The Journey of 30 Years of Wine Festivals Begins With a Single Sip

August 12th, 2014

Anyone with an interest in wines can probably recall the occasion or a particular wine that led to their wine tasting epiphany.

For me, it was sometime in the early 1980’s. Then Bellingham resident Marsha Kremen (cousin of current Whatcom County Councilmember Pete Kremen) introduced me to a beautiful white wine called Macon Fuissé.

At that time, my definition of a “good” wine was one that was sweet, made me feel happy, and fit nicely into my $2-a-bottle budget. I didn’t know exactly what Marsha had poured me, but I knew that it tasted much better than the Blue Nun I was introduced to during my college days.

About that same time I struck up a friendship with Kim and Jim Dooley, a couple of other locals who were just getting into something called “premium Washington wines.”

nullJim’s brother-in-law, Maury Balcom, owned a new winery in Pasco, the now defunct Quarry Lake Winery (and if you remember that one, give yourself a gold star and don’t forget to renew your AARP membership). The Dooleys invited me along for a trip east of the Cascades for some wine tasting. I had no idea what I was in for.

Walking into the barrel room, I inhaled the intoxicating, baked-bread aroma of yeasts working their magic of turning sugars into alcohol. I also recall that Maury produced some pretty awesome wines, including chenin blanc, chardonnay and merlot.

That trip to Quarry Lake was essentially a life-changing experience, and it showed me that handcrafted wines, made right here in Washington, were a cut above anything that was mass-produced on a national level.

In 1985, the Dooleys and I travelled to Kennewick to attend something called the Tri-Cities Wine Festival, which was then in its seventh year. Sixty wineries were at the festival, which represented virtually everyone producing in the state at that time.

Like kids in a candy store, we eagerly attacked everything we could get our hands on. I don’t even remember sampling that year’s Best of Show winner, a 1983 Merlot from a little up-and-coming winery called Leonetti Cellar.

Fast forward to 2014, which is quite a landmark year for me. I’ll be attending that same Tri-Cities Wine Festival, this time for the 30th consecutive year. The Festival has had its ups and downs during its history (who hasn’t?), but recent improvements have gotten it back on track. And even after all this time, anticipating the wines and wineries in attendance still creates an air of excitement.

2014 also marks the 15th anniversary of my wine column for the Herald, which has been running nearly every week since August, 1999. During this retrospective, I’d like to thank the Herald for giving me the opportunity to use the column as a podium to promote wines, especially those from Washington, which is now home to an amazing 800+ wineries.

I’ll continue to do this as long as you’ll have me, because writing a weekly column has become so routine that it hardly seems like work. Visiting wineries, meeting with winemakers and tasting new wines is still as fresh as it was during that first trip to Eastern Washington over 30 years ago.

Pontin del Roza Celebrates 30 Years

April 9th, 2014

Pontin Del Roza Winery is celebrating thirty years in the Washington State wine industry. What began as winemaker Scott Pontin’s high school FFA project has culminated into a 30 year legacy of estate winemaking.

Pontin Del Roza translates roughly in Italian to mean “Pontin family farm on the Roza”. The winery uses the grapes grown only from “the Roza”, an area of south-facing slopes in north Prosser. The Pontin family is no stranger to farming. Beginning several centuries ago in northern Italy, a wine-growing tradition was established by the Pontin Family. A pioneering spirit brought some of the family, including Scott’s grandfather Angelo, to the Yakima Valley nearly 70 years ago. Since expanding in the 1950’s, Nesto, Delores, Scott and the Pontin family have been farming in the Prosser area for over 50 years.

nullIn 2012, a new facility including tasting room, case storage, warehouse and offices totalling 5,000 square feet was built next to the family farm on Hinzerling Road north of Prosser. In 2013, a beautiful new outdoor space was added, complete with bocce ball court, barbecue, and expansive room for private parties and corporate events. Last year, Pontin Del Roza also introduced their Privilege Wine Club which allows members exclusive releases, special offers and private party invitations.

Pontin Del Roza produces several wines, both whites and reds. The 2009 Angelo Pontin Sangiovese was recently touted as Outstanding during an Italian reds competition for its aromas of cherry, chocolate and oak. The 2010 Angelo Pontin Dolcetto was recently featured in the April issue of Tasting Room Magazine as a Spring wine pick. The wine is a tribute to winemaker Scott Pontin’s grandfather who immigrated to Yakima Valley and planted terraced vineyards as his family had done for centuries in Italy.

Spring Barrel weekend in Prosser is April 25-27th, all wine enthusiasts are welcome at Pontin Del Roza and no passport is required. Please join us in celebrating this kick-off to the spring and summer season at the winery.The Pontin Del Roza tasting room is open daily from 10-5 at 35502 N. Hinzerling Road in Prosser, WA.

For more information on the winery, to purchase wine or schedule a private event please visit

Vinostrology Wine Lounge Offers “Tax Relief”

March 7th, 2014

Vinostrology Wine Lounge & Merchant is giving consumers a break this season with a tempting combination of tax relief and good wine. The downtown wine bar’s “Tax Relief” package is being offered to all taxpayers who join its wine club for six months.

