Proof of Kimberlea Miller’s support of the Washington state wine industry is apparent in her Twitter handle — @SipInWashington.
In the shadow of Mount Si, Miller sets the stage for a uniquely personal evening with Wildflower Bistro, featuring ingredients for a farm-to-table supper while also casting a spotlight on the burgeoning Snoqualmie Valley wine industry.
“I want to take simple food and make it beautiful,” she says.
At just six tables inside because of the pandemic restrictions, and three more outside — weather-permitting — Miller offers something between a chef’s table and a familial dining experience in downtown North Bend, about 10 miles from where she grew up in Fall City.
“I want to create a place where people can just sit and drink beautiful Washington state wine and talk to each other. Have a date. There are no TVs, and if I could, I would hold up a bowl at the door and say, ‘Put your cell phones in,’ ” Miller said with a chuckle. “The food is all fresh and local. It is not held in a hot pan, so our food will take a moment to cook.”
It’s no surprise Miller passionately supports Snoqualmie Valley wines, and she lists and/or retails at least one bottling from nearly each of its nine wineries.
Orenda Winery in nearby Carnation — Wine Press Northwest’s 2020 Washington Winery to Watch — has several wines at Wildflower Bistro, including the 2017 Merlot and 2016 Balance Red wine, which both won gold medals at this summer’s Cascadia International Wine Competition.
“Kimberlea is passionate in her support of Washington wine and fresh, locally sourced meats and produce,” said Samantha Kent, winemaker/co-owner of Orenda. “We first met Kimberlea at our grand opening in 2019 when she enthusiastically became our first culinary partner featuring our Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Balance red wines on her glass pour and bottle menus and sourcing our local honey as well.
“Over the last year, we have partnered for multiple events both at her bistro and our winery and always look forward to tasting her new seasonal dishes,” Kent added.
Miller’s enthusiasm is genuine and infectious, and evidence of her inspiration includes her days as a wine blogger and playing host to wine events.
“In 2013, I toured the Washington state wine industry interviewing vintners and producers to share their stories with the public in my Sip in Washington blog,” she said. “A big break came when I was invited as the only non-restaurant or winery to have a booth at the inaugural Snoqualmie Valley SipFest.”
Three years later, Miller became a full-fledged member of the Washington wine industry by opening Wildflower Wine Shop, and she’s built a local following.
“People will come in and say, ‘Kimberlea knows what I like to drink.’ And they call me for advice, too,” Miller said. “I want to provide that for them.”
She grew up in the hospitality industry, raising her five children while working years for family-owned Lombardi’s Italian Restaurants and founder Diane Symms, a past president of the Washington State Restaurant Association.
“She’s like a mother to me,” Miller said. “Diane put her arms around me and coached me when she found out I was going to open my own restaurant. I learned all the concepts from her, and I became good friends with customers. That’s my job, right? And I’m good at pairing wine with food.”
Understandably, Miller gravitated to wines from Italy, and she’s still got a weakness for pricey Amarone. It was just seven years ago she slowly came to know and love wines grown in the Columbia Valley and made in the Snoqualmie Valley. Now, she kicks off the holiday season with an annual dinner that features a handful of local winemakers pouring for her guests.
“I began telling people, ‘This is awesome wine, and it’s right here in our valley,” Miller said.
Wildflower Bistro began in downtown North Bend as a wine shop that complemented its array of Washington wines by providing small plates at the historical McClellan Building. By the end of 2017, Miller moved Wildflower into North Bend’s old firehouse, taking over a space that had operated as Piccola Cellars. In those days, Wildflower and Miller partnered with JazzClubsNW on events in North Bend.
“To be honest, the fire station was a little bit big for me,” said the mother of five.
Last summer provided Miller with a homecoming of sorts as she moved back into the McClellan. She and her husband, Michael, rebranded it as the 10-table Wildflower Bistro that now temporarily seats 24. And JazzClubsNW is on the other side of the building. She recently teamed up with Texas-trained chef James Cameron Sturgis, whose Seattle résumé includes time working for the Opper Melang Restaurants group and Edouardo Jordan, the two-time James Beard Award-winning chef.
“Kimberlea has created an intimate experience,” Sturgis said. “There will be just two of us, one working the floor and me in the kitchen. Kim’s wine knowledge is there, and I can come out and get some face time with each table. You are not going out for a bite of food. We’ve had people with us for four or five hours — just because they can. That’s something pretty novel, I think.”
Early on, Miller’s cuisine came with a Greek flair because of the family background of her original business partner, Denise Romary. While the focus of Wildflower always has been on organic and local ingredients, her cadre of vendors has grown.
“And I change the wine list quarterly,” she said.
