Category Archives: Heard Through the Grapevine

Taste Washington 2016: A Rousing Success

This year’s Taste Washington was an incredible event! Washington once again did itself proud with an amazing array of wines from over 225 wineries that, simply stated, seem to get better every year.

Add to this the terrific and personable winemakers, their staff, and distributors who helped serve wines at this year’s event and you had all the makings of a world-class wine event.

During my time at the Grand Tasting on April 2, I had the good fortune to run into New York’s Yannick Benjamin, one of the stars of last season’s “Uncorked” TV series on the Esquire Network. I had the opportunity to chat briefly with Yannick, who mentioned how impressed he was with some of Washington’s Syrahs.

That’s high praise from someone who is both a wine educator and on the cusp of becoming a Master Sommelier. I wish him the best and would also like to acknowledge the Washington Wine Commission for organizing such a memorable weekend.

Vital Winery Launches Non-Profit Wine Label to Help Fund Healthcare for Vineyard, Winery Workers

WALLA WALLA, Washington (March 17, 2016) – Most wine regions in the United States depend heavily on seasonal workers in the vineyards and the wineries. Yet many of those workers don’t have access to affordable healthcare.

nullWinemaker Ashley Trout has set out to do something about that in Washington State’s Walla Walla Valley.

Trout recently launched Vital Wines, a community-driven, non-profit winery dedicated to providing better healthcare for vineyard and winery workers in the Walla Walla Valley. All proceeds from the sale of Vital Wines will go to SOS Health Services of Walla Walla, an urgent care facility that provides quality walk-in healthcare services to individuals without health insurance (or underinsured) in the Walla Walla Valley.

This is the first effort of its kind designed to support seasonal vineyard and winery workers in Washington’s booming wine industry.

Vital Wines’ first release in April will be a Rosé of Sangiovese from Seven Hills Vineyard, one of Walla Walla’s most prestigious vineyards, followed by a red wine to be released in the fall. Vital Wines’ inaugural 2015 vintage will total about 400 cases, Trout said.

The Vital Wines’ project officially kicks off April 6 with a fund-raising celebration and dinner at Whitehouse-Crawford restaurant in downtown Walla Walla, Trout said. Information and tickets for the event are available online at and via the winery’s Facebook page.

“The clinic serves many of our winery and vineyard employees throughout Walla Walla Valley,”

Trout said. “Most winery workers do not have health insurance due to the seasonal nature of their jobs and injuries or illness can cause great financial strain on them.

“It’s critically important that we help them,” she said. “Their work is vital to our industry. Our support is vital to their lives.”

The state’s wine industry has rallied around the project. Everything involved in the project, from grapes, barrels and corks to winemaking, production and marketing services, has been donated.

“The Vital project has been a force of community in the valley and around the state,” Trout said. “From fruit to lab work, corks to capsules, graphic design work to bottling – practically every ounce of these wines has been donated.  The response has been stunning, absolute stunning.”

The SOS Clinic is a non-profit, bilingual, no questions asked, free health care clinic that relies on doctors who are about to retire and want to volunteer their time without a full-time commitment.

Funding from the Vital project will enable the clinic to continue to pay for doctors’ medical licenses, increase its hours of operation and perhaps add more specialty clinics such as chronic care, women’s clinics and diabetes education.

Wine is an estimated $5 billion industry in Washington State. Since 2009, the WA wine industry has increased the total state economic impact of $1.3 billion annually. By 2020, wine and wine industry related jobs in the Walla Walla Valley are projected to grow by nearly 48 percent to more than 8,900 jobs from the current 6,000.

The wine industry has grown through the help of thousands of seasonal employees, but many of whom do not have health care. In the valley, the average annual salary of each of these jobs is roughly $17,000 per year, which makes monthly healthcare costs virtually out of reach even under the Affordable Care Act, Trout said.

About Vital Winery

Vital Winery is a community-driven, non-profit winery dedicated to providing better healthcare for vineyard and winery workers in the Walla Walla Valley. All proceeds from the sale of Vital Wines goes to SOS Health Services of Walla Walla.

Vital Winery has received donations from some of the best vineyards, bottling companies, distributors and service providers in the Pacific Northwest.  The winery will launch in 2016 with one rose and one red wine. For information on Vital Winery and how to get involved in the project, and to see a list of donors, please visit and like the winery’s page of Facebook.

About SOS Health Services

SOS Health Services of Walla Walla is an urgent care facility that provides quality walk-in healthcare services to individuals without health insurance (or underinsured) in the Walla Walla Valley. SOS Health Services does not deny people access to services regardless or citizenship status or geographic location.  For information, please see

After Last Summer’s Wildfires Chelan Wineries are Primed for Visitors to Return

Last summer’s record-breaking heat brought with it a number of devastating wildfires to Eastern Washington. The Lake Chelan area was one of the hardest hit, and a series of fires that began there in nullmid-August burned thousands of acres in and around this region known for its resorts, outdoor recreation, and burgeoning wine industry.

