Category Archives: cider

Many Ways to Taste Washington Wines

This has to be my favorite time of year. Perhaps for winemakers too. The rush of harvest is over, the wines are resting in tank, barrel or bottle and the vines are dormant. It’s time for a road trip or two.

On Monday, February 10th, head on over to McCaw Hall at the Seattle Center and connect with over 50 Walla Walla Valley wineries and winemakers. Each winery has two or three wines including new releases they would like you to sample.

Many of these craft wineries have vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley AVA and its sub AVA, The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater. This sub AVA is nestled within the Walla Walla Valley AVA, but its entire footprint resides in Oregon.

The Rocks AVA stands out among all American AVAs. Approved in 2015, this AVA gets its name from the extremely rocky basalt. It is the only AVA in the U.S. whose boundaries have been fixed by virtue of a single soil series – the Freewater Series.

According to the USDA, the “Freewater series consists of deep, somewhat excessively drained soils formed in gravelly alluvium mixed with loess in the upper part. Freewater soils are on high stream terraces and have slopes of 0 to 3 percent. The mean annual precipitation is about 14 inches and the mean annual temperature is about 52 degrees F.”

By contrast, the Walla Walla Valley AVA has four distinct soil series. On valley floor, Ellisforde silt loam; in the foothills, Walla Walla silt loam; in the floodplains, Freewater covered with basalt rocks; and on the steep slopes of the foothills and canyons, Lickskillet, a very stony loam.

The Rocks District Winegrowers organization has 30 members, both producers and winegrowers. This 3,767 acre AVA is planted to almost 350 acres of grapes with over 200 acres in development. To learn more, get your tickets here.

During the long Valentine/President Day weekend, Red Wine and Chocolate occurs from the Olympics to eastern Washington and beyond.

At the annual Olympic Peninsula Red Wine, Cider and Chocolate Tour, eight Olympic Peninsula wineries welcome you with wine, cider and sensational chocolate bites. And you don’t have to do all eight in one day or even one weekend. This event encompasses two weekends, February 8th and 9th and the long holiday weekend February 15th through 17th. Tickets can be purchased at

Some highlights that may tantalize your taste buds: Camaraderie Cellars 2014 Sangiovese, 2012 Reserve Cab and newly released 2016 Cabernet Franc are featured with the ever-popular Cocoa-Spiced Pulled Pork.

At Eaglemount Winery & Cidery, Chocolate Serenade caramels are paired with new releases of ciders and wines. Fairwinds Winery has a chocolate fountain to pair with their outstanding Port of Call.

Harbinger Winery features a carnival of culinary delights beginning with a white chocolate apple bread pudding paired with the crisp La Petite Fleur; pan au chocolate with the award-winning Dynamo Red; devil’s food mini-cupcakes crowned with a spiced chocolate butter cream is sinfully delicious when paired with the newly released 2014 Bolero.

If this isn’t enough, Harbinger will have one more behind the velvet curtain of the VIP room, the reserve wine with Theo’s Chocolates.

Wind Rose Cellars is hosting chocolatier Yvonne Yokota from Yvonne’s Chocolates. Each weekend will feature a different lineup of their wines. I tasted the 2014 Bravo Rosso at the Kitsap Wine Festival this past August. It’s a 3 out of 3-star wine for me.

You could also spend your Valentine’s Day weekend on Bainbridge Island during their annual Wine on the Rock: Wine & Chocolate event. It highlights the wines of the Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island’s award-winning producers paired with local chocolates. Each of the five participating wineries (Amelia Wynn, Eagle Harbor, Eleven, Fletcher Bay, Rolling Bay) will be pouring four specially selected wines into very cool wine glasses that you get to keep.

After purchasing tickets online, you pick up your wine glass and other goodies at any winery you choose and start tasting. With the exception of Amelia Wynn Winery, the event will take place at the wineries. Amelia Wynn will pour at their downtown Winslow Way tasting room.

And right around the corner on March 19 through the 22nd, is the granddaddy of all delicious Washington wine and food tastings – the 23rd annual Taste Washington. This year, there are exciting changes with the addition of evening events on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Pacific Standard is a nautically inclined, wine-imbued, mountain-framed, pier-stacked, stuff-your-face with delicious food kind of Friday night commemorating Washington’s most inspiring places. The Saturday night marquee event, The New Vintage, showcases culinary legends: past, present and future with outstanding Washington wines.

The Grand Tasting is the main event, a two-day wine and food celebration with more than 200 of Washington’s award-winning wineries, 60 Seattle restaurants and so much more.

Whether you’re a full-fledged wine geek or burgeoning aficionado, Taste Washington has great seminars. These taste-while-you-learn sessions are hosted by leading experts, including top winemakers, Master Sommeliers and academics. Learn about what makes the terroir of Washington’s vineyards stand apart, the future appellations coming to Washington state, dive headlong into the latest wine science and, of course, taste a lot of fantastic wine.

