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.
29 Dec 2009
During round one of the Under $10 Quest, I stated that we drink a lot of wine. I listen to my twitter friends go on and on about specific wines and then I look them up only to choke at the $50 price tag (or more). I thought my day job paid me pretty good green, but I guess it’s not enough to afford the purple that my friends are drinking. Thus, the quest continues.
As I mention in the video, the goal of these reviews and videos are to provide you a resource of trustworthy wines. I want you to walk into a store confident in your pick of a specific wine label. Life is too short to drink crappy wine. Why waste your money on 3 or 4 cheap wines in search of the jewel when you can rely on others to do so.
Basically, I’m in search of a starting line-up of dependable wines that I can go to on a daily basis. I need designated hitters, relief pitchers, and pinch hitters to come into the game when the game is tight. Tonight’s lineup includes a rookie and two veterans called up from Triple A to show their stuff.
2007 Arbor Crest Sauvignon Blanc
- The Stuff: 100% Sauvignon Blanc from Columbia Valley, WA (Bacchus Vineyards), never oaked
- 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.
The wine reminds me of summer. When my wife and I were first dating we enjoyed a few bottles of this wine on the deck as we shared our stories and got to know one another. This is definitely a player who will be added to the roster for a crisp summer wine or a wine to pair with light seafood or poultry dishes.
2008 Root 1 Cabernet Sauvignon
- The Stuff: 85% Cab and 15% Syrah from Colchagua, Chile. Vineyards are original non-grafted wine stocks brought over from Europe – sounds pretty cool. Neat looking bottle, taller than average with a real cork enclosure.
- The Swirl: Moderately opaque plum with watery edges
- The Sniff: Was difficult to pinpoint at first but the fruit was immediately overwhelmed by evergreen tree, minerals, rocks, and musky dirt. With much effort could smell the black currant.
- The Sip: Overwhelming minerality on the back immediately took over the fruit that was trying to come through. Very chalky, like eating dirt.
- The Score: At $9, there are way better value Cabernet Sauvignon’s out there. I score this a 3-. Could be the youth of the wine, but I’m not going to cellar a $9 wine. (See update below)
This wine strikes out and not only doesn’t make the team but gets sent back to Single A ball. UPDATE: After spending some time in Single A (24 hours) this wine is starting to show some promise. The minerality is nearly gone and most of the chalkiness has subsided. Decent fruit flavors of red currant and cherry along with leather. Root1 has moved up to AA ball, but I’m still apprehensive.
2007 Dancing Bull Zinfandel
- The Stuff: 100% California Zinfandel from various sourced vineyards. Synthetic cork enclosure
- The Swirl: Deep dark opaque plum, slightly cloudy with hints of ruby and garnet. Strong legs indicating high residual sugar.
- The Sniff: Good strong nose that leads with strawberry, vanilla, tobacco and cocoa
- The Sip: The wine was slightly disappointing as it came across as one-dimensional. The nose was a tease and the palate did not deliver. After two hours in glass, the flavor profile did open up. One dimensional is not bad, just not super interesting.
- The Score: At just $8, this wine scores a solid 3+. You won’t go wrong getting this wine and the predictable taste may score well with beginning wine drinkers.
This Zinfandel doesn’t make the starting team but is sent down to Triple A to potentially be called up as an injury replacement.
So far the team is struggling. I have a few good recommendations from fellow wine bloggers that I hope to try soon. If you have suggestions, please leave comments. I’m looking to field my team with a variety of wine styles.
2010 is the year of buying local! I want to strongly encourage you, when possible to buy your wine from a local retailer (wine store, wine shop) or directly from the winery. Doing this helps keep profits directly in your community.
Life is meant to be shared with friends. Share life over a glass of wine and DRINK.HAPPY!
25 Dec 2009
Merry Christmas from DrinkNectar.com! This year Kimberly and I enjoyed a quiet Christmas. My sister and parents were in Phoenix, Kimberly’s family lives in Portland and her son was spending Christmas with his dad in Florida.
Christmas Eve we enjoyed a beautiful dinner at Clinkerdaggers overlooking the Spokane river. For wine we enjoyed a Cabernet Sauvignon wine flight that included Chateau St Jean (CA), Kenwood Yulupa (CA) and Chateau Ste Michelle Indian Wells (WA). Each of these wine reviews has been uploaded to www.corkd.com. The hands down favorite was Chateau Ste Michelle which had the most active nose and actually gave up the berry flavor along with the oaky tannin you would expect from a well made Cab.
Spending Christmas without our extended family is slightly sad. We missed our families terribly but managed to enjoy the day. After opening gifts we prepped dinner and headed to the new movie, “Up in the Air.” I highly recommend the movie, but it doesn’t really leave you with a happy feel good ending (but then again that’s the way life can be too).
Our holiday dinner, when we are sans child and family, is lasagna. I love Italian and lasagna is my favorite. The wines for Christmas Eve and Day were two we set aside from our Woodinville, WA trip in September. Reviewed in the video and text below are Ross Andrew 2005 Red Table Wine and Mark Ryan 2006 Long Haul. These wines were worth the wait (especially the Long Haul) and we can’t wait to get back to the Woodinville area again.
