25 Jan 2010
The journey of Barrister Winery began as two lawyers, Greg Lipsker and Michael White, were vacationing with their families in British Columbia and they stopped in a local shop to buy wine and walked out with a five gallon Zinfandel wine making kit. When I asked how it was, Greg responded, “We thought it was wonderful.” “But it wasn’t,” Mike quickly joked.
Five gallons turned into 50 gallons, which then turned into crushing 1 ½ tons in their garage in 2000. “Friends and family were so supportive. When they heard we were making wine, they were eager to help.” Trial and error, conversation with local vintners, and a few courses at Walla Walla College led Greg and Mike to the launch of Barrister Winery in 2001.
Validation came when they submitted their wine to an independent wine making competition and walked away with three gold and a silver. In fact, when you look at the history of Barrister, you’ll see award after award and consistent 90+ point scores in wine magazines. Two lawyers with a small hobby are making quality wine that is drawing world-wide attention.
Barrister is located in an historic 100 year old building in Spokane’s downtown core (Railroad Ave, west of Jefferson). The 25,000 square foot facility houses production, a large single stack barrel room (see video), storage, and an expansive tasting room and event facility. Barrister offers a unique space to host your wedding, reception, corporate event, or special family dinner. Barrister is also the best stop on the First Friday Art Walk in Spokane (often times we’ll stop at Barrister and never leave).
In the early years, Barrister made a name with a unique varietal, Cabernet Franc. Traditionally a blending grape, Mike and Greg have been able to coax something special out of each and every vintage. As you taste through the Barrister collection, you’ll notice a consistent style of fruit forward, full bodied, smooth wines that each have a complex flavor profile. Barrister’s current wine line-up includes the Cab Franc, Syrah, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc (their only white), and the incredibly delicious Rough Justice blend (reviewed below).
In addition to their current selection of wine, Barrister is excited to launch their wine club. The wine club offers fans the ability receive three bottles, twice per year. Each delivery is two regular Barrister wines and one small lot production wine specially made for wine club members. Club members also get exclusive privilege to buy additional bottles. I’m excited to try the 2006 Pepper Bridge Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
“Making wine is much more fun than practicing law,” was Greg’s closing argument. The verdict: Barrister is one of Washington’s premier wine makers and Spokane is lucky to have them.
2007 Cabernet Franc
- The Stuff: 88% Cabernet Franc and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley; 690 cases
- The Swirl: Dark plum, opaque, well filtered and beautiful streaky legs
- The Sniff: Bold spice with dark berry fruit, black currant, and hint of blueberry on the back end.
- The Sip: Strong pepper spice, big berry flavor and huge acidity (but not in a bad way). The wine was amazingly smooth and the finish was long and evolved as it dissipated.
- The Score: At $27 retail, I am happy to score this wine a 4 (out of 5). This is a solid wine that is an impressive purchase for any gift, dinner party, or special dinner!
NV Rough Justice Red Blend
- The Stuff: 35% Merlot, 28% Syrah 26% Cabernet Franc, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon
- The Swirl: Beautiful dark jewel tone with translucent clarity.
- The Sniff: A-MA-ZING fruit and spice. Very aromatic blackberry, plum and vanilla on the nose. A moderate dose of leather pokes through as well.
- The Sip: A mouthful of jammy berry. If you like bold fruit that is not overly sweet but balanced out with a nice strong acid and spice, you’ll love this wine. The structure of this wine is impressive. Made in a very new-world style that is very impressive.
- The Score: At $20 I score this wine a 5 (out of 5). The wine is beautiful in aroma, strong and balanced in flavor, and immense in structure. This is one blend that if seen on a restaurant wine list that would instantly get my purchase!
24 Jan 2010
Spokane is a destination for wine. 18 wineries call Spokane home. Whether you are a local who is exploring the region one sip at a time, or you’re visiting for conventions, golf, travel, skiing or more, you need to take a moment and get a sip of Spokane. Explore the majestic views and award winning wines at Arbor Crest. See pioneer Mike Conway of Latah Creek. Spend the afternoon in Greenbluff picking fruit and sipping wine. Relax with a sip overlooking Liberty Lake at Liberty Lake Wine Cellars. Go urban with amazing boutique wineries like Ovebluff, Barili, Vintage Hill, Robert Karl, Whitestone, Nodland Cellars and Grande Ronde. Take a trip through time in historic facilities at Barrister, Caterina, Lone Canary, and Knipprath. Finally, celebrate life in the foothills of Mt Spokane at Mountain Dome.
If you’re a local or visiting Spokane, stay current on local wine events, tasting room happenings and reviews on this page!
