ten great eastern washington wineries

It’s no secret here at EWW that I love Washington wine.  Now that we live east of the Cascades, Steve & I are a short drive from literally hundreds of wineries and the growing regions in which the grapes for nearly all Washington wines are grown.

If you are new to Washington wine, here’s a brief crash course.  Washington is the second largest producer of premium wines in the United States.  According to the Washington State Wine Commission, the first wine grapes in Washington were planted in 1825, though large-scale wine making did not begin until 1960’s.  Since then, Washington has seen an explosion of commercial wine making  that has continued to this day.  Currently there are more than 740 wineries in the state, with more being opened all the time.

There are eight designated wine-growing regions in the state.  We are lucky enough to live in one, and are within a two hours’ drive of four others…great for exploring!  Here’s a nifty map of the various wine regions, if you’d like a handy visual.

Ok, so now that you have the background, here are my favorites of the eastern Washington wineries I’ve visited thus far.   We still have hundreds to go, but we’re off to a good start!

10.  Three Rivers/Waterbrook Winery

Location: Walla Walla

Price Range: $12-52 per bottle

Steve & I discovered this winery by accident.  My favorite chardonnay was out at the grocery store, so we took a chance on Waterbrook because it was on sale.  What a pleasant surprise!  Although inexpensive, the wine was very tasty: smooth with just a hint of butter.  When we later visited the winery, we were also pleased to find a lot of delicious wines at very reasonable prices ($12-25).  Waterbrook shares manufacturing and tasting room space with Three Rivers, a more premium brand ($14-52).

Their tasting room is very nice, spacious with a modern bar, large windows, slate floors, and a comfortable sitting area in one corner.  Although the reds were not much to write home about, they were consistent and budget friendly.  The whites are even better.  If you are looking for really consistent wines that will give you a “bang for your buck,” Waterbrook/Three Rivers is a great bet.

9. Arbor Crest

Location: Spokane

Price Range: $10-48

You may remember I mentioned Arbor Crest in my posting Spokane Wine Weekend, where I tasted their sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, syrah, malbec and the Dionysus blend.  All were delicious, but my favorite was the Dionysus. It is a delicious Bordeaux-style blend full of fruit and a scent that will knock your socks off.  I have no trouble understanding why the winery named it after the Greek good of wine and merriment.

Arbor Crest’s main tasting room is also a winner for its stunning location. Sitting atop a hill east of the city, Arbor Crest looks over the Spokane River and has lovely views of the surrounding hillsides.  It is a popular wedding venue in town, and also hosts a series of events throughout the summer.  Even if you’re not interested at all in wine, it would be worth going for the view…and bring a picnic!

8. Milbrandt Cellars

Location: Prosser

Price Range: $13-55

I have been to Milbrandt several times now.  Its very convenient location in the Prosser Vinter’s Village makes it a great stop on your way to Walla Walla, or a short side trip from Yakima or the Tri Cities.   Milbrandt has a large selection of wine, and their premier “Estate” series (running from between $20-30 per bottle) has some real stunners.  During the Columbia Valley Passport Wine Weekend last year, I fell in love with their granache.  I’ve also been a longtime fan of the Estate Chardonnay, very smooth and clean, with a little hint of banana.  It sounds weird, but it is a fantastic back porch wine that also goes well with garlicky food.  I’m even more partial to Milbrandt since we moved to Moses Lake, because the grapes for Milbrandt’s  “Traditions” series are grown in nearby Quincy.

7. Camas Cove Cellars

Location: Moses Lake

Price Range: $12-25

Camas Cove is another accidental discovery, and a new local favorite.  While out on a walk in a friends’ neighborhood, we came across a sign pointing to nearby wine tasting.  We followed the sign and found ourselves in Dennis and Nancy Rice Parr ‘s garage-come-tasting room.  The Parrs are retired, and decided that they would like to try making wine in this stage of their lives.  Well, they’ve proven quite good at it!  The wine is delicious, and the location at their lakeside home is very charming.  Steve and I are quite partial to the Thelma and Louise white blend (50% chardonnay, 50% roussanne) but we are also fans of the syrah and merlot.  Plus, Dennis and Nancy are so nice and so excited about their wines, we always have a wonderful time when we visit!

6. Lost River Winery

Location: Winthrop

Price Range: $15-30

We love Lost River so much we have visited twice within the past year. You cannot miss Lost River as you come into town from the west, as it is directly on US 20 (luckily, the part that’s still open year round).  Any time of year, you can feel comfortable in the tasting room, with its log-cabin feel and friendly staff.  Generally, the prices at Lost River are mid-range, from about $15-30 per bottle, depending on the wine and the vintage.   My favorite is the Walla Walla syrah, but other scrumptious wines they feature are the 2008 Merlot (92% Merlot, 8 % Cabernet Franc) and the Cedarosa blend (45% Cabernet Franc 55% Merlot).

5. Kestrel Vinters

Location: Leavenworth

Price Range: $13-60

I love Kestrel not only for  wine but also for the warm and welcoming atmosphere that the winery provides.  The interior is nearly all done in light-colored, unembellished wood.  A couple of small tables sit near the entrance, where patrons can enjoy wine samples away from the bar or sip on a granita made from Kestrel’s red table wine, Lady in Red, or their signature sweet white wine, Pure Platinum.  The rest of the space is dominated by the large wraparound bar, backed with wooden wine racks.

Both times we’ve visited Kestrel, we enjoyed friendly and knowledgeable service from the tasting room staff and really enjoyed the wine.  Although all the wines were consistent, well-balanced and flavorful, the real standout during our most recent trip was the Syrah port.  It was a beautiful ruby red, and very flavorful without being too sweet.  It’s the kind of wine I’d love to have for dessert in lieu of chocolate cake.

4. Chateau Faire le Pont

Location: Wenatchee

Price Range: $15-43

I love, love, love this winery, despite its unconventional location: It is a beautiful replica of a French villa smack dab in the middle of an industrial park.  The winery makes the most of the space, though, with pretty gardens, ornamental grape vines and water features.  Once inside, it is easy to forget the concrete and warehouses outside.

Although all their wines are stunning, I favor their big, juicy reds, such asTre Amore.  The port at CFLP was excellent as well, the most fun part being the adorable little port glass we were given to better sip!

3. L’Ecole 41

Location: Walla Walla

Price Range: $14-49

This winery is charming before you even step in the door.  As you may have guessed from the name,  the winery is housed in an old, converted school house.   Available wine varieties are displayed on chalk boards in the tasting room, which also has large windows overlooking the gorgeous, surrounding hills.  Although it’s been crowded every time I’ve visited L’Ecole 41,     I’ve always been well taken care of once I found a place at the bar.  In addition to being well-staffed, L’Ecole offers a long list of available wines to taste.  The variety of available wine ensures they offer something for everyone.

2. Barrister Winery

Location: Spokane

Price Range: $20-43

This winery is a favorite of ours, and not just because Steve is a lawyer!  Their bold, jammy red wines are phenomenal.  They could be good with food, but we don’t know because we never wait for dinner before opening their Rough Justice blend or Cabernet Franc.  The tasting room is definitely worth a visit…if you can find it!  Don’t be afraid to ask for directions – it would be a shame to miss this opportunity because you didn’t know there were adjacent streets called “Railroad Ave” and “Railroad Alley!”

1. Woodward Canyon – Walla Walla

Location: Walla Walla

Price Range: $20-60

I am pretty sure that this winery is about as close to heaven as I’ve been.  It’s one of the first wineries ever established in Washington, and their wines are out of this world.  Located in what looks like a cute little cottage next to Highway 12 leading into Walla Walla, this unassuming little place will blow you away with every sip.  The $10 tasting fee is totally worth it, as many of the wines are pricey.  Someday we hope our budget will allow us to purchase more, but so far we’ve only been able to get their Non-vintage Red wine (which is delicious, of course) but many more are on our wish list.  This winery must go on your “must see” list on your next trip to Walla Walla!

