Back in the dark ages of the Washington wine industry, when California dominated the domestic fine wine market, Dr. Walter Clore of Washington State University studied the characteristics of the state's soil and climate. He suggested that certain regions would be suitable for growing Vitis vinifera, the varietal grapes preferred by European winemakers. In fact, the volcanic soil, dry climate and long sunny summer days of Eastern Washington might prove to be superior to growing conditions in California, he said. Now, the Washington wine industry contributes $3 billion per year to the state's economy; Washington is now second only to California in the production of varietal wines.
South-central Washington has emerged as the heart of the state's wine-grape production, but Clore, known as "the father of Washington wine," also considered the area along the shores of Lake Roosevelt as having great potential for grapes.
"WSU did research for us and pegged our location as being able to produce superior Bordeaux-style reds," says Michael Haig, winemaker at WHITESTONE WINERY in Wilbur, Wash.
Haig's parents founded Lake Roosevelt Shores Vineyard in 1992 near Whitestone Rock and harvested their first grapes -- merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc -- in 1996. Initially, they sold their grapes to wineries in Walla Walla, but soon they began making small batches of their own wine. In 2005, the Haig family opened the winery and tasting room in downtown Wilbur and stopped selling grapes to anyone else.
Whitestone affiliates with the vineyards and wineries of the Columbia Cascade region in North Central Washington, although it is by far the easternmost facility in the group. While far flung from its brethren around Wenatchee and Lake Chelan, Whitestone's location -- 65 miles west of Spokane on Highway 2 -- makes it the closest vineyard/winery to the Lilac City.
Next Saturday, Whitestone offers something else new: A wine dinner, right in the vineyard, complete with white linen and a full filet mignon dinner from Beacon Hill Catering and Events. Haig will be pouring wine, of course, and 6' Swing will provide the entertainment. Events get underway in the afternoon and wrap up by 7:30 pm, so there will be plenty of time for everyone to drive home safely.
-- ANN M. COLFORD
The "Dine in the Vines" wine dinner at Whitestone Winery, 115 NW Main St., Wilbur, Wash., is Saturday, July 28, starting at 4 pm. Tickets: $95. Call (509) 647-5325.
She's So Saucy
Sometimes word spreads slowly, even when the word is delicious. Why, for instance, had I not heard of CHILE HEADZ in Argonne Plaza before last week, when it's been open for a couple of years already? Owner P.J. Burgess-Derrick makes 10 different sauces from scratch, including a mild fresh tomato salsa with cilantro, a chipotle sauce, a red taco sauce made without tomatoes, a classic barbecue sauce, salsas made from cranberries and pineapple, and one called Afterburner that'll leave you gasping. There's also a creamy rich sauce made with roasted garlic and seeded jalape & ntilde;os that's bursting with flavor but without the burn.
Burgess-Derrick is from Montana originally, but she's traveled throughout the American Southwest and Mexico, where she picked up her flavor ideas. "Most everything here I created on my own," she says. "It's mainly Southwest flavors, like chipotle and barbecue, and you can get anything more lightly spiced if you want."
The tacos at Chile Headz come Baja-style -- just meat and sauce on soft corn tortillas. Most of the enchilada options use corn tortillas except for the roasted-garlic fajita chicken enchiladas ($6, Friday's special), which use flour tortillas. The grande burritos live up to the name, and can be filled with chipotle chicken, chipotle beef, or pork simmered in salsa. The signature dish is the Cow Pie, a savory cornbread shell filled with cheese and chili con carne (with or without beans).
In addition to the small dine-in space, Chile Headz does take-out and "U-Pick-Up" catering for meetings and parties. A pan of Southwest lasagna (made with flour tortillas) or 10 enchiladas ($19) will feed four to five, or you can get cold wrap party platters for about $6.50 per person. On the sweet side, she makes desserts, too -- and I'll be back to try the mocha espresso bean chili pepper cookies.
-- ANN M. COLFORD
Chile Headz, 1510 N. Argonne Rd., Spokane Valley, is open Mon-Fri 11 am-6 pm for dine-in and till 6:30 pm for take-out, Sat noon-3 pm. Call 926-5620.