The World of Cabernet Sauvignon in Walla Walla

nullJune 16 to 18, 2016 – Come to Walla Walla for a three-day celebration of Washington’s most popular red varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon.

Included in the festivities will be a vintage pour at Dunham Cellars (already sold out), a winemaker panel and discussion at the Marcus Whitman Hotel and a Grand Cabernet Sauvignon wine tasting and winemaker dinner at Whitman College on the 17th.

On the 18th, a winemaker dinner series will be held at various locations throughout the Walla Walla Valley.

For complete event information and ticket purchases visit www.wallawallawine.com.

Washington’s Family Wineries Prove That Hard Work Pays Off by Producing Excellent Wines

This article originally appeared, in part, in the April/May, 2016 issue of Bellingham Alive magazine.

If you think that most of Washington’s wineries are large, faceless, corporate-owned entities you might be in for a surprise. In fact, the vast majority of the 850-plus wineries in the state are small, family-owned enterprises that oversee every phase of the winemaking process…from crushing, fermenting and aging the grapes, to bottling, marketing, and distributing the finished product.

This hands-on, personal touch is the hallmark of many smaller wineries, and the “start-to-finish” process requires long hours and dedicated service. But most family-maintained wineries feel this approach results in a quality, attention-to-detail product…and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Here’s a look at two successful Washington wineries and the people behind these 100-percent family-owned and operated businesses:

DYNASTY CELLARS

Peter and Olga Osvaldik immigrated to the United States from Czechoslovakia with their son, Peter Jr., in 1983. The Osvaldiks moved to Bellingham in 1990 and established Dynasty Cellars five years later, drawing on over 150 years of winemaking experience from Peter’s paternal family.

After progressing through the “hobby phase,” Dynasty had its first commercial release in 2006. “I remember our first commercial wine…seven tons of grapes (at about 100 pounds at a time) through a small ratchet press. It was crazy,” Peter says with a laugh. “I still have that press as a reminder of our beginnings.”

nullFrom its inception, every task associated with the winery has been a family affair. Peter and son Eric work together through the crushing and production phases while Olga and their daughter Monica primarily work in the tasting room and on special events. “We don’t have titles,” Peter says. “We are whatever we need to be that day!”

The winery currently sources all of its grapes from Les Collines Vineyards in Walla Walla, reflecting Peter’s desire to produce single vineyard/single varietal wines.

Current releases include the 2012 vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, a gorgeous Merlot with silky-soft dark berry flavors, and a bold Zinfandel with blackberry fruit and spicy, peppery finishing notes.

Scheduled for release in April of this year are a 2015 White Wine blend of 90-percent Chardonnay and 10-percent Semillon, and a 2015 Off-Dry Riesling. The remainder of 2016 will include releases of a number of 2013-vintage red varietals including Tempranillo, Primitivo, Syrah and Merlot.

The winery’s sense of family is apparent from the minute one steps into the tasting room, where guests are warmly greeted and often asked, “What can I pour for you?” This, coupled with the care that goes into every bottle, has made Dynasty Cellars a favorite among local wine enthusiasts.

Downplaying credit for his winemaking efforts, Peter humbly notes, “The fate and quality of the wine is determined at the end of fermentation. You’re the guardian; (just) keep the barrels safe and sound until you’re ready to bottle.”

Dynasty Cellars is located at 2169 East Bakerview Road in Bellingham and open Thursday through Saturday from 1 pm to 6:30 pm and Sunday from 1 pm to 5 pm. More information: dynastycellars.com.

TUCANNON CELLARS

Tucannon Cellars is located about 15 minutes west of the Tri-Cities, just outside the Red Mountain Appellation. The winery is named for the Tucannon River near the Blue Mountains in southeastern Washington and owned by father-and-son duo Phil and Ethen Warren and Phil’s wife Danette.

nullPhil started producing wines in 2008, primarily, “to see if he could make a small batch of handcrafted wine for private consumption” notes Ethen. The elder Warren’s wines became popular among friends who, “got so tired of waiting for the next batch they helped and supported him in the winery licensing process,” Ethen recalls.

That took place in 2011, and Phil continued to produce wines in the garage at his Pasco home. Then, as a logical step in the growth of the winery, he purchased Oakwood Cellars on Red Mountain in February, 2014, where Ethen serves as tasting room manager and assistant winemaker while Danette handles the winery’s administrative work.

At that time, Tucannon was primarily focused on making red wines. “We started out just doing reds, but we’ve really gotten more serious about white wines,” Ethen says. That may be in part to a number of stainless steel tanks they acquired from Oakwood, which have been instrumental in the production of white wine varietals such as Chardonnay, Viognier, and Riesling.

In addition to sourcing grapes from the state’s renowned Burgess and Alder Ridge Vineyards, to name a few, the Warrens have also planted two acres of estate-grown red varietals: Carménère and Mourvèdre.

nullOther red wines that have just been released include a lovely 2012 Cabernet Franc, with dried red fruits, hints of milk chocolate, and sweet cedar on a lingering finish with a hint of earthiness; a 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, with intoxicating aromatics of vanilla wafer, beeswax and meadow grasses followed by red cherry flavors and a touch of hazelnut; and an outstanding 2012 Merlot with black cherry and licorice on the palate, toasted oak accents, and a nice, textured finish.

Production has expanded to about 1,800 cases annually, but that hasn’t had an effect on all the small details the Warrens address while operating their family-owned winery. “We still do everything by hand,” Ethen says, and, noting his increasing involvement in all phases of the winemaking process, “I wouldn’t be able to do it without my dad…and our friends are (also) still a tremendous help.”