Have an opinion on Washington wine?  Please feel free to leave a comment.  Even better: do you know a winery that outshines any of these?  Please share so I can go check it out!!


ancient lakes hike

Ancient Lakes is a popular recreation area for hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders.

After the very successful experience hiking in Northrup Canyon with my friend Janet, I was inspired to get outdoors again and to bring Steve along.  I was looking for a hike with little elevation gain, so I could perhaps bring my parents on an upcoming visit.  A friend suggested Ancient Lakes wilderness area, since it is scenic but the terrain is not too challenging.  To ensure a non-strenuous hike, he suggested that we start hiking from the lower trail head, as the main trail head starts at the top of the canyon and descends rather steeply into the valley.  In contrast, the lower trail head starts on the opposite end of the valley, leading to a series of interconnecting trails which eventually lead to the lakes themselves.

So, early on a Sunday morning we left Moses Lake and eagerly followed the directions we were given.  It’s a good thing we had them, too, as the Washington State Trails Association only posts directions to the main trail head.  We were very excited to explore this new hike, but we didn’t anticipate the rather hair-raising journey to get there from the highway.  As instructed, we turned off Highway 28 at the Quincy Valley Rest Stop (the super-clean rest stop I mentioned in my posting about Leavenworth and Wenatchee).  But, rather than stopping at their spotless bathrooms, we followed the road around the rest area and into the neighboring orchards of apples, pears and peaches.  When we followed the road “down the hill” as instructed, we were rather shocked by the “hill’s” magnitude.  As it turns out, the slope was so long and steep it created the optical illusion that the car was not only going off the edge of a cliff, but would also plummet into the Wenatchee valley below!  Thankfully, we were only terrified briefly, and the car made it to the bottom in one piece.

As directed, we turned onto the gravel road at the bottom of the hill, and immediately all of us wished we had taken our Subaru instead of my little economy car.  The road was not only bumpy from the gravel, but also had been recently graded, giving it a rough, washboard texture.   The car shook so much over the next few miles that I worried it would fly apart at its seams!  Fortunately, just when we thought that our teeth were going to rattle out of our heads, we reached the large parking area which served as the lower trail head.  This area was obviously not used as often as the main trail head– there were no restrooms, interpretive signs, and certainly no kiosk from which to buy a day-use pass.   Thankfully, we had purchased and printed our Discover Pass before leaving home.

There were several other cars at the trailhead, but it seemed that we were the only group departing for a hike that day.  Within the first half mile after starting out, we ran into five or six groups of backpackers coming back from their weekend camping.  After that, we had the trail to ourselves for most of our journey.

After hiking only about ten minutes, the path leading from the parking lot became several dusty trails meandering over the valley floor.  Apparently this wilderness area is a also a popular spot for mountain biking and horseback riding, and there seems to be plenty of space and plenty of trails for everyone.  Thankfully for a directionally-challenged person such as myself, these diverging trails eventually get you to the same spot, so we didn’t get lost along the way.

Joining us for this hike was our friend Malou, a Southern California transplant who has lived in Washington for over four years and has yet to hike in this state.  Always an enthusiastic participant in any activity, Malou acted as fearless leader and bounded down the trail ahead of us in search of these Ancient Lakes.

After we had wandered through the valley for a while, we started to wonder if the trail had been named “Ancient Lakes” as a joke.  We had been walking for  nearly two miles in the dust and hadn’t seen any sign of a lake.  Don’t get me wrong – the scenery was beautiful, with multicolored cliffs to our left and to our right a wide stretch of sagebrush dotted with just-blooming pink and yellow wildflowers.

But just as we were contemplating the very arid state of the trail, we were surprised to hear the distinctive sound of water spilling over the cliffs above.  Sure enough, to our right was a thin stream of water splashing down the cliff.  One would certainly expect to see waterfalls on hikes through the Cascade Mountains, but not in the desert-like Columbia Basin.  We were discussing the strangeness of seeing a waterfall in such a setting when we spotted another farther ahead, high above us on the cliff.  Another half mile down the trail, we came across a third waterfall, this time only about thirty feet above where we were standing.  The abundance of water in the dry environment  seemed to create its own kind of ecosystem, almost like a mini fern grotto.  Moss, grass, wildflowers and ferns clung to every surface in the perpetually-wet pile of rocks at the bottom of the cliff.  Everything green that could hang on under the rushing water was simply thriving.  It was quite a sight to see!

According to its write-up on the Washington State Trails Association website, the waterfalls along the cliffs in the Ancient Lakes wilderness area are not caused by snowmelt or passing creeks or rivers.  In fact, they are caused by irrigation runoff from the farmland on the plateau above.   It’s maybe not the most exciting explanation, but seeing waterfalls in the middle of a desert hike is still rather impressive.

As we prepared to leave the fern grotto, we followed the trail around a large boulder that I’m assuming was deposited as a result of a glacier, a volcanic explosion, or aliens.  As a child, I hid my mom’s book of Washington geology so many times and so effectively that it eventually disappeared.  Although this spared me the annual summer vacation road trip lecture about the Okanogan subcontinent colliding with North America, I now wish I were more educated about the state’s geological history, so that I can talk more intelligently about the various interesting rock formations all across Eastern Washington.

Since I am so ignorant about the geology of the Ancient Lakes wilderness area, I’m not going to speculate, but I’d like to believe that this massive rock was put there by aliens.  It’s not only the most bad-ass explanation for its being there, but it also would explain the rock’s seemingly other-worldly properties.  You see, when you walk to the side of the boulder opposite the waterfall, you can no longer hear the sound of the rushing water.  However, just a foot or two to either side, and you can hear it loud and clear.  Now, just try and tell me some little green men aren’t behind that whole thing.

After the novelty of the martian-boulder wore off, we continued along the trail.  Eventually, we crested a little hill and it became clear to us why the trail was named “Ancient Lakes.”  All of a sudden, the dust and sage brush gave way to gently-sloping hills covered with golden grass, and leading to three small lakes, one to each side and one straight ahead.  The lake directly in front of us was the most stunning of the three, two thirds banked with grassy slopes, and one third a pile of sharp slabs of rock that had apparently broken off from the cliff above.  At the far end of the lake, a large waterfall (this one a real, legitimate waterfall originating from an unseen stream) thundered down into the otherwise-still water.

The trail we were on followed the crest of a ridge that ran between the center lake and the one to our right, but we decided to head left instead, to a trail that looked like it possibly could take us to the base of the big waterfall.  The idea of having our picnic at the base of the waterfall was so tempting that we decided we would try and forge a trail through the sharp (and, as it turns out, unstable) rocks.

Our journey to the waterfall started off fine.   The path was narrow but easy to see, and seemed to lead us exactly where we wanted to go.  We had to navigate through some tall grass and boggy ground as we reached the bottom of the ridge near the lake edge, but, being the intrepid travelers we are, we confidently navigated the muck.  At the point where we were on the lake shore directly opposite the waterfall, we encountered a family who had started their hike from a different trail head.  They had come from the opposite direction and assured us that the rocky shoreline would be fine for us to navigate.  Of course it would.  If these nice middle aged people and their pre-teen children had done it, we could too, right?

Wrong.  When we reached the rocky part of the lake shore, we began to have doubts about our abilities to navigate this particular patch of ground.  The trail disappeared rather suddenly, as if the rocks had recently fallen from the cliff and obscured.  I took a turn being the leader (perhaps another error in judgment) and the three of us tried earnestly to pick our way through the unstable landscape.  I so had my heart set on my storybook waterfall picnic that I would have probably continued stubbornly until I eventually slipped and plummeted into the water.   Luckily, Steve, who was having even more trouble staying balanced because he was carrying a backpack full of our lunch and extra water, sensibly suggested that we just give up on the waterfall idea and settle for a different picnic spot, perhaps one with a view of the waterfall.

