Bertelsen Winery Now Open in Skagit County

November 18th, 2014

If you travel the Interstate 5 corridor with any regularity you probably observed the “Coming Soon” sign for Bertelsen Winery at the Starbird Road exit near the top of Conway Hill for the past couple of years.

That sign was changed to “Now Open” in April, giving long-awaiting wineophiles in Skagit and nearby Whatcom County another tasting room option for locally produced premium wines.

nullThe winery is owned by retired Mount Vernon orthodontist Dr. Richard Bertelsen and managed by his son, Steve. Sarah Saya assists as the cheerful wine server you’re likely to see if you stop in for a visit.

The first thing that struck me about the tasting room is its open floor plan with semicircular tasting bar and an adjacent lounge with sofas and flat-screen television. According to Saya, the space will comfortably accommodate up to 50 guests, with an additional banquet-style area in the adjoining room plus seating on the outdoor patio, weather permitting.

Another interesting observation is that winery sources the grapes for its wines from five different Washington appellations: the Columbia, Yakima and Walla Walla Valleys, Wahluke Slope, and Red Mountain.

If you drop in just to taste, you have two choices: the Young Vines Flight costing $8 or the Reserve Flight, which runs $11. Each flight includes four pours of pre-selected wines from the current tasting menu.

Here are my tasting notes on a few of the wines I tried during a visit earlier this month:

2011 Riesling (about $16) – Luscious pear and crisp citrus flavors lead to a clean, off-dry finish with a whisper of sweetness.

2012 Merlot (about $27) – Aged in French oak for two years, this elegant merlot features raspberry and spicy red apple aromas and flavors that melt into a finish with hints of toasted caramel.

2012 Cabernet Franc (about $27) – Ample plum and cherry flavors are accentuated with a gentle twist of black pepper and crushed herbs in the latter stages along with a velvety-soft finish.

2012 Syrah Bulldog Reserve (about $29) – Black cherry flavors dusted with baking spice conclude in a plush finish wrapped in warm vanilla bean. The bulldog on the label of this fine effort is a nod to the Mount Vernon high school mascot.

2012 Malbec (about $32) – Sourced from Red Mountain’s Tapteil Vineyard, the wine’s brambly berry flavors commingle with mineral notes throughout, while chewy tannins suggest another year or two of cellaring for maximum enjoyment.

Bertelsen Winery is open Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 8:00 pm and Sunday from noon to 6:00 pm. The web site is still a work in progress, so if you need additional information I’d suggest calling the tasting room at (360) 540-2212.

McKinley Springs: Great Vineyard, Great Wines

November 11th, 2014

Designating the vineyard source for a wine – a practice that was once virtually unheard of – has become an increasingly important part of the wine label.

As Washington wine production has increased, so has the knowledge and sophistication level of the wine consumer. Not content to know only what they’re drinking, they want access to other information such as production notes, varietal composition, barrel aging and vineyard designation.

nullKnowing where the grapes are grown can be extremely important because, simply stated, each vineyard produces wines with unique characteristics, aromas and flavor profiles.

McKinley Springs is a vineyard you’re likely to see on the label of several other Washington wineries. Their current portfolio of 22 clients includes wineries such as Columbia Crest and Chateau Ste. Michelle and 14 of these clients now produce wines that provide consumers with the vineyard designation on the label.

With over 2,000 planted acres, McKinley Spring Vineyards represents about five percent of all the state’s plantings. The first vineyard was planted in 1980 and 22 varieties of grapes are now grown there. Another 600 acres of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah will be added over the next three years, according to Vineyard Manager Rob Andrews.

The vineyard also produces 18-percent of the wine grapes grown within the Horse Heaven Hills Appellation where it is located. This includes wines bottled under their own estate label, McKinley Springs Winery, which turns out around 6,000 cases of wine annually.

Here are my tasting notes on three McKinley Springs Winery wines I recently enjoyed:

2011 Viognier (about $16) – Peach and vanilla cream flavors hit the palate, with a big, round quality to begin. On the finish, more of a crisp, edgy texture comes through, with touches of lemon zest. This wine paired perfectly with an entrée of roasted fingerling potatoes and poached salmon.

