13 Dec 2010
The rolling hills and wheat fields covered in a layer of white, the drive from Spokane to Pullman is as beautiful as it is peaceful. Just 90 minutes from Spokane, Washington State University and University of Idaho dominate the landscape of this twin town of 50,000. With college enrollment of 18,000 at WSU and 11,000 at UofI, this is a region defined by young aspiring students. Conversations of Snookie and Coors Light are more likely to be found than sips of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet. On this journey we explore the wineries of the Palouse.
Merry Cellars has been making hand crafted wine from premium Washington vineyards since 2004. On our visit, Merry Cellars was celebrating their annual barrel tasting of three 2009 vintages. Winemaker Patrick Merry graciously welcomed us and beamed with pride as he showed us around their new tasting room just north of Pullman off of Highway 27 in an industrial park loop. The 2009 Tempranillo, Syrah, and Carmenere all showed promise in their youthful state. Each of these wines is expected to be released in the next few months. The stand out wine to me was the Syrah which already boasted a nice balance of fruit, spice, and flavor.
As we tasted through each of the current 9 releases, the common thread of a hint of sweetness accented each of the fruit forward wines. A consistent quality was present across the board and only the Stillwater Creek 06 Syrah flirted with the $30 price point.
2009 Merry Cellars Stillwater Creek Semillon
I loved the smooth fruit and hint of toasted almonds in this wine. The 100% Stillwater Creek Semillon spent 6 weeks fermenting in new American and Hungarian oak before undergoing full malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks. Great layers of melon, almonds, and minerality graced this wine. With a full and round mouth feel, the only lacking quality was decent acidity. $18; 3+/5
2007 Merry Cellars Stillwater Creek Merlot
Coffee, coke, cocoa, and cherry define this wine. I didn’t write a lot of notes here, other than this wine stood out in the tasting. At $26, this is a little more money than I would spend for a regular wine but it offers way more complexity than your traditional $10-15 garden variety mass produced Merlot. 3+/5
On the Moscow / Pullman Highway is an eclectic artistic winery that breaks the mold of traditional expectations. While difficult to pronounce, Wawawai (three WA’s and an i) is named after the nearby canyon where the Moffett family grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Lemberger, Sauvingon Blanc and Rkatsiteli. The most recent plantings are classic Bordeaux blenders that contribute to the significant depth and complexity found in wines; Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmènere.
We spent a good hour talking to senior winemaker Ben Moffett. I was struck by his reserved demeanor and quiet passion for his unique wines. These are not your traditional fruit forward wines found in most wineries. Making only about 1000 cases per year, these wines had complexity and layers that are highlighted by earth, minerality, and terroir. The experience is highlighted by the modern art vibe of the tasting room. On warmer days, I would imagine that the adjoining barn would be a fun space for events and concerts.
2009 Wawawai Canyon Carmenere Rose
Tasted at room temperature, this wine boasted huge flavor of roses, strawberries, spice and melon. I really enjoyed the depth of flavor and aroma and even took a bottle back to the hotel to enjoy later that evening. I suggest the wine just slightly chilled from room temperature, any cooler and it loses its depth. This easy drinking spice could pair extremely well with late night dancing with someone you love. $19; 4/5
Beyond the Wine
The experience on the Palouse was punctuated by three amazing meals. The irony in the dinner meals was the absence of local wine (and even Washington wine), but the locations, food and atmosphere helped soften that disappointment.
How ironic for me, the writer for Nectar Wine Blog and owner of the new Nectar Tasting Room to be eating at a Nectar Wine Bar in Moscow. To be honest, prior to this trip, I had no idea that this business existed. After a humorous exchange of my business card with the hostess, we were seated in the cozy warmth of this Moscow hot spot. I enjoyed a flight of Zinfandel wine with my steak. The food was beautifully prepared and the potato / veggie side was seasoned to perfection. Others in the group were equally impressed with their experience.
