Hard Row to Hoe – Wine with a Story

img_0004We’ve been fans of Hard Row to Hoe for years, and we finally made it to their intriguing tasting room in Lake Chelan Valley last month. Co-owner and winemaker Judy Phelps poured us tastes of many of her winning wines and shared some stories behind their names. First, the name of the winery itself has two meanings — one obviously related to vineyard management; the other is racy!

Back in the late 1930s, construction was winding down at the Grand Coulee Dam, and the area’s “professional ladies” decided to travel to the then-remote Lake Chelan, where a new mine had just opened near the town of Lucerne. The ladies moved into the Edgemont Lodge, located a few miles uplake from Lucerne at Point Lovely. Their goal: to take care of the miners. Yes, the lodge became a brothel.

As the story continues, a long-time resident, an entrepreneur some might think, ran a rowboat taxi service from Lucerne to Point Lovely to transport the miners to and from the brothel, in support of the soon-thriving enterprise at Edgemont Lodge. Eventually the miners’ wives decided to retaliate by burning down the brothel.

Fast forward to present times, and the decor in Hard Row to Hoe’s tasting room reflects the theme: an actual bed from the brothel, feather boas, pink panties and — well, let’s just use the word intriguing again – intriguing wall paper. The names of wines also contribute: Burning Desire, Shameless Hussy, Seduction, Good in Bed and S&M (Syrah and Malbec).

img_0005In addition to the names, the stories are also illustrated by little caricatures drawn on the wine bottles — one depicts the miners in the rowboat taxi, heading to the brothel. Others show the brothel beds or the building itself, with the shutters up when the brothel was open for business, or the shutters down when the miners were visiting. For example, Hard Row to Hoe’s stellar Cabernet Franc, Burning Desire, has a drawing (right) of the wives carrying torches in the rowboat taxi en route to burn down the Edgemont Lodge.

So let’s take a look at the Burning Desire, along with some of the other wines we tasted.

2014 Hard Row to Hoe Burning Desire Estate Cabernet Franc ($45)
This big juicy wine has made our list of favorite Cab Francs for years, and this vintage is no exception. Tasting notes: “Showing great purity of fruit with a long, vibrant finish. It is loaded with dark cherry and plum flavors with a complex aroma of herbs, spices and violets. Well-balanced, with richness, good acidity and a judicious use of new oak.”

2014 Hard Row to Hoe S&M ($38)
A delicious blend of 60% estate Syrah and 40% estate Malbec, this is one big beauty of a wine. Tasting notes: “Shows beautiful fruit flavors of black cherry, blackberry, black pepper and blueberry with aromas of black pepper, leather and tobacco.”

2014 Hard Row to Hoe Barbera ($40)
The Barbera grapes come from a single vineyard in Oroville near the Canadian border. We plan on pairing this wine with Dave’s famous spaghetti or maybe Margot’s beef stew. Tasting notes: “Offering flavors of cranberry, dried red currant, allspice and anise, the palate showcases the freshness and purity of this varietal, with pure cherry and dark berry flavors, alongside an earthiness of spiceand leather.”

2014 Hard Row to Hoe Primitivo ($49)
Oh do we love this wine – robust and beautiful with flair. Tasting notes: “Bold and delicious; filled with plum and cherry flavors. Aged in mostly neutral barrels so as not to overwhelm the fruit flavors with oak, this wine is incredibly food friendly and supple. It has an exotic spice finish that goes on forever.”

These were our favorites in Hard Row’s extensive lineup, and the ones we brought home to our cellar. All of these wines will drink well through 2020 or longer.

We highly recommend a visit to the winery tasting room if you are even remotely close to Lake Chelan. If not, you can purchase these wines at some wine shops or at the winery’s website.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Our List of Top 60 Washington Wineries

NYE WineAs the new year begins, we want to reflect on the wineries in Washington state that made our list of Top 60 Washington Wineries.

The way to get on our list is fairly simple; we only have two criteria: wineries must offer good juice and good people who provide an excellent wine experience. Perhaps we had fun or learned something in a tasting room or at a major wine event such as Taste Washington, Taste of Tulalip or Seattle Wine and Food Experience. Perhaps someone from the winery gave us a call, or sent us a personal note or samples. Or perhaps we were invited to an incredible winery party.