Nearly all of the area’s wineries escaped damage with the exception of Ventimiglia Cellars. Owner Ron Ventimiglia was hosting visitors in the tasting room of his winery located near the south end of the lake when he was told to evacuate. Less than eight hours later, the entire facility had burned to the ground, and Ventimiglia escaped with just two cases of wine and his computer equipment. Plans are already underway to rebuild.

Other wineries were much more fortunate, even though the fires came perilously close to the downtown Chelan area and surrounding residential areas. A drive into town gives visitors a feel for just how extensive the damage was – and how much more it could have been – with burned sagebrush and trees and blackened telephone poles lining the highway.

But Chelan residents seem undaunted by the series of setbacks that Mother Nature sent their way during this past summer. Although the reduction in out-of-town visitors during the heart of the peak season hurt the local economy, the area’s wineries are ready and open for business, even during the slower, quieter winter months.

The proliferation of Chelan wineries, now standing at about two dozen, has been a welcome change to an area that, driven by seasonal tourism dollars, nearly comes to a complete halt until mid-spring when warmer temperatures begin to return.

“The wineries have been a big help to the local economy during the off-season,” notes Julie Pittsinger, co-owner of Karma Vineyards. And while most wineries have reduced hours for about a three to four month stretch, all of them are open for wintertime visitors looking to get away and experience the wine region and downtown Chelan.

Winter is a great time of year to check out the area; tasting rooms are less crowded, one-on-one time with local winemakers is relatively easy, there’s no hint of summertime traffic congestion, and finding a table at a local restaurant is a breeze.

The Chelan wine country is divided into two areas: the north and south shores. There are also other winery options in the nearby surrounding areas. Here’s an idea of what to look for when paying a visit:


nullCharlie Lybecker and his wife, Lacey, moved to Chelan a few years ago after starting Cairdeas Winery in West Seattle in 2009. Among the area’s relative newcomers, Charlie has quickly earned a reputation as one of the brightest stars in Chelan’s wine scene.

Charlie focuses on varietals from France’s Rhone Valley including Syrah, Viognier, Roussanne, and Marsanne. His blending techniques are spot-on, and the tasting room’s atmosphere of friendship, goodwill, and alliance (the three terms that best describe the Gaelic word, “Cairdeas”) are apparent the minute one walks through the door.

Other notable north shore wineries: Wapato Point Cellars, where white wines such as Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Gewurztraminer are the forté, and the in-house Winemaker’s Grill restaurant and outdoor patio invite guests to linger over dinner and a glass of wine; and Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards, owned by Don and Judy Phelps. Here, a fun, near-ribald list of wines are available for the “mostly serious” wine drinker and range from sparkling wine to Chardonnay to Cabernet Franc to Primitivo and virtually all varietals in-between.

It’s not uncommon for husbands and wives to operate and produce wines at their own winery. What’s nullunusual is to have a clear delineation between their winemaking duties. That’s the rather unique scenario at Nefarious Cellars, where Heather Neff is strictly responsible for the winery’s white wines, while husband Dean handles just the reds.

The Neff’s pristine, immaculate facility is situated on Lake Chelan’s south shore. The winery draws on a number of vineyards, including estate sources located both on site and near the town of Pateros. Outstanding current releases include the 2014 Consequence, a white wine blend of Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc, and Marsanne, and the 2013 Rx-3, a red wine combination of Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah varietals.

The tasting room at Mellisoni Vineyards has been a work-in-progress for a few years, but that hasn’t deterred owners Rob and Donna Mellison from providing their guests with first-class service during every visit.

A gathering table and relaxed seating area await wine tasters, and Mellisons will eagerly greet you and pour you a glass of one of their outstanding wines. Try the 45°, a white wine blend of Riesling and Gewurztraminer sourced from the steeply sloped vineyards planted above the tasting room; or consider a red wine option such as Merlot, Barbera, Syrah, or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Other notable south shore wineries: One of the few Washington wineries to produce sparkling wines, Karma Vineyards also offers a number of other varietals including two Chardonnays, one aged in French oak barrels, the other in American oak. The winery’s lovely bistro includes a menu that features small, medium and large bite plates. And Tsillan Cellars also offers a dining and wines option at its Italian-themed Sorrento’s restaurant, located adjacent to the tasting room.


Rio Vista Wines boasts the only Washington winery accessible by car, boat, and float plane. Located about 10 minutes north of Chelan on the Columbia River, the folksy, serene setting is home to a number of uniquely named and labeled wines that have earned a boatload of accolades.