Part pub, part café, part upscale restaurant, this hot spot in the heart of downtown Pullman was quiet on our arrival. Our trip was during Apple Cup weekend, the annual rivalry with University of Washington. We enjoyed dinner as the staff kept tabs on the close football game. Ultimately the WSU Cougars lost but dinner was a huge win.
Good Night and Good Morning
As the game ended, downtown Pullman came alive with a rush of crimson (and even some hints of the enemy purple). As part of our night cap we enjoyed the eclectic atmosphere of Rico’s at 200 E Main Street in Pullman (walking distance from Swilly’s). Rico’s doesn’t feel like a small town bar. This is a large pub reminiscent of a Manhattan hot spot or Boston pub. While many of the patrons were drowning their sorrow in suds, the pace picked up steadily as the night progressed. With a large wood bar, old brick, and a wall of library books, this is THE spot to drink. The only fault I could find was the situation of the restrooms. One lady in our group mistook the quietly labeled upstairs men’s restroom as a unisex room and boldly shared the space with the guy at the urinal. I think he was more surprised than she was. Only later did she discover that the women’s room was downstairs.
Before ending our weekend we were sent off with one of the most memorable breakfast experiences I’ve had. In downtown Moscow, dozens of people packed the inside of The Breakfast Club and even spilled out into the streets as they waited for their table on this chilly winter morning. The wait…totally worth it. The French Toast Benedict (bacon, cheese, eggs, and hollandaise sauce) and hash browns declared victory over my stomach as I satisfactorily retreated in defeat.
The Palouse is perfect for an overnight stay even if you aren’t attending one of the major universities. I enjoyed the trip and was pleasantly surprised by the wine and culinary experience. I’m looking forward to the next visit. There is definitely more to this region than collegiate conversations of Snookie and Jersey Shore. Drop off your aspiring students and stay for the wine, food, beer and more.
02 Dec 2010
A few months back I had the opportunity to explore some of the wineries of the Columbia Gorge as part of a paid familiarization trip. In a previous post I talked about the experience at Maryhill Winery, located about 100 miles East of Portland OR on the Washington side of the Columbia River. Maryhill Winery has set itself up as a premier value with a view winery. I was impressed with the consistency of the wine and sipping on a patio overlooking the Gorge is an awesome experience. What about the rest of the trip?
Enter the Wine Matrix
Blown away by an Oregon Zinfandel and a Washington Pinot Noir, this trip quickly became a mind bending experience. It is quite possible that I’d entered the Matrix of the wine world where this Columbia Gorge AVA hugs the border of both Washington and Oregon. The unexpected surprises of The Pines 1852 and Syncline Estates added to the beauty of the surroundings.
The Pines 1852
The history of The Pines 1852 dates back to 1978 when founder Lonnie Wright, along with several others, helped plant the first 2000 acres for Columbia Crest. Lonnie learned vineyard management from some Washington legends and eventually supervised the first harvest of 650 acres. In 1982, Lonnie became a part of the renovation of 20 neglected acres in The Dalles, Oregon. An unexpected discovery of eight acres of century old Zinfandel vines led to the eventual start of The Pines 1852. Since then, Lonnie has added an additional 7 acres of Zinfandel, 3 acres of Merlot, and 2 acres of Syrah.
The Pines 1852 started in 2001 and has grown to 3700 cases (featuring 19 different wines). With winemaker Peter Rosback, The Pines 1852 bucks the tradition with their big Zinfandel. The tasting room in Hood River is a fantastic space with a beautiful tasting bar, space for live music and events, and a very expansive art gallery showcasing some beautiful local and regional artists.
What I Liked
We tasted through nine wines (at 10 o’clock in the morning) at The Pines 1852. Full notes are a challenge to do in these settings, but below are the notes from the wines I enjoyed the most.
