Smasne Cellars

Smasne 1

Smasne Cellars is one of the favorite wineries of my friend Raye, so I have done several tastings here. Always a good choice, Smasne has a great range of wines from $14 Tuesday wines to a $110 special occasion bottle of 2010 Robert O Smasne Owens Reserve.

Smasne Cellars has a tasting room located in Woodinville.

Smasne Cellars has a tasting room located in Woodinville.

The Woodinville tasting room is always a good time. On the day we visited Jeff and Tracey were pouring. A really fun couple that are very knowledgeable about both the wine and the winery. A large space in the winery warehouse district of Woodinville includes a really long tasting bar so there is room for everyone. There are also plenty of tables and chairs – perfect for relaxing and enjoying the wine.

Robert O. Smasne, the winemaker, graduated from Washington State University and then began his career at Covey Run Winery with David Lake of Columbia Winery fame. From there he went on to Amavi Cellars and Alexandria Nicole Cellars. In 2006 he started his own winery.

On our most recent visit, we really enjoyed Ancient Rocks, a wonderful blend of Mourvedre and Grenache. We also picked up a case of Bunkhouse Red, a really versatile everyday wine. We also still have some ½ Ass Red in our cellar

In addition to a very large assortment of wines and winemaking styles Smasne Cellars is a great place to visit. Fun people, a nice atmosphere and wine to suit most tastes – I definitely would recommend a visit.

Hard Row to Hoe is a Fun Time in Chelan

My friend, Leslie, has been telling me how good the wines are in Chelan. I hadn’t been there in over ten years but could not even remember seeing a winery when I was there. So, as always, I was excited to try something new and something different. She recommended “A Hard Row to Hoe”.

Hard Row to Hoe

Hard Row to Hoe


This is such a fun place. I don’t want to say too much and spoil all the fun. When you go, you must ask for the story of how the winery got its’ name. I will give you a hint – it has something to do with an enterprising man in the 1930’s with a row boat who started a taxi service on Lake Chelan to take the lonely miners to a brothel across the bay at Point Lovely.
The winery doesn’t take itself too seriously. From the x-rated wallpaper to the red sofa where you can don a feather boa and have your photo taken – this is a must visit for a good time.
X-Rated Wallpaper

X-Rated Wallpaper


Even their wines carry on the theme with names like: “Good in Bed”, After noon Delight” and “Seduction Red” – this was my favorite with a blend of Malbec, Primitivo and Merlot – it was delicious. They also had a Petit Verdot that I really enjoyed.
The Tasting Room is warm and friendly.

The Tasting Room is warm and friendly.


On a second visit the winery was featuring a throw-back to Woodstock. They had a very fun band and were serving wine and snacks and people had blankets out on the lawn. It was a very enjoyable time.
Checking their website their sense of humor continues through Crush in October when they feature “Live Nude Grapes”. Everything is tongue and cheek, the wine is good and the winemaker and all her staff are interesting and fun. This is a definite visit.
It is easy to get into the spirit

It is easy to get into the spirit

Efeste was a “Final Final” Visit for Me

A good friend of mine recently discovered a reasonably priced wine that she really liked. It is called “Final Final” from Efeste. Since we were heading to her home for dinner, we made a quick stop by the Woodinville tasting room to pick her up a bottle and check out their other wines.
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The tasting room is roomy and attractively decorated. We were met at the door by a cashier who “checked us in”. We proceeded to the tasting bar and eventually did our tasting on some comfy sofas.
The wine was good. The tastes were quite small especially considering the tasting fee is charged unless you spend a minimum amount or purchase multiple bottles. The atmosphere was a bit different than most tasting rooms I have visited. The winemaker’s (?) mother was badgering a couple sitting across from us to join the wine club. It was obvious this young couple was extremely uncomfortable with her pushiness. My friend had also asked if we could see what the case discount was (she really did like this wine) and I was surprised that there is no volume discount. The only discount offered is for club members. The cashier was a bit snippy as she told me this.
I would recommend enjoying a glass of Efeste wine at a restaurant or wine bar and visiting a tasting room that is more relaxed and more fun. There are so many in Woodinville that this one did not make sense for us to plan a return visit.