Here is a downloadable PDF (Courtesy of Spokane Wineries Web Site)
|1. Arbor Crest – Arbor Crest is Spokane’s largest and most iconic winery. The Arbor Crest historic Cliff House looms high on a hilltop overlooking the Spokane Valley. Arbor Crest is Spokane’s most widely distributed wine.
**First Friday Participant**
|2. Barili Cellars – One of Spokane’s newest wineries located at 608 W. 2nd Ave
**First Friday Participant**
|3. Barrister Winery – Barrister is located in a 25,000 sq ft 100 year old building in downtown Spokane at 1213 W Railroad Ave. Started by two lawyer friends as a hobby, Barrister now produces nearly 3000 cases of quality red wine!
**First Friday Participant**
|4. Caterina Winery – Historic Broadmore Dairy building with winemaker Don Townshend. Located conveniently at 905 N. Washington
**First Friday Participant**
|5. Grande Ronde – Quality wines (four 90+ point wines) located near the Davenport Hotel at 905 W. 2nd Ave
**First Friday Participant**
|6. Knipprath Cellars – Located in a historic schoolhouse and producing unique WA Wine (Pinot Noir, Port and more) at 5634 E Commerce Ave.
|7. Latah Creek – Spokane’s oldest winery with a broad selection of white, sweet white and quality red wines. Visit them at 13030 E Indiana in the Spokane Valley
|8. Liberty Lake Wine Cellars – One of Spokane’s newest wineries located on beautiful Liberty Lake. Stop by their tasting room at 1018 S. Garry Rd in Liberty Lake
|Mike Scott (in the video) is the original founder of Lone Canary. He has moved on from this position and the winery is now owned by Don Townshend.||9. Lone Canary – The little yellow canary continues to fly in a new location and under new ownership. Lone Canary shares tasting room space at 905 N Washington along with Caterina Winery.
**First Friday Participant**
|10. Mountain Dome – Spokane’s only sparkling wine producer! They are located in North East Spokane at 16315 E Temple Rd.
|11. Nodland Cellars – Spokane’s smallest boutique winery. One white and one red produced annually. Visit Nodland in the Valley at 11616 E Montgomery.
|12. Overbluff Cellars - Overbluff Cellars began in 2006 when winemakers John Caudill and Gerald Gibson partnered to create world class Cabernet Sauvignons, feeling successful in this endeavor the mission continues with exciting new wines including Syrah, Merlot, Viognier, and Semillion.
|13. Robert Karl Cellars – Boutique and hand crafted wines that are annually receiving high marks at wine shows and in wine magazines. Stop by and say, “Hi” to Rebecca and Joe at 115 W. Pacific.
|14. Townshend Cellars – The 10 mile drive North is well worth it!
|Not on Map: Trezzi Farm. Trezzi Farm is a vineyard and a restaurant. Stop by their tasting room and stay for dinner 17700 N. Dunn Rd in Green Bluff
|15. Vintage Hill Cellars – One of Spokane’s newest wineries in the heart of downtown Spokane. Vintage Hill is located at 319 W. 2nd Ave
**First Friday Participant**
|16. Whitestone Winery – Wilbur WA vineyard and vintner with new tasting room in downtown Spokane at 111 S. Cedar.
**First Friday Participant**
07 Jan 2010
Only a handful of wine makers in the state of Washington have as much experience as Mike Conway.When Mike opened Latah Creek and Hogue Cellars in 1982 (in a partnership with Mike Hogue), there were only 18 wineries in the state. After two years as the head wine maker at Hogue, Mike left to concentrate on Latah Creek. The full history of Latah Creek can be read on their web site.
Mike crafted his winemaking skills in the 70′s working for wine giants E&J Gallo, Franzia Brothers and Parducci. It was while at Parducci that he honed his skills for white wine and brought the slow cold fermentation process to Washington state (cold fermentation brings out a natural residual sweetness in white wines at a lower alcohol level of 8-10%). It is the white wine line-up that helped Latah Creek grow to a 17,000 case per year company.
100% of Latah Creek’s distribution is done in the Northwest. The annual release of their Spokane Blush, Maywine, and Huckleberry d’Latah are highly anticipated in the region. While 70% of their sales are comprised of white wines, Latah’s future focus is the introduction of small lot reserve quality reds. The current Vinosity (reviewed below) is an example of that. While at the winery I also tried the 100% Petit Verdot. If these two reds are any indication, Latah Creek may quickly jump to a 25,000 case per year operation. In talking with Mike, his passion for Washington wine comes through. He wants to expose some of the great grapes that grow in this state (Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Malbec) to his customer base.