2007 The Pines 1852 Big Red (Blend) – The top selling red is a bold blend of 28% Cabernet, 27% Merlot, 27% Syrah, and 17% Zinfandel. The wine has a very lively nose of bold cherry fruit and slight earthiness. In the mouth there are more cherries and a quick spice. The finish is moderately thin and at $20 retail this is a good tasting well made wine. 3+/5
2007 The Pines 1852 Tres Syrah – Sourced from three vineyards, Scorched Earth in WA, Powerblock, and Smith-Cerne in OR, the wine brings together both sides of the Columbia River. With a big nose of mild funk, slight mushroom, and red fruit the wine is reminiscent of an old world style. In the mouth I get a good smooth fruit, cracked pepper and great minerality. $20 3+/5
2009 The Pines 1852 Old Vine Zinfandel – 350 cases made of this flagship wine. Exactly what I would expect from a Zinfandel; big, bold, spicy, and fruity. This Oregon Zinfandel gives the California grape a run for its money. At $38, it is a little overpriced but scores well at 4/5.
Syncline Wine Cellars
James and Poppie Mantone met in 1997 while working the harvest at LaVelle Vineyards in the Willamette Valley. Four years later they began to explore their passion of Rhone varietal wines on the North side of the Columbia River by starting Syncline Wine Cellars. Located a few miles north and west of Lyle, WA the drive to the winery leads you into the hills and forests of the Gorge. With Mount Hood rising in the distance, the winery is an unassuming barn with a few acres of adjacent vineyards of Syrah. Inside the barn, 5000 acres of traditional winemaking and passion take place.
James Mantone is a visionary and a traditionalist. Listening to him talk, you can hear the desire to produce wine that represents the style of the Rhone Valley. James is producing Syrah, Mourvedre, Rousanne, Viognier, and even a Pinot Noir made from Celilo Vineyards in Washington. More non-traditional grapes like Counoise, Cinsault, and Carignan are used in various percentages for blends.
“Rhone is like a good barbeque. May not be the prettiest thing in the world, but it is dang satisfying.” J. Mantone
What I Liked
We tried eight wines while visiting the very busy Syncline Winery. Outside it was rainy and muddy and inside was the overwhelming aroma of fermenting juice and musty oak. I would love to sit down with each of the wines again someday, but here are the notes from the stand out surprises.
2009 Syncline Roussanne – I’m a huge fan of Roussanne. It is quickly becoming a stand out white wine for me. The Syncline Roussanne showcases the oaked pear fruit and stony minerality that I like. The mouth feel is full and round with a great acidity finish. $22 3+/5
2008 Syncline Pinot Noir – Yes, a Pinot Noir from Washington State; Celilo Vineyards. Bright strawberry and cranberry on the nose with additional aromas of roses. In the mouth there is a combination of smooth on the front palate and tart on the mid palate; great layers of fruit. Are you sure this isn’t from the Willamette Valley? $28 3+/5
2008 Cuvee Elena – Southern Rhone inspired with a Grenache (48%) and Mouvedre (24%) focused blend that also includes Syrah, Counoise, and Cinsault. Not much in my notes except silky and thick. Perfume and raspberry on the nose with great layers of fruit and spice. $35 4+/5
I highly recommend a stop in the Columbia Gorge for wine tasting. Hood River and The Dalles make great places to stay with Hood River offering an eclectic mix of modern and small town. Hood River is also the wind surfing capital of the world and home to Full Sail Brewery for when your palate needs a break from the wine. Joining the trip was Clive Pursehouse from The Oregon Wine Blog. See his recap of the journey too.
Main image copyright Blaine Franger www.blainefranger.com/blog
09 Nov 2010
I recently had the privilege of visiting Maryhill Winery as part of a press familiarization trip. As I sift back through my notes to re-live the adventure, two thoughts come to mind. This is an awesome place to visit. The wines are an amazing quality to price ratio (QPR)…all 29 of them. Founded in 1999, Maryhill Winery has grown to 80,000 cases making it the 15th largest winery in the state and one of the largest family owned wineries. Craig and Vicki Leuthold, from Spokane, WA are passionately involved in every step of the journey.
