27 Sep 2010
“It’s definitely a ‘come to Spokane’ for me. The visit exceeded my expectations,” says Sean Sullivan of Washington Wine Report. “The people here are passionate about wine, a lot of interesting stories, a lot of interesting (wine) going on here.”
For months I’ve been trying to coax some west side writers to Spokane to experience the quality that I get to experience every day. In June, I was honored to be a part of a trip that included Joe Roberts (1WineDude), Ben Simons (Vinotology) and Eric Hwang (BricksofWine). For the last two weekends, I’ve had the privilege of drinking wine and touring wineries with Sean Sullivan (Washington Wine Report) and Bean Fairbanks (Wine Beer Washington). This weekend was my turn to play host here in Spokane.
Spokane IS a destination for wine and is earning recognition for quality and value production. 90% of Spokane wines are under $30 and are receiving many 90+ scores in trade magazines. Robert Parker recently called out Spokane’s Arbor Crest as one of the best in the state for value and quality. With 20 wineries pouring at 17 tasting rooms, you can experience a wide variety of styles.
For Sean and Bean’s trip, I was able to show them some key wineries and give them a tour of the area. In all, we explored 8 of the 18 wineries from Downtown to Liberty Lake.
Sean and Bean arrived in Spokane around 6pm and Sean hosted the first Spokane focused tasting for his monthly virtual tasting on twitter. A handful of people tasted through the Townshend Vortex NV Red Blend. As we drained that bottle, we moved on to wine from Smasne Cellars and Nodland Cellars before calling it a night around 1AM.
Bean’s focus was the Spokane Oktoberfest happening in Riverfront Park, but she joined Sean and me at Latah Creek. Sean, with clipboard and temperature pen in hand, is a machine when it comes to wine reviews; sipping, spitting, jotting down notes with every wine. Mike Conway and team were bottling their popular Huckleberry Riesling. Mike’s daughter, Natalie and wife, Ellena gave a grand tour of the wines and we even got a sneak peak at Latah Creek’s new label direction (see picture). Latah Creek was the 18th winery in the state. Their leadership and direction has paved the way for all the other Spokane wineries. Our next stop was Arbor Crest for a chat with Jim van Löben Sels, director of operations and viticulture manager. Progress on restoring the Cliff House mansion after December’s fire is coming along quickly. The renovations should be complete in November. Arbor Crest is the city’s most majestic space to enjoy wine with views of the entire Spokane Valley. A stand out wine during the tasting was the 2008 Malbec and 2005 Dionysus Bordeaux style blend.
After lunch we headed to Robert Karl where we chatted with Joe and Rebecca about their focus on old world flavored Bordeaux wines. Joe and Rebecca Gunselman moved to Spokane in 1998 to open their family winery using the greatest grapes in the world, which they believe to be in Washington State. With grapes grown in Horse Heaven Hills, Robert Karl has garnered major acclaim for consistent quality being recognized with 90, 91, 92, and 93 point scores in Wine Enthusiast. One stand out wine was the 2006 Inspiration, a Bordeaux style reserve blend.
The final winery stop of the day, but far from the end of the evening activities, was Spokane’s newest winery, Overbluff Cellars. I wanted to make sure the trip included a variety of experiences that included heritage, majestic views, and fresh energy. John Caudill and Jerry Gibson shared their story and we tasted through what little of the wine they still have left (sold out of the Reserve Cab and the Duality Cab). While not quite ready for release, we did get to try their newest wine, Hip Hip Syrah.
As if these four stops were not enough, we ventured to Vino Wine Shop because we got wind that they were pouring Maison Bleue wines. Sean’s excitement about the wines meant that I had to experience them. The Rhone focused wines were incredibly well made. I was especially impressed with the white wines Chardonnay, Viognier and Roussanne. With my newly acquired Roussanne in tow we headed home for pizza and, presumably, more wine. Sean and I polished off the Roussanne while tweeting and chatting by the fire and then headed downstairs to watch a movie. Admittedly, I’ve never seen Sideways, so we tried to find it On Demand. With no luck, we settled on the classic Napoleon Dynamite and after my step-son beat Sean in two games of air hockey, we laughed our way through another bottle of Smasne Cellars wine. Sleep.
