Tag Archive | wildfire smoke

Chelan Saturday (cont.) – More Wine and More Smoke

To get back on the wagon (or continue falling off, depending on your perspective) after our less than stellar experience at Atam Winery, we headed on over to Benson Vineyards Estate Winery.  Benson is probably the Chelan area’s most well known winery and the one of the only wineries in the area that is a 100% Estate Winery.  To qualify as an Estate Winery, that means the winery and vineyards have to be in the same AVA, all of the vineyards have to be controlled or owned by the winery, and the wine has to be made from start to finish at the winery.  Most of the Chelan area wineries source some of their fruit from the Yakima and Columbia Valley, so Benson is unique in that respect.

The tasting room is another in the grand Tuscan Villa style, with the building cut into the hill so you walk into the tasting room on the same level as the parking lot, but on the back side you can head down a flight of stairs to a gorgeous patio with chairs and tables, and a spectacular view of the lake.  Well, the view… the weekend that we were there… not so much.  You haven’t forgotten about the smoke, have you?  My lungs hadn’t!

Benson Vineyards – Can you see the really faint line across the picture near the center? That’s where the lake ends and the land begins. Normally, you can easily see the lake.

We enjoyed tasting several of their wines, starting with their 2011 Chardonnay.  This wine was aged in French oak for 6 months, but honestly it didn’t taste like an oaked Chardonnay.  It was very crisp, with flavors of tart apple – a very nice Chardonnay.  I tried the Rosé next, a Syrah Rosé that is dry with a light sweetness and flavors of cherries.  It would be an excellent accompaniment to BBQ on a hot day.  But I wasn’t so impressed with their 2009 Pinot Noir – it tasted too earthy for my taste, with lots of bitter coffee flavor.

The 2009 Nebbiolo was a big smooth wine, with flavors of strong tobacco and peppermint.  It was decent, but at a $45 sticker price, it needed to be amazing for me to buy it.  At $28, I liked the 2008 Rhythm much better, with a nice balance of berry and smoke.  The 2009 Cabernet Franc was another big tannic wine, with flavors of coffee and heavy smoke.  Not really my taste.  I liked the Cabernet Sauvignon much better, although it was also a big wine, its flavors of leather and chocolate were very smooth.

Benson Vineyards and Estate Winery Patio Seating

After our tasting, Jon and I sat out on the patio for awhile and enjoyed the warm air, but we couldn’t really linger for long because of the heavy smoke in the air.  So, we headed to our next destination.  At that point, we didn’t really know where we wanted to visit next, so he headed out and turned when we saw a winery sign that piqued our interest.  That sign said Chelan Ridge  Winery.  We had no idea what we were in for…

The tasting room was staffed by Henry, and a tasting room server (I didn’t catch her name).  Henry explained that he and his wife Lynn own the winery, and she is the winemaker.  He spent his career as a commercial airline pilot, and they decided to start a winery as a retirement project (that sounds like an awesome retirement!).  Henry and the server were both really friendly, and Henry enjoyed talking about the wines.  When he saw that I was taking notes during the tasting, he offered to make a copy of the tasting notes for me.  They had 4 reds when we were there, and here’s what I thought.

2008 Merlot – Estate Vineyard

The Winemaker’s Notes – This Merlot opens with rich, bright aromas of ripe dark cherries, blackberry jam, and dark chocolate. It’s bright acidity and supple tannins round out a long firm finish with flavors of black cherries, black currant, mocha, and toasty French oak.

My Notes – Very tannic, Toasty – aged in French oak.  A lot of great structure and balance – needs some age.

2008 Syrah – Estate Vineyard

The Winemaker’s Notes – This Syrah opens with lush aromas of ripe dark fruit, white pepper, and violets, followed by rich jammy flavors of blackberries and plums, along with spicy oak. Bold tannins show on the entry and in the finish. This is a no sissy wine! Pairs wonderfully with grilled ribeye!

My Notes – White pepper.  Very good structure – big tannins.

2008 Rouge de Moraine (Bordeaux-Style Blend) – Estate Vineyard

The Winemaker’s Notes – Our Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (55%), Cab Franc (27%), and Merlot (18%) is a real fruit bomb layered with dark cherries, rich plums, and toasted oak forming the base of the aromas, with cherries, pomegranates and blackberries on the palate. The dense tannin profile is complemented by dark chocolate notes and good acidity making it a great food wine.

My Notes – very smooth – excellent blend.  We bought two of these.

2008 Cabernet Franc – Estate Vineyard

The Winemaker’s Notes – Spicy aromas including red currants, raspberries, vanilla and light oak give way to black cherry flavors, black raspberries, and baker’s chocolate. Bright acidity and moderate tannins provide good structure and balance. Superb with alder plank salmon or grilled meats!

My Notes – Raspberry on nose.  Dark bitter chocolate.  We bought one of these.

Chelan Ridge Winery – And Lake Chelan on the Left Side Down the Hill, Only You Can’t See It!

I may not have written much in my notes, but this is no way means the wines were duds.  In fact, these wines were the stars of the weekend.  If Jon and I weren’t trying to save money, I would have gladly bought multiple bottles of each of these wines.  I contained myself with just the three bottles, but it was really hard.  If you have an opportunity to visit this winery, don’t pass it up.  It is truly a gem with standout wines!