Vegetables come from Steel Wheel Farms. Bybee Farm supplies her blueberries. Lavender is grown in Fall City. Painted Hills natural beef and other meats are cut in Fall City at the Farmhouse Market. And the Omama Handmade Homestyle Steak Sauce served at Wildflower is created by Ben Cockman, who founded Mt. Si Sports + Fitness.
Meanwhile, Wildflower Bistro continues to operate as Wildflower Wine Shop. The shelves feature the likes of DeLille, Gorman, Hedges, Novelty Hill, Tamarack and Warr-King as well as nice values from Andrew Latta’s Disruption Wine Co., Nine Hats, Thurston Wolfe, Townshend and Treveri bubbles.
And, of course, Wildflower offers the new Bear Cub 2016 Red Wine by Kyle MacLachlan, the star of Twin Peaks, who has been producing wine in Walla Walla since 2005.
“I’m just blown away by the quality of wines and the variety that this state has to offer,” said Sturgis, who grew up in Dallas.
On Miller’s dinner menu, there are a number of gluten-free options, an approach she’s refined over the years because Brittany Linn Lowe, her daughter, is sensitive to gluten.
“Chef Brittany is the one who came in and helped me open the kitchen,” Miller said. “Many of the menu items originated with her.”
A recent setback has Lowe on sabbatical and prompted Miller to recruit Sturgis, who moved to the Northwest three years ago for its culinary and music scene. Understandably, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the late Texas blues guitarist, is at the top of this pianist’s inspirational figures. Muddy Waters is another.
Miller refers to him as “the singing chef.”
“Music is my first love, but my joke for that is that it’s the only thing that makes less money than cooking,” Sturgis dead-panned. “I made it to a couple of the bigger restaurants in Seattle, but once the COVID stuff hit, my partner and I and our baby moved out to Enumclaw.
“I started looking for a smaller spot that was doing the same sort of concept that I wanted to do. That’s Kimberlea,” he continued. “She was already serving this awesome, really fresh and vibrant food. We’re getting almost 100 percent of our produce from Fall City. That’s as local and as fresh as it can get.”
And Sturgis’s talent stands out on such a tiny stage.
“Because of this COVID we’re in, it’s going to be limited tables for anyone anyway,” Sturgis said. “What this does is allow me to give more care to each individual dish. We’re doing scallops, oysters, steak and my Shrimp and Scallop Veracruz, which is more of a paella. I’m still able to do Creme Brûlée in the old classic French style because so many guests were asking for it.”
Each table that makes a reservation will be greeted with an amuse-bouche that Sturgis whips up using something local and fresh that day. And because Wildflower Bistro is open just five days a week with a focus on dinner, Sturgis stays refreshed.
“She gives me a lot of creative freedom, and we collaborate on the wine pairings, which I really enjoy doing,” Sturgis said. “It’s been a really awesome experience. We want to support our neighboring farms, so we’re not tagged into any specific type of cuisine.”
For those who look to Yelp for help when selecting a restaurant, at press time Wildflower Bistro had 17 reviews — all of them five stars — since its relaunch in August 2019. Compliments and stellar ratings abound on other platforms, too.
“Before I was here, Kim was doing the food and people loved it,” Sturgis said.
Miller and Sturgis collaborated on their Snoqualmie Valley-focused Match Maker assignments, which opened with the Orenda Winery 2019 Fumé Blanc from the Columbia Valley. They selected Oysters Rockefeller, with the star of the show being acclaimed Hama Hama Farm oysters, sourced from Hood Canal by the family of Wildflower Bistro’s lone server — Ashley Bratton.
“Oysters Rockefeller, also known regionally as Oysters Florentine, is a simple but elegant dish originating in New Orleans,” Sturgis explained. “Our take on it is sure to be a fresh but satisfying hit, even among those hesitant to eat oysters, as a bright summer dish or as a rich and heated cold weather starter.”
Since Kent’s work at Orenda with Sauvignon Blanc included a bit of oak, she and her husband, Xander, decided to pay tribute to the late Robert Mondavi’s catchy name for his barrel-influenced work in Napa with the white Bordeaux. And the bright citrusy profile of the Orenda example establishes the theme. Underlying support of oak nuances show with toffee and vanilla that still allows for some of the inherent salinity in the oysters.
The Château NoElle 2018 Hollywood Hill Vineyard Estate Revelation Pinot Noir showed its versatility with both the oyster dish and Miller’s Blackened Ribeye. It offers plenty of fruit, nicely managed tannins and responsibly low alcohol, yet it stands up to the local Omama steak sauce.
“Pinot is said by some people to be the most versatile food wine,” Château NoElle winemaker Tom Wilson said. “Most consumers think that Pinot Noir is not a steak wine.”
