Bellingham Rotary Grape & Gourmet

September 18th, 2015

Sunday, November 1, 2015 Taste through wines from over 30 wineries and sample foods from a number of local restaurants at this always spectacular event at the Silver Reef Hotel & Casino.

Both general admission and VIP ticket options are available and can be purchased through the following link:

2015 Grape & Gourmet

Newer Bellingham Micro-Boutique Winery Already Earning Accolades

August 31st, 2015

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.

Yakima Valley Among Many With Record Early Harvests

August 8th, 2015

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.”

The End of an Era

June 16th, 2015

Dear Wine Enthusiasts:

As of today, the Bellingham Herald has discontinued my weekly wine column.

But rest assured that I’ll continue to provide you with coverage of wines from Washington, the Pacific Northwest, and to a smaller extent, around the world, albeit in other and new venues…including Bellingham Alive and North Sound Life magazines. It’s an exciting new stage in my career as a wine writer that will provide you with even better coverage of the industry’s wines and wineries.

It has been an absolute pleasure giving you the latest on the world of wine through the Herald for the past 16 years.

Here is my final column, printed in its entirety (photo below from Kiona Vineyards):


What does the future hold for the Washington wine industry? Today I’ll give you my insight on what you might expect.

For starters: more recognized wine regions and even more wineries. I don’t anticipate that we’ll keep up our 50-new-wineries-a-year pace (of course, I said that 10 years ago and I was wrong), but steady growth, especially from small, boutique wineries with annual production of 1,000 cases or less will keep that number climbing.

You can also expect to see more diversity among the types of wine grape varietals grown in Washington. When I attended my first Tri-Cities Wine Festival in 1985 the choices were miniscule: riesling, chenin blanc, and chardonnay for whites wines and merlot and cabernet sauvignon for the reds. That was about it.

Today you’ll find “newer” white varietals and blends that include viognier, albariño, roussanne, and marsanne much more commonplace. Red choices have become even more varied with once virtually non-existent varietals such as grenache, malbec, primitivo, sangiovese, mourvèdre, and carménère finding their niche among Washington wineries.

From the beginning, my charge has always been, “go taste wine.” Simply put, you can read all you want about wines, familiarize yourself with all sorts of snobby terminology, and know your local wine shop from top to bottom.

But until you experience a winery firsthand – traveling to the production facility, walking the vineyards, meeting with the winemaker, or perhaps participating in a barrel tasting, you’re missing out on a huge part of the Washington wine industry.

Fortunately, it’s easy to get started. With our state’s over 850 wineries, plus those in neighboring British Columbia, Oregon, and Idaho, the tasting possibilities are essentially all within a day’s drive of the Whatcom County area.

Today closes the book on my weekly wine column for the Herald. Since 1999, writing this column has been an incredible experience and introduced me to scores of remarkable people in the wine industry. I hope I’ve been able to do the same for you by using it as a forum to primarily promote Pacific Northwest wineries and encouraging you to go out and taste the wines they produce.

Moving forward, I’ll be working as a contributing writer to Whatcom Magazine, a slick, locally produced quarterly publication I urge you to check out.

You can also continue to follow me as a contributor to Wine Press Northwest Magazine, a wine educator at Bellingham Technical College, and on my “Washington Wine of the Week” spot on KGMI Radio’s PM Bellingham segment every Thursday. And of course, you can connect with me through my web site:

Thanks to the Herald for allowing me this opportunity and thank you loyal readers. Cheers!

Boom in Washington Wineries Has Its Roots in a Handful of Groundbreakers

June 9th, 2015

Follow this column with any regularity and you’ll know that I’ve always been a big proponent of Washington wines. This week I’ll take a look back at just how far the state’s wine industry has progressed over the past 15 years and next week, we’ll look forward to what you might expect in the near future.

Up until 2000, the state saw a steady, but relatively small annual increase in the number of wineries. For example, according to the Washington Wine Commission, from 1999 to 2000, there was only a net increase of three wineries, bringing the statewide total to 163.

Then in the next 10 years, things started to go a little crazy.

By 2010, that number had more than quadrupled to around 700 wineries and today we’re at 850-plus. That’s an average increase of nearly 50 wineries each and every year for the past 15 years.

nullThe obvious question: why the explosion in Washington wineries?

Start with the grapes. The dry climate in Eastern Washington is ideal for many wine grape varietals with its extra hours of sunlight during the warm summer months; and cool evenings contribute to grapes with higher acidity levels that, “California wineries can only dream of,” so I’ve been told.

You’ve also got to give credit to the winemakers, whose skill level seems to be improving every year. Even in the cooler, testy 2010 and 2011 vintages, Washington winemakers pulled through with wines that were extremely well-balanced with excellent cellaring potential. It’s that level of consistency that makes local, domestic, and even international wine enthusiasts stand up and take notice.

But none of this growth and current popularity would have been possible without the groundbreaking work of Washington’s pioneer wineries decades ago.

A short list could include Casey and Vicki McClellan from Seven Hills Winery in Walla Walla; Gail and Shirley Puryear from Bonair Winery and Paul Portteus from Portteus Winery in the Rattlesnake Hills region; Rob Griffin from Barnard Griffin Winery in the Tri-Cities; Clay Mackey and Kay Simon from Chinook Wines, Scott Pontin from Pontin del Roza Winery, and Dr. Wade Wolfe and Becky Yeaman from Thurston Wolfe Winery in Prosser; and from Red Mountain, John and Anna Williams of Kiona Vineyards and, more recently, Tim and Kelly Hightower of Hightower Cellars.

These folks, some by their own admission, may not have known exactly all the ins-and-outs of growing grapes and producing wines. But they all shared the same vision in that Washington had the potential to be a great wine producing region and relentlessly pursued that goal.

For that, we owe them and many others, a debt of gratitude every time we lift a glass of Washington wine today.

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