While Latah Creek has been a business of two people for 20+ years, in 2005 daughter Natalie joined the team. Mike and Ellena’s vision had always been for Natalie to carry on the business. In elementary school, while all the other children wanted to be firefighters, pro athletes and politicians, Natalie wanted to be a wine maker. Natalie graduated with honors from EWU with a bachelors in biology. Shortly after, she joined the team. Under her dad’s guidance, Natalie is already contributing to the wine offerings with Natalie’s Nectar dessert wine and the Vinosity red blend.
One thing that sets Latah Creek apart from all other wineries in town is their spacious tasting room and the selection of gift/boutique items. Mike’s wife, Ellena, runs the tasting room and has done a fantastic job of stocking it with whimsical gifts, wine accessories, and artful decorations. During the holidays, tasting room traffic increases exponentially, and not just for the wine.
Latah Creek; Mike, Ellena (and now Natalie), and their wines, are Spokane institutions. “Spokane is the reason we’re here,” Mike says. Beside’s the wine, Latah Creek’s gift back to the community is their support of the arts and many other charities. The Conway’s are particularly proud of their sponsorships of the Spokane Symphony and the Foster Parents Association.
If you’ve driven on the freeway in Spokane, chances are you’ve driven past Latah Creek. The winery and tasting room sit at freeway’s edge between the Pines and Evergreen exits (13030 E Indiana). If you’re headed to the Valley Mall, take a quick detour and enjoy a free tasting of their wines. Of the 13 offerings only 2 are over $20 (Petit Verdot and Vinosity). The tasting room is open seven days a week from 9AM – 5PM.
NV Latah Creek Vinosity Blend
- The Stuff: 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah and 23% Zinfandel. Produced from various vineyards in the Washington State (Wahluke and Columbia Valley) 13.5% alcohol
- The Swirl: Dark violet color with nice translucent tones. Not completely opaque. Moderate legs representing some good residual sugar and alcohol.
- The Sniff: Boom! Awake with dark blueberry and Cassis. Get a faint whiff of a tender spice and cocoa (could be the Zin).
- The Sip: While not entirely a fruit bomb, this wine has some very nice structure. I can definitely feel the Syrah, but the strength of the Cabernet balances it out. The heat and playfulness of the Zinfandel keep the finish alive for some time adding a nice acidity.
- The Score: At just $20 retail this is a heck of a buy! I score this wine a strong 4 (out of 5). If I found this wine for anywhere south of $15 I would buy several bottles.
22 Dec 2009
“No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!” This oft quoted line from Miles in the 2004 movie Sideways, single handedly sent Merlot (MARE-low) prices plummeting (while simultaneously causing a renewed interest in Pinot Noir). Now the Rodney Dangerfield of grapes, Merlot is striving to make a come back. At www.merlotwine.com Washington State is listed second, behind France, as premier Merlot growing areas.
Geeky fact: Merlot is the second most planted grape in the world (excluding cheap jug varietals Thompson Seedless and Airen)
Today’s review is a mash up, show down between three well known Washington producers. They represent Eastern, Central, and Western WA. Each was purchased at Costco for under a Jackson.
I added a twist to the challenge. The three wines were put head to head in a blind tasting. Although I knew which three wines I was tasting, I had no idea which wine was in which glass. Watch the video to see how the throw down showdown went down! Read below for the boring ol’ text.
2007 Woodhouse Family Kennedy Shah Merlot
- The Stuff: 80% Merlot, 12% Petit Verdot 8% Malbec from Rattlesnake Hills $12 Retail – Woodinville, WA
- The Swirl: A dull purple- moderate legs. Slightly watery toward the edges
- The Sniff: Nutmeg and Cinnamon at first, then presenting some cigar box with blackberry fruit
- The Sip: The spice comes forward and says, “hi.” The fruit has left the building not to be seen. Mild tannins. The wine lacks structure and presents itself as a basic offering.
- The Score: At just $12, I will rate this a strong 3 and would potentially buy it again. For the price it is a solid offering and I’ve had much much worse.
2007 Arbor Crest Merlot
- The Stuff: 100% Merlot from four unlisted Columbia Valley vineyards; $18 Retail – Spokane, WA
- The Swirl: Bright dark purple color but not quite as dark as plum, good structure to the edges
- The Sniff: Strong acidic or alcohol smell then smoke and blackberry (or dark berry fruit)
- The Sip: Thin on the front end then smokey in the middle. The alcohol made it slightly hot and the juice offered medium tannins.
- The Score: At $18, I can only score this a 3. At this price there are better offerings to enjoy. I would not buy this again, but I wouldn’t shy away from it if offered at a party or on a restaurant menu.
2007 Barnard Griffin Merlot
- The Stuff: 100% Merlot from Columbia Valley and the Wahluke Slope. $17 Retail – Richland, WA
- The Swirl: Darker than the Arbor Crest bordering on plum color
- The Sniff: Well hello, berry, it’s nice to meet you. A sour cherry (in a good way) with a hint of vanilla.
