20 Apr 2010
Towering high on the hills above the Spokane Valley, Arbor Crest is a picturesque spot for any event and a picture of transformation of quality and direction. The state’s 29th winery began with brothers Harold and Dave Mielke’s departure from the family business of orchards, strawberries and cherry pie filling to growing grapes on the Wahluke slope. With an initial production of 7000 cases in the first year, Arbor Crest’s past is defined by sweet white wines.
Moving into their second generation (and nearly 30 years in the Washington wine business) Harold’s daughter, Kristina Mielke-van Loben Sels and her husband Jim took over the winery in 1999. With Kristina as the wine maker and Jim the viticulturist and general manager, the van Loben Sels have transformed the brand and winery into a quality Bordeaux style production house with a focus on quality red wines. The flagship Sauvignon Blanc is still on the menu and at $10 retail is a showcase of flavor and value. The sweet wines have been replaced by Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Syrah, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah, and the stunning Dionysus blend.
Built in 1924, the Cliff House manor was purchased by the winery in 1985 and has been transformed into a premier event facility and a top destination for picnics, concerts, special events and weddings (including popping the question). The unobstructed East to West views of the Spokane Valley have inspired many a romantic story. Over 30,000 visitors stop by Arbor Crest annually for signature events like the weekly Summer Concert Series (Sunday’s from June through September), Art and Glass Festival (third week in August), and the newly announced Soiree on the Edge with the Spokane Symphony (June 26, 2010). Go to their web site and click events for all the current dates and times.
While the focus of any great winery is the wine, Arbor Crest is entering a new phase of development and growth. On December 23, 2009 Spokane awoke to the horrible news of a fire at the Cliff House Mansion. A faulty electrical strip and secluded location led to significant damage to the interior of the historic mansion. While visitors to Arbor Crest this summer may be shocked by the boarded windows, work has already begun to restore the building. Jim and Kristina are committed to keeping the building a close to time period and history as possible. In addition to rebuilding Cliff House, the van Loben Sels would like to build a new tasting room and events facility overlooking the city. The new space would allow for year round events on the beautiful grounds.
As for the wine, Washington wine expert Paul Gregutt says, “The current crop of red wines is the best overall in the winery’s history.” I can vouch for the Cab Franc, whose silky elegance is matched with a powerful dry spice, the Sauvignon Blanc, rated my top value Sauv Blanc (under $15), and the Dionysus a full Bordeaux blend (with all five varietals) that shows why Washington is the perfect climate to grow wine.
Arbor Crest Cliff House tasting room is open daily from noon – 5pm and don’t forget about their satellite tasting room at River Park Square. Stop by for a sip and shopping, open daily: 11 – 7 Mon-Thurs, 11-9 Fri-Sat, 11-5 Sun.
2007 Arbor Crest Sauvignon Blanc
- The Stuff: 100% Sauvignon Blanc from Columbia Valley, WA (Bacchus Vineyards), never oaked, 2540 cases, 13%abv
- The Swirl: Super clear with a mild golden delicious apple tone
- The Sniff: Cut open a pineapple, squeeze some lemon and spray a small spritz of vanilla room spray and you have the nose of this wine.
- The Sip: Strong acidity on the upper palate with a smooth citrus and lemon peel flavor across the tongue. There is no tartness and the alcohol is not hot. Not overly huge in structure but has great flavor for the price.
- The Score: $11 retail but only $7 at Cost Plus World Market, I score this a 4 (out of 5) for value and flavor
08 Apr 2010
So, here I am sitting in the tasting room, with an amazing view of the hills north of Spokane. Like a typical Spring day in the Northwest, the clouds are simultaneously flirting with rain and sunshine. I’m sipping on a 2002 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with the wine maker. The wine has JUST NOW been released. How many wineries that you know are releasing their 2002 wines in 2009/2010?