I’m a fan of each of the areas I took Sean and Bean, but I was particularly excited about Saturday’s visits to Barrister, Nodland and Liberty Lake. Each winery was buzzing with fun activities. Before starting our day, I took Sean on a tour of downtown pointing out the wineries we were not able to visit, key restaurants and other tourist spots. A highlight for Sean was the Davenport Hotel. The beauty cannot be captured on film. Sean, obviously a wino rock star, was spotted by an adoring fan in the lobby. “Are you Sean Sullivan?” Slightly embarrassed, but mostly flattered, Sean chatted with the blog reader for quite some time.
At Barrister Winery, the first grapes of the season had arrived. Volunteers were helping de-stem the Merlot to prepare it for fermentation. Greg and Michael treated us to barrel tasting in their amazing barrel room and a host of wines including a “sold out” library wine, the 2005 Syrah. A-MA-ZING. Probably one of the 10 best wines I’ve ever had. In chatting with Sean, it was obvious that Barrister made an impression on him.
After a long visit at Barrister, we headed to the Valley for a stop at Nodland Cellars. Tim and Tracy Nodland have made a name for themselves with their one red wine, the Red Blend. The Bordeaux style wine includes all six of the original varietals, including Carmenere. The Nodland’s also produce a classic Riesling and are branching out into very small productions of reserve Cabernet, 100% Carmenere, and a new Rockin’ Red Blend. Tracy was in the middle of punching down their Merlot and let Sean get in on the action. Luckily, Sean didn’t embarrass himself by falling in and ruining the 2010 vintage.
The final stop of the weekend was Liberty Lake Wine Cellars. This small 500 case production winery is on the edge of beautiful Liberty Lake and makes for a fantastic destination to enjoy wine. Impressed with their Red Mountain fruit, Sean chatted with Doug and Shelly Smith about their story and wine making philosophy. The Smith’s were celebrating the release of their first reserve wine, a blend of Cabernet and Syrah, called the Heritage. At $28, the wine is an over achiever at its price point and a stand out wine.
I was honored to share my home with Sean and Bean and extend an offer to any wine writer to come enjoy the beautiful surroundings, fun activities and quality wine that Spokane has to offer. While Spokane may not have the number of wineries that are in Walla Walla or Woodinville, it certainly is deserving of adding to your day or weekend trip plans.
20 Sep 2010
How would you spread the word about a growing wine region? Newspaper ads, key magazine spots, buy up space in trade publications, attend key events, word of mouth; these are all options often considered. Cascade Valley Wine Association looked to wine bloggers for exposure. As a region that already receives 3 MILLION visitors per year and is known for recreation, fruit festivals, and relaxation, Cascade Valley is making a name for itself in the world of wine. How do you spread the word?
As I returned from the three day excursion to CVWC with 11 other wine blogger/writers, I turned the radio off for the three hour drive and contemplated the whole experience that ranged from intimate wine tasting of amazing wine set up outside a barn in a working apple orchard to climbing in and out of the 20 passenger stretch Cadillac Escalade. While I plan to write about the experience, including the highs and the lows, I wanted to take this post to drive home the place that blogs (not just wine blogs) have in the marketing world.
According to Google, more than 8,000 unique people visited my site last month. Add in the impressive influence of the other weekend participants (Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman, Write for Wine, Wine Foot, Washington Wine Report, Wine Peeps, Wine Beer Washington, and Decanter Banter) and you have a very wide audience of regional like minded people who are interested in wine, wine education, and wine exploration. I look at the list and see some of the best writing on Washington Wine out there. Exposing these bloggers to the area and the wines will not only carry a one-time ad impression, but a long-term recommendation and word of mouth exposure.
