Category Archives: Washington Wines

What makes a Great Vintage?

How do you know if it’s a great vintage? While the viticulturalist is trained to know when to prune, how to manage leaf canopy and control pests and disease, for the most part, it’s the weather during the growing season that makes all the difference between good and great.

The 2019 Washington crush began the third week of August. Treveri Cellars always crosses the finish line first. And the reason for that is sparkling wines are harvested at a lower brix level (18–23°).  

In wine country, grapes are warmed by the sunshine which brings up the grape sugars and cooled at night which promotes that balancing acidity. In any vintage, a brix reading (usually around 24 brix) will signal the time to harvest grapes intended for still wines.

Brix is used to measure the sugar in grapes, the more sugar, the riper the grapes. When harvesting grapes early, the must will have less sugar and more acidity – ideal conditions for sparkling wines.

A higher brix level can be achieved by many days of hot weather, long hang time or drying the grapes. Hot weather raises the sugar levels; cool weather takes longer to reach maturity.

By comparison, the 2015 harvest – a very hot year – began August 6th.  In 2010, – a very cool year – white grapes weren’t harvested until September and no red wine grapes until October!

The 2019 grape harvesting is in full swing right now. And it’s shaping up to be a very good year. Not too hot and not too cool. I know because I’m a certified sorter, a very important and well-paid position. 

Sorters pull leaves, bugs and dried grapes out before the grapes are put into the destemmer where the grapes are separated from the stems. A destemmer is a big stainless steel tub with a big screw that pushes the grapes one way and the stems the other way. The big colander type basket at the bottom funnels the grapes and juice into one bin. The woody stems are pushed into another bin.

While sorting grapes for two wineries this past week, I tasted the grapes. One winery had Red Mountain Merlot and the other Horse Heaven Hills Merlot. And I can tell you from that tasting, Red Mountain and Horse Heaven Hills Merlot grapes tasted unique to their terroirs.

While sorting grapes, the winemaker does the scientific stuff by taking a reading of the juice to determine the brix (the sugar in the juice which will tell the winemaker what the final alcohol content may be), stabilizing the must (SO2 preserves the fruit color and kills the wild yeasts) and other winemaking techniques they may have picked up along the way.

In addition to adding SO2, Ben Smith of Cadence Winery pumped the juice out of one fermenting bin back into the same bin. This was to “stir” the juice so the SO2 was evenly distributed.

At Mosquito Fleet Winery, winemaker Brian Peterson added a 25-pound bag of oven toast oak chips to the three fermenting bins. This helps set the color and promote polyphenols. He also added a bag of dry ice to the fermenting bins – an effective way to cold soak when you don’t have refrigerated storage.

The bin mover sets the pace when a winery has tons of grapes to process. Using a pallet jack or forklift, the bins are moved around where needed – grapes to the destemmer, full fermenters to the side for a 24-hour cold soak, empty fermenters to catch the next ton of grape juice from and the bins of stems to the compost pile.

As I mentioned, certified sorters are well-paid. This year I earned two bottles of wine, a private barrel tasting, 22 gallons of saignée juice and free lunch. 

Saignée is a French term which translates “to bleed.” It’s a winemaking techniques that “bleeds” or removes juice and a few grapes from a fermenter.  Since there is a higher proportion of skins to juice, a richer more concentrated wine is the desired result of this technique. And the lightly-colored juice that is bled out will produce a rosé for next summer’s drinking pleasure.

A long time ago, I had the opportunity to taste a Carmenet Cabernet from the same vineyard, fermented in the same tank and aged in the same French oak. The only difference was the coopers used. I was stunned at the difference of what should have been a more similar than different wine. Lesson learned.

The private barrel tasting at Mosquito Fleet Winery was another educational lesson in French oak. We tasted three 2018 Cabernets aging in oak barrels. Two were the same grape, harvest, and fermentation aging in French oak barrel from different coopers, Taransaud and Bootes. The difference was very striking. The Bootes was a much bigger wine and the Taransaud was smooth and more fruit forward.

Tasting young red wine before it has been bottled is instructive but these young wines with their high acidity and tannin only hint at their true greatness after they have been in bottle for a few years. The key ingredient in my opinion, is to pay attention to the fruit. Is there enough fruit component to vault the young wine to an attractive maturity? For these two fraternal wines, the answer is a hearty Yes!

Up and down the west coast, you can look forward to the promise of a very good 2019 vintage. Cheers!

Early Inland Empire Wineries

In 1980, sixteen wineries in Washington state produced almost a million gallons of wine. Today, approximately 970 wineries produce over 180 million gallons of wine.

Washington was just emerging as a wine region and 1982 was a very good year for wine. Twelve wineries opened their doors and joined a handful of wineries in the state. That was the year, Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Barnard Griffen, Covey Run Vintners and Snoqualmie Winery opened. As did two Spokane wineries, Arbor Crest Wine Cellars and Latah Creek Winery.

My first peek at Spokane was in 1974 at the World’s Fair. I recall exhibits about logging and loggers in cork boots but no corks in bottles. Some years later, I made a run to Spokane to pick up a palette of Whaling Days wine. Latah Creek Winery, Arbor Crest Wine Cellars and Worden’s Washington Winery (the first custom label program where you could “Make the wine you serve your own!”) were producing enough wine to put private labels on.

A recent visit to the Inland Empire, reminded me of those early days in the Washington wine industry and the people who toiled to figure out where to plant which varieties and who could actually make the wine the growers were growing.

Opening a winery is challenging enough but back then many of the wheat and apple farmers were just beginning to plant wine grapes under the direction of Dr. Walter Clore, the father of Washington wine industry.

First, it was Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Muscat. Then the buttery Chardonnays were followed by the Merlot craze of the 1990s, fueled by 60 Minutes’  French Paradox. By then, Washington was well established in the number two spot of the U.S. wine industry.

But it took those early pioneers forging ahead and making the Washington wine industry what it is today. Early pioneers like Bill Preston, Bill Powers, Mike Wallace, and John Williams, all started out as farmers and early on decided to plant wine grapes. Thank goodness! They are the reason we have what we have today. Many are honored on the Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame.

