We saw the perfect storm again in Leavenworth; sunny and mild conditions. Sorry no storm. Leavenworth, Washington is located on the East slopes of the Cascades Mountains which places it in an area that is usually sunny and warm. The mild weather is created by air descending from the Cascade crest onto the town and during this process the air is warmed. Meteorologists call this a rainshadow while winemakers would call it perfect wine grape growing conditions. June through September bring high temperatures in the upper 70’s to 80’s for much of time. Furthermore, Leavenworth is located at 47 degrees latitude and during the height of summer this area gets 16 hours of daylight while many of the wine regions in California get almost two hours less. (Photo: Woodwork of Ed from winemaker and owner Ed Rutledge)
Some have compared the Leavenworth wine region to the Burgundy region in eastern France. They are at similar latitudes with similar weather and have similar varietals. However Burgundy has been growing vines for well over 2100 years with 3200 wine domaines.
One of the advantages that the Leavenworth region has over Europe is there is a lot new enthusiasm from these new winemakers and this was certainly noticed at our first stop, Eagle Creek. We were greeted by energetic Ed Rutledge who is retired from the military and book industry and has started a new and successful career in winemaking. Located in the countryside just ten minutes from Leavenworth one can sip wine outside, enjoy the views and then retire to the bed and breakfast that is located here.
Many of grapes Ed gets are from the Tri-Cities Area of Eastern Washington but he also has 1000 vines on his property. The Cabernet Sauvignon was my favorite as it provided an excellent balance. I also enjoyed the Syrah which offered a nice light spice favor. Finally we enjoyed the whites, Riesling and Chardonnay on this warm day. The Gewürztraminer was perfect as my wife said; “Best Gewürztraminer I have ever had.” Before we left we had a tour of the bed and breakfast and their property. We were impressed with the fine woodworking artwork by Ed. Ed modestly says he uses his spare time in the winter to whittle.
(Photo: Typical summer afternoon on the patio of Silvara Vineyards)
We continued our countryside wine tasting by visiting Silvara Vineyards. The Vineyard sits on top of the hill and has a patio facing the Cascade foothills. We were met by winemaker Gary Seidler who was setting up for the live outdoor music concert. Silvara is also known for the dinners and events held indoors which features a fireplace and stunning views of the hillside. I enjoyed these views while Gary poured his wine. The Klipson 60/40 came first. This 60 percent Merlot and 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon was my favorite. Next we tasted the Syrah which also had a very nice balance. Although we wanted to stay for the afternoon concert it was time to go back to town to visit some of the wine tasting rooms.
We parked our car at the condo in town then took the five minute walk to the Kestrel Vintners wine tasting room. Kestrel’s main vineyards are in Prosser. The tasting started with Lady in Red and this blend of Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot was really perfect. Oh by the way, the price is also perfect for anyone’s budget. The Estate Malbec has a complex taste but is not overpowering. We then went on to the Estate Merlot from the 1972 vine which had a rich taste but is not overdone. Then we proceeded to the Rose which has a very light touch and as my wife said “great for sipping on the patio on a hot afternoon.”
After talking about drinking the Rose on a warm summer day we made a big jump in the seasons and talked about the hard freeze of 2008 which lasted for several weeks. The good news is this made for a banner year for their ice wine. Although not produced every year the 2008 Semillon Ice Wine was some of the best that we had.
(Photo: Live music at Icicle Ridge Winery, on right is saxophonist and winemaker Don Wood)
We visited only one of the nine wine tasting rooms in town because we needed to pace ourselves. Our last stop of the day was the short drive to the small town of Peshastin, Icicle Ridge Winery. The founder is Louie Wagoner who is a maverick in the area. Many years ago he became the first organic pear grower. The history of farming in the region is nothing new as this is now the fifth generation of the Wagoner family to have farmed. However, he and the farm both are new to the wine making business. In 1999 Louie’s daughter Kristen was in Idaho with her husband Don Wood who had a career as a chemist. Rumor has it the Louie wanted his daughter back on the farm so Louie built a log cabin for the winery and planted vines in 2000. Louie offered Don the job as winemaker and Kristen, along with her sister jobs at this new winery. As they say the rest is history. Kristen keeps busy as event manager. The evening we were there was live music. There are usually four outdoor concerts during the summer with a barbeque and of course sampling the wine. Don’s band, The Smooth Tannins is a regular show. Don plays a mean saxophone!
I had the pleasure to talk to Louie about their wines while I sampled them. Frankly I really enjoyed all of the wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Icicle Ridge Riesling, and the Gewurztraminer. However what was most interesting is where this wine region should go according to Louie. Louie thinks the region needs a signature wine grape and he thinks the Edelweiss might be the answer. This is a hardy grape that can survive the harsh winters and was developed by Elmer Swenson who crossed Minnesota and Ontario grapes. The taste I sampled is very unique, like a Riesling but better.
Louie told me that he will have a new batch of this wine to sample this winter and invited me back to taste more wine and enjoy the annual snowshoe trip on their hills. The best part is after this hard work we get a nice hardy dinner in their log cabin, right next to the fireplace. Very cozy!
Eagle Creek Winery
10037 Eagle Creek Road
Leavenworth, WA 98826
77 Stage Road
Leavenworth, WA 98826
843 (B) Front Street
Leavenworth, WA 98826
Icicle Ridge Winery
8977 North Road
Peshastin, WA 98847
Sponsored by Leavenworth, Washington
Author: Michael Fagin is a freelance travel writer who has traveled over the last ten years across Canada and visited all the major Canadian wine regions. Mr. Fagin is currently touring the Pacific Northwest enjoying the wine country, dining, and hiking the region. While he is not writing Mr. Fagin is a meteorologist for West Coast Weather, LLC forecasting weather for the West Coast of the US as well as on an international basis.
Photos by Elizabeth Fagin.