26 Apr 2010
“That is so cool, he makes his own alcohol,” exclaimed Tim during a family reunion trip with Tracy’s extended family. That weekend in 1999 gave birth to a new Spokane winery. The journey would still take several more years, but by the fall of 1999 Tracy and Tim acquired some Walla Walla Cabernet, hit the books, talked with winemakers and began experimenting with making wine. Over the years, one wine turned into five different wines and by 2007, Nodland Cellars became Spokane’s lucky 13th winery. Those early pre-release years were all about education and refining the process. Classes at UC Davis, Walla Walla Community College and the “school of hard knocks,” says Tracy led to their passion for “creating a small amount of the best wine we can make.”
Tim and Tracy focus on one red wine each year. If the vintage is right, they’ll also produce a Riesling (but it sells out almost as soon as it’s bottled). Their Red Blend is a traditional, pre 1870 style, Bordeaux blend. They drive across the state to source all six original Bordeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and even Carmenere. In a time when wine making can be very corporate and driven by profits and business efficiencies, every cluster of grapes is hand harvested, hand sorted, crushed, barreled, racked and bottled by Tim and Tracy. The majority of their fruit comes from one acre each at Pepperbridge and Seven Hills vineyards. Their blocks are next to the same blocks used by Leonetti, Reininger, and Pepperbridge.
Both Tracy and Tim said that their favorite part of the process is blending. Once the grapes have gone through their two years in oak, each wine is tasted and then mixed together like brush strokes on a canvas. As they blend they share thoughts and ideas and the picture comes together as a beautiful work of art. It’s not about slapping together traditional blending percentages. It’s about marrying the fruit together so that each showcase their strengths without overbearing the other.
Tim is a lawyer by day. When I asked what type of law he practiced, he joked, “very little.” Actually, Tim is a hard working, defense lawyer with an amazing reputation for integrity. Tim’s primary focus is DUI defense. The irony is not lost that Tim owns a winery AND defends those who drink and drive. Tim is also an accomplished jazz musician. While he is very skilled at everything he does, you can tell from talking with him that jazz and wine are his passions. Tracy is always hard at work at the tasting room and their 1200 square foot wine making facility. She is a talented artist. “I make wine, I drink wine, and I paint wine,” says Tracy. Often times you can arrive in the tasting room and find Tracy painting something new while Tim jams on his guitar. Tracy even puts a little bit of Nodland wine into every painting. The residue sentiment is collected when they clean the barrels and that dark inky purple paste is added to anywhere wine is used in a painting.
Tim’s love of jazz and Tracy’s love of art is how the Nodland Cellars label was born. They had an artist line up that they wanted to use, but as the time drew near, she disappeared on a walk about in Australia. Scrambling, Tim and Tracy discovered artwork by Tim Rogerson. As luck (or fate) would have it, Mr. Rogerson agreed to paint the label and created a beautiful image of Tim on guitar, and Tracy on the microphone (with a glass of wine in her hand).
The Nodland’s produce 400 cases per year and self distribute almost 100% of the product through their mailing list, tasting room and restaurants like Latah Bistro, Melting Pot, Beverly’s, Wild Sage, Nikos and local stores like Vino, Rocket Market, Bottles, Huckleberry’s and Wine Styles. Tim and Tracy would love to keep production low but are always looking to expand if the fruit is special. They may even consider moving from their current location (11616 E. Montgomery, in the Spokane Valley) if the right opportunity presents itself. The tasting room is open Noon – 4pm, until they sell out. Call ahead 509.927.7770.
The Current Line Up:
2005 Red Blend $35 (SOLD OUT)
2006 Red Blend $35
- 38% Cab Sauv, 28% Merlot, 14% Carmenere, 12% Cab Franc, 6% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot
2006 Reserve Cab (McClellan Vineyards) $45 – only 40 cases produced – REVIEWED HERE
- 94% Cab, 5% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot
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
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.
03 Feb 2010
Liberty Lake Winery’s story is not uncommon; a hobby that grows beyond the boundaries of a single cellar. What separates Doug and Shelly Smith is their passion for the Liberty Lake and Spokane community. “If we could just enjoy a glass of wine with everyone in our area, we’d be happy,” says Doug. Originally Doug was experimenting with home brew when Shelly encouraged him to make something she could enjoy too. Realizing that their concentrated kit wine wasn’t up to par with what they were experiencing at wineries, they asked for tips from places they visited. “Good wine comes from good fruit,” was the response. Obviously not one to ease into things, Doug and Shelly went from experimenting with 20lbs of grapes from Costco to buying and crushing 4 tons of grapes from the Walla Walla area.
Their 2005 vintage was released in 2008 and their current vintage (from Red Mountain AVA) consists of Syrah (sold out), Merlot (reviewed below), Second Generation Red Blend, and a Cabernet Sauvignon (reviewed below). The tasting room / production facility, among the treetops overlooking Liberty Lake, is where Doug and Shelly crush, ferment, store and sell their max capacity of 500 cases. While slightly out of the way for most Spokanites, Liberty Lake Wine Cellars is a must stop on your to do list. In this reviewers opinion, the tasting room view is the best in Spokane (yes, I realize Arbor Crest’s view and property grounds is amazing but you don’t see it from the tasting room).
While Doug and Shelly enjoy masquerading by day as city employee (Liberty Lake) and health care consultant respectively, you can’t help but notice the glint in their eye when they talk about their love of wine and sharing it with the community. “It’s hard and dirty work with lots of long days but we always have fun,” says Shelly.
“Our goal is to make wine we enjoy and hope others enjoy it too.” Stop by their tasting room and you’ll become a fan.
Liberty Lake Wine Cellars tasting room is open most Saturdays (call ahead 255-9205). You can stay in touch with all of their events and release dates at www.facebook.com/libertylakewinecellars
2006 Red Mountain Merlot
- The Stuff: 100% Single Vineyard Merlot aged 20 months in new/used oak combination 13.4% ABV
- The Swirl: Magenta purple color and moderately opaque
- The Sniff: Fantastic fruit (cherry and strawberry) with hints of eucalyptus vanilla and chalk
- The Sip: More mild on the palate than on the nose, above average structure. A slight minirality throws the balance off on the front end. Just enough back end support and acid to work well with food.
- The Score: At $22, I score this wine a 4 (out of 5). An excellent well crafted Merlot that speaks to why WA Merlot rocks the world!
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
- The Stuff: 100% single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Mountain AVA
- The Swirl: Mild plum color with moderate clarity. Wine is lighter in color and less extracted than a typical Cabernet.
- The Sniff: A nice balanced nose of blackberry and mild green peppers
- The Sip: More fruit than spice with a solid tannin and acid structure. The finish falls off quickly. Definitely made in a new world way. Could cellar well for 3-5 more years
- The Score: At $25, I score this wine a 3+ (out of 5). Could imagine this to be a good food wine with a hearty steak or roast.
From back label: We believe that wine is about living and enjoying life with family and friends. Wine is an ingredient in the building of social community. It is with that belief that we share our wine with you.