The Cascade Valley consists of the regions of Wenatchee, Lake Chelan, and Leavenworth. Situated right in the middle of the state, the area is less than three hours from either Seattle or Spokane. 50 wineries and wine tasting rooms dot the landscape and include some of the most respected in the state (Fielding Hills, Boudreax Cellars, and Saint Laurent) along with rising stars (Hard Row to Hoe, Nefarious, and Chateau Faire le Pont). While each area has their own association, branding and promoting the collective region proved to be a struggle. The Ports of Chelan and Douglas County, along with local Chambers and Visitors Bureau’s came together to fund the Cascade Valley Wine Country. Director Jean Ashby is now appointed with the task of bringing awareness to the region while balancing the requests and needs of each local area.
The weekend consisted of a very well organized agenda. Everywhere we went the hospitality was amazing. Almost every winery was not only excited that we were there, but grateful for the opportunity to share their wine (I say almost for a reason, which I’ll explain in a future post). The opportunity to try over 100 wines from 25+ of the area producers generated some very pleasant surprises. Was every wine amazing? No. Was everyone passionate about their business and art? Yes!
While I plan on going more in depth on my experience, here are my initial observations:
- The region is very beautiful. Wenatchee’s endless fruit orchards, Chelan’s pristine lake, and Leavenworth’s quaint village and majestic mountains certainly add to the beauty of the experience.
- There is an experience and destination at almost every winery. Wineries in the area are creating destinations that include food, beautiful estate buildings, live music, and events. It is clear that there is a push for the stay and play dollar.
- Infrastructure to support tourism. Because the area is already has a large tourism draw, the hotel and restaurant industries to support wine tourists are already in place. Stay at a quaint bed and breakfast or enjoy posh amenities at a full service hotel.
- Family, history and story permeate the landscape. Several wineries have been birthed out of third and fourth generation farmers. Many of these people are town fathers, industry leaders, and almost every one of them has a story to tell. The passion behind their adventure is quite contagious.
- The wine quality varies. As with most regions and areas, not all the wine is great and some of the prices are a little hefty. Much of the region is “new” to wine making and growing with many having less than 10 years of experience. Some of the estate fruit growers are seeing continued quality in their product, and others have really hit it out of the park with the consistency of the wine. While not every winery we visited served a quality product, the region as a whole has certainly established itself as a destination for wine.
- 12 middle aged wine bloggers crawling in and out of a limo all day provides endless laughter and a long list of potential blog posts.
I can’t wait to share with you a more in depth review of my experience, including some of the wineries stories and an overview of the wine. Stay tuned and keep an eye out for posts from the other writers too. Thanks, Cascade Valley Wine Country for rolling out the red carpet and seeing the value in blogs.
15 Jul 2010
Nestled in the foothills of Mount Spokane is a family of gnomes that is hard at work making bubbles. These bubbles are enjoyed across the state and beyond to celebrate life’s precious moments. If you look closely you can catch a glimpse of the curious creatures as they work their magic to turn an ordinary bottle of wine into something sparkling and full of life.
Mountain Dome was born in 1984 and was named after the Geodesic dome that was built shortly after the Manz family moved to the area in 1980. Situated on 85 acres in Northeast Spokane, Mountain Dome was started by Michael and Pat Manz. The 9500 square foot production facility and 4,000 square foot dome were built by the family. Dr. Michael Manz was a child psychologist at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital until his passing in 2006. Manz built a legacy that lives through Mountain Dome and through the Children’s Hospital’s BEST program. Erik Manz, along with his uncle John Mueller carry on Michael’s legacy of celebrating life with every glass. “I love being a part of people’s celebrations,” says Erik, “every day you’re alive is worth celebrating.” Still a true family operation, each family member is represented on the label of gnomes.
