Category: Travel

Wandering Wenatchee

Wenatchee, Washington is turning into a wonderland for food and wine lovers

A new award-winning public market, food and wine festivals and a river walk keep you busy in the apple capital.

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A Good Vintage: Of Time Lords, the Tardis, and Reinventing Ourselves through Wine

It’s official. I’m 50. Actually, I’m 51-and-a-half, but I guess it took that long for it to soak in.

Actually, that’s not true.

I joined AARP (www.aarp.com – they’re not a sponsor) the minute I turned 50, to get their great rates on a phone plan. I’ve always felt young and intend to continue to do so, but want to live squarely in the moment, embrace my zeitgeist, if you will.

Zeitgeisttime ghost – “spirit of the age.”

Our zeitgeist is an ephemeral ghost – as time always is, but now, we live with the “ghost in the machine,”. The spirit of our age is the cloud, the search bar, the meta. Information vast and wide, as it has never existed before.

It makes me feel like a Time Lord from Dr. Who.

And we all know that the elixir of the Time Lords is wine.

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A Dash of Salt Spring Island

Last fall, I had the pleasure of venturing up to the Canadian Gulf Islands as a part of my friend Danielle Custer’s (former chef and current director of Taste Restaurant at the Seattle Art Museum) annual birthday trip. In the gang are three others – Rose Ann Finkel, owner – with her husband Charles Finkel – of the Pike Brewing Company, Linda Stratton (sales and marketing at the Pike), and Monique Barbeau, former chef, now mom and foodista.

Each year we pick a different wine region (so far, Willamette Valley, Lake Chelan, Okanagan, BC) – this year, we had access to a great cabin on Salt Spring Island in BC.

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Okanagan Days

As I’m writing this on a Sunday morning, I’m watching the neighborhood’s three-legged cat hobble around a construction site next door. He gives me hope—that even though I’m a procrastinator and often don’t post when I know I want to, that I’m still hobbling around nonetheless! I’m out there searching for mice even though I might not catch them! That said, here is the post I should have posted two weeks ago right after I came back from my trip to Okanagan, B.C., Canada. Here it is!

We finally have summer—the days are dry and even what you might call hot. I’m off on my friend Danielle’s annual birthday wine tasting trip—two years ago we went to Willamette Valley, and last year we went to Chelan. This year, the four of us ladies, of various ages and positions in life, agreed wholeheartedly on B.C.’s Okanagan region, just north of central Washington.

I drove out, they flew, and I was the designated rental car. Our first day, we visited three wineries and a goat cheese maker, a full day for five hours. Lunch at Quail’s Gate, then to the famous, fabulous Mission Hill. tried Chardonnay and Ice Wine, but mostly drank in the view and the architecture. This place is known as the most beautiful winery in the area, and I’d have to agree. It’s Mondavi-ized the area, created a destination for people to ooh and ahh over, and then go taste the wines at the smaller, more boutique or mom-n-pop wineries.

We also went on a trek to find the Carmelis Goat Cheese Artisan farm and shop, off in the hinterlands of Kelowna’s alpine hills along the shores of Lake Okanagan. They featured over a dozen styles of goat cheese with lovely names like Misty, Blue Velvet and Heavenly—and they were—from fresh yogurt cheese to ash-covered soft-ripened cheese, to smoked cheese to hard, tangy cheeses to a fantastic blue. I bought two Moonlights, a soft-ripened cheese similar to Mt. Townsend Creamery’s amazing Cirrus. Then to Cedar Creek Winery just down the road.

The next day, we visited the Naramata Bench, some miles south of Kelowna along the shores of Okanagan Lake. We visited Poplar Grove, Nichol, Kettle Valley (with their crazy Gewurztraminer slushy, great idea but there was nowhere near enough wine in it, just sugar icee with a splash. Then to Elephant Island Fruit Winery, one of the best tastings we had. All their wines are fruit wines, and before you get all snobby on me, you have to realize these wines are their own animal, and each is unique. The pear wine was light, fresh and dry, with a nose of jarlsburg and smoke, to me at least! The perfect thing with a goat cheese salad and an afternoon on a sunny porch. There are also wines from Fuji apples, crabapples, raspberries and their wonderful non-vintage Stellaport made from dark red Stella cherries, fermented and aged in French oak in an 8-year solera system. This wonderful wine had a nose of baking spice and mocha, and dark cherry, of course, with coffee, balsamico and prune on the palate. Would be fantastic with fondue!

We had lunch at the gorgeous little Heritage Inn, an old renovated hotel with a good restaurant. At lunch we opened a bottle of Joie’s 2007 A Noble Blend and loved it. Joie’s winemaking couple, Michael Dinn and Heidi Noble, have a small cooking school and winery (not open to the public) just up the road. This wine has a nose of lime zest with a bit of fresh tropical fruit, pineapple, and zesty acidity, great balance. We were so impressed with the wine that Monique called them right from the lunch table and asked if we could come by. Michael said sure! he’d be happy to show us around, so we trotted off to the winery and met he and Heidi and their lovely little farm. We ended up leaving with three half bottles of wine from their afternoon test tasting, and arms full of pears from their little orchard.

