Oregon’s Sparktacular Renaissance

For those who get excited when they hear the cork being popped on a bottle of Sparkling wine, the amount of time and labor that goes into producing this treasure is often not the first thought on their wine drinking radar. It’s the seduction of the sound, the shimmery bubbles, and the perfect flavors that keep Sparkling wine sales rising here in the United States. With ten consecutive years of sales growth in the U.S., sparkling wine sales is a good indicator that people are not just buying more wine, they are buying more expensive wine and enjoying every sip. In Oregon, there is a continuing devotion and an uptick in Sparkling Wine production which is gracefully elbowing its way into a place among the worlds top-quality bubbles.

Willamette Valley Sparkling Wines

For the 2018 vintage, close to 40 Oregon wineries produced méthode champenoise sparkling.

While Oregon may well be known for its versatile and award-winning Pinot Noir, yet its accomplishments with sparkling wines change the dialogue when it comes to discussions about Oregon wines. With a suitable climate for the production of traditional Champagne varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Oregon’s sun soaked and wind swept hillside vineyards are yielding an array of sparkling wines exhibiting Oregon’s pioneer determination as well as elegance and complexity.

A Lunch & Sparkling Wine Seminar at Argyle Winery

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Argyle Winery in Willamette Valley as part of the Wine Writers Educational Tour (WWET). Our stop at Argyle was both a lunch, beautifully hosted by Argyle and an Oregon sparkling wine educational seminar with four Willamette Valley Sparkling Winemakers.

Glasses of Argyle Sparkling wine were poured as our WWET group was greeted by Argyle staff including Sales/Marketing Director Nate Rob Alstrin and Winemaker Nate Klostermann (right). I want to personally thank the staff at Argyle for their generous hospitality during our visit.

During lunch we had the pleasure of tasting Sparkling wines from Argyle Winery, ROCO, Willamette Valley Vineyards, and Bryn Mawr. The winemakers from each of these prestigious wineries shared with us the story of their sparkling production journey while we sampled each of their unique Oregon sparkling wines. The Oregon Sparkling Seminar, with an emphasis on the Willamette Valley, was a great way to dive deeper into the history of Sparkling production in the Valley as well as get a better perspective of how the winemakers see this style of wine evolving in the future for Oregon and the Willamette Valley.

Winemakers from Left to Right: Joe Ibrahim of Willamette Valley Vineyards, Rachel Rose of Bryn Mawr, Nate Klostermann of Argyle Winery and Rollin Soles of ROCO.

More than three decades ago the journey to produce Oregon Sparkling wine on a large scale was pioneered by Argyle and Rollin Soles of ROCO, then the head winemaker and co-founder (along with Brian Croser) of Argyle Winery. Rollin will tell you that the Willamette Valley “is really a fantastic place to grow sparkling wine grapes, but you don’t turn the sparkling winemaking process on (in a snap of the fingers) and you don’t learn the craft in that way either.”

“If you want to become a red winemaker in the Willamette Valley, and make Pinot Noir in the Valley, it’s like Bingo Bango Bongo and you look like a champion. But, with sparkling wine, that is not the case. It is hard for folks to wrap their heads around the proper long term process and aging methods of sparkling wines.”

Rollin Soles

Although most Oregon wineries age their sparkling wines for two to three years before releasing the vintage, it’s becoming common to hold back a portion of the production for extended 5 to 10 year tirages.

For more information on the Sparkling Wine process visit Wine Folly’s informative Website: https://winefolly.com/review/how-sparkling-wine-is-made/

Individual winery production of sparkling wine in the state is still small, with Argyle leading the way with the largest production of five different sparkling wines. Many other Oregon wineries are only releasing fewer than a hundred cases, making their sparkling wines hard to find, even locally, outside the winery tasting rooms. Sparkling wine is undoubtedly more challenging than a still wine like Pinot Noir, and the processing time is not the only hurdle that wineries have to overcome when producing sparkling wines. Growing or sourcing the right fruit, in the right condition, can be a limiting factor for some wineries. Luckily the climate of the Willamette Valley is ideal for producing exclusive fruits and thus exclusive wines with flavor characteristics different for anywhere else in the United States.

For centuries, sparkling wine has been linked with celebration and special occasions, now however, it is not uncommon to pop open a bottle of bubbles on a Wednesday night for no reason except that it is ‘Wine Wednesday”.

The fact is that some wine regions lend themselves to sparkling wine production better than others and Oregon is continuing to, like bubbles in a glass, rise to the top in the world of sparkling, one vintage at a time. Below are just a few examples of the Sparkling wines tasted on the Wine Writes Educational Tour that are available from Willamette Valley wineries.

Argyle Winery

Argyle Extended Tirage Brut 2008

Sometimes words just can’t do a wine justice and this is the case with this Arygle Sparkling Wine. With layers of fruit flavor and crisp acidity this 2008 Entended Tirage Brut was aged upon the lees for 10 years giving it a deep and creamy character. Orange zest springs forward with each sip, followed by honey buttered toast flavors. A beautiful Sparkling that sings a beautiful song of elegance with each bubble released.


ROCO RMS Sparkling Brut 2015

If you haven’t tried a ROCO RMS Sparkling wine yet, spoiler alert…they are fantastic! The 2015 Sparkling Brut from ROCO is a blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, and made in the traditional méthode Champenoise. Alluring is a word that comes to mind when sipping this sparkling, the color, the shimmer and the aroma vie for your attention, distracting you from taking that first sip. Then when you pull your attention back to the task at hand and indulge in the first sip you get flavors of a fresh morning breakfast of fruit cocktail and freshly toasted bread mingled with a saline wish. In a word, Sparktacular!