Situated on the Washington side of the Columbia River, Maryhill is about 90 minutes from Portland, 4 hours from Spokane and about 3 ½ hours from Seattle. Maryhill Winery sits perched above the mighty Columbia with breathtaking east to west views of the gorge, Mt Hood, and the dramatic river as it cuts through the basalt. Surrounded by 85 acres (Gunkel Vineyards), the winery is a beautiful destination for weary travelers, vacation seekers and wine lovers. Maryhill welcomes over 75,000 people per year. Visitors enjoy concerts at the 4,000 seat amphitheater and award winning wine.
Early on, Maryhill embraced the value proposition when other Washington wineries were exploring higher priced boutique business models. With wines over $30 selling at 20% of the levels seen in years past, the $10-$20 price point wine is the sweet spot. Maryhill’s flagship wine, the Winemaker’s Red, which makes up 30% of their production, sells for only $14 in the tasting room and can often be found for under $10 at retail establishments. How is the wine? My notes say…
“Dark red fruits with fragrance of lilacs and campfire with a medium mouth feel, well integrated oak and tannin. 3/5”
What impressed me most about the visit with the Leuthold’s was the genuine joy they had for running the winery. They live on site above the winery in a wonderfully decorated loft style space. Their Great Pyrenees, Potter, welcomes guests and helps with bottling and distribution on the lower level. When you visit you’ll often find Craig directing traffic in the parking lot and Vicki pouring wine in the tasting room. During our two day visit we had the opportunity to enjoy all 29 wines from the Maryhill line up. The majority of their white wines can be found in stores around $10 and the standard red wines are available for $13-$16. The “reserve” wines are available between $20-$35 with the price points topping out at $36 for Reserve Zinfandel, $38 for Reserve Cabernet and $40 for Proprietors Reserve Serendipity.
Tasting through 29 wines (along with wines from 2 other wineries) can be a challenge. Luckily for you, I’m here to take the brunt of the burden (hey, it’s a rough life but someone has to do it).
This is a bold statement, but every wine was of good quality. There were two wines that weren’t in my wheelhouse, but all the rest provided exceptional value. I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending any of the wines I tried. While I didn’t particularly care for the fruit profile of the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2009 Rose of Sangiovese, the following wines stood out in my memory banks:
2008 Viognier $15 – Nose offers a combination of toasted almonds and floral fragrance. A round mouth feel compliments the nicely balanced finish. 4/5
2006 Sangiovese $18 – Bright fruit with strong acidity on the finish. The flavor is smooth and spicy and feels like a burst of juicy fruit in the mouth. 4/5
2006 Reserve Grenache $20 – 100% Grenache on the estate Gunkel vineyards, 20 months on 40% new French oak. A smooth and elegant fruit with a subtle hint of spice nicely compliment the medium tart tannin and crisp acidic finish. 4+/5
2007 Reserve Zinfandel $36 – 100% Zinfandel from Milbrandt and Alder Ridge vineyards. 70% new French oak, 1.6% residual sugar and huge 16.4% ABV. The Zin is sinfully delicious with big lush jammy fruit that includes cordial cherries, strawberries and hints of pepper. The wine is full of layers and explodes with flavor in the mouth. 4+/5
In conclusion, this is a place that I’m excited to go back and visit with friends and family. While Maryhill is a destination winery, they aren’t gouging you with their prices, nor are they trying to pass off inferior juice. I can’t wait to see next year’s concert line up. Chance are you’ll see me and my wife at least once.
Make a Day of It
Make a day of your trip to the area and visit the Maryhill Museum and Stonehenge memorial along with the John Day Dam and historic town of The Dalles. Maryhill Winery was recently rated 2009 Washington Winery of the Year by Wine Press NW and Best Destination Winery by Seattle Magazine.
