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.

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

Exploring Walla Walla Wine Country: Pepper Bridge Winery

The history of Pepper Bridge Winery in Walla Walla Washington began 30 years ago when Norm McKibben, a founding father of Walla Walla’s wine industry, realized the region’s great grape-growing potential. It was in 1989 when McKibben, his wife Virginia, and their eldest son Shane, broke ground and planted their first vineyard. Two years later, the McKibben’s added Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to land adjoining the family’s high-density plantings of exotic apples. It was actually apples that led McKibben to Walla Walla in 1985, after retiring from 25 years working as a civil engineer. However, after his introduction to Mike Hogue, a man he credits as a mentor, McKibben took the plunge into the world of wine and the seeds of Pepper Bridge Vineyard were sown. At first, it was all about growing and selling grapes to other Walla Walla wineries. As the vineyards McKibben planted continued to grow, so did a new idea about producing his own wine from his much sought after grapes.

Norm McKibben, respected grower/vintner of Pepper Bridge Winery, is the only person to have served as a director on both the Washington State Wine Commission and the Oregon Wine Board. In 2017 Mckibben received the Washington Winegrowers Lifetime Achievement Award. McKibben, now 82 is still the managing partner at Pepper Bridge.

With the decision of opening a own small winery of his own McKibben put his construction engineering background to work. Plans to build everything on site to make the winery function and run as smoothly as possible soon materialized. For the better part of a year, McKibben regularly traveled and checked out wineries in California to get a glimpse of the good and the bad, to see what worked and what didn’t. Then in 1998 with a plan to build the best winery facility in Walla Walla, McKibben officially launched Pepper Bridge Winery , in partnership with Anheuser-Busch veteran Ray Goff. A year later, third-generation Swiss winemaker Jean-François Pellet joined the team. At the time it was the 18th Winery in the Walla Walla Valley, today the valley has over 140 wineries.

Together McKibben, Goff and Pellet designed a cutting edge winery to fulfill their dreams.

During my tour of the wine making facility it was clear that an extraordinary amount of attention and detail went into planning the functionality of the building. The three level winery is built into a hill and each part of the building utilizes innovative techniques and design to enhance the quality of the crafted wine. This building is home to Washington states first state-of-the-art gravity-flow facility and includes subterranean caves. The gravity flow winery moves the grape pulp and juice from the sorting table, to the tanks and finally to the barrels by way of gravity as opposed to pumps.

The underground barrel room is an amazing site, adorned with a beautiful wall mural depicting harvest time in the vineyards.

Rows up on rows of wine barrels line the long expanse of the underground barrel room, holding soon to be bottled promises of past vintages.

It is hard not to dream of a Wine Library like the one at Pepper Bridge Winery

My favorite part of the Pepper Bridge Winery tour, as with many winery tours, was getting a look at the Wine Library Room. These rooms are filled with more than just bottles of wine, they also hold the memories of countless individuals who have enjoyed the wines within these walls.

Food & Wine Pairing at Pepper Bridge

Next time I visit Pepper Bridge Winery I will be scheduling one of their
Food & Wine Pairings.

Here is information: Experience Pepper Bridge Winery in a whole new way with a Food & Wine Pairing Class. Begin your tour on the back patio with a view of the estate vineyards followed by a private seated tasting in the library. A local chef will prepare a selection of small dishes that will be paired with each wine to show you how the components interact with one another for a more enjoyable experience on your palate. Learn to appreciate the full breadth of our wines and how to expertly pair with different foods.

Price: $60/pp plus tax; $48/pp for Club Members Duration: 90 minutes
Appropriate for those 21+ years of age
Hours: Friday & Saturday;  11am and 2pm

Wine, like food, is so emotional. If you think about it, so much of the courting ritual is surrounded by wine and food. There’s a built-in romance to wine. –Padma Lakshmi

After the Tour I was excited to begin the Wine Tasting.

Wine Tasting Flight

The wine tasting flight included five of the Pepper Bridge Wines that are currently available: 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, 2016 Merlot, 2016 Trine, 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon.

The 2018 Sauvignon Blanc was full of rich and prominent fruit components that instantly intrigued me.

2018 Sauvignon Blanc

A blend of 93% Sauvignon Blanc and 7% Sémillon this Sauvignon Blanc is alive with the aroma of ripe stone fruit and a collection of tropical fruits that mingle together with a dash of salinity and earthy mineral undertones. Each sip brings with it those same tropical fruit notes and a long bright mineral taste that is perfectly balanced with the acidity of this wine. Full and On the palate, bright acidity highlights tropical fruit notes with lingering minerality. Full and rich on the tongue I knew that I could not leave with out a bottle of this Sauvignon Blanc. Only 344 cases were produced.

