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Pacific Northwest | October 24, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineOctober, 24, home Home delivery

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With 30 acres of vineyards and Lake Chelan as a backdrop, visitors to Tsillan Cellars in Chelan enjoy a view along with their wine at the showplace winery. The island at center is used as a stage for concerts.

UNTIL RECENTLY, wine tourism was more a dream than a reality in Eastern Washington. Sure, there were wineries to visit and friendly folks behind the counter at dozens of small tasting rooms from Yakima to Walla Walla.

But to put it bluntly, a tour of Washington wine country has always fallen a bit short in the romance department. The Napa-type wine-touring experience, the epitome of this romantic ideal, features splendid landscapes dotted with picture-book vineyards, and a wide mix of wineries, large and small, that all somehow manage to shine like beacons of impeccable taste.

In other words, it's not just good wine but The Good Life that wine tourists are eager to discover. Along the trail they expect to find charming restaurants, comfortable lodging and an entertaining mix of shops and recreational activities. Bottom line: They want a vacation, not a slog through dusty vineyards in the hot sun, with a fast-food burger and a cheesy motel at the end of the road.

To create an elegant finish, wine bottles are hand-dipped in a wax-like plastic at Icicle Ridge Winery.

Glenn Carlson and Fonda Smoots help bottle the Icicle Ridge reserve chardonnay. Part of the enjoyment of touring in the region is seeing the wine-making process up close and sampling wines that might not be available back home.

If you haven't been to Eastern Washington wine country lately, it's time to go. Because virtually overnight, the wine-touring landscape has changed dramatically. Some of the changes are subtle; most are cumulative. More wineries, better wines, more vineyards in more places, small cafés and better wine lists all make exploring Washington wine country far more exciting than it has ever been.

Small winery associations have taken root in every corner of the state. They organize regional tasting events, publish brochures and serve as one-stop sources of information on member wineries (see the accompanying list). Head in any direction and you will find plenty of opportunities for tasting and talking, and there is really no better way to see all that's new in Washington wine and to find those little gems that so many winemakers save just for tasting-room visitors.

But here's a real discovery. If you are in search of the new, the unknown — that special excitement that comes with being among the first to visit an emerging community of wineries — I recommend you spend a weekend in Columbia Cascade wine country.

Loosely clustered around Leavenworth, Lake Chelan and the Wenatchee Valley, two dozen wineries have set up shop, most in the past two or three years. Another dozen are in the works. All are scattered across the foothills of the eastern flanks of the Cascade Mountains in country that is unrivaled for superb scenery and seemingly endless, four-season recreational opportunities. In addition, restaurants are now pouring from increasingly interesting regional wine lists, and tasting rooms suddenly seem to be popping up everywhere, staffed by owners and winemakers delighted to chat about everything from barrels to bald eagles, breakfast places and the nearest B&Bs.

Construction is under way on the Inn at Cave B, which will feature 15 casitas, a lodge and a restaurant as part of a destination resort at Cave B Estate Winery overlooking the Columbia River. A golf course and conference center are among other visitor amenities in the works.
You may have heard rumblings about some of the new wineries around Lake Chelan. Maybe you went to a concert at the Gorge and stopped by the Cave B Estate Winery next door, or read about the stunning new destination resort being built adjacent to the winery and concert venue.

It's all deliciously true. And all coming together in a flash.

Most Columbia Cascade wineries still measure their production in hundreds, not thousands, of cases, and, by and large, their wines are made from grapes grown elsewhere. The few local vineyards are almost all too new to evaluate their long-term viability, and the area is years away from being legally designated as an official AVA (American Viticultural Region).

At Boudreaux Cellars, the Newsom family's dog, Roux, is always ready to chase a ball.

But the Columbia Cascade wineries are already piecing together a unique regional identity — creating a sensational wine-touring region that blends the best of everything this state has to offer. Right now the unifying factors are their very newness, their proximity to existing tourist centers and their relative accessibility to the urban centers of Western Washington.

The possibilities are as exciting as the emerging realities.