- From The Oregon Wine Blog: The Columbia Gorge’s Maryhill Winery
18 Oct 2010
Lederhosen, beer festivals, a Swiss Alps village, and wine tasting. Is Leavenworth Bavarian for wine?
From a logging and rail town on the brink of extinction to a town that boasts over a million visitors a year, Leavenworth is the example of how hard work and determination can lead to a renewed direction. In the 1960’s Leavenworth was a town struggling to survive until the town residents made the collective decision to brand their area as a Bavarian village. Armed with determination and their own funds, Leavenworth residents transformed the dying town into a thriving tourist spot. Now, people of all ages come to enjoy the town for its outdoor activities (skiing, rafting, hiking) and to be whisked away to a faraway place where the day starts with the blow of the alphorn and even the McDonalds is decked out in Bavarian theme.
For many, Leavenworth is a magical getaway from the hustle of the big city. Situated on Highway 2, the town is 2.5 hours from Seattle and 3 from Spokane. Visitors flock to Oktoberfest, Christmas Lighting Festival, Maifest and many other events. Now, with nearly 20 wineries and wine tasting rooms, there is also the lure of the grape. A quick glance of the annual events shows the Leavenworth Wine Walk in June and the Leavenworth Wine Tasting Festival in August. Leavenworth, along with Chelan and Wenatchee are part of the Cascade Valley Wine Country. During a recent trip, I had the opportunity to visit all three areas. This visit only included stops at four of the area wineries, but we did have the opportunity to taste wine from four others.
*photo credit Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce
With familiar names like Kestrel, and Ryan Patrick, the downtown core of Leavenworth is dotted with wine tasting rooms. Other familiar names and newcomers, Icicle Ridge, Wedge Mountain, and Silvara, sit nestled in the mountains surrounding Leavenworth and Peshastin. One winery of critical acclaim that we did not get an opportunity to visit is Boudreaux Cellars. “Off the power grid and hundreds of miles from the vineyard sources he prefers, (Rob) Newsom has built a spectacular, unique facility while learning his craft well.” ~ Paul Gregutt, Washington Wines and Wineries Second Edition (4 Star Wineries) A visit to Boudreaux Cellars will be on the list for the next visit.
If you like stories, jazz music, and wine, you’ll love a visit to Icicle Ridge. Producing about 6000 cases of wine a year, all of it distributed from their two tasting rooms, Icicle Ridge is one of the wine pioneers in Leavenworth. Founder Louie Wagoner (King Louie to his friends and family) and winemaker Don Wood have created a unique destination out of the 5000 square foot log home that doubles as a tasting room and events space. Icicle Ridge makes a large number of wines that include Peach and Huckleberry Rieslings, a big Syrah, and even some sparkling wine. During the summer months visitors are treated to a jazz music series on the lawn that overlooks their 9 acres of vineyards. King Louie is an avid collector of classic cars and chances are you’ll see him firing up an old 1920 circa Ford truck or a mid-50’s Chevy. In the midst of the stories and the tour we enjoyed three wines; 2008 Vintners Reserve Cabernet ($50); Muller Thurgau Sparkling Wine ($55); and a 2009 Sangiovese right from the tank ($ TBD). The wines were well made with the Sagiovese offering tons of bright acidic cherry fruit and spice being my favorite.
Icicle Ridge is a must stop on your Leavenworth visit but in this visitors opinion, the wines were significantly overpriced. Highly Recommend for the experience but be prepared to part with some serious cash.
