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Something To Celebrate 

by Susan Hamilton

Accolades are being given to wineries in our state and city of late. The Washington State wine industry has been hailed by Wine Enthusiast Magazine as wine region of the year for 2001. Our state is the first American region to receive this award.

"Washington is a unique, high-quality wine producing region that delivers the goods where it counts -- in the bottle," writes Paul Gregutt, contributing editor for Wine Enthusiast. "The best Washington wines have a style and flavor profile intrinsic to the region, which sets it apart from the rest of the world."

Out of the more than 170 wineries in Washington, Spokane's own Arbor Crest Wine Cellars was awarded the Editor's Choice Washington Winery of the Year for 2001 by Winepress Northwest Magazine. The panel that selected Arbor Crest was comprised of wine industry members as well as retail members and restaurateurs.

Although Arbor Crest has been established for 20 years, Jim and Kristina van Loben Sels have only been at the winery's helm for the past three years. They have made changes in the vineyard, at the production facility and in the packaging, resulting in Arbor Crest's elevation to the ultra premium wine segment.

This weekend during Spring Barrel Tasting, those who journey to Arbor Crest's Cliff House, perched above the Spokane Valley, will enjoy not only award-winning wines but also thousands of daffodils and tulips in full bloom on the grounds.

"We'll be pouring two different chardonnays with fermentations from two different years out of the barrel," says winemaker Kristina Mielke-van Loben Sels. "We'll also have the release of our 2000 Sangiovese as well as our full line of wines for tasting, hors d'oeuvres and music."

"Normally only winemakers taste wines from the barrel," says Mike Conway of Latah Creek Winery. "Spring Barrel Tasting gives the public a chance to understand the aging process and an education to see how wines change with age."

Spokane's newest winery, Robert Karl Cellars, is celebrating its official release weekend coinciding with Spring Barrel Tasting. Joe and Rebecca Gunselman have been involved in the winemaking industry for 13 years but moved to Spokane four years ago to start their own winery.

"Everything is done here in Spokane -- from the desteming and fermenting to the bottling and selling," says Rebecca Gunselman. "And it's very much a family operation with our three boys helping, too."

The winery is housed in an old fire station built in 1912 for horse-drawn fire wagons. The Robert Karl label's crest has two horses on it, commemorating the building's history.

For the barrel tasting, the winery will feature a 2000 blend and a 2001 cabernet from Horse Heaven Hills to taste from the barrel. The first 1999 vintage cabernet sauvignon with merlot and cabernet Franc will also be tasted.

Spokane's second newest winery, Townshend Cellars in Green Bluff, will have its tasting room opened just in time for Spring Barrel Tasting. Chardonnay, merlot, cabernet and huckleberry port will be tasted straight from the barrels. Owners Don and Michelle Townshend are offering a special mousse made with their huckleberry port as well as finger foods and cheeses to accompany the wines being tasted.

At Caterina Winery, winemaker Mike Scott will discuss the role of barrels in winemaking.

"We'll taste through the different aspects of wines," Scott says. "We'll compare varietals and vintages from a '01 merlot and a '00 cabernet." Scott will also speak about the influence of terroir (or soil and climate) on wine.

Caterina will feature a selection of finger foods to complement the release of its '99 vintage Columbia reds at the barrel tasting. You can also meet some of the new faces in Caterina's retail operation this weekend.

The Spring Barrel Tasting is May 10-12, Friday-Sunday, from 11 am-5 pm, at each of the wineries of the Spokane Winery Association. Maps are available at each winery: Arbor Crest Wine Cellars, 4705 N. Fruithill Rd. (927-9894); Caterina Winery, 905 N. Washington (328-5069); Robert Karl Cellars, 115 W. Pacific, (363-1353); Knipprath Cellars, 5634 E. Commerce (534-5121); Latah Creek Winery, 13030 E. Indiana (926-0164); Mountain Dome Winery, 16315 E. Temple Rd. (928-2788); Townshend Cellars, 16112 N. Greenbluff Rd. (238-4346); and Wyvern Winery, 7217 W. Westbow Blvd. (455-7835).

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