WHY THIS SUDDEN blossoming of wine tourism? Why here, and why now?

The rise of wineries seems to have begun with the decline of apples. "I'd had about all the doom and gloom I could take,"
 Winemaker Rob Newsom punches down bins of fermenting merlot grapes at Boudreaux Cellars, an important newcomer in the emerging Cascade Columbia tourist triangle.
explains Mike Buckmiller, who recently opened a Leavenworth tasting room for his Gold Digger Cellars. Like many other growers in north-central Washington, Buckmiller wanted to diversify his agricultural enterprise to provide some protection against falling apple prices. Wine grapes seemed like the answer.

"We had some nice benches (of land) above the valley floor," he says, "so we took a 10-acre block and planted two reds and four whites in '99."

At their home and orchard on North Road, a few miles out of Leavenworth, Louie and Judy Wagoner did the same, adding 4½ acres of lemberger and cabernet grapes to their 90 acres of organically farmed pears. Their Icicle Ridge winery now makes about 1,000 cases a year.

Source: Columbia Cascade Winery Assn.

Some version of the same story is told again and again, along with a fair number of second- or third-career, change-of-life tales. Doug Brazil at Chateau Faire Le Pont in Wenatchee is a retired Navy helicopter pilot who has turned an abandoned apple warehouse into a winery and tasting room. Ed Rutledge at Eagle Creek north of Leavenworth is another retired military man, who also owns a bookstore downtown.

"I put a little love and kindness into every bottle," he says with a wink, adding that "five years ago you couldn't find a winery here. Then I planted and a couple of others started, and then Chelan started booming. It's just like dominoes."

Columbia Cascade, if indeed that is what the region is destined to be called, is so new, and changes are coming so rapidly, that the ultimate quality of the wines, and any thoughts about what might stylistically become the hallmark of the area are all questions that must be put on hold.

What does seem clear is that the region, under the sheltering influence of the Cascades, offers protection from the worst of the winter blasts that periodically ravage other Washington vineyards.

 Judy Wagoner of Icicle Ridge Winery pours wine for visitors during the daily wine tasting in her home. Judy and husband Louie Wagoner started out growing organic pears but have added more than four acres of grapes to their farm.

So contends Cameron Fries, who is president of the Columbia Cascade Winery Association and has the most history growing grapes and making wine here. His White Heron Cellars between Wenatchee and Quincy is the only surviving winery of the four that first established themselves in the region back in the 1980s.

"In 1986," he recalls, "there was me, Hunter Hill, Champs de Brionne and Wenatchee Valley Vintners." When asked why it took so long for more to appear, he echoes the apple theory. "Too profitable," he maintains.

Though grape-growing and wine-making are not likely to provide the same sort of widespread prosperity, the tourism they are already stimulating offers an enticing alternative economy with room to grow.

At the Idle Hour Cafe & Steakhouse in Quincy, owner Gene "Rosy" Rosenberger offers an extensive selection of regional wines along with old-fashioned home cookin'.
Aside from the growing population of charming mom-'n'-pop operations, two showplace wineries — Tsillan Cellars in Chelan and Cave B, just south of the Gorge at George — beckon. So do fine-dining establishments such as Visconti's in Leavenworth and Wenatchee, with an award-winning wine list featuring rare bottles from Boudreaux, Eagle Creek, Fielding Hills and a dozen other Columbia Cascade wineries. And then there are the less formal spots where the locals know to go, like The Idle Hour Cafe & Steakhouse in Quincy, where owner Gene "Rosy" Rosenberger has turned the old Spud Shed Tavern into a wine-friendly steakhouse with prices we can only dream about around Seattle.

Fries suggests three different itineraries for those interested in seeing it all: a valley tour headquartered around Leavenworth, a lake tour centered on Chelan, and a desert tour taking in the string of wineries stretching east from Wenatchee into the increasingly arid, basalt-sculpted sagelands abutting the Columbia River around the Gorge at George. The changes in landscape as you drive from one part of the region to the next are startling and frequently breathtaking.


