Category Archives: Heard Through the Grapevine
This post originally printed in Whatcom Magazine’s August 24, 2015 issue.
Quality, patience, and attention-to-detail winemaking are the hallmarks of La Chanterelle Winery, where the phrase, “small lots of handcrafted wines” has been taken to a new level.
Located in the basement of Donatas Pocus and Lotte Freeman’s home in Bellingham’s Lettered Streets neighborhood, the recently formed winery specializes in limited production, lovingly produced wines that already have wine enthusiasts swooning.
Lotte was born and raised in Deming, where she learned the winemaking trade from friends. Donatas originally hails from Lithuania, moved to Bellingham in 1998, and “caught the wine bug” from Lotte soon after they became spouses 10 years ago. The decision to take their winemaking skills to the next level and establish a commercial winery in 2012 seemed a natural progression.
After much thought, the name “La Chanterelle” was selected in reference to the chanterelle sites near Deming. The winery logo, a cross between a goblet and the namesake mushroom, was designed by Donatas’ daughter, Greta.
Grapes are sourced from Eastern Washington vineyards, transported cross-state, and dropped into a bin through the basement window. There they are crushed, barrel-fermented, bottled, labeled, and packaged for distribution or enjoyed on the premises at private tastings.
Finished wines can be purchased online, in select local restaurants, and at Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants in Bellingham. Plans are being considered for minimum-order deliveries within bicycling range of the house.
Annual production is limited to about 120 cases; a true micro-boutique winery, by industry standards.
But being small has its advantages. When it’s time to check on a wine’s progress, Donatas says, “we both sit down and have a little ‘board meeting’ (and) invite some friends to taste.”
Initial releases included a 2012 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (sold out) and a 2012 Wahluke Slope Syrah (still currently available). The syrah, termed “naughty” in the winery’s tasting notes, is also gorgeous, with ultra-dark blueberry flavors, hints of juniper and sweet cedar, and slightly chewy tannins.
Future releases, most likely in late 2015, include a 2013 Cabernet and a 2013 Syrah. Allowing extra time in the bottle for the wine to develop character is a priority. “We don’t want to sacrifice quality for commerce,” Donatas notes.
It’s that kind of philosophy that will make their wines worth the wait.
Barbara Glover from Wine Yakima Valley reports the following on the 2015 wine grape harvest:
“Washington’s first wine grape harvest of the season began in the Yakima Valley on August 7, 18 days earlier than 2014, which was an early harvest year. 2015 is believed to be the earliest wine grape harvest in Washington State history. The warm season has winemakers throughout the state watching and planning their next move.
Yakima Valley’s David O’Reilly of Owen Roe winery is contemplating his next move. He plans on harvesting chardonnay and sauvignon blanc this week. “We will be harvesting chardonnay from DuBrul vineyard just north of Sunnyside and chardonnay and sauvignon blanc from Outlook vineyard on the western side of the Yakima Valley AVA” says O’Reilly.
Treveri Cellars kicked off 2015 with their first load of Chardonnay from Hilltop Vineyard in Zillah on August 7, 2015. “Sparkling wine producers typically pick earlier than still wine producers to keep the alcohol lower as sparkling wine made in the traditional method undergoes secondary fermentation,” according to owner/winemaker Juergen Grieb. “This year is the earliest start to harvest ever for Treveri”.
Todd Newhouse, owner of Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain in the center of the Yakima Valley AVA will begin harvesting sauvignon blanc on Wednesday, approximately two and a half weeks earlier than 2014.”
One of the best ways to learn about wines and fully enjoy the winemaking experience from barrel room to tasting room is to plan a trip to the wineries.
Knowing where to start is often easier said than done, especially when you consider there are so many wineries to choose from.
Enter CorkSharing, a reservation platform-style app designed to assist both novice and well-seasoned wine drinkers by allowing them to set up appointments for tours and tastings and pay for any applicable tasting room fees in advance.
CorkSharing is the brainchild of California-based CEO Bryan Petro. Petro says the goal of CorkSharing is simple. “We’re trying to attract people who are serious (about wine tasting)” and help them make it “a seamless experience.”
By downloading the free app on your smart phone, you’ll have access to a service that provides you with location-based wineries for staters, and then filters them based on your preference such as group size, price range, or even the type of wine you enjoy most.
This is a great tool to have not only for people who are traveling together and want to plan their tasting route in advance, but also for those “on the go” who may feel the need to check out tasting availability at a nearby winery at a moment’s notice.
“It’s a great app to have for mobile and desktop users,” notes Petro, and also for those who want to just “dive into the world of wine.”
Based on the feedback he’s received, the process has been great for both users and tasting room personnel alike. “It helps wineries with staffing needs (for groups)” and allows them to better plan for visitors. And that helps contribute to an enjoyable experience for everyone.
The app only takes a few seconds to download on a smart phone and the booking process is concise and easy to follow.
Sign-up and access to the service is also available on line at www.corksharing.com
Here are Wine Press Northwest Magazine’s 2015 Wineries of the Year:
Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year – Maryhill Winery
Washington Winery of the Year – Brian Carter Cellars
Washington Winery to Watch – Palencia Wine Co.
Idaho Winery of the Year – Clearwater Canyon Cellars
Oregon Winery of the Year – Brandborg Vineyard and Winery
As we move into December and begin winding down on 2014, here’s a quick look ahead before we take a look back.
Today and over the next three weeks, I’ll feature primarily red wines as we move into the heart of what I refer to as “red wine season.” Included will be some special splurge wines for the holidays and I’ll even throw in a few chardonnays for white wine drinkers.
Then as we approach New Year’s Eve, I’ll give you several recommendations of sparkling wines to help you begin 2015 with a festive touch.
As for 2014, the growing season for Washington vineyards was warm, long and beautiful. Harvests for many of the state’s varietals were a good two weeks or so ahead of the norm, and the wines you’re likely to see from this vintage will be big, flavorful and full-bodied.
This will be quite a contrast to the cooler 2010 and 2011 growing years but more in line with 2012, a vintage from which the red wines have been hitting the market in full force as of late.
I sampled several of these wines during my annual trek to the Tri-Cities Wine Festival in Kennewick last month. The 2012’s are drinking beautifully, with lush fruit flavors and plenty of character.
Another thing I noted at the festival was the proliferation of boutique wineries (by my definition producing around 500 to 1,000 cases annually) and ultra-boutique wineries (under 500 cases a year).
These wineries are making some truly remarkable wines and, recognizing they’re fighting for shelf space in the market of Washington’s ever-expanding wine industry, keeping their prices within reason.
Standout smaller wineries at the festival I was able to visit included Benton City’s Tucannon Cellars and their four varietal, 2011 Red Fusion blend (about $25); Pine Lake Cellars from Seattle, whose 2012 Spice Cabinet Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (about $28) was exceptional; and Walla Walla Valley’s J & J Vintners, who poured an outstanding double gold and best of varietal 2012 Les Collines Vineyard Syrah (about $30).
Other notables that should be on your must-try list: Lodmell Cellars and their gorgeous, still available 2007 Merlot, Smasne Cellars’ 2012 Zinfandel and 2011 Reserve Malbec, and two other double gold winners, the DavenLore Winery 2011 Mourvèdre and a stunning 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Gingko Forest Winery.
And keep your eye on winemaker Jessica Munnell. Although she’s been around for several years and currently the head winemaker for Mercer Estates, she also has her own label in Wautoma Wines. I sampled two of her current releases, a 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 El Prat Red Wine and thought they were among the festival’s finest.