Townshend Cellars has grown from a small production boutique winery to a powerhouse of quality producing over 20,000 cases per year from a selection of 20+ wines. Located 20 miles North of Spokane in beautiful Green Bluff, Townshend Cellars is a destination for wine in the heart of apples, strawberries and pumpkins. I’m ashamed to admit this was my first visit to Townshend, and even worse, my first experience with ANY Townshend wine. Before you discredit my wine experience, hear me out.
I first met Don Townshend for my review for the grand re-opening of Caterina Winery (Don recently took over ownership). While I’ve seen the T3, Vortex, and Table Wines in stores, I had yet to experience any Townshend wine. Upon my arrival, Don and Jill Rider (tasting room manager), welcomed me and the wine began flowing. What surprised me was the variety of wine that Townshend produces. From bubbles to Tempranillo, you can experience just about everything in the tasting room. – Seriously people, there are over 20 wines, including port, Rose, Chardonnay, Lemberger, Merlot, Malbec, Chenin Blanc and even Pinot Noir.
Townshend Cellars began in 2001 with the release of their 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon. That wine won the Inland Northwest’s best Cab and the praise has never stopped. Don attributes the success of Townshend to the Cab and the T3. T3 is a blend of Cab, Merlot and Cab Franc that was originally only available in restaurants. Customers can count on the wine to be consistent and a good value. Townshend’s signature wine spends up to 30 months in oak and another 3-4 years in bottle before being released. Sourcing 500 tons of grapes from Preston, Willard, Alder Creek and more, Townshend is committed to quality wine that releases when it’s ready, not when the cost sheet says so.
This winery visit included so many highlights. Don and Jill opened their 07 Malbec, 02 Cabernet Sauvignon, T3, and the biggest surprise, Huckleberry Brut. To be honest, this bubbly stuck with me so much that I’m still thinking about it. Made in the brut style, the sweetness of the huckleberry is subdued. Not a single Townshend wine is over $30. Check out the Diamond T club for 20% off of club shipments and 10% off wine and merchandise purchases.
While the current location was voted one of the top 10 places to have a picnic by Tasting Room Magazine, Don was excited to announce the ground breaking of a new tasting room further north in Green Bluff. The larger tasting room should be complete toward the end of summer with future expansion for wedding and meetings on the 20 acres coming in the next few years (check out the video for the amazing views).
It may have taken me a few years to experience Townshend Cellar but from what I’ve tasted, I can now relate to everyone who raves about the wine.
Townshend on the web: www.townshendcellar.com
Townshend on Twitter: @townshendcellar
Townshend on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Townshend-Cellar/107962877089
Open Thursday – Sunday Noon – 6pm
29 Mar 2010
Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Bordeaux…these may be the comfort wine of our world, but Spokane Winery Knipprath Cellars is making a bold departure and creating quite a stir with their Port line up and new focus on Iberian grape varieties Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Touriga Nacional. German born, Henning Knipprath grew his passion for wine in California, then started a winery in the state of Washington with a focus on Spanish/Portuguese wine. Henning brings his global experience to wine making and offers a perfect way to travel, with our palate, to new places!
(Henning is little quiet so turn up your volume)
After attending school in California and graduating with a Chemical Engineering degree, in 1990 the Air Force brought Henning Knipprath to Spokane (thanks, Uncle Sam). With a longtime passion for wine, Henning started Knipprath cellars in 1993. As an Air Force pilot, military deployments kept Knipprath Cellars a part-time operation until 1999 when they moved into their current location at 5634 E Commerce Ave. With his European background, Henning produced the “standard” Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet, Merlot), but it was his Port product that began getting the attention of consumers. “We didn’t set out this direction,” says Henning, “we were nudged by the customer’s response.” The nudge is so strong that Port sales are 60% of Knipprath’s production of 3000 cases.