2016 Pepper Bridge Merlot

The first production of Pepper Bridge Estate Merlot was in 1999.

I was excited to try this 2016 vintage of the Merlot after enjoying the 2015 last year. This wines aroma ushers in complex whispers of dark fruit; plums and sweet black cherries, wrapped in notes earth and dried leaves. Flavors of fresh dark wild blueberries and red raspberries, give way to chocolate covered cherries and warm spices. Each sip is a silky mouthful of soft tannins and a long velvety finish. I loved this Merlot and purchased a bottle to store and enjoy in the next few years.

2016 Pepper Bridge Trine

A ‘Trine’ is defined as a close group of three, and Pepper Bridge’s Trine wine celebrates the bond of the three Pepper Bridge families: the McKibbens, Goffs and Pellets.

Trine is Winemaker Jean-François Pellet’s creative blend, a wine that allows his expression combining a vintage that contains the Bordeaux’s traditional five red grapes. This really is one of my favorite Pepper Bridge Wines, I have a bottle of the 2015 Vintage stored away for a future day. The 2016 did not disappoint with a strong introduction of Cabernet Franc notes both on the nose and on the palate. A blend of 35% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec, this wine shines with notes of bright red raspberry and dark currants on the nose. Melding with the fruit fragrance is a wonderful boutique that combinations herbs and floral scents. All of these scents dance with a light note of pleasing robust red fruits that are swimming in a forest of earthy warmth. Smooth and velvety with tannins that roll around the tongue into a balanced and rich finish. 

2016 Pepper Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon

At Pepper Bridge their Cabernet Sauvignon has been crafted every year since their inception in 1998. It is a flagship wine for Pepper Bridge and with every distinctive vintage, winemaker Jean-François Pellet employs a blend of Bordeaux varietals. The 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon is an elegantly confident wine that showcases dark, rich fruit, and holds a lot of promise in the years to come.

2012 Pepper Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon

This 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon has won numerous awards and accolades for its robust flavor and exceptional sustainability. Strong on the Cabernet Sauvignon with 76%, then blend also includes 9% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec and 4% Petit Verdot. I instantly loved this Cab Sauv and it’s tempting aromas of dark ripe fruit, forest floor and crushed dried herbs. After a first sip of this expressive wine I knew that I wanted to also bring a bottle home to tuck away. Displaying impressive layers of plum, blueberry and blackberry wrapped in blankets of cocoa and minerals this wine surrendered to a collection of richly smooth tannins and a sophisticated finish.

A trip to Walla Walla would not be complete without a visit to Pepper Bridge Winery and the gorgeous country where it is located. Perched on a hill with magnificent views of the estate vineyards; Pepper Bridge, Seven Hills and Les Collines, these are some of the most famed vineyards in Washington. My visit to The Pepper Bridge Winery was both insightful and educational. There was so much to learn about how McKibben and the rest of the Pepper Bridge family helped make Walla Walla Wine country what it is today. Thank you to everyone on the Pepper Bridge team who made this visit memorable. I can’t wait to visit again!

Pepper Bridge Winery also has a tasting room in Woodinville, where you can taste their current releases and wines from their sister winery Amavi Cellars. The shared tasting room is located at 14810 NE 145th St, Building A-3, Woodinville, WA.

Pepper Bridge Winery is located at 1704 JB George Rd, Walla Walla, WA. For more information about Pepper Bridge Winery and the wine releases that a currently available for purchase visit http://www.pepperbridge.com/

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

Life is more than just a bowl of Cherries!

“Life is just a bowl of Cherries; Don’t make is serious; Life’s too mysterious.” Life is just a bowl of Cherries: Song by Doris Day

I have often thought July should really be National Cherry Month instead of February. After all in the Pacific Northwest and especially in Washington State that is when the cherries season begins. Washington is the top producer of Cherries grown in the United States with two varieties, Sweet Red and Rainier Cherries making up the majority of the 10 commercially produced types of Cherries. There is a National Cherry Day in the United Kingdom that is celebrated on July 16th, but no National Cherry day is celebrated in the United States. There are national cherry food days, but nothing that gives this beautiful fruit the celebration that it truly deserves in the month of its harvest. For this reason I am declaring my own Cherry celebration with some recipes that bring out the natural flavor of this sweet fruit.