So, having given the waterfall an honest try (and proving that we are indeed less agile and in shape than two nice middle aged people and their pre-teen children), we headed back along the lake shore, through the boggy grass, and back up to the top of the ridge, where we found a lovely picnic spot in the shade of a large boulder.  The shade was welcome at this point, since the day had become quite hot during our trek across the slippery stones.   We spent about a half hour resting our dusty and tired feet and enjoyed a lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, trail mix and fruit before heading back into the sun four our hike back to the car.

The hike back to the trail head was significantly shorter than our jaunt out, since we were spared the detour to the elusive giant waterfall.  When we returned to the car, we were thoroughly covered in dust from the trail and some unusual sun burns where we had obviously forgotten to apply sunscreen.  As we climbed in the car on the way home, I tried to convince the group to make a brief stop at Jones Winery in Quincy, as it on the way.   The response from Malou and Steve was tepid, as I was apparently the only one who felt like tasting wine after an all-day hike in the hot sun.  Malou suggested that instead we have some cold beers and a mid-afternoon pizza at Zack’s, also in Quincy.  Steve heartily agreed.  Outvoted, I acquiesced.

As it turns out Zack’s was the perfect way to end our day hike.  A simple one-story wooden building next to the highway, Zack’s is unassuming in every way except in its menu.  Décor is spare in both the restaurant and the bar.  After surveying both, we opted for the restaurant, as the volume of hard rock music playing in the bar nearly made our ears bleed.  The restaurant was a windowless room containing a handful of unadorned linoleum tables with chairs atop a linoleum floor.  What the space lacked in character was more than made up for by the pizzazz of the menu, both in its design and the available dishes.  Elaborately designed with a flame motif on a black background, the list of salads, appetizers and (of course) pizzas, was extensive and everything sounded delicious.

The three of us opted to split a Chef’s Salad and the Barbeque Chicken Pizza.  The pizza was delicious, but truthfully I was actually more impressed with the salad!  While I had envisioned a typical restaurant-sized salad with a few scattered toppings, what actually emerged from the kitchen was a mountain of shredded iceberg lettuce, covered with a plethora of sliced olives, handfuls of cheese, and a cascade of diced tomato.  It probably would have been drenched with salad dressing too, if we had not ordered it on the side (three equal vats of ranch).  After that salad, I almost didn’t need the pizza, but of course I ate it anyway.  Hot from the oven, the smoky chicken tasted great with the melted cheese and spicy-sweet barbeque sauce.  I think I have a new favorite lunch/dinner spot when we drive through Quincy on our way to Wenatchee!  We may have to hike Ancient Lakes again, so we can reward ourselves with wonderful scenery and equally wonderful pizza!

hike to northrup canyon

I have really enjoyed spending the last few months exploring lots of places around Eastern Washington, but now that the weather is getting warmer, I am excited to be getting outside and exploring some places in my new big backyard, Grant County.  The past two weekends I have gone on two different and very beautiful hikes, both about an hour from our home in Moses Lake: Northrup Canyon and Ancient Lakes.  I intended to write about both hikes in this posting, but both were so wonderful I decided they should each get their own entry.  Below is my summary of the trip to Northrup Canyon.  Be sure to check back next week to hear about Ancient Lakes!

I took the hike to Northrup Canyon on April 15, and was joined by my friend Janet, who drove in from Seattle for a short escape from the perpetual west-side rain.  We left Moses Lake about ten in the morning, and spent the next hour or so on the road cruising through the coulees, until we finally reached our destination, less than ten miles from the enormous Grand Coulee Dam.  If you are not familiar with the term, “coulee” it generally means “a deep ravine.”  In Eastern Washington, “coulee” refers specifically to the deep canyons gouged in the bedrock by the Columbia River as it forged its path to the coast eons ago.

The dramatic views along the road made the drive itself worth the trip to Northrup Canyon.   We snaked around the cliffs that form the edges of the coulees, and at every turn it seemed we would gasp and say “isn’t that beautiful!”  The multicolored rocks soared alternately over dry valley floors or bodies of water such as Banks Lake.  Due to the recent rains in this area, the sage brush and other plants gave a fuzzy, light green hue to normally-dry fields and plains.  As we reached Steamboat Rock, only a few miles from our destination, we could really see why it was so named.  In the middle of Banks Lake, Steamboat Rock rises like a giant river liner, such as the one in “Show Boat.”  Northrup Canyon is actually part of the Steamboat Rock State Park Recreation Area, which contains many other hikes and outdoor activities, but those we would save for another day.

We reached the Northrup Canyon trail head a little before noon, and were lucky to have the trail practically to ourselves.  There were no more than four cars in the parking area on this beautiful Sunday.  It was quite different from my recent hiking experiences in the Cascade Mountains, where our little group found ourselves enjoying the outdoors with 500 of our closest friends.  A sign at the trail head gave some background information about the site.  Northrup Canyon had once been the site of the homestead of John Warden Northrup, who planted the first orchard in this area.  Although the canyon’s location is now quite remote, at that time, the Northrup family was not short of visitors.  Since Northrup Canyon lay on the old stagecoach line between Almira and Bridgeport, the Northrups often had travelers passing through.  The Northrup homestead was also home to a large makeshift camp of people during the harvest time, all of whom helped pick the vegetables and fruit, and were paid in kind for their help.

Another distinction that Northrup Canyon holds is that it is the site of Grant County’s only forest.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Washington, the “Evergreen State,” has an entire county with only one forest in a little patch of land.  The forest is quite lovely, if small.  It consists of typical Eastern Washington evergreens, lodgepole and ponderosa pines, as well as some aspen and willow closer in the wetter ground near Northrup Creek.  We reached the trees after walking only about a quarter of a mile, and left them after we covered about the same amount of ground.  We didn’t mind leaving the shelter of the trees, however, because at once the view opened up we were treated to gorgeous vistas of the surrounding granite and basalt canyon walls, the colors of which varied from rusty red to chocolate brown to deep black.

We continued along the well-maintained and generally level trail through meadows along the canyon floor until we reached an abandoned farmhouse, all that remains of the Northrup homestead.  If you are looking to do a relatively short and easy hike, this would be a good point to turn around and go back to the trailhead.  We decided to go on past the farm house, as we had heard that the remaining trail was beautiful, if challenging.  So we climbed up along the side of the old house and continued to the trail’s terminus at Northrup Lake.

The trail after the farm house became more like a true hike, becoming steeper, rockier and narrower as we climbed toward the top of the canyon walls.  The rugged trail was still gorgeous, though.  We re-entered stands of ponderosas interspersed with granite and basalt boulders.  If you ever go to Northrup Canyon and hike your way to the lake, be sure to bring your sturdy hiking shoes, lots of water, and a camera.  It is amazing the different views the trail affords even with a little gain in elevation.  Being more out of shape than Janet, I was stopping more frequently than I’d like to admit.  But at least I had the excuse of another gorgeous vista to photograph.   It really was spectacular to take in the sweeping views of the greening canyon floor, the distant cliffs near Banks Lake and the crystal clear blue sky.

As we climbed further, we saw a lot of big birds of prey waiting for their next meal to scurry over the canyon floor.  Most were too far up to identify, but we did see one majestic bald eagle circling overhead.  The other large, dark shapes circling above were a reminder for me to invest in a pair of binoculars and a good bird book.  According to the hike’s write-up on the Washington Trails Association website, many owls also take shelter in this wood.  We did not spot any owls, as they tend to be elusive, especially in the daylight.  We did, however, see evidence of their residence with the many owl “pellets” scattered along the trail.  At least we hope they were owl pellets and not our second guess: mountain lion poop.

