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Moab 2015: Castle Creek Winery

Upon leaving Canyonlands, we had a little bit of time before we had to make the long drive back to Salt Lake City. And it just so happens that a little way outside of Moab is one of Utah’s few wineries! I wanted to go!

Castle Creek Winery is located 14 miles up Highway 128, a scenic drive along the Colorado River. It also happened to be the route of most of Jon’s half-marathon the previous day, so I had the opportunity to see what he was up against. There was a long… uphill section that looked really tough! There are lots of campgrounds and trail heads along the highway that look like they would be perfect for exploring – if only we had more time.

The winery is on the grounds of a resort ranch. You can stay there, and it looked like activities included horseback riding, swimming, rafting, hiking, and of course, the winery. There is also a museum on the grounds that we didn’t have time to check out.

The sign seems more weathered than it should, given the age of the winery...  I sense a theme...

The sign seems more weathered than it should, given the age of the winery… I sense a theme…

Our tasting was interesting… A complimentary tasting included 5 samples, which let us taste all but one of the wines. They were decent but not complex, fine for everyday drinking but they wouldn’t hold up to age. None had much in the way of structure or tannins. But that isn’t what made it interesting. Our server did that all on her own. She was nice enough, but was an older lady who was very worn – I didn’t smell smoke but she had the look (and the voice) of a ‘several-pack-a-day-for-several-decades’ smoker.

I asked about the history of the winery, and her response was to urge us to go downstairs and watch the video. When we didn’t appear to be moving quickly enough, she kept prodding until we felt we had no choice but to go. Downstairs was odd. We found ourselves in a random cold, dimly lit hallway with glass windows facing out onto the dark production floor. And, as she promised, there was a 5 minute video explaining in extremely general terms the history of the winery and their production story.

Other than telling me that Castle Creek Winery played an integral part in changing Utah’s laws to allow for wineries, I learned nothing. Well, that’s not quite true… I had learned my lesson, and did not ask further questions upon emerging from the “dungeon.” That made the tasting go really quickly. That said, the wines were fine, and several had beautiful labels, so I bought one bottle to enjoy in our hotel room that evening and we got on our way…

Picturesque truck

Picturesque truck

And because the winery didn’t inspire me to take any photos inside, here’s a photo of what I hope is an authentic historic school outside of Moab.  I say I hope because it shares its parking lot with a gas station.

A historic schoolhouse - I hope...

A historic schoolhouse – I hope…

We made the long drive back to Salt Lake City in order to fly out the next morning. Another great vacation had come to a pre-mature end…

MI Road Trip: Douglas Valley Winery

Every vacation begins with a catalyst.  That “thing” that makes you decide that you are going to go there…  It could be a theme park, a museum, a fabulous hike, a concert, a beach – you get the idea.  Or a winery.  Let me explain…  Back in the spring, I won a prize – redeemable in Manistee, Michigan.  The value wasn’t much, but it got me thinking that maybe we could go visit the area.  We were heading out to visit family in Michigan anyway, so a little detour might be perfect!  A road trip was born…

In my last post, we checked out downtown Manistee – after our coffee we headed out to visit Douglas Valley Winery, just outside town. Douglas Valley’s tasting room is located in a historic building – an old bunk house along the railroad line at the turn of the century. The property is surrounded by apple orchards and vineyards.

A rusty farm wagon at Douglas Valley Winery

A rusty farm wagon at Douglas Valley Winery

UPDATE: My Dad, who grew up on a farm, let me know that the photo above is not a wagon.  Rather, it is a manure spreader…  So don’t go on a hayride in it, mmm-kay?

When we arrived, there was one couple wrapping up a tasting, and then we were all alone with our server. Tastings are normally $5 per person for 7 tastes (including a souvenir glass), but we had a certificate for a free tasting thanks to a prize from the Michigan by the Bottle blog. You can also opt for 2 complementary tastes, but $5 is very reasonable.

