When the Perfect Gift is an Experience: The Herbfarm

 The Herbfarm Exterior: Courtesy of Willows Lodge

The Herbfarm Exterior: Courtesy of Willows Lodge

My husband and I have largely forgone gift-giving when it comes to physical things. Occasionally I still receive a beautiful bottle of wine, but I view wine as a moment captured in a bottle — an experience. What trumps the experience of a lovely wine, consumed at its pinnacle moment? Wine paired with food. So when I opened the mail this week to receive The Herbfarm’s 2018 Restaurant Schedule, I was reminded of just such a pairing that I had the honor of experiencing last Christmas season.

Located in the heart of Western Washington’s Woodinville Wine Country, The Herbfarm is consistently ranked as one of the world’s top destination restaurants. The restaurant's mantra: “No dish can be better than its ingredients, and the best ingredients are usually local” informs its ever-changing menus. By supporting local farmers, cheesemakers, wineries, and so on, they preserve local foods, traditions, and moments in every meal.

Much has been written about The Herbfarm as a restaurant (see Forbes, Frommer’s, and The New York Times for starters) so I’ll leave the reviews to the dining experts. As a somm, what intrigued and delighted me most was the pairing of local food and drink for each course.

What Grows Together Goes Together

 Menu and wine card. Photo by Amy Dickson

Menu and wine card. Photo by Amy Dickson

The Herbfarm’s menus, often not finalized until hours before each singular evening seating, are shaped to showcase and capture the essence of the season. The local food and wine come together in such a way as to elevate the sense of terroir: nine courses and five wines, all hand-selected to complement each other.  For example, my meal contained a course of Poulet Bleu, a blue-footed chicken with black trumpet mushrooms and an air-dried persimmon sweet and sour sauce. Paired with a 2013 A.D. Beckham Amphora Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, and I was in heaven.

In Perfect Harmony: Drink and Food

 Chef Chris Weber explaining the night’s meal: Courtesy of Trip Advisor

Chef Chris Weber explaining the night’s meal: Courtesy of Trip Advisor

On that note, the nine-course meal takes several hours and is perfectly matched to whatever you feel like quaffing:

Wine: Your five courses will come with pre-selected wines that will delight and dazzle. During my seating I enjoyed an Argyle Brut from Oregon (with mussels), Avennia’s Sauvignon Blanc from Yakima (wild winter sturgeon), Efeste’s Chardonnay (celery root with truffle), that lovely Pinot Noir (blue-footed chicken), and Kevin White’s Grenache-Mourvedre-Syrah blend (grilled Wagyu coulotte). Don’t want to stick to the script? Ask for the 150+ page wine list and I am sure you’ll find exactly the right vintage for your evening. Arrive early to your reservation and explore the onsite cellar where you can ask Sommelier Bruce Achtermann about the 26,000 bottles and more than 4,500 selections. A wine lover’s dream come true!

 Herbfarm Wine Cellar: Courtesy of The Daring Gourmet

Herbfarm Wine Cellar: Courtesy of The Daring Gourmet

Beer: Say beer is more your thing? No problem! Note your preference in your reservation and the staff will carefully curate your experience with local lagers and ales. Prefer imports? Flip to the end of the exhaustive wine list and you’ll find a lovely selection of European ales to please your palate.

Dessert: The Herbfarm has the dessert wine market cornered. From late-harvest Alsatian wines to rare Tokaji from Hungary, you have many options. Most delightful is The Herbfarm’s collection of Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes. Using an anaerobic system that allows extraction without removing the cork, I opted for a single ounce of the 100-point 2011 vintage. A whole bottle would have set me back $1650 — instead I tried one of the world’s most perfect (and rare) wines for $65. I’ll never forget the taste of that sweet nectar. There’s nothing like it.

Non-Alcoholic: Non-drinkers (and there was one in my party) are treated to a meal paired with custom shrubs, juices, and local mixes using fresh herbs and ingredients also found in the dishes. Dinner is followed by a selection of local coffees, teas, and herbal infusions.

Reservations Required

 The Herbfarm’s co-owner Carrie Van Dyck, right, and chef Chris Weber (to Van Dyck’s right) plate one of the evening’s nine courses. Courtesy of Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times

The Herbfarm’s co-owner Carrie Van Dyck, right, and chef Chris Weber (to Van Dyck’s right) plate one of the evening’s nine courses. Courtesy of Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times

The Herbfarm’s 2018 Dining Schedule is out now and reservations aren’t recommended, they’re required, often months or even years in advance. If you’re looking for a gift for the foodie in your life, the oenophile of your heart, or the person who is intent on collecting memories instead of “stuff,” try The Herbfarm. I’m already looking at next fall’s, A Mycologist’s Dream theme, to enjoy the best in foraged local mushrooms. I know there’s a Pinot Noir waiting in the wings to join in.

Salud!

Amy L. Dickson is a communications professional, freelance writer, and contributor to Rain or Shine Guides. She is a Level 1 sommelier and can be found Sundays at Portalis Wines in Ballard. Follow her at @amyldickson75