How to Find Your Own Wine Trail

OK I admit it – I have had a secret crush on Steve Roberts ever since I bought his WineTrails of Washington book several years ago. It is getting tattered because we use it every trip to Walla Walla and even for an occassional Woodinville tasting adventure. We use little star stickers to indicate which wineries we have visited – I keep running out of stars!!

This book is a terrific resource for a self-guided wine tour. Steve has included photos, a map and pertinent information – when it opened, winemaker’s name, if there is a picnic area or tasting fee, etc.

A few years after buying this book, we ran into Steve at a book signing at Basel Cellars in Walla Walla. This time he also had WineTrails of Oregon with him. We bought it for my Brother-in-law and Sister-in-law (knowing of course we could use it when we visited). It was as good as the Washington version and for us, not knowing Oregon as well as Washington, even more useful.

So recently, we were tasting in Woodinville at Dusted Valley  and struck up a conversation with a gentleman who was alone at the tasting bar. OK so it was a little crush – I didn’t recognize Steve until he gave me a card with his website and new Android and Iphone apps. It is a terrific website and I wanted to share it:

Finally America’s Wine Superstore is in Bellevue!!!

Usually I run to visit any new wine shop that opens in the area, but lately I have been disappointed in what has been offered. I have been to a large “SuperStore” north of Seattle a couple of times and been very disappointed with their staff. That was true until I visited Total Wine and More last Friday night. Still enjoying their recent Grand Opening, the store was very busy and were offering complimentary wine tastings as well as a complimentary class – Wine 101.

I have been to a lot of great wine shops and taken a lot of wine classes and I have to say, I was impressed. The class was taught by Andrea Starr, the wine manager. She was knowledgeable and did a fun and casual presentation. We also tasted ten wines – some of which were so yummy I had to take a bottle or two home.

We also had the opportunity to chat with John Jordan, the Senior Vice President of Customer Experience (you’ve got to love the title). He told us that every member of their team has 78 hours of wine training before they are put out on the floor to assist customers. I put them to the test after the class and the training shows. Everyone was helpful and very knowledgeable. .

The store is huge, bright and clean with a big room in the back for classes. It is laid out a little different than most stores, but once you get the hang of it, it is pretty easy to navigate. Rather than sorted by region and varietal you will see signs that say: “Crisp and Clean Whites” or “Sweet and Decadent Reds”. When you visit , be sure to check out the “New and Notable Section” at the front of the store.

In addition to wine they also carry a good selection of beer and spirits as well as gift items and a walk-in cigar humidor.

The website is very detailed and helpful, except for an annoying pop-up that kept asking if  I wanted my selections shipped or to pick it up in store, before I had made any selections. You can sort the wines on the website by Country/State or Origin, Varietal, Rating or Price Range.

Total Wine has 81 locations in 13 states. They are planning an 82nd store in Southcenter in the fall.  I would urge you to check it out. It is definately a good find.

Keeping the Bottles Straight!

OK I admit it – I have used a $50 bottle of wine in spagetti sauce. And my husband almost killed me. I couldn’t find the wine I was looking for – did we drink it? Maybe gave it as a gift? Hmmm – by the time we found that bottle it was past its prime…

While I am thrilled to have a wine cellar with a couple of hundred bottles of wine – it really is a chore to keep track of what to drink when and to remember when a wine is for “special occassions”.  That is why I was so excited to discover CellarTracker.

Keeping track of your wine collection

This is an online wine management software system. I was a bit skeptical when I started, just putting in a couple of dozen of our labels to see how it worked. It didn’t take long for me to see what a terrific tool this can be and I entered our entire cellar.  I was even motivated enough to label all my bins so each bottle now has its own home.

I think my favorite component of this software is the “Drinkability Report”. There are several ways that you can sort your wine, but the Drinkability Report tells you which bottle JUST HAVE TO BE DRUNK right away. It is a great tool.

There are some other handy features.  One is  tasting notes that other users have entered.  Another is bottles that you have recently purchased and recently consumed appearing on your home page.