Members who join the 13th Sign Wine Club between now and April 30 enjoy their first month of membership tax free, for a total savings on carefully selected wines of nearly 20%.

“It’s time to tax your taste buds instead of your wallet,” says owner Katie Bechkowiak. “Our wine club has generous benefits like “Taste Treats” and 13% off purchases of 6 or more bottles.”

Featuring the area’s only WineStations,® which allow the host to offer a variety of wines without compromising quality, Vinostrology is a wine lover’s paradise with never fewer than 20 wines to buy by the taste, ½ glass or full glass. The selection of wines “on spout” is constantly changing, with a focus on wines of exceptional value from around the globe. Its “12 under $12” retail selection is an increasingly popular resource for wine drinkers and dinner guests who want the guarantee of a good wine without the hassle of figuring it out themselves.

Located in the heart of downtown Bellingham at 120 West Holly (near the Parkade) Vinostrology is open seven days a week with “Hours of Happiness” Monday through Saturday, 3 — 6 p.m. To sign up for the 13th Sign Wine Club visit the bar or call (360) 656-6817. Find your wine sign at Find Vinostrology on Facebook for updates on what’s pouring, who’s playing and other wine happenings.

Columbia Winery Rolls Out New Label, New Wines

February 24th, 2014

Woodinville’s Columbia Winery has a new label and four nicely priced wines produced by winemaker Sean Hails that have recently been released.

Hails is an Ontario, Canada native who gained experience in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley and California before moving to Columbia in 2012.

Here are my tasting notes on the wines, each of which retails for about $14:

null2012 Cabernet Sauvignon: This approachable, flavorful cab is filled with beautiful dark, black fruit aromas and flavors including cherry, berry, and currant. It’s a natural to pair with almost anything beef.

2012 Chardonnay: Do you like your Chardonnays big, buttery and full-bodied? This one easily has you covered with a mouthful of pineapple, baked apple and tropical fruits. The finish is round and lengthy with accents of toasted coconut and vanilla.

Non-Vintage Composition: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and a handful of other varietals join forces to produce this bold, hefty red wine blend. Aromas of coffee bean and chocolate lead off, with somewhat brighter red fruits of cherry, cranberry and raspberry on the palate.

2012 Merlot: Lovely blueberry and floral aromatics along with cranberry and pomegranate flavors highlight this Columbia Valley Merlot. The wine carries a bit of the plush, classic Merlot character you’d expect with just a bit of an edgy finish to provide it with a bit of lift.

A Look Back at 2013 and What to Expect From Washington Winemakers

December 24th, 2013

I’m down to my final two columns of 2013. So I ask myself, “Do I feature sparkling wines and Champagne the week before New Year’s or wait until New Year’s Eve?”

Then I remember this is Bellingham and nobody plans for New Year’s until a day or two beforehand.

That settles it…year in review this week, sparkling wines next week.

A look back at the 2013 vintage gets a one-word response from many Washington winemakers…hot.

Randy Tucker at Tucker Cellars notes, “The growing season (included) temperatures in the upper 90’s and 100’s for five weeks straight. There was some incredible fruit out there that yielded high sugars and strong flavors.”

Washington wine enthusiasts will likely find the wines of 2013 to be in stark contrast to the cooler 2010 and 2011 vintages and, to a much lesser degree, the more “normal” 2012 vintage.

The keys will be just how long the grapes were allowed to hang prior to harvest and the winemaker’s ability to curb the temptation of high-sugar, high-alcohol wines. My feeling is that you’ll see your share of big, full-bodied wines from 2013, with the majority of winemakers savvy enough not to encroach on the more heavy-handed, “fruit bomb” status. This isn’t Southern Australia, after all.

nullMy annual trek to the 2013 Tri-Cities Wine Festival in Kennewick last month also provided some great insight on what’s coming up and a retrospect on recent past vintages.

My first thought: where do these new wineries keep coming from? Richland’s Market Cellars, only in its second year of operation, scored a perfect 12 medals for their 12 wines entered. Monte Scarlatto Winery, which I passed by without even noticing during a visit to Red Mountain, also had a number of wines with great potential.

Varietals newer to Washington continue to grow in popularity at the Festival, with the Smasne Cellars 2010 Mourvèdre earning best of show honors. Still, my personal favorites included Washington’s more tried-and-true reds and whites; a gorgeous Cooper Wine Company 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon from Walla Walla Valley and the delicious Apex Cellars 2012 Sauvignon Blanc.

Finally, let me offer a few recommendations from a couple of well-established wineries that really hit their stride this year.

Two Mountain Winery continues to impress and their 2010 Syrah has it all; a fragrant bouquet of berries and sweet cedar, spicy raspberry and red cherry flavors, and silky tannins with an undertone of minerality.

Lost River Winery also has a bevy of current releases worth trying. My top two: the 2010 Nebbiolo, a yummy, pinot-esque red with bright red currant, cranberry and pomegranate flavors; and the 2010 Cedarosa, a merlot/cabernet franc blend with spicy berry aromas, crabapple and cassis flavors, and excellent depth with tannic structure for additional cellaring.

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