We spent a long 2015 Memorial Day weekend in Central Washington. We stayed three nights in Leavenworth and visited wineries in Cashmere, Wenatchee and Lake Chelan before driving home through the South-Central Washington wine region. The AVAs represented by wineries in these areas are numerous and varied (Columbia Valley, Lake Chelan, Red Mountain, Rattlesnake Hills, Wahluke Slope, Horse Heaven Hills and more).
Leavenworth, Washington is a Bavarian-themed town on the eastern foothills of the Cascades. It isn’t very large, it is cute but very, very, very touristy. It was also very crowded on this holiday weekend.
Some of the vendors dress in Bavarian attire.
The town of Leavenworth has about a dozen wine tasting rooms. We arrived in the early evening and several were still open.
As space is a premium in this small town, many shops and tasting rooms occupy the basement of buildings. Walking down the steps, we visited Swakane Winery about fifteen minutes before closing.
The tasting room staff was very friendly and we chatted well past closing. The tastes included a 2011 Pinot Gris; a 2011 Riesling; a 2012 Late Harvest Riesling; a 2010 Red Blend; a 2010 Syrah; a 2013 Very Berry Sangria and a 2013 Pink Dessert wine. They also had a warm Gluvine (mulled German-style wine) which we didn’t try.
We thought most of the wines were just OK and there were a few we just didn’t care for. It was a nice visit, however, we realized that we needed to do better research before choosing our next place.
RYAN PATRICK VINEYARDS
The following morning we did a short walk along the river before walking to Ryan Patrick Vineyard’s tasting room at opening time.
From our research, it seemed that this winery would have more of what we liked. Again, the tasting room staff were very friendly and helpful. They gave us recommendations of other wineries to visit that would match our tastes. Ryan Patrick’s tasting lineup included a 2013 Chardonnay; a 2013 Riesling; a 2013 Rose; a 2012 Grenache; two different 2012 Syrahs and a 2012 GSM.
These wines were more to our liking and some of the wines were well priced. The Riesling was an exceptional deal at $12 as it had a fruity and petrol nose and a very flavorful taste. The tasting fee is waived with a two bottle purchase so we just “had” to buy two Rieslings.
That afternoon we headed from Leavenworth to Wenatchee but, at the recommendation of the staff at Ryan Patrick, stopped in Cashmere along the way. They recommended visiting Crayelle Cellars. Cashmere is the home of Applets and Cotlets. It also tried to become a Pioneer-themed town to pair with Leavenworth’s Bavarian-theme but the concept didn’t seem to have worked.
Crayelle Cellars is a very small operation that completely sold out of their wines last year. Thus, they were only offerings their current vintages. Their tasting room is also co-located with another winery and a distillery.
During our visit, the tasting room staff were a retired couple that were filling in for the owners. They were very pleasant and extremely helpful and informative. We tasted the 2014 White Blend; the 2014 Albarino; the 2013 GSM and a 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah blend. We really enjoyed all of their wines and bought a GSM and a Cabernet Syrah blend. We also considered joining their wine club but thought shipping may cost too much.
From Cashmere we drove to East Wenatchee and visited Martin-Scott Winery out by the airport. Some of the vineyards and tasting room are on a bluff overlooking the Wenatchee valley. It was a beautiful setting.
We were the only visitors at the tasting room when we arrived so the owner started us on tasting and sat with us on his nice patio area.
We tasted the 2013 Pinot Gris; the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc; the 2014 Viognier; the 2013 Riesling; the 2007 Merlot; the 2009 Zinfandel; the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah blend; the 2007 Syrah and Petit Sirah blend; the 2012 Tempranillo and the 2011 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. We really enjoyed most of the wines but the number of wines and the large tasting pours started to impair our judgement. Luckily they sold appetizers and we were able to buy an order of bruschetta to pair with the wines. We also bought a bottle of the Cab Syrah blend.
It was a nice sunny day and it was nice to have a personal visit with the owners while sampling their wines. This is obviously a great venue to spend a nice afternoon eating appetizers and drinking some wine. Unfortunately we had other places to go.
JONES OF WASHINGTON
To find a full meal and a final tasting flight we drove over the river to Wenatchee. We stopped at the Pybus Public Market in downtown Wenatchee. It is a pretty neat market place with an open area in the middle for a farmer’s market.