Northstar Winery – a Fresh New Taste

Northstar Winery has a spectacular setting  off Peppers Bridge Rd

Northstar Winery has a spectacular setting off Peppers Bridge Rd


We had a great tasting at Northstar Winery. We have been here before and always liked it but somehow on this visit we really loved it. I am wondering if the winemaker has done something different. He began working with Northstar Winery in 2001 as the assistant winemaker and then his first drinkage was in 2006. Is it even possible that we have not visited in that long?

The setting is lovely. It would be a great venue for an event, wedding, shower, birthday celebration. The facility is fabulous and has a couple of different private areas. There is also a great patio and lawn beyond. There were four girls playing volleyball when we were there – having a great time.

The cozy tasting room at Northstar Winery

The cozy tasting room at Northstar Winery


Jan was pouring for us. He was lot of fun with a distinctive Norwegian accent and ready jokes. He knew a lot about the wine he was pouring and it was obvious he was enjoying himself as much as we were (well almost as much since we were tasting wine and he was only pouring it.)

One of the private dining spaces at Northstar Winery

One of the private dining spaces at Northstar Winery


The Merlots were still our favorites. It was fun to try the 2010 Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot side-by-side with the 2010 Northstar Walla Walla Merlot. The Walla Walla was a bit more structured while the Columbia Valley was softer on the palette. Jan told us that Mrlot is 2/3 of their production and between 11,000 to 12,000 cases are distributed each year. These wines are priced at $41 and $50 repsectively. A bit pricier is the 2010 Northstar Premier at $85. This 100% Merlot is delicious. For us it will be a special occasion treat.

From the 2012 Northstar Stella Blanca Semillon to the 2009 Stella Maris Red Blend – we enjoyed all of the wines that we tasted and took home a bottle of each. There is a $7 tasting fee refundable with purchase. Definitely worth the visit.

Foundry Winery – a blend or art and wine

On a recent trip to Walla Walla with friends Tim and Diane we stopped at Foundry Vineyards. The tasting room is a lovely venue set on the west edge of Walla Walla and combines two of my favorite things – art and wine.

The Foundry tasting room is friendly and they even invited Angel in to cool off (but no wine for her  :-)

The Foundry tasting room is friendly and they even invited Angel in to cool off (but no wine for her 🙂

We had visited before and were particularly taken with the art. I especially like a large bronze casting of a horse in driftwood. Al loved it too but the $300,000 price tag kept it out of our garden.
On this visit the art in the sculpture garden and the gallery was the art on this visit was from Maya Lin, an internationally recognized artist who created the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC.

The current art exhibition is from Maya Lin

The current art exhibition is from Maya Lin

We enjoyed the art and then settled in for a tasting with Allison, a recent graduate from Whitman College, she was friendly and knowledgeable, even inviting Angel to come into the gallery and relax. We were totally blown away by the wine. The new winemaker, Justin Basel, formerly of Basel Cellars, created some fabulous wines that really fit our taste. We particularly loved the 2010 Artisan cabernet Sauvignon and 201 Syrah.
Another fun feature of the winery is that photos of the art that is displayed is used on the wine bottle labels.

The art is unusual and fun.

The art is unusual and fun.


This fun and interesting winery with its delicious wine and great hospitality is a must visit for any Walla Walla trip.

Spanish-style Wine in Walla Walla and Woodinville

A few years ago while wandering around Walla Walla looking for a taco truck on Telephone Pole Road, we stumbled upon a small family-owned winery called Castillo De Feliciana. Their focus is on Spanish varietals and it was the first time I had ever tried Tempranillo. It was spicy and rich and love at first sip. There was also a Malbec from Horse Heaven Hills and a delicious blend called Mericoles, which means “Wednesday Wine”. There is a special toast for this wine – you will need to ask about it.

