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.
04 Jun 2010
“Red wine, that’s what I like, that is what we make,” says Michael Haig of Whitestone winery. The Whitestone vineyard is located on the shores of Lake Roosevelt 60 miles west of Spokane. The vineyard microclimate is perfect for growing Bordeaux style grapes (Cab, Merlot and Cabernet Franc). For a full history of Whitestone and my previous interview with Michael Haig, see the DrinkNectar review.
I’m a huge fan of Bordeaux style blends. I feel that each grape brings individual characteristics to a wine that when properly done create a symphony of flavor and character. Whitestone is known for their Pieces of Red blend (reviewed here) and has recently released a Meritage blend using the best from their vineyard and highest quality French oak barrels. Whitestone holds the distinction of being the only estate grown, produced and bottled winery in Spokane.
Reviewed here are the Merlot, Cabernet Franc and the Lake Roosevelt Red non-vintage blend.
2006 Whitestone Merlot
- The Stuff: 100% Merlot from Lake Roosevelt Shores estate vineyard; 14.6% ABV
- The Swirl: Light plum with ruby edges and about 60% opaque. The wine is beginning to show some browning due to aging.
- The Sniff: A moderate bouquet of thin sour cherry fruit with hints of tobacco and oak
- The Sip: Thin on the front palate with the fruit coming late to the party. There is a cranberry / pomegranate flavor that starts tart then goes to a nice elegant finish. Slightly hot on the finish but has good acidity. Not a full flavor sipping wine but a nicely made wine to pair with food (grilling).
- The Score: The lack of structure and flavor at the $22 price point leads me to score this wine as 3 out of 5. I would hold off on buying this wine just to sip but would certainly recommend it with dinner.
2006 Whitestone Cabernet Franc
- The Stuff: 100% estate grown Cabernet Franc; 14.5% ABV
- The Swirl: Light plum with a browning aged color. A bright bluish hue can be detected. The wine is about 60% opaque.
- The Sniff: A mild presentation of under-ripe raspberry and blueberry tickles the nose and contains subtle hints of black tea and a dash of pepper
- The Sip: The mouth feel is similar to the merlot with a thin front palate with fruit that shows up toward the mid and back. A little more multi-dimensional with medium bodied old world earthiness, spice and subtle under-ripe blueberry flavors. There is a good amount of tannin strength that leaves the finish slightly chalky.
- The Score: At $20, I score this wine 3 out of 5. There is nothing off-putting about the wine, it leaves me longing for a little more flavor but would be a nice pairing with beef, and pasta dishes.
NV Whitestone Lake Roosevelt Red
- The Stuff: 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 20% Cab Franc from the estate vineyard; 14.9% ABV
- The Swirl: A tawny plum that is about 70% opaque. Color is good out to the edges
- The Sniff: Once you get past the hot perfume smell of the alcohol, there are very nice aromas of red raspberry, cranberry and dark dark chocolate. The smell is bright and fragrant.
- The Sip: This shows why I like blends. Cabernet Sauvignon shows up and joins in the Franc and Merlot party providing a great sweet cherry flavor and a bold middle palate flavor of spice, wood, and tobacco. There is a good tannin structure but doesn’t feel chalky. The only off piece of the wine is the strong alcohol heat when you swallow.
- The Score: At $17 retail this is a very good value red blend and I score it a 3+ out of 5. It shows good drinkability now with an additional 3-5 years in the cellar.
Whitestone Winery is open from Noon – 6pm Thursday – Saturday at 111 S. Cedar in downtown Spokane. They have live music most weekends and are participants of the First Friday festivities. Their wine club gives members 10% off of single bottle purchases, 15% off of case pricing and merchandise and complimentary tastings for up to four people.
*Wine was provided as industry sample with the intention to review
27 May 2010
Here we grow again! Spokane continues to move ahead on its journey to becoming a wine destination for the state of Washington. Introducing the newest kid on the block, Overbluff Cellars. Some may think it crazy to start a new business (especially a winery) in today’s economic conditions, but the American entrepreneur is the hero of economic recovery. It’s also important to note that a winery with a 2010 launch date started the journey at least 3 years ago with crushing, fermenting and barreling grapes.
Overbluff Cellars is the passionate pursuit of John and Lynelle Caudill and Jerry and Penny Gibson. Each grew up around wine, John in Lodi next to Mondavi Vineyards and Jerry in Marin County, CA. John and Jerry pursued their passions independently as amateur wine makers until a chance meeting brought them together. It was a wine tasting trip to Napa that inspired the proverbial “leap” into the Overbluff adventure.
