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.

Pair of Spokane Boutique Wineries Focus on Red Wines

June 2nd, 2015

During a trip to Spokane in April I had the opportunity to visit a couple of smaller, “boutique” wineries; boutique being defined as those with annual production of around 1,000 cases or less.

nullFirst up is Nodland Cellars, where winemaker Tim Nodland (pictured at left) has taken a checkered career path from 1980’s big-haired rocker (with the photos to prove it) to still-practicing attorney, to jazz musician, to winemaker.

His tasting room is currently a bit off the beaten path in an industrial park in the city of Spokane Valley. But plans are in the works to keep that space as a production facility and move the tasting room to downtown Spokane by the fall of 2015.

Nodland impressed me with his ability to offer extremely reasonably priced wines while sourcing his fruit from some of the state’s finest vineyards including Seven Hills, Pepper Bridge, Gamache, and Kiona. His current releases are all drinking nicely and deserve a “must-try” recommendation.

The Bebop Dry Riesling (about $16) is the winery’s only white, and it shines with vibrant green apple and citrus flavors that conclude in a crisp, dry finish.

Two red Bordeaux blends are completely off the charts: the overachieving, underpriced 2012 Bad Attitude (about $15), with white pepper aromatics, red currant and cherry flavors and a twist of pepper and vanilla on the finish; and the 2008 Private Blend (about $28), an explosion of black currant, lardo, and smoky bacon aromas and flavors.

Other notable reds: the 2011 Avant Garde (about $28), a 100% carménère with dark fruits, black pepper accents, and a big mouthfeel that demands a steak entrée; and the 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (about $38) with elegant black plum flavors, finely integrated tannins and hints of toast and black olive on the finish.

nullFurther east of Spokane you’ll find Liberty Lake Wine Cellars, where husband and wife proprietors Doug and Shelly Smith admittedly let their hobby for making red wines get out of control to become a full-fledged winery that opened in 2008.

Located in a residential area south of I-90, their tasting room offers spectacular views of Mount Spokane and Liberty Lake and also provides a kitchen, seating area and outdoor deck that beckons visitors to lingering over a glass of wine.

My favorite current release is the 2008 Legacy (about $20), a gorgeous blend of merlot, cabernet franc and syrah from Red Mountain that displays big, round blackberry fruit and a touch of sweet cedar on the finish.

Also notable is the 2009 Syrah (about $25) with spicy persimmon aromas, dark fruit flavors, good tannic structure, and a dusting of cocoa powder; and a lighter-in-body 2011 Tempranillo (about $25), with strong earthy notes and strawberry and raspberry flavors that conclude in a bright, vibrant finish.

CorkSharing Makes Planning Your Wine Tasting Trip a Breeze

May 31st, 2015

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.”

nullBy 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

Bellingham Herald Articles

May 30th, 2015

nullPosts on this web site under the category “Bellingham Herald Articles” were originally printed in the Bellingham Herald…the source for Whatcom County, Washington news.

For the latest updates in local, regional and national news, visit their web site at

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