It was too late in the afternoon for the farmer’s market so other vendors occupied the central area. The rest of the building is occupied with permanent shops. We ate a light lunch, at Fresh, a modern latin restaurant.
Another shop in Pybus is Jones of Washington.
At Jones, we sampled the 2010 Estate Barrel Select Cabernet Sauvignon; the 2012 Syrah; the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon; the 2010 Syrah; the 2011 Reserve Malbec and the 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend. In general we found some wines very good and others just OK. Being in such a public space didn’t enhance the experience. We did not purchase.
WAPATO POINT CELLARS
The following day we continued on the wine trail by driving over to Lake Chelan. The scenery on the drive over and of the lake itself was great. It was also a nice sunny day.
Our first stop was Wapato Point Cellars.
The tasting room is on the grounds of the Wapato Point waterfront resort and seemed a little dated. The tasting room staff was friendly and we sampled the 2013 Pinot Grigio; the 2013 Pinot Grigio, Riesling and Gewurtraminer blend; the 2013 Riesling; the 2010 Pinot Noir, Syrah and Merlot blend;the 2011 Merlot; the 2012 Syrah and the 2012 Malbec.
The single varietal wines were pretty good but the blends were very confusing and a little strange. The tastes were complimentary and we decided against buying any wine. We did buy a bottle of their cherry cider.
Driving back towards Wenatchee from Wapato Point, we stopped in at Benson Vineyards. Several tasting rooms said that we just had to see the property.
The facility was very nice and the setting was gorgeous. (The header picture at the very top of this page was also taken at Benson). I’m sure this venue books a lot of weddings and it looked like wedding planners were working with wedding parties as I was taking pictures.
The tasting room was pretty crowded but we managed to squeeze in and get our tastes of their 2013 Viognier and Chardonnay blend; the 2010 Pinot Noir; the 2010 Sangiovese; the 2011 Syrah, Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon blend; the 2010 Syrah; the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese blend; the 2011 Merlot; the 2012 Cabernet Franc and the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon. Some of their wines were pretty good and others were just OK. We took our last few tastes out to the balcony and relaxed for a while and enjoyed the scenery.
LAKE CHELAN WINERY
Just down the driveway from Benson was Lake Chelan Winery. This tasting room was much more rustic than Benson and had kind of a western motif. The tasting room also included a small gift shop and deli.
It was a little busy so we got our tastes and a few questions answered by the busy counter staff. We tried their 2012 Chardonnay; the 2013 Pinot Grigio; the 2013 Syrah (white), Riesling and Pinot Grigio blend; the 2013 Riesling; the non-vintage Syrah, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc blend; the 2011 Pinot Noir; the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2012 Merlot. Most of the wines were on the light side and many didn’t have much nose. However, the tastes were complimentary. We didn’t buy anything.
Our final stop at Lake Chelan was Karma Vineyards. Our karma must not have been very good that day as the winery was packed – it must be a really happening place.
The grounds of the winery are beautiful as they have sculpted rock-lined waterfalls and ponds all around the tasting room and patio. They also serve food so we encountered a restaurant-style hostess as we approached the tasting room. The patio was full but we were able to get our tastes in the also crowded tasting room. Karma offers tastes in three wine flights. They had a very cool three drink holder that securely holds three wine glasses with the wine description cards under the glasses.
We tasted the 2012 Mourvedre; the 2011 GSM; the 2010 Syrah, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon blend and the 2010 Pinot Noir. In general the wines were pretty darn good, however, it was so loud and cramped I just wanted to get out of there (so we didn’t buy anything).
We headed home from Leavenworth on Memorial Day. Taking a different route than the one we came on we headed south towards Yakima and the Columbia Gorge. After a couple hours we entered the wineries around Zillah, Washington. Most of these wineries are in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA.
Our first stop was Tanjuli Winery.