Willamette Valley Vineyards

Willamette Valley Vineyard Brut 2015

The Willamette Valley Vineyard Brut 2015 may have held the most surprises for me in the way of flavor. More citrusy than the other sparkling wines tasted, this Brut washed over my tongue in waves of citrus and zest with hints of apple and that all familiar burnt toast note. Lovely with a silky and smooth texture I couldn’t imagine a better wine to have with a cheese platter on a lazy summer afternoon sitting under a shade tree. Delightful!

Bryn Mawr Vineyards

Bryn Mawr Innovation Series Pétillant Naturel 2018

Bryn Mawr describes their Innovation Series as an introduction to “unbridled winemaking curiosity and technical exploration to our lineup. Different varietals, different techniques, and anything but predictable, these small batch experiments are made with no guarantees of a repeat next vintage. ” This completely sums up what you will experience in a bottle of their 2018 Pétillant Naturel (natural sparkling) a uniquely unpredictable sparkling experience. I loved the use of 10% Maréchal Foch (read more about my infatuation with this grape https://drinkinlife.blog/a-grape-odyssey-marechel-foch/ ) in this sparkling along with 84 % Pinot Gris and 6% Pinot Noir. Winemaker, Rachel Rose, has created a creamy, dreamy, sweet and spirited sparkling with this wine. A must try!

Chris James Cellars

Chris James Cellars ‘Prost!’ Willamette Valley Sparkling Wine 2017

I had the opportunity to enjoy a dinner at Left Coast Cellars in Rickreall, OR with Beth James during the WWET WV tour. As their 2017 Chris James Cellars ‘Prost!'(meaning “cheers” in German) Willamette Valley Sparkling Wine was being poured Beth, with a contagious amount of enthusiasm, told us a little about their journey into the world of winemaking and the conception of this delicious Oregon Sparkling wine. What made this sparkling so appealing is that it is a white blend of 60% Cider and 40% Gewürztraminer. An absolutely amazing flavor combination with sweet green apple taking center stage in both aroma and flavor. Mingled with flavors of a fresh batch of spiced applesauce you get whispers of floral notes and a refreshing dry finish. A sparkling so lovely that I could not bring myself to pour it out when the next wine needed space in my glass. So, I eagerly finished it, problem solved!

Native Flora

Native Flora Cuvée Libertus! 2015

On the last day of the WWET WV tour we were hosted at the stunning tasting room of Native Flora for lunch and a wine tasting. While enjoying views of the Willamette Valley that stretched on for miles we tasted our way through some of Native Flora’s best wines and enjoyed the story behind each bottle from Scott Flora. Saving the best for last Scott brought out a bottle of his limited production 2015 Cuvée Libertus! and he completely wowed us with this sparkling pour. This Extra Brut Sparkling is made by hand, a true Methode Champenoise, and was so refreshing and unique in flavor that when lunch was over may of us (including myself) lined up to purchase a bottle of this sparkling gem. No tasting notes here on this wine as I was so wrapped up in enjoying the glass that I did not take time to do anything else but enjoy the view, the company and the shimmering wine in my glass. If given the opportunity I would say snag a bottle of this sparkling as quick as you can.

Images © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.

Chilling in the Pacific Northwest with Cascade Ice

This post is sponsored by Cascade Ice and all products were provided. Photographs, thoughts and opinions are my own.

As in life, chill for the best results!

I first discovered Cascade Ice products when I moved to Washington State over 12 years ago. It started with their Zero Calorie Naturally Flavored Sparkling Water and then when their Organic Sparkling Water came on the market I knew I had found a new favorite beverage. Recently I became curious when I heard about Cascade Ice’s new product, a Flavored Caffeinated Sparkling Water. To be honest I gave up soda and other sugary drinks last year and I have to admit that sometimes I miss that caffeine boost in the afternoon. With my busy photography and freelance writing business I need all of the energy that I can get.

When most of my day is spent outdoors in nature, I really appreciate the Organic Flavor and Organic Caffeine in this new Sparkling Water.

A little history about this Pacific Northwest Company

Unique Beverage Company was established in 2001 by local life-time Washingtonians Mike Broadwell and Mark Christensen. Family owned and operated with more than 85 years combined experience in the bottling and beverage business, they developed Cascade Ice Sparkling Water. Many of the employees today have been with them from the beginning. From still water, to sparkling water, to sparkling water with caffeine, and a few things in the middle, they are always thinking about new and innovative products.

Taking Cascade Ice’s Caffeinated Sparkling Water on the Road.

Recently I took a road trip up to the North Cascade National Park and drove the Cascade Loop Highway with my family. I thought it would be a great opportunity to try all four flavors, Grapefruit, Citrus Twist, Black Raspberry, and Pomegranate Mango while enjoying the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Turns out it was a great alternative to an afternoon cup of coffee since the weather was in the 90-degree range.

Just Chilling by the Skagit River

These new drinks consist of only three ingredients: Carbonated Water, Natural Organic Flavor, and Organic Caffeine (derived from Organic Green Coffee Beans) giving you the #powerof3.

Enjoying the power of 3 by the Methow River in Winthrop, WA

Enjoying nature with a little sparkling water.