The biggest pleasant surprise of the Leavenworth area visit was the stop at Silvara Winery. Silvara is the newest winery in the area. Located just a few minutes East of Leavenworth, Gary Seidler and partner Cindy Rarick jumped into the wine business after becoming friends with people from Leavenworth who were visiting their home state of Arizona. The Silvara tasting room is a grand space with views of the Cascade Mountains. Visitors will enjoy the comfortable fireplace and outdoor seating area while enjoying a bottle of wine. Gary’s plans include continued development of the property grounds where patrons can enjoy live music, stop for a picnic or reserve the space for weddings and events. With current production at about 1200 cases, each of Silvara’s wines were priced affordably at $18-$24. Grape sources from Matawa, Quincy and the Wahluke slop help Silvara score high on quality.
We tasted through each of the Silvara wines and quality was consistent across the board. A stand out wine was the 2007 Cabernet which boasted flavors of cinnamon, mild raspberry and had good structure and balance. Highly Recommend
On Main Street in Pashastin is a small little winery and gift shop that holds some unique surprises. The little building houses the production and distribution for Cascadia Winery, a boutique winery stated in December 2006 by Alan Yanagimachi. Alan earned his degree in Fermentation Science / Enology from UC Davis in 1988 and spent some time honing his craft at Spokane’s Arbor Crest Winery. Cascadia produces about 700 cases of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and two unique treats; Apple Wine and Sakura. The apple wine is made from 2009 Golden and Gala apples and offers a fun tasting experience. The 2.6% residual sugar doesn’t come across overly sweet and the crisp apple flavors are enjoyable. At only $12 this is Cascadia’s largest seller. The Sakura, “Japanese for cherry blossom,” is made from a cherry infused Merlot. The wine is very sweet, but very enjoyable in small quantities or as a reduction for cooking.
The highlight wine was the 2006 Merlot. Stop by if you’re curious to try the apple wine and Sakura.
Eagle Creek owner, Ed Rutledge was our Leavenworth tour guide for the weekend. Ed and his wife Pat are town ambassadors and own several businesses on main street. Founded in 2000, Eagle Creek is the oldest winery in Leavenworth and Ed is excited about the growth in numbers and quality over the years. The Eagle Creek production facility, tasting room, bed and breakfast is located about 2 ½ miles north of Leavenworth, but the Rutledge’s opened a tasting room on main street called “D’Vinery” in 2008. Ed “retired” to the northwest after a successful business career and a life in the Big Apple. Obviously not one to sit still long, Ed’s craftsmanship can be seen in his creation of wine, hand carved decorations, paintings and more. If you’re looking for a getaway retreat when visiting Leavenworth, consider the Eagle Creek Cottage. The spacious cottage sleeps 1-6 guests and is tucked away in the hills. Enjoy breakfast on the patio overlooking the 1 acre vineyard and wrap up the evening in the hot tub. Rates are only $250 per night and include a European breakfast and a bottle of Eagle Creek wine.
During the visit I also got a chance to enjoy four other wines made in the area from Wedge Mountain, Napeequa, Bergdorf, and Baroness Cellars.
The Wedge Mountain 06 Reserve was a huge wine shimmering of roses and rubies in the glass. Charlie McKee started his winery in 2001 and makes approximately 1000 cases annually. While the wine was nicely made and full of flavor and balance, chances are with only 71 cases made you won’t find it and at $80, you can’t afford it.
A surprise wine during the night of our grand tasting was from new small producer Baroness Cellars. A rarity in the wine business, Danielle Clement is a young single woman pursuing her passions. The 2008 Nebbiolo was remarkable and memorable. At $22, this wine has stuck in my memory banks for a future purchase. Baroness shares a tasting room in downtown Leavenworth with Bergdorf Cellars. Highly Recommend
Bergdorf Cellars treated us to a unique spice wine, their 06 Lemberges Gluhwein. With 7 spices and citrus fruits the spice wine is a perfect companion to nights in Leavenworth, or trips to the hot tub. The Gluhwein makes up about 1/3 of their 3500 case production.