Castillo De Feliciana Walla Walla location

Castillo De Feliciana Walla Walla location

We enjoyed ourselves immensely. Now every time we are in Walla Walla, we make a point of visiting. One time we arrived while they were crushing the grapes and we were taken back to watch. It was fascinating and nobody was stomping in a barrel. On this visit, we were celebrating and brought friends with us who had not done very much wine tasting. They also have become huge fans of Castilla de Feliciana. Deborah, the co-owner, was pouring for us and also getting ready to have a wedding at the winery that afternoon. Bridesmaids were relaxing out under the trees. (our dog Angel loved them – I think they fed her some wine!) When Deborah found out that it was our anniversary she insisted on a toast to all of us who had been married for more than two decades. That included our friends (Tim and Diane) and Deborah and her husband as well as a really nice couple we were chatting with at the tasting bar.

Salud to all of us long-time married folks!

Salud to all of us long-time married folks!

The Tempranillo is my favorite.

The Tempranillo is my favorite.

Deborah has shared a wonderful story with us about how the winery got its name. While they were thinking of a name they were sipping on the wine. It was rich and delicious and had the aromas of leather and tobacco and juicy fruit gum. The fragrance of the wine reminded Deborah of her childhood and her Aunt Feliciana, who had no children and wasn’t sure how to entertain Deborah and her sister when they visited. Aunt Feliciana would send the girls off to find her big black purse to get the gum inside. When she opened that purse there were the fragrances she would later find in the wine – leather, fruit and tobacco. I love that story – there are more – but it is much more fun to hear them yourself at the winery.

On our last visit we were lucky enough to have Deborah pouring wine.

On our last visit we were lucky enough to have Deborah pouring wine.

Recently a Castilla de Feliciana tasting room opened in Woodinville. We were delighted to find the same friendly spirit that we had discovered in Walla Walla. If you have never tried a Spanish varietal or if you have tried them and love them, I would highly recommend a visit to this winery – one of the friendliest and most fun wineries I have ever visited (and I have visited plenty….)

Blooms on Whidbey

Blooms Winery On Whidbey Island

Blooms Winery On Whidbey Island


On Saturday we found ourselves with a little bit of free time on Whidbey Island (we are NEVER early so this may be a first) and so we popped into Blooms Winery on Whidbey Island. It is a very casual and charming little tasting room filled with eclectic art, cute wine-related gift items and of course…wine.
You take a seat at tables that have been converted from wine barrels and Ken came over and gave us a taste. (You can choose 5 tastes for $6).
The tasting room is a charming and fun place to spend a little time.

The tasting room is a charming and fun place to spend a little time.


Our companion enjoyed the Riesling and we started off with a yummy Syrah. By the time we got to the Bloom Vineyard Cabernet we were all old friends and Ken told us they source those grapes from his brother’s vineyard in California.
Their menu includes food which is a nice touch – cheese tray, antipasti, crackers and dip and bruschetta. On Sunday afternoons they have live music with no cover charge. An excellent way to spend part of your weekend.
We enjoyed all of our "tastes" at Blooms

We enjoyed all of our “tastes” at Blooms

Kendall Jackson: Super-premium wine and sustainability

On the day we visited Will was pouring wine for us and giving us interesting information about the winery.

On the day we visited Will was pouring wine for us and giving us interesting information about the winery.

Kendall-Jackson has always been a “go to” wine for me. It is consistently good, reasonably priced and readily available. It is also one of the largest super-premium wineries in the United States. They have a wonderful tasting room that they call the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center. It looks like a lovely chateau and has a gorgeous garden. Plan to spend some time here strolling the gardens, walnut grove and tasting their wine.
On a recent visit to their winery I learned about their focus on education and sustainability. On this particular day, Will was pouring for us. He was knowledgeable and friendly and happy to tell us all we wanted to know about Kendall Jackson.

Kendall Jackson pours many premium wines at their tasting room.

Kendall Jackson pours many premium wines at their tasting room.