In California, a flurry of winemakers started moving north to a new wine paradise. Latah Creek’s winemaker, Mike Conway had spent some time learning how to make wine in big California wineries.

The 1980 move from large California wineries to an emerging wine region was spurred by job offer. By the fall of 1980, Conway had fermented 69 tons of grapes into Worden’s Winery wine. The wine produced was in a style that was predominantly white, fruity, and sweet.

A joint venture with grape grower Hogue Cellars for the 1982 harvest, had Conway making wine for both the Hogue Cellars and Latah Creek. That first Latah Creek harvest was 7,000 gallons. For the next two years, Conway made wine for both wineries before concentrating solely on his Latah Creek Winery.

This small family winery – a rarity anymore – still produces Riesling and Maywine (gold) in addition to their perennially popular Huckleberry d’Latah (gold), a Riesling made with huckleberry concentrate. Roughly 60 percent of Latah Creek’s production are their most popular wines: Pinot Gris (double gold), Riesling (double gold), and Huckleberry d’Latah.

Introduced in 2010, their Monarch Reserve Reds Series is a small-lot, reserve red program. Those wines and other reds account for 15 percent of their production. Included are a Sangria made with natural fruit juices, a Wahluke Slope Barbera, their well-awarded Merlot, a Horse Heaven Hills Zinfandel, a Wahluke Slope Tempranillo and a Horse Heaven Hills Reserve Cabernet.

The remaining 25 percent includes a selection of dry and sweet white wines – a gold medal winning Chardonnay from Ancient Lakes AVA, a dry Chenin Blanc, a Rose’s of Malbec and an Orange Muscat with a bit of effervescence.

The first Washington father-daughter wine team began in 2005 when Natalie Conway-Barnes began making wine. One of her first projects was a red dessert wine named Natalie’s Nectar.

Like many of the oldest wineries that don’t grow grapes, they have well-established and long term contracts with the best vineyards in the state. Today, Latah Creek’s production is around 15,000 cases annually.

This charming small winery is getting a facelift. And on Saturday and Sunday, September 28 and 29 they will be celebrating their Grand Re-Opening. This would be a good time to taste their wines.

Not too far from Latah Creek Winery, is another well-regarded Washington wine pioneering family. In the early 1980s, Harold and Marcia Mielke also moved up from California to begin a new wine adventure in Spokane Valley. The state’s 29th winery, Arbor Crest Wine Cellars overlooks the Spokane River in a beautiful place called the Cliff House, on the national historic landmark.

Another family winery, this one is also run by the next generation. The Mielke’s daughter, Kristina Mielke van Löben Sels, spent some time working in a Sonoma winery for several years before becoming the head winemaker at Arbor Crest.

Her husband, Jim van Löben Sels, is Arbor Crest’s general manager and viticulturalist. Grapes are sourced from some of Washington’s well-established and respected vineyards and include Sagemoor, Dionysus, Bacchus, Conner Lee, Stillwater Creek and Klipsun Vineyards.

A recently shared bottle of their Bacchus Vineyard (unoaked) Chardonnay reminded me of how much I admire these well-made wines. And having a seasoned winemaker who spent some time making wine at Sonoma’s Ferrari-Carano, it’s no wonder.

Their Conner Lee Vineyard Chardonnay is made in a full-bodied style and sees French oak, Riesling from Dionysus Vineyard and the Bacchus Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc round out the white wines.

Reds include a Conner Lee Cabernet Franc, a Cabernet Sauvignon from 5 fabulous vineyards, the Cliff House Red Table Wine, Dionysus, a Bordeaux blend, Merlot from original, ungrafted rootstock, Wahluke Slope Sangiovese, and Syrah from Stillwater Creek Vineyard.

Spokane now has a Cork District with at least 22 tasting rooms scattered around the very pedestrian friendly downtown area. Some are local, some are not. But it makes for a great weekend getaway to explore the wines of Washington.

Cheers!

When it comes to wine, trust your palate

You’ve probably read many times, as I have,  what a wine should taste like from reviews in publications or the back labels.

Descriptive phrases that may include words like full-bodied, tropical, vanilla, buttery, citrus, cherry, brambleberry, spice, cedar, cigar box, tobacco, herbaceous or award winning, 90-some points are helpful but …

Once you absorb these words, it all comes down to your palate. Do the reviews make the wine taste any better? Sometimes yes and sometimes, not so much. Tasting is the true test of a wine’s ability to please you.

Tasting wine gives you a better idea of what grapes, styles and regions you prefer. That’s why it’s important that you get your tickets for the Kitsap Wine Festival on Saturday, August 10th

Bremerton’s Harborside Fountain Park is the sunny setting for this afternoon of sipping wine with friends and family. More than 30 wineries from Washington and Oregon will be pouring tastes of over 100 pretty delightful wines. And to enhance the experience, local restaurants will be whipping up some delectable bites.

The Kitsap Wine Festival began 11 years ago and through the years has benefitted several local nonprofits. This year, it’s the Kitsap Humane Society’s pets. Their cadre’ of volunteers will ensure an extra layer of special to the event. From the welcome to the raffle baskets, golden ticket prize to the retail shop at the end.

So, get online and buy your tickets ASAP at https://kitsapwinefestival.brownpapertickets.com

General admission includes 12 tickets, food samples, and your wine glass. But wait! There’s more! The VIP Experience includes an hour earlier access, 15 drink tickets, delectable bites, 5 raffle tickets, and your wine glass.

Come celebrate with me at the Kitsap Wine Festival! Here’s a few wineries I’m excited to try or revisit.

From the Port Angeles area, Harbinger Winery is an artisan winery with an annual case production hovering around 3000.  They’re bringing their bistro wine series which includes the 2018 Albariño fermented in stainless steel for a crisp, citrusy treat.

The La Petite Fleur is an intensely aromatic Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling blend for a unique summer wine. Dynamo Red is a gold medal winning, velvety layered wine rich with berries and toasty oak.

And happily, my favorite summertime red, the 2013 Barbera which garnered a gold at the International Women’s Wine Competition. Bring on the beefsteak tomatoes!

Also from the Olympic Peninsula is Wind Rose Cellars, a boutique winery in Sequim. During the week, it’s a traditional tasting room. And on Friday and Saturday nights, it’s live music, wine by the glass and light snacks.

