Thursday, April 29, 2010

Spring Barrel Weekend 2010 Yakima Valley

Wine Tasting From the Bus

The Yakima Valley Spring Barrel weekend was a huge success this year. I’ve poured at past Spring Barrel weekends, so I truly enjoyed being on the other end this time. My past experience working this event, taught me to avoid the crowds on Saturday. So we went Sunday, avoided the crowds and craziness and just took our time tasting, talking and walking. Here’s the list of wineries we visited over six hours on Sunday, 25 April 2010.
  • Red Mountain: Terra Blanca Winery
  • Prosser Vintners Village: Airfield Estates, Willow Crest Wine Estates, Thurston Wolfe, Gamache Vintners, Milbrandt Vineyards
  • On the other side of Interstate 82: Alexandria Nicole Cellars, Cowan Vineyards
My count indicates we visited eight wineries Saturday. Even so, we did not make it to all the wineries I wanted to see (sorry Hightower Cellars, Tasawik Vineyards, Olsen Estates, Mercer Estates and Kestrel Vintners, among others). As it was, eight wineries is ambitious for anyone – fortunately, we rented a bus for our group of eleven enthusiasts.
Red Neck Limo Service

A big thank you to Jim, our driver of our comfortable bus, Jim drives for Red Neck Limo Service. Plenty of cold, bottled water was provided for us, and we brought food to snack on between tastings – the beef sausage Bob brought was excellent. Jim shadowed us at all times, from winery to winery and collected our wine purchases, labeled them and stored them back in the bus for us. Consequently, not only did we have a fantastic and safe time, but some of us bought more wine than we planned on. Bonus! For a pleasurable, extended wine tasting in the area, you can contact Red Neck Limo Service at web: http://www.rnlimo.com/
Terra Blanca

Our first stop was on Red Mountain, just outside of town at Terra Blanca. I’ve been to Terra Blanca many times, so I saved myself for Prosser. Even so, I still managed to sample and thoroughly enjoyed, their Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Terra Blanca has a beautiful facility and they pulled out all the stops and poured a great deal of wine, web: http://www.terrablanca.com/

Prosser – Vintners Village

Prosser is about a 30 minute drive from the Tri-Cities. I often drive by Prosser on my way up the Yakima Valley and on to Seattle. But stop there? Drinking and driving with a 30 minute drive home have kept me from visiting the “newish” Vintners Village. And I’ve so wanted to visit. There are about 10 wineries in Vintners Village, so did well by visiting half of them. I have to admit, Prosser has done an excellent job building this destination and attracting world-class wineries. Access is easy from Interstate 82, and once there, you can walk from Winery to Winery on a well landscaped path, web: http://www.prosservintnersvillage.com/

Airfield Estates

I poured for Lori Miller 3 years ago at a Richland winery I used to work for. She made me promise to visit their new winery in Prosser. Well, I’ve finally made good on that promise. My wife is a huge fan of their Naked Chardonnay and I’ve been curious about the other wines they make. We were not disappointed Sunday. The highlight of our tasting at Airfield Estates had to be the barrel tasting of the 2009 Dolcetto. Dolcetto is a newcomer to Washington, Dolcetto is an Italian varietal; the vines are young but producing amazing fruit – it’s not bottled yet, but may be later this year. You can still find the 2008 Dolcetto direct from the winery. I snagged a 2009 Dolcetto futures order form (Futures are discounted because it’s an advanced sale before the wine is bottled – if you buy Futures of the 2009 Dolcetto now, you’ll save $5 per bottle).
Barrel sampling 2009 Dolcetto and Syrah

The other wine I must mention is their 2008 Mustang. It’s a well crafted blend of 53% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 8% Cinsault, 2% Counoise, 2% Mourvèdre. I got bonus points on pronunciation when I read back the label. They call it a “rustic Rhone” but I call it, nothing but “Class” in a bottle. My wife’s favorite was the 2008 Hellcat, which is a blend of 88% Tempranillo, 6% Grenache, and 6% Syrah. That’s correct, Washington is doing Tempranillo. I love the Tempranillo.

By now, you’ve noticed the aviation theme of Airfield Estates. You have to check out their Website for some interesting history on the winery and well as take a look at their cool aviator inspired labels. They are one cool winery. Learn more about Airfield Estates, web: http://www.airfieldwines.com/

Willow Crest Wine Estates

I was surprised I did not know anything about Willow Crest. It was worth the trip and the time tasting their wines. They make some very good wines. From my previous posts, you may be aware that my palette has been in flux since last year. My fixation with Syrah has softened, and my appreciation for white wines has increased. For example, I really liked the Willow Crest 2008 Pinot Gris. It’s bright and crisp the way I like my PG – Alsatian style baby. And my last post was a review of their 2009 Rockin’ Rose. So you should know by now that it rocks! They were also sampling 2008 Grenache from the barrel, can’t wait for that to be bottled. It’d make for a great barrel party today, just in case anyone is reading…

Another surprise this weekend, besides that fact that I did not care for any Syrah, was that Cabernet Franc was being represented. Yeah, the Willow Crest 2007 Cabernet Franc was so there, tobacco, coffee and chocolate baby (cho – co – late). Even though Sunday was a much calmer and smaller crowd, Willow Crest was busy, but the wait was worth it. Go visit them, web: http://www.willowcrestwinery.com/