Chelan Saturday – Wine and Smoke

Part two of our September Chelan trip…

On Saturday, we slept in and relaxed in the morning before we headed out to do some wine tasting.  We had planned to do some hiking while we were in Chelan, but the air was still so smoky that it would have been impossible.  I have asthma, and that would not have been a good idea for me to be breathing in all the smoke, which hung visibly in the air, giving it a dirty orange color.  We got moving (at a leisurely pace) and decided that we would head out to Manson, which is about seven miles from Chelan, and where a lot of the area’s wineries are.

Our first stop of the day was at Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards.  This place is fun – taking its name from one of the more colorful parts of the area’s history.  Back in the day, the 1930s to be more precise, construction on the Grand Coulee Dam was shutting down, and hiring was picking up at the Howe Sound Mine.  The mine produced mostly copper, but also gold, zinc and silver.  A group of enterprising “professional” ladies, who had been working down at the dam, decided to move into an abandoned lodge at Point Lovely, a couple of miles up the lake from the Howe Sound Mine.  So, one of the locals opened up a water-taxi business, rowing men from the mine the few miles up to the lodge.  Hard Row to Hoe – get it!?

The tasting room capitalizes on the story, featuring photographs of Victorian prostitutes and with a space decked out in velvet wallpaper, beaded lampshades and a beautiful velvet upholstered settee.  If you haven’t heard the story when you arrive, they are happy to tell you the juicier details.  And even their website gets into the act, featuring a graphic of a man rowing a rowboat across the water, and topped with Mae West quotes on every page.

Hard Row to Hoe Tasting Room

Ah, but enough about the story, you want to know about the wines, right?!

We started off with the Shameless Hussy Rosé.  It is a blend of Pinot Noir and Sangiovese that is off dry and with just a hint of sweetness.  I really liked this wine, but Jon always tells me I have too much Rosé.  What?  I don’t understand what that even means!

Then we tried the Marsanne, which is not often done as a single varietal wine.  The wine had flavors of lemongrass and oak, and the server explained that it was aged in a neutral oak barrel.  The tasting notes say it tastes of honey and grapefruit – I didn’t really get citrus flavors out of this wine, but who knows, my sniffer might have been off because of all the smoke in the air.  Jon liked this wine quite a bit, but I prefer a less oaked white wine.  I should mention it won Gold at the Seattle Wine Awards.

Next up was the Semillon, a crisp wine with a light butter flavor.  It was very nice.  I can’t tell you any more about it, because it is not mentioned on their website.  Then came a Cabernet Sauvignon, with light tannins.  It was a very laid back Cab, with the grapes coming from the Wahluke Slope in the Columbia Valley.  The Wahluke Slope has about 15% of the grape acreage in Washington State.    I liked it, but Jon likes a bigger, bolder Cab – this one was softer, with a more widespread appeal.

Their 2008 Lickety Split is a blend of two different Syrahs and a Primitivo.  All the grapes for this wine are also brought in from the Wahluke Slope.  It is a smooth balanced wine that is perfect to drink now.  A wonderful wine, but priced a bit high for my taste.  The 2007 Primitivo, again with grapes grown on the Wahluke slope, is also very smooth, with light tannins and blackberry flavors.

There wasn’t a bad wine in the bunch here – just some that were more my taste or Jon’s.  It was a real treat to try Primitivo grapes fresh from the cluster, because they were doing crush right outside!  The grapes were very sweet – sweeter than I was expecting them to be.   And the tasting room staff were fun and friendly, and were willing to give lots of information about the wines.  We came home with three wines and they are just waiting for the right night to open them!

Hard Row to Hoe Picnic Area – It would be a great day if not for the smoke in the air!

After Hard Row to Hoe, Jon and I decided to try Atam Winery.  Atam Winery is one of the areas only estate wineries – growing their grapes and producing the wine on site (more on estate wineries in an upcoming post).  It is close by, and a guy I met at the conference said that he had been there with his family the night before and was pleased with it.  So off we went.  It is up a huge hill, with vineyards and a horse pasture in front of the winery.  The winery is the lower floor of a home built into the hill, and the day that we were there, the tasting room door was fully open onto a big patio where you could sit and enjoy a glass of wine.  But unfortunately, the experience went downhill from there.

There were the birdscarers…  I know they want to protect the grapes and all, considering it was really close to harvest, but trying to enjoy wine while a sonic boom goes off outside every 15 seconds is just impossible.  Jon thought they were gunshots, and was having all sorts of thoughts of crazy Eastern Washington folks shooting their guns off everywhere!

And then, the server was a bit stiff.  She poured the red wine, a Barbera, first and said that since the wines were made in the German style, they sampled the red wine first, like the Germans do.  But that was all the information she offered up.  She didn’t tell us why the German style wines should be sampled in that order.  She didn’t explain why or how a Barbera, which is an Italian grape, was being made in the German style.  She didn’t say anything about any of the wines!  So I’m left wondering if what she said is true, that the Germans do their wine tastings with the reds first.  If you know the answer please let me know.  And if you know why – even better!

So, we tried the Barbera – it had a slight foam on top which was strange -the wine was so-so.  The Riesling we tried next was sweet but flat, and had no acidity to balance it out.  The Gewürztraminer was like grape juice; it had no structure.  I didn’t like any of the three, so I won’t delabor the point with any more detail.  At that point, Jon just wandered off, out to the patio and then further away… I knew he wasn’t coming back.  What to do now!?  I hate leaving a winery without making a purchase, because these are generally small businesses, and people’s livelihoods, but I really didn’t like any of these wines…  I said thank you and departed, and then chastised Jon when we got back in the car for bailing on me!

And I certainly won’t be taking anymore wine recommendations from my conference friend!