It is always important for me to make my go-to source of hydration throughout the day water, but sometimes you just want to enjoy something with a bit of fizz and flavor. This is when I enjoy a chilled can of Cascade Ice’s Caffeinated Sparkling Water the most, and although all the flavors are refreshing, I really love the flavor of the Organic Black Raspberry.

On a recent photo shoot, I brought some Cascade Ice Caffeinated Sparkling water with me to photograph and enjoy on a hot summer day. While setting up a shot a woman and her dog walked by and comment on the beautiful day, I replied that it was just a perfect PNW day and we struck up a conversation. Soon she asked what I was doing and I told her about my photography business and showed her the products that I was shooting that day. Well as often happens I asked if I could photograph her dog and her by the lake and she agreed, then I paid her in kind with a can of the new Sparkling Water. Needless to say she was thrilled and so was I.

Tanner was the perfect model.

Add an Organic Boost to Your Day!

The nice thing about this new sparkling water is that it is perfect if you are trying to cut out sugar and artificial ingredients from your daily diets. Plus, they’re great for a hike, outdoor picnic or just to add some flavor and sparkle to your day. The Cascade Ice Caffeinated Sparkling Water has been great during the hotter Pacific Northwest summer days, especially after a long day of work outside. Really Refreshing and did I mention Zero Calories!

You can find the new Cascade Ice Caffeinated Sparkling Water in local stores in the PNW, such as Albertson’s, Bartell’s, QFC and Safeway as well as in selected stores in several other states. This is a new product so if you don’t see it in a store near you, Ask your favorite store to stock Cascade Ice with Caffeine.

Images © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.

Walla Walla Wine Country: Dunham Cellars

Early Spring in the Walla Walla Valley Vineyards

Walla Walla Valley Wine Country in Washington state draws thousands of wine loving tourists each year with its 140 wineries, nationally recognized Pacific Northwest cuisine, and a wine country charm that is unlike anywhere else in the United States. Walla Walla offers access to an abundance of outdoor recreation, and an impressive local arts & entertainment scene. I have shared other Walla Walla wineries and wine experiences in the past, and since we are still celebrating Washington Wine Month I wanted to give a quick shout out to one more Walla Walla winery that warrants a visit when in the WW Valley.

Dunham Cellars

There is just something incredibly inviting about the Dunham Cellars, tasting room has a welcoming ‘pull up a chair and stay awhile’ feel to it.

As a teenager in the early 1980’s founding Winemaker Eric Dunham discovered his love for wine as he helped himself and enjoyed his parent’s international wine collection. Even a change of wine cellar locks could not stop Eric from finding new ways to sample the cellar’s offerings much to his parents dismay. This self introduced wine loving journey continued as Eric enjoyed numerous trips to Napa Valley over the years with a final declaration that what he wanted to do most with his life was to make wine. With a plan in place Eric worked at Hogue Cellars in Prosser, WA on a 6 month internship and soon after he was hired at L’Ecole No. 41 as their assistant winemaker. Eric began making small lots of Dunham wine at L’Ecole with winemaker Marty Clubb’s blessing and 1995 marked the first bottling of Dunham Cabernet Sauvignon. The rest, as they say, is history after Eric was introduced to David and Cheryll Blair who shared Eric’s passionate pursuit of great wines.

Dunham Cellars Winery and Tasting Room is located at 150 E. Boeing Ave. in Walla Walla, WA
The Tasting Room is open daily from 11:00am – 4:00pm.

Today Dunham Cellars invites people to their welcoming tasting room just outside of Walla Walla to try their current releases and share more about the winery’s history. During my visit I not only got to taste some of their wines but I was given a behind the scenes tour of the winery including a peak into their impressive Wine Library.

Dunham Cellar’s Amazing Wine Library

Who wouldn’t want to take home some of these library collections!

A tasting of their current releases and more!

The anticipation of the first drop from a memorable barrel tasting!
Just a few of the wines from Dunham Cellars tasting flight.

I am a big fan of Dunham Cellars red wines, especially Three Legged Red which is currently in my cellar. However, it was their selection of whites which completely WOWed me. I am continuing to find myself stepping into the role of a Washington State White Wine advocate.

Each of these wines were offered in the tasting flight, can you guess which one I took home with me?

I was instantly charmed by Dunham Cellars beautiful 2016 Late Harvest Riesling.

This stunning 2016 vintage Late Harvest Riesling grabs you attention instantly with its soft amber color even before you take a sip. For me this wine felt like Fall in a glass with spectacular notes of honey dipped pears and sweet spices. I imagined enjoying this wine with a slice of whip cream topped pumpkin pie and I am sure that is exactly what I will pair it with something this coming holiday season. The rich flavor of this wine was so beautifully rounded and delivered a lovely long finish that as I write this and remember the flavor I wish I had purchased more than one bottle. This 100% Riesling was made from grapes grown in Lewis Estate Vineyard in the Columbia Valley and is 100% stainless.

Walla Walla Wine Country never fails to amaze me with its sprawling landscape and unique Washington Wineries. I hope your travels through this wine region, you stop in at Dunham Cellars and get a taste of some true Walla Walla wine making history.

Images © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.

A Road Trip Stop in Richland, WA

When Washington Wine Country is the desired destination you leave the sky rises of Seattle behind and head East on I-90 toward the Cascade Mountains, where the peaks and grandeur of the landscape welcome you. Yet, this view changes again as you leave the mountains behind for a scattered hilltop desert region. Traversing South on I-82, the Yakima wine region offers many tempting stops. About 77 miles past Yakima, you arrive in Richland, one of the Tri-Cities of Washington Wine Country. With freckles of sagebrush, and rows of vineyards peppered among the terrain it is hard to believe that the mountains are just a couple of hours away. Washington may be the Evergreen State, however, the eastern part of Washington is prime grape country and the perfect place for a little wine tasting getaway.