We continued up the rocky trail, up and up, until it seemed that we were nearly level with the other side of the canyon.  From here it was even easier to see the soaring birds and the vistas of the other coulees and the forest.  Thankfully for my lungs and thighs, the trail evened out after a while, going through a meadow of long, still-yellow grass from which poked a few early wildflowers.  I have heard that later in the spring this trail is quite spectacular for flowers.  I may have to return in a couple weeks and see how it looks when it’s even greener.

After passing through the meadow, we hiked over another small, grassy hill and caught sight of Northrup Lake.  Truthfully, it seemed more like a pond, just a small but tranquil pool surrounded alternately by rocky boulders and marshy grass.    The lake was so calm that it perfectly reflected the surrounding hills, except when the surface was interrupted by the frequently jumping fish.  If my dad had been there, he would have known what type of fish was likely to be in that lake, but I have spent most of my life avoiding fishing trips and so couldn’t even venture a guess.  Whatever the fish were, they were small and hungry!  There must have been some good bugs out there for the fishies to munch on.

Speaking of munching, the lake was the perfect place for Janet and me to sit and enjoy our lunch, a hodgepodge of fruit, nuts, crackers, cheese, cookies and hard candies.  The large, warm rocks surrounding the lake were a perfect spot to rest, eat and enjoy the view.  The sun felt so nice, it was hard to turn around and hike back to the car.

Luckily, the hike back was just as gorgeous going out as coming in, and actually it seemed almost like doing an entirely new hike, since all the beautiful views seemed new and different going along the trail in the opposite direction.  We returned to the car tired but feeling accomplished and full of some much-needed vitamin D from the sun.

The drive back to Moses Lake was quieter than our drive up, as we were now feeling a bit drained by the sun and the physical exertion.  However, we did manage to make a couple short stops on our way home.  First stop was a for some photo ops along Banks Lake.  Banks Lake had previously also been a dry canyon, but is now a reservoir formed by two dams on either end of the Grand Coulee.  Built as part of the Columbia Basin Project, Banks Lake is 27 miles long and is a popular recreation spot in northeastern Washington, where tourists can fish, hike, camp and do a number of other activities.  The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife provides excellent detailed information about Banks Lake on their website.

Our next stop on the way home was Dry Falls.  As you may have guessed from the name, Dry Falls was once the site of a waterfall, the world’s largest, in fact.  At 3.5 miles long, in its time it was more than three times the size of Niagra Falls.  Dry Falls resulted from the mass of rushing water caused by the collapse of Glacier Lake Missoula at the end of the Ice Age.   From the viewpoint along Highway 17, you can see the cliffs where the waterfall once flowed.  We would have liked to check out the visitor’s center and explore some more, but it was getting late so we just took the opportunity to get a few photos and then were on our way.  More information about the very-interesting history of Dry Falls and Lake Missoula can be found at gonorthwest.com, or by watching the movie Ice Age: The Meltdown.
After leaving Dry Falls, it took us another 45 minutes to reach Moses Lake, and by that time Janet and I were really ready for a rest.  Unfortunately, Janet still had the long drive back to Seattle ahead of her, but luckily she made it back home safely.  After I showered the dusty trail away and put on my non-hiking clothes, Steve and I relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful sunny evening with a glass of wine on the balcony.  I couldn’t have asked for a better Sunday afternoon and evening!

a spring jaunt to leavenworth and wenatchee

Photo courtesy of Lina

This week’s installment focuses on two of my favorite areas in Eastern Washington: beautiful Leavenworth nestled in the Cascade Mountains and Wenatchee, the state’s apple basket.

I love Leavenworth for two reasons: firstly for its stunning location among the steeply-rising craggy peaks sprinkled with evergreens, and secondly for its enormous capacity for kitsch.  If you have been to Leavenworth, you know what I’m talking about.   If you have never been, let me enlighten you.

Leavenworth is a town of about 2,000 people conveniently located on US Highway 2, a northern thoroughfare passing through Washington State East to West.  The town was founded at the turn of the 20thcentury, and like many other small towns of the day its livelihood depended heavily on the railroad.

However, in the 1920’s the Great Northern Railroad relocated their headquarters to nearby Wenatchee, devastating Leavenworth’s economy.  After decades of struggling, the town decided in the late 1960’s to adapt rather than collapse.  In doing so, the town leaders decided to capitalize on the town’s mountainous location and transport travelers along the US 2 from the Cascades to the Alps.  To accomplish this feat, Leavenworth transformed the character of literally every building in the main area of town into Bavarian-style chalets.

Photo courtesy of Lina

Leavenworth used their newly established town theme to become a top tourist destination for travelers going across the Cascade Mountains.  The town’s location makes for a good day trip from the Seattle area, or a perfect lunch spot if you are on your way to Chelan, Wenatchee or the Okanogan region.  In the summer, I have seen a lederhosen-clad polka band performing in the town park, and there are no fewer than three places on the main street to get a bratwurst and a beer.  If beer is your thing, Leavenworth hosts its own Oktoberfest in the fall, which I think will go onto my list of future EWW adventures, along with Leavenworth’s renowned Christmas festival.  More on Leavenworth’s very interesting history and its various events can be found on the website of Leavenworth’s Chamber of Commerce.

Steve during a trip to Leavenworth last August.

I have to admit that I love cheesy stuff, and Leavenworth is a perfect match for this sensibility.  Everywhere you look, there is kitsch to observe and also to purchase.  Souvenir shops line the streets, which are packed at all times of the year.  My personal favorite since childhood has been the hat shop (more on that later).  A more recent favorite activity of mine has been to explore the many recently-established wineries and tasting rooms along the town’s main streets (more on those later as well).

This particular trip to Leavenworth was instigated by my friend Lina, whom you may remember from our recent adventures in Spokane Wine Weekend and Spokane: The Sequel.  While in Spokane back in March, I discovered that, despite having grown up in Eastern Washington, neither Lina nor her brother Levi had ever visited Leavenworth.  Of course, we had to plan a trip.  As it happened, Lina and Levi’s other brother, Luke, happened to be performing with the Seattle Men’s Chorus April 7 in Wenatchee, only a short drive from Leavenworth.  So, Lina and Levi left Spokane early that morning, and drove the two hours to meet Steve and me in Moses Lake.  The four of us piled into Lina’s all-red, super-roomy 1992 Chrysler 5th Avenue luxury sedan and started to head up Highway 17 toward Wenatchee and Leavenworth!

After driving for about an hour and a half (with one brief potty break in Quincy, at the cleanest rest stop I have ever seen), we passed through Wenatchee and merged onto US-2, which lead us into the tree-covered granite peaks on the way to lovely Leavenworth.  Lina and Levi were anxious to know when exactly we were entering the town, and I assured them they would recognize it when they saw it.  Sure enough, within minutes of their inquiring, we were passing Das 76 Station and Der McDonalds, decorated in all their Bavarian glory.  Although Bavarian-style gas stations, fast food and grocery stores sound super cheesy (they are), Leavenworth still pulls the look off in a way that manages to also be charming.  People like me who are susceptible to romance, perhaps are more than willing to fall under the spell of the theme town.

As it was nearly noon by the time we reached our alpine destination, our first stop was the park to eat a picnic lunch.  Unfortunately, our lovely spring picnic was somewhat affected by the often-fickle nature of mountain weather, even on the sunny east side of the Cascades.  Whereas it had been a balmy spring day when we left Moses Lake, and had indeed remained so for the duration of the car trip, our fortunes turned just as we were parking the car.  Determined to eat our picnic despite the rapidly-approaching dark clouds, we took our blanket and cooler to the park and found a nice little table.  At least, given the weather, we had the park to ourselves!  We must have been quite a sight, feasting on tuna sandwiches, fruit and cheese and crackers, all bundled up in our jackets and wool hats!  Although we had to chase down some cups and plates at intervals due to the wind, we made it through our lunch a little chilly but otherwise unscathed.