These people might be the winemakers or the winery owners; in some cases, they are the hard-working staff in a tasting room who went out of their way to make us feel welcome or the amazing workers in the vineyards where it all begins.

Why 60 wineries? The list grew to 60 from 50 last year, as we were introduced to new wineries or new wine experiences in 2015. We welcome the newcomers to the list, and thank you for the 2015 wine experiences you brought us — Andrew Will, B. Leighton, Cote Bonneville, Dynasty Cellars, Ensemble Cellars Kiona, Leonetti, Passing Time, Reynvaan, Seven Falls and Stottle Winery.

Write for Wine’s Top 60 Washington Wineries (in alphabetical order):

  1. Alexandria Nicole Cellars
  2. Andrew Will
  3. Avennia
  4. B. Leighton
  5. Baer
  6. Barrage Cellars
  7. Barrister
  8. Bartholomew
  9. Betz Family
  10. Boudreaux Cellars
  11. Buty Winery
  12. Chateau Ste. Michelle
  13. Columbia Crest
  14. Cooper Wine Company
  15. Cote Bonneville
  16. Darby
  17. DiStefano
  18. Double Canyon
  19. Dunham Cellars
  20. Dynasty Winery
  21. Efeste
  22. Ensemble Cellars
  23. Fall Line
  24. Fidelitas
  25. Fielding Hills
  26. Figgins
  27. Force Majeure
  28. Forgeron Cellars
  29. Gard
  30. Gorman Winery
  31. Guardian Cellars
  32. Hard Row to Hoe
  33. JM Cellars
  34. Kiona
  35. L’Ecole 41
  36. Lauren Ashton
  37. Leonetti
  38. Long Shadows
  39. Maryhill
  40. Mercer Estates
  41. Northstar
  42. Northwest Totem Cellars
  43. Obelisco Estate
  44. Otis Kenyon
  45. Passing Time
  46. Quilceda Creek
  47. Reynvaan
  48. Ross Andrew
  49. Sleight of Hand
  50. Seven Falls Cellars
  51. Sinclair Estate
  52. Sparkman Cellars
  53. Stottle Winery
  54. Va Piano
  55. Vin du Lac
  56. Walla Walla Vintners
  57. William Church
  58. Windy Point
  59. Woodward Canyon
  60. Woodhouse Wine Estates

To these people, we thank you; we support you. Cheers to Washington state wine!

Happy new year!
Margot and Dave
Write for Wine — it’s Wine O’clock Somewhere!

A Chance to Support Lake Chelan Wine Valley

Crush-2015As you no doubt heard in the news this summer, wildfire destroyed Ventimiglia Cellars in Lake Chelan. The so-called Chelan Complex Fire took at least 70 buildings, blazed across 135,000 acres and left more than 750 people without work.

Many of the winemakers and grape growers in Lake Chelan Wine Valley, including Judy and Don Phelps of  Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards, had to evacuate their homes.

The local economy, particularly tourism, suffered after the devastating fires; according to the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce, business in August dropped about 75 percent.

You have a chance to help support the economy in Lake Chelan Wine Valley — a scenic community of 25 wineries — by attending the Valley’s annual Crush festival: two weekends of wine tasting and a behind-the-scenes look at winemaking on Oct. 2-4 and Oct. 10-11.

Over both weekends, the wineries will feature live concerts, barbecues, grape stomping, vineyard tours and more. And of course, there is the beautiful 50-mile lake, mountain biking, hiking and golf to enjoy.

And a special shout-out to Tildio Winery for a new red blend called The Phoenix, “dedicated to the fire fighters and the people who are rising from the ashes.”

Find out more details about Crush at Lake Chelan Wine Valley’s website.

Our friends in the area hope to see you there.

Cheers,
Margot and Dave

There’s nothing like a stellar Cab Franc from Washington State

Cab FrancOne of our favorite wines is Cabernet Franc, which is one of the main varieties in Bordeaux blends.

Many people don’t realize that Cab Franc is one of the genetic parents to Cabernet Sauvignon; the other is Sauvignon Blanc. In addition to Washington state, you can find it planted in California and in the Bordeaux and Loire regions in France.