Tri-Cities Washington Road Trip Times

  • 3:30 hour road trip from Seattle, WA
  • 3:45 hour road trip from Portland, OR
  • 5:45 hour road trip from Vancouver, BC
  • 2:45 hour road trip from Coeur d’Alene, ID
  • 2:00 hour road trip from Spokane, WA

The Tri-Cities region combines Richland, Kennowick and Pasco to form a hub that is surrounded by approximately 200 Washington Wineries. Travelers to the scenic wine trails are greeted by expansive landscapes of beige hills alive with vast vineyards. Outside of Richland the journey begins with a drive through this desert wine country admiring the lush vineyards that supply the bounty of grapes which the area wineries use to produce Wonderful Washington Wines.

Richland area visitors can enjoy local wines at both downtown and rural winery tasting rooms, like Double Canyon Winery located outside of Richland.

A visit to Double Canyon Winery

Double Canyon Winery in West Richland, Washington

All in the Pursuit of a Great Cabernet Sauvignon

Just in time for the 2017 harvest Double Canyon opened the doors of its new winemaking facility. Building upon the knowledge and collaboration of a small team of experts, Double Canyon used advanced technology and top- level craftsmanship to design and build a facility in a class all its own. With new tools automating temperature-control and other processes Double Canyon is able to achieve an even higher level of precision, efficiency and quality which allows complete control of every aspect of the winemaking process. The new building is also within close proximity to their Horse Heaven Hills Vineyard where Double Canyon harvests the grapes for its line of Cabernet Sauvignon.

The New Production capacity of Double Canyon’s winery is now at 50,000 cases

Within the new modern tasting room anyone with a strong appreciation for Cabernet will find an array of vintages tempting vintages, including the newest releases from Winemaker Kate Michaud.

Kate Michaud has been the Winemaker at Double Canyon since 2017.

During the visit to Double Canyon I had a behind the scenes tour, barrel tasting and wonderful chat with Kate. A highlight of our conversation was food pairing with the wines that she produces, this was made even more interesting since Kate is a vegetarian. So when the topic of pairing one of these bold Cabernet’s with a steak arises, Kate may recommend instead a Portabella Mushroom burger. Kate mentioned creating a Vegetarian Winemaker’s Dinner with a local chef someday and I hope that is something that comes to fruition.

Cabernet Sauvignon Tasting Highlights

2016 Double Canyon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 

With well balanced depth and generous flavors of cherries and cranberry this 2016 Double Canyon Vineyard Cabernet showcases the near perfect vintage. Cabernet’s growing season is perfect for Washington wine country, particularly in the vineyards around the Tri-cities. I enjoyed the complexity of this wine which evolved with each sip and expressed a long, artistic finish. This vintage retails for approximately $65.

2016 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is a show stopper and a bottle founds its way home with me to be enjoyed in a couple of years.

Intense in all the right ways the 2016 Red Mountain Cabernet offers a ensemble of smoky dark red fruit flavors mingled with spices and firm tannins. I can not wait to see how this matures over the next couple of years.

Well worth a visit, Double Canyon Winery is located at 8060 Keene Rd. in West Richland. Tasting Room Hours are Friday–Sunday 10:00am to 5:00pm. To inquire about a visit, or for any other questions regarding the tasting room call 509.579.7065. Visit Double Canyon’s Website to learn more about this Washington Winery.

Finding Some Spirit in Richland

If a change of pace is wanted later in the day than look no further than small batch distillery Solar Spirits for some environmentally conscious production
and well crafted Washington Spirits.

I first visited Solar Spirits in 2018 after reading about their innovative process and use of the highest quality Pacific Northwest ingredients. Solar Spirits “put the power of the sun in every bottle”, literally by using solar energy to power their processing equipment and stills. I return to the tasting room when in Richland to taste my favorites and try new, one of a kind Spirits, like their Coffee and Cherry Brandy.

All of Solar Spirits spirits, vodka, gin and brandy, use cranberries as their base, rather than the typical wheat or corn. The cranberries are fermented into wine before they are distilled. You don’t however get a strong cranberry flavor in these spirits, but you do get a smooth and easy sip.

This 100% renewable energy distillery is also winning some big awards with their small batch spirits. Their Eclipse Vodka won Best of Class for Vodka, Best in Category-Neutral Character Vodka and Gold, at the 2019 American Distilling Institutes’ Judging of Craft Spirits held in California.

Current products include vodka, gin, brandy and whiskey. At Solar Spirits Distillery they are “out to save the world one drink at a time”.

CEO and head distiller Jim Batdorf’s attention to detail can be attributed to his past career as a processing engineer.

Solar Spirits also recently released their American Single Malt Whiskey and it is a delightful “Whiskey made primarily with Washington Select 2-Row Malted Barley. Aged 2 years in small New American Oak barrels, finished in Solar Spirits Cherry Brandy barrels resulting in a rich, well-rounded flavor profile.”

Solar Spirits Distillery and Tasting Room is located at 2409 Robertson Drive, Richland, WA. Visit their Website to learn more.

Wining and Dining in Richland

There is an impressive choice of fine wine restaurants known for locally inspired menus in Richland, on my last visit I Wined and Dined at Fiction Restaurant located in the J. Bookwalter Winery.

