Tag Archive | Wine Tours

Farewell 2012 – Can’t Wait for 2013!

As I sit here on the couch listening to the washer and dryer run, waiting for Jon to finish playing with paint samples and put the movie in (yes, I’m well aware of how lame we are…), I decided to do a little 2012 tribute blog.  Some of the year was great, some not so great, but I suppose it can’t all be rosy.  So here goes, in no particular order…

1.  I hit my one year anniversary at my new job, a job where I feel valued and appreciated and love my co-workers!

2.  I went on an amazing trip with Jon… nine days in Georgia, North and South Carolina.  The longest trip I’ve ever been on with him!  You can read about it from the beginning here

3.  My wonderful Martini kitty, my feisty girl with a protein allergy who loves sneaking meat and hates being brushed, was diagnosed with low grade diffuse alimentary lymphoma.  Cancer of the blood cells.  We started chemotherapy treatment in November, and I was heartbroken.  So far, Tini is hanging in there.

4.  I celebrated my two year wedding anniversary with my fabulous husband Jon.  We didn’t do anything special, but our trip was our anniversary celebration (see #2 above).

5.  I went to Michigan to visit my Grandma, who is 95!, and to attend my cousin’s wedding.  And I got to see many of my aunts, uncles and cousins!  I’m really lucky to have the family I do.

6.  Jon and I got to visit some fantastic exhibits at some great museums.  Gauguin at the Seattle Art Museum, King Tut at the Pacific Science Center, all the wonderful collections at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the interactive musical experience at the Motown Museum.  And all the amazing historic home tours that we visited on our Grand Tour!

7.  I completed my third half-marathon!  And it was for a great cause!

8.  Jon and I went a fun wine tour in Washington and Oregon for the President’s Day long weekend.  Wine, historic hotels, and even some antique shops!

9.  I got a promotion at work!  Talk about felling valued and appreciated!

10.  We went on a fun long weekend trip to Chelan, where we tried lots of great wine and had one of the most fun and memorable drives home ever!

So, while the year certainly wasn’t perfect, and there were some ups and downs, I feel pretty blessed to live the life I do.  Here’s wishing that 2013 is an even better year for all of us.  Happy New Year!

Chelan Beginnings – Day 1

At the end of September, I had a conference over in Chelan, Washington.  I headed over with my coworkers on Tuesday, and attended the conference session from Wednesday through noon Friday.  Jon then took Saturday off from work and drove over Friday after he finished work to meet me.  Chelan is east of the Cascade mountains in Washington and typically gets hotter drier weather than we do in Western Washington.  This year the temperatures were nice, but not overly warm.  I could walk around in a skirt and t-shirt and be quite comfortable – which typically isn’t the case at the end of September at home.  But sadly, there wasn’t much sun to be found.  Because even though the sun was up there in the sky, it was obscured by the thick smoke in the air from the nearby wildfires.

Friday after Jon arrived, we spent the afternoon wandering around the shops in the downtown business area.  Chelan has about 3500 year round residents, and the population balloons by several thousand during the summer.  But with the season winding down, and the heavy smoke in the air, it was certainly less busy than I think it would usually be.  After wandering around and checking out the shops, we decided to head out to Tsillan Cellars to go do a wine tasting.  I had their Sinistra wine a few years ago, and it is one of my favorites – but I hadn’t tried any of their other wines for a couple of years.

Tsillan is on the main drag just outside of town – up on a slope overlooking the lake (although you couldn’t see down to the lake because of the smoke).  They grow some of their own grapes, and some they truck in from the Yakima Valley.  For a $5 tasting fee, you can sample five wines (they did pour us a sixth though).  Jon and I shared a flight, and we started with the 2009 Estate Chardonnay.  This Chardonnay had a nice light butter flavor, but without being too heavily oaked.  It was one that we could both agree on.

Tsillan Cellars Tasting Room and Restaurant

Their 2009 Estate Riesling was very floral at first taste, but then settled into a rich pear flavor with the taste of vanilla.  It was a drink now wine.  The 2011 Bocciolo di Rosa was a light Syrah based Rosé with flavors of honeydew melon.  It had a light sweetness, and did not have much acidity.