Miller and her team pack a delicious amount of Snoqualmie Valley and Washington pride into its five hours of dinner dining five days a week starting at 4 p.m. And as a result of requests, Wildflower recently began offering brunch on Saturday and Sunday.
“I’m a foodie. I love going out to eat, but it drives my husband crazy because I’m always thinking about ways to improve our restaurant,” Miller said. “I also have four grandkids, and I love working out at the dojo. I was blessed to go with my 14-year-old son and get our black belts in taekwondo together.
“And of course, I always love to drink wine,” she added. “Why am I sitting here talking to you with no glass of wine in my hand?”
Château NoElle Vineyards & Winery 2018 Hollywood Hill Estate Revelation Pinot Noir, Puget Sound, $42 — 130 cases, 12.5% alc.
Last year, Tom and Lorrie Wilson earned their first career Platinum from Wine Press Northwest for Château NoElle, and they used Pinot Noir they harvested in 2017 to get there. And while their work for that Revelation program did not yet feature fruit from either their Nolan or Elle blocks at their home near Snoqualmie Ridge, the Wilsons did the farming at Hollywood Hill Vineyard just west of Woodinville.
Hollywood Hill Vineyards, established in 2004, is owned by Steve Snyder, whose history with viticulture in the Puget Sound American Viticultural Area includes Maury Island Vineyards as well as serving on the faculty at South Seattle College’s Northwest Wine Academy.
The 2018 vintage marked the second of three in which the Wilsons were hands-on farming the Dijon clone 667 and 777 fruit at Hollywood Hill, and they plan to continue their contracting with Synder because those grapes fit their appreciation for cool-climate wines.
“The concept for this all started in 2015 when Elle, our oldest, graduated from high school, and there were a lot of visits to schools in Western Oregon,” Tom says. “Those coincided with some wine tasting.”
So the Wilsons began to pursue Pinot Noir, and their passion is on full display this year as they released three vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs carrying the Puget Sound AVA — the 2018 Hollywood Hill, the 2018 Devorah Creek Vineyard near Lake Tapps and the 2018 Snoqualmie Vineyards, the latter is their first commercial bottling of Pinot Noir from their Elle Block. And they’ve already qualified for the 2020 Platinum Judging after receiving a double gold at the Seattle Wine Awards this past spring.
As for the 2018 Hollywood Hill, the Wilsons took in the 667 on Oct. 3 at 23 Brix. The next day, the 777 came off at 21 Brix. That neither lot was allowed to reach the modern wine world’s traditional “sweet spot” of ripeness at 24 Brix simply fits in with the approach at Château NoElle.
“Our Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines are the foundation of our winemaking style,” Tom says. “We strive for wines that are truly food-friendly, balancing moderate alcohol and bright acidity for palate-cleansing vibrancy that pleases the taste buds and prepares your mouth for the next bite from your plate.”
The profile for 2018 Hollywood Hill Pinot Noir is charming with notes of strawberry/rhubarb compote, Rainier cherry and dusty herbs, backed by an incredibly subtle barrel influence — 20% new French oak for 11 months — and delicious acidity.
And any red wine produced in the U.S. with a listed alcohol-by-volume below 13% is rare these days. However, scant alcohol, a phrase almost of unheard of these days, is refreshingly common at Château NoElle. And ABV for the 2018 Snoqualmie Vineyards Estate Revelation is a mere 11.8%.
Château NoElle Vineyards & Winery, 36105 SE 89th Place, Snoqualmie, WA 98065, ChateauNoElle.com, (425) 417-2374.
Blackened Ribeye with Garlic Mashed Potato and Vegetables
Two 14-ounce cuts of ribeye steak
4 large russet potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup cream
2 teaspoons fresh minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt and pepper
1 large head broccoli
1 large head cauliflower
Half of a large white onion
Juice from 1 large lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons per steak blackening seasoning
2 teaspoons canola or olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 and be prepared to use a pot for boiling, steak pan or grill, and a mixer or masher.
To prepare your mashed potatoes you will need to peel all russets, quarter and place into a pot of cold water covering everything.
Boil until soft. For ultimate fluffiness use a mixer with a whisk attachment but alternatively you can use a traditional masher in a bowl.
Combine boiled potato with butter, cream, garlic, and whip to airy perfection via mixer or masher. Add in salt and pepper a teaspoon at a time to adjust for personal taste.
Vegetables can be prepared in the oven. Break down cauliflower and broccoli into bite-size hunks and rough chop your onion half into pieces about a 1/4- inch by a 1/4- inch dice.