Photo courtesy of Lina

After we finished eating, we were joined by Luke and his boyfriend Frank.  Luke was on his way to Wenatchee for pre-concert rehearsals, but Frank stayed with us to play tourist.  We were all particularly curious about what Frank would think of Leavenworth, because he was born and raised in Germany (although not in Bavaria).  Frank was quiet about his opinion, though I suspect that he appreciated the effort, but hopefully did not take it too seriously!

Our first stop after putting away our picnic supplies was Ryan Patrick Vineyards because, after all, here at EWW rare is the trip where we don’t seek out some tasty Washington wine.  Ryan Patrick actually has its vineyards in Quincy (home of the fantastic rest stop), and used to have their tasting room there, along the very highway we had traveled on our way to Leavenworth.   However, the winery didn’t get the desired amount of traffic at the Quincy location, so recently opted for the touristier site in Leavenworth.  We tried some very tasty and reasonably-priced wines at Ryan Patrick  (most bottles go for between $10 and $20).  Their rosé was a favorite among the group.  I, of course, was partial to the Naked Chardonnay.  Ryan Patrick is actually one of nearly twenty wineries which have now opened tasting rooms in Leavenworth.  After finishing our tasting there, our group wandered down the road to try wines from one of our Tried-and-True Leavenworth favorites: Kestrel cellars.  But first: a trip to the hat shop!

If you have ever been to Leavenworth, you have inevitably been to the hat shop.  Coming through town as a kid on family road trips, this store was a must-do attraction during our Leavenworth lunch break.  I also have very fond memories of going there with my friend Suzanne when we were 11 years old.  Her mom, Donna, had taken us on a weekend trip to Leavenworth and Wenatchee, and Suzanne and I spent the better part of an afternoon exploring the hat shop alone.  Donna, not only patiently waited for us while we played with the hats, but also offered to buy us each a hat of our choosing.  My choice was a pretty straw hat with a wide pink band that reminded me of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, one of my favorite movies at the time.  Suzanne, much more plugged in to fashion and pop culture than me, had different ideas for what she was looking for.  Being very into Janet Jackson’s Velvet Rope album at the time, Suzanne was drawn to a floppy cap with long black braids hanging from it, much like Janet’s in the movie Poetic Justice.  Although Suzanne, like me, is blue-eyed and of fair Scandinavian descent, when she put on that hat she became Janet.  It had to be hers.  We wore those hats nonstop for the rest of the weekend.

On this trip to Leavenworth, I was happy to see that the shop still held its very wide assortment of both stylish and completely goofy hats.  The shop itself is quite small, long and narrow, about fifteen feet at its widest point.  Aside from the small counter, just large enough to hold the till and cashier, every surface holds all variety of head coverings.  Floor-to-ceiling shelving along each wall contains fedoras, berets, and headgear in the shape of hotdogs, tacos, and giant clownfish.  The floor space in between the shelving is used for kiosks for other sorts of hats.  Steve was particularly attached to the deep sea diver helmet, and it took some major tough love to convince him not to buy it.  Levi found a wig that looked amazingly natural on him, especially when wearing his aviator sunglasses.

Photo courtesy of Lina.
Photo courtesy of Lina

Once we managed to pull ourselves (especially Steve) away from the hats, we continued wandering down the street towards the tasting room for Kestrel Vintners.  Once there, we took our time enjoying their five-wine flight.  One of the reasons that I wanted to return to Kestrel was not only for the tasty wine but also for the warm and welcoming atmosphere that the winery provides.  The interior is nearly all done in light-colored, unembellished wood.  A couple of small tables sit near the entrance, where patrons can enjoy wine samples away from the bar or sip on a granita made from Kestrel’s red table wine, Lady in Red, or their signature sweet white wine, Pure Platinum.  The rest of the space is dominated by the large wraparound bar, backed with wooden wine racks.  Both times we’ve visited Kestrel, we enjoyed friendly and knowledgeable service from the tasting room staff and really enjoyed the wine.  Although all the wines were consistent, well-balanced and flavorful, the real standout for our group was their Syrah port.  It was a beautiful ruby red, and very flavorful without being too sweet.  It’s the kind of wine I’d love to have for dessert in lieu of chocolate cake.

After Kestrel, we felt we had had our fill of Leavenworth, so hopped back in the Chrysler and set sail to Wenatchee, where we were would be viewing Luke’s concert later that evening.  Of course, since we still had a couple of hours to kill, what else could be do but taste more wine?   You may remember that I mentioned Chateau Faire le Pont in my posting about Chelan back in January.  I had such fond memories of the place and the wine, I was really excited to bring some more of my fellow wine lovers.  The location still kind of makes me giggle, as it is a beautiful replica of a French villa smack dab in the middle of an industrial park.  The winery makes the most of its location, though, with pretty gardens, ornamental grape vines and water features.  Once inside, it is easy to forget the concrete and warehouses outside.

Grape vines outside Chateau Faire le Pont. From the correct angle you can forget you’re in an industrial park!  Photo taken in Sept 2009

The interior of Faire le Pont is classy, cozy and inviting with its exposed brick walls and dark wood.  The founders, Doug and Debe Brazil, have created such an elegant space you would never know that the building is actually a converted warehouse once used for staging fruit before being loading onto trains. In addition to the large tasting bar that takes up nearly an entire wall, Chateau Faire le Pont operates a small restaurant and a larger event space.  Separating the dining area and tasting bar from the event room is sitting area with leather sofas and a gas fireplace.  It’s not a bad place to sit and enjoy a nice glass of the rich and abundantly-flavored Tre Amore blend (I should know: this is exactly what the girls and I did on our first visit).

On this trip, our little group sidled up to the tasting bar, where we were greeted by the effervescent and knowledgeable tasting room manager, a former court administrator (in Grant County, where Steve now works!)-turned-wine-enthusiast.  She guided us through CFLP’s many excellent selections.  Although all their wines were stunning, I favored their big, juicy reds like the aforementioned Tre Amore.  Steve and Lina were partial to the Syrahs.  The port at CFLP was excellent as well, the most fun part being the adorable little port glass we were given to better sip!   I wish I had a picture of it to post here, but for now you can check out this link to get an idea.  Steve and I went home with the 2008 Syrah, though we could have bought out the shop if we had the budget.

Having had our fill of both kitsch and tasty wine, the five of us were now ready to grab a quick burger at Bob’s Classic Brass & Brew and then head to the Wenatchee Performing Arts Center to watch Luke’s concert.  It was the perfect way to end a long but enjoyable day.  The burgers were satisfyingly greasy at Bob’s, with nary a vegetable in sight except for the iceberg lettuce salads loaded with ranch dressing.  You really can’t miss Bob’s driving through downtown Wenatchee, as it’s got a giant pink and white vintage car on a pedestal out front and another coming out of the roof.

After loading our bellies and our arteries, it was finally time for Luke’s concert.  It was my first time seeing the Seattle Men’s Chorus perform, and they went beyond my already-high expectations.  The reason they were performing in Wenatchee was to participate in an awareness and fundraising effort to promote unity and acceptance, and to benefit the family of a Wenatchee teen who committed suicide after being bullied for being openly gay.  The music consisted of music of the Beatles, who may be my favorite band of all time.  Of course, the music was outstanding and the message was uplifting and inspiring.  It was truly a wonderful way to cap off the day.

When the concert ended, we said our goodbyes to Luke and Frank, and started the long drive back to Moses Lake, our bellies a little queasy from too much wine and burgers and feeling satisfyingly tired after a very fun and very full day.  I think that I can safely say that Lina and Levi’s first trip to Leavenworth was indeed a success!

spokane: the sequel – more wine and cheese!

Stained glass ceiling in the Davenport Hotel’s Peacock Room

This is a continuation of my previous post: Wine Weekend in Spokane.