J. Bookwalter has grown from one of Washington’s oldest wineries into one of the Pacific Northwest’s most recognized boutique wine brands.

J. Bookwalter Winery embraces a slow down process to the wine tasting experience with wine lounge areas and inviting grounds to explore and relax.  

The outdoor area of J. Bookwalter draws you in with relaxing wine lounge areas, Bottci Ball courts and their own gardens, flanked by beautiful vineyards and open spaces.

A meal at Fiction Restaurant is best started with one of the Wine Flights offered on the menu. For my tasting I chose The Story Flight which included three J. Bookwalter Literary Red Wines the 2016 Vintages of Conflict, Suspense, and Protagonist.

2016 Protagonist Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley A.V.A Conner Lee Vineyard was a favorite of this tasting flight. Aged 20 months in 75% new French puncheons, and 25%
used French barrels this wine was a well read blend.

The Wine Story began with the Conflict which displayed an inviting classic blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Then the Suspense began to build with this generous and smooth wine, that showcases a lush blend Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Finally the Protagonist stepped in and gave a deeper understanding of the wine story with its blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, with a little Cabernet Franc and Syrah. The perfect pairing with the Lamb Burger and Risotto that was ordered for dinner. Silky and rich in aromas and flavors this reserve Cabernet of my favorite sip of the flight.

On the Menu

Dinner began with two appetizers created by Fiction’s Executive Chef Fransisco Mendoza. A Seasonal White Bean appetizer which combined Cannellini beans and seasoning, served with homemade tortilla chips. What grabbed my attention was the delicious Chèvre and Honey Appetizer that brought together Foamed Chèvre Cheese, Toasted Baguette, Honey Drizzle and Fresh Oregano. It was the ideal appetizer for a warm Spring evening on Fiction’s outdoor patio.

A crisp and fresh Wedge Salad with Romaine Lettuce, Crisp Bacon, Tomatoes, Crumbled Gorgonzola, JB Chimichurri and Buttermilk Blue Cheese Dressing was a perfect addition to the meal.

The Main Course

Pairing perfectly with The Story wine flight and specifically The Protagonist wine was Fiction’s Upper Dry Creek Ranch Lamb Burger with Chèvre and Garlic Aioli with a side of Avocado Fries served with a Sriracha & Spicy Remoulade Sauce. All the flavors combined to make this a savory and delicious entree.

The second entree of the evening included in-season fresh Washington Asparagus along side a delectable plate of Risotto and Steak. It was hard not to appreciate the fresh organic and locally sourced ingredients on this plate.

Fiction combines a casual and friendly atmosphere with a Chef inspired, locally driven farm-to-table dining experience.

Always Save Room for Dessert

The perfect end to a well built story is always the addition of a dessert that leaves you fighting with your Dinner companion for the last bite. The Triple Berry Galette topped with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream was the ideal final chapter encore.

I have been to J. Bookwalter and Fiction Restaurant twice during visits to Richland, I will return for the ambiance and wine selection as well as the promise of new dishes on the restaurant menu. For more information about the winery and restaurant visit their website: https://www.bookwalterwines.com/

There is much more about the Richland to warrant a visit, I do hope that I given you three worthy stops to fill in a day spent in this part of the Tri-Cities area.

Images © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.

The Ebb and Flow of Washington Chenin Blanc

“Wine cheers the sad, revives the old, inspires the young, makes weariness forget his toil.”
Lord Byron

Awhile ago I posted a story on Instagram about a California Chenin Blanc blend that I really enjoyed, paired with Chips and Clam Dip to celebrate the 4th of July weekend. The post generated some great comments including this one: “I tried this wine last week and loved it! At my local wine store I asked if they had any Chenin Blanc and they said ‘How do you spell that?'” This made me laugh and didn’t necessarily surprise me. American Wine consumers have had an Ebb and Flow Relationship with Chenin Blanc dating back to the 1970’s. In specifically searching out Washington State Chenin Blanc wines for this story I have discovered the difficulty in finding the wines outside of the winery tasting rooms.

History shows that before the 1980’s and the rise of Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, there was a larger number of Vineyards in California and Washington growing Chenin Blanc. Surprisingly at one time, the United States actually had more acreage of this varietal than France. Unfortunately, a large number of these grape vines were pulled to make room for more “fashionable” grape varieties, although there are still some stronghold pockets in the United States. Fortunately, there seems to be a Chenin Blanc revival with this chameleon grape getting the notice it so rightly deserves. I think it is time to wake up from our traditional white wines slumber and again explore the possibilities of this grape.

Sometimes referred to as the “queen of grapes” in the Loire Valley of France, Chenin Blanc is a versatile white-wine grape variety that in the United States has gone in and out of favor with Wine Lovers.

Chenin Blanc is a very versatile grape, it has an incredible ability to acclimate to a variety of conditions and it can also skillfully express its regional terroir. The grape has a tendency to bud early and ripens late, which makes it a resourceful contender in the production of dry to sweet and even sparkling wines. Due to its complexity the Chenin Blanc grape can vary greatly in flavor and aroma. The most common flavors found in Chenin Blanc wine include, pear, apple, honey, melon, citrus, nuts, and even some warm spices like ginger. Chenin Blanc is such a adaptable wine and the delicious dry layers of complexity compliment an array of cuisine.

