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The Woodinville Winers visit Garrison Creek Cellars

  • Written by Mike McClure and Terry Morse

The first time we stopped by Garrison Creek Cellars (www.garrisoncreekcellars.com) in Walla Walla we were immediately surprised by the attention to detail at both the vineyard and the winery itself.  The second time we visited it we brought some friends from Spokane who had the same initial impression that we did.

This unique well maintained boutique winery with impeccable vineyards is a must when visiting this part of the state.

This winery started based on a friendship of three young boys (Michael Murr, David March and Larry Harding) that goes back many years when they actually worked as farm hands in the 50s and 60s on the very land their winery is on today.

During our two visits David not only inspired us with his tales of the past but also let us sample right out of the barrel of what’s to come.

The winery itself is the replica of a barn that actually exists in Oregon. This is no ordinary barn.  This is a high- end facility built with a lot of planning, craftsmanship and care.

There are sections built with timbers that are more than 150 years old.  The barn alone is worth the trip and you really need to see it in person to understand its significance (photos are on their website).

Garrison Creek grapes come from the “Les Collines” vineyard in Walla Walla and experiencing them in person underscores the winery’s deep commitment to excellence.  David was clear that they want to have full control over their grapes and do what is necessary to produce the best grapes in the state.  David said they sell a majority of their grapes to other wine makers but keep the best of the best of those grapes for their own wines.

Garrison Creek Cellars is a boutique winery making only a limited number of cases per variety each year.

Their wines are slow to arrive to market as they will not release anything before its time. We tasted and bought the now sold out 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon (only 392 cases) and the sold out 2007 Zinfandel (only 150 cases).

The 2006 Cabernet was distinguished by an early, hot summer allowing the grapes to reach full ripeness by mid-October. After 10 days of primary fermentation, they pressed the new wine off the grape skins into new French oak barrels to begin the long, slow aging process. The wine was in the barrels for 31 months before being bottle aged for another 30 months before release.  This wine was nothing less than fabulous.

The 2007 Zinfandel had 19 months in the barrel and another 18 months of bottle aging before it was released. It was one of the best Washington Zinfandels have ever tried.

Garrison Creek Cellars might be one of the many newer wineries in the state, but they are quickly becoming one of the premier wineries in Washington as well.  Another unique aspect to Garrison Creek is that David makes an incredible pate that we enjoyed while tasting some of their fabulous wines.

Tastings are by private tour or appointment only.  You can arrange a tasting or tour by contacting David March by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .  Tastings are $10 each and are applied toward any purchase of wine.  Their wines run $45 and up but are well worth it.

They also offer some of their earlier library editions for those who missed out on their original release.

October is Arts Crush month

  • Written by Deborah Stone
It’s official. Arts Crush, the annual month-long festival of exciting and innovative arts events, has begun.  In its third year, the festival offers over 150 activities representing all disciplines of the arts (music, visual art, literature, dance and theater) at dozens of venues around Puget Sound.

More than 130 arts groups are represented including Book-It-Theatre, Seattle Storytellers’ Guild, Splinter Dance Company, Seattle Pro Musica, UMO, Global Heat, Brownbox Theatre, Pacific Play Company, Theatre Puget Sound, The Mahogany Project, Frye Art Museum, Seattle Girls’ Choir, Ottoman Belly Dance, Words of Welcoming Salmon Homecoming Project, Taproot Theatre Company and many more.

They will be producing once-in-a-lifetime, never-to-be-repeated events that are outside of the standard gallery shows, theatre performances and dance recitals.

“We chose these activities based on specific criteria,” says Sam Read, Arts Crush director and deputy director of Theatre Puget Sound, the producing organization for the festival.

“They had to involve a collaborative effort between two or more entities, engage the community in a unique manner and, of course, be highly innovative and unique.”

The festival will offer a series of free feature events, pay-what-you-can performances, two-for-one date night ticketed shows and a number of free, ticketed activities that will be available via a ticket lottery. There’s even a special Kid Crush, with dozens of youth/family-oriented programs featuring hands-on workshops, demos, participatory performances and original productions.

“We have something for everyone,” adds Read, “hundreds of creative arts adventures that have been developed with the aim of reawakening the senses.”

Arts Crush evolved from Live Theater Week, an event geared toward celebrating Seattle-area drama.

“It was very successful,” comments Read, “but we began to get all sorts of arts organizations that wanted to participate. After five years, we ended Live Theater Week and launched Arts Crush with the intent to increase awareness and public involvement with the incredible arts scene we have in this region.”

Last year, over 12,000 enthusiastic “Arts Crushers” participated in the festival, up from 10,000 the first year.

