Sunday, February 6, 2011

Wine and Dine Weekend, January 29 & 30

Blackwood Canyon vineyard
There was some hiking this past weekend and some of it was dicey. And there was some wine tasting, and some of that was dicey, too. Six friends, either by direct association or friends of friends (actual friends, not the kind on Facebook) got together for a weekend of wine tasting and hiking in the Yakima Valley. We had received a generous offer from our friend-in-common, Becky, who was the highest bidder at the Bicycle Alliance's auction for a winemaker's dinner at Mercer Estates Winery in Prosser, WA.

we called this area the North Face, as it was solid ice

We were all cyclists and all active so we wanted to get a little fresh air and exercise on the drive over to the eastside. As the appointed Recreation Leader for the group, I chose the Umtanum Creek Falls hike, just outside of Ellensburg and a short, nearly flat 3-mile jaunt to a 40-foot waterfall. I had read reports on the WTA site that the area near the falls could be icy in winter, but that was only a small part of the dangers on the trail.

Umtanum Creek Falls
despite the snow, there were signs of spring

While the 5 miles of dirt road was wet and dirt-splattering, the parking lot was a sheet of ice. Half of us donned some type of traction device and/or poles, while the others relied on balance and luck. Through sheer will, the help of friends, some trail detours and maybe some sharp fingernails too, we all made it safely to the falls which were pounding with the recent melt. Nearly all of us took a fall at some point, but it yielded in dirty clothes or a slice of humble pie, but no immediate injuries. The three-mile hike had taken us a total of 4 hours and we had to trim our time-wasting to make it to the winery in time for the big dinner. 

At 5:30 pm, the wine tasting began and with it a nice dinner which wasn't over until nearly 10pm, at which point we had sampled nearly 20 different varieties of wine and our friend, Bruce, had won the double Magnum for being a wine expert. Leaving the winery, I felt a little like I was on an icy hike, gliding over the parking lot, a full pirouette toward the car (driven by someone less intoxicated).

Bruce proudly displays his prize

After a night of difficult sleep (not enough wine to pass out, but too much to sleep peacefully), we woke to snow flurries and some aches and pains from the previous day's antics (on the ice, I presumed). First on the agenda was breakfast, then to Starbucks, a welcome change from wine. What was in the works for the day's schedule... more wine tasting!

First stop was to Chinook Winery in Prosser which opened their wine-tasting room for us specifically. They poured a Cabernet Franc, Semillon and a couple others (who can keep this stuff straight – it's wine). The Semillon was nice and, since it was marked 50% off, I bought a bottle, figuring that was my contribution to Washington Wines. Then we set off toward Benton City, to a winery I had been to about 15 years ago and had not had even one sip of their wines since I finished my last bottle, not long after returning home from the tasting.
Mike Moore of Blackwood Canyon

Blackwood Canyon is well-known for a few things. Most importantly, they produce incredible wines. They also produce their wines and age them much differently than most anywhere else in the US, or even the world. But the owner is known as an eccentric and, in contrast with the stainless steel and scrubbed chemistry lab of Mercer Estates, this winery looked like the home of a mad scientist. Old computers, papers scattered about, stacks of this and that, starkly different in every way from the order and sterile environment of the winery we had seen the evening before.

No matter, we still wanted to taste his wines and, for a $10 tasting fee, had a sample of each variety of his offerings,  over 10 wines total. They were damn good. They were amazing. The wines had layers, they brought out the taste in the bites of food he served us (that he procured from somewhere amongst the chaos) and the food brought out more flavor in the wine. Two and a half hours later, we all stumbled out (mostly from fatigue brought on by the previous day), some with a case of wine, me with a couple of bottles. We were facing a long drive home and it turned out it was a very quiet drive (we were tired and hungry) and cramped (all the extra space had become occupied by wine bottles). It began snowing lightly outside of Cle Elum where we had stopped for dinner. As we passed a sanding truck on I-90, I thought, oh no, not more ice! But the rest of the journey was dry (pun intended, as I also refrained from any alcohol for the week following my return).

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