Cab Franc is typically used as a blending wine to add more complexity to the robust Cabernet Sauvignon or more structure to the softer Merlot. But Cab Franc is also created as a single-varietal wine; in other words, a stand-alone wine.

When blended, it adds both a subtly and an “oomph” to Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties. But on its own, quite simply, Cabernet Franc is amazing.

Cab Franc is known for its complex aromas of cherry and berry, with notes of herbs, spices, chocolate, cedar, and even violets. Frequently wine enthusiasts describe the nose as a peppery perfume.

The hot climate in Walla Walla and Yakima Valley is perfectly suited to ripen the Cab Franc fruit. Wineries in Lake Chelan have also produced some fine vintages.

We’ve enjoyed many excellent stand-alone Washington state Cab Francs over the years, including a beautiful Matthews Estate 2003 Conner Lee Cab Franc, an elegant 2004 from Corliss Estates, a robust 2012 Outcast from Barrage Cellars, and a rich 2012 Cooper Estate Red Mountain Cabernet Franc.

Here are some other Washington state wineries that, in our opinion, produce the Cab Franc grape as a shining single-varietal wine.

What Cab Francs do you like best from Washington state? Please share your favorites with us!

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Random Thoughts from Taste Washington-Part 1

Washington state produces excellent wine. Period.

That is our main takeaway from Taste Washington, held March 23-24 in Seattle.

That is certainly not a new or revolutionary thought on Write for Wine. We were major advocates of Washington wine for years before this blog was created in 2007. But, frankly, the winemakers and vineyard producers just keep getting better and better with each passing year.

First, kudos to Washington Wine Commission for creating such an organized event at the massive exhibition hall at Centurylink Field. Year after year — for 16 years, to be precise — this well-oiled machine produces a crowd-pleaser that introduces newcomers to the best wine and food in the state and also provides new experiences to annual attendees.

Taste Washington is an incredible taste sensation, with pours from more than 225 Washington wineries and bites created by 68 local restaurants. There were so many standouts; here is the first part of our random thoughts from the Super Bowl of Washington wine events.

Best surprise – an outstanding Obelisco 2012 Red Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé, created by winemaker Kevin Correll from Barrage Cellars in conjunction with Doug Long from Obelisco. We are headed to the Obelisco tasting room in Woodinville to buy some of this amazing summer sipper before it sells out!

Ditto for Doug’s superlative 2010 Nefer 111, which demonstrates how incredibly well Washington grapes can be transformed with a Napa Valley style. This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Mountain fruit sourced at Obelisco Estate Vineyard. We don’t frequently purchase 3-bottle sets, but we are going to make an exception for this stellar wine.

And speaking of Barrage, the 2008 Double Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon is drinking really well right now! We loved it when it was first released, and now, simply wow.

Still on the Cab Sauv track, we were fortunate to taste Gorman Winery‘s 2009 Albatross Red Mountain, a powerful blend of 80% Cab Sauv and 20% Petit Verdot, which received 94 points from Wine Enthusiast. This one is a beauty, which we’re also going to buy before all of it gets snapped up!

With a Parker rating of 92 points, the Adams Bench 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon V is a polished vibrant red that we are pleased to add to our list of favorites. It was recommended to us by William Church winemaker Rod Balsley, whose 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon has been winning awards all over the place!

By the way, Rod’s William Church 2010 Cab Sauv has just been released, and we can’t wait to taste it. This standout Cab is the winner of the 2013 Golden Grape Best Cabernet Award, judged by the winemakers of Woodinville, which is pretty impressive.

Somehow, we missed Barrister‘s 2010 Cabernet Franc, which has been a favorite in past vintages. But we tasted the delightful full-bodied “Burning Desire” Estate Cab Franc from Hard Row to Hoe, which is consistently fabulous year after year.

We also missed pours from Forgeron CellarsFidelitas and Gilbert Cellars – but we know from past experience that wines from all three typically rock!

There were so many random thoughts from Taste Washington, this blog post will continue – come back soon to read about the rest of our favorite pours and bites at this Super Bowl of wine events.

Did you go to Taste Washington 2013? What were your standouts?

Cheers!