In the video I mention a Spokane winery that needs our support! Arbor Crest Winery occupies an old historic mansion on a hillside overlooking the Spokane valley. The morning of December 23, a power strip sparked a fire that gutted the interior. This amazing mansion (and surrounding grounds) is a Spokane treasure where people enjoy wine, get married, and celebrate life. Please show your support and buy this wine when you see the label. The exterior is in tact and they will work to rebuild the historic interior.
Thanks again for your support over the last six weeks of the launch of DrinkNectar.com. We were recently recognized as one of the top new food and spirit blogs in 2009 on www.drinksareonme.net. I also want to give a special shout out to The Wine Whore and Seattle Wine Gal for their amazing partnership. I look forward to a fun and wine filled 2010.
Life is meant to be enjoyed with friends. I hope this Christmas season brings you love and joy with your family along with several great bottles of wine!
2005 Ross Andrew Red Table Wine
- The Stuff: Bordeaux Blend
- The Swirl: Dark opaque plum with strong legs
- The Sniff: Day one, this wine was very disappointing. The cork smell came through overwhelming on the nose and the flavor was strong on the alcohol and acid. Day two, the wine opened up nicely presenting oak and cherry. Was still tight on the nose.
- The Sip: Mild oak and dirt with sour dark cherry flavor. Experienced medium tannin and chalky finish. Enjoyed a glass with the lasagna which was a great pairing for the chalky finish and acid.
- The Score: At $25, and because of the challenge during the first day, I would score this wine a 3 (out of 5). I probably wouldn’t purchase it again but would certainly explore other Ross Andrew offerings.
2006 Mark Ryan Long Haul
- The Stuff: Right Bank style blend with 48% Merlot 46% Cab Franc and 6% Petit Verdot.
- The Swirl: Moderately opaque with translucent edges. Nice jewel tones
- The Sniff: Wow, this glass is alive with aroma ranging from spice to coffee to vanilla to dark cherries alive with juice.
- The Sip: An explosion of fruit with the right amount of structure balance and tannin to enjoy alone or with a big steak or red pasta dish. This is like sex in a glass. The orgasm of flavor blew me away!
- The Score: At $48 I would definitely buy this again and again as long as my credit card allowed. Taking into consideration the economy and value, this wine scores a 4+. Get it at $35 and it is a steal and a 5.
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.
13 Dec 2009
I walked into the dimly lit room and they immediately caught my eye, seductively sitting in the back corner begging to be approached. Their style was intimidating. They had a sense of class that the others didn’t. I wrestled with how to approach. My senses were mixed. There were others in the room who seemed more my type; familiar and safe. I walked their way, struggling with what to say. Do I fumble to speak their language, do I remain silent and just admire their beauty? Their embrace was welcoming. After some stimulating conversation and laughter, I decided to take them home for a petite gorgee de trois.
French wine can be intimidating. With the long noble history, elegant labels, strict regional rules, and challenging names many Americans shy away from some great new experiences. Tonight, I decided to take two beautiful French ladies home for a little romance. Both wines hailed from the Rhone region, specifically the Cote du Rhone area that is known for its production of Grenache, Syrah, and Viognier.
These elegant sounding wines were 60% Granache and 40% Syrah (tasting notes below)
While it may be intimidating to try new things (especially ones that are difficult to pronounce), it is important to broaden your wine horizons to be able to order intelligently or even know what to enjoy (or avoid) when presented with something new. Starting with the basic offering from Rhone, Loire Valley, or Bordeaux is a perfect way to expand your taste experience.
These were not French nobility. The French maids were available for under $12 at the local wine shop and represent a lower price option for wines from the region (think Chevy vs. Cadillac). Neither were overly impressive, but I was glad for the experience because now I know what to potentially buy and what to definitely avoid.
A few words of wisdom before having your own French connection: Do your homework – investigate at Cork’d or Cellar Tracker; check your local blogs, do a Google or Bing search. The information you find can help you avoid the nasty and discover the jewels. Be confident – don’t let the fancy labels or foreign language intimidate you. Finally, be safe – have protection in the form of a designated driver. Too much of a good thing, even pretty French ladies can lead to your ruin.
2007 Domain de Couron
- The Swirl: ruby garnet and well filtered
- The Sniff: Cherry, Earth and Paper
- The Sip: Moderate dark berry fruits, chalky, cedar. Mild alcohol and mild tannins
- The Score: At $12 USD I score this a 3+ Better than your average $12 Australian Syrah with more structure and interest.
After thinking about this one further, I would buy it again for an alternate taste and would recommend to those wanting to slowly work their way into the world of new tastes.
2006 Paul Joubolet Aine Paralelle 45
- The Swirl: Ruby garnet cherry color with moderate legs
- The Sniff: Aromatically challenged but does present some earthiness and musty basement prior to the fruit.
- The Sip: Not much fruit, a little dry chalk with a hint of blackberry finish
- The Score: Even at $11 this is just a 3- in my book. Much better wines at this price. The wine does have a balanced flavor, just not one that I prefer.
I would pass on purchasing this wine again.
I hope this information is useful at some point (as well as entertaining). Enjoy life with friends, especially over a glass of wine.