Other wineries attending from this area are Eaglemount Winery, Port Townsend Vineyards, Hoodsport Winery and Camaraderie Cellars.

Moving east to the Kitsap Peninsula is Long Road Winery near Belfair. Since they don’t have a tasting room yet, they share their wines at tasting events such as the Kitsap Wine Festival. The same for Seabeck Cellars, no tasting room yet but here’s your opportunity to taste their wines from grapes shipped from eastern Washington and Oregon.

The newest of the new Kitsap Peninsula wineries is Hard Hat Winery in Poulsbo. Established by three veterans last year, here’s the occasion to try their wines while waiting for the tasting room to open.

And speaking of veterans in the wine business, the Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island will also be there pouring wines from the seven wineries on the “rock” – Amelia Wynn, Bainbridge Vineyards, Eleven, Eagle Harbor, Fletcher Bay, Perennial, Rolling Bay.

Long Cellars in eastern Washington will be pouring their 2018 Lake Chelan Pinot Gris and 2018 Dry Rosé of Pinot Gris. The 2017 Red Wine is a blend of Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet, and a 2017 Cab Franc.

From the Woodinville area be sure to stop by the Adrice Wines booth. The name Adrice is a portmanteau, (a mash-up of 2 words to make a new word) using the last names of the winemaker, Pam Adkins and co-owner Julie Bulrice. I first tasted Adrice Wines at another wine festival and was duly impressed with this craft winery transplanted from Napa Valley in 2015.

And if exploring Washington wineries is on your list, these wineries will also be there:

Davenport Cellars, Eleganté Cellars, Gouger Cellars, Mercer Estates, Michael Florentino Cellars, Monte Scarlatto Winery, Naches Heights Vineyard, Scatter Creek Winery, Silvara Cellars, Simpatico Cellars, Stina’s Cellar, Tanjuli Winery, Terra Blanca Winery & Estate Vineyards and Vino Aquino.

Finally, and most importantly, Raptor Ridge from Newberg, Oregon. Raptor Ridge is celebrating their 25th harvest with a special on their 2015 Brut Rose for $25 on the 25th of each month!

At the Kitsap Wine Festival, they will share the – rare for the Pacific Northwest – Estate Grüner Veltliner. I first had this wine back in 2017 while visiting the Chehalem Mountain wineries. Its balanced fruit, acidity and minerality make this the most food friendly of wines.

Raptor Ridge will also be pouring the 2018 Rosé of Pinot Noir, a blend of two vineyards, one in the McMinnville AVA and the other in the Eola Amity AVA. Another of their wines I can highly recommend.

Visit the Kitsap Wine Festival site for the latest on who will be pouring and more importantly to buy your tickets. The Kitsap Humane Society and I thank you!

Cheers!

Water and Wine: Exploring Lake Chelan’s bounty

There’s a colorful collection of brochures, maps and business cards piled on the desk reminding me of a brief but fantastic visit to Lake Chelan Wine Country.

The sunshine, miles of blue water views and surrounding green hillsides sprinkled with vineyards and wineries painted a pleasant setting to explore.

There were stories from winemakers and tasting room staff who shared their passion. Here are my top 5 stories about the Lake Chelan’s water and wine industries.

Story One: The brief history of the Lake Chelan wine industry.

In the years leading up to my momentous wine-cation, Lake Chelan was all apples and tourism. The hills encircling the popular 50-mile long lake was once primarily apple orchards, but now many trees have been replanted to vineyards.

The first commercial vineyards were planted in 1998. From the first bonded winery in 2001, it only took eight years for Lake Chelan to become Washington’s 11th American Viticultural Area (AVA).

Today, there are over 30 wineries and tasting rooms nestled among the 31 hillside vineyards. Almost 300 acres of vineyards are planted to a wide range of grapes – Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Clairette Blanche, Counoise, Gewürztraminer, Malbec, Merlot, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah, Picardan, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Roussanne, Syrah, Tempranillo and Viognier.

Story Two: Bringing Rhône to Lake Chelan

Cairdeas (Car dis) Winery is the passion of the dynamic duo of Lacey and Charlie Lybecker. At a Taste Washington event a few years ago, they introduced me to their Rhône-styled wines with Gaelic names such as Caislean an Papa. Given my Irish heritage and love of Rhone, this is high on my favorite Washington wineries list.

How this family winery evolved from beer to Sauvignon Blanc to their Lake Chelan winery fermenting unusual- for Washington –  grapes is a remarkable story.

While living and working in west Seattle, Lacey would bring home a bottles of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. They would compare the different producers and learned what a difference there could be in wines even from the same area.

After years of research, their passion for Rhône wines mushroomed. They were the first Washington winery to plant Picardan, a little known white grape from southern Rhône.

Traditionally, those AOC wines such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape can be blended with up to 13 red and white varietals. Following that tradition, Clairette blanche and Syrah vines were planted in the former apple orchard surrounding their winery.

Cuttings for these little known vines came from California’s Tablas Creek Winery, a partnership between Chateau de Beaucastel’s Perrin Brothers and Haas family of Vineyard Brands. In 1989, Tablas Creek began importing vine cuttings and building a grapevine nursery in Paso Robles.

And now Cairdeas Winery has a little bit of Washington Châteauneuf-du-Pape or in Gaelic, Caislean an Papa for you to enjoy.

Story Three: Diversifying – Apples and Grapes

Fielding Hills Winery was established in 2000. Owners Mike and Karen Wade began as many wine pioneers began, in the apple and cherry business.

In 1998, in need of more grapes for their growing winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle offered apple growers a contract to plant grape vines where apple orchards stood. The Wades transplanted 10 acres near Mattawa as a trial venture.

Merlot and Cab were first, later Syrah, Cab Franc and Malbec were planted. The Wade’s Riverbend Vineyard, not far from Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Indian Wells Vineyard, now totals 23 acres of coveted grapes.

Grapes were first sold to other producers but eventually the wine bug bit. In 2016, after making Fielding Hills wines for 16 years, the Wades opened their first tasting room overlooking Lake Chelan.

