Monday, July 1, 2013

Lake Chelan AVA, Washington State

"Imagine a voyage beyond sight and sound... you've just entered: The Twilight Zone"
         dum dum dum~!!! (spooky sound-effect)

Normally if I saw a wine review start with these words I would hesitate. In fact, I might even be encouraged to turn the other direction! But these words are meant in the best of all possible ways and I'll explain why I chose them as I go along...

When I went to Lake Chelan in June, it was as the guest of the Lake Chelan Winegrowers Association. When I tell my friends and colleagues that I'm going to a wine-region as their guest - the reactions are invariably predictable:
Overlooking the vines of Karma

"Ooohhhh!!! You're going to be so spoiled"
"Oh my god - it's just a big drink-fest isn't it?!"
"You're so lucky - what an amazing vacation!"

Well, it's a lot of work from sun-up until long past sun-down, we spit most of the wine we taste, and as for being spoiled... you have no idea~!

The first morning I woke up in Lake Chelan, I found myself whisked away to Karma Vineyards patio ( ) to sip Methode Champenoise sparkling wine, surrounded by vines and white linen brunch service. The sunlight bathed us as we sat like film-stars; our sunglasses on, attention doted by these passionate winemakers... and this was the first Twilight Zone moment~! True Champagne-styled wine from a region as far removed from the calcareous soils of that northerly clime of France as can be imagined. Never mind that  most wineries in this region only started planting grapes in 1998. Never mind that they were only granted AVA status in 2009. Never mind that most of the winemakers here come from backgrounds completely outside of the "World-of-Wine" as opposed to the French who trace their genealogy back multiple-multiple-generations when we think of great Champagne houses.

And this was my thinking going to Lake Chelan: new region, new wineries, new winemakers... who's showing them what to do? Who's actually leading them by the hand (or the nose) and showing them how to make proper wine with their completely unique soil and growing climate?

the wine-cave @ Karma vineyards

I thought these things until I walked into Karma vineyards wine-cave (a splendid thing just waiting for a few more vintages to fill it with age-worthy sparkling wine)... and when Julie Pittsinger (co-owner with her husband Bret) started to speak, I was transported to another place. I sipped her brilliantly executed wine with a few dozen colleagues and heard this confident woman speak of hand-riddling, dosage, and maturation as if she'ld been raised in Reims alongside Madame Cliquot. And how could this be?

Because Julie and Bret are smart people. Smart enough to know that though Julie studied viticulture at Washington State, they needed a rockstar. They needed someone with Champagne in their blood (figuratively) and so they bolstered their courage, went to the source, and asked Claude Thibaut to come on board ( ). He came, he taught, they listened, and now -  well, this is where being spoiled comes into the story!

Karma vineyards Methode Champenoise Brut-de-Brut
91 points
traditional blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay
unfortunately I recorded over my voice-notes on this wine but I later referred to it as

  • "an elegant, restrained, nuanced example of methode Champenoise with crisp golden apple tones and precise minerality, worthy of time and attention. This is world-class wine already. I can't wait to try subsequent vintages as the vines mature!"

And back to the patio I take you, where my fellow bloggers and I were sipping bubbly and eating brunch under a Tuscan sky (or so it felt). Next in our flight of Lake Chelan sparklers was a delightful Viognier;

Cairdeas Sparkling Viognier
90+ points
made in the Charmat method
Viognier from Lawrence Vineyard - Royal Slope
Marsanne from Airfield Ranch - Yakima Valley
  • small, finessed bubbles - quite elegant in a Prosecco style
  • rich warm-climate style bouquet; full of white flowers, lush stonefruit
  • rich stonefruit flavors, crisp clean mineral precision
  • absolutely perfect with your bacon-y breakfast~!!!