My second day in Spokane began gray and a little rainy.  I had to wake up somewhat earlier than normal for my Saturday, as we had a 10 AM appointment to play Mahjong with Marti, a family friend of Lina’s.  Marti recently taught Lina and her mother, Nancie to play and they thought I might enjoy it too. I have a strong competitive streak and I love to learn new games.  So I was eager (if sleepy) as we left the house to meet Marti and play.

I let the coffee kick in as we made the journey to Marti’s home in Spokane’s South Hill neighborhood.  South Hill is a lovely area and it was clear to me from the size of the trees and character of the houses that this was one of Spokane’s older neighborhoods. It was easy to imagine those big trees in their full summer foliage, lining the wide streets and creating a cool, green oasis in the hot Eastern Washington summer.

The visit to Marti’s house made me thankful yet again for having local hosts.  Sometimes travelers (including myself) get into a “sightseeing” mindset and neglect the benefits that can be gained from spending quality time with friends in a new place, whether the friends are old and treasured or brand new.  I consider Marti and her husband Dennis new friends, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to visit with them in their home.  Their house is the kind that you never want to leave.  The inside is tasteful and filled with nice furnishings, but the feel is warm and welcoming rather than stuffy.  Marti’s father was an artist and art collector, and his pieces are in every room.  Marti’s open kitchen and living area has large windows overlooking the deck and a backyard that was just showing the first signs of spring during our visit.  Her house is exactly how I would like mine to look someday.

I had a great time learning Mahjong from Marti, but unfortunately my competitive nature was not rewarded with any wins that day.  Thankfully, everyone was very patient with me and it was fun to learn the game.  I think I’ll have to buy myself a set of tiles so I’ll be ready for a rematch!  I was consoled in my losing state by a delicious lunch of Marti’s homemade soup and salad.

After our lovely lunch and games at Marti and Dennis’, Lina and I returned to her house for a couple hours’ rest before our big Saturday night out.  I was very excited to go “out on the town,” for two reasons: firstly, because Spokane has a lot more going on at night than Moses Lake, and secondly because Lina had been telling me about her favorite hot spots for some time, and I had yet to see any of them!  Our itinerary consisted of a few places where we could get wine and cheese, without bothering to think of whether we would get any sort of vitamins or fiber.  Hey, it was Saturday night, I was on vacation and diets be damned!

Our first stop was the Downriver Grill to sample the Gorgonzola fries or, as I now call them, heaven in a bowl.  I have to say, the outside of Downriver Grill is deceptive.  It is situated along one of the main roads heading downtown, set back from the street and surrounded by a parking lot that holds probably twenty cars.  Honestly it looks like any other neighborhood place.  However, when you walk in, it becomes immediately apparent that the owners put most of their focus and attention into creating atmosphere inside.  The interior of the restaurant is lovely – it has a mid-size dining room and a small  bar that features local wine and beer in addition to the standard spirits.  The whole place had a casual feel, and the dark wood, warm colors and dim lighting made it seem classy but not snooty.

Clearly, Downriver Grill’s charm and elegance are not lost on Spokane foodies.  Though we left early to beat the dinner rush, even at 5:30 the wait for a table in the restaurant was 35 minutes.  We were lucky enough to grab a seat at a table in the bar just as another group was leaving.  Fate was surely smiling upon us!  Knowing our food selection already, we took a brief glance at the wine list (I ordered Townshend Chardonnay, Lina ordered Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling) and ordered the Gorgonzola fries.

Let me tell you, those fries were everything Lina made them out to be!  Warm, fresh, waffle-cut fries smothered in the richest gorgonzola cream sauce.  It is not good for the hips, but oh it is so tasty on the lips!  My bright chardonnay cut the richness quite nicely and I was in cheese and wine heaven!

After getting fortified with potato and cheesy goodness, we made our way to downtown Spokane for…more wine and cheese!  Lina had better be careful, if she keeps hosting me for weekends like this I may just stay in Spokane forever!  We first went to Arbor Crest’s downtown tasting room in the River Park Square shopping mall.  You may remember from my last posting that we tried unsuccessfully to taste the wine at Arbor Crest’s main tasting room the day before. Luckily for us, the mall tasting room, unlike the one at the winery, stays open until 10 PM on weekends!

For a mall location, the Arbor Crest tasting room has certainly made the most of the space.  Although the tasting room bumps up against the mall food court, the designers did a good job giving the space an intimate feel.  Half-walls with planter boxes, as well as (I suspect) a faux ceiling separate the space from the cavernous mall, and comfortable chairs, a gas fireplace and wrought-iron tables give the small space the feel of a coffee shop.  The tasting bar is set in the back, which also helps the atmosphere for wine tasters, as it creates distance between the tasting space and the hubbub of shoppers and moviegoers.

Lina and I lucked out again with our timing, reaching Arbor Crest at a time between movie rushes, according to our host.  Only one other party was tasting, and they were just finishing up as we arrived.  We shared a tasting of five wines, a sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, syrah, malbec and the Dionysus blend.  My favorite was the Dionysus.  I had tasted that before, and it is a delicious Bordeaux-style blend full of fruit and a scent that will knock your socks off.  I have no trouble understanding why the winery named it after the Greek good of wine and merriment.  Unfortunately, the Dionysus is beyond the range of my current budget ($48) , but I do have a bottle sitting in my wine collection (a wedding present, courtesy of Lina) for which I am now just awaiting an appropriate occasion.

After we had got our fill of wine from Downriver and Arbor Crest, our final stop and highlight of the evening was a trip the historic Davenport Hotel and its lovely restaurant and cocktail bar, The Peacock Room.  This portion of the evening was a real treat for me because I absolutely love old fancy hotels.  The Four Seasons Olympic in Seattle has always been a favorite of mine, and now the Davenport is right up there too.   Built in 1918, the hotel has a spacious lobby, dominated by a beautiful marble fountain surrounded by flowers.  The large space is roughly divided in half, on one side a lounge with over-sized, comfortable leather chairs (we had to try them out of course!) and a café, separated from the main lobby by lacy potted palms.  The entire hotel has that Gilded Age look of glamor to it, from the marble floors to the many columns, all decorated in gold leaf.

An open gallery on the second floor overlooks the main lobby area, and also houses the hotel’s ballrooms and event spaces.  We arrived on a night when a local private school was hosting a gala.  It was a lot of fun to see so many people in evening ware sauntering around the swanky hotel as we explored the upper gallery.   In my jeans I certainly stuck out like a sore thumb, but it was fun to imagine I belonged there.

Once we finished our exploring, we found our way to the Peacock Room back on the first floor.  Another dazzling space, it would be easy to imagine Frank Sinatra enjoying a cocktail in this dim, intimate bar.  The walls are papered with art-deco peacock motifs on a dark background, and the entrance has a gorgeous backlit stained glass ceiling, also depicting a peacock.

Lina and I lucked out yet again with our timing at the Peacock room, arriving at a time when the place was practically empty.  Over the hour or so we were there, it rapidly filled. I was glad we staked out the place that we did: a two-seater bar-height table with a good view out the window for Saturday night  people watching.

Although we had been drinking wine all weekend, Lina assured me that the Peacock Room was known really for its Cougar Gold cheese dip and its signature cocktails.  So, to do as the Romans, I chose a cocktail that the waitress suggested: the Ruby Red Grapefruit Drop.  Lina stuck with her favorite: the Key Lime Pie martini.   After having both, I see why that’s her favorite.  I liked my drink, but Lina’s really was a dessert in a glass.