Fielding Hills Winery’s production is small at 2400 cases. The predominantly rich, red Wahluke Slope wines are award winning blends from the Riverbend Vineyard planted 22 years ago.

For warmer summer months, an amazing Riverbend Rose made from 100% Cabernet Franc was added to the all red lineup. The first year it was made, it sold out in two days.

More Rosé and white wines, Chenin Blanc, Roussanne and Chardonnay are being made with the help of Tyler Armour.

The Wade’s Concentric Wine Project label is based on the idea of “Serious experiments. Fun wines.” Armour is winemaker alongside owner and winemaker Mike Wade.

The Pinot Gris Pétillant Naturel is refreshingly crisp. It’s the one to grab and enjoy while taking in the panoramic view. The wine is bottled before primary fermentation is finished, creating a natural, lightly sparkling wine.

Their other unusual but perfect summer wine is a red made from Gamay Noir. That’s the grape that Gamay Beaujolais is made from. This lighter bodied red is wonderful slightly chilled.

Story Four: New World wines from Old World tutelage

C R Sandidge’s winemaker, Ray Sandidge has much to brag about. He’s a charming storyteller and a great winemaker. Growing up in a military background, he has traveled the world.

The tales he tells of wandering around Japan as a very young child and his remarkable opportunity to make wine for an old established winery in Germany are entertaining and insightful.

This shaped his winemaking to some degree. His Sabrina White is co-fermented with 67% Riesling and 23% Gewurztraminer. The creation is dry, aromatic and perfect for a summer day. The Rosé of Syrah, another dry, crisp wine that is the palest of pink evokes the distinguished wines of Provence.

His rich, aromatic reds include Caris, a blend of Malbec, Merlot and Cab Franc; Whistle Punk Red is Syrah with a dollop of Malbec and Petite Syrah; and Tri*Umph – as in three Bordeaux grapes – is Malbec, Cab and Merlot.

Save room for dessert! The No. 18 Devil’s Smoke Stack Port, predominantly Petite Sirah with a splash of Syrah is a blend of 5 vintages.

Story Five: A vacation wonderland

Lake Chelan is a tourist’s paradise. Water sports, winter sports, hiking and biking trails, wineries, breweries and cideries abound.

The population of about 4,000 residents grows to over 25,000. Where to put all those vacationers? Hotels, motels, lodges and vacation rentals, that’s where.

In fact, Chelan County ranks an astounding 4th out of 39 Washington counties in lodging tax collected. Many knew what I finally appreciated, Lake Chelan is indeed paradise.

The State of Washington Wines 2019

I had a marvelous time at the Taste Washington Grand Tastings. Imagine two days of 235+ possibilities.

And I was amused with this year’s theme, Must. Taste. Everything. Not possible in the 4 or 5 hours each of the two days. Just not possible but I gave it the old college try.

Saturday, was very crowded but I managed to taste almost 40 wines. Sunday, was more laid back and I was able to taste – and spit – almost 54 wines. The plan was to taste the top tier, I.e. expensive, wines and then go on to reds. Sunday was to be dedicated to whites. I was semi-successful with the plan but did get distracted by winemakers, wine and friends. Here are my impressions to help guide your future wine purchases.

Best wine overall: Barnard Griffin Centurion 2016 Sagemoor Vineyards. So well knit, as close to as perfect a wine as you can sip. One barrel made. Thanks for sharing. $150.

Second place: Cadence Spring Valley Vineyards 1998 Red, an amazing 21-year-old. Youthful in appearance, wonderful aromas and very delightful to experience. Thanks for sharing. n/a

Third place: Cascade Cliffs Blood Red Columbia Valley 2017 Barbera, Bob Lorkowski has been making this wine for 20 years and it shows. Layered, juicy, rich, you need to try this wine. It’s amazing. $85.

And in no particular order, I would highly recommend to you:

Laurelhurst 2014 Walla Walla Petite Verdot – WOW! a dense, rich wine with so many anthocyanins it strains your glass. Relocated in the Georgetown district of Seattle, many small lot fermentations of great wines are made by the dedicated winemaking team of Greg Smallwood and Dave Halbgewachs. $36.

On the Kitsap Peninsula, Bainbridge Island’s Eagle Harbor 2015 Old Vine Cabernet from Kiona Vineyards on Red Mountain. This award winning winery produced this polished wine from Red Mountain’s first vineyard. $60.

Karma Vineyards, overlooking Lake Chelan, produced two fabulous méthode champenoise sparkling wines. The finely bubbled 2014 Estate Pink Pinot Noir and the 2013 Brut Chardonnay with hints of apple and bread dough. $50 and $70.

Avennia 2016 Justine Red Rhone is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre that will be a great addition to any cellar. The first graduate of Walla Walla Community College’s Enology and Viticulture program, Chris Peterson was awarded a Winemaker of the Year in 2017. Excellent choice. $40.

A custom crush, custom bottling and canning facility intrigued me. Finding myself in front of Cascadian Outfitters booth, I decided to find out what Goose Ridge was all about and have a sip of Cascadian Outfitters can o’ red while sorting out their relationship.

I have enjoyed many bottles of one of Goose Ridge’s five wine labels, Tall Sage. What drew me to that wine was the back label. “Arvid Monson developed his first vineyard on the advice of Dr. Walter Clore, known as the father of Washington’s wine industry: ‘Find a tall sage and you have a place that will sustain superior grape vines.’ A tall sage is one that develops deep tap roots … This release is our tribute to a man of great stature, the founder of Goose Ridge Estate Vineyards.”

Cascadian Outfitters #Adventureinacan comes in three flavors, Chardonnay, rose, and red blend. Estate wine in a can for kayaking, backpacking or biking to the next winery. A six pack is $30.

Their remarkable 2,200-acre estate vineyard is located on a gentle slope adjacent to the Red Mountain AVA. Their five labels are Goose Ridge Estate, g3, Stonecap, Tall Sage and Cascadian Outfitters.  All come from this vineyard and Goose Ridge also sells grapes to other wineries.

Goose Ridge Estate 2015 Syrah is beautiful, everything you expect in a Syrah. The long, smooth finish comes from 22 months in French and American barrels, some new but most neutral. $38.

