A month ago, we visited not one but two Hard Row to Hoe tasting rooms with our good friends, Chuck and Rita Kinzer. First, we stopped by the Leavenworth location. Next, we decided to visit the Hard Row Winery and Vineyards in Manson in the Lake Chelan Valley. Above all, winemaker Judy Phelps and her husband and vineyard manager Don Phelps, took a break from their successful harvest to chat with us. Read on for details of the outstanding wines we tasted.
Hard Row to Hoe Story
First, the name of the winery itself has two meanings — one obviously related to vineyard management; the other is racy. We’ve been fans of Hard Row to Hoe for years, and winemaker Judy Phelps told us their story more than a decade ago. We wrote about it in a previous post, but it is so entertaining that it warrants repeating. It starts almost one hundred years ago.
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 intriguing wall paper. The names of wines also contribute: Burning Desire, Shameless Hussy, Seduction, Good in Bed and S&M (Syrah and Malbec).
The Latest Chapter
In the years since Hard Row to Hoe was established in 2005, Judy says she and Don have grown as winemakers and vineyard owners. As a result, they recently decided to launch a new Whole Picture® label and wine series. Overall, the new packaging is a departure from the titillating brothel story that has been integral to the winery.
For example, our favorite Burning Desire Cabernet Franc (named after the miners’ wives retaliation) is now Whole Picture® Cab Franc. