Winter 2013

10 Great Things to do in Northwest Wine Country

It’s that time of year when we look back, then set our sights ahead.

We celebrate the holidays in the company of family and friends with flutes filled with bubbles, then hunker down to stoke the home fires and curl up with a glass of Port as we look forward to 2014 with resolutions to do more and be more.

Here are a few suggestions to send you down the path to self-improvement, to self-indulgence or to the company of kindred spirits in the pursuit of both.

1. Northstar shines light on blending. David Merfeld knows Merlot in Washington state perhaps better than anyone — and now anyone can gain insight into the Walla Walla winemaker and his team.

This fall, Northstar Winery began to offer public blending classes, and each pupil is sent home with a bottle of their own formula. The Northstar Blending Experience gives anyone the chance to spend 90 minutes behind the scenes at the house Ste. Michelle Wine Estates built in 1994 to create some of the world’s top Merlot. “Merf ” took it over in 2005 and is doing just that.

Cost is $85 per person or $65 per person for members of the Northstar Wine Club. Considering that a bottle of Northstar 2009 Merlot from the Columbia Valley retails for $41, that seems like a deal — and a gift for your favorite wine lover.

Classes are available during the afternoon — starting at 1:30 p.m. — on Thursday through Monday, and they include a tasting through Northstar’s current releases. Follow the light to northstarwinery.com.

2. Get crabby at King Estate. In the are during months that are spelled with an “R.” Fortunately, only four months falloutside of that, but January seems to be a popular time of year for crab fests.

King Estate near Eugene, Ore., continues to set the bar for the rest of the Pacific Northwest when it comes to stewardship of the land, award-winning wines and on-premise dining. And in January, it plays host to its annual Crab & Seafood Fest, which it stages over three weekends. Cost is $85 per person, and the winery has partnered with Eugene’s Valley River Inn to offer a special rate of $89 per night. Think of King Estate Pinot Gris with things from the sea starting Jan. 10 at kingestate.com.

3. UnWined at the Movies. One of the country’s best cities for raising a family is Boise, and the developing wine culture adds to its appeal. Last year, the Idaho Wine Commission created the UnWined at the Movies concept, and the next segment is Jan. 16 at the historic Egyptian Theatre, built in 1927 just blocks away from the state Capitol.

As many as 225 winesters will be able to sit in comfort to watch Sideways, sip local wine, enjoy bites from 3 Girls Catering and wonder why Miles loathes Merlot and yet loves Merlot-based Cheval Blanc. Participating wineries include Cinder, Cold Springs, Colter’s Creek, Fraser, Indian Creek, Sawtooth, Ste. Chapelle and Telaya. Each will pour samples as well as sell wine by the glass and the bottle. Entry is $30. Step up to the ticket booth at idahowines.org.

4. Membership has its privileges. Anyone who plays competitive golf — much less tournament golf — needs to establish ahandicap with the U.S. Golf Association, if only to help determine who buys the first round at the 19th hole after the match.

Recently, the Oregon Golf Association, a nonprofit partner of the USGA, teed up a tasty promotion with Willamette Valley Vineyards. Those who present their OGA card receive discounts on wine purchases at the Turner tasting room, tasting fees and entries into special events.

An OGA membership also supports junior golf and receives discounted greens fees at The Home Course in DuPont, Wash., and nearby Chambers Bay — site of the 2015 U.S. Open. There’s also a free one-year subscription to Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine, which recently profiled former LPGA star Cindy Rarick, owner of Silvara Vineyards in Leavenworth, Wash., and Bandon Dunes founder Mike Keiser, keynote speaker at the Oregon Wine Symposium. Find your mark at oga.org.

5. Whining for ice cream. Last spring, Gary Gouger transformed a former Clark County fire station into his eponymous winery in Ridgefield, Wash., not far from the Columbia River and just southwest of Mount St. Helens. He’s picked up awards with his wines, including his fortifieds, but he’s also generating interest in his fledgling ice cream business.

Gouger rapidly sold through his Merlot ice cream as 20 pints went out the door in two days. Buoyed by that success, he’s doubled production with plans to make the frozen confection with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Muscat and Alicante Bouschet — an old French variety that includes Grenache as part of its pedigree. It’s a red grape with red juice, a rarity in the world of vitis vinifera.

“There is not any alcohol in the ice cream, and all the sweetness comes from the grape — no added sugar,” Gouger said. “I only wish I had a video of people’s facial expressions when they taste it. I think this might be a huge success.” Get the scoop at gcwinery.com.

6. A cheesy delivery. Few things in life go together as divinely as wine and cheese, so it makes sense that if you belong to awine club in the Pacific Northwest, why not join a cheese club?