2010 Malbec (about $24) – Wonderfully complex and evolving aromas of ultra-dark plum, toasted almond, caramel, and sage lead off. Reserved wild blackberry flavors predominate, nicely balanced with gentle acidity and mineral notes on a soft finish. The wine was aged 18 months in 20-percent new French oak barrels.

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $24) – The 2010 vintage, which some predicted would be an off year for Washington, is turning out some gorgeous wines, and this true-to-the-varietal cabernet is a perfect example. Caramel and baking spice on the nose, bright notes of red currant, and underlying layers of Ligurian cherry and boysenberry highlight this excellent wine. The finish hints at toasted oak with perfectly integrated tannins.

For more information on the McKinley Springs Vineyard and Winery, including ordering wines, go to

Bergevin Lane: Dependable, Honored, Reasonably Priced Wines

November 4th, 2014

If you’ve yet to try wines from Bergevin Lane Vineyards here’s the capsulized version of what to expect: solid, dependable choices, good variety, and extremely reasonable prices.

Back that up with a boatload of accolades, awards and 90+ ratings and you could hardly ask for more from a Walla Walla winery.

Annette Bergevin and Amber Lane (hence the name, Bergevin Lane) partnered with Gary Bergevin to form the winery in 2002 – practically the Stone Age for the scores of Walla Walla wineries established in just the last five years.

Annette is a seventh generation Walla Walla native whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing since nearly the winery’s inception. Without a doubt, she’s one of the nicest people in the industry and, along with her team headed by winemaker Dave Harvey, produces some truly memorable wines.

Here are my tasting notes on a handful of some of their current releases:

null2013 Linen Sauvignon Blanc (about $11) – “Linen” is a second label for Bergevin Lane and in this case, as the name suggests, perfectly describes this crisp, clean white wine. Explosive, mouthwatering stone fruit flavors of white peach and nectarine fill the glass, with trailing notes of lemongrass and minerality on a laser-sharp finish. An outstanding effort and worthy of a case purchase.

2011 Linen Red Wine (about $13) – Another insanely underpriced wine perfect for everyday enjoyment, this combination of 57-percent merlot and 43-percent syrah displays red cherry, red currant and subtle blueberry flavors. The finish shows a gentle splash of acidity, supple tannins and hints of toasted walnut.

2012 Calico Red (about $17) – Just released, this gorgeous, easy-to-drink red is a syrah-based blend that includes cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec and petit verdot. Burnt caramel and crushed herbs on the nose, generous cherry, plum and blackberry flavors on the palate, and a whisper of white pepper and dark cocoa on a plush finish add up to what is certain to be an instant classic.

2012 She-Devil Chardonnay (about $22) – With a touch of roussanne and viognier blended in, this stunning, non-oaked chardonnay is wonderfully viscous in the glass and on the palate. Bartlett pear, pineapple, and baked apple flavors lead off before melting into a crisp finish with a flourish of Fuji apple and tangy citrus.

2011 She-Devil Syrah (about $24) – Aromatics and flavors of black plum, berries, and anise are showcased in this outstanding, true-to-the varietal Washington syrah sourced primarily from the Wahluke Slope Appellation. It’s super-dark, super-sultry and capped with seductive bittersweet chocolate and espresso undertones.

Bergevin Lane Vineyards wines are well distributed in the Whatcom County area, including Seifert and Jones Wine Merchants in Bellingham. A visit to the tasting room when in Walla Walla is a must. More information:

Brad and Ruth Riordan Make Robison Ranch Cellars a Pleasure to Visit

October 21st, 2014

Good wines certainly make visiting a winery worthwhile. And connecting with warm, friendly people along the way who welcome you in and treat you like family? For me, that’s the icing on the cake.

nullA recent visit to Robison Ranch Cellars in Walla Walla left me with just that impression. As a pair of retirees from the San Francisco Bay Area, Brad Riordan and his wife Ruth launched their winery in 2008 after Brad elevated his winemaking skills from hobby status by completing Walla Walla Community College’s Enology and Viticulture program.

The Riordans partnered with the wheat-farming Robison family to establish the winery at a ranch the Robison’s have been operating since 1918.

The tasting and barrel rooms are housed in an expansive metal building that Brad refers to as “the old shallot shed,” and wines are poured at a tasting bar that was once owned by the now defunct Yellow Hawk Winery. Outdoor patio seating amidst containers brimming with flowers is also available.

If this all sounds like a folksy, bucolic and serene setting in which to enjoy a glass of wine, it most definitely is.

