Tag Archives: Okanogan Estate & Vineyards

Tasting: Okanogan Estates and Vineyard

A couple months ago we had a chance to sit down and try the varied selection of wines from a winery that at first glance we assumed was located across the border in British Columbia.

While it is a Washington winery, it’s location near the Canadian border means the wines made on the estate are less like the Eastern Washington wines we’re so familiar with and more like those made up north.

Okanogan Estate & Vineyards is located in Oroville, five miles south of the border. It really is part of BC’s Okanogan Valley, even if it is in another country.

Just because you cross the border doesn’t mean the terroir suddenly changes. The climate and the soils are every bit the same at Okanogan Estate as they are at the BC wineries.

The climate is hot with desert-like days and the evenings cool, much like the vineyards of eastern Washington. So while the winery is located to the north, it still really is Eastern Washington.

Okanogan Estate is one of 70 wineries in the Okanogan Valley, but it’s the only American winery.

A little history about the town and Okanogan: Oroville, a turn-of-the-century gold mining town, got its name from the Spanish Oro or in English — gold.

In 1938 the local fruit cooperative marketed their fruit under the Gold Digger Apples label. Gold Digger Apples planted vineyards in 1999 and started making wine under Gold Digger Cellars. The name was later changed to Okanogan Estate & Vineyards.

The winery produces handcrafted wines from vineyards where the grapes are hand picked. The locally grown grapes are chardonnay, cabernet franc, gewürztraminer, merlot, Pinot grigio, pinot noir, Riesling, sauvignon blanc and syrah.

Because Okanogan Estate is so far north, it has many opportunities to leave its grapes on the vine well into November. And you know what that means: Ice Wine.

At the start of April we had an opportunity to meet with Tracyton born and raised Darwin Schnell, who is the national sales and marketing manager for this most northern of Washington wineries.

He provided us samples of the wide range of wines made at Okanogan Estate. It was fun and interesting to taste all their wines — especially considering earlier that week we’d just attended the Taste Washington event, so we could compare Okanogan Estate’s to the other Washington wineries.

Here are a few of our favorites from the tasting:

2009 Blue Lake vineyard Pinot Grigio

This lovely little white wine is 100 percent stainless steel fermented and aged. It doesn’t see any oak and yet it is full bodied. It is crisp and clean with citrus and green apple flavors. The finish is bright and clean.

2006 Bench Rock Red

This hearty red is a blend of cab, merlot, cab franc and syrah. It has a juicy berry nose and flavors of dark berries, plum and spice. Its finish is smooth with a hint of spice. The brackish rim color does show its maturity.

2008 Late Harvest Riesling

The first of the dessert wines, this late harvest had big apricot flavors complimented with a bit of green apple. The wine was harvested in December at 24.2 brix. The residual sugar or RS is 8.5 percent. Delicious!

2008 Late Harvest Orchard Hills Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc

This wine had a nose full of tropical fruit and flavors of melon and lime. Sweet and nicely balanced with 5 percent RS.

2006 Orchard Hills Vineyard Chardonnay Ice Wine

Harvest in November at 42 brix, this wine was destined to be ultra concentrated. The aromas of cotton candy, pineapple and citrus draw you in. The intense flavors are citrus, pineapple and honey that finish silky smooth. This is a very weighty wine. With an RS of 20 percent, this could be dessert all by itself.  (This was Brynn’s favorite of the Ice Wines tasted.)

While Okanogan isn’t as widely seen in Kitsap grocery stores, Darwin has turned some of Kitsap wine stewards onto the winery. The Port Orchard Fred Meyer carries the Bench Rock (around the $10 range) and the winery’s Pinot Noir; Central Market also carries some of the wines. They’re worth checking out if you spot them.

What we’re drinking: Okanogan Estate and Vineyards

Mary writes:

We recently got to taste the whole line of Okanogan Estate and Vineyards wines. The selection was quite impressive but what really stood out was the number of icewines they have available.

Of the four available that we tried, the 2009 Riesling Ice Wine was one of the favorites.

The grapes were harvested after they had frozen on the vine and reached 38 degrees Brix. To give you an idea of how much sugar was in the must, most dry wines are harvested at 24 degrees Brix.

The acidity of the wine was more than double that of an average dry wine.

It was concentrated, rich, complex and sweet. But because there was more than double the amount of acidity in the wine, it balanced the sweetness nicely.

Tropical fruit flavors were dominated by dried pineapple with hints of apricot. The finish was long lasting and fabulous.

Here’s what winemaker Mike Buckmiller has to say about the wine:

This ultra sweet dessert wine is rich and luscious with an intense fruity-floral nose. It offers complex flavors of orchard and tropical fruit including mango, peaches, and candied pineapple with a velvety mouth feel and final notes of vanilla and honey. This Ice Wine is well rounded with plenty of acidity balancing the sweetness.

The wine normally retails for $40, but is on sale currently for $20 — a great deal for anyone who is a fan of icewine.

A French/German wine for summer cucumbers

Wow, with an assortment of ingredients to fill the refreshing summer cucumbers we sought to find the perfect wine recommendation that not only matches the varied flavors, but also compliments the light, refreshing treat.

Luckily we’ve got a wine that’ll work for three of the five suggested fillings — curried ham, lox and cream cheese and horseradish — and another pairing for the hummus.

The ingredients making up the ham filling — including the Dijon mustard, curry and ham — and the lox and horseradish recipes all lead our palates to Riesling.

These delectable bites deserve a wine from a region steeped in history. The boundaries for the Alsace wine region have been moved four times in 75 years, splitting the divide between France and Germany. As a result, it’s a wine that incorporates winemaking traditions of both nations.

France’s Alsace, where Riesling is grown, is located east of Champagne and just west of Germany in the Vosges Mountains. The area has little rainfall, especially during harvest. Local legend predicts a good vintage when it’s a “one shirt harvest.”

While it’s now a part of France, Alsatian wines carry the German tradition of listing the grape name on its label. Typically the names are Riesling or Gewurztraminer, because they’re the most commonly grown grapes in the region, with some Pinot Blanc.

In the French manner, every bit of the sugar is fermented out of the wine during the winemaking process. Because, as every French man knows, wine is more food-friendly when fermented dry and has sufficient acidity to make it refreshing.

The end result is floral and mineral wine with body and depth. In Alsace the wines are bigger, making them feel weightier and allowing them to pair well with heavier dishes.

With age, these wines grow more complex. In 1989, when the Hugel & Fils winery celebrated its 350th anniversary, dinner was served with Rieslings from 1900, 1934 and 1945.

One of the better-known producers, Hugel & Fils 2010 Riesling is dry with lively acidity. It is refreshingly quaffable. Aromas and flavors of apples, citrus, and spring blossoms abound, making it a great match for summer stuffed cucumbers.

If you’re looking to fill the cucumbers with hummus, we must suggest a different wine. It’s not that a Riesling wouldn’t go with it; it’s just that there is a better match.

And we had it the other night when we we’re tasting the wines from Okanogan Estate & Vineyards.

The 2009 Blue Lake Vineyard Pinot Grigio is a dry, stainless steel fermented wine that has flinty, mineral aromas with citrus flavors and full bodied. Look for it at your local grocery story — if you can’t find it, ask them to get it for you.