The Douglas Valley Winery Tasting Room – inside a historic bunk house

The Douglas Valley Winery Tasting Room – inside a historic bunk house

We picked out what we wanted. Here’s what I sampled (Jon and I tried to pick different wines and then shared, so there are more than 7):

  • Bunk House White – A semi-sweet blend of un-oaked Chardonnay, Vignole, Riesling and Pinot Gris, with flavors of apricot and peach.
  • 2013 Lakeview White – A semi sweet blend of Chardonnay and Riesling.
  • Bunk House Blue – A tart blueberry wine with spice on the back of the palate.  One of my favorites.
  • Bunk House Cherry – A sweet blend of tart and sweet cherries.  Also very good.
  • Northeastern Sweet Red – A light, semi-sweet red wine; a blend of Foch and Chambourcin grapes. It had some Pinot Noir characteristics.
  • Bunk House Red – A blend of Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Merlot with flavors of raspberry and blackberry.
  • Stone House Sparkling Cider – A low alcohol (7%) sparkling cider made with several apple varieties from the Douglas Valley orchards.  Excellent.
  • Stone House Semi Sweet Cider – A blend of Jonathan, Macintosh, and Northern Spy apples. Fruity with flavors of apple (duh…) and honey.
  • Caramel Apple Cider – One of two specialty ciders that they had on tap and available for sale in growlers, this had a nose of heavy caramel, but the caramel flavor was very light on the palate, with pleasant, light bubbles.

Our server was very friendly and offered information about the wine, and the history of the property.  Currently Douglas Valley grows the fruit and grapes, and the winemaker from another Michigan winery, Black Star Farms, makes the wine.  I think there is a plan to begin making their own wine at some point in the future, but this method seems to work well, as there were several good wines.

I purchased my favorites… The Northeastern Sweet Red, the Sparkling Apple Cider, the Bunk House Blueberry and the Bunk House Cherry. Thinking back, I should go find one of these bottles to open tonight…

Douglas Valley also had a large selection of local food products, and since it was close to lunchtime, we decided to get a picnic lunch to go. We picked out some Great Lakes tortilla chips, beef jerky, cajun beef jerky, Michigan made jalapeno pickled asparagus, asparagus salsa, and a big bag of fresh Winesap apples.

Apples at Douglas Valley – Waiting to be Picked

Apples at Douglas Valley – Waiting to be Picked

We said our goodbyes and headed out on our way to our next destination – Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  En route, we found a roadside viewpoint with a picnic table and enjoyed our picnic lunch.  The weather was still cold, but had warmed up enough to allow us to sit outside for 20 minutes and enjoy our chips and salsa, beef jerky and asparagus.  What a great lunch!

A few of our Michigan Picnic Lunch items – YUM!

A few of our Michigan Picnic Lunch items – YUM!

But we couldn’t linger too long, because I couldn’t wait to see Sleeping Bear Dunes!

 

The Applegate Valley Wine

After our visit to Jacksonville, Oregon, we decided to check out a couple of wineries!  The Applegate Valley is one of the most overlooked wine regions in the country, with outstanding wines and a quiet, relaxed atmosphere.  Our first winery stop was Wooldridge Creek Winery. We pulled in to find an amazing covered seating area with cushioned patio furniture, a classy yet inviting tasting room with several books available to read, and another outdoor patio with tables and chairs. Jon’s dad wasn’t interested in wine tasting so he plopped down outside in the shade to read his book.

The winery named after the Wooldridge family who first settled on the property in the 1850s – this isn’t the same family that owns the property and the winery now though.  The first grapevines at Wooldridge Creek were planted in the 1970s; it has now expanded to 56 acres planted in twelve varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Viognier, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Tempranillo.  However, until 2002, the owners sold all their fruit to other wineries; at that point they met and partnered with a wine-making couple to start the winery.

We began our tasting in the tasting room, but soon the draw of the warm sunshine was too much. Our server was very gracious about loading up our tasting on a tray with mini decanters and tasting information for each wine. As I think back on it now (on a gray, rainy day in frigid January), I wish I were back there soaking up the warm rays of the sun!

Wooldridge Creek Winery

Wooldridge Creek Winery

The wine was delicious – I did find that I liked the reds more than the whites though.  The French oak aged Chardonnay was a hit with Jon, but a little too oaked for my taste – good for a taste but too much for a whole glass. There was a Viognier that was quite enjoyable – which was a bit unusual because I don’t typically like many Viogniers. Jon’s mom really enjoyed that one. The reds were wonderful – balanced and approachable while still having lots of structure.  We tasted Merlot, Pinot Noir and Malbec.

After Wooldridge, we visited Troon Winery. Jon and I had been there before, and Jon had wanted to go back. We wanted to be outside again, so we shuttled back and forth between the tasting room and the seating area outside. That was a little bit awkward, but it was to be expected as the server had her hands full with other customers. She did tell us a bit about each wine when we came in to get our sample, but it seemed a bit more impersonal than our visit in 2011.