The Riordan’s grapes are primarily sourced from Walla Walla Valley’s Dwelley Vineyard and Airport Ranch Vineyard near Yakima. Their annual production of about 800 cases appropriately places this gem of a winery squarely in the mom and pop/boutique category.

Here are my tasting notes on a few current releases:

null2013 Viognier (about $19) – Gentle aromas and flavors of Bosc pear, stone fruits and green apple dominate this stunning white wine. The off-dry finish gives it a slightly lingering finish. Easily one of the best Washington viogniers I’ve tasted from this vintage.

2012 Eye of the Pheasant Pinot Gris (about $19) – Fermentation on the skins for 24 hours gives this refreshingly different wine a pale salmon hue. It opens with a splash of ruby red grapefruit before developing more of an herbaceous quality with lemongrass accents and a pleasant, light touch of celery seed on the extreme finish.

Non-Vintage Dinner Bell Red (about $19) – Spanning three vintages, this tasty, four-varietal blend is a lighter body-style red that’s perfect for everyday enjoyment. Delicious red cherry and berry flavors fill the glass on the way to a soft, velvety finish.

2009 Cuvée (about $27) – This cabernet sauvignon-based red, along with equal parts merlot and syrah, can easily be paired with anything beef. Black cherry, currant, and blackberry flavors are backed up with sturdy tannins that suggest ample aeration or additional cellaring.

Robison Ranch Cellars is just a five minute drive north of downtown Walla Walla and currently open Saturdays from 11 am to 4 pm or by appointment. For more information and to order wines: (509) 301-3480 or

Good Wine Tastes Even Better With the Proper Food Pairing

October 14th, 2014

As we move into the fall and winter months, wine-themed dinners become increasingly popular.

And why not? The weather has already begun to cool down, the rainy season (groan) is just around the corner, and indoor activities will soon be the norm.

I just wrapped up a wine dinner series at Bellingham Technical College that featured a number of top-notch Washington wines. These wines showcase the variety and depth of premium wines produced in the state and confirm what many of you already know: a good wine tastes even better when paired with the proper food.

Here is a summary of the highly recommended wines that were served:

nullTreveri Cellars Non-Vintage Sparkling Pinot Gris (about $15) – Winemaker Juergen Grieb does it again with this flavorful, extremely well-priced sparkler that makes an excellent aperitif. It explodes with Golden Delicious apple and Bartlett pear flavors that are perfectly balanced by a lemon-drop finish.

Rulo Winery Walla Walla Valley 2012 Chardonnay (about $25) – Kurt and Vicki Schlicker prove that good people make great wines with this stunning effort. Hazelnut, butterscotch, baked apple and toasted vanilla aromas and flavors melt into a mile-long finish with a hint of mandarin orange. Purchase their wines on line or take a U-Haul to the tasting room in Walla Walla and stock up.

Terra Blanca Winery Signature Series 2008 Merlot (about $40) – Keith Pilgrim provides another amazing interpretation of Red Mountain fruit with this estate-sourced merlot. Dried herbs, minerals and a whisper of smoke on the nose are followed by understated plum and black cherry flavors and a twist of black pepper. Try it with anything beef or a pork tenderloin.

Forgeron Cellars 2011 GSM (about $33) – This beautifully balanced blend from Walla Walla winemaker Marie-Eve Gilla hits all the right notes and pairs perfectly with leg of lamb. The flavor profile includes bright red plum from the grenache and intense dark fruits from the syrah. A splash of mourvèdre provides spicy accents on the finish along with perfectly integrated tannins.

Thurston Wolfe Non-Vintage Tawny Port (about $16 for 375 ml) – Dr. Wade Wolfe creates a masterpiece with this zinfandel port that spent eight years in the barrel. It’s brimming with complex layers of candied walnuts, toasted coconut, caramel, fig, and rum raisin that linger long after the first sip.

If you’re thinking about attending a wine dinner, consider reserving a space at North Bellingham Golf Course’s Nine Restaurant on October 18 at 6 pm. I’ll be moderating an exquisite five-course dinner that will feature Annette Bergevin from Walla Walla’s Bergevin Lane Vineyards.

Wines slated to be served include sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, two red wine blends and syrah. Reservations are required and can be made by calling (360) 398-8300, extension 2.

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