Under a settlement with the Department of Justice, the popular winery will make numerous modifications to its Woodinville tasting room and amphitheater.
Chateau Ste. Michelle has agreed to make numerous changes to its Woodinville tasting room and amphitheater in response to an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) complaint.
U.S. Attorney Brian Moran announced the details of the settlement Monday following a complaint from a patron who uses a wheelchair. The patron experienced several “physical barriers” while attending a summer concert at the popular winery, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Western Washington.
“I commend Chateau Ste. Michelle for recognizing the need to correct barriers to equal access in its facilities, so that all those who want to visit the winery or enjoy a concert can do so,” Moran said in the news release. “Equal access is a bedrock of our society and seemingly simple things like heavy doors, loose carpets, or table heights can significantly limit access for people using mobility devices.”
The patron, Char Blankenship, said in a phone interview Monday that she was told she needed to buy more expensive tickets in order to secure wheelchair accessibility — a claim the winery denies, the U.S. Attorney’s Office notes. A Chateau Ste. Michelle spokesperson could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.
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Blankenship, who has osteoporosis and has used a wheelchair since undergoing several knee surgeries, and her daughter attended a Chris Isaak concert at the winery in 2016. Though they arrived early, all the designated parking spaces for people with mobility issues were taken. Once inside the amphitheater, the Lynnwood woman recalls having trouble traversing rocky or knotted terrain, muddy areas and a difficult slope in order to get to the seats that were supposed to be wheelchair-accessible in the back row behind the lawn.
Blankenship, an avid music fan who says she’s never had problems at other local venues, says her chair barely fit in the aisle and other fans were banging against her knees throughout the show. On top of that, she was unable to see anything once the concert started and the people around her stood up.
At the end of the night, Blankenship’s daughter realized she wouldn’t be able to push her back up the slope. After locating event staff, they waited another 20 minutes for the crowd to clear and for a staff member to help her exit the venue. “He was having a heck of a time,” Blankenship says, noting that other concertgoers began staring. “It was so humiliating.”
Blankenship only contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office after the winery declined to refund her ticket costs because she stayed for the entire concert. “I was dumbfounded,” the 63-year-old says.
Investigators and a third-party architectural firm reviewed the venue’s building plans and made an on-site visit in 2017, and uncovered other ADA issues beyond those Blankenship experienced, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Under the terms of the settlement, the winery — which was built before adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act — will make changes to tasting-room bathrooms and table heights to improve accessibility, secure loose rugs and increase the number of accessible parking spaces. The winery has also agreed to improve the slope and paths from the parking to the amphitheater, widen the amphitheater’s aisles and accessible seating areas, and pay Blankenship $500. Public-facing employees will also receive training on how to better serve guests with disabilities.
Chateau Ste. Michelle has agreed to make the changes by June when its annual summer concert series returns with performances from Chicago, Norah Jones, Gary Clark Jr. and more. The Department of Justice will monitor the winery’s compliance for a year and close the case provided no other issues arise.
Blankenship says she’s pleased that the winery agreed to the improvements and would return for another concert once they’ve been made.
“If I can try to do something to fix something or make something better for others, I’m going to do that,” Blankenship says.