by Susan Hamilton

In just 20 short years, Washington state's wines have gone from a small, local following to international renown, especially for its reds," says Ed McCarthy, wine columnist for Nation's Restaurant News and co-author of the Wine for Dummies series. "Already Washington is being recognized as the source for Syrah in the U.S. I personally believe that some of their Cabernet blends are already world-class wines."

The wine industry in our state and the Inland Northwest continues to grow and garner accolades. We now have more than 250 Washington wineries (42 more than last year), with 11 wineries in the Inland Northwest. Earlier this year, Washington wines were ranked first in Cabernet Sauvignon taste-offs in New York and Chicago, where they went head to head with the best from Napa Valley and Bordeaux. So what's causing all this growth and buzz?

"The arid climate and growing conditions of Eastern Washington, where most of the wine grapes are grown, allow the grapes to fully ripen while developing complex fruit flavors, pleasing aromatics and nuances," says Stacie Jacob, public relations director for the Washington Wine Commission. "We also have two hours more sunlight than California's prime growing region. Warm temperatures throughout the day and cool nights allow the fruits' natural acids to remain high, creating richly flavored and well-balanced wines."

This year's harvest may be smaller than last year's, but growers and winemakers say the smaller quantity means more intense flavors and a stellar vintage for 2003. Our cool spring and hot summer kept the berry size down, and their flavor was improved by a long, warm autumn when grapes could remain on the vine.

Once known only for premium wines, Washington wines are now being touted for their value. Wine Enthusiast magazine recently listed Spokane's Arbor Crest's 2001 Sauvignon Blanc and Latah Creek's 2002 Chardonnay as "strikingly good wines in the $10 price range."

Washington winemakers are also known for their independence and entrepreneurial spirit. With small production facilities, they personally oversee the making of their wines from the vineyard to the bottle. These boutique wineries specialize in vintages that are as unique as the winemakers who put their all into their wines.

Savor the Flavors Locally -- During this weekend's Holiday Wine Fest, area wineries open their doors to the public from Friday, Nov. 21, through Sunday, Nov. 23, from 11 am-5 pm for wine tasting, noshing and holiday gift ideas. The Spokane Winery Association includes two new wineries -- Lone Canary and Grande Rhonde.

Lone Canary Winery may be Spokane's newest, but its winemaker has paid his dues at Inland Northwest wineries since 1980. Mike Scott garnered experience in winemaking at Worden, Latah Creek, Livingstone and Caterina Wineries, where he was the winemaker and general manager for nine years. Though the plucky Brit was given the opportunity to move to a different winemaking region, Scott says he didn't want to leave the Inland Northwest. "Spokane is poised to become the next 'hot' wine region, and it's going to be fun to be a part of that," he reveals.

Scott says Lone Canary wines are different than his previous work because he is focusing on red wine blends "that give a tip of the hat to the European tradition" and allow him "a greater degree of freedom to create an intimate expression of the fruit." The blends include an American-style red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah; a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc; and a "Super Tuscan"-style blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

This weekend, Scott and owners Steve and Jeanne Schaub offer tastes of Lone Canary's 2002 Sauvignon Blanc-and-red blend in the cozy tasting room. Light snacks by chef David Goldman and the crew at Laskar's will complement the wines. Wine accessories, baskets, gift boxes and logoed wine glasses will be available in the gift shop.

Many of the wineries in our area are family affairs, and another newbie, Grande Rhonde, is no exception. Eric Manz has been part of his parents' Mountain Dome Winery as he grew up, where he learned the intricacies of producing champagne wines under their tutelage. Since 1997, he's been producing his own wines -- Cabernet, Merlot and now Chardonnay. This weekend you can taste the Manz family's wines (including Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) and tour the winery on Mount Spokane. They'll even show you how they put the bubbles in bottles of champagne.

In nearby Green Bluff, Townshend Cellars is releasing a huckleberry sparkling wine, huckleberry port and 2002 port, accompanied by chocolate truffles. Winemaker Don Townshend will also feature a wide selection of award-winning dessert wines, Chardonnay, Syrah and Merlot paired with tasty appetizers.

Celebrating its 20th year, Latah Creek Winery is featuring its Chardonnay and Sangiovese with fresh-roasted turkey garnished with cranberry-horseradish sauce, Moscato d'Latah with homemade German stollen bread as well as hot, spiced Lemberger wine. The gift shop has wine baskets, wine racks and prepackaged gifts for wine and food lovers.

Arbor Crest's Cliff House will be decorated in its holiday best and open for tours during the Wine Fest. You can taste the newly released 2003 Riesling and 2001 Sangiovese paired with gourmet cheeses in the winery's new tasting room in the former pavilion. Winemaker Kristina Meilke-van Loben Sels is also offering samples of her full line of award-winning wines.

Downtown's Caterina Winery is releasing a 2002 Sauvignon Blanc as well as new Italian varietals, which will be complemented by Italian hors d'oeuvres. The new wine bar will also be open Friday and Saturday nights after the Wine Fest for tasting, accompanied by live, jazzy-acoustical music. An art exhibit and selection of wine-related gifts is also featured.

Another family-owned winery, Robert Karl Cellars, is offering tastes of its new release, a 2001 claret, as well as its 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon and the last of its 1999 vintage. Moroccan stew, local bread and cheeses will accompany the wines. Local artist Vicky Boubel of Victoria's Baubels will show her beaded jewelry collection at the winery.

Knipprath Cellars offers hot, spiced Alpine wine. The winery in the former Parkwater Schoolhouse will also offer tastings of its Mica Peak and Knipprath wines and ports, including chocolate and vanilla ports, paired with curried pumpkin soup, port-soaked cranberries and peppercorn turkey.

Barrister Winery will not be open this weekend because its first vintage was so popular that it sold out. Coeur d'Alene Cellars will debut its wines on Dec. 5, with an opening at Art Spirit Gallery in the Lake City.

Maps of the tour are available at each winery: Arbor Crest Wine Cellars, 4705 N. Fruithill Rd. (927-9894); Caterina Winery, 905 N. Washington St. (328-5069); Robert Karl Cellars, 115 W. Pacific Ave., (363-1353); Knipprath Cellars, 5634 E. Commerce Ave. (534-5121); Latah Creek Winery, 13030 E. Indiana Ave. (926-0164); Lone Canary Winery, 109 S. Scott St., Suite B-2 (534-9062); Mountain Dome/Grande Rhonde Wineries, 16315 E. Temple Rd. (928-2788); and Townshend Cellars, 16112 N. Greenbluff Rd. (238-1400).

Publication date: 11/20/03

Northwest Winterfest @ Spokane County Fair & Expo Center

Through Jan. 2, 2022, 5-9 p.m.
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