Troon Winery from our covered seating

Troon Winery from our covered seating

That said, Troon’s wine is excellent – not a bad one in the bunch. Ironically, when we visited in 2011 the Druid’s Fluid red blend was my least favorite wine, but it is the biggest seller for the winery. This year, they didn’t have Druid’s Fluid on the tasting menu, so I don’t know if I would have liked it more now.  We ended up getting several wines to bring home with us.  For some reason though, I always forget that Troon now has a tasting room in the Willamette Valley, so we will have to stop by there sometime when we are down that way.

After our two tasting room visits, we wrapped up our day and headed back to the rental house to enjoy one last quiet evening on the river before heading home.  We swam in the pool, read books, watched the Canada Geese flying overhead to their night roosts, and heard the hum of the jet boats as they took tourists back home after the dinner tour (I so want to take that jet boat tour one day!).

Canada Geese flying home for the night

Canada Geese flying home for the night

We had to be up before dawn in the morning, because Jon had misunderstood what days he was supposed to get off from work.  I had planned for us to spend a leisurely day Tuesday driving home and then go back to work Wednesday, but Jon thought we were coming home on Monday.  He had scheduled himself to work at 2 pm on Tuesday, expecting that he would have a quiet morning at home to sleep in and get some things done.  Obviously that wasn’t going to happen!  Considering that the drive home (without traffic) is 8 hours, we set the alarm for 3 am to get home in time.

We were on the road at 3:17 am! It’s not often that I watch a summer sunrise from the road, but I caught this one. Our early morning travel all worked out in the end though, as we made it home with enough time to get some lunch and essentials at the grocery store before Jon had to go to work.  And I had the whole afternoon to take a leisurely nap, unpack and relax for going back to work on Wednesday. It was a nice end to a great long weekend…

 

Breaking out of a Wine Rut

I’ve been in a wine rut.  Our travel this year hasn’t been wine focused, so we haven’t sampled very many new wines during tasting room visits.  In looking at the wine we have around the house, most of it is higher end Washington wines and Oregon Pinot Noirs.  While I love Pinots, it isn’t every random Wednesday that I want to open a more expensive bottle.  And trips to the grocery store leave me wandering the wine aisles, not able to get excited about all of the wines I’ve had before, and uncertain about trying something new.

So I had an idea.  I popped down to the local wine shop this afternoon and told the owner that I had a challenge for him, should he choose to accept.  I have been pleased with all the recommendations he has given me before, so why not trust him again?  The challenge?  Put together a mixed case of wines I have never tried.

The parameters:

  • Value wines – nothing over $15.00, closer to $10.00 is better
  • No Pinot Noir (while I love them, we have plenty already)
  • 8 or 9 reds, 3 or 4 whites.

That’s it – no other rules.  If he offered it, and it fit within the parameters, it went into the case.  Of course he accepted, because what wine aficionado wouldn’t?  Here’s what I ended up with.

My Mixed Case of Wine - my descriptions below begin with the wine on the left.

My Mixed Case of Wine – my descriptions below begin with the wine on the left.

Scaia – 2013.  This wine is a 60% Garganega, 40% Chardonnay blend; an Italian wine from the Veneto region.  Garganega will be a new grape for my Wine Century Club efforts! – $10.99

Atteca – 2012 Old Vines Garnacha.  This Spanish red is 100% Garnacha, and is the one wine I have tried.  They were tasting it this afternoon, and I loved it.  I’ll be curious to see what Jon thinks!  – $14.99

Trentadue – 2012 Old Patch Red.  This red blend from the North Coast of California is 85% Zinfandel, 6% Petite Sirah, 5% Carignane, and 4% Syrah.  – $10.99

Oinos Les Cardères – 2012.  This red blend from the Corbières region of France is 50% Syrah, 25% Grenache and 25% Carignan. – $11.99

La Playa Block Selection Reserve Red Blend Claret – 2012.  Wow, that’s a mouthful for this red blend from the Colchagua Valley of Chile.  60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Malbec and 10% Cabernet Franc. – $11.99

Pelassa Mario’s – 2012.  A red blend of 50% Barbera, 25% Merlot, and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Piedmont region of Italy. – $12.99

H-Henriques – 2011.  This French wine from the Côtes du Roussillon region is 50% Carignan, 35% Grenache, and 15% Syrah. – $7.99

Gerald Talmard Chardonnay – 2013.  French labels are hard…  This wine is from the Mâcon Uchizy region in France.  – $11.99