There has in recent years been a shift in the White Wines being produced in Washington State, as a growing number of uncommon grape varieties are altering white wine palates. In a state where Chardonnay and Riesling make up nearly 80% of the white wine grapes harvested each year, a new frontier is being explored with more and more white varietals. A number of Washington wineries are producing 100% vintages and blends with Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillion, Gewürztraminer, Viognier, and Chenin Blanc. Add in the Rhone Blends which include any combination of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, Ugni Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc and Picpoul and white wines may soon give Washington Reds a run for their money.

Morning light on Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain.
Photo from https://wineyakimavalley.org/upland-vineyard-winery/

A sampling of the Vineyards in Washington State that are currently growing Chenin Blanc:

  • Upland Vineyard: Upland vineyard on Snipes Mountain in Sunnyside is farmed by the Newhouse family. Their parcel of Chenin Blanc was planted in 1979 on a 25% slope, 1,000 ft elevation, facing southwest with a stunning view of Mt. Adams.
  • Willard Farms, Yakima Valley
  • Phil Church, Yakima Valley
  • Rothrock, Yakima Valley: The Rothrock vineyard in Prosser in the Yakima Valley was planted in the 1970s with Chenin Blanc. Rothrock is at 855 feet above sea level with a 15% slope. This south facing vineyard has shallow topsoil that is very fine sand and silt loam on top of basalt bedrock.
  • Pontin vineyard
  • Vineyard del Sol
  • Roza Hills Vineyard: The Chenin Blanc block at Roza Hills vineyard in Zillah was planted in 1982. The vines are on a south facing slope of the Rattlesnake Hills, 1200 feet at the highest point on Moxee series soils which is fine silt loam with chunks of decomposed basalt on top a hard layer of calcium carbonate called caliche.
  • Hahn Hill Vineyard
  • Arete Vineyards
  • Wahluke Slope
  • McKinley Springs Vineyard: This Old Vine Chenin Blanc is grown by father and son duo of Rob and Justin Andrews. Nestled in the heart of the Horse Heaven Hills, this Chenin was planted in 1981 and still yields around 3 – 3.5 tons per acre. Deeply rooted in the Warden silt loam soils around 945 feet in elevation.
Washington State AVAs
Image from Washington Wine Association Website.

In 2018 approximatly 380 tons of Chenin Blanc were harvested from Washington Vineyards.

Washington Chenin Blanc

A delicious array of some of the most recent Washington Chenin Blanc wines.

Chenin Blanc is often considered a simple, fruity wine, now some Washington wineries are taking on the challenge to make a higher quality Chenin Blanc, in a more complex dry style. During my tasting of several Washington Chenin Blanc wines last month, which are in fact very similar, each revealed a unique flavor profile authentically their own. Below are the Washington Chenin Blanc wines that I tasted for this article.

2015 Waitsburg Cellars Chevray Old Vine Chenin Blanc

Although I thoroughly enjoyed each of the Washington Chenin Blancs that I tasted during my research for this post, the Waitsburg Cellars is coming in first as my favorite.

The Chenin Blanc grapes for the 2015 Vintage of Waitsburg Cellars Chevray Old Vine Chenin Blanc were sourced in 2013 from Upland Vineyard in the heart of Yakima Valley. Upland Vineyards is located within the Snipes Mountain AVA were they have been farming wine grapes since 1968. This is a beautiful 100% Chenin Blanc single vineyard vintage that was aged in 100% neutral barrels, bottled in April and released in June of 2014. I have to admit that this Chenin Blanc really wowed me in every way. From the color to the aromatics to the flavor this wine dazzled.

With this Chenin Blanc you are immediately greeted by a alluring creamy golden hue. The aromatics on the Waitsburg Cellars Chenin are a wave of minerals and soft pear and ripe banana with hints of salt, like an ocean mist. The flavor of a banana comes through in the first sip with swirls of vanilla, almost like a subtle banana split. This wine has a gentle round sweetness, like honey on the tongue. This is a delicious well balanced Chenin Blanc and although it would pair well with many things my mind went immediately to dessert, like a White Cake with Raspberry filling and Buttercream frosting. I truly hope that Waitsburg Cellars continues to make this Chenin Blanc and I will be looking for another bottle to pair with a lovely dessert.

2017 ORR Chenin Blanc

2018 is the sixth vintage of this Old Vine Chenin, ORR used a blend of three different heritage vineyards from Washington’s Columbia Valley.

The 2018 ORR Old Vine Chenin Blanc is a 100% Chenin and was harvested from Rothrock, Upland and Roza Hills Vineyards. Aged in old French oak barrels for 5 months and stainless steel drums, this vintage has a case production of 280 cases. Winemaker Erica Orr’s Chenin Blanc is always hand picked and whole cluster pressed and Orr uses a slow native yeast fermantation to naturally add complexity to the Chenin grapes.

I was intrigued by the crisp aroma of dried pears and melon blended with a hints of herby saltiness. The color, which is a greenish gold hue, preludes the taste of this wine. Unveiled as a wine that doesn’t want to completely reveal its flavor profile, each sip appeared to introduce different layers of ripe summer pears, sweet mango, and a citrus floral nutty flavor. More mineral than fruit flavor, I loved the salty finish of this wine. Although it is a dry Chenin Blanc, you get a silky richness that with each sip I imagine enjoying with Salmon Cakes topped with a Mango Chutney. Discover more about ORR Wines at http://www.orrwines.com/ .

2016 Basel Cellars Chenin Blanc

The 2016 Basel Cellars Chenin Blanc is incredibly crisp, a perfect wine to pair with summer salads, or creamy Risotto with fresh peas and grilled prawns.