Place all veg on sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, season lightly with salt and pepper and roast at 400 until slight color is achieved - about 12 minutes.
Prepare and finish steaks while veggies roast.
Steaks should rest at room temp and patted dry before seasoning for optimal searing.
Once prepped, drizzle with oil and generously season with blackening mix and a strong hand of salt and pepper.
Sear in pan with a neutral oil at high heat or grill for about 4 minutes on each side until a golden color is reached on the edges and your seasoning has “blackened.”
Leave in the pan if you prefer medium or well done; for medium rare pull and rest.
Serve with vegetables and garlic mashed potatoes accompaniment.
Orenda Winery 2019 Fumé Blanc, Columbia Valley, $25 — 100 cases, 13% alc.
Snoqualmie Valley winemaker Samantha Kent and her husband, Xander, are newcomers to the Washington wine industry, but they already knew the importance of balance in life as well as in a glass of wine.
So they pay homage to a Native American term — orenda — first cited by 19th century Smithsonian anthropologist J.N.B. Hewitt that refers to the balance of energy among all things.
According to professional wine judges throughout the Pacific Northwest, Orenda’s first efforts rank among the most balanced. The young couple from Colorado launched their Bordeaux-inspired brand in the summer of 2018. This past spring, Wine Press Northwest named Orenda as the 2020 Washington Winery to Watch. This summer, Orenda wines merited three gold medals at the Cascadia International Wine Competition. One of those is for a 2016 proprietary red wine they named Balance, which is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Kents contract with acclaimed Stillwater Creek Vineyard in the newly established Royal Slope American Viticultural Area north of the Wahluke Slope as well as a collection of high-elevation, cool-climate vineyards in Rattlesnake Hills above the Yakima Valley.
Orenda’s 2019 Fumé Blanc is sourced from Konnowac Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills and features notes of Asian pear, melon and grapefruit, with hints of vanilla and caramel from the single barrel of new French oak. The other 75% of the lot went directly into a stainless steel tank.
“This year’s Fumé Blanc was a fun experiment,” Samantha says. “We made a popular New Zealand-style Sauvignon Blanc last year, but this was our first release of an oaked white wine.”
She enjoys sharing with visitors the history behind Fumé Blanc, which stems from Napa legend Robert Mondavi’s determination to develop a dry expression of those notoriously sweet examples of Sauvignon Blanc popular with U.S. consumers in the 1960s. By completely fermenting the wine and aging it in oak, Mondavi crafted a quality dry white wine. To help describe and define the style, he adopted the French word for smoky, a reference to the hint of gunflint found in the famous Sauvignon Blancs from the Pouilly-Fumé region in the Loire Valley of France. Starting in 1968, U.S. consumers could more easily identify the style of Sauvignon Blanc they were buying, thanks to Mondavi.
For years, Rob Griffin, the dean of Washington winemakers, used “Fumé Blanc” on the label of his Sauvignon Blanc at Barnard Griffin in Richland. He went away from “fumé” three years ago. However, “I really might bring it back,”he said.
With less than 50 cases remaining since its April release, Orenda’s 2019 Fumé Blanc has been an easy sell at the Kents’ pastoral tasting room in these Cascade foothills. Guests can sit back and watch neighboring cows graze and enjoy freshly harvested honey from Xander’s 20 hives behind the winery.
The Kents won’t be working with Sauvignon Blanc again until the 2021 harvest. In the meantime, they suggest serving the Orenda 2019 Fumé Blanc with roast chicken, grilled fish, scallops and oysters.
Orenda Winery and Events Center, 32305 NE Eighth St., Carnation, WA 98014, OrendaWinery.com, (425) 526-9100.
12 large Hama Hama oysters
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch cilantro
Juice from 1 whole squeezed lemon
1/2 cup olive or canola oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons softened butter
Preheat your oven to 400 to prepare this version of Oysters Rockefeller, which utilizes a rustic chimichurri as the herb element. Combine parsley, cilantro, garlic and oil with the squeezed lemon. Salt to taste.
Shuck your oyster quantity and separate from the shell but retain the oyster in the shell for baking and serving.
Put all prepped oysters on a sheet tray or in a casserole dish that fits all of your oysters flat in one tier.
Apply a decent helping of your herb mix to each oyster.
Use a dollop of softened butter on top of your herb mixture -- this will help browning and melding of flavors.
Bake at 400° for about 8 minutes or until your butter has melted and your oysters have taken some color. If your herb mixture starts to char, that is fine!
Enjoy from the shell with a utensil or remove the meat to a plate and add more chimichurri with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Serve with lemon wedges.
ERIC DEGERMAN is co-founder and CEO of Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at GreatNorthwestWine.com.
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North Bend, WA, 98045