Spokane is a growing wine region. With 17 wineries and a local population of nearly 500,000 people, Spokane wineries are poised to experience great growth opportunities over the next 5 years! Robert Karl, one of the regions first, is a gem hidden away in a pocket of downtown dating back to Spokane’s origins. Originally a horse drawn firehouse, Robert Karl Cellars entire annual production of its 2500 cases, is at 115 W Pacific Ave just one block west of Division. The tasting room is open Thursday – Saturday.
Joe and Rebecca Gunselman moved to Spokane in 1998 after Dr. Joe (anesthesiologist) developed a passion for the wine business while writing a marketing paper for his MBA. During our conversation, I learned that the Gunselman’s and I have a Roanoke, VA connection. Joe and Rebecca lived there after Joe got out of the military prior to their move to the northwest.
Joe was unable to meet with us for long because he had to tend to a medical case, but Rebecca – the consummate host -gave her attention to walking us through their wine, explaining their history and vision, and providing a fantastic tour of the facility and their winemaking process. Rebecca’s video tour captures the essence of how their wine is made and provides a great primer for beginning wine tasters as well.
Robert Karl, a name derived from Rebecca’s side of the family (Robert) and Joe’s side (Karl – also their youngest son’s name), procures their grapes from four vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA in the lower Columbia Valley. The Gunselman’s own an eight acre block while three other vineyards grow dedicated blocks under Joe’s specifications. Horse Heaven Hills is a perfect growing climate for Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, Merlot, and Malbec. The vineyards also provide Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc. Rebecca says the Sauvignon Blanc was recently chosen so she had ‘something to drink during the hot summer nights’ in Spokane.
Watch the video, get to know Rebecca and the wine, then make it a point to stop by their winery / tasting room and enjoy a glass wherever it is on the wine list. If you stop by during the right time of year you can see the process in action. Below are my tasting notes for the five wines I tried (my apologies for the brevity, there was a lot of tasting).
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon $30
- The Swirl: Beautiful opaque rich color
- The Sniff: This is a big wine. The explosion of spice, dark berries, leather, and dirt (in a good way)
- The Sip: Like Rebecca said, cherry is the primary front end of this wine. As it opens up more dramatic spice come through. There is a lot of acidity and tannin on the finish. This wine should be consumed with food for maximum enjoyment. A hearty well seasoned steak or spicy pork strips are the first to come to mind.
- The Score: At $30, I score this wine a 3+ (out of 5) – If you like a big bad Cabernet, you’ll love this wine.
2007 Syrah $30 (92% Syrah 8% Viognier)
- The Swirl: Don’t recall
- The Sniff: Very fruity blueberry, chocolate and smoked bacon
- The Sip: Typical sweet fruit Syrah, but not nearly as overwhelming as its Australian sisters. A very nice tannin finish provided just enough structure to pair well with food.
- The Score: At $30 I score this wine 4 (out of 5) - If you need a high quality sipping wine or would like to introduce your non-wine loving friends to something better than the Costco Yellow Tail, then start here.
2007 Estate Merlot $20- 100% Andrews Horse Heaven Ranch
- The Swirl: slightly lighter than the previous two, more pearlescent in color with strong legs (indicating higher sugar and alcohol)
- The Sniff: Cherry tart, pepper, and a little woodsy
- The Sip: Very sexy – not as smooth as some Merlot’s I love, but with the chocolate finish and the mouth-watering acidic ending this works well to sip or with food. (UPDATE: Drank second bottle a few nights later with a heavy Salmon Pasta dish – definitly pairs best with food. The initial sip is light but opens up as it sits in your mouth)
- The Score: At only $20 I score this wine a strong 3+ (out of 5). Give this wine 3-5 years in the cellar and it will be a 4 for sure!
2006 Inspiration $45 - (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot)
- The Swirl: This and the Claret were the most beautiful to look at. The light seemed to dance off the top during the swirl
- The Sniff: I detected a floral scent, like violet along with fragrant blueberries and a smokey cigar box
- The Sip: You can tell that this wine is an investment. If 2006 is a special year for you (anniversary, birth of a child, etc) but a few of these and put them away for up to 25 years. The flavor is very nice and peppery / spicy. Currently pretty tart on the very back of the mouth with a lot of tannin.
- The Score: At $45 I score this wine a 3+ (out of 5) Knowing that we live in a satisfy me now society, drinkers who open this immediately after purchase should decant it a few times.
2007 Claret Red Blend $20 (55% Cabernet Sauvignon,
20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot, and 5% Malbec)
- The Swirl: Amazing color, light plum and clearer toward the edges
- The Sniff: My favorite by far – I could smell this wine before I even gave it the swirl. Scents of cherry and vanilla with mild sweet spice (like a red pepper)
- The Sip: The Claret blew me away, unfortunately there were no more to purchase (the customer just before me bought 14 bottles). A beautiful earthy floral taste with medium mocha and cherry flavors.
- The Score: At $20 I would score this wine 4 (out of 5) - I will stay in touch with Joe and Rebecca so I can get my hands on any more as they come available.
Contact Robert Karl Cellars on Twitter @RKCellars or through their website www.robertkarl.com
Enjoy life with friends and DRINK.HAPPY