Episode #20 Latah Creek Winery Spokane
Only a handful of wine makers in the state of Washington have as much experience as Mike Conway.When Mike opened Latah Creek and Hogue Cellars in 1982 (in a partnership with Mike Hogue), there were only 18 wineries in the state. After two years as the head wine maker at Hogue, Mike left to concentrate on Latah Creek. The full history of Latah Creek can be read on their web site.
Mike crafted his winemaking skills in the 70′s working for wine giants E&J Gallo, Franzia Brothers and Parducci. It was while at Parducci that he honed his skills for white wine and brought the slow cold fermentation process to Washington state (cold fermentation brings out a natural residual sweetness in white wines at a lower alcohol level of 8-10%). It is the white wine line-up that helped Latah Creek grow to a 17,000 case per year company.
100% of Latah Creek’s distribution is done in the Northwest. The annual release of their Spokane Blush, Maywine, and Huckleberry d’Latah are highly anticipated in the region. While 70% of their sales are comprised of white wines, Latah’s future focus is the introduction of small lot reserve quality reds. The current Vinosity (reviewed below) is an example of that. While at the winery I also tried the 100% Petit Verdot. If these two reds are any indication, Latah Creek may quickly jump to a 25,000 case per year operation. In talking with Mike, his passion for Washington wine comes through. He wants to expose some of the great grapes that grow in this state (Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Malbec) to his customer base.
While Latah Creek has been a business of two people for 20+ years, in 2005 daughter Natalie joined the team. Mike and Ellena’s vision had always been for Natalie to carry on the business. In elementary school, while all the other children wanted to be firefighters, pro athletes and politicians, Natalie wanted to be a wine maker. Natalie graduated with honors from EWU with a bachelors in biology. Shortly after, she joined the team. Under her dad’s guidance, Natalie is already contributing to the wine offerings with Natalie’s Nectar dessert wine and the Vinosity red blend.
One thing that sets Latah Creek apart from all other wineries in town is their spacious tasting room and the selection of gift/boutique items. Mike’s wife, Ellena, runs the tasting room and has done a fantastic job of stocking it with whimsical gifts, wine accessories, and artful decorations. During the holidays, tasting room traffic increases exponentially, and not just for the wine.
Latah Creek; Mike, Ellena (and now Natalie), and their wines, are Spokane institutions. “Spokane is the reason we’re here,” Mike says. Beside’s the wine, Latah Creek’s gift back to the community is their support of the arts and many other charities. The Conway’s are particularly proud of their sponsorships of the Spokane Symphony and the Foster Parents Association.
If you’ve driven on the freeway in Spokane, chances are you’ve driven past Latah Creek. The winery and tasting room sit at freeway’s edge between the Pines and Evergreen exits (13030 E Indiana). If you’re headed to the Valley Mall, take a quick detour and enjoy a free tasting of their wines. Of the 13 offerings only 2 are over $20 (Petit Verdot and Vinosity). The tasting room is open seven days a week from 9AM – 5PM.
NV Latah Creek Vinosity Blend
- The Stuff: 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah and 23% Zinfandel. Produced from various vineyards in the Washington State (Wahluke and Columbia Valley) 13.5% alcohol
- The Swirl: Dark violet color with nice translucent tones. Not completely opaque. Moderate legs representing some good residual sugar and alcohol.
- The Sniff: Boom! Awake with dark blueberry and Cassis. Get a faint whiff of a tender spice and cocoa (could be the Zin).
- The Sip: While not entirely a fruit bomb, this wine has some very nice structure. I can definitely feel the Syrah, but the strength of the Cabernet balances it out. The heat and playfulness of the Zinfandel keep the finish alive for some time adding a nice acidity.
- The Score: At just $20 retail this is a heck of a buy! I score this wine a strong 4 (out of 5). If I found this wine for anywhere south of $15 I would buy several bottles.