The 2009 Bellissima Rossa is a Syrah Merlot blend, with big structured tannins and flavors of smoke and caramel.  The 2009 Reserve Syrah had even bigger tannins, and tasted of brown sugar, ripe cherry and lots of prune.  I liked the wines more than the reds at Tsillan, with the exception of the Sinistra that I love so much, but sadly it is sold out for the season!

Tsillan Cellars Tasting Room

After the winery, we pondered what to do about dinner.  Tsillan Cellars has a large Italian restaurant at the winery, but neither of us felt like eating heavy Italian food.  We decided to head back to the hotel and walk somewhere downtown.  We asked around for some other suggestions, and everybody kept recommending Local Myth Pizza.  It is apparently the best pizza ever – based on the numbers of rave reviews I have heard!  I’m convinced that these pizza place owners are true geniuses and are paying people off for the recommendations, because to be honest, I had their pizza a few days before and just was not that impressed.  It was one where you had to blot the oil off the top before you could eat it – with the New York style flat crust.  Jon is not a fan of heavy, greasy foods on his best days, so I knew there would be no way he would like it.

We decided to go to a place that served burgers and salads called BC MacDonald’s.  We both had salads that were nice and big, and Jon had a glass of wine.  My iced tea was good too.  The ambience was not great – there were two men in the bar arguing loudly, but the server was fast and attentive and we both left satisfied with our meals.  But the reviews on BC MacDonald’s are mixed, so I could easily see having a much worse experience than we did.

After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and relaxed with some wine and TV watching.  Vacation is the life!

Fat Bird, Skinny Turtle, and some wine

On Sunday, Jon and I decided to make our own “Shirk Your Responsibilities” Day. Instead of staying home and getting laundry done and working on things around the house, we decided to go down to Woodinville and do a little wine tasting. When I suggested it to Jon first thing in the morning, I was amazed at how quickly he popped up out of his chair to get ready to go – kind of like a Jack in the Box.  That was my first hint that he was into the idea…  So we got ready, and drove down. On the way, we talked about where we wanted to go.

Jon was interested in heading to Mark Ryan, which was supposed to be in the Hollywood Schoolhouse. The Schoolhouse is an old school that was built in 1912 and is no longer being used as a school. I was under the impression that the school had been converted in space that the wineries were leasing, and each classroom would be a tasting room. Not so much. Apparently The Schoolhouse is a special event space, that is rented out for weddings and other events. It looked beautiful through the locked doors, but there aren’t any wineries there. Alexandria Nicole has a space at one end of the building, with an outside entrance. Mark Ryan, Andrew Ross, J Bookwalter, and PepperBridge are in a building behind the Schoolhouse. It just wasn’t the same.

So after figuring out this Schoolhouse business, we made our way behind the building to where Mark Ryan is. It was a very quiet Sunday, and we were the only ones there. I think it was because Taste Washington, the big wine event in Seattle was that day. At any rate, it was our gain. Mark Ryan has received rave reviews for their wine, and they were delicious. We began our tasting with a Viognier that was very floral. Then we moved into the reds. Mark Ryan has a lineup with pop culture and eclectic names (two of his wines are named after Pearl Jam songs), like The Dissident, The Dead Horse, Wild Eyed Syrah and The Long Haul, and all of his wines, with the exception of the Viognier, are blends. Mark Ryan is into the big, bold Cabernet blends, so Jon was in heaven. The wines for me were all very good, but I found the Cabernet blends all running together. It was hard for me to tell them apart. I liked the Wild Eyed Syrah best.

Mark Ryan’s tasting room follows the pop culture theme as well. They used an antique cabinet as the tasting bar, and had two antique Indian motorcycles. For those of you who don’t know the Indian, it was the motorcycle that BJ Hunnicutt fell in love with in a M*A*S*H episode. It was destroyed in that episode, causing much anguish for BJ. The Indians at Mark Ryan are fully restored (one is a 1928!), and absolutely beautiful. The walls at Mark Ryan are decorated with concert posters, matted and framed in pristine condition. The ambience of the place reminded me of a bachelor’s loft – very hip.