The response, according to Read, was overwhelmingly positive.

“People eat it up,” he says. “They relish the experience of doing something different, like watching a play being performed in a hotel bedroom, for example, or seeing acrobats in the windows of a downtown business.”

He adds, “I think it’s more about the out-of-the-box experience than the actual content of the performance that gets them excited.”

Other interesting locales for the events include the kitchen of the Rainier Valley Cultural Center, Third Place Books, the streets of Seattle’s International District, Northwest African American Museum, Epiphany Parish, Des Moines Library and Freeway Park. Venues from Bellingham to Olympia are involved, allowing people all over the region to participate.

“This is an all-encompassing festival,” remarks Read, “and as it grows, the arts community is getting hooked on connecting with the public in new and different ways. Organizations are seeing the need to get in touch with our communities, as they are beginning to see the audience, not as passive viewers, but more as active collaborators. I think in the long term this will have an impact on audience engagement and hopefully ticket sales.”

Arts Crush runs through the month of October. For more information: www.artscrush.org.

The Woodinville Winers visit Airfield Estates

  • Written by Mike McClure and Terry Morse

Besides enjoying a tasting room, our visit to Airfield Estates (www.airfieldwines.com) had the added bonus of being a bit of a history lesson – almost as if we were visiting both a winery and a museum in one. That’s because the first thing you notice when entering the tasting room is a historical aviation and military theme.

The reason for this is that all of the Airfield Estate vineyards are situated near an old World War II airbase at the foot of the Rattlesnake Mountains in the Yakima Valley. Construction of the airbase commenced in the latter part of 1941 and the buildings erected on the site included a 70-foot water tower, several airplane hangars, a mess hall, barracks and several smaller storage buildings. Three dirt runways were also formed, each of which was over a half mile long. The pilots trained primarily on bi-winged Stearman Airplanes. The airbase continued operations until the mid 1940s. Shortly after World War II came to an end, the buildings were auctioned off to the highest bidder and the only bidder was H. Lloyd Miller. Little did the Miller family know – the Rattlesnake Mountains were destined for growing grapes.

The first grape vines were planted by Don Miller in 1968. Today, the vineyards now span over 860 acres and include 27 different varieties of grapes. This means that all of the wines that Airfield offers are 100 percent estate grown fruit with a little bit of aviation history thrown in. In fact, to this day two of the original airbase hangars still exist and are used as a workshop and storage facilities.

Greeting us at the tasting bar was Ellisa, who poured us four whites and four reds. The wines all have really interesting labels with a historic aviation theme.  Ellisa also introduced us to Ross, who had a picture of all four of his sons on the wall —  all from different branches of the military. To complete the theme, tasting next to us was Jim, a United States Marine. We felt honored to be tasting wine with such an impressive group of people.

Our favorite white was the 2011 Flygirl White, which is a blend of Viognier, Semillon and Pinot Gris.  This is a red wine drinker’s white as it wasn’t overly sweet. Instead it is crisp and dry with flavors of melon and citrus fruit. It would make a great wine on a hot day with lighter food such as salad, seafood or poultry.

Also of note was the 2010 Reserve Chardonnay which is aged in oak for 11 months. Flavors of citrus, lemon and cream were apparent. If you like a sweeter wine, try the 2011 Riesling.

Of the reds, there was a tie for our favorite. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from 20-year-old vines and showcased layers of cherry, blackcurrant and toasted oak. This wine is fruit forward and full bodied so would pair well with a good steak or foods with more robust flavors. Also a favorite for us was the signature Aviator blend. This Super-Tuscan blend had hints of both cherry and spice.

Airfield is located on the southeast corner of the main roundabout in the Tourist District of Woodinville. Tastings are $5 per person and they are open from 12-5 p.m. on weekdays and 11-6 p.m. on weekends (Fri, Sat, & Sun).

The Woodinville Winers Visit Gorman Winery

  • Written by Mike McClure and Terry Morse

One of the things that we have learned about the various wineries and tasting rooms in Woodinville is that there are many pleasant surprises awaiting you. The day we wandered into Gorman Winery (19501 144th Ave. NE, C500) we got one of those surprises.We were fortunate to run into Chris Gorman who was just heading out as we walked in. Chris is an energetic person with a lot of passion for both food and wine.  He even mentioned he would someday love to open an old-fashioned steak house in Woodinville.  Stay tuned for that.

Chris traveled extensively in his earlier years in Italy, Spain and Germany learning as much as he could about their wines.