Thurston Wolfe

We were fortunate to have Dr. Wade Wolfe barrel sample his Petite Sirah for us. He had two barrels, one from the North Slope and one from the South Slope. We tasted and compared how the exact same varietal, can be strikingly different, dependent on location and sun exposure. Their 2007 Tempranillo, their second vintage of Tempranillo, a variety best known from the Rioja region of Spain, earned a Gold at the 2009 Northwest Wine Summit. Yes, Tempranillo, I love Tempranillo. Only 97 cases produced. Learn more at, web: http://www.thurstonwolfe.com/
Dr. Wade Wolfe

*Note: Chips and Salsa were provided at Thurston Wolfe by "Rudy's Pepper Blends" - they had a dry pepper blend you add to diced tomatoes - in a word, "fabuloso". We loved their product and took some home. Rudy's Pepper Blend is located at 620 S. Ione, Kennewick, WA 99336 contact: rudystcb@yahoo.com

Gamache Vintners

Gamache Vintners is a recent addition to Prosser. They used to be a local to me winery off of Dallas road, about a 5 minute drive from my home. And I never visited them there and I doubt many did. Now that they are a Prosser winery, located in Vintners Village, they are getting the exposure they well deserve.

I became a big fan of the Gamache Malbec, Boulder Red and Merlot in 2008. In April 2008 I was a volunteer at Taste Washington Seattle (yes I wrote about it, it’s posted on this blog). Sunday, I found myself  tuned into their 2008 Estate Velida Viognier. Ten years ago, it was tough to find Viognier in Washington, not today. It has to be a fantastic Viognier if it can shine through after all the wines I tasted. Gamache has a very comfortable (thank you for the comfy chairs, we just had to sit down) well designed tasting room. They have a great facility, location and wines. Checking their Website, I see that they are advertising several upcoming wine events. Learn more at, web: http://www.gamachevintners.com/

Milbrandt Vineyards

At this point, I may be a little fuzzy on the details. I really should take notes at these events, but I was with friends and my buddy Bob and I had a great time. While we enjoyed all of the Milbrandt wines, our visit was over-shadowed by the efforts of my wife and Bob’s wife, to get a taste of the Milbrandt 2006 Sentinel Red. A little sweet talking and some very friendly staff later, our four eager tasters had BIG smiles on their faces. Sentinel is an exquisite blended red wine consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon (41%), Merlot (29%), Petit Verdot (12%), Malbec (12%), and Petite Sirah (6%). According to their Website, this is the finest wine they make. We agree with them and brought several bottles home. Milbrandt has a great facility, and they are fortunate to have friendly and very helpful staff, thank you Milbrandt Vineyards.

FYI: A series of wine appreciation classes is being held at Milbrandt Vineyards. Classes are hosted by Rachel Mercer. This series of classes will focus on specific wine regions: Loire 13 May, South America 10 June, Portugal 8 July, Prussia 12 August. Classes are $30 each; call 509-788-0030 to sign up. Learn more about the winery and their wines at, web: http://www.milbrandtvineyards.com/

Back to the Bus for a Couple More

While waiting in the bus for the rest of our group to catch up, we dined on imported cheeses, crackers, bread and some delicious beef sausage. After all eleven of our group was accounted for, and verifying our wine was safely stowed away in the back, we were not finished. On the north side of Interstate 82 there are even more Prosser wineries.

Alexandria Nicole Cellars

As much as I wanted to visit Vintners Village, my wife wanted to visit Alexandria Nicole Cellars. From a previous post to my “Wild 4 Washington Wine Facebook page”, I noted that my strangest tasting experience was at Alexandria Nicole Cellars – that was at their old tasting room in downtown Prosser. Now they are nestled off the Interstate next to a group of wineries. My taster was a bit tired at this point, but my wife and friends were still going. My wife loved, loved the Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2008 Sheperds Mark – this wine was rated “Outstanding” at the 2009 Seattle Wine Awards. A white wine blend of 65% Rousanne, 24% Marsanne, and 11% Viognier. We spent a while at the tasting room; I’ll have to check the wine fridge to see what my wife brought home. Learn more at, web: http://www.alexandrianicolecellars.com/

Cowan Vineyards

Conveniently located next door, Cowan Vineyards is another “new to me” label. I was especially taken with their 2005 Cabernet Franc. This is a 100% estate grown and bottled wine. Cabernet Franc pops up again my friends. Cabernet Franc is traditionally a blending varietal, but here it is again, standing on its own. The reason is obvious, Washington climate, and talented Washington growers and winemakers. Cowan Vineyards tasting room is open 7 days a week. Worth the time to stop by and taste, and the ladies pouring were very helpful and friendly, even at the end of such a busy weekend. Learn more about Cowan Vineyards at, web: http://www.cowanvineyards.com/

A lot of these Washington wineries are family owned and operated. Many grow their own grapes. It’s obvious to me, the pride and consideration embodied in the wines we sampled. I thoroughly enjoyed myself this Sunday. Thank you to all the wineries, winemakers and their staff for taking the time to share in conversation and the fruits of your labors. We’ll be seeing you next year.

Cheers!