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FOR FOUR years, the Willows Lodge in Woodinville has put on a fantastic fundraiser that took the “Iron Chef” show concept and gave it a wonderful wine-country twist.

Now the Iron Vintner Challenge has played out the concept, and the folks at
Willows Lodge and adjacent Barking Frog restaurant are sending it out with a stylish four-week extravaganza.

The Iron Vintners Challenge began in 2010 with the idea of having four Woodinville winemakers compete for culinary supremacy. Each week, two winemakers are given 60 minutes to come up with an appetizer and entree for celebrity judges, who have included such luminaries as Tom Douglas, Ted Baseler, Thierry Rautureau and Bob Betz. The competition lasts three weeks, with each winemaker moving forward to the next round until a champion is crowned.

The inaugural Iron Vintners Challenge in 2010 was won by Darby English of Darby Winery, followed by Chris Gorman (Gorman Winery) in 2011, Morgan Lee (Covington Cellars) in 2012 and Lisa Baer (Baer Winery) in 2013.

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The Iron Vintners Challenge draws a fun mix of winemakers, chefs and consumers, and it’s all for a great cause, supporting Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center, a nationally accredited Redmond organization that uses horseback riding to help children and adults with disabilities, particularly cerebral palsy.

“There’s something about putting a child on a horse,” says Kirsten Andresen of Willows Lodge. “It helps them to be able to sit up and eventually to walk. It’s pretty amazing.”

So far, Willows Lodge has raised more than $116,000 to help Little Bit build a facility to accommodate its huge waiting list for therapy.

The lodge decided that the Iron Vintners Challenge should end on a high note, so this will be its last, with the winners of the first four years challenging each other to be the ultimate Iron Vintner.

Festivities kick off June 4 with English and Baer squaring off over their respective Viking grills. On June 11, Gorman and Lee will face each other. Then on June 18, the winners of the first two rounds will vie for the title. Barking Frog chef Bobby Moore will serve as master of ceremonies and will keep the crowd in a continuous state of raucous fun. On June 25, the after party and live auction will include Moore’s interpretation of four top dishes from the Iron Vintners Challenge.

The live auction should be equally entertaining, as winemakers will up the ante on various lots on the fly, creating the opportunity for experiences that go far beyond what wine lovers could hope for, including dinners and special bottlings.

“The winemakers get into it and play to the crowd,” Andresen says. “They try to one-up each other.”

Tickets for each of the four events are $75. Whether or not you have experienced the Iron Vintners Challenge, this is your last opportunity to enjoy one of Woodinville’s truly enjoyable events.

Andy Perdue is a wine author, journalist and international judge. Learn more about wine at