10 Dec 2009
“I didn’t have the skills to be a plumber and the aromatics are much better.” This was the response from Lone Canary wine maker Mike Scott when I asked “Why did you get into wine making?”
**UPDATE MAY 14, 2010**
After 30 years of wine making in Spokane and 7 years as the co-founder of Lone Canary Winery, Mike Scott is no longer with Lone Canary. They company was sold in late 2009 to Spokane wine maker Don Townshend. While efforts were being made to bring the company into profitability, financial issues forced a change in direction. “The only thing I regret is not having the proper goodbye for the people who have grown to love Lone Canary and Mike Scott wines,” says Mike. After efforts of a third party investor fell through to purchase the winery, Don has decided to move Lone Canary to his Caterina Winery location on North Washington. What will become of Lone Canary? Will the wines be distinct and different from Don’s other brands? In this writer’s opinion, Lone Canary is on life support without Mike Scott’s involvement. The two are inextricably linked. How Lone Canary can survive is a story for another post…until then…thank you Mike for all the great years and all the fine wine.
Wine selling transformed into wine making which gave Mike the first real creative spark that he experienced in life. After learning the wine making craft at Latah Creek through 1990, Scott moved on to work for Steve Livingstone which led to the birth of Caterina Winery in 1993, in which he worked as the head wine maker. In 2002, Steve and Jeanne Schaub approached Mike for a business partnership that gave birth to Lone Canary in 2003.
Choosing a name was not only a difficult task but a potentially costly one. After researching a name that was memorable and conveyed Washington, they came across the state bird, the American Goldfinch also known as the Wild Canary. Perfect! The name was available and they proceeded with logo design, packaging, Federal approval, promotional materials…until…a call from lawyers representing bourbon maker Wild Turkey. Evidently the powerful Kentucky company owns the rights to the name “wild” on an alcoholic beverage – especially when paired with the mighty American Goldfinch (canary). Rather than pursue expensive litigation, the name Lone Canary was born.
With that behind them, Mike, Steve and Jeanne moved forward with the wine making operation. Six years of success – and a few missteps - has brought the operation to 4000+ cases. Crushing is done in Pasco and aging occurs in the Spokane tasting room / warehouse. Brand popularity necessitates growth, prompting the team to look at larger locations in the area. Current wine offerings are the 2007 Barbera, 2007 Syrah (reviewed below), Bird House Red (blend), 2007 Cuvee Rose, 2007 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, 2005 Merlot, 2007 Sangiovese, 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, and a 2008 Pinot Grigio.
My final question, “What’s next for Mike Scott and Lone Canary?” Mike’s eyes lit up as he talked about his newfound passion for the Italian varietals that grow so well in the Yakima region. He’s excited about the Barbera, Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese, and the future release of Dolcetto and Nebbiolo at some point. I find it interresting that an English man moves to America to make Italian wine! “We were meant to drink wine,” says Mike, “I want people to be impressed with the quality of the wine in the bottle, rather than the price on the bottle.”
From everything I can see, this funny little bird that went toe to toe with a wild turkey (and lost) is one to watch (and taste).
2007 Syrah (100%) $21.95 – only 40 cases left
- The Swirl – Very dark and opaque, low legs – indicating lower alcohol content
- The Sniff – An initial blackberry earthy smell is first. Subtle oak gives this smooth smelling wine enough anticipation heading into the sip.
- The Sip – a soft front with a little lilac floral component, mild acidity, and smooth fruit (definitely not a fruit bomb). Dangerous sipping wine because of its contagious taste.
- The Score – At $22 I score this wine a $$$$ (out of $$$$$) This is a Washington Syrah to put on your list to try. If you’ve grown tired of the $8 Australian Yellow Tail, give this Yellow Finch / Canary a try.