Rogue Creamery in Central Point, Ore., got its start during the Great Depression and began making Roquefort-type cheese after World War II. A decade ago, Cary Bryant and David Gremmels bought it from the Vella family and have taken the company to new heights. They also embraced the wine industry, and their website offers pairing ideas for each cheese.

Gremmels, who openly applauds the work of other Northwest creameries, proudly serves on the governor’s Oregon Sustainability Board. Rogue Creamery won the state’s Sustainability Tourism Award in 2007 in light of its support for community and agri-tourism.

While they’ve earned kudos for their green efforts, it’s their eight varieties of award-winning blue cheese that will hold your interest. Here’s one vote for Caveman Blue. They also offer a cheese club, which three tiers to choose from, starting at $199. Get churning at roguecreamery.com.

7. Seattle’s West Coast wine festival. Just a few blocks from Paul Allen’s Experience Music Project, the Seattle CenterExhibition Hall will play host to the Seattle Wine and Food Experience on Feb. 23. Since its launch in 2009, Jamie Peha’s production has become the Pacific Northwest’s first major food-and-wine event of the year — a month before Taste Washington — but this also embraces wineries from Oregon, Idaho and California. That said, Woodinville is the featured region in 2014, making up the majority of the 50+ Northwest wineries scheduled to pour.

More than 20 of Seattle’s top chefs will be spotlighted, too, including Match Maker alumnus Geogy Chacko (FarEats), Bobby Moore (Barking Frog) and John Sarich (Chateau Ste. Michelle).

Cost is $55, and this year’s beneficiary is Les Dames d’Escoffier Seattle, which helps provide scholarships for women in the culinary, beverage and hospitality industries. Get experienced at seattlewineandfoodexperience.com.

8. An entertaining app on Washington wine. Two years ago, California’s Central Coast Wine Country group created its“Paso Wine Man” marketing campaign, which received a bit of YouTube buzz in wine circles with its first promotion of Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival.

This fall, the Washington State Wine Commission gave birth to The Recommendeuer, a humorously pompous wine expert in a plaid suit who advocates for Washington wines via a new educational app. The Recommendeuer is portrayed by actor/comic Greg Proops of Whose Line is It Anyway? and his character is a bit reminiscent of John Cleese were he of Californian descent. One of The Recommendeuer’s best lines is “Here in Washington state, we believe the butter belongs on your bread, not in your Chardonnay.”

The app is marketed to and intended for wine writers, buyers and sommeliers beyond the Northwest, but it’s free to the world via iTunes. At more than 1.1 GB, it’s as big as a Cab from Red Mountain with notes of entertainment and education.

9. Right wine, right time. Portland journalist Katherine Cole, who authored the acclaimed Voodoo Vintners, a 2011 look at biodynamic winemaking in Oregon, is back with a book for the masses.

Complete Wine Selector: How to Choose the Right Wine Every Time (Firefly Books, $24.95) helps remove much of the fear and mystery for anyone looking to choose a wine at a grocery store, wine shop or restaurant. There are sections on wine styles, storage and gadgets. It also explains why that bottle you just opened is reminiscent of a wet dog sleeping on moldy cardboard in your grandmother’s basement.

Cole’s background is fascinating — Harvard grad, product of Columbia University’s acclaimed journalism program, wine columnist for the Oregonian, contributor to Wine Spectator, college instructor, app developer, wife and mother. Her latest book comes across as approachable as she is. To order, go to katherinecole.com.

10. Class in session at House of Wine. Kathryn House serves the Idaho wine industry foremost as a winemaking consultant,but she’s also expanding her role in consumer education. Her résumé includes four years as assistant winemaker at renowned Betz Family Cellars in Woodinville, Wash., before marriage led her to Boise, where’s she and her husband started a family.

Her business, House of Wine, found a new home at the Urban Winemakers Cooperative in Garden City, which also serves as the production facility and tasting room for Cinder, Coiled and Telaya. There, the Washington State University grad offers her Fundamentals of Wine series for consumers. She refers to the classes as Wine 101, Wine 201 and Wine 301, and the combined cost is $115 for the Thursday night classes. The first class covers basic grape growing, winemaking techniques and tips on wine tasting that involves five grapes varieties in a classroom atmosphere.

Her wine education and kiosk at the co-op also are open Friday and Saturday afternoons. Get schooled at thehowofwine.com.

Eric Degerman is co-owner of Great Northwest Wine, a news and information website. Go to www.greatnorthwestwine.com.

This story was originally published December 23, 2013 12:00 AM.

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