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.