We moved next door to Ross Andrew after that. Ross Andrew started the lineup with a Pinot Gris. I really wanted to love it, because a Pinot Gris is just so rare in Woodinville. It was good, but it wasn’t the crisp fruity Pinot Gris that I really wanted it to be. We also tried the Glaze, which is an affordable Cab blend, which I liked quite a bit. It was smooth and easy to drink, and not overpowered with tannins, like so many Cabs can be. The Glaze is named for the winemaker’s wife’s pottery. The spit bucket in the winery was actually a clay pot that she made, with wine grapes decorating it. It is nice to see a winery that is truly a family affair, down to the Bernese Mountain winery dog Galena (she’s shy though…).

After leaving Ross Andrew, we decided to try to find Chatter Creek Winery. I had purchased a bottle of their Grenache a few months back, not knowing anything about the winery, and it was very good. So, with the help of the GPS and our guidebook that said Chatter Creek is open from 12 – 4 pm on Sundays, we headed over… to find it closed. So much for Chatter Creek, at least for now.

We ended our day with an oldie but a goodie – Matthews Estate. We were there before, a year ago during the Party Bus tour. This year when we went, it was really quiet… there was only one other guy there tasting with us. I was excited that they now have a Sauvignon Blanc, and it was wonderful. Crisp apple taste, perfect for a hot summer day with some Teriyaki chicken on the grill. I brought home two bottles. Their Blackboard charity blend this year is a Cab blend, and I have to say, I just didn’t like it at all. It was very oakey, and seemed pretty harsh to me. I liked their Blackboard Syrah a lot better. I know that they likely change the wine each year, depending on what grapes they have leftover, but I hope they will do the Syrah again. They are still doing their single varietal Syrah, and it is one to be experienced.

Jon and I finished up the day with a little shopping at Molbak’s nursery, and Cost Plus World Market. I managed to walk away from all the beautiful and unusual plants that Molbak’s has, which is good since my yard is totally full. But it was tough. I did have to bring home a fat bird and a skinny turtle with absolutely no practical purpose. But they are cute, and that was enough for me.

The Party Bus

In March of 2010, for Jon’s mother’s birthday, the family rented a party bus for 16 of us to tour the Woodinville wine country. It was nice to have the benefit of a designated driver, although towards the end of the day, I’m not sure what the driver thought of us. That said, the bus was equipped with a stripper pole (I assume for bachelor parties), so in all likelihood we were really tame compared to what he has seen on his bus. The weather was great, it was sunny and I wore a light summer jacket instead of the winter coat I have still been wearing lately. Funny how we remember those details.

So, we got on the bus and headed to our first winery of the day, DiStefano Winery. DiStefano is a family owned winery. We had a large group, and Jon’s uncle arranged for us to have a mini-wine tasting course, with fruit, bread and cheese plates. It was pretty amusing when random people kept wandering in and the owner had to keep telling them that it was a private party. The owner and winemaker led us through his lineup of wines. They have a Sauvignon Blanc that is delicious, but not a crisp clean, Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is more like a Viognier or a big buttery Chardonnay. Which is why Jon loves it. Curiously, we opened a bottle the other day, and on the third day, the wine does take on a more crisp, apple taste – which made me very happy.

The DiStefano Lineup

We also tasted a red blend called Sogno, which appealed to all.  It is most Cabernet Franc, with a little Cab Sauvignon.  It tastes like berries, which I enjoy in a red wine.

The Rose was also very popular. I really liked it a lot and so did several members of the group. I didn’t get it that day, but I would if we go back soon.  Unfortunately, according to their website, it looks like it is currently sold out. One of the wines that we didn’t try that day was their Petit Verdot, this is a varietal that is typically used in blends, so I’m excited to try this wine.

After we left DiStefano, we headed over to the warehouse district and visited Patterson Cellars. Patterson didn’t make any white wines, but we tried several of their reds.  Looking at their website now, it looks like they have added a white or two to the lineup though.  I thought that their wines were too bold and heavy for my taste. I prefer a softer, more approachable red. Even Jon, who likes a bold Cabernet, was not all that impressed with their wines. Our tasting at Patterson was relatively quick, so we had a little bit of time to head to another winery.