Retail sales began at Mountain Dome in 1992 with their 1988 vintage. For 18 years, Mountain Dome has been the only ‘bubble maker’ in Spokane. They also sparkle wine for other wineries like Townshend, Lone Canary, and Arbor Crest. Mountain Dome makes sparkling wine in the méthode champenoise style. With this method the bubbles for more complex wines are produced by secondary fermentation in the bottle. As the name suggests, this is used for the production of Champagne and other quality sparkling wines, but is slightly more expensive (and well worth it). The process is very involved and Erik is hands on from riddling (turning of the bottles) to a special freezing machine that assists with removing the lees before disgorging.
The current line-up at Mountain Dome includes their non-vintage “gnome” label, non-vintage dry sparkling rose, vintage sparkling and their elegant Cuvee Forte. Each wine contains the traditional champagne grapes using approximately 66% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay all from Washington vineyards. With case production of about 3000 each year Mountain Dome is the state’s second largest bubble maker (behind Chateau St. Michelle). Erik is excited to be releasing a Blanc de Blanc (sparkling wine using 100% Chardonnay) in the Fall. The winery is open Saturday and Sunday from 11-4pm. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the beautiful view from the outdoor patio. If you’re lucky you may catch a glimpse of those magical bubble making gnomes in action.
Mountain Dome has two external tasting rooms. The first is located at 906 W. 2nd in Downtown Spokane and the other is located in Seattle’s Pike’s Place area 1924 Post Alley.
- The Stuff: 85% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay fermented and aged in neutral oak barrels, skin contact for 10 hours, 1.2% residual sugar, 12%ABV
- The Swirl: Very pale salmon color with hints of orange. Bubbles are medium size and quickly move to the top of the glass
- The Sniff: Subtle yeast and strawberry aroma with a hint of smoked bacon. Lively aromas, if you’re not too careful, the bubbles may tickle your nose
- The Sip: A wonderful delight in the mouth with a soft berry flavor that is graced by a firm body that indicates that this wine would pair well with all kinds of food. There is a great added layer of fruit that comes from the short time with the skins.
- The Score: At $25, this may not be an everyday bubbly for me, but I love the balance of fruit, a touch of sweetness for an off dry flavor and a fantastic acidity that cleanses the palate. 3+/5
18 Jun 2010
What do you get when you cross a commercial Realtor and a political consultant? Potentially, the need to drink a lot of wine. Both professions are fraught with frustration, let downs, and quite a bit of finesse. After a long day at the office, wine wields its wonders on the weight of the workday. Enter Cody George and Brian Murray. As friends, their long time hobby acted as a creative way to express their passion and provide a release from their hectic day jobs. From the early days of knocking on vineyard doors saying, “Do you have any grapes” to 1300 plus cases, Vintage Hill has always been about friendship.
Bonded for their first production in 2006, Vintage Hill Cellars jumped right into the business producing 450 cases with a lineup that included Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Merlot Rose, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc and Merlot. 100% of their wine is produced on site from crush to consumer. They also distribute everything from their storefront on 2nd Ave. Cody and Brian have transformed the old brick building into an eclectic and comfortable urban art vibe. Vintage Hill contracts their grapes from vineyards that include Pepper Bridge, Stillwater Creek, River Wine, and Milbrandt.
While, I’m not a green freak or a tree hugger (not that there is anything wrong with that), I do appreciate the effort a creative effort to recycle. Brian and Cody observed a lot of waste in the wine business ranging from grape skins to grape seeds and even $1000 oak barrels. They turned that waste into products like Orange Clove Cabernet and Lemongrass Merlot infused soaps. Vintage Hill also offers soft soaps and even crushed grapes seed products used to exfoliate. For the true wine die hard, there is wine soaked chipped oak barrels for the BBQ.
Vintage Hill has grown steadily by word of mouth over the years. While Cody says his favorite part of wine making is the late light laughter with friends during crush or bottling, he admits that “winemaking is 90% cleaning.” Vintage Hills is excited for the upcoming release of the 07 Syrah in the fall with a 07 Malbec to come after that. When talking about the future Cody expressed the desire to continue slow steady growth with a more immediate need to establish regular store hours. Currently Vintage Hills is open during occasional First Friday events and other special occasions. It’s always best to call ahead before stopping by.