Columbia Cascade Winery Association
Phone: 509-782-0708
Web site:
Next event: Nov. 27-28
Late Fall Barrel Tasting

Columbia Valley Winery Association
Phone: 866-360-6611
Web site:
Next events:
Nov. 13: Tri-Cities Wine Society's annual event
Nov. 26-28: Thanksgiving in Wine Country
(See Wine Yakima Valley listing)

Klickitat Wine Alliance
Web site:

North Sound Wineries
Phone: 360-379-3378
Web site:
Next event:
Nov. 11-14, Passport to Autumn winery tour. Tickets, $15 (waives all tasting fees; includes a special commemorative wine glass).

Puget Sound Wine Growers
Web site:

Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail
Phone: 800-882-8939
Web site:
Next event: Nov. 26, 27, 28: Thanksgiving in the Wine Country. Each winery will partner with a restaurant to provide a food/wine pairing. Wine Yakima Valley is coordinating.

Spokane Winery Association
Web site:
Next event: Nov. 19-21, The Holiday Wine Festival. All 10 Spokane-area wineries participate with fine wine, holiday crafts and gift packages.

Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance
Phone: 509-526-3117
Web site:
Next event: Dec. 4-5, the Walla Walla Valley Holiday Barrel Tasting. More than 40 wineries open their barrel rooms for this annual event, a chance to meet the winemakers and be the first to enjoy the wines of a new vintage. Special events include food, music, art exhibits, wine dinners, cooking demonstrations, poetry readings.

Woodinville Wine Country
Phone: 425-485-2437, Ext. 109
Web site:
Next event: Dec. 5, St. Nicholas' Day open house. Festivities will vary from winery to winery. Many will be free, while a few will charge. Signature event: "Passport to Woodinville," the first weekend of April.

Wine Yakima Valley
Phone: 800-258-7270
Web site:
Next event: Nov. 26-28, Thanksgiving in Wine Country. Doors open noon to 5 p.m. all three days so you can sample newly released wines and selected culinary treats. Something for friends and relatives to do after feasting on turkey. Matching restaurants with wineries, restaurants committing to matching the wine with a special dish during the month of November. Hotel packages at both ends of the valley and specials all month.


636 Front St. (Leavenworth)
1737 N. Wenatchee (Wenatchee)
Boudreaux, Eagle Creek, Fielding Hills and a dozen other Columbia Cascade wineries are featured, part of a large, well-priced Washington list

The Wine Bin
208 N. Mission St.
Small deli/wine shop offering a good selection of local wines

Mission Street Bistro
Wine Bar & Catering
202 N. Mission St.
Good café food and a fine selection of local wines

218 N. Mission St.
Great food and friendly people

The Idle Hour Cafe & Steakhouse
18 B St. S.E., Quincy
Formerly the Spud Shed Tavern, this cozy, down-home steak house has an award-winning list of Washington wines. Check out the vintage beer posters!

Campbell House Café
104 W. Woodin Ave.
Exceptional wine list with a focus on Chelan/Columbia Cascade wineries

WITH LEAVENWORTH AS a starting point that's just a couple of hours' drive from Seattle, the whole region can be explored in as little as two days. Yet it offers enough diversity to support a week's vacation or longer. Within a very drivable triangle, whose cardinal points are Leavenworth, Chelan and the Gorge at George, are multiple, varied ecosystems; virtually unlimited, year-round recreational opportunities, and plenty of charming inns and B&Bs.

Your feelings about Leavenworth, Washington's self-styled Bavarian Village, may be a bit mixed, as are mine, but the addition of more than half a dozen tasting rooms in the heart of downtown makes it a must-see for wine hounds. Nearby are at least six small wineries, all worth a visit.

Some, like Boudreaux Cellars, are open only by appointment (call first!). But its spectacular location on Eightmile Creek, set deep in the interior of Icicle Canyon, makes it unforgettable. Owners Rob and Tamara Newsom have lived "off the grid" for two decades in a log home surrounded by steep, rocky cliffs and within earshot of the creek rapids. A small log bridge must be negotiated to get to the property, so no Hummers, please!

