Top Northwest wine stories of 2011

It was a busy and exciting year for Northwest wineries as they battled Mother Nature as well as political and economic winds. The industry lost some giants to death, and the heads of Washington’s and Oregon’s industries left their positions.

Here are the top wine stories of 2011.

1. Washington voters pass Initiative 1183. In November, voters did away with Washington’s state liquor stores by passing the Costco-backed Initiative 1183. Many wineries, wine shops and groceries are still trying to sort out the full effect of the new law, but the bottom line is that Washington’s largest wine retailer — liquor stores — are going away.

2. Dean of Northwest wine writers dies. Bob Woehler began covering the industry in 1976, and he never stopped. He was the Tri-City Herald’s wine columnist from 1978 to 2010 and was Wine Press Northwest’s tasting editor from 1998 until his death in August, just a few days after he turned 78. While he focused his efforts on Washington, where he lived, he also covered the Oregon wine industry in its early days and greatly enjoyed writing about British Columbia and Idaho.

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This week’s edition of Fresh Press

This week, we review wines from Convergence Zone Cellars, Dakota Creek Winery, Dusted Valley Vintners, Eliana Wines, Fujishin Family Cellars, Goose Ridge Estate Vineyard & Winery, H/H Estates, Holmes Harbor Cellars, Koenig Vineyards, Open Road Wine Co., Pend d’Oreille Winery, San Juan Vineyards, Sol Duc Wines, StoneCap Wines and Wedge Mountain Winery.

Download PDF here.

Or read the e-edition version here.

Bargain whites abound in Pacific Northwest

Last week, we reviewed red wines under $15, so let’s take a look at inexpensive white wines.

Historically, the Pacific Northwest was first known as a region for white wines. In fact, Washington still produces more white wine than red. Last fall, Washington wineries crushed 80,100 tons of white wine grapes, just ahead of the 79,900 tons of red grapes. Oregon, on the other hand, is dominated by Pinot Noir, though nearly 7,000 tons of Pinot Gris were crushed last fall.

Idaho also has been a big producer of white wines, with Ste. Chapelle one of the largest Riesling makers (and at great prices). And British Columbia is crafting many superb white wines from typical (Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris) and atypical (Ehrenfelser, Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc) varieties.

With our weather finally warming up, we are thinking more about crisp, delicious white wines and how they’ll taste with fresh seafood, picnic fare and backyard dinners.
Here are a few delicious Northwest white wines (and a rosé) priced at $15 and under.

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Fresh reviews of Northwest wines

We have posted the newest issue of Fresh Press, Wine Press Northwest’s new weekly online publication. It focuses on fresh reviews of recently released Northwest wines.

Fresh Press is available as a convenient and freely downloadable PDF, perfect for viewing digitally and formatted to be easy to print.

Wineries featured in this week’s edition include:

  • Brooks Wines
  • Cathedral Ridge Winery
  • Challenger Ridge Vineyard & Cellars
  • Columbia Crest
  • Corvus Cellars
  • Daven Lore Winery
  • Desert Wind Winery
  • EMVY Cellars
  • Gard Vintners
  • Gordon Brothers Family Vineyards
  • Henry Estate
  • JoieFarm
  • Kathken Vineyard
  • Kramer Vineyards
  • Koenig Vineyards
  • Kitzke Cellars
  • LaStella Winery
  • Martinez & Martinez
  • McKinley Springs Winery
  • Melrose Vineyard
  • Pura Vida
  • RiverAerie Cellars
  • Waving Tree Winery
  • Westport Winery

Zerba Cellars tops Northwest Wine Summit

This year’s Northwest Wine Summit concluded with a banquet over the weekend to announce the top awards.

Finishing at the top of the Summit was Zerba Cellars with its 2007 Bowlus Hills Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s all from estate fruit on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley - and it is only $20! It’s a remarkable red wine at just about any price, but at $20, many folks can afford to make it their house wine with a case or two.

Here are the rest of the top awards from the Northwest Wine Summit, which was held at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel.

Best of categories

  • Best red: Zerba Cellars 2007 Bowlus Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley
  • Best white: Jones of Washington 2010 Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley
  • Best rosé: Jones of Washington 2010 Rosé of Syrah, Columbia Valley
  • Best sparkling: Domaine Ste Michelle NV Blanc de Noirs, Columbia Valley
  • Best fortified: Westport Winery NV Shelter from the Storm, Washington
  • Best ice wine: Koenig Winery 2009 Riesling Ice Wine, Snake River Valley
  • Best fruit wine: Heymann Whinery NV Apricot, Washington
  • Best dessert: Mount Baker Vineyards 2007 Late Harvest Viognier, Yakima Valley

Best of regions

  • Best Washington: Jones of Washington 2010 Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley
  • Best Oregon: Zerba Cellars 2007 Bowlus Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley
  • Best British Columbia: Mission Hill Family Estate 2006 SLC Riesling Icewine, Okanagan Valley
  • Best Idaho: Coiled Wines 2009 Sidewinder Syrah, Snake River Valley
  • Best Alaska: Alaskan Wilderness Wines 2009 Blueberry, Alaska
  • Best Montana: Ten Spoon Vineyard and Winery  Flathead Cherry Dry
  • Best Oregon Pinot Noir: Erath Winery 2008 Estate Selection Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley

We will post the full medal list as soon as we receive it from the competition coordinators.

Idaho’s Snake River Valley coming into its own

Let’s get this out of the way: No potato wine is made in Idaho.

The Gem State is famous for its potatoes, but thanks to the increasing quality of Idaho vintners, Idaho’s wine industry is growing in stature and size.