“It’s more about passion than anything. When the fun is gone, I’m through,” says Jerry. The first Overbluff Cellars release consists of 290 cases including three 2007 Cabernet from various vineyards and one 2009 Viognier. You can see a review of the Viognier and Duality Cab here. John and Jerry’s philosophy to wine making brings a Napa influence to Walla Walla fruit. They’re striving for big wines that showcase the character and quality that Washington fruit has to offer. The fruit they currently have in barrels and tanks will bring their 2009 vintage to about 1500 cases.
John and Jerry are particular about quality and consistency. Not wanting to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths with the potential for cork taint, each bottle is enclosed with glass enclosures. John emphasizes, “This still gives people the romance of popping the cork, with less potential for ruined wine.” The duo is also working with new oxygen permeable flex tanks and oak staves to gain more control of the flavor without making wines that end up over oaked.
John has left his full time job as the body shop manager for a local auto company to see his dreams come to reality. Overbluff has renovated the old Cobblestone Bakery at 620 N Washington. The tasting room is tucked behind the Victorian building and provides a nice rustic place to enjoy the wine. When the weather cooperates, be sure to enjoy a glass in the garden next to the tasting room.
Ensuring they give themselves every opportunity to succeed, Overbluff has already been very active on Twitter and Facebook. Be sure to support them and stop by during their tasting room. Chances are the wine will go fast!
620 S Washington Spokane, Washington
Tasting Room Hours: 4-7pm Thursday – Saturday
04 May 2010
For month’s I’ve been dying to try Barili Cellars. Everyone I’ve talked to for the last six months raves about them…but they are sold out. I drive by…they’re closed. Their first release…gone in just a few short months. The anticipation has been building to try the wine, the myth the legend that is Barili Cellars.
Barili Cellars was born because of a scheduling conflict. For several years, Russ Feist and Steve Trabun had been independent home wine makers. They honed their craft in small barrel productions of beautiful Columbia Valley fruit. In the fall of 2005, Russ’ schedule kept him from being able to pick up grapes from his source in Prosser. Steve, who sourced grapes from the same place, agreed to take Russ’ grapes to him. In addition to the grape connection, Steve and Russ work for the same Northwest company. The Barili relationship began.
In 2007 Steve and Russ began the steps to open Barili Cellars by sourcing grapes that would become their first release. Steve’s wife, Dana completed WSU’s Enology program in 2009. She, along with Russ’ wife Marlene, help in every step of the process. Bonding was secured for production facility but that space couldn’t be used as a retail location. After connecting with local businessman Steve Salvatori they moved into an entrepreneur center that acts as an incubator for start ups. Mr. Salvatori helped transform the space into an awesome tasting room AND winery production facility. In the Spring of 2009 Barili opened and their production of 150 cases nearly instantly sold out.
Having fully moved production to their downtown space, Steve and Russ have ramped production up to 350+ cases for 2010 with the Barreling Red Blend (1/3 each of Merlot, Cab and Syrah), Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Viognier. The red wines spend 16 months in American / Hungarian oak and the Chardonnay spent just 30 days in barrel during fermentation. All of their wine is 100% self-distributed. If 2009 is any indication, you won’t want to delay if you want to drink some Barili Cellars wine.
Currently, Barili is sourcing grapes from vineyards in Red Mountain, Rattlesnake Hills and Prosser. When talking about the future, Steve and Russ are excited to continue refining their process and will most likely increase production to about 500 cases. They’re looking to lock down their grape sources, move to tighter grained oak, and continue to make great fruit forward wine that people love.
Barili is open on special event weekends like Spring Barrel Tasting, Holiday Wine Festival and First Friday’s from 5-8pm.
608 W 2nd Ave
2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
After waiting six long months, I finally got to try all of their new releases including this Cab Sauv. One word of advice to you…hurry. Two words to Steve and Russ…make more.
- The Stuff: 50% Cabernet from Dineen Vineyards and 50% Cabernet from Seth Ryan Vineyards; 90 cases, 14%abv
- The Swirl: Good bright color reminiscent of a plum but with about 30% translucence. The color dissipates towards the edges
- The Sniff: Immediately struck by good structured raspberry and pepper aroma with a nice subtle hint of oak
- The Sip: The wine comes alive as it crosses your palate. There is a good structure of fruit, black berry and cherry, that then morphs to smooth cocoa. The finish has medium, well balanced acidity and a great pepper spice that lingers for quite some time. The wine still feels a little young and could cellar for another 5-7 years but is still approachable today.
- The Score: At $22 (their most expensive offering), I can easily score this wine a 3+ (out of 5). If they ever have it on sale pick up more than one. This is one wine that won’t disappoint for an elegant steak dinners or the everyday BBQ.