Kerloo 2014 Upland Vineyards on Snipes Mountain Grenache is all Grenache whole-cluster fermented and concrete aged. This old Snipes Mountain AVA vineyard dates back to the early 1900’s and is extremely warm and rocky. Pump-overs and punch-downs during fermentation extract color and texture for a beautifully balanced wine with great aromatics. A stunning wine for $40.

In the spring of 1997, Chandler Reach owners Len and Lenita Parris, traveled to Tuscany and stayed in a beautiful villa. Inspired, they created a little slice of Tuscany in Yakima. Their signature red, Monte Regalo Estate 2015 Red Bordeaux is a brilliant blend from the winemaker’s block of Cab, Merlot and Cab Franc. $30.

The Parris Estate Reserve 2015 Yakima Cab Franc is fermented in small, open top fermenters and then cellared for 24 months in new and neutral French oak.  Usually a right-bank blending grape, this standalone version is outstanding. $46.

Many great wineries start in a garage. Associated Vintners, now known as Columbia Winery,  is one fine example of an early Seattle garage winery consisting of a group of University of Washington faculty members.

Ducleaux Cellars started out in their Kent garage. Today, this small family winery is making great wines from an estate vineyard and winery now located in The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, a sub-AVA of Walla Walla.

Ducleaux Cellars’ Chief Tasting Officer, Toby Turlay, was pouring their 2016 Ducleaux Cellars Anarchy. Mostly Syrah with a splash of Mourvedre, this wonderfully balanced wine from the Ancient Lakes AVA is highly aromatic and tasty! $29.

Brook & Bull Cellars is Ashley Trout’s latest venture. A talented winemaker who has produced wine in both Walla Walla Valley and Argentina. The first time I had her wines, it was the Torrontes grape from Agentina where she would work the March harvest.

Brook and Bull Cellars 2016 Columbia Valley Petite Verdot is exquisite. Another Bordeaux grape that is usually blended, this big, rich wine is stuffed with layers of flavors that make you want another taste and then another. $38.

There’s more but not today. In the meantime, save the date for the next Taste Washington, March 2020. Cheers!

Where to Taste Washington Wines

At the grandest Washington wine tasting, there will be over 236 wineries, pouring several wines each. It’s always good to make a list – and try to follow it without getting too distracted. I like to start out with the most expensive ones since they’re the first to go.

The first one I’ll be tasting is from a winemaker who has made some amazing wines at very affordable prices. Barnard Griffin’s 2016 Centurion Cabernet Sauvignon Sagemoor and Caroway Estate Vineyard. No one should bypass one of the greatest and oldest vineyards in the state and one of Washington’s best winemakers. Only $150

Cascade Cliffs 2017 Columbia Valley Blood Red Barbera is a must, too.  Owner/winemaker Bob Lorkowski has a way with Italian grapes. The Barbera is much sought after. It even has its own wine club. Excellent job, Bob.  $75

Canvasback 2015 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, $40.  Imagine a California winery moving into Washington state because they knew great wine country when they tasted it. Canvasback is part of that venerable Napa winery, Duckhorn.

From another great wine country, Red Mountain has an Italian transplant, Col Solare, a partnership between Marchesi Antinori and Chateau Ste. Michelle. They’ve been working together since 1995. The 2015 Red Mountain Cab is $75 and the 2015 Red Mountain Component Collection Cabernet Franc is $85.

Red Mountain fruit also went into Bainbridge Island’s Eagle Harbor Wine 2015 Old Vine Cab from Kiona Vineyard. $60

Gramercy Cellars is an 8,000-case winery founded in 2005 by Master Sommelier Greg Harrington and his wife, Pam. They are Rhône and Bordeaux style fans. Will be tasting the 2016 Walla Walla John Lewis Syrah, $85 and their Columbia Valley 2015 Reserve Cab. $95

In 1978, the first Red Mountain Cab grapes were sold to Preston Winery’s winemaker, Rob Griffin. (See Barnard Griffin Winery above). Kiona Vineyards, a longtime favorite, has their Red Mountain 2016 Estate Reserve Red Bordeaux Blend, for $55 and 2016 Cab from Heart of the Hill Vineyard on Red Mountain. $75

Another distinguished winery, Long Shadows Vintners, is actually a collection of renowned winemakers from revered wineries in Napa, Bordeaux, Germany and Australia. They’re pouring the 2015 Pirouette Red Bordeaux, 2015 Pedestal Merlot, $65 and Chester-Kidder 2015 Red Blend. $60

A transplant from one of Napa’s most famous vineyards, Pritchard Hill, Obelisco Estate is the work of Betsy and the late Doug Long. Can’t wait to try their 2014 Red Mountain Estate Cab 2014 for $50 and their 2015 Red Mountain Electrum Estate Cab. $75

Owen Roe’s David O’Reilly began in Oregon, making incredible single vineyard Pinot Noirs. In 2013, the O’Reillys and Wolffs broke ground in Union Gap for their Washington winery. The 2015 Pearl Block Cab Franc, $72 and 2016 Red Willow Chapel Block Syrah will be staining my glass. $55

A well-regarded Washington winery with ties to Napa’s André Tchelistcheff, the “Dean of American Winemaking,” is Quilceda Creek. Tchelistcheff advised his nephew when Quilceda Creek was on the drawing board. I’ll be tasting the 2016 Columbia Valley Red Blend. $70

Planting began in 1968 for the Sagemoor Vineyards in Columbia Valley. Today, Sagemoor farms five iconic vineyards with 20 varietals planted for “about 100 of the brightest winemakers in the state.” This 2014 Columbia Valley Cab is made by John Abbot from Bacchus, Dionysus, Sagemoor, and Weinbau Vineyards.  $70

One of the newest wineries on this list is The Walls Vineyards, located in Oregon but a sub-AVA of Walla Walla. Wonderful Nightmare 2016 Walla Walla Tempranillo, $38 and the 2016 Red Mountain Curiositas Cab.  $56

And the curious side of me, wants to investigate wineries that I’m not familiar with. There are over 500+ wines to taste, so next on the To Do list would be the ones that I’ve never heard of.