Tickets are on sale now (a wonderful Valentine gift) both individually and package deals. Go to  Cheers!

Bring on the Cider: Apple harvest is second biggest

Washington’s 2019 grape and hop harvests are expected to be a similar yield to last year, 260,000 tons and 100 million pounds respectively. September brought on an early and bountiful mushroom harvest. And it’s shaping up to be the second-biggest apple harvest in Washington history.

Apples harvested from an average tree can fill 20 boxes. According to the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, the 2019 apple crop forecast is projected to be 137 million 40-pound boxes. That’s an increase of more than 17 percent from the 2018 harvest.

And that’s just for Honeycrisp, Gala and other varieties that we put in salads, bake in pies or munch on with a chunk of cheddar cheese.  It doesn’t include apples for juice or hard cider.

This amazing bounty comes from about 175,000 acres of apple orchards, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture. In comparison, vineyards cover 59,000-plus acres.

Apples are one of Washington state’s top 10 exports: about $760 million dollars’ worth of fruit travels around the world annually. Tony Lynn Adams of the Washington Apple Commission says, “Washington apples represent about 65% of the entire U.S. fresh apple production. We export about a third of our apples to 60 countries.” Surprisingly, Mexico is Washington’s No. 1 export market with 13 million boxes shipped annually.

In recent years, many small family farms are giving way to larger agricultural operations. Some are joining 400+ wine grape growers in the state, uprooting their orchards in favor of vineyards.

Other family orchards have been grafting over to a different kind of apple – the cider apple. Of the 2,500 varieties of apples grown in the United States, there are 40 or so cider apples. These apples are prized for their high acidity and tannins that make delicious hard cider. Some originated from England and France but there are highly regarded American heirlooms, too. Apples were widespread on the American homestead. Thank you, Johnny Appleseed. 

Cider apple cultivars and varieties are categorized as bittersweet, bittersharp, sharp, and sweet. The grading signifies the amount of acid, tannin and sweetness. Some varieties, like the bittersharp, have high acidity and high tannins. The most prized is the flavorful and aromatic Kingston Black. Kingston Black juice would be blended with a sweet, such as Cox’s Orange Pippen, for the sugars needed to ferment.

There are some 60 some cideries in Washington spread from Westport to Spokane, Bellingham to Kennewick.

Curiously, hard cider is kind of in liquor limbo with Washington’s Liquor Control Board. The law says cider can have a beer-like alcohol level of no more than 7%. If it’s over 7%, then it’s considered apple wine and taxed differently. But even at 7%, it’s classified as wine.

Like beer, cider may be bottle-conditioned or hopped. It’s delivered to taprooms in kegs or more often found in 22-ounce bottles.

Like wine grapes, cider apples are harvested in the fall. The juice is then pressed, bottled, and often times made sparkling using the same process used in Champagne. And because that method is so labor intensive, a bottle of sparkling cider may cost upwards of $20, just like a bottle of wine.

Washington’s pioneer cider makers include Spire Mountain, established in 1985 and with bittersweet and bittersharp apples. San Juan Island’s Westcott Bay Cidery first released its cider in 1999.

Just across the bridge in Jefferson County, visit Alpenfire Cidery in Port Townsend. Established in 2008, where the Bishops planted cider apples like the bittersweet Brown Snouts and Dabinetts alongside the heirloom apples in their orchard.

Also just outside of Port Townsend is Eaglemount Wine and Cider. Since 2007 they have been making cider from a historic homestead built in 1883. Some of the heirloom varieties include Gravenstein, Winesap, White Pippin, Roxbury Russet and Twenty Ounce. They also produce a Quince Cider from the organic Willowrose Bay Orchard in the San Juans. Quince is related to apples and pears.

In Chimacum, Finnriver Orchard and Cider Garden has a 10-acre orchard next to its tasting room and Cider Garden at the crossroads of Center Road and Chimacum. Its orchard is planted on dwarf rootstock for easier maintenance and picking. Cider apples like the Yarlington Mill, Brown Snout, and Harry Masters Jersey are just some of the varieties planted.

Finnriver has been crafting ciders both traditional — only apples — and contemporary since 2008. Some of its more adventurous ciders incorporate other ingredients, like black currants, lavender, hops and habaneros.

Closer to home on the Kitsap Peninsula is Bushel & Barrel Ciderhouse in Poulsbo. One of the newest cideries in the state, its sources its apples from Eastern Washington.

Currently, there is no tasting room but you can find these locally made ciders on tap at many of the local brewpubs — Valholl Brewing, Slippery Pig Brewing and Rainy Daze Brewing in Poulsbo. Elsewhere in Kitsap County, check out the taps at Downpour Brewing, Lovecraft Brewing, Dog Days Brewing and Crane’s Castle.

Further south you can cozy up to a glass at the Wigwam Tavern in Gorst, Port Orchard’s Slaughter County Brewing and Belfair’s Bent Bine Brewing.