Will explained how sustainability is the focus of the winery and that their goal is no waste. In addition to delicious wine they also produce single varietal grape seed oil. I tried a beautiful hand-pressed oil that is infused with Meyer’s lemon. Will also told us that the chardonnay oil is fabulous on popcorn – I can’t wait to try that! Kendall Jackson has been using grape skin flour to make cookies and crackers. Their goal is to use every part of the grape.
The winery has a very interesting history. In 1974, Jess Jackson and his wife Jane, purchased an 80 acre pear and walnut farm in Santa Rosa. He converted it to vineyards and in 1982 they produced their first bottle of Chardonnay under the Kendall-Jackson label.

The Chardonnay is served with house-made caramel popcorn - so yummy.

The Chardonnay is served with house-made caramel popcorn – so yummy.

They now own 15,000 acres of California coastal vineyards. They produce a host of award-winning wines and own and operate more than 40 labels around the world including: Cambria, Le Crema, Freemark Abbey and many more.
It is certainly worth a visit to this outstanding winery and if you are so inclined to become a member of their wine club. In addition to your shipments of delicious wine there are some extraordinary members-only events, in 2014 these included a crab and chard Fete, a Gumbo smack-down and a Tomato Festival.

The gardens were lovely even early in the year. I can only image how gorgeous they will be in the spring and summer.

The gardens were lovely even early in the year. I can only image how gorgeous they will be in the spring and summer.

Chateau Montelena Winery – Napa Valley

The main chateau looks like a castle you would find in Europe

The main chateau looks like a castle you would find in Europe

Chateau Montelena Winery has to be one of the most beautiful spots in Napa. What began as a winery in 1886 with Alfred Tubbs, became a bucolic retirement spot for Yort Winn and Jeanie Frank in 1958. Frank was a Chinese engineer who had built the Manchurian Railroad. They added Jade Lake and the Chinese-inspired garden. This is an incredibly beautiful spot to relax and have a picnic (prior permission is needed) or just go for a stroll.

Chateau Montelana 1

Jade Lake is the ideal spot for a picnic or even a wedding.

Jade Lake is the ideal spot for a picnic or even a wedding.

When the property was again sold in 1968, all the land was cleared and replanted under the direction of James Barrett, a lawyer from San Francisco. He then hired Mike Grgich, a Yugoslavian immigrant, as his winemaker. They began producing wines again in 1972. James, Barrett’s son, Bo Barrett, is currently operating the winery.

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In May 1976, the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay was tasted against nine wines both French and Californian. It took first prize against white burgundies and Chardonnays in the “Judgment of Paris” wine competition. This put California on the global wine map and inspired some major European players to purchase vineyard land in the Napa Valley. You may recall the movie, Bottle Shock which is based on these events.

The chateau was constructed in 1882. It is a stone castle straight out of Grimm’s fairytales complete with turrets, fountains and ivy-covered façade. Upon entering you will be in the tasting room. On the day we visited, Jason was pouring for us. I was impressed with how knowledgeable he was both on the wines we were tasting and the history of Napa Valley. He truly has a passion for wine and is planning to make his career within the industry. It was exhilarating to meet someone with so much enthusiasm and information.

We learned that the tasting room hosts approximately 40,000 to 50,000 visitors per year and they produce approximately 45,000 cases of wine annually (this fluctuates with the harvests). There is a $20. Tasting fee for a nice selection of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignons. I especially enjoyed the Montelena Estate 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon but at $150 per bottle that will have to remain a very “special occasion” wine for me.

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At the end of the main hall you will find the “Estate Room”. Here there are a number of historical artifacts as well as an exposed stone wall of the chateau. Especially interesting is the display of the soils that comprise the Montelena Estate vineyard.

If you have the opportunity to wander around the grounds you will find footbridges that connect the chateau to two islands which are available to the winery’s club members. The footbridges are crooked and Jason told us that was because Chinese legend has it that evil spirits can only travel in a straight line over water. If you look just beyond Jade Lake you will see the Estate Vineyard. The lake itself is a wonder with vegetation covered arbors and black swans swimming gracefully in the water.

Chateau Montelena is certainly worth a trip. Delicious wines and a one-of-a-kind location.