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Column 071607 Dryden

Monday, July 16, 2007

Wine Tasting from BC, Mexico to BC, Canada

By Steve Dryden

Wine tasting and touring is a wonderful way to expand your knowledge of the wine culture and to develop a diverse understanding of the amazing world of wine and food. I was on the road for the month of June, exchanging bottles of premium Mexican wines for wines of the Northwest while visiting unique and remote wine regions in Idaho, Washington and British Columbia.  It’s was a fantastic journey into the world of cool climate enology and viticulture, tasting for the first time the Grand Prix d’ Honneur award-winning (Bordeaux, France) Ice wine from Inniskillin Winery in Oliver, British Columbia.

Every wine region in the world has a distinctive identity of place. For instance Mexico has full bodied and ripe wine, whereas most wines from the Pacific Northwest are characteristically higher in acids and highly aromatic. In Mexico we tend to grow Rhone varieties and heat loving vines, but in the Northwest they grow cooler regional varieties such as Chardonnay, Riesling, Viognier, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc.

In general, I find Mexican wines to be spicy, ripe and full flavored while wines from the Northwest are generally soft, elegant, fruit forward and very aromatic. So I call this latest adventure from Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California into British Columbia, Idaho and Washington a journey of discovery: “BC to BC: From Spice to Ice.”

And that is exactly what it was!

The climate of the Northwest may be cool, but the people in the wine industries of this region are very warm, friendly and generous, fully appreciative and aware of the importance of wine writers in the promotion and education of wine for the masses. This is something that could be better understood in other regions, and I thank everyone for opening your hearts, doors, wine cellars and bottles for my education and “vinotour” expedition.

A fun component of traveling with Baja California wine is that everyone is stunned and surprised with the high quality and taste of Mexican wine. Most of the individuals I was in contact with were winery owners, winemakers, vineyard managers, winery staff and international promoters of wine and culinary delights. The most common remarks were variations of: “What, Mexico makes wine? Wow, this is fantastic. I never knew.”

Few people realize that it was in Mexico, back in 1524, when Spain’s appointed governor ordered every Spaniard with a land grant in Mexico to plant 5,000 European grape vine cuttings. Mexico, in fact, was the birthplace of vineyard management and winemaking in the Americas.

Another interesting twist is that they grow much Viognier in the Northwest, so knowing this I took Viognier grown in Valle de Guadalupe to compare and discuss. It is certainly an icebreaker among us global wine lovers, and it shows clearly how the same variety of grape, grown in different climatic zones, in different soil, under different weather conditions, and by unique winemakers, can create some amazing and diverse wines.

Another surprise for me was to discover that Canada’s premier wine country of Okanagan Valley, in British Columbia, is actually part of the Sonoran Desert, starting in Mexico and extending through North America as the Great Basin. In fact, this premier wine-growing region gets about the same annual rainfall as Valle de Guadalupe, but they have an abundance of water generated in the high, surrounding mountain ranges of the North.

One striking difference between the Northwest and Mexico is that, in the former, water is to be found everywhere in streams, rivers, wells, reservoirs and huge lakes. And these large bodies of water form unique ecosystems that create favorable conditions for growing superior grapes and fruit. I have to admit that this region, in the beautiful and scenic Northwest, is producing some remarkable wines and I plan to return in the future for a through and in-depth exploration.

Another of the many highlights of this wine and food adventure was the discovery and exploration of the wine region of Lake Chelan, Washington. I paid a visit to Joan, at Vin du Lac winery on the east side of the lake, in a beautiful natural setting overlooking the water. I’d met her at a wine tasting in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho a few days before and that experience prompted me to visit this “wine phenomena” for myself.

Here at this winery and bistro, wine comes from oak barrels and is almost immediately turned into to gold medals at regional and international competitions. Their 2004 Barrel Select Syrah has been awarded a double gold medal in international competition, while their Cabernet Franc was selected as “Top Wine of the Year” and awarded a Double Platinum award at a recent competition in Washington. They create a stunning 2004 Les Amis, a Riesling-Muscat blend, 2003 Barrel Select Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2003 Barrel Select Merlot. All of the wine from Vin du Lac fully represents the character of each grape variety, and they are high quality and a great value!

Fortune and fate led me to the winery, desk and unsurpassed hospitality of Dr. Robert Jankelson, owner of Tsillan Cellars of Lake Chelan. He has created an incredible Italian country retreat and winery on the gentle sloping south shore of Lake Chelan, overlooking the wine country and the beautiful lake community.

Tsillan Cellars is the largest yield winery in this region, with a production of 7,000 to 10,000 cases of premium wine annually. Dr. Jankelson and his energetic winemaker, Peter Davidson, grow (70 percent estate grown) a wide variety of premium grapes on 135 acres, including Sangiovese, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Riesling and Gewurztraminer. This dynamic trio of a visionary owner, intensely dedicated winemaker, and superior grapes has led to the creation of “world class” wine in a relative short period of time.

In addition, they have an incredible “world class” winery operation and a breathtaking Tuscan style tasting room (3,000 sq. ft) with one of the most beautiful patio and garden areas I’ve ever seen, complete with cascading waterfalls, tasting and entertainment areas. And their wines are capturing local, regional and international gold medal awards in prestigious competitions at a stunning pace! I can recommend all of their wines, but these gold medal winners stood out: 2005 Estate Gewurztraminer, 2005 Estate Pinot Grigio, and 2003 Columbia Valley Bellissima Rossa, a remarkable blend of 48 percent Merlot, 47 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5 percent Cabernet Franc. 


Steve Dryden, a MexiData.info guest columnist, is a wine, travel and history writer for the Baja Times.  Mr. Dryden lives in Guadalupe Valley, Baja California where he also guides private and motor coach tours.  He can be reached at sbdryden@hotmail.com.