Most of the site is shareware and you can make a donation to the developer, who happens to be from Seattle, if you find it to be a useful for yourself.

Kestrel Vintners Levenworth Tasting Room

Dave pouring a taste for Raye

It had been a while since I had tried Kestrel wines. I was fortunate enough to stay at my friend Raye’s adorable little cabin beside Icicle Creek for a few days and we took a trip into Leavenworth for a late lunch. It was a lucky break for us that Dave was working that day pouring tastes at Kestrel’s Levenworth tasting room. He was friendly, knowledgeable and fun. 

Dave gave us some fascinating history about Kestrel.  The owners were originally harness racers and they had a long shot that paid off handsomely allowing them to purchase the winery. They were planning to call it “Windfall Vintners” but, as they were standing in the field which would become grapevines, a Kestrel Hawk flew over them. Kestrel Hawks natural prey is the blackbird, which vignerons know come along the morning before harvest and peck at every grape on the vine. The owners took that as a good sign and changed the name of the winery to Kestrel Vintners. They planted their grapes in 1995 and opened the Prosser tasting room in 1999.

Kestrel has three tasting rooms – the original one in Prosser, one in Woodinville and the one where we tasted in Levenworth. As I mentioned, the one in Levenworth is fun. It is warm and friendly. The design encourages customers to interact with each other. They also have a cute selection of goodies for sale such as a port sipper (more on that later) and glasses, aprons, etc.

Raye and I tried a couple of the whites including the 2010 Chardonnay. Kestrel has the oldest Chardonnay vineyard in the state of Washington, planted in 1972. But we were eager to dive right into the reds. We both really enjoyed the 2007 Sangiovese at $22 per bottle and the 2008 Syrah at the same price. What was really fun was when Dave broke out the chocolate covered roasted almonds to accompany the 2008 port and also the 2009 Semillon Ice wine. That was the first time I ever used a port sipper. The idea is that drinking from the bottom of the glass makes the port taste better due to the low oxidization achieved. I am not sure if it was the glass or the yummy port (I took a bottle home to Al) along with a Syrah for me.

Good Wine in Omak, WA…..You Bet There IS!!!


Prior to attending a gorgeous wedding at Lake Bonaparte we found ourselves with a few extra hours to kill in Omak. We were intrigued with signs for “Rockwall Cellars“. Neither Al nor I had ever heard of wine from Omak but with low expectations, we decided to give it a try.

What a pleasant surprise! The tasting room was cold storage for apples that has been completely transformed. It is bright and airy with a beautiful stained concrete floor that spills out onto a huge patio. There is plenty of seating both on the patio and in the cute bar stools that were made from barrels.


The day we visited Doug Sheets was pouring. He and his sister and their spouses are the owners, wine-makers, broom pushers and on the day we were there handyman. Doug was very knowledgeable about the wines they offered as well as the areas where they sourced their grapes and the local area.

Not being partial to whites (but always looking for that perfect summertime wine) I was impressed by the number of whites that I enjoyed. I even purchased a bottle of the Rockwall Viognier 2010 – a very nice clean dry wine for $20. I also enjoyed a couple of the “decl wines” – a Rockwall Pink Gewurztraminer 2009, which Doug said was their most popular white wine and also a terrific fruity blend called To Di For – – Lula 2012 (named after their grandmother).

There was an interesting selection of reds. I was really taken with the labels on the Stampede Red. They were created by Rowdy Barry – a local Bullfighter, Rancher and Artist. They are stunning!

Not to be outdone by grandma, there is also a To Di For – – Eddie 2008 in honor of their grandfather. It was pleasant enough but I really enjoyed Rockwall Generation 2008 Red Blend. A mix of Cab, Merlot and Marechal Foch that has a lot of complexity and smokiness.

Doug was kind enough to give us a taste of his upcoming Malbec 2010. he promises it will be available by August 1st. If I don’t make it back for the Omak Stampede I will definately be ordering this wine online. Six bottles and shipping is FREE.

This is a terrific little winery with a great tasting room. If you find yourself in Okanagan County or anywhere nearby, Rockwall Cellars is certainly worth a visit.