Personable winemaker/owner John Little does an outstanding job with a wide array of reds and whites in varying sweetness levels from sweet to dry. His Malbec is a must-try for red wine lovers and his Wacky White and Loony Red blends are almost certain to put a smile on your face.

For more information on the area and its wineries: or

Bellingham Alive “Sips of the Season” Event Features Thurston Wolfe/9 Restaurant Food and Wine Pairings

Start with solid, flavorful Washington wines, pair them with carefully planned, expertly prepared small plates, and serve them to an enthusiastic group of food and wine consumers. These elements converged to make Bellingham Alive’s Fall Sips of the Season a smashing success at North Bellingham Golf Course’s 9 Restaurant last November.

nullThurston Wolfe Winery provided several of their current releases to serve as the foundation around which the event was planned. Established in 1987 by husband and wife Dr. Wade Wolfe and Becky Yeaman, Thurston Wolfe has a long history of producing true-to-the-varietal wines that Washington wine enthusiasts have come to rely upon for quality and consistency at very reasonable prices.

The winery, located just minutes off Interstate 82 about 45 minutes east of Yakima, makes about 6,000 cases per year. That puts it solidly in the mid-range category of Washington wineries: too large to be considered for “boutique winery” status and much too small to be grouped in with the mass-produced, out-of-state-owned mega-producers.

Wolfe and Yeaman have been perfectly content to straddle the fence between this not too big/not too small status. Even their contemporary tasting room reflects a “just right” niche with plenty of room to maneuver around the tasting bar while also offering a comfortable, cozy seating area with gas fireplace nearby. An adjacent patio provides additional space for outdoor seating, where guests are encouraged to linger over a glass of wine when the weather allows.

Thurston Wolfe offers wineophiles a broad range of choices including sweet to dry reds, whites, and Port-style wines. The selections for the Sips of the Seasons event reflected this range of palate-pleasing options and served as the basis for the accompanying foods prepared by 9 Restaurant’s Executive Chef, Nick Moss.

Chef Moss has extensive food service and catering experience and been with the restaurant since 2012. Since that time he’s modified the menu to include freshly prepared, made-from scratch soups, burgers, and sandwiches. He’s also steadily earned a reputation for providing Whatcom County foodies with some truly amazing culinary creations, particularly at the restaurant’s multi-course wine and beer dinners, which run from mid-fall to late winter.

Assisted by Bellingham Alive food and wine writers Dan Radil (who moderated the event) and Zacchoreli Frescobaldi-Grimaldi, Moss designed a small plates menu that had Sips attendees sighing contentedly, especially when paired with four of Thurston Wolfe’s wines.

nullFirst up was the winery’s 2014 PGV (about $16), a blend consisting primarily of Pinot Gris and Viognier (hence the name “PGV”) along with just a splash of Orange Muscat.

This crowd-pleasing white wine featured generous green melon and stone fruit aromas and flavors with a hint of tangerine, and the wine’s crisp acidity contrasted nicely with the rich, creamy texture of a bacon corn chowder pairing. The plating included a crostini-topped purée of roasted vegetables and slice of triple cream brie, which also made for stellar food and wine combinations.

For the 2012 Howling Wolfe Zinfandel (about $20), a trio of foods was selected to complement the wine’s spicy berry and red currant flavor profile. Herb-roasted fingerling potatoes, grilled and skewed sweet potato, and lean roast beef with fresh horseradish on crostini proved to be perfect pairing partners to this flavorful, medium-bodied red wine.

nullThe full-bodied, 2012 “The Teacher” Cabernet Sauvignon (about $25) then took center stage with its darker fruit flavors of black currant and cherry, gentle smoky undertones and finish of toasted oak with supple tannins.
Excellent food pairings included spiced, caramelized nuts and an aged white cheddar cheese, but the scene-stealer was Chef Moss’s deconstructed house-smoked chicken, apple and Gouda sandwich. The three ingredients, cut into bite-sized pieces and served on a skewer, made for culinary nirvana when paired with the Cabernet.

For the event finalé, Moss prepared a house-made brown sugar/bourbon ice cream to serve alongside Frescobaldi-Grimaldi’s made-from-scratch coconut macaroons. Thurston Wolfe countered with a 2010 JTW’s Port (about $12 for 375 ml), an exquisitely balanced Port-style blend with ripe cherry fruit, caramel and a whisper of spicy chocolate on a lingering, slightly sweet finish. Together, the desserts and the wine provided a perfect conclusion to a late afternoon of gastronomic delights that left everyone smiling and eagerly anticipating the next Sips event, coming in March.


588 Cabernet Court
Prosser, Washington
(509) 786-3313


205 West Smith Road
Bellingham, Washington
(360) 398-8300 extension 2

Newer Bellingham Micro-Boutique Winery Already Earning Accolades

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.

nullAfter 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.