Thursday, July 7, 2011

Swiftwater Cellars - Suncadia Resort - Cle Elum, WA

Nestled back in the woods amongst the sprawling beauty that is Suncadia Resort, lies a new winery that is quickly changing the face of the typical “winery visit”. Swiftwater Cellars (@SwiftwaterWine), owned by Don & Lori Watts, has billed itself as “Washington’s ultimate destination winery”, a description that runs true. Their facility contains their production space, a large restaurant, a gift shop, and various rooms that can be used for private events. I was able to visit this awe inspiring winery recently along with several of my peers and there wasn’t an attendee amongst the group that didn’t leave impressed with every aspect of our visit.

The Origins

Owners Don & Lori Watts started as farmers back in 1977, with a frozen foods company specializing in potatoes. Their company had grown to farm over 30,000 acres when they sold the business to Con Agra Foods a few years back. Refusing to “retire at age 51”, Don set out to start a “little” winery along with the assistance of a few industry pros. Pulling from his farming background, Don holds strong that “if you’re going to make real quality wines, it all starts in the field”. They’ve owned the 300-acre Zephyr Ridge vineyard, located in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, for the past 15 years, and pull fruit from their own vineyard, as well as several other northwest sites. Their first three vintages (2007, 2008 & 2009) were made at Artifex, located in Walla Walla, before moving production to their newly completed winery facility for the 2010 vintage. Production has grown since their first vintage, going from 3,000 cases in their first vintage, to 7,000 cases last year. Along with winemakers Tony Rynders and Linda Trotta, the Watts’ are charging into the Washington wine scene with a unique “destination” advantage.

The Winery

We were able to view every corner of the expansive facility, which sits atop the former Coal Mine No. 9, which operated from 1930 to 1963. The winery pulls from this history in much of the design elements, and they even kept several original items around the property. The property was opened in September 2010 and was instantly welcomed as a great addition to Suncadia. The main level of the building contains a welcoming common room, with fire place and seating areas. Off to the left is Swiftwater’s large Hoist House restaurant, which also contains a full bar. Past the restaurant is the La Cantina Room, an open space with a small bar and adjacent patio that can be used for private tastings and parties. To the right of the common area is a fantastic boutique, which is Lori’s passion. Downstairs contains their production area, as well as a the huge Swiftwater Room that can hold 250 people for private events. Off this room is their Black Diamond Club Room, which has an expansive dining table and wine lockers that are made available for rent. Members can store any make of wine here, it is not strictly limited to Swiftwater wines. Across the Swiftwater Room are the barrel rooms, also sometimes used for private tastings. The upper mezzanine level also contains several other smaller rooms that can be utilized as well. The rear of the building contains several patio areas where guests can enjoy the weather and the views.

(the common room on the main level)

(glasses at the ready for our tasting)

(the history of the No. 9 mine)

(the barrel room)

(The Black Diamond Club Room)

(wine lockers in The Black Diamond Club Room)

The Wine

Swiftwater has two labels: their No. 9 label, which pays tribute to the mine that operated here; and their Swiftwater label. The No. 9 wines are meant to be “early drinkers”, where as the generally more expensive Swiftwater wines are created more ageable. We were able to taste through the entire line-up during out visit. Currently, the wines are mostly just available at the winery, but they are looking to move into the Seattle restaurant and wine shop market. My favorites of the day were:

2010 No. 9 Riesling – This was the first wine we tasted as we started our tour. This is cold fermented in 100% stainless steel with an 8 week fermentation. This was definitely a riesling for people who don’t normally like riesling. It wasn’t overly sweet and paired nicely with some snacks they provided for us as well.

2009 No. 9 Semillon
– We enjoyed this one as we started our lunch. This 76% Semillon/24% Sauvignon Blanc blend contains Semillon from the Wahluke Slope and Sauvignon Blanc from the Yakima Valley. It’s partially barrel fermented, with just a hint of oak flavors. I loved the acidity on this and it would pair well with seafood.
2009 No. 9 Pinot Noir – Yes, you read that right. A Washington winery is making a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. And not only are they making it, they’re making it exceptionally well. Winemaker Tony Rynders was the one that proposed adding Pinot Noir to the portfolio since there’s always been a strong association between Pacific Northwest wine regions, and in 2008, Swiftwater put out their first Willamette Valley Pinot. The 2009 vintage was served along with my lunch course, which was a salmon fillet with a reduction made from Swiftwater’s Proprietary Red wine (see notes below). Talk about a match made in heaven! The sweet red fruit hits the entire palate and it’s structured and quite refreshing. This wine was a big hit amongst the entire group.
2008 Swiftwater Proprietary Red – I really enjoyed this Cab based Bordeaux blend. It has the usual suspects as well as a little bit of Syrah. The fruit jumps out on the nose and at first taste. I love a fruit forward blend, so this was right up my alley. This will be released in the fall of 2011.

I very much enjoyed the entire line-up of Swiftwater wines, however, these are the ones that stood out the most to me. I definitely recommend a taste through their wines when you get the chance! My whole experience at Swiftwater was enjoyable from start to finish. We were treated like old friends and honored guests at the same time, which was so wonderful. The Swiftwater team really went above and beyond to make our experience enjoyable and believe me, it was noticed. I look forward to my next visit to the winery!

Wine in the Pines

The 4th Annual Wine in the Pines will be held at Swiftwater Cellars August 26th – 28th, 2011. This event had previously been hosted exclusively by Suncadia, and with the addition of Swiftwater to the property, this created a perfect venue for this annual wine and food event. The events of this 3-day festival include:

-“Into the Swing of Swiftwater Cellars”, held Friday night the 26th from 6-8pm, showcasing the wines of Swiftwater Cellars along with food from the Hoist House’s Chef Paul Cotta.

-Celebrity Guests, Leslie Sbrocco and Evan Goldstein, M.S. will present at the “Celebrity Seminar” held Saturday August 27th, from 12:30pm – 2:30pm. This will be a food and wine pairing seminar led by these two personalities, with The American Lamb Board providing the lamb used for the food pairing portion of this event.

-The “Grand Gala” is held Saturday the 27th from 3:30-6:30pm, and will feature 50+ wineries from WA, OR, and CA, each pouring a selection of their wines. Accompanying this will be select Northwest restaurants providing small bites to complement, as well as some live music.

-The “Winemaker’s Dinner” is held from 7-10pm on Saturday the 27th. This will feature 10 Northwest winemakers pairing wines with a 5-course dinner prepared by the Hoist House’s Chef Paul Cotta.

-The “Meet the Maker” session, held from 7-9pm on the 27th, was one of the most intriguing events to me for this. This is basically speed dating with wineries! Guests will spend 20 minutes with each winemaker, tasting several favorites of the winemaker with a small group at round tables. When the 20 minutes is up, the group moves to the next table with another winemaker. What a creative way to learn about new wines and the wineries in a casual setting. This event will also have small bites and live music.

The great thing about Wine in the Pines is that each event can be attended separately. Each event has its own ticket sales, so you can pick and choose which events fit best for you! Visit TicketsWest to purchase tickets for any or all of the Wine in the Pines festival. Worried about the travel up there? Check out the Suncadia Resort website for information on accommodations for the weekend.

(patio out back, beautiful!)

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