San Juan Vineyards Winemaker Off to a Great Start

September 24th, 2007

This week we continue our look at San Juan Vineyards, located on picturesque San Juan Island and just a short drive from the Friday Harbor ferry terminal.

nullAlthough the winery has earned accolades in the past, one of the reasons for its recent success is undoubtedly due to the skills of winemaker Chris Primus. Primus joined the staff a little over a year ago after working as an assistant winemaker in Oregon.

One of his first efforts, a 2006 Siegerrebe, was a grand slam; intensely aromatic with plenty of spice and a surprisingly bone dry finish. The wine turned out to be immensely popular – so much so that the entire production of just over 500 cases blew out the doors in about four months, which is pretty impressive stuff. With a precedent like this, I’m anxious for the 2007 vintage, which is expected to be released next spring and should be priced somewhere around $17 a bottle.

Also worth noting is the winery’s 2004 Cabernet/Merlot which normally runs about $15 a bottle and is scheduled to go on sale in October for only about $10. This red wine blend is dense and chewy with cherry and dark plum flavors capped by a touch of toasted oak on the finish. Look for this and other San Juan Vineyards wines at major Bellingham grocers and wine specialty shops.

The tasting room is currently open from 11am to 5 pm daily and is well worth the visit. For more information phone (360) 378-9463 or visit their web site

Take a Trip to the San Juan Islands for Beautiful Scenery, Wine Tasting

September 17th, 2007

I recently paid a visit to San Juan Island and decided to forego the scenic, but lengthy ferry ride from Anacortes and take a flight out of Bellingham. In addition to some spectacular views of the islands and Mount Baker, the flight is relatively inexpensive – and fast. On the return flight it took only 35 minutes from the runway in Friday Harbor to the time I was in my driveway in Bellingham. Really. I almost felt guilty about it.

nullBut enough about my travel arrangements; let’s talk about wine. San Juan Island is home to San Juan Vineyards, located in a pastoral setting just minutes from the Friday Harbor ferry terminal.

Owner/Manager Yvonne Swanberg took me on a tour of the vineyards and production facility (available to anyone – just call in advance for arrangements) before we settled in on the covered porch adjacent to the tasting room for some sunshine, good conversation and, of course, wine.

My favorites among the current releases we sampled include the 2006 Riesling (about $14), which is quite tropical with spicy notes and a touch of sweetness. The 2006 Madeleine Angevine (about $14) is an estate grown, lighter style white wine, with gentle pear and melon flavors backed by good acidity.

The winery’s crown jewel is the 2004 Syrah (about $19), an award-winning red wine from the Yakima Valley. With restrained dark cherry flavors and hints of clove and chocolate this makes an excellent food wine that is really coming into its own and should only continue to get better. This and other San Juan vineyard wines are well distributed at grocers and wine shops in the greater Bellingham area.

Next week I’ll talk about San Juan Vineyard’s up and coming winemaker as well as a few more wines to watch for in the coming months.

Two Whatcom County Winery White Wines That Should Sell Out Quickly

September 10th, 2007

Let me premise today’s column by saying this – go buy these wines now.

Two local wineries are currently offering a newly released white wine, each of which provides consumers with even more good choices from an already impressive portfolio of wines.

Mount Baker Vineyards features its first ever 2006 Roussanne (about $20). I like to think of this wine as somewhat of an upgraded chenin blanc without the high acidity. With a fragrant nose, gentle flavors of honeysuckle, and a soft, lingering finish, it makes an excellent aperitif and also pairs well with a variety of mild cheeses. It’s unique, delicious, and first class in every respect.

nullAt Chuckanut Ridge Wine Company, the much-anticipated 2006 Bunny LeBlanc (about $15) is, quite simply, off the charts.

It starts with a base of 80 percent chardonnay, with the balance consisting of equal parts viognier and pinot gris. The viognier provides the wine with a fragrant aroma and a nice, well-rounded mouth feel while the pinot gris adds just a touch of bright acidity. Lovely flavors of lychee nut and subtle peach are capped by a lengthy finish. This wine truly is the complete package and, in my opinion, sets a very high bar for Washington white wine blends.

Production for the Roussanne was only 106 cases while the LeBlanc topped out at about 100 cases. Sources have told me that a good portion of these wines have already been accounted for and the remaining quantity – no one is saying exactly how much – is going to go fast.

In other words, go buy these wines now.

Community College Provides Both Education and Good Wines

September 3rd, 2007

College Cellars is one of the only two-year teaching commercial wineries in the United States and Washingtonians will be pleased to know that the production facility is located at Walla Walla Community College.

nullNow I know what you’re thinking. This wine can’t be any good…it’s made by a bunch of college students. But after a visit to the campus last month I can assure you that there really are some terrific little wines coming out of this place. It’s a first class facility whose alumni are now branching out and starting wineries of their own – Trio Vintners, a collaboration of three graduates who recently set up shop in Walla Walla is just one example.

Among the college’s current releases that are worth noting include the 2006 Sagemoor Vineyards Semillon (about $15), a big, tasty white wine that’s a touch more fruit forward than most semillons. The 2005 Lemberger (abour $12) is another keeper, with a bundle of bright red fruit flavros, bracing acidity and spicy notes on the finish.

My personal favorite is the 2004 Syrah (abour $15), which is almost like drinking a fresh baked berry pie, crust and all. It’s plump, buttery and certainly a fruit bomb, but wow, what a guilty pleasure this wine is! Added Note: Compass Wines purchased the winery’s last 30 cases of Syrah and is currently offering them at a steal…only $12.99 a bottle. Go stock up now!

Also currently available is the 2005 Governor’s Red, the 2004 Phinny Hill Vineyard Cabernet and a nice 2004 Merlot from Klipsun Vineyard.

College Cellars wines can be found at Purple Smile Wines in Bellingham, Compass Wines in Anacortes and LaConner’s Hellams Vineyard. They’re also occasionally served at the Rhododendron Cafe in Bow.

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