That would include Adrice Wines with California transplants settled in Woodinville. A Rosé of Grenache, Albariño, and Malbec. AniChe Cellars is a small family winery located in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge with a Horse Heaven Hills Dolcetto.

Array Cellars has bottlings of Chardonnay from Celilo Vineyard, Columbia Gorge and Otis Harlan Vineyard in Yakima. Avennia in Woodinville is serving up a Sauvignon Blanc, Red Rhône Blend and Columbia Valley Cab made by Chris Petersen who spent some time at DeLille Cellars learning the craft.

Bayernmoor Cellars in Stanwood, like many western Washington wineries trucks their grapes over from eastern Washington while waiting for their estate vineyards to mature.

Planted in 2008, Vino Bellissimo is a 5-acre vineyard on the Wahluke Slope AVA. Bellissimo Cellars is pouring the 2015 estate Cab and Merlot.

From Walla Walla, Bontzu Cellars has a Cab from Les Collines Vineyard, Rhône Blend, and a white from the Roussanne grape.

With estate vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley, Caprio Cellars produces three estate red Bordeaux.

Cascadian Outfitters offers estate wines in a can! For the adventurous who like to imbibe during hikes, picnics, and bike rides, the Goose Ridge Vineyards offers a Red Blend, Chardonnay and Rosé in a can.

Renton’s Cedar River Cellars has a Chardonnay Cab and Malbec from grapes harvested from three established vineyards in Yakima Valley,

Winemaker and owner Jean Claude Beck grew up in the Alsace region of France. ‘nough said. Located in Zillah, his Chateau Beck naturally includes a Vin Blanc, Vin Rosé and Cab.

Spokane’s Craftsman Cellars is crafting a Wahluke slope Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and red Bordeaux.

Not all damsels are in distress! In fact, Damsel Cellars winemaker Mari Womack is in heaven making a Boushey vineyard Red Rhône Blend, Stillwater Creek Syrah, and a Columbia Valley Cab. I would be too.

Darby Winery at the Hollywood Tasting Room produces a White Rhône, Horse Heaven Hills Cab and Stillwater Creek Vineyard Syrah.

This is only a taste of what’s being poured Saturday and Sunday, Saturday & Sunday, March 30 and 31 at the CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle. Tickets are still available but not for long! Cheers!

 

Taste Washington Vineyards

For a truly grand wine experience, Taste Washington is the place to be. It’s four days of events that overflow with Washington’s culinary riches. There are delicious wines from over 235 Washington wineries to sample and bites from over 65 local restaurants at the Grand Tasting on Saturday and Sunday, March 30 and 31, at CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle.

At the Grand Tasting you can also watch today’s hottest chefs demonstrate their culinary skills on stage, get the wine story from hundreds of winemakers, and indulge in the splendor of it all.

One of my favorite tastings at the Grand Tasting is the “Taste the Vineyards” because vineyards are where it all begins. And you should know that many different wineries are often sourced from the same Washington vineyards. Think what fun and educational tasting this could be!

When you sample wines from the same vineyard, you may learn to identify vineyard profiles. You also learn how the tools and techniques different winemakers use for the same grapes from the same vineyards may be the reason the wines are so different from each other.

Unlike most vines growing in the world today, all vines in Washington are planted on their own rootstocks, since phylloxera, a root-eating aphid, is not an issue here. The combination of the Columbia Valley’s desert dryness in the summer and deep winter chill makes it more resistant to pests and molds. Having vines on their own roots helps us maintain the health and longevity of our vineyards and preserves the grape variety in its natural state with no influence from the grafted roots.

This year, some old and some new vineyards are featured: Alder Ridge Vineyards; Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Cold Creek Vineyard and Canoe Ridge Estate Vineyards; Red Mountain’s oldest, Kiona Vineyards; Coyote Canyon’s Vineyards high atop Horse Heaven Hills; Lake Chelan’s Double D; Clos Che Valle Vineyards; and two other Red Mountain vineyards, Shaw and Quintessence. Intriguing, right?

Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Canoe Ridge Estate is 559 windswept acres in the Horse Heaven Hill’s AVA overlooking the mighty Columbia River. Planted in 1991, it is on the south facing ridge 950 feet above sea level.

Coyote Canyon Vineyard started out as a World War II bomb test site. In 1994, after years of wheat and vegetable farming, the first 20-acre plot of Cabernet vines were planted along a southern slope. It’s now over 1,125 acres of quality wine grapes in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, which is over 570,000 acres overlooking Canoe Ridge and the mighty Columbia River.

Those 1,125 acres grow 25 varieties of grapes that produce fruit for many award-winning wines for almost 30 wineries, including Northstar and Columbia Crest, part of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

Rocky Pond Winery’s Double D and Clos Che Valle Vineyards are also on a gentle slope overlooking the Columbia River but further north in the Chelan AVA. First planted in 2013, Double D Vineyard is between 700 and 940 feet in elevation and the perfect place for 165 acres of Syrah, Cabernet, Malbec, Merlot, Grenache and Mourvedre.

The 50-acre Clos CheValle Vineyard is at 1,250 to 1,600-foot elevations along the south shore of Lake Chelan. This big body of water moderates weather extremes in summer and winter, giving the grapes a chance to develop evenly – both sugars and acids.

With the perfect combination of the lake controlling temperature extremes and the glacial till soils, the 10-year-old vines of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (a relatively unknown grape in the Pinot family usually used in blending a Champagne) are producing some fine wines. Other grapes grown are Riesling, Viognier, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Syrah.

In the wine industry, a winery name usually comes first and then “vineyards” is tacked on the end if they own them. Not so with Kiona Vineyards. On its website, it states emphatically, “We’re not Kiona Cellars. We’re not Kiona Selections. We are Kiona Vineyards. That’s an important distinction for us to make, because we grow grapes. For our own winery and for more than 60 others. Kiona Vineyards … is … the essence of our family’s forty-year tradition.”

Kiona Estate is Red Mountain’s pioneer vineyard, planted in 1975 by John Williams and Jim Holmes. Predominately Cabernet and Merlot, it also is home to Washington’s oldest and best Chenin Blanc, Riesling and Lemberger vines.

