt Wilson flies a sea plane


Seattle from a Kenmore Air sea plane


Totem and boat in Port Ludlow


Port Ludlow Lodge


Room and Port Ludlow


Harbor Master Restaurant view in Port Ludlow


Great Food


World Class Golf Course


Sweet Tee


Sunset from the porch of the Port Ludlow Lodge


Paul Wolman and a cheese flight


Port Ludlow Lodge interior


Port Ludlow at night


Totem Pole in Port Ludlow at night


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