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Wineman’s Toast: Jones named winery of the year

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Jones of Washington has been named Washington Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest Magazine.

The award, announced March 12 by the Quincy winery, is highlighted in the magazine’s Spring edition that was mailed last month.

It’s a significant award, seeing that there are now some 700 wineries in the state. This is the first time a winery from North Central Washington has been named for the award by the Kennewick-based quarterly magazine, which covers the state’s wine industry.

It’s also a timely award as Jones of Washington releases a quartet of 2011 white wines. New vintages of Pinot Gris, Viognier, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc hit the shelves at groceries and wine stores — as well as the Quincy tasting room — in mid-March.

You may recall that the 2010 Jones Sauvignon Blanc was judged Best White at last year’s North Central Washington Wine Awards, sponsored by our own Foothills Magazine. Jones won 12 medals in that judging, including a double gold for its 2006 Barrel Select red blend.

The winery is owned by the Jack Jones family of Wenatchee and Quincy. Jack’s son, Greg, manages the family’s 1,600 acres of Quincy and Mattawa vineyards. Victor Palencia is head winemaker for Jones of Washington’s 8,000-case annual production. He’s also head winemaker for J&S Crushing, a Mattawa bulk wine producer owned by Jack Jones and Dick Shaw.

For more information about the winery or to order wine, check out jonesofwashington.com

Karma hearing pivotal for local wineries

Wine and champagne lovers filled the Chelan County Hearing Room March 7 in support of Karma Vineyards Winery in Chelan.

Karma’s owners, Julie and Bret Pittsinger, went before Hearing Examiner Andrew Kottkamp to amend the winery’s conditional use permit to allow a restaurant and large event gatherings, mainly for weddings. The Pittsingers have already been doing both, thinking that they were in compliance after Chelan County Commissioners passed regulations in 2008 that gave wineries and other farming operations greater leeway to serve food and stage events.

Buell Hawkins, a commissioner when those regulations were passed and a Karma supporter who spoke at the hearing, said even he didn’t realize that the Pittsingers had to go back and amend their original conditional use permit after the rules were changed.

Which would not be a big deal except that several close neighbors of the winery, located on Lakeshore Road near the exclusive Minneapolis Beach residential area, are not happy with noise and traffic created by some of Karma’s wedding events the past few years.

Karma is one of the state’s premier producers of methode champenoise sparkling wine — champagne-style wine fermented and aged in the bottle. The winery also makes a line of very good white and red wines. Its main facility and tasting room is underground, in a traditional champagne cave.

Several people who spoke in support of the winery at the hearing called it the “crown jewel” of Lake Chelan’s new American Viticulture Area. One called Karma a “quiet and classy establishment” whose owners have done everything by the book.

Julie Pittsinger said the winery stood to lose tens of thousands of dollars in investments and earnings from scheduled weddings if the amendments are not approved to allow gatherings of 200 people or more on its outdoor patios.

Kottkamp did approve all of Karma’s requests for amendments in his decision handed down March 21. But he was pretty strict on the noise issue, calling for sound studies to be made at all the winery’s large events. Noise levels are to be kept below 55 dBA, about the volume of two people having a conversation. Of course the sound checks will be taken at property borders, not right next to the party. Another hearing is planned for next year to review the results of the sound checks and compliance with other conditions.

Pittsinger said she was pleased with the decision and glad planned gatherings wouldn’t have to be cancelled.

It would be good to see the county support such a winery that is so vital to Lake Chelan wine tourism. There are now more than a dozen wineries around the south end of the lake. Vineyards have replaced many lakeside apple orchards. Wine has promoted ag-tourism and added to the area’s economy in ways apples never have.

And yet neighbors have every right to complain if those activities threaten the tranquility they expected in a residential area. No one likes lying awake at night listening to the crowd down the block having too much fun.

Tranquility, however, is always going to be a transitory thing for a popular summer vacation area like Lake Chelan. Some people noted that the area was noisier when it was an apple orchard than it is now as a vineyard and winery.

Saint Laurent Estate Winery went through a similar ordeal several years ago in Malaga and had to stop holding events with amplified music. Blueberry Hills ran into problems with neighbors when it started its Manson restaurant in 2004. There will likely be more conflicts to come. It will be interesting to see which way the county leans.

Land use decisions are always controversial,” said Hawkins. “There always has to be compromise.”

Winemaking class for budding garagistes

John Butler recalls the first wine he made 35 years ago. It was awful. He was living in California at the time and his wife, Rose, contacted the California Raisin Board looking for a home wine recipe they could try.

They ended up with a recipe for an orange-raisin wine that may or may not have tasted how it was supposed to taste. Butler, who moved to Wenatchee from Seattle about a decade ago, remembers it tasting something like sherry, but nothing like what he expected nor desired.

One of Rose’s Italian relatives, however, loved it and was happy to take the whole batch away with him. Butler was happy to send it off.

His winemaking skills and recipes have come a long ways since then. He made wine for several years as a member of a group of Boeing employees who shared the hobby. He figured he had hit the mother lode when he moved here when some of the state’s finest vineyards were being planted nearby.

Butler and Glenn Liner, his winemaking partner for the past seven years, have been perennial grand award winners with their Chateau Grenz wines at the past three Chelan County Fair amateur wine competitions. Many say their quality is right up there with some of the best commercial wines. I would certainly agree.

The two men will offer a class — Introduction to the Basics of Winemaking — through Wenatchee Valley College’s Continuing Education Program April 18.

Registration for the three-hour, one-evening seminar can be made now online at the WVC website, by mail or at the college. The class will be held at the college. Tuition is $45. The class is likely to fill up fast. Call 682-6900 for more information.

Butler and Liner will offer information about how to get started in home winemaking from purchasing fruit to crushing to bottling.

The two men make small batches of six or seven white and red wine varietals each year — about 100 gallons total. There’s a lot of work and heavy lifting involved — “Sometimes I wish I had taken up stamp collecting for a hobby,” quipped Liner. — but most of it is great fun. Blending and bottling the results of the previous year’s efforts can be inebriatingly satisfying, they say.

We make what we like and we like what we make,” Butler said.

And so can you.

Cole’s Collage a winning blend

Winemakers Mike and Judy Scott at Martin-Scott Winery in East Wenatchee have come up with a winning wine recipe that I’d definitely like to see copied by others.

Not precisely, of course. But I’d love to try more vineyard meritages along the lines of Martin-Scott’s Cole’s Collage, named for their grandson. The red blend is a potent mix of 13 Mediterranean varietals Mike planted as a test vineyard a few years ago. Grapes include cinsault, mouvredre, barbera, petit verdot, zinfandel, primitivo, malbec, grenache, tempranillo, montepulciano and a few others I never heard of.

The result is a very complex, exciting wine that’s fun to drink. Rich, ripe berry flavors with leather and tobacco, but lots of lighter fruit as well. The wine is sky high in alcohol at 15 percent. A 2009 vintage, this wine should age well for a few years.

Mike said he was shooting for a wine similar to a Chateauneuf du Pape, the famous wine from the Cotes du Rhone region of southern France made from many of the same 13 grapes.

I’d say Mike and Judy are on the right track and look forward to future blends.

I served it with ravioli in a rich braciole-steeped red sauce at a recent dinner party and the wine was a hit. A tasty treat like no other, and a bargain at $20 from the winery.

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