Taste Washington Musings

Taste Washington is a wonderful opportunity taste many wines and to talk with industry leaders, winemakers, cider makers, and reflect on our state’s agricultural culture.

While waiting for the doors to open, I passed the time with fellow standees, Dick Boushey and Sommelier Christopher Chan. Topics ranged from the World Vinifera Conference, to Riesling’s fate in Washington and the 1980s era Langguth Winery.

Dick Boushey had a cherry and apple orchard before planting his first vines in 1980, four years before Washington’s first American Viticultural Appellation. The vineyards, planted to Cab and Merlot, were in a cool part of the Yakima Valley, a different climate than the warmer Red Mountain to the east and Wahluke Slope to the north.

Recognized today as one of the top 10 vineyards in the state, Boushey grapes are prized by Betz Family Winery, Bunnell Family Cellar, Chateau Ste Michelle, Cairdeas Winery, Callan Cellars, Chinook Wines, DeLille Cellars, Fidelitas Wines, Forgeron Cellars, Gorman Winery, Hawkins Cellars, K vintners, McCrea Cellars, Three Rivers Winery, Ross Andrew Winery, W.T. Vintners, Willow Wine Cellars and Long Shadows. Most of these wineries were pouring at Taste Washington’s Grand Tasting.

Another Taste Washington event was an opportunity to visit small, unique farms for a tour of the operations and to enjoy a specially prepared farm to table luncheon.

Delightful wines and ciders, fresh local ingredients and a dose of down-on-the-farm adventure began in Chimacum at the crossroad of Center Road and Chimacum. You can’t miss it. Finnriver Orchard, Tasting and Cider Garden has a 10-acre orchard, a tasting room and Cider Garden right beside the fire station.

This 40-acre plot of land is protected by the Jefferson Land Trust and cared for by the Finnriver crew. Finnriver is certified salmon safe and committed to pursuing sustainable land stewardship through organic agriculture, farmland preservation, habitat restoration, and community outreach.

The original farm is a secluded 80-acre organic farm and orchard about three miles from the crossroad. Organic apples are sourced from these orchards of over 500 trees, with 20 varieties of heirloom and traditional cider apple varieties and across the state.

Other specialists cultivating this farm are The Organic Seed Alliance with a couple of greenhouses and Friends of the Trees in their second year cultivating an herb garden with over 100 species.

Chimacum Creek runs alongside the property and its stewardship group, North Olympic Salmon Coalition is also a big part of stream restoration. This former floodplain and meandering creeks have been altered into agricultural land. Chimacum Creek, much like Clear Creek before the restoration, is constrained into agricultural dikes, meaning they have lost their original meandering.

Despite the blustery day, many of us took the option of tasting Finn River ciders while touring the farm with Cameron, the orchard wizard and Andrew, the production manager.

The orchard is planted in rows according to when bud break occurs, early varieties together, followed by mid-season and then late varieties. This facilitates the honey bees which can then pollinate one area before buzzing off to the next. Other orchard allies include a flock of geese whose job is to weed up and down the rows and with the sheep, keep the grass in “putting green shape.”

In the orchard with the geese honking at the intruders and Nulla, 6-day old lamb to cuddle, we tasted the Golden Russet cider and Black Oak cider. This beautiful rose hued cider gets its color from the addition of black currants. It was aged in oak barrels for a lively, complex and colorful handcrafted cider.

After explaining the complexities of cider apple varieties, the benefits of russets and keeping an orchard, our hosts led us back to the warm Cider Garden for a repast prepared by Chef Dan Rattigan and crew of the Fireside Restaurant at the Resort at Port Ludlow.

We tasted the Finn River artisan sparkling cider with appetizers of SpringRain Farms deviled duck eggs with crispy leeks, Finnriver quinoa cakes with Chimacum Valley tomme and roasted red pepper remoulade.

We slurped a creamy foraged mushroom bisque with melted Red Dog Farm leeks and crème fraiche, accompanied by Waterbrook’s Rose of Sangiovese and Bledsoe Family’s Healy Rose, both from the 2017 vintage.

The main course was a cedar planked Neah Bay Spring King salmon on a bed of Spring Rain kale, purple broccoli and Dharma Ridge Farm Yukon golds all splashed with a roasted shallot vinaigrette.

Paired with this delicious dish was Doubleback’s Red Blend, an everyday red wine in a square shaped bottle with a flip-top – Italian style. We were also treated to Waterbrook’s 2015 Reserve Merlot, a rich wine with good structure and luscious black fruits.

Desert was downright splendid. A cider poached pear with a Mystery Bay goat cheese mousse sitting on Finnriver blueberry compote and paired with Finnriver’s Pommeau, a fortified apple wine that was better than any apple brandy I’ve ever tasted.

With all this freshness within reach, it’s no wonder that Washington has a fabulous farm-to-table dining scene. This amazing adventure illuminated people’s passions for their chosen work from the orchardist to the production manager to the winemakers, the chef and the folks who attended us with impeccable service. I raise my glass to you all. Cheers to you!

While researching this article, I ran across some very interesting facts. If you’re farming in Washington, you’re blessed with one of the most productive growing regions in the nation. In fact, Washington is #1 in the nation’s raspberry production (producing 92.3%), hops (79.2%), spearmint oil (78.7%), cherries (58.6%), apples (57.4%), pears (47.9%), grapes (37.3%), carrots (35.6%), peas (32.4%) and sweet corn (29.7%). We have the #2 spot in asparagus (28.6%), potatoes (22.7%) and onion (21.2%) production. Percentages are for 2016.