The Port selection consists of a traditional ruby port, tawny port and creative delicacies that can only be described as desert in a bottle. The Au Chocolate is an infusion of pure chocolate extracts, and grape spirits while the yang to that yin is the La V vanilla port. The newest addition is the soon-to-be released Coffee Port. Look for a formal review soon. One might imagine some interesting creations by mixing two or even all three. In addition to Port, Knipprath offers hints of Henning’s German heritage with a seasonal spiced red wine using a recipe from his mother’s cookbook (Alpine Wine, $16), and a refreshing summer Lagrima (best served with a slice of lemon.)
The entire production of Knipprath wine (from grape to bottle) is done in the historic 6700 square foot Parkwater schoolhouse. Every inch of this building oozes character showing small hints of its use as a parochial school, military typing depot, and convalescence home. Henning has big plans for the space as he continues to think toward the future of expanded production, events space and expansive tasting room.
Next on the horizon for Knipprath Cellars is the release of a new label, La Bodega Del Norte. With Knipprath being so synonymous with Port, people often have a hard time recognizing the other quality wine. La Bodega Del Norte will focus on Tempranillo, Garnacha, and other Iberian grapes. Watch for these new releases in the near future.
Knipprath on the web: www.knipprathcellars.com
Knipprath on Facebook: search for Knipprath Cellars
Tasting Room Hours: Wed-Sun, Noon – 5pm
Old fashion phone call: 509.534.5121
12 Mar 2010
Historic building. Check. Central location. Check. Fantastic outdoor space. Check. Rich heritage. Check. Respected winemaker who is dedicated to quality product. CHECK! Caterina Winery has risen from the brink of extinction poised to reclaim its place as a premier Spokane winery.
Caterina’s roots date back to 1993 with winemaker Mike Scott (formerly of Lone Canary). As a pioneer of the Spokane wine scene, Caterina is proudly located in the historic Broadview Dairy Building at 905 N Washington. As time progressed it seemed that Caterina lost its way with a split personality of winery, bar, and music venue. In 2009, the winery was in danger of closing its doors forever.
Enter, Don Towshend. Don is the winemaker and owner of Spokane’s Townshend Cellars. Widely respected for quality wine-making, Townshend “cut his teeth” on wine at Caterina Winery. Picking up winemaking skills from Mike Scott, Preston Winery and others, Don’s connection to Caterina is strong. In March 2009, the ownership of Caterina approached Don with an offer to buy their assets. Hating to see Spokane lose such a treasure and seeing the potential for Caterina, Don stepped in to take over ownership.
While Townshend and Caterina are made in the same facility, Don is committed to crafting the wines in differing styles. Caterina’s line up is made in a very main stream, new world style with less time in oak and a very fruit forward approachable style. “Everything in the line-up is less than $20 and very approachable,” says Don. Current production is at 2500 cases with plans to expand as customers return to the quality.
While talking with Don and tasting room manager, eyes light up when discussing the building space and location. While renovations and changes will continue, visitors will notice a huge change in space layout. “We opened up the space. It was broken up and felt tight.” The renovations have created a space that is conducive to corporate events, parties, weddings, etc. Don and Steve are excited to participate in Spokane’s First Friday Art Walk events and look forward to utilizing the indoor and outdoor space for events and live music.
As a Spokane wine lover, I just want to say a personal “thank you” to Don and team for his commitment and passion to Spokane and Spokane wine. I look forward to seeing the resurrection and re-birth of Caterina!
GRAND OPENING WEEKEND (March 11-14) Noon – 6pm
Tasting Room Hours:
Wed – Sun Noon – 6pm
905 N. Washington
22 Feb 2010
The story of Grande Ronde Cellars is the circle of life…wine life. It’s the story of a caterer who struggled to find good wine, so he opened a wine shop. It’s the story of a wine shop owner who struggled to find access to quality wine, so he started a distributorship. It’s the story of a distributor who fell in love with the process and passion of wine-making and used his connections with key grape growers to secure quality fruit. In 1997 Grande Ronde Cellars was born and now the circle is complete as they are a winery that uses a distributor to sell to wine shops and ultimately to consumers and caterers. Grande Ronde is operated by partners Dave Westfall, John Mueller, and David Page.