What is Celebrated in July is a collection of popular cocktails. July 10th was Pina Colada day, today July 11th is National Mojito Day, and the 19th is National Daiquiri Day. Fresh Ripe Cherries can bring a bright and refreshing twist to homemade cocktails with their robust sweet flavor and striking color.

Cherry & Mint Simple Syrup

A delicious Cherry & Mint Simple Syrup can be used in both of the following cocktail recipes. To prepare the simple syrup begin by boiling 1 cup of water and 1 cup of granulated sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add 1 1/2 cup of pitted crushed cherries and 20 fresh mint leaves. Let it set and cool for 30 minutes, then strain and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Celebrating National Mojito Day with a Washington Cherry Mojito.

The mojito is a traditional Cuban highball, and is rumored to be a drink favored by the author, Ernest Hemingway.

yield: 4 TO 6 COCKTAILS

1 1/2 cups pitted fresh cherries (reserve a few for garnish)
½ cup Cherry & Mint Simple Syrup
2 limes
8 ounces white rum
club soda, chilled
ice cubes

In a blender or food processor, blend chilled simple syrup and cherries. Pour through a strainer, discard the cherry pulp and keep the sweetened cherry juice.

Place 4 to 5 mint leaves in the bottom of 4 to 6 tall glasses. Squeeze half a lime into each glass. Add 2 ounces of rum to each glass. Use a muddler (or the handle of a wooden spoon) to smash the mint leaves, lime juice and rum together. Divide the sweetened cherry juice between the four glasses. Top each drink off with chilled club soda. Stir and add an ice cubes, garnish with fresh cherries and mint leaves.

If life gives you lemons return them and ask for cherries and make a Cherry Mojito!

A frosty and sweet Cherry Daiquiri with a chocolate twist.

A Cherry Daiquiri that is fun and refreshing, served this Frozen Daiquiri with a scoop of Tillamook Chocolate Cherry Fudge Ice Cream for a spiked float.

Frozen Cherry Daiquiri

1 cup cherry juice (I used the Simple Truth Brand Dark Cherry Juice, do not use tart cherry juice).
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
3/4 cup white rum
2 cups frozen sweet cherries (pit cherries and freeze overnight)
1/2 cup Cherry & Mint Simple Syrup
Chocolate Cherry Ice Cream or Vanilla ice cream
Start by making the Cherry ice cubes as they need time to freeze. Pour one cup of cherry juice into an ice cube tray (approximately 12 ice cubes) and freeze until solid.
Place 1/2 cup cherry juice, cherry & lime simple syrup, lime juice, rum, frozen cherries, and all of the cherry juice ice cubes into a blender. Blend until completely combined and slushy. If desired, add additional plain ice cubes to thicken it or additional chilled cherry juice to thin it out to meet your desired consistency. Serve immediately. Add a scoop of ice cream to make a decadent float.

“Never economize on the small luxuries of life. Drinking fine wine and eating chocolate won’t solve your problems – but they won’t hurt either.” -Ernie J Zelinski

It is no secret that chocolate and cherry make great flavor companions. For a quick and delicious chocolate and wine pairing dessert make a batch of Roasted Cherry Dark Chocolate Brownies, but lets booze those cherries up before roasting for some extra flavor.

Prior to roasting the cherries I selected a Barrel Finished Honey Spirit from Up North Distillery to soak the cherries. Place the cherries in a mason jar and fill with a selected spirit for at least an hour.

Roasted Cherry Dark Chocolate Brownies

1 cup fresh pitted cherries (soaked in the spirit of your choice)
Ghirardelli Ultimate Fudge brownie mix (prepared according to directions)
Ice Cream
Drain the cherries and cut in half. Sprinkle with raw or brown sugar and roast at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.
Prepare brownie mix. Remove cherries from the oven and reduce oven temperature according to brownie directions.
Mix cooled cherries into the brownie batter and bake according to brownie directions. Top with ice cream!

This brownie is made even better with a scoop of the same Tillamook Chocolate Cherry Fudge Ice Cream used in the Frozen Daiquiri recipe.

The Cherries and Chocolate lead nicely to a pairing with a Zinfandel.

1000 Stories Bourbon Barrel Aged Zinfandel

This tangy and balanced wine is full of intense red fruit aromas with swirls of spice and pepper. Luscious deep blackberry and spice flavor mingled with the smokiness of the new bourbon barrel aging make for a perfect pairing with the Roasted Cherry Dark Chocolate Brownies.

Celebrating Cherry Season doesn’t get any sweeter than this.

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