According to its website and I wholeheartedly agree, “…this vineyard and the attention it has received over the last 40 years has made Red Mountain what it is today.”

Today, the Williams family owns Kiona Vineyards. Jim Holmes went on to his own 120 acres of neighboring vineyards and is a highly sought-after vineyard consultant. Some 30 wineries get their grapes from Holmes’ Red Mountain vineyards and many more are waiting in line to buy his grapes.

Also on Red Mountain are the older Shaw Vineyard and the newer Quintessence Vineyard, where, for almost three decades, Dick Shaw’s extensive experience has produced grapes for many award-winning wines.

As a result of all that, Dick and Wendy Shaw were inducted into the 2018 Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame. The two were honored at last year’s Legends Gala at the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center for their 38 years of producing spectacular and much-sought-after fruit on Red Mountain.

The Quintessence Vineyard, along the eastern ridge of Red Mountain, is a partnership between Dick Shaw and Paul Kaltinick. The vineyard is now almost 300 acres, but the pair started in 2010 with 68 acres planted to Cabernet.

You can taste these vineyards, the hundreds of other wines, the delectable bites and learn more about Washington’s fabulous wines at Taste Washington on March 29 and 30. Purchase your tickets at https://tastewashington.org/event/grand-tasting-2-day/.

But wait! There’s more! The Red & White Party that takes you “into the cellars” of Washington’s premier winemakers, Taste Washington On the Farms, the swanky Canlis Wine Dinner with rare Washington wines, The New Vintage, a backstage pass to meet and mingle with the chefs and winemakers, seminars and Sunday Brunch with Pacific Northwest flair.

It’s a lot like Christmas, indulge! Cheers!

What’s up in Walla Walla during Washington Wine Month

Welcome to March, Taste Washington Wine month. Wineries, restaurants and retailers promote the many wines Washington has to offer. It culminates at the end of the month with Taste Washington, a four-day event celebrating Washington wine and food.

The wine industry in Washington is new compared with Bordeaux, where there are thousands of chateaux producing wine from Cabernet, Merlot and the other permitted grape varieties.

In comparison, Washington has 900-plus wineries and a little more than 60,000 acres  planted to vineyards, making it No. 2 in wine production behind California with its approximately 4,500 wineries and 880,000 acres under vine.

Kicking off the Taste Washington Wine month, the Walla Walla Wine Alliance came rolling into town to promote that corner of the Washington wine industry. It was a wonderful opportunity to catch up and get acquainted with some of the newer wineries from that American Viticultural Area (AVA).

Walla Walla Valley is one of four Washington AVAs that include portions of neighboring states, most into Oregon and one into Idaho. Walla Walla has one recently recognized a sub-AVA, the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater. This AVA lies entirely within the Oregon portion of Walla Walla Valley.

Most of the vineyards are in the hills that flank the Walla Walla River, a tributary of the mighty Columbia River. The climate is perfect for traditional Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet, Merlot, Cab Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec.

This is also Rhone varietal country with plantings aplenty of Syrah and Grenache with a sprinkling of Mourvedre, and whites Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Rousanne and Marsanne.

There are also vineyards planted to the Spanish grape Tempranillo and the long-lost Bordeaux variety, Carménère, which is making a meteoric comeback in Chile and Walla Walla.

One of the oldest settlements in Washington, Walla Walla was a trading post for the Idaho gold rush and French fur trappers. The French being French planted vines in the area around the 1850s.

But a freeze took out the vineyards and the railroad skirted through Spokane instead, nipping this agricultural center in the bud.

Fast forward almost 100 years and Walla Walla is now renowned for its wheat fields, onions and, yep, wines.

The second and more sustainable wine wave began with four wine pioneers, Leonetti, Woodward Canyon, L’Ecole and Waterbrook. The wine revival came in the late 1970s, when these pioneering vignerons embarked on planting vineyards in the valley.

From those early days, some 100-plus wineries are now producing great wines from about 3,000 acres of vineyards. The top five varieties are Cabernet at 36 percent, Syrah at 18 percent, Merlot at 16 percent, Cab Franc at 7 percent and Malbec at 4 percent.

While standing in line waiting for a pour at one of the newest wineries, The Walls, I slid left to Tertulia Cellars for a sip. And oh my!

Time is the best way to describe Tertulia’s winemaking philosophy. Winemaker Ryan Raber poured the 2015 Carménère; 2015 GSM, dubbed Great SchisM; Ryans’ Reserve; and 2013 Phinny Hill Vineyard Horse Heaven Hills Cab.

I learned some interesting things from Raber. For instance, the GSM stands for “Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre” and is called Great SchisM. This wine comes from The Rocks AVA. The estate vineyard is called Riviere Galets, which is French for river of rocks. And quite literally, the ground is covered with rocks, much like southern Rhone.

Another unusual process was aging in large neutral French oak barrels called fudre for 16 months. These larger barrels were used to lessen the impact of the slow oxidation in the traditional barrels. Since the wines spend less time in oak, more of the fruit character is preserved.

The Ryans’ Reserve, a blend of the traditional Bordeaux grapes, is named for Winemaker Ryan Raber and Vineyard Manager Ryan Driver. The grapes are from their Elevation Vineyard, terraced at 1,500 to 1,700 feet.

The Elevation Vineyard is quite unique. With soils composed of silt and basalt, this vineyard was not planted but rather drilled. Yep, they used jackhammers to drill the holes to plant the grape vines. The resulting harvests are small but the fruit is concentrated.

A blend of 83 percent Cabernet Sauvignon with a little Merlot and Petit Verdot, Ryans’ Reserve is also unique in the way it is racked. After 22 months in oak, this wine was racked using the old-world technique of “soutirage,” a process of racking the wine without a pump from barrel to barrel before bottling.

These old-world traditional techniques are pretty rare anymore, with only a few wineries or even Chateaux using this technique, which softens the tannins.

One great Bordeaux chateau that continues with this process is Cheval Blanc. And Rader and I had a chuckle remembering good old Miles from the movie “Sideways.” You remember the guy that drank the spit bucket? Very gauche.

But that was not half as wicked as his next conflagration – drinking his most prized bottle of 1961 Cheval Blanc from a styrofoam cup, alone.