*Dave must be a little camera shy because he kept sneaking off screen. Ahh, the dangers of filming without a camera man. My apologies, Dave!
Grande Ronde sources grapes from two prestigious Walla Walla vineyards, Seven Hills and Pepper Bridge (added in 2002). The 1200 case production has remained the same for all 13 vintages. The French style wine production shows patience as each vintage spends between 14-18 months in 100% French Oak and is bottle stored for three years before release. The current single vineyard reds are 2003 Seven Hills Cabernet (reviewed below), 2003 Pepper Bridge Cabernet and 2003 Seven Hills Merlot. Production also includes red blends, a white blend and Black Muscat, Chenin Blanc, and Chardonnay. Releases consistently score 90+ points in Wine Spectator.
Wine production occurs in the mountains north of Spokane at Mountain Dome winery. While Mountain Dome is a special place and a fine producer of Sparkling wine, Dave saw an opportunity to bring wine, food and art together in Downtown Spokane. In 2004, after lobbying the state legislature, Dave opened Washington’s second cooperative / collaborative tasting room featuring wine from five “off-site” wineries; Grande Ronde, Mountain Dome, Masset, Morrison Lane, and Emvy Cellars. The basement tasting room at 906 W. 2nd Ave offers a fantastic opportunity to enjoy a variety of Washington wine, art, education classes and even the occasional Gonzaga Bulldog basketball game.
New for 2010 is an event facility for up to 40. Small wedding, corporate and private events can enjoy the cellar like atmosphere adjacent to the tasting room. “The Last Drop” is operated independently from the tasting room and requires a serving license to serve wine.
With 30 years in the wine business, Dave and partner Sam Lange have a wealth of knowledge from their miles of travels. 2009 marked the release of the first (in a series) Journey to Eastern Washington Wine Country. The series is a handbook of for wine lovers as they travel across the state offering suggestions on where to eat and where to sleep as they taste their way across the state. The first book focuses on Walla Walla, Spokane, and Northern Idaho. Additional books in the series will continue the journey across the Northwest.
Grande Ronde Tasting Room
906 W. Second Ave
Spokane, WA 99201
Open: Wed-Saturday 11:00 am to 5:00 pm (Open later on First Friday’s)
2003 Seven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon
- The Stuff: 100% Seven Hills Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
- The Swirl: Very dark purple, opaque, Welch’s grape juice color
- The Sniff: Bright blueberry and cherry fruit, pretty grapey too – a wonderful spice comes up at the tail end of the sniff – good aromatic wine
- The Sip: The fruit is more subdued on the palate but presents a nice earthy blueberry and grape flavor with hints of vanilla and pepper spice. A nice acidity on the back end helps provide a medium length finish. Tannins are moderate but not harsh.
- The Score: At $30, this is a nice fruit forward Cabernet that I can score a 3+ (out of 5).
Previous 2002 Vintage scored 90 at Wine Spectator; Cellar Tracker (1 review) no score
PREVIOUSLY REVIEWED in December 2009
2005 Cellar Red
- The Stuff: 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Carmenere 6% Merlot 4% Malbec
- The Swirl: Medium tone with a very nice purple jewel tone. Moderately see through
- The Sniff: Immediate sense of clove and cinnamon spice. The berry comes through on the back-end. A slight floral element presents itself
- The Sip: Still spicy on the sip with a good interesting flavor. Dark berry fruits begin to present themselves and the finish lingers for quite some time. Tannins, alcohol and acid are not dominant. My wife noted a perfume / soap taste.
- The Score: At $20 I score this wine a 3+ (out of 5) The wine has a wide flavor profile and gives the drinker a lot to consider. The floral components seem slightly out of balance with the clove and spice.