Washington State Magazine

Summer 2014

Summer 2014

State of Wonder

In This Issue...


State of Wonder—Growing up in a state that fosters belonging :: A childhood spent in Washington has never been better. Our abundant natural resources, our trove of teachers and volunteers, and our commitment to child development make this a great state to grow up in. by Hannelore Sudermann

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Story: A storybook story The Inga Kromann children’s book award }

Machine in the Classroom—New tech tools engage young scientists :: Teaching with new technology may involve a microscope app for an iPad or an affordable circuit board for a budding engineer. School children have some exciting new tools with which to conduct experiments and explore their worlds, but now teachers have to decide how to use them. by Larry Clark ’94

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Video: Focus Microscope Camera captures the world beyond the eye’s reach }

Lost Highway—John Mullan closed the last link of the Northwest Passage and vanished from history—until now :: More than 150 years ago, a contingent of road builders and a military escort set out on a rugged pilgrimage to build a wagon highway across the Rocky Mountains and into the west. Historian Keith Petersen ’73 has traced the tumultuous life of the lead engineer John Mullan and, in the process, uncovered some fascinating facts about what is now known as Mullan Road. by Eric Sorensen

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Story: Mullan Road Monuments by Keith Petersen }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Gallery: Gustav Sohon’s illustrations of the Mullan Road and the West }


:: Charting the course of a globe-trotting pathogen

:: Sex, drugs, and differences

:: The time in between

:: Consider the dragon

:: A matter of taste

:: The scoop on Ferdinand’s murals

:: 100 years of the Bookie

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Video: Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Gallery: A century of the Bookie }


:: First Words

:: Posts

:: In Season: Salmon

:: Sports: Summer spikes

:: Last Words: Ask Dr. Universe


:: Tom Norwalk ’75—Visit Seattle

:: Tim Hills ’93—Hotels and history

:: Cori Dantini ’93—Art and whimsy

:: Allison Helfen ’89—A crush on local wine

:: Alumni news: Lewis Alumni Centre “re-barn”

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—List: Seattle sites you may not have visited }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Book excerpt: The Many Lives of the Crystal Ballroom }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Video: The Lewis Alumni Centre Story }

New Media

:: The Aesthetics of Strangeness: Eccentricity and Madness in Early Modern Japan by W. Puck Brecher

:: Hunger Immortal: The First Thirty Years of the West Seattle Food Bank, 19832013 by Ronald F. Marshall ’71

:: Legal Guide to Social Media: Rights and Risks for Businesses and Entrepreneurs by Kimberly A. Houser

:: New & Noteworthy: Kierkegaard for the Church: Essays and Sermons by Ronald F. Marshall ’71; The Whiskey Creek Water Company by Jan Walker ’60; Into the Storm: Journeys with Alzheimer’s edited by Collin Tong; Teeing Up for Success Cheri Brennan ’72, contributor; So This Is Christmas by Jim Devitt ’86

On the cover: Milky Way galaxy over Mount Rainier from Sunrise Point—meteorites show up as streaks of light. This image was a winner in Smithsonian magazine’s 10th annual photo contest. Photo by Dave Morrow. See the entire image.

Allison Helfen ’89. <em>Photo Matt Hagen</em>


Allison Helfen ’89. Photo Matt Hagen

Wine Alley <em>Photo Matt Hagen</em>


Photo Matt Hagen

Allison Helfen ’89—A crush on local wine

by | © Washington State University

by Hannelore Sudermann :: While sweet Riesling and Merlot were once the foundation of Washington’s wine, you can tell, just by cruising the wood racks of The Wine Alley shop in Renton, that this is a whole new scene.

Our state’s offerings were already intriguing when Allison Helfen ’89 and her husband Scott started the shop nine years ago. “When we first opened, the hot thing was viognier. And Syrahs were everywhere,” says Allison Helfen. Today the shelves are even more diverse. “They have to be. People get bored,” she says. That’s why her stock has shifted to include inky Malbecs, sprightly Sangioveses, and rich Barberas.

The Helfens’ shop carries more than 900 wines. They offer a good representation of the West Coast, a selection of internationals, “but we are primarily Washington,” says Helfen. “And we do our best to not carry anything you’re going to find at a grocery store or big box store.” Their edge comes, in part, because those smaller wineries, the ones that don’t produce on a level to be of interest to a big distributor, are working with new grape varieties and playing with new blends. They need shops like The Wine Alley to sell their wines outside of their winery.

“There are not a lot of any of those grapes out there,” says Helfen. “They could make just 40 cases, maybe, of one in a year. And they come to us to help sell them.”

Right now, Helfen herself is into whites. But those too are changing. With sweet Riesling holding court for so long, dry and off-dry Rieslings have moved onto the Northwest palate. “They’re such great wines,” she says. “They pair so well with food.” And, as we tour her little shop with its apricot-colored walls and small tasting space at the back, she has to mention the current rise of the dry rosés. “They’re so good. People used to look for them in the summer, but now you can find them year-round.”

Helfen, a hospitality alum with a background in hotels, had dreamt for years about a neighborhood wine shop somewhere around Seattle. But it wasn’t until 2004 on a trip to Italy that Allison and Scott sampled the local enoteche and found the impetus to open a local wine store at home. “Every neighborhood had one,” she says. “Why shouldn’t ours?”

It wasn’t a decision made lightly. “Many wine shops have opened and closed since we’ve been in business,” says Helfen. “Most of them were created as a hobby or a passion.” But The Wine Alley started with a clear business plan that the Helfens meticulously researched and vetted. After scouting several locations, they chose the Cascade-Fairwood neighborhood of Renton, where they already had their home. All that planning was done while they researched their product. “We knew we liked wine, but we didn’t know a lot about wine,” says Helfen. Online classes and books helped them understand the finer points. And they tasted and tasted. “In the end it’s simply grape juice,” says Helfen. “What people enjoy is what people enjoy. You’ve got to know your customer.”

Helfen susses out her customer’s preferences at her weekly wine tastings. Even if people don’t sample at her shop, she urges them to seek out local tasting events. “You don’t have to spend any money,” she says. “I pour 10 different wines every week. It can really expand your palate.”

Her own expanded palate has led her of late into blends, which she likes for their complexity and harmony. “I prefer blends in general. With whites you can get bright and fruity and then blend in a little chardonnay to add a bit more body.” She points out a popular red blend called Powers Spectrum, which has five different grape varieties. “It’s amazing. You really can notice all the flavors,” she says.

The Helfens’ efforts are appreciated by their loyal customers—many of whom continue to nominate and vote for Wine Alley as the “Best Wine Shop” in Evening Magazine’s “Best of Western Washington” contest for six out of the last seven years.

“We are fortunate because we are a neighborhood store,” says Helfen. “We support our neighborhood and our neighborhood supports us.”

Categories: Alumni, Business | Tags: Wine

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