After Patterson, Jon, our moms and I headed next door to try out Edmonds Winery. Edmonds is a smaller shop than many of the Woodinville wineries, family owned and they run the tasting room as well. I have talked about Edmonds before (they have a wine called Bentley, named after the winery dog), but I can’t say enough good things about their wine. The ones that we tried were excellent and very reasonably priced. The low point here was that my mom and I both bought a bottle of their Gerwurtraminer that he was closing out. It wasn’t marked as a sparkling wine, but when I drank it, it definitely had carbonation, and seemed off. It was certainly past its prime. Later, when mom opened hers, it was better, but not great. Lesson learned – you can’t win ‘em all. I’ll still come back.

In between wineries, we had a great time making fun of the long lines of cars that got stuck behind us on the hills.  The Party Bus was like the Little Engine That Could, chugging up the Woodinville hills with the weight of 16 winos.  I’m sure they loved us!  Jon’s cousin did a mixed CD of tunes for the day, so we got to rock out with the best of them too.

Matthews Estate was the last winery on the list for the day. Again, they focused on red wines, and did not have any whites. However, I believe that they now have a Sauvignon Blanc that I’m curious to try. Matthews really knows its business. Their reds were all very good, but with high prices they aren’t everyday drinking wines.  We did buy a couple of bottles of their Blackboard Syrah, which is a charity wine that donates a portion of its proceeds to schools.  At $22, it is nice to get an affordable wine and do something nice for the community as well.

We ended out day a bit happier and louder than usual, but a good time was had by all.


Halbtrocken means Half-dry in German

At work the other day, I proctored two exams for candidates applying for jobs. I know that when you are taking a standardized test , it is stressful and difficult, and I certainly don’t want to minimize that. But when you are proctoring am exam, it is downright BORING. Just watching a bunch of people sitting and working on their Scantrons, listening to people sniffle and cough – it could be considered a form of torture.  Maybe I’m on to something – I could sell this idea to governments, make millions and retire early!  Or not.  I’m not sure how those SAT proctors don’t go insane. I suppose they focus on the fact that it is only once per year. It also makes me wonder who actually tries to cheat on those exams? I guess that a person would have a lot to gain by getting an artificially high score, but is it worth the risk?

The room I was sitting in didn’t have any windows, so I suppose it is just as well that it was cloudy and drizzling for most of the day, otherwise it would have been so painful to look outside and see what I was missing.  Which gets me to the whole point of my post.  The beautiful weather that we had this last weekend got me thinking about a red/white blend that I enjoyed last summer, the Halbtrocken, by Cathedral Ridge Winery. Cathedral Ridge is in Hood River, Oregon, right on the Columbia River Gorge. When Jon and I visited last Memorial Day weekend, it wasn’t a winery that we knew much about, other than just the name. We were pleasantly surprised by their lineup of wines and had trouble choosing which to take home with us. The Halbtrocken is a proprietary blend, and they won’t tell you what they put in it. It is a light, dry wine, perfect for sipping on the patio during the hot days of summer.  It has a distinct strawberry taste, without the sweetness of a fruit wine.  I think it would be perfect with a fresh garden salad with grilled chicken on top and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

Cathedral Ridge Winery

And to be totally honest, it would have been the perfect accompaniment to my day of exam proctoring. Perhaps it would have made the day go more quickly.

Mimosas: Not just for Breakfast

For some reason, I was craving some champagne this weekend, so we opened up a bottle of the Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut sparking wine.  This is the wine that we had for our wedding toast, thanks to the generosity of Jon’s Aunt and Uncle.

Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut Sparkling Wine

A little Champagne 101 for you.  Champagne can only be called Champagne if the grapes were grown in the Champagne region of France.  Which translates into: the wines that most of us buy and consider champagnes are technically sparkling wine.  Champagnes and sparking wines can be made from any grape varietal, although you will typically see white sparkling wines.  Occasionally you will see a red grape with had its skins removed made into a sparkling wine.  Or even less common, a red sparking wine.  Apex Cellars in Prosser makes a red sparkling wine from Syrah.

I found that Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut is a nice balance between dry  and sweet.  It has a light citrus taste, which is great for cutting the bite on heavier cheeses or buttery sauces.  If you are in the mood to sweeten it just a little more, make it a mimosa.  Fill the flute 3/4s of the way to the top, and then top it off with a little bit of orange juice.  I have found that it mixes better if you put the orange juice in on top of the sparkling wine.  I consider mimosas to be an investment in my health.  Ever since I got that recent sinus infection I’ve been trying to get more Vitamin C.