Visit Lone Canary at 109 S. Scott / www.lonecanary.com / Twitter @clooneycanary and Facebook at www.facebook.com/lonecanary. Stop by Thursday – Sunday from Noon – 5PM for your own tasting experience. Enjoy live music every first Friday of the month as a part of Spokane’s First Friday 5-9PM.
Enjoy life with friends and DRINK.HAPPY!
07 Dec 2009
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
25 Nov 2009
Simply the most beautiful place that I’ve ever tasted wine!
I’m not a world traveler. I’ve never been outside the US, unless you count downtown San Francisco – okay, I’ve been to Canada but not the cool parts. I hear great things about wine tasting in Napa. I’m sure tasting rooms in Northern Nevada and the East Coast are tops too. From my limited experience (5 regions in WA), Lake Chelan AVA is tops! The majority of the wineries are small lot makers of 5000 cases or less that either grow their own grapes or source from local Columbia Valley or Walla Walla. These are passionate people who have yet to be consumed by the lust of big money and big business!
Kimberly and I enjoyed this trip so much that we have already planned a return trip in May, 2010.
Washington’s youngest AVA (American Viticulture Association), born in May, 2009 boasts 14 wineries. If I were a betting man and had any money to bet, I would put a C-Note down that in 3 years or less you’ll see no less than 30 wineries and tasting rooms in the area.
Of the 12 wineries we visited (sorry to say we missed 2), it was truly difficult to pick our favorites. We loved the personality of Nefarious, the grand tasting room of Benson, the grounds and atmosphere of Vin du Lac, the sexy story behind Hard Row to Hoe, and the impressive underground cave of Karma! However the WINE is the most important part. While we purchase wine at EVERY place we visit, there are a few that lose their appeal when leaving the sunny slopes of the mountain lake.
The Nefarious Cellars wines were amazing. We only purchased the whites (there must’ve been a reason for that – either we didn’t like the reds or they were already sold out). Heather and Dean Neff (owners and wine makers) create a personal wine that reflects their own individual passions using grapes grown on their plots of land or from respected vineyards in WA. The video review shares more of their information and the review of their white blend, 2008 Consequence. The wine, nearly a 50/50 blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Aligote (some Viognier thrown in), gave me an opportunity to try a varietal that I’ve never experienced in the Aligote. My research found that this grape, mostly grown in France as a blending grape has a good sparkling quality to it. This wine is definitely crisp and refreshing. Makes me wish I would’ve opened it in the summer. The 350 cases of Consequence are now sold out.
I typically do my reviews first and then double-check my work with other tasting notes and reviewers to see if I’m full of it. We enjoyed a glass with a Roasted Chicken, Scalloped Potatoes on a bed of veggies. The wine paired well with the dish and didn’t shrink away.
- The Swirl: Lighter than a Chardonnay but not as light as a Sauvignon Blanc
- The Sniff: At first I smelled pears, citrus fruits and rockyness. My wife said she got the smell of butter, like movie theater butter (not the popcorn, just the butter)
- The Sip: Crisp, like biting into a crunchy pear or apple. It felt like a non-oaked Chardonnay with more citrus to it. During my video tasting I mentioned the lack of acidity or finish, but after taking the final glass to the hot tub, I must contradict myself. The structure began to come through after sitting out and being just below room temp (maybe 60 degrees)
- Price to Value Ratio: ($17) $$$$+ If this wine were over $20, I would not score so high. Great value only if you like the style I’ve described.
For me, if you love crisp wines that are not too dry and not too sweet, this is a great buy (if you can find any). If you’re in the mood for something with strong passionate flavor and acidity, then skip it.
DOTD? Currently, while I write, I’m having a Widmer Brothers Drop Top Amber Ale. Soon, I’ll be examining our wine selection to see what wine to take on our Thanksgiving trip with family. You?
While away for Thanksgiving, I’ll try to put together an on the spot Thanksgiving review of the wines other people brought and get candid response from some family members.
Enjoy life with friends and DRINK.HAPPY!