- The Sip: While it came across disappointing in the video, it did open up as the night went on. Slightly challenging palate with some chalkiness and earth leading to a smooth vanilla finish. The berries came out after about an hour in the glass.
- The Score: At $17 I would score this a 3+. The wine had much more structure and interest to it than the other two offerings. This bottle was purchased for just $13 making it a very good value.
None of these wines were superstars. The goal of the review is to provide you some insight for when you see these available at restaurants or at the store. No one wanted to jump forward and declare victory. Taking price, taste, intrigue, and aroma into consideration, this round of WA Merlot Mash-up goes to Barnard Griffin.
20 Dec 2009
An accidental discovery or a destiny finally fulfilled?
Hailed as one of the best growing regions in the state in 1970 remained virtually unplanted until the accidental discovery in 1992. Walter and Judy Haig were flipping through a scrapbook from the original homesteader that listed an old US Agriculture map identifying what crops were planted in 1900. Wine grapes were on the list.The journey to fulfill the lands destiny began.
The lower Lake Roosevelt area formed by the Grand Coulee Dam creates the perfect microclimate for growing Bordeaux varietal grapes. The long summers, cool nights and extended growing season allow for maximum hang time producing fruit forward low sugar wines.
The Haig family wine story began with providing world-class grapes to wineries across the state through 2004. With the 2005 vintage, son Michael Haig, took over vintner and winemaking responsibilities. It’s obvious in talking with Mike that he loves his fruit and he loves the process. “My job is to stay out of the way and produce wine that tells the story of the vintage.” “Too often,” he says, “wineries try to make a wine that doesn’t fit the style of the grapes they have.” We talked about fads in the wine industry and Michael is a believer in staying true to what his vineyard produces (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.) “We are 100% estate grown. We don’t buy grapes from anyone.” A fact he is very proud of.
Whitestone has a tasting room, storage facility, and production facility in Wilbur, WA (about 16 miles from the vineyard). In April 2009, they opened a tasting room at 111 S. Cedar in West Downtown’s Carnegie Square. “Business has been great, but everyday we still hear from people who had no idea we’re here.” Part of the successful launch can be attributed to Whitestone’s commitment to Social Media like Twitter and Facebook. Whitestone is one of the few Spokane wineries taking advantage of this medium to connect with their consumers to drive brand loyalty. Mike, a self-professed techie says, “With Facebook we can post an event notice and see immediately who has responded.” Their first holiday release, Pieces on Earth V.1 went on sale just before Thanksgiving and all 135 cases are sold out (or will soon be after this prints). Promotion was done mostly through e-mail list, wine club members and social media.
Mike and I also spoke about the near term future for Whitestone. Currently producing 2500 cases per year, they are pursuing a new production facility – preferably right on the vineyard. He says, “too often people are pre-occupied with being the ‘next’ Chateau St. Michelle or whatever, I want to be the ‘first’ Michael Haig. From what I can tell the Whitestone line up is big, fruity with big tannins for grilling, steak, pot roast, and ham. The wines are held in oak for up to 30 months and will cellar well for another 5-7 years.
Whitestone is finally seeing the destiny of the land fulfilled 40 years after it was proclaimed.
The Stats: 111 S Cedar – Spokane Tasting Room is open Thursday – Sunday from Noon – 6pm. Friend them up on Facebook Whitestone Winery and follow them on Twitter @PIECESOFRED. WEB: www.whitestonewinery.com
Pieces on Earth V1 (2009 limited release – 135 cases)
- The Stuff: 34% Merlot 33% Cabernet Sauvignon and 33% Cabernet Franc
- The Swirl: Very dark plum, nearly opaque. Strong legs indicating high alcohol (14.1%) and acidity
- The Sniff: Dark cherry, plums, nutmeg, smoke, with a subtle hint of cocoa at the end
- The Sip: Wow, it’s like I dove into a pool of cherry nutmeg pool, drowning in that Chocolate Chucker Cherry sauce (not as sweet). Very berry front end with strong acidity on the upper mouth and medium tannins. The finish goes on for a good 10 seconds going tart then finishing smooth.
- The Score: At $17.95 (if you can still find it) I rate this wine a 5 out of 5. Mike and Whitestone have created a fantastic holiday season wine that will sip well around the fire and hold up to cranberry, prime rib and ham dinners.
In the video Mike mentions that Social Media is great but the goal is to get people to enjoy life over a glass of wine! I couldn’t say it better myself. Life is meant to be enjoyed with friends and there is no better way than over a glass of wine or cup of coffee.