The wines that I wish I was able to spend more time with were the wines from Napeequa Vintners. Located 13 miles north of Leavenworth in Plain, WA, Napeequa has been making wine sourced from Yakima Valley and Rattlesnake Hills since 2003. We enjoyed the wines with lunch at Visconti’s in Leavenworth (a dining must for anyone visiting the area). Looking back on my notes, the reserve Malbec ($32) and the Trailhead Red Blend ($28), were very enjoyable.
In conclusion, during your visit to the playground area of Leavenworth, you can certainly add wine tasting to your list of things to do. There is enough variety available to appease most any palate. Some of the wines are overpriced and there are some quality struggles from place to place, but you’re on vacation and you’re there to relax, so sip and enjoy!
Other Visits to Cascade Valley Wine Country
When I say Wenatchee, what comes to mind? Apples? Brown hills? Where the Wenatchee and Columbia Rivers converge, the city of Wenatchee and East Wenatchee provide a hub of activity at the foot of the Cascade Mountains in the center of the state. With a population of over 40,000 the major industry is agriculture, but what about grapes?
I have to admit, I’ve never been too keen on a visit to Wenatchee and I’ve rarely considered it a destination for a wine journey. In fact the only Wenatchee winery that held a space in my memory bank was Fielding Hills. Mike and Karen Wade (no relation) have long been considered the makers of some of the best wine in the state and are usually mentioned in the same breath as other Washington greats.
In September, I was invited to be part of a tour of the Cascade Valley Wine Country (CVWC), a region that includes Wenatchee, Lake Chelan and Leavenworth. Readers of this blog will know that I’m a big fan of Lake Chelan. My wife and I make a yearly visit and enjoy the destination and experience of the area. While not all the wine is as majestic as the view, it is a beautiful and relaxing getaway none the less.
Wenatchee is a quick three hour drive from Spokane (3 hours from Seattle and 2 hours from Tri-Cities). While the Wenatchee valley is quite brown, there are striking views of the Cascade Mountains the surrounding hills and the rivers that cut like a knife through the tall cliffs. The Norman Rockwell downtown invites you to explore the quaint shops, art galleries, and historic buildings. But, let’s be honest, readers of this site don’t want a travel puff piece, you want to know if it’s worth a trip for the wine.
First, let me say that I was pleasantly surprised by the terrain of Wenatchee. I’ve driven through before, but this visit I was looking at things with different eyes. While quaint and brown, the town is actually quite pretty with the apple and pear orchards along the steep hillsides overlooking the river. The immediate Wenatchee area boasts 9 wineries. During my visit, I had the opportunity to taste Chateau Faire Le Pont, Fielding Hills, Martin Scott, Saint Laurent, and Stemilt Creek. The verdict, mostly good and some great! Below is the summary of my experience in visiting each of these wineries.
For five generations the Mathison family has been farming in the Wenatchee area. Premium fruit growers, Kyle and Jan Mathison now focus their passion into wine grapes at Stemilt Creek Winery. Kyle’s enthusiasm was contagious as he talked about how his family homesteaded in the area. I sipped the big bright Merlot as Kyle explained 2006 vintage. His energy seemed to erupt from the glass along with the cherry, fig, and coffee flavors. As I looked through the menu at the downtown tasting room, I was impressed with the under $20 price points. At about 1600 cases per year, Stemilt Creek is making a name for themselves with strong scores of 88, 89, and 90 in Wine Enthusiast. Recommend
Stand out wine: The 2006 Merlot was full of lush cherry fruit and cocoa. The wine offered well layered flavors and at a $15 price point was well worth it.