According to the Basel Cellars website this Chenin Blanc undergoes a “Cool and slow fermentation in stainless steel resulting in bright, fruit-forward notes in the bottle, which mirrors the new-world style. It is complemented well by the rich and creaminess of approximately 20% malolactic fermentation in French oak, similar to the old-world. In blending these two styles we achieve balance and finesse.”

The 2016 Basel Cellars Chenin Blanc astonished me with aromatics of salted cantaloupe and sweet honeydew melon. There were the familiar mineral notes, but I could not get past the inviting fragrance of a platter of sliced melons on a warm summer day, lightly sprinkled with sea salt and ready to devour. My first sip of this wine was little more acidic than I would have liked but this quickly changed as the wine softened and opened up allowing the true flavors of the wine to emerge. More mineral in flavor than fruit I could catch notes of the same summer melons that were on the nose, a light citrus, and some herbal undertones in this wine. This Chenin Blanc continued to evolve with each sip and toward the end I was picking up some lovely creamy orange almond flavors. This was a perfect summertime drinking Chenin Blanc.

2016 Lobo Hills Chenin Blanc

Lobo Hills Winery in Woodinville is continuing to raise the Chenin Blanc bar with their 2016 Vintage. With favorable comparisons to the Chenin Blancs produced in the Loire Valley where this iconic vinifera grape originated. With a node to the French and South African sytle of Chenin Blancs Lobo Hills is putting a lot of time and effort into producing an outstanding Washington Chenin Blanc. A nice lot of 160 cases were produced of the 2016 Vintage.

Softer in color and in aromas as the three previous wines, the Lobo Hills 2016 Vintage was almost translucent and had the most elegant softness to its aromatics. The aromas on this wine did not jump right out at me, it was as if they were playing hide and seek with me, only peaking out from each swirl to tease me. Sweet honey dipped pears blended with a herbal flower sent that made me think of cutting herbs on a summer morning underneath my pear tree. This Chenin Blanc is a dry and creamily lush with a full rich flavor of summer fruits and citrus. As with other Chenin Blancs there is a familiar flavor of minerals and freshness that you do not find in other white wine varietals. I enjoyed this wine with pasta dressed with creamy pesto sauce and served with Italian Chicken Meatballs, a delicious pairing. I hope that Lobo Hills doesn’t change what they are doing with this Chenin Blanc because it is a fantastic wine.

2016 Kiona Vineyards Chenin Blanc

Since the inaugural 1980 vintage, Chenin Blanc has been a fixture in
Kiona Vineyards’ wine portfolio.

For some wineries Chenin Blanc is one of their favorite grapes, this is because the grapes grows so well in the Yakima and the Columbia Valley. These regions are known for their temperature swings and abundance of sunshine which allows the Chenin Blanc to ripen perfectly. For this reason there is a big clamoring for this limited quantity old-vine grape. Kiona Vineyards is one of the few producers that is keeping this golden gem in demand with their popular Chenin Blanc vintages. Kiona Chenin Blanc is sourced from 75.4% Kiona Estate, Red Mountain and 24.6% Andrews Vineyard, Columbia Valley. This 100% Chenin Blanc is cold fermented in 100% stainless which gives it a sharper crisper edge when tasted against some of the other Washington Chenins.

What is surprising with this Kiona Chenin Blanc is that even though it is un-oaked you get a creamy color and aroma as if it was stored in oak. On the nose this was such a wonderful wine with vanilla, pears and yes dare I say oak notes. However, what really draws you in are aromas of creamy green pears, like a sorbet made from the ripe fruit mixed with those familiar mineral undertones. One sip of the Chenin Blanc and for a split second I could swear that I was drinking a Champagne without the bubbles. All of the flavors were there and I was completely smitten by my second sip. A little more like a creamy vanilla orange sorbet on the palate, a flavor that wraps around your tongue and gives it a gentle hug. More bottles of this fantastic wine will definitely find there way into my wine fridge in the future. It was divine. You can find out more information about Kiona Vineyards and Winery here, https://www.kionawine.com/

2017 L’Ecole No. 41 Chenin Blanc

“The pathway we chose was not necessarily the easiest, especially with some of our whites, but our old vines Chenin blanc has become one of the hottest wines in our portfolio,”
Marty Clubb: Managing Winemaker and Co-Owner of L’Ecole No. 41
Quote from an Article written by Leslie Kelly for Washington Wine Association.

Walla Walla winery L’Ecole No. 41 could definitely write the book on Washington Chenin Blanc, after all they have been producing this old vine, Vouvray-style Chenin since 1987. Sourced from four Yakima Valley Vineyards, their 100% Chenin Blanc has one of the highest case productions in the state with approx. 3900. Arguabley one of the most know Chenin Blanc wines made in Washington, L’Ecole No. 41 is continuing to show that Washington White Wines can give those bold Washington Reds a reason to sit up and take notice.

The enchanting bouquet on this wine brings up visions of an apple and pear crisp cooling on the window sill while filling the air with warm notes of vanilla and nutmeg. The palate has a evoking flavor walking through an late summer orchard while eating a freshly picked apple. An impressively bright minerality dusted with flecks of salt, gives this Chenin Blanc an memorable freshness. A classic Chenin that can be enjoyed now or tucked away to enjoy for the next five years. This wine would pair extremely well with a dessert that matches its aromas, an apple-pear crisp or a savory dish of lentils and sausage.

2018 Warr-King Chenin

I was so happy to get a taste of this new release from Warr-King Wines. Only 66 cases were produced of their first ever 2018 Chenin Blanc, which is selling fast!

