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
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.