Chris is not one to compromise on his wines.  He has a certain philosophy “that to make wine you must first understand wine” and that quality is the most important aspect of wine producing, no matter what.  He started his winery in 2002 with a goal of focusing on producing some of the best wines in the world by taking advantage of the great grapes that Washington state grows.  He is convinced that our state can compete with any region in the world, and his wines demonstrate that fact by consistently getting between 92 and 95 points.

The new Gorman tasting room is located at The Station in the Tourist District, right on the main roundabout.  The tasting room was well appointed with simple but inviting decor. They even had a pinball machine in the corner and an electric guitar hanging on the wall with a small amplifier next to it.  It was fitting that they were playing rock-and-roll music in the background (AC/DC as we recall).

Joan Dunlop was our host for the tasting and handled all of our detailed questions with ease.  We were able to taste a variety of his wines starting with “The Big Sissy Chardonnay 2010.” This is 100 percent Chardonnay from the Conner Lee Vineyard. It is barrel fermented in new French oak and was a great way to start the tasting. We then moved on to “Zachary’s Ladder,” a three grape blend with a bit of a grassy taste.  It is named after Chris’s son, who used to sit on the bottom rung of the ladder while Chris worked on the wine.  This was the best value wine we tasted of the day priced at $30.

However, our favorites of the day include “The Bully Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain 2008” (93 point WS) which is 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 percent Petite Verdot.  It is aged in 100 percent new French oak.  Also a favorite was “The Evil Twin, Red Mountain 2009” (95 points WS) which is 70 percent Syrah and 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and also aged in 100 percent new French oak.  Our last favorite was “The Albatross” (95 points WS) which is 66 prcent Cabernet Sauvignon and 34 percent Petit Verdot.  It had earthy overtones with a hint of licorice.  You know you are in a quality tasting room when you have three “favorites.”   All of these wines are, as you would expect, made in limited quantities.

Gorman Winery should be on everyone’s list when tasting wines in Woodinville.  Their wines run on the upper end of pricing (from $30 to $80) but are well worth it.

The Woodinville Winers Visit Naches Heights

  • Written by Mike McClure and Terry Morse

On a sunny spring weekend, the Winers decided to make a trip to Yakima to visit Naches Heights, which is both a new winery (www.nachesheights.com) and Washington state’s latest American Viticultural Area (AVA).

What is an AVA you ask? An AVA is a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States distinguishable by geographic features, with boundaries defined by the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

Naches Heights was officially recognized in January of 2012 and is Washington state’s 12th AVA. Currently just over 37 acres of wine grapes are planted in the new AVA, making it the smallest planted wine region in the state.

Both the winery and the AVA were created by Phil and Barbara Cline.  Phil (aka “The Big Kahuna”) was born and raised on the Heights, and his family had always farmed the land around his home. Barbara has been Phil’s better half now for over 25 years, also coming from Yakima.  Barbara is the architect responsible for the striking Naches Heights tasting room.

The first thing you notice when approaching Naches heights is the “green” theme, on which Phil passionately educated us. Naches Heights is located on an elevated geologic formation, made of rich volcanic soil, which reduces winter damage to vineyards and is ideal for sustainable farming. All seven vineyards in Naches Heights grow their grapes using organic, biodynamic or LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) certification program practices, making Naches Heights Washington state’s first exclusively sustainable AVA.  In addition, the winery building that Barbara designed is green- certified with specifications such as radiant floors and solar/wind energy.

Phil started us off with three white wines, which we were especially interested in tasting as they were recommended by our favorite Woodinville winemaker before the trip.

Naches makes a Pinot Gris, a Riesling and a white blend called Can Can.  Our favorite was the Riesling, which was not overly sweet and had aromas of lime, jasmine and green apple.

We then moved on to the Reds, including a Cabernet Franc, a Syrah and a red blend called Two Dancers (what is with the dancing theme anyway?). Our favorite of the reds was the Syrah (their fifth release) which had dark berry flavors combined with a hint of spicy pepper.

After buying some wine, we took in the incredible surroundings of Naches heights from the pergola near the vineyard and listened to the sounds of four onsite waterfalls. Views of the rolling hills surrounding the area are incredible and we recommend that you consider making this a picnic stop if you are ever in the area.  Naches Heights would also make a great location for an event and hosts many weddings throughout the year.

On a side note, if you are a golfer, consider making a stop at Apple Tree Resort (www.appletreeresort.com) as well.

We played this course the following day and feel compelled to mention its striking landscaping carved out of apple and cherry orchards.  You can’t get much better than a sunny weekend of wine tasting and golf.

Our experience at Naches Heights was the best in the Yakima area. The wines, the people and the tasting room are all very inviting. Prices range from $13 to $28. The tasting room is open from Thursday through Monday and on Tuesday/Wednesday by appointment.