I knew what to expect from Fielding Hills based on previous tastings of their Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. Considered one of Washington’s 5 Star Wineries by Paul Gregutt, tasting through a full line up of multiple vintages helped me understand the impressive consistency that this winery offers. At only 800 cases annually most will be unfamiliar with Fielding Hills, but they are certainly a name to register in your memory. Of the 8 wines we tasted, the stand outs were 08 Cabernet Franc and 08 Syrah. My notes say WOW, smooth, beautiful and 4+/5. Mike and Karen Wade grow thousands of acres of apples and other fruit through their company Columbia Fruit Packers. Mike also farms their estate vineyards, Riverbend Vineyards in the Wahluke Slope AVA. With wine prices in the $30-$40 range, this is money that is well spent for the special occasion, to stock your cellar, or for the serious connoisseur. Fielding Hills is located in East Wenatchee in the heart of some of their working apple orchards. The small barn production facility and tasting room may not be much to look at, but last time I checked, you don’t taste wine with your eyes. Highly recommend
Stand out wine: It is hard to pick just one, so I won’t. Every wine is well made. With Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator scores of 93, 94 and 95 points, the wines are well worth the visit.
Martin Scott Winery
Perched high above the Columbia River in East Wenatchee, Martin Scott Winery is a family business dedicated to making quality wine. Martin Scott makes 1200 cases of 18 different wines including Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Muscat Canelli, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, Merlot and more. Did I enjoy every wine? No, but I did appreciate the honesty of Mr. Scott. He was quick to point out his dislike of some of his own wines and how previous vintages were better or worse. This refreshing honesty and sensible approach to winemaking and business is not something seen too often. The view across the valley was spectacular and the estate vineyards and fountains just add to the ambiance.
Stand out wine: The 2009 Pinot Gris presented nice ripe melon and citrus fruit with hints of peach. A well balanced acidity made this a fantastic crisp wine at $14.
Saint Laurent Winery overlooks the Wenatchee Valley with stunning views to the west. The impeccable grounds include estate vineyards, fountains, ponds, a large covered area and well maintained gardens. The location is perfect for a private party or wedding. Michael and Laura Laurent Mrachek began with 4 acres of cherries in 1978. With a vision toward the future Michael planted 60 acres of wine grapes on the Wahluke slope in 1999. That number now totals over 260 acres. With winemaker Craig Mitrakul, the estate winery produces 10 wines including their popular Lucky Red and Lucky White. The Mrachek family farming goes back 100 years with Michael’s mother’s family, the Mathisons. The connection to Stemilt creek and the early days of Wenatchee farming go hand in hand. The wines we tasted at St. Laurent were paired with a fantastic five course meal provided by Ravenous Catering. I was impressed with the quality of each wine and the price points, for the most part were in check with $12-$15 whites and $15-$42 reds. Recommend
Stand out wine: The beautiful tropical aroma and flavor of the demi-sec Riesling were well balanced with amazing acidity. While the wine specs indicate 2.4% residual sugar it does not taste overly sweet. At $12, this was a beautiful pairing with the shrimp and mango spring roll. Another fantastic wine was the 06 Wahluke Slope Cabernet. The moderately priced $28 wine was full of flavors that included blackberry, black cherry, dark cocoa, and floral fragrance. Medium thick tannin makes this wine a great pairing with a hearty meat dish.
Chateau Fair Le Pont
The most pleasant surprise of the Wenatchee Valley trip was the stop at Chateau Fair Le Pont. Owners Doug and Debe Brazil rescued an old 1920 fruit staging warehouse on the edge of the Columbia River only weeks before it was scheduled for demolition. A painstaking restoration that included hand painting every brick in the building has created a fantastic multi-use space that includes tasting room, restaurant, event space and unique basement barrel room. Current production is between 5,000-6,000 cases and includes Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Syrah and various Rhone style blends. Highly Recommend
Stand out wine: While I didn’t get a chance to take detailed notes during the tasting at Chateau Fair le Pont, I did note that the wine was consistently good across the entire line up. Pricing runs a little higher here than I expected with reds ranging from $23-$43. Wine club membership can bring these prices down by 25%. Chateau Fair le Pont is worth a visit for the facility, experience and also for the wine.
Look for future write-ups that include notes on the visit to Lake Chelan and Leavenworth.