"Good in Bed" Blanc-de-Noirs
Hard row to Hoe vineyards
90+ points
  • somewhat coarse/large bubbles
  • beautifully rich and nuanced bouquet; raspberries, cherries, cherry blossoms, minerality
  • crisp and clean; dry, fully intense youthful palate bursting with berry flavors, keen minerality, floral tones a-plenty... truly delightful and, whilst not sweet, keeps a good measure of ripe fruit flavors that make the wine far too easy going down~! Simply excellent concentration of flavors and unabashedly exuberant Pinot Noir
#LivinTheGoodLife courtesy 
After the decadent brunch Julie and Bret toured us around their beautiful land, driving us up to a bluff they showcased the the vineyards and Lake Chelan in all it's glory. It was simply too perfect as Julie explained Karma vineyards practices in the field; unique trellising techniques (cane pruning), watering needs, canopy management, etc. Mostly what I walked away with was that here are winemakers and viticulturists who are more then just impassioned, they are committed. Committed to developing excellence in the wine, to providing the best possible value, and to showcasing their unique terroir in it's best possible light.

And terroir was certainly an operative word as I continued my journey that day to the other side of the lake and the waiting arms (or skates in this case) of Roller Girl Wines ( ). Yes - that's right - a winery inspired by Roller-derby... just when I thought things were looking up, back down the rabbit-hole I was heading.

Ah yes - those words: "A voyage beyond sight and sound..." Roller-derby wine certainly had me flashing back to the Twilight Zone... I didn't exactly smirk when they poured the first wine. Well, not exactly. And then the smirk was wiped right off my face because the wine? The wine was;

2012 Syrah Rose
89+ points
  • medium+ youthful savory/herbaceous red-berry infused aromas
  • palate is crisp and clean, medium intense youthful flavors that dance with fresh berry tones and a judicial amount of serious minerality
  • thoroughly enjoyable... thoroughly professional, good concentration and easily could sell for $20 (ish) in BC
...and this was our "walking-around-wine" as we toured their vineyard site. Steep slopes, great view, passion comes in the most unexpected forms sometimes and I should have learnt by now not to judge a book by... and so with open-mind and clear palate, I starting enjoying the juxtaposition of rollerderby and great wine and tried another wine;

2010 Kamiri Cab-Franc
(Red Mountain AVA)
91 points
  • on the nose it has HUGE depth of fruit complexity; layer upon layer of all manner of red and black berry, savory earthiness, dark floral; irises/violets
  • palate; medium+ crisp/young/red currant acid, medium (approachable) chewy tannin, velvety texture and a medium+intense complex palate that matches the bouquet admirably
  • so approachable on it's own, but with a little charcuterie platter it absolutely sings! What a delightful wine!
...and yet another...

Bordeaux blend ("Vex factor"?)
(right bank style; 60%+ Merlot, 25% Cab Franc, some Malbec)
90 points
  • the bouquet has a lot of great Cab Franc quality; savory herbaceousness, driven by wild herbs and sous-bois but in the background is massive cocoa notes
  • on the palate a tad lean, medium- concentration much in-line with the aromas; medium- to light acid, medium chewy tannin
  • seamless flavors that marry in a truly professional manner, a wine of much promise for such a young winery - these are people to watch~!
And like that, it was over.

I awoke to find myself back on the tour bus, heading north for the Canadian border and the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference in Penticton, BC. I can't say which part of the whirlwind trip I enjoyed the most, because all of it blended so well to create a memorable experience.

view from Sorrento's patio
The first night that we were there, Tsillan cellars ( ) treated us with such genuine hospitality and generosity. We were the lucky recipients of a luxurious 4-course meal in a private corner of the Sorrento restaurant, and many of the wineries were there to give us a chance to explore their wines and ask questions. Even Mother Nature seemed glad to see us and set the sky ablaze to wish us "good-night". 

How is this more then just words? If the quality of the wine wasn't enough, then the massive investment in the operations certainly would be. Cane pruning? Triage during harvest? Second pressings distilled into cellared 7-year brandy? These are world-class techniques, practiced by the best. Is every winery in Lake Chelan working this diligently? No, of course not.

But the fact that some are working like this, and quality like this is coming out after such a short period of time should give hope. This should make you hope that this is your next vacation; schedule a few days or a week... let the kids play in the lake, taste some brilliant wines, and finish the night off with a bbq on the beach or celebrating life with the locals at a friendly watering-hole! I can't speak for anyone else, but for me, I can't wait to bring my family back. I can't wait to try more wines and spirits from this region, and I'm excited by the idea of introducing you my passionate readers to these passionate producers.

As always I look forward to your thoughts and comments, here or on Twitter @AStudentofWine

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

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