One thing to remember if you are having sparkling wine without a big group of people.  Open the bottle gently, to preserve the bubbles, because otherwise it goes flat very quickly.   And make sure to finish the bottle within a day or two.  And enjoy – it doesn’t have to be enjoyed only at weddings and New Year’s.

From Horses to Senators

The next day, I decided to head over to the Henry Clay house. I knew hardly anything about Henry Clay when I went, but he was another historical figure who had a house in Lexington (it’s actually a plantation mansion – it is huge), so I jumped on the opportunity.  Clay’s estate is available for tour, and the docents give a lot of very detailed information on who he was and what he did.  I learned that he was fascinating man, who certainly doesn’t get enough credit in the history books.

Henry Clay served the United States as a politician for most of his life, including in the Kentucky House of Representatives, the US House of Representatives, Speaker of the House (he was selected as Speaker on the first day of his first term of office – something that has never been done any other time), the US Senate, Secretary of State, and he ran for President 5 times!

He was a major contributor to the Missouri Compromise of 1850, was a supporter of the founding of a National Bank, developed the Hereford breed of cattle, operated a horse farm, had eleven children, fought in a duel, and created the Mint Julep. He died from tuberculosis in 1852 at the age of 75. Abraham Lincoln considered Clay to be one of his mentors and role models, even though the two only met on a couple of occasions (through Mary’s family, of course).

The Henry Clay House

I also visited the Kentucky Horse Park and the International Museum of the Horse while I was in Kentucky. The Kentucky Horse park is hard to describe. It’s kind of like a fairgrounds, but when the fair isn’t happening. All you horse-people who are reading this will certainly understand. There are some beautifully manicured grounds, horse arenas, jumping arenas, hot walkers, stables… and very few horses.

They do a Parade of Breeds twice a day in costume, in one of the side arenas, which is interesting, and you can see some famous retired racehorses and Standardbred pacers and trotters, but otherwise the park is kind of a dud. I wandered around for awhile trying to find something happening, but was pretty disappointed.

I also went over to the International Museum of the Horse, which had some appeal. It takes you through the history of the horse, from prehistoric times to modern day, and they have an exhibit on carriages and one on portraits of famous racehorses. But it just seemed like the exhibits were tired, and hadn’t been updated in a long time. I guess it is good to try a place out and say that you have been there, but I will find other things to do next time I’m in Kentucky.

The Man O’ War Statue at the Kentucky Horse Park

Feeling unsatisfied after my trip to the Kentucky Horse Park, I found a winery called Equus Run nearby and decided to try it out. Kentucky’s wine industry is in its fledgling stages – when I visited in 2008, I was told there were only 10 wineries in the state. The winery is located on the top of a hill, looking down over a beautiful valley. There was a pleasant patio where you could enjoy your wine. The server was friendly and informative about the wines, and I bought a bottle of their White Celebration blend. This was before the days of checked baggage fees, so I packed the bottle in my checked bag in all of my used socks, and it weathered the flight just fine. Interestingly enough, I waited awhile to drink it, and when I did, earlier this year, I found it to be too sweet for my taste. It seems that what I like has changed over time.

And just so you don’t think that I spent all of my time wandering around historic sites, I did spend some time at the pool at the hotel, and thoroughly enjoying the summer weather. I know, I know, all you sunblock, sun-shunning skeptics out there will probably be lining up to give me a lecture, but there is nothing like basking in the warmth of the sun, and feeling that warmth penetrate all the way through to your bones. When you live in the Northwest, a hot sun is a strictly seasonal phenonmenon, and you have to worship it when you get the chance. The George Hamilton look alike who was strutting around in his speedo was just the icing on the cake. He really thought he was hot, and kept trying to get my attention. It was really difficult to not laugh out loud – thanks but no thanks buddy! Well, look at that, I’ve gotten off topic again – so with that image of a 60-something, overly tanned guy with a slight beer belly stuffed into his speedo, I’ll leave you until next time.