Eagle Creek Winery, a few miles north of town on Eagle Creek Road, has a sweet little tasting room and a very comfortable B&B attached. Icicle Ridge, set amidst pear orchards, welcomes you into the family's spacious log home.

Turning north on 97A, you'll see signs for Ohme Gardens, a shady park set high on a bluff above the river. Even on the warmest days it offers coolness and solitude, and makes a perfect rest stop. Continue on up the road to Tsillan Cellars. Built like a Tuscan villa, this impressive winery includes 30 acres of vineyard, an amphitheater for live performances, and a spacious tasting room. Owner Bob Jankelson, who grew up on a farm in Black Diamond, says he knew from the quality of the apples grown there that it would be a great spot for grapes.

"There is not a single wind machine here," he notes proudly. "Since 1868 they've never had a killing frost. This lake is just a great big heat sump!"

Tsillan (pronounced Chelan) is one of a string of Chelan wineries along the shores of the lake, which looks more and more like the Okanagan wine country of British Columbia. At Lake Chelan Winery, the first in the area, Ray Sandidge has recently been announced as winemaker and will ramp up production to 10,000 cases over the next five years. Sandidge, most recently at Kestrel, will also make wines for Wapato Point Cellars, as well as his own C.R. Sandidge brand.

The final leg of the Columbia Cascade wine region takes you to East Wenatchee and the little towns that follow the river as it winds south and east. Once again, the landscape, though drier and more desert-like, is spectacular.

At Saint Laurent, in the hills above Malaga, Mike and Laura Mrachek have renovated a pretty little farmhouse, added a pond and waterfall, furnished the tasting room with lovely antiques, and offer a pleasing lineup of wines made by Charlie Hoppes. Most of the grapes come from a 250-acre vineyard they planted five years ago on the Wahluke Slope.

At Rock Island, a few miles east across the river, the Ryan Patrick Vineyards winery, though not the prettiest picnic spot, makes some of the region's best, most time-tested wines. Continue down the road toward Quincy and you'll pass their main vineyard.

Nearby is White Heron, its cozy tasting room adjacent to the Fries' home and surrounded by the estate vineyard. Native plants — sage, threadleaf daisies, wild asters and more — scent the air with desert herb, and the view extends straight down the river to the Saddle Mountains, 30 miles to the south. The grand sweep of the Columbia River, the scrubby eastern edge of the Cascade foothills and the craggy cliffs around the Gorge are all in sight.

Anyone who has seen a concert at the Gorge won't soon forget it. Its rugged beauty, especially at sunset, has been known to upstage the performers, even compel them to turn their backs to the audience so they, too, can enjoy the view.

But few people realize that the original Gorge amphitheater was just a small, grassy knoll attached to the now-defunct Champs de Brionne winery. Vince and Carol Bryan purchased 500 acres in 1980 and developed the original winery and first vineyards, some of which are still bearing. Some years ago they sold the amphitheater to fund a medical-research project; in 2002, they returned to their remaining land and began building Cave B. The talented Rusty Figgins, formerly with Glen Fiona, is the newly appointed winemaker. The winery will anchor a major resort that's being designed by the same architect who built the visually stunning Mission Hill winery outside Kelowna, B.C.
 Vintner Don Wood checks a row of lemberger grapes overlooking the Wenatchee River at Icicle Ridge Winery.

When completed next spring, it will include an inn and 15 individual casitas. Still in the planning stages are a pro-quality golf course, a self-guided vineyard tour (with audio) and amenities such as a center for weddings and conferences.

Even a brief tour is likely to leave a visitor convinced that Columbia Cascade has what it takes to be a world-class wine-touring destination, replete with affordable, hand-crafted wines that the critics have not yet found. Now's the time to see it — and taste them — firsthand, before this newest addition to The Good Life club gets discovered.

•   •   •
Paul Gregutt is the author of "Northwest Wines" and a free-lance writer who regularly appears on the Wine pages of The Seattle Times' Wednesday Food section. He can be reached via e-mail at


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