This winery seemed to have pretty good reviews on Yelp so we decided to give them a try. We arrived a little after opening and were the only ones in the tasting room (which was just a section of their warehouse). The owner sat with us as she poured our tastes. The $5 tasting fee covered five tastes so we each chose to pay two tasting fees to sample all ten wines. We tried the 2013 Picpoul Blanc (a varietal we’ve never encountered before); the 2009 Viognier; the 2001 Pinot Noir; the 2012 Carmenere; the 2008 Malbec; the 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon; the 2008 Petit Verdot; the 2013 Orange Muscat dessert wine; the 2013 Orange Muscat Sherry and 2013 Black Muscat Port.
We didn’t care for many of the wines but the owner was very nice and chatted with us for quite a while. After some thought, we decided to buy the Petit Verdot and got one of the tasting fees waived. It wasn’t necessarily a wine we would normally buy but it seemed to have the most promise of the lot.
After another disappointing stop we headed about a mile away to Dineen Vineyards. The grounds of this winery were beautiful and the tasting room was located in a nice, cozy room on the ground floor of the owner’s current home. While we were there we saw construction workers building the owner’s new house on the same property.
The current house also had a separate covered patio that had a brick oven they use to cook pizzas every Saturday.
The vineyards also has a great view of what I think is Mt. Rainier.
The staff in the tasting room were another retiree couple that were substituting for the owners. The $5 tasting fee allowed us to taste their 2014 Kamiakin (their second lable) Riesling; the 2014 Kamiakin Rose; the 2013 Kamiakin Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend; the 2012 Dineen Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec blend and the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. While these were solid wines, nothing stood out so we decided to pay the tasting fee. Luckily for us, the substitute staff couldn’t figure out how to work the cash register so they waived the fee.
We were interested in trying Cultura winery from the comments on Yelp, however, most of the reviews were a few years old and the winery’s current webpage wasn’t working. Luckily, the staff working at Dineen knew the people at Cultura and called to make sure they were open before we drove over.
Another small operation, Cultura’s tasting room is a nice and open barn-like garage (or is it a garage-like barn). They only make a few wines and we were able to taste the four they had available. The owner was very personable and I can’t remember if they had a tasting fee. We tasted the 2014 Rose of Cinsault; the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc blend; the 2011 Merlot and 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon.
A few of the wines were a little young but all were pretty darn good. We bought a bottle of the Cab Sauv, Merlot and Cab Franc blend. It was an enjoyable visit.
TWO MOUNTAIN WINERY
At the recommendation of the people pouring at Dineen we visited Two Mountain Winery (the substitute staff at Dineen distributes wine for Two Mountain). Their tasting room is in a nicely arranged section of their warehouse.
The tasting fee for their regular wines were $5 (refundable with a bottle purchase) and we tried their 2014 Riesling; the 2014 Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon; non-vintage Bordeaux blend; 2012 Merlot and 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. Most of their wines were pretty good and the prices were very reasonable. We bought a bottle of Merlot which was something like $22.
PARADISO DEL SOL WINERY
The phrase “and now for something completely different” comes to mind now. Not really a reference to Monty Python, the staff at Two Mountain said that they liked Paradiso Del Sol’s wines but the tasting experience is “different”. They said that the comments they had received from other guests were very polarized – they either liked it or hated it. The staff actually said, “with that caveat” I would recommend you give them a visit.
We had passed this winery several times as most that we visited were all within a mile or two. Looking at the recycled bottle wall and other yard art hinted at a unique experience.
As the sign on the path indicated, the tasting room was in the owner/grower/winemaker’s kitchen. The tasting fee was $5 and each of the taste was accompanied by a very small nibble of a complementing food item (such as blue cheese, pepperoni, etc). We tasted the 2012 Rose; the 2011 Semillion; the 2011 Riesling; the 2012 Under Ten Buck red blend; the non-vintage Easy Drinking red blend; the 2010 Paradise red blend; the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon; the 2011 Ruby Port (Zinfandel) and the 2011 Muscat, Riesling and Semillion dessert wine.
With the tasting room being in a somewhat very lived-in kitchen, the wines were surprisingly very good. The owner/grower/winemaker said that wine has been his true passion since the day he was old enough to legally drink. He talked about growing techniques that helped him to achieve superior grapes and although he seemed quirky we couldn’t argue about the quality of the wines.
Although there were several very good wines, the one that stood out was his MRS (Muscat, Riesling and Semillion) dessert wine that paired extremely well with pumpkin pie. It is that kind of unique wines that makes winery hopping so great.