- On the web: www.vintagehillcellars.com
- On Facebook
- On Twitter
- On the Street: 319 W 2nd Ave
- On the Phone 509.624.3792
- The Stuff: 100% Syrah from Burgess and Milbrandt Vineyards; aged in new and used French oak (regiment not disclosed)
- The Swirl: Deep plum color with nice color to the edge of the glass. Cloudy and slightly unfiltered (of course it did just come out of the tank prior to filtration and bottling)
- The Sniff: Very saturated aromas of stewed cherries, and pepper. Quite a unique nose that is slightly difficult to pin down. It’s like an unwieldy greased pig rolling around in a prune, cherry filled pit.
- The Sip: Good creamy dark berry and cherry flavors with undertones of oak, baked bread and toasted almonds.
- The Score: Not Yet Released – I score this wine 3+ out of 5. Certainly a departure from a traditional Syrah or even a new world Syrah. I encourage you to go down to Vintage Hill for a sampling of this before you buy it just to be sure you enjoy their style of wine making.
One part Italian food, one part Italian wine, mix in a country hillside and a dash of vineyard, round it out with a large helping of family and love, you have Trezzi Farm Food and Wine. No other tasting room in Spokane offers helpings of Polenta, Lasagna, and Pasta along with estate grown wine. You had me at Italian food. Davide and Stephanie Trezzi moved to Spokane in 2005 on a friends insisting and fell in love with the Greenbluff area. There, they bought 20 acres of land and began their new adventure.
Trezzi makes food that is simple, full of flavor, and expresses what he grew up eating. “We’re simple people, we make simple food that is full of flavor,” says Davide. After opening the catering business, the Trezzi’s (pronounced with the same ‘zz’ as pizza), planted a vineyard. A vineyard in Spokane, “what the heck was I thinking,” Davide recalls. This adventure in farming explored the planting of Italian grapes Barbera, Nebbiolo, and Dolcetto. In 2008, Davide and Stephanie finally saw the fruits of their labor as they collected their first harvest of Barbera. Recently the Trezzi’s planted additional acreage of Pinot Grigio and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir). Weather permitting we should see this experiment in Spokane winegrowing produce a harvest.
Times were tough. Growing grapes in Spokane is not an easy task. The Trezzi’s battle the short growing season, unpredictable frosts not to mention the deer, birds and wind. One day a fierce wind threatened their dream of estate vineyards with gusts that knocked the canopy off the trestle. Davide was faced with the choice to leave the newly planted vines to lay windblown and useless or work to reattach the vines to ensure a future harvest. “They become like your children,” Stephanie said as we drank from the result of Davide’s decision to work late into the night.
As if to honor the release of their first vintage, Davide and Stephanie transformed their old tractor barn into a beautiful tasting room complete with a panoramic view of the hillside beyond. The 2008 Barbera is a youthful medium bodied wine that complements the strong acidic pasta dishes perfectly. The wine is meant to be paired with the food. The food is meant to be paired with the wine. Both are meant to paired with life. Trezzi Farms caters with their fantastic Italian menu of pasta, polenta, lasagna, meatballs, rustic chicken and tri-tip beef. On any given day people can be seen picking up pre-packaged meals to take home. Now, there is a wine to pair with those meals.
Trezzi, along with winemaker Don Townshend, created 289 cases of estate grown Barbera (the only vintage grown estate fruit in Spokane), and a Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc. 100% of the wines are sold out of the tasting room. Do yourself a favor and plan a trip to Greenbluff. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy some wine. Buy a bottle or two of Barbera and some lasagna, and enjoy a meal that is completely created here in Spokane.
- Web Site: www.trezzifarm.com
- Address: 17700 N Dunn Rd (Greenbluff) MAP
- Retail Store Hours: 10-6 daily
- Tasting Room Hours: Noon-6pm Friday-Sunday
Call to use Trezzi for catering your small or large event 509-238-2276