Just three years ago, Idaho had 32 wineries. That has grown to 43, and inquiries about starting wineries come to the Idaho Wine Commission in Boise on a weekly basis. Most of the wineries are in the Snake River Valley, primarily around Caldwell and Nampa. A few are in the panhandle, and the Palouse region promises to be a growth area.

About 1,600 acres of vineyards are in Idaho, primarily in the Caldwell-Nampa region. The largest vineyard, Skyline, is 450 acres and owned by Precept Wines in Seattle.

Idaho’s oldest and largest winery is Ste. Chapelle in Caldwell, which started in 1976 and is owned by Ascentia Wine Estates in California. Thanks to Ste. Chapelle, Riesling is the state’s largest variety, though Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot also are important. Moya Shatz, executive director of the Idaho Wine Commission, said Rhone varieties such as Syrah and Viognier grow extremely well in the Snake River Valley.
“I think that’s what we’ll be known for eventually,” she said.

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Author finds niche with WineTrails books

Steve Roberts never expected to be known as “the WineTrails guy.” But the Mercer Island, Wash., man just might be the bestselling wine author in Pacific Northwest history.

Roberts, who grew up in Spokane, has written four books on wine, starting with “Wine Trails of Washington” in 2007 and most recently “Wine Trails of Walla Walla,” which came out in November.

His inspiration began in a Seattle Barnes & Noble.

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Your guide to Northwest sparkling wine, part 1

This is the time of year we think most about sparkling wine, as we look for a cork to pop to celebrate the holidays and welcome a turn of the calendar. Sparkling wine is delicious and easy to pair with food all year around, so it’s a bit unfortunate that we pay attention to it primarily during the holidays.

For something so easy to enjoy, sparkling wine can be pretty complicated — and that means it can intimidate most wine lovers. Thus, we will spend the next two weeks learning about bubbles. This week, we will explore Northwest sparkling wine producers. Next week, we will unravel a few of the mysteries surrounding sparkling wine.

Big players

A few wineries in the Pacific Northwest specialize in sparkling wine. These tend to be the producers you will find more easily.

Domaine Ste. Michelle: This Ste. Michelle Wine Estates property is the big gun in the Northwest sparkling wine scene — and one of the largest producers in the United States. Winemaker Rick Casqueiro oversees production of more than 300,000 cases of bubbly annually. The wines are made in Paterson, Wash., in the same facility as Columbia Crest, and Casqueiro makes no fewer than five different wines each year. Domaine Ste. Michelle wines win awards and accolades from competitions and critics alike. Best of all, the wines are great values, with all but the vintage-dated Luxe retailing for $10-$12.

Argyle: Located in a haunted former hazelnut processing plant in Dundee, Ore., Argyle is making some of the Northwest’s finest sparkling wines. Unlike Domaine Ste. Michelle, Argyle’s focus is not solely on bubbles, as it also makes Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling. But it’s perhaps most famous for its sparklers. Winemaker Rollin Soles crafts no fewer than six sparkling wines, all vintage dated (a bit of a rarity in this part of the business). His oldest that is currently for sale dates back to 2000, while the rest all are from the 2006 and 2007 vintages.

Argyle sparkling wines are easiest to find in the greater Portland area, but Washington merchants with good Northwest selections also carry Argyle wines.

Mountain Dome: Based near Spokane, Mountain Dome has been focusing primarily on high-quality sparkling wines for a quarter-century. It produces three styles of sparkling wine, all made from Washington grapes. The bottles are adorned with a whimsical painting of gnomes, which represent the Mantz family, which owns Mountain Dome.

Summerhill Pyramid Winery: One of British Columbia’s most visible wineries is Summerhill near Kelowna. Owner Steve Cipes ages his sparkling wines in a pyramid modeled after the Cheops Pyramid on the Giza Plateau. He believes the pyramid invokes an energy into the wine. Regardless of what you think of his theory, the wines are delicious and well worth seeking if you happen to be in British Columbia.

Other wineries making sparkling wine

A handful of the Northwest’s more than 1,200 wineries craft sparkling wines on a small to medium scale. Here are a few we have enjoyed in recent months:

Pacific Rim: This winery in West Richland, Wash., began making a sparkling Riesling called White Flowers a couple of years ago, and it is a dynamite wine. Look for it in better wine shops and groceries.

Westport: Based in Aberdeen, Wash., this coastal winery crafts a delicious sparkling Gewurztraminer.

Sumac Ridge: This winery in Summerland, B.C., makes a couple of bubblies, including Stellar’s Jay Brut, its signature wine.

Ste. Chapelle: Idaho’s largest winery makes sparkling Rieslings that are off-dry and oh so good.

Camas Prairie: This winery in Moscow, Idaho, makes a handful of unusual and delicious sparkling wines, including a rare red bubbly.

Karma Vineyards: Based in Chelan, Wash., this winery crafts small amounts of classically made sparkling wine.

What are some of your favorite sparkling wine producers in the Pacific Northwest?

Played 20 times

In this podcast, longtime Northwest wine writer Bob Woehler sits down with Moya Schatz, executive director of the Idaho Wine Commission, to talk about the state of the industry in the Gem State.

Idaho is a small but growing segment in the Pacific Northwest and has some fascinating opportunities, not the least of which is the fact that the majority of the vineyards are at nearly 3,000 feet in elevation.

Moya also hints at a new AVA for Idaho is in the works, and she goes over the winners of the 2010 Idaho Wine Competition, conducted by Wine Press Northwest.

This is well worth a listen.