There’s so much more to say about this trip, but other wines I liked were Le Vieux Pin (we had lots of laughs trying to prounounce that – it’s Le (as in book) Vee-yeuu (as in book) Pa nh (nasally n!) how do you write that phonetically, I don’t know, but the wines were fabulous. Also visited their other new winery, LaStella, which was gorgeous, you MUST go there! More on that later. Also Blue Mountain sparkling wine and pinot blanc and pinot gris.

And Nk’Mip (INK-a-meep) which was big and resorty and disappointing as far as wine goes, but looked like a great place for family vacations.

More later!

Old-school organic in a new-school recyclable bag-in-a-box

Bill Powers and his organic Chardonnay
Bill Powers and his organic Chardonnay

On a recent trip to the Tri-Cities wine region (Richland, Kennewick, Pasco for you non-Washingtonians) I had a chance to visit four vastly different wineries. One was one of the oldest wineries in the state—Powers (and Badger Mountain, their organic brand) on the hills above a Richland suburb, literally—we had to drive through suburban neighborhood to get to the tasting room and vineyard. I took a short truck ride with owner Bill Powers (now in his 80s) up to see the Chardonnay vines and have a sip of the Powers 2007 Chardonnay – a clean, crisp organic wine, full of fresh green apple and citrus flavors.

Powers has been growing grapes here since 1977, and has been organic almost that long. He says he was putting all these chemicals on the vines, and his boys were doing the work. He didn’t want the kids to do it, so he was doing it and not liking having to use these chemicals – so on a trip to California, he talked to some hippie grapegrowers who were farming organically, and they encouraged him to do the same, and so he did. And still, he’s one of the few certified-organic vineyards in the state. He does, as other organic farmers do as well, use sulphur to combat powdery mildew on the vines, about once a week for a certain period during the vine’s growth – this year was very humid and perfect for the evil fungus to grow. And then of course, sulfites are added to the wine to preserve it – pretty much every winery does this, or we’d be opening a lot of bad bottles. But Powers (Bill and his son Greg, the winemaker for Powers & Badger Mountain) and Mickey Dunne, part owner of Badger Mountain, have found a solution for their “no sulfites added” organic wine – bag in the box! It keeps oxygen away from the wine, and therefore keeps it completely fresh for up to 30 days! This is so common in Europe that I’ve heard box wine is almost 50 percent of the market. Here, it is growing, but still only about 10-12 percent. I hope that will increase as people put higher quality wines in completely recyclable boxes.

Thunder Shows, or When You are Lost at Sea, Wine is Where You Find it

stuck in the ballard locks with a bunch of stinkpots
Stuck in the Ballard locks with a bunch of stinkpots

Vaynerchuk may have left the building, but in his wake were two days of the most intense thunder storms we’ve seen (or heard) in years. My ex (now friend) was going to sail down to Hood Canal for the 4th and had a window of opportunity to leave at about 5 or 6 a.m. on the 3rd because of the tides, but that ended up being the craziest hour of lightening, buckets of rain and ear-splitting thunder.

So he couldn’t make the trip, and later that day, when the storm had left billowing clouds and still water behind, I was roped into–I mean graciously volunteered–to help him bring the boat BACK through the Hiram H. Chittendon locks, where the water level is raised and lowered between the salt water of the Puget Sound and the fresh water of Lake Union. We got stuck waiting for a gravel barge and ended up stuck outside the locks for THREE HOURS, getting to know the mussel-covered pylons, the kingfishers, and a few purple seastars very well. So of course, after a while, I started rummaging below decks and came up with a bottle of white wine that was fairly cool from being stored below the waterline. In desperate times, wine is where you find it, and I thought this was the perfect occasion for my first wine post – the essential Seattle moment. Stuck on a boat with the cityscape and the water all around, searching for refreshment.

What is your favorite boat wine? I have to say, I usually like dry rosé, but that is a fall back all summer, whether i’m on a patio, a boat or whatever. This 2006 Casalone dry Italian white from the Piemonte region made from the Cortese grape, definitely hit the spot, and was eye opening in terms of what we usually think of as dry crisp, refreshing summer wines. This one smelled of lemon gumdrops to me! Not a lot of fruit, just white flowers for sure, and a funkiness like light mushrooms. Interesting! There’s SO much to learn about Italian wines, but the main thing is to stay open to their classic combination of fruit and funkiness. This Cortese was a great example. Fresh, and light, it still was full of minerality, acidity, yes, but also mushroom and dried leaves. Not what I would usually choose for a boat sipper, but it was actually great with the salty chips that were the only food on board.

Come to find out, this wine WAS the perfect thing to drink with the scent of boat exhaust, salt air and fish in our nostrils, as it is produced all along the Ligurian Coast and served in the fish restaurants of Genoa—an area that probably looks very similar to the salty, mast-packed shores of Lake Union. Citrus complements salt – that lesson was learned here, with a little exotic mushroomy funk thrown in that I will remember for my next fish fry.