Tucannon Cellars’ tasting room is located at 40504 North DeMoss Road in Benton City, just minutes north of Interstate 82, and open Thursday, Sunday, and Monday from 11 am to 5 pm and Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 6 pm. Wines can also be ordered on line at tucannoncellars.com.

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.

Washington Wine of the Week – Selections for Winter, 2016

nullFor the week of March 13, 2016: Owen Roe Winery 2013 Yakima Valley Red Wine – This stunning, perfectly balanced red wine blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, is indicative of everything on the tasting menu currently available from this Yakima Winery. Winemaker/Partner David O’Rielly not only makes great wines, you’ll find that he and his wife, Angelica, are cordial and gracious hosts…should they happen be there when you pay them a highly recommended visit.

For the week of March 6, 2016: Lost River Winery 2013 Barbera – Winemaker John Morgan hits all the right notes on this spectacular red wine sourced from the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. Smoky undertones and touches of pepper and spice accentuate a base of reserved black cherry fruit, licorice root, and black plum. As if that weren’t enough, the acidity level and tannins offer impeccable balance, making this a “complete package” wine that should put it on your must-try list. Exceptional!

For the week of February 28, 2016: Dusty Cellars Winery 2014 Spartan – Scheduled for release in May, 2016, this 100-percent Rattlesnake Hills Merlot from the Camano Island Winery is a nod to the mascot from nearby Stanwood High School. It’s an easy-to-drink Merlot with blackberry and black currant flavors, nicely balanced with a splash of acidity and soft tannins. Husband-and-wife owners/winemakers Ryan and Dusty Kramer are doing a fine job with their wines and, as congenial hosts, make a visit to their tasting room (open the first full weekend of every month) well worth the visit.

nullFor the week of February 21, 2016: Ginkgo Forest Winery 2014 Viognier – Mike and Lois Thiede have done an awesome job with this big, flavorful Viognier that’s indicative of the wines you’ll find from the Wahluke Slope AVA. Expect plenty of Golden Delicious apple, peach, and apricot flavors from this viscous, full-bodied white. Bonus selection: the winery’s 2011 Malbec, where the cooler vintage puts less emphasis on the understated blackberry and blueberry fruit flavors that persist into a slightly smoky finish. It’s drinkly beautifully and highly affordable at around $20 a bottle.

For the week of February 14, 2016: Columbia Crest 2013 Grand Estates Merlot – For those who don’t like to spend a small fortune on wines, $10 to $12 a bottle seems to be the upper limit. If that’s the case, here’s a Washington Merlot that will fit the bill while delivering plenty. Roasted coffee bean aromatics, a mouthful of black currant and cherry fruit, and hints of chocolate and vanilla on the finish highlight this easy-to-drink, highly affordable red.

For the week of February 7, 2016: Thurston Wolfe 2010 JTW’s Port – Perfect for pairing with almost anything chocolate, this Port-Style blend from Prosser primarily consists of Touriga Nacional, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Sirah. It’s packed with wonderful layers of dark cherry fruit, hazelnut, caramel, chocolate and a trace of peppery spice on the ultra-long finish. While some Ports are overly sweet or overly hot, all the components fall into place here for a beautifully balanced, highly enjoyable fortified wine.

nullFor the week of January 31, 2016: Vartanyan Estate Winery 2014 Sweet Riesling – Whatcom County’s Margarita Vartanyan (pictured at right) has produced a gem of a Riesling at a super-affordable price (about $14). Mouth-watering, juicy pear and pineapple flavors finish with a splash of bracing acidity that perfectly balances a hardly noticeable 7% residual sugar content. How good is this wine? My youngest sister, who rarely drinks white wine enjoyed it so much that she bought a bottle during a recent visit to the tasting room. Outstanding!

For the week of January 24, 2016: Masquerade Wine Co. Non-Vintage Sparkling Riesling – Sparkling wines are one of the things Bellingham’s Masquerade Wine Co. does best and this Riesling is a classic example. Big, golden delicious apple flavors, a flourish of yeasty brioche, and ample residual sugar on the finish will make this an instant favorite of those who like their sparklers with a touch of sweetness. It should pair well with anything in the brunch line, especially eggs benedict with a creamy hollandaise sauce.

For the week of January 17, 2016: Waterbrook Winery 2014 Chardonnay – This well-priced (about $12) Chardonnay from the Walla Walla-based winery makes a great accompaniment to a variety of lighter entrees including chicken, pork and halibut. Apple aromas and flavors are followed by a touch of dried apricot, with finishing notes of nutmeg and vanilla. There’s also a bit of toasted oak in the background that doesn’t overwhelm the wine’s nicely balanced flavor profile.

nullFor the week of January 10, 2016: Barrister Winery Non-Vintage Rough Justice X – Barrister Winery continues as one of Spokane’s top wineries with another exceptional effort from winemakers Michael White and Greg Lipsker. This red wine blend of Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon is filled with understated blueberry, plum, and black currant fruits, a twist of white pepper and smoky undertones that make it a pleasure to taste.

For the week of January 3, 2016: Barnard Griffin 2014 Riesling – If you’ve blown your holiday budget and need to cut back on expenditures in January, here’s a great wine that will fit the bill without compromising on quality. Crisp flavors of Granny Smith apple, pear, pineapple and citrus highlight this tasty white wine, with just a touch of sweetness on the finish to move it into the off-dry category. It’s a steal at only about $10 a bottle.

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 www.vitalwinery.com 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 www.vitalwinery.com 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 www.soshealthservices.com.

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