Torre Gajo Pinot Grigio – 2013.  This wine is from the Delle Venezie region of Italy and comes in a 1000 ML bottle – extra!  – $11.99

Linen Sauvignon Blanc – 2013.  This Columbia Valley wine is produced by Bergevin Lane Vineyards in Walla Walla, WA. – $10.99

Scaia Corvina – 2012.  We are going to try the Scaia white wine, so why not the red?  This one also comes from the Veneto region of Italy and is 100% Corvina. – $10.99

Sagemoor Farms Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – 2013.  This wine is produced by The House of Independent Producers (HIP); it is a second label for Hedges Family Estate in Benton City, WA. – $12.49

So there’s the line up.  I can’t wait to start sampling.

Have you had any of these wines?  Which one do you think we should open first?

 

Winter Day in Woodinville: Dusted Valley

A few weekends ago it was another rainy, windy weekend, so Jon and I decided to spend the day tasting down in Woodinville, WA.  It had been awhile since we were there, and we didn’t have anything else going on, so we piled in the car and hit the road.

Ninety minutes later we had reached our destination, and after a stop at Panera Bread for lunch, we were ready to taste.  We decided to try some wineries that we had never been to before, and we ended up near the historic Schoolhouse building.  On the other side of the roundabout are several tasting rooms in a retail development that has only been there a few years.

We started our day at Dusted Valley.  The Dusted Valley winery facility is located in Walla Walla, but they have a tasting room in Woodinville as well.  We were greeted warmly by the server, and started off on the 2010 Cinsaut.  It is a light blend of 80% Cinsaut and 20% Syrah, from the Stoney Vine Estate in the Walla Walla Valley.  It is a excellent light, acidic wine, perfect for drinking now.

Next we had the 2011 Rachis Syrah, a wine containing 98% Syrah with 2% Petite Sirah blended in.  The grapes are sourced from the Stone Tree Vineyard in the Red Heaven area of the Columbia Valley.  After that we tried the 2011 Cabernet Franc – a Columbia Valley wine with 91% Cabernet Franc and 9% Merlot.  It is a big, smooth red wine.

The 2011 V.R. Special Cabernet Sauvignon was next – it is a 99% Cabernet Sauvignon with just 1% of Petit Verdot blended in.  It is named for the V.R. Special Chocolate Chip Cookie created by the winemaker’s grandfather Vernon Rhodes in the Midwest.  The 2011 Petite Sirah contained 95% Petite Sirah and 5% Syrah.  It is a dark, inky red color with strong balanced tannins.

And we finished off the tasting with the 2009 Late Harvest Syrah.  It is not a fortified wine, but is a heavy, syrupy wine with a strong alcohol content.  Jon really liked this wine.

Dusted Valley Tasting Room

Dusted Valley Tasting Room

All of the wines were excellent – there weren’t any that I didn’t like.  That said, my favorites were the Cinsaut and the Petite Syrah.

Dusted Valley also produces a second, value label – Boomtown.  They don’t taste or sell it at the tasting room, but I purchased a bottle later in the day that I found at Cost Plus World Market – given how much I liked the Dusted Valley wines that we tried, I am looking forward to tasting the Boomtown wine we bought.

Our next stop was Trust Cellars – I’ll blog about that next!

Have you tried Dusted Valley wines?  What did you think?

 

California Marathon Road Trip: Gundlach Bundschu

Our second winery stop was at Gundlach Bundschu – good luck trying to pronounce that name!  It is the oldest continuously family-owned winery in California.  It was founded by Jacob Gundlach in 1858 as Rhinefarm, with Charles Bundschu joining the company in 1868 – originally the farm in Sonoma was about 400 acres.  It was renamed Gundlach Bundschu in 1894 and at the turn of the 20th century the company was producing about 250,000 cases of wine each year.

Up until that point the winery facility was located in San Francisco, but the production facilities and about a million gallons of wine were destroyed by the earthquake in 1906.  They moved the production facility to Sonoma after the quake and then Prohibition hit.

During prohibition the winery closed its doors, and all but 130 acres of the farm were sold – the family managed to make a living selling grapes for juice and raising cattle.  After prohibition, the farm began selling grapes to Inglenook, Almaden and then Louis Martini wineries, but didn’t reopen the winery until the 1970s.

The winery now produces about 25,000 cases total – I believe all their wines are estate grown.  They have a huge tasting room with a gorgeous outdoor patio area; seems that they do a lot of events.  Too bad it was too cold to sit outside and enjoy the view!