My tasting of the 2018 Warr-King Chenin was an unexpected surprise when it was served at a meeting I attended in Woodinville, WA. I call it serendipity as I was just finishing my research and tastings of Washington Chenin Blancs and this wine auspiciously found its way into my glass that night. Warr-King Wines is a true boutique winery located in the warehouse district of Woodinville. They have a reputation for producing limited production, high quality wines that capture the true essence of the Washington grapes that they source.

“This beauty is our first attempt at Chenin Blanc and we are over the moon with this one” stated Warr-King Wines Owner and Winemaker Lisa Warr-King Packer. “I did not expect Chenin to be as popular as it has been. I like wines with high acidity and crispness so Chenin has always been a favorite. I am so glad this wine is making a comeback.”

This is a true summer wine with touches of citrus, pear and soft minerality on both the nose and the palate. Fermented in stainless steel at a low temperature to preserve the aromatics, this Chenin Blanc is bright, velvety and incredibly refreshing. I was captivated by this Chenin and although I tasted it without food, Lisa will tell you that it “Pairs well with oysters on the half shell, steamed clams and a back porch.” At the time of this blog posting this Chenin may already be sold out, however, if you are patient and sign up for Warr-Kings email you will be one of the first to know when the 2019 production, which Lisa plans to double, is ready. I know I will! https://warr-kingwines.com/news-and-events/

2014 Pacific Rim Chenin Blanc

Pacific Rim Chenin Blanc grapes are sourced from Hahn Hill Vineyard
which were planted in 1968.

Another Washington Chenin Blanc that I have enjoyed in the past is from Pacific Rim. This wine never disappoints and it has become a staple “go to” wine in my house when I am lucky enough to come across some bottles. Pacific Rim Chenin Blanc is aged in stainless steel tanks for 8 months prior to bottling and is a Washington Chenin not to be missed with fantastic citrus freshness and perfect balance. Made from some of the oldest Chenin Vines in the state it is a honey soaked fruit sip on a summer day kind of wine.

2014 Paradisos del Sol Winery  Sève -Chenin Blanc

Paradisos del Sol Owner and Winegrower Paul Vandenberg has been making Chenin Blanc sine 1985. Back then Paul mostly made tank fermented, residual sugar style Chenin. As with the Ebb and Flow of Washington Chenin Blanc Paul changed things up after they planted about an acre of new Chenin vines in Vineyard del Sol in 2010. These vines Paul added, “have had no pesticides of any sort applied. Zero. No sulfur, no oils, no herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, rodenticides… CB is our first cultivar never sprayed, but not the last.”

The word Sève, is a wine term which means lively, fragrant aromas with persistence. However, to understand the meaning of the word, you really need to try the wine. The Sève is fermented in barrels that are at least twelve years old, these barrels Paul says still impart oak aromatics to a Chenin Blanc. For ten months it sits on the lees, and after bottling it is aged a couple more years. The current 2014 vintage was released at the end of 2018 and it is entirely Chenin Blanc. But don’t say 100%! “100% is Technically not possible. A single drop of water in the crusher? Not 100%. 99.999% Chenin Blanc”, Paul says. When I asked about an increased interest in Chenin Blanc Paul told me, ” I do hear there is renewed interest in projects like mine, using ancient techniques and new knowledge to create dry CBs. It is well liked by visitors to our tasting room and fetches a good price. Our first, smaller vintages sold out quickly at $48 a bottle. Current production is much higher and current retail is $28. Our most expensive white.” The case production for this vintage was 104.

The 2014 Vintage is a dry Chenin, with no perceptible residual sugar ” What should you pair this current Paradisos del Sol Sève -Chenin Blanc with? Paul says it is “Killer with Thai food and corned beef hash,” which compliments its delicacy and finesse.
You can learn more about this new release on their website http://www.paradisosdelsol.com/

Save Chenin!!!!!

In addition to the Washington Wineries producing Chenin Blanc highlighted in this post there are more wineries that are keeping this grape alive in Washington. Below are a few of them and many of these Chenin Blancs are currently still available:

  • 2016 Block Wines Old Vine Gnarl Block Rothrock Vineyard Chenin Blanc (Yakima Valley)
  • 2017 WT Vintners Upland Vineyard Chenin Blanc
  • 2016 Cedergreen Cellars Columbia Valley Old Vine Chenin Blanc
  • 2017 DIVISION Chenin Blanc ‘L’ISLE VERTE’
  • 2018 Convergence Zone Sunbreak Chenin Blanc
  • 2017 Chateau Ste. Michelle Limited Release Chenin Blanc
  • 2016 Fielding Hills Chenin Blanc
  • 2018 Eye of the Needle Chenin Blanc
  • 2014 Silvara Vineyards Chenin Blanc

If I can leave you with another article to read about the danger of losing Chenin Blanc to more “popular and profitable varieties”, I would like to direct you to the July 1st, Wine Enthusiast article ‘Chenin Blanc’s New Chaper’ by Lauren Buzzeo. As winelovers we hold a strong hand in the wines that are dealt us by what we drink and how we promote the wines that we love. I would encourage you to let your local Winemakers know that you do not want to lose historical wines like Chenin Blanc and other rare grapes. Lets bring a little variety back into our lives one bottle of wine at a time.

August is Washington Wine Month!
Curious to learn more about The New Epicenter of Wine?
Washington State Wine Commission’s Website is a great resource for all of your questions about Washington Wines.

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