We all know the best way to enjoy Cheval Blanc, Tertulia or any wine is together with family and friends and in a wine glass. Cheers!

Another Gift Idea for the Wine Lover

Taste Washington
March 28-31, 2019 

Taste Washington is a Washington wine celebration! It’s a food and wine lovers’ wonderland! And tickets are on sale making this a fabulous stocking stuffer.

With more than 235 wineries, 65 restaurants and some of the nation’s most-talented chefs, this is the ultimate tasting. Get ready to drink and eat to your heart’s content.

Thursday, March 28
For one night only, this exclusive experience takes you ‘into the cellars’ of Washington’s premier winemakers to taste the best of the best. This is the only event at Taste Washington where you will you find Washington winemakers’ most-coveted bottles.

Friday, March 29
Home to everything from shellfish farms to fruit orchards, it’s no surprise Seattle has one of the most unique and exceptional farm-to-table dining scenes in the country. Taste Washington On the Farm invites you to come around the table with farmers, winemakers and chefs to celebrate the hands and land behind Washington’s food and wine. You’ll have the chance to get outside and tour a local farm, then enjoy a sensational lunch paired with some of the best Washington wines alongside the chefs and winemakers who craft them.

Saturday & Sunday, March 30-31
CenturyLink Field Event Center
A truly ‘grand’ experience, this two-day event is overflowing with Washington’s culinary riches. With delicious samples from over 235 Washington wineries and bites from over 65 local restaurants, there a lot of good things to taste here.
Whether you’re a seasoned wine and food connoisseur or simply a fan of eating and drinking great things, there’s something to satisfy every taste bud at this event. Thank goodness there’s two days to discover many good wines and foods.
Wishing you a very Happy Holiday!

Washingon’s Big Fruit Harvest

It’s been a bountiful harvest on the Kitsap Peninsula. Everywhere there are apple, pear and plum trees are bearing tons of fruit. In my yard, the three apple trees, Italian plum and two walnut trees are keeping me pretty busy. The race began in earnest the end of August, picking blackberries before the heat of the day.

Next on the to do list were apples. I froze them, thawed them and then pressed them for some of the sweetest cider I’ve ever tasted. Then I fermented 5 gallons of cider, baked couple of apple cakes, cooked up a dozen jars of apple sauce and when I ran out of jars, sliced over 30 pounds of apples and dried them. It’s a great snack, especially when accompanied with a thin slice of cheddar and a glass of Riesling.

The plums were plentiful too. They accompanied me to every meeting I went to. Out of town guests were sent packing with a bag of plums and apples. Plum tarts, plum wine and jars of spicy plum sauce now occupy my kitchen. I will trade a plum tart for a bottle of wine.

In my spare time, I helped out with crush at a few Bainbridge Island wineries. At Perennial Vintners last month, bottling was the order of the day. Because that’s what you have to do in a small winery to make room for the coming harvest. There is only so much room for a limited amount of tanks.

And this time of year, tanks are needed. Whites are bottled and reds go into barrels. At Perennial, the wine was pumped from the tanks into a smaller container about the size of an aquarium with six spigots. Next, bottles were gassed and then filled, corked and labeled by a crew of volunteers under the direction of owner/winemaker Mike Lempriere. He’ll be harvesting Müller -Thurgau from the Puget Sound AVA soon.

At Eleven Winery, owner/winemaker Matt Albee crushed Elephant Mountain Syrah and Viognier in mid-September and then Tempranillo. This week, the Lemberger is scheduled to arrive. Wine grapes arrive in big tubs called lugs. The lugs are so full of grapes, they’re moved around with a fork lift.

Albee had devised a system to tilt the tub with the fork lift so one volunteer can rake the grapes onto the moving conveyor line where two volunteers remove leaves, bugs and dried grapes. As the grape bunches reach the top of the conveyor, they fall into the crusher/destemmer. Stems fall into one lug and crushed berries fall into another.

When crushing is finished, the lugs are moved into the winery, treated with SO2 and covered with a cloth sheet to allow the sulfites to do their job of killing wild yeasts before off-gassing for 24 hours. After that, the yeast culture is added and voila! Fermentation begins.

Belfair’s Mosquito Fleet Winery has a similar setup however, their sorting tables are manned by at least a dozen enthusiastic volunteers who pick out the dried berries, leaves and other debris that are not Petite Verdot and Malbec grapes. It’s a convivial event with owners Brian and Jacquie Petersen and Scott and Jacy Griffin; lunch and, of course, tastes of award winning wines. Small wineries welcome and take very good care of their volunteers.

With anticipation and apprehension, winemakers keep tabs on their vines and weather at harvest time. It’s the age old winemaker question, when should picking begin? The answer, my wine friends, is blowing in the wind and different for each grape variety. Some are early ripeners, like Syrah and some are late ripeners, like Cabernet.

At an estimated 268,000 tons, the 2018 harvest in Washington is likely to be bigger than last year but not as big as 2016. That year holds the record for grape harvest at 270,000 tons. In contrast, Oregon’s harvest is estimated around 85,000 tons, on par with their 2015 record crop. And in British Columbia, harvest was at an all-time high of 32,700 tons.

A staggering two-thirds of Washington’s grape harvest is handled by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, which includes brands such as Columbia Crest, North Star, Intrinsic, Col Solare, Seven Falls, 14 Hands, and, of course, Ste. Michelle.

Much of the growth is due to 58,200 acres of new vineyards that have matured. Most of these plantings are in established AVAs. But hold on to your hat – five new AVAs are on the docket. Applications for Goose Gap, Royal Slope, The Burn, White Bluffs and Candy Mountains have been filed.

It’s a busy time of year in but somehow the Yakima Valley wineries manage to harvest, crush and celebrate. They invite you to celebrate their bountiful harvest during the  Annual Catch the Crush on October 13th and 14th. Each winery offers its own celebratory activities such as grape stomps, crush activities, tours, free-run juice, hors d’oeuvres, live music, and of course, wine tasting.

If you purchase a Catch the Crush Premier Pass, you’ll enjoy exclusive food pairings, library tastings and tours. Wineries ask you to bring your own glass, photo ID and designated driver for this annual wine adventure. Cheers!