Gundlach Bundschu Patio

Gundlach Bundschu Patio

Gundlach Bundschu was a fun winery; our server was Columbian and he was super friendly.  We tried Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.  We both loved the Zin!  It was fruit forward and balanced, without losing structure.  There was a lot of pepper and spice on the Merlot, and the Chardonnay was a nice acidic wine with a light balanced oak on the back of the palate.  The only wine I didn’t really like was the Gewürztraminer.  I liked it at first taste – it was semi-sweet with citrus, but there was a floral finish on the back of the palate that didn’t appeal to me.

Gundlach Bundschu Tasting Room

Gundlach Bundschu Tasting Room

While we were there several other groups came in, and you can tell they have a loyal following.  Which isn’t surprising, given the quality of the wine.  What a fantastic visit!

California Road Trip: Old Sacramento and the Underground Tasting Room

Our last full day of vacation had arrived… Well, that’s not quite true, because we had one more after that, but it was dedicated to making the all day drive from California to the very northwest corner of Washington.  So anyway, our last full day of touristing was in Sacramento.  We were there to visit Jon’s friend Pablo, and so Jon could enjoy his old stomping grounds.

Me at Old Sacramento with the Delta King Riverboat - Now a Hotel

Me at Old Sacramento with the Delta King Riverboat – Now a Hotel

We started our day with a return trip to Old Sacramento.  Jon took me there the first time we visited Sacramento before we were married.  I know it is touristy, but I do enjoy the historic buildings there and the fact that they are almost all built before the turn of the 20th century.  The earliest is from 1852, just after a terrible fire swept through the city.  Sacramento was also prone to severe flooding, so in the early 1860s, they began the process of raising the city of Sacramento.  However, they simply raised the level of the streets and not the buildings.  The first floors of the buildings became a basement, and the original second floor was now at street level.  There is a historic underground tour, but unfortunately, it was only on Saturdays (we were there on a Friday).

Old Sacramento Historic Buildings

Old Sacramento Historic Buildings

The several blocks of Old Sacramento today are part of the Old Sacramento State Historic Park.  Almost all of the buildings in Old Sacramento today have been re-purposed into tourist shops and restaurants, and there is also a museum on the history of the railroad that is an excellent stop (we didn’t go this trip, but we went a couple of years ago).

Jon and I had lunch in a little sandwich shop and then headed over to The Underground Tasting Room, to sample a couple of their wines.  The Underground Tasting Room is shared by two wineries, Fenton Herriott Vineyards and Twisted Twig.  You can choose a flight from either winery, or a combined flight with wines from both places.  The tasting room is set below the current street level on the original street level of Old Sacramento, and has a little enclosed patio seating area with a fountain.  It was a warm sunny day and we enjoyed just sitting in the sunshine.

The Underground Tasting Room in Old Sacramento

The Underground Tasting Room in Old Sacramento

We were the only ones there when we visited – a couple was just leaving as we got there – and our server was gracious and friendly.  We decided to sample the Fenton Herriott Vineyards selections, as they make some white wines in addition to the reds, where Twisted Twig is reds only.  Here’s what we had:

2011 Chardonnay: Aged on neutral oak.  It tasted of light oak and cream with an herbal finish.  It just wasn’t really my style.

2012 Rose: Light flavors of cranberry and raspberry – good, but I was a bit turned off by a bitterness on the back of the throat on the finish.

2009 Merlot: This wine had a medium body and was very fruit forward with light tannins.  It is ready to drink now.

2007 Twisted Twig 2007 EPIC Cabernet Sauvignon: We did get to sample one Twisted Twig wine because the Fenton Herriott Cab was unavailable.  It had heavy tannins and was a very bold cab with a nice balance.  It had begun softening but would hold up for a while longer.  It was good, but I felt that the $38 pricetag was a bit much.

2009 Tempranillo: We ended with this wine which tasted of smoke, light cherry and coffee.  It was very drinkable and delicious.

Fenton Herriott is a small, family-owned winery – their wines have a production of 100 cases or less for each one.  The vineyards and winery are located in Placerville, California.  To be honest, I was hoping to like the Fenton Herriott Chardonnay and Rose more than I did, but I was pleased with the reds, and it would be worth a trip out to the winery when we are in the area again.  We purchased a bottle each of the Fenton Herriott Merlot and Tempranillo and headed on our way to our next stop – the Leland Stanford Mansion!