And what’s the perfect complement to dessert in a glass? More cheese!  So, we ordered the Cougar Gold dip with extra bread (so no bit of dip would go to waste, of course).  For the benefit of any readers who are not from Washington State or who have never had the pleasure of tasting Cougar Gold cheese let me back up and give you a little background.  Cougar Gold is a sharp, naturally-made white cheddar that is sold to benefit Washington State University, hence the name Cougar Gold, for the WSU Cougars.  A 30 ounce package comes as a large wheel inside an aluminum can.  Apparently the can is a packaging innovation developed by WSU creamery in the 1930’s and still remains a tradition.  The WSU creamery actually has a very interesting history that you can read about on their website.

I have to admit that, even though I am a lifelong University of Washington Huskies fan, the WSU cheese is absolutely delicious.   The dip at the Peacock Room combines the cheese with shallots and herbs, and I’m guessing a little vermouth to cut the richness.  With the warm bread it was unbelievably good.  To top everything off, in the spirit of Mae West, we ordered a Chocolatini.  Because after all, “too much of a good thing is wonderful!”

Well that wraps up the highlights from my trip to Spokane.  Next be on the lookout for some more musings on Washington wine as we prepare for the spring barrel-tasting events!

spokane wine weekend

After a wonderful trip to Spokane last weekend, I’m not even really sure where to start.  I suppose, as with most things, it is best to start at the beginning.  This trip to Spokane was initiated by my friend Lina, who has lived in Spokane for at least the past 20 years, and whom I have known since we were wee babes.  Upon hearing about my Eastern Washington blogging project, she invited me to see the sights in her lovely hometown.  Of course, I have been to Spokane many times before to visit Lina, but only recently have we discovered we have a common interest in food and wine.  So, this trip ended up being somewhat of a wine and culinary tour.  Sound delicious? Read on!

Spokane is definitely the easiest-to-get-to spot EWW has explored thus far.  On Friday morning, I rolled out of bed, got in the car, and started to cruise down I-90 East.   The March weather along the way proved that this month certainly does come in like a lion, blowing my little economy car all over the road.  Luckily, I made it in one piece, and by that time I was really ready for a drink.  Luckily, we had a whole afternoon of Spokane wineries ahead!   After I put down my bag and had a quick pizza lunch, we were off!

On our way downtown, we picked up our third wine-tasting companion, fellow blogger Georgette Graham, whose blog, Coffee, Cats and Keyboards, I highly recommend you check out.  Accompanied by my oldest and newest friends, I was off to try some spectacular Spokane wines!  Our first stop was Caterina winery, which features its own wines as well as those from Lone Canary Winery.

Housed in the historic Broadview Dairy Building, Caterina shares the space with the still-operating dairy and a milk production museum!  Unfortunately, we were on a schedule so could not visit the museum, but will try to circle back on a return trip.  By the way, be sure to use the above hyperlink to look up Caterina online.  Caterinawinery.com just gets you here, which is not super useful unless you know Japanese.

Immediately upon walking in, I fell in love with Caterina’s space on the building’s first floor. The tasting room/gift shop was spacious but had a warm and cozy feel, with the unfinished floor boards and exposed brick walls.  Multicolored paper lanterns hung from the ceiling, giving the atmosphere a touch of whimsy.  This sunny Friday afternoon, the three of us were lucky enough to be the only patrons at the time we walked in.  A friendly gentleman was working behind the bar, and offered us a most generous tasting.  At no charge, we were offered a selection of 14 wines!  We made it through all five white varieties before we realized that we would have to pace ourselves if we wanted to remain standing for our other tastings that day.

For whites, we tried a pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, Riesling and gewürztraminer.  The standouts for me were the chardonnay and (rather surprisingly) the gewürztraminer.  A good chardonnay can be like heaven for me, especially if it is just full of butter flavor.  This chardonnay wasn’t quite a divine experience for me, as it was a little lighter than I generally prefer, but it did carry a distinct strain of butter flavor, which tickled my taste buds.  Plus, at a price of $10 it was very wallet-friendly.

The real surprise was the gewurtz, though.  A sweet wine, in my (admittedly limited) experience, gewürztraminer generally has a lot of tropical fruit, citrus or lychee flavors.  This version, though sweet, had more herbal and piney flavors than I had tasted from this grape before.  Being a fan of gin, this aspect of the wine certainly intrigued me.  The price on this wine was also attractive: $12 for the bottle.

The reds at Caterina were fine, though I did not enjoy them as much as the whites.  I tried the sangiovese, 2007 Merlot, syrah and barbera.  They all had about the same character to me: nice flavor at the beginning, but became bone-dry almost immediately.  I felt like I couldn’t enjoy what seemed like it would have been very nice flavor.  It made me glad that I had tasted all the whites and skipped several of the red wines.  Overall, though, we had a very nice time and a friendly host, and both Georgette and I went home with a bottle of the gewürztraminer.

Although the reds at Catarina left me dry, my thirst was quenched at our next stop: Barrister Winery.  I had been anticipating this portion of the afternoon since my last trip to Spokane.  At that time, I tried Barrister’s Rough Justice non-vintage red blend and it was love at first sip.  I’m sure you can imagine my excitement at the opportunity to try even more of their scrumptious reds.  Because Lina knew I was so eagerly awaiting this visit, she had even arranged a private winery tour for the three of us.

We almost didn’t make it to our tour, though, as we nearly missed finding the winery altogether.  Part of the charm of Barrister is that is tucked away in an alley near the railroad tracks, giving it a secret, magical feel.  Unfortunately, what makes the location charming also makes it a challenge to find.  We ended up in the wrong narrow alley and were starting to feel hopelessly lost.  At one point I began wondering whether the winery might be located in some Diagon Alley-type alternate reality, which would have been awesome if we were able to find it.  Luckily for us, Barrister exists very much in the real world.  After a panicky phone call with the tasting room manager, we discovered it was just one street over.

The reason for Barrister’s tucked-away location is that, at one point in time, the building was used to transfer railroad cars directly from the tracks and unload their goods.  Much as with Caterina, the owners have let the charm of the building shine through in the décor.  The rough-hewn floor boards are original, as are the bare brick walls, adorned floor-to-ceiling with the work of local artists.  The tasting bar where we started our tour sits in a sunny corner near the entrance.  Liz, our tasting room hostess, gave us samples of four of their wines: the aforementioned Rough Justice blend, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

Liz and Tyler, our awesome hosts at Barrister Winery

I suppose at this point I should back up and also explain to you why the winery is named “Barrister.”  According to our tour guide (and winemaker) Tyler Walters, Barrister is so named because it was started by Michael White and Greg Lipsker, two attorneys who mistakenly came upon a wine-making supply shop while looking for a good bottle of wine to drink.  They impulsively bought a wine kit, and started making wine as a hobby.  Apparently, the first couple of batches of the DIY wine were duds, but the owners definitely got the bug and the “hobby” turned into a winery that produces 3,100 cases of wine annually.

I am certainly thankful that Mr.’s White and Lipsker decided to pour their savings into creating Barrister winery.  The wines are superb.   Of course, the Rough Justice blend was delicious: well balanced, full of fruit and velvety smooth.  What really won my affection during the tasting, however, was Barrister’s signature wine:  the Cabernet Franc.  Cabernet Franc is becoming a much more popular grape here in Washington State.  Traditionally, it is used as a blending grape, something to round out the flavors of a cabernet sauvignon or add to a Bordeaux-style blend. However, Washington wine growers have started to notice over the past several years that Cabernet Franc grows exceptionally well in this region, making for wines that stand out very well on their own.  After our visit to Barrister, I have to agree.  The Cabernet Franc was lovely: flavorful but not overwhelming, as smooth as Rough Justice and would go wonderfully with a nice flank steak or a tin of dark chocolate.  I am getting hungry and thirsty just writing about it!

After we took our time enjoying the scrumptious wines, Tyler officially began our tour.  Our first stop was the event space opposite the tasting bar.  It was beautiful.  The shabby-chic look of the 100-year-old warehouse space is so interesting that they did not need to do much other than set up 7 or 8 tables with plain black cloths and simple votive candles.

The next stop on the tour was the wine production area to get a mini-lesson in how Barrister wines are made.  I was surprised at how small the space was, my only reference points being Novelty Hill/Januik and Chateau Ste Michelle in Woodinville, which are both quite large operations.  Tyler explained to us that the wine production at Barrister is still very hands-on.  Volunteers clean off the grapes by hand, picking out leaves, sticks, spiders and anything else that shouldn’t go in wine.  The grapes then go through a hopper to be separated from their stems to prepare to be juiced.  Once the grapes are juiced, they are placed into vats with the yeast necessary for fermentation.   Tyler told us that he personally “punches down” the grape skins atop the juice by hand to prevent them from drying out before the wine is ready to be put in barrels to age.  I was totally impressed by the amount of love that clearly goes into each bottle, along with all the blood, sweat and tears.  If I don’t have a full time job by the fall, I might go over there again to volunteer.

After the production area, we were taken by elevator (the ORIGINAL elevator that helped transport railroad cars, by the way) to the barrel room, a natural underground wine cellar.  You can get a glimpse of it below.  Apparently this space can also be rented for intimate dinners and other small events.

After visiting the cellar, we were treated to a look at the yet-unfinished upstairs space at the winery.   For now, it’s not used for much other than storage, but it has potential to be another event space, if you ask me!  I would love to have a party there (after they fix the holes in the floor boards, that is!).

Marta, Lina and Georgette in the elevator at Barrister
At that point, our tour was over.  I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Barrister.  The wines were incredible, our hosts were extremely friendly, and the space was beautiful.  I will definitely be going back!

After our delightful time at Barrister, we decided that we’d try to squeeze in a quick trip to Arbor Crest across town.  Lina has been wanting to take me to Arbor Crest for a long time, as it is as much a Spokane landmark as a wine destination.  Sitting atop a hill east of the city, Arbor Crest looks over the Spokane River and has lovely views of the surrounding hillsides.  It is a popular wedding venue in town, and also hosts a series of events throughout the summer.

We sped across town in hopes of reaching our destination before closing time.  Unfortunately, we missed the last tasting by about five minutes.  At least we got an opportunity to admire the view in the golden, late-afternoon light.

Upon our return to Lina’s place, we were greeted with a delicious pre-St. Patrick’s Day dinner of homemade corned beef, cabbage and potatoes with Amish butter.  I love having a local host when traveling.  No restaurant can quite replicate the warmth and great company of a good ol’ family dinner!  What a wonderful way to end a great day!

Be sure to check out EWW next week to hear even more about my eating and drinking adventures in Spokane!

night out in othello = a big waste of time

Welcome to Eastern Washington Weekend’s first edition of Where not to go in Eastern Washington!  Today’s not-so-hot spot: Othello.  The culprit: our friend Alex, for whom an adventurous spirit is often an asset, but in this case had him eating crow on the long drive home from a failed attempt at a fun night out in Othello.

Here’s what happened: Friday before last, Steve and I were enjoying some drinks at our favorite local wine bar, Imbibe.  Actually, as far as we know, it’s the only wine bar in town.  We were joined by Alex, his roommate Tony, and our new friend Fabio, a German guy who was lucky enough to score a two-month international internship with BMW, and unlucky enough to have Moses Lake as his sole reference for American culture.  I do not mean to speak ill of my new home (I will reserve that sentiment for my description of Othello), but if it were me, I would not want my entire United States experience to be winter in a rural town.   Thankfully, Fabio plans to do a little touring after his stint at BMW, so he will be able to tell his friends back home about the culture, arts and cuisine of both the city and the country.  I can be reasonably sure that our trip to Othello will not make the highlight reel.

So anyway, there we were, enjoying our drinks at Imbibe, and Alex started making the case to take the party to the neighboring town of Othello.  Let me clarify here that “neighboring town” does not mean a jaunt down the road.  Othello is a good ½ hour car ride from Moses Lake, much the same as the other “neighboring” towns, like Ephrata and Quincy.  Alas, against our better judgment, Alex convinced us, and we decided to make the trek to Othello and see what the nightlife was all about.  Fabio was kind enough to agree to be our designated driver (talk about ambassadorship!) and off we went down the dark, empty highway toward the bright lights of Othello.

As we entered the town, it became immediately apparent that Othello is not the night hotspot that Alex had implied in his description.  Along the main street, all the windows were darkened, leading to our growing feeling of disappointment.  We brightened up a bit when we saw some flashing colored lights in the window of a nearby hotel, next to a large windowless building with DANCE CLUB painted on the wall in big block letters.  Fabio pulled over the car, and we entered what we thought was the door into a hoppin’ nightspot.  As it turns out, the door we entered actually led to a Chinese restaurant that was about to close.  The proprietor informed us that the door to the dance club was actually around back.  Having come this far, we dutifully walked around back to an unmarked door, and stepped inside.  Upon entering, it was obvious that the term “Dance Club” was applied rather loosely to this establishment.  The brightly-lit space contained no dancing people at all, only a group of four men playing pool in the corner.  The 70-year old woman with a chain-smoker’s voice acted as bouncer, and demanded a $5 cover charge for entry.  When we realized that she was not joking, we decided to try our luck elsewhere.  Bouncer-Granny was no help, warning us that Othello “rolls up the sidewalks after 9 PM.”

Facing a long drive back to Moses Lake, we were not quite ready to give up on Alex’s dream.  So, we piled back into the car and drove around what there was of the town, looking for signs of life.  We did not have to drive far before coming to another windowless building marked “PUB” by a lighted sign out front.  Considering that this place actually had cars parked out front, we were already in better shape than we had been ten minutes before.

Elated that our trek to Othello was not in vain, we happily walked in and found a table. We received several stares from the patrons as we entered; clearly it was not typical for a group of Moses Lake kids to wander in on a Friday night.  However, no one really seemed to mind that we were there, so we just made ourselves comfortable.  Unfortunately for Alex and Tony, who had hoped that a trip out of town might lead to meeting some interesting girls, the patrons were 95% male.  And, as one might expect for a working-class, small-town, all-male-customer-base-bar, the owners had obviously not invested a lot in ambiance.  Again, the space was brightly lit and the floor looked like it may not have been mopped for quite a while.  However, I do harbor an affinity for divey spots, and the furniture was not fancy but certainly functional and the tables were clean.  Plus, I enjoyed the upbeat Spanish-language music on the juke box, and the Coors Light and pulltabs were cheap and plentiful. Things were looking up.

However, my evening started another nasty downhill turn when I decided to use the ladies’ room.  Thankfully, there was not a line, as my bladder had barely the capacity to last the long search for our Othello night spot.  The problem came when I attempted to leave.  The single-use bathroom was actually not much more than a closet with a ½ bath inside.  I had locked the door to the tiny space on the way in, and when I attempted to unlock it, the knob wouldn’t turn.  I turned the lock every which way, and nothing seemed to help.  I continued to try the knob in vain, getting increasingly panicked.

Eventually, someone started knocking at the door because I was taking so long.  I tried to knock back and yell through the door, but apparently the music outside was too loud for anyone to hear what I was saying.  I closed my eyes and made myself breathe until I finally calmed down enough to regain some presence of mind.  I called Steve, who was wondering what had become of me.  He immediately came to my rescue, and explained my situation to the two miffed girls still waiting outside.  Having no key, one of the girls stuck her artificial fingernail into the lock and turned, releasing me from my porcelain prison.  I vowed that I would not attempt to relieve myself again until we returned safely to Moses Lake.

Once I returned to the table and explained to everyone why I was missing for so long, we tucked in to our pitchers of Coors Light and platters of fried food and tried to make the best of our –er – interesting evening out.  Lucky for us, good company can make up for almost any less-than-perfect situation, and I think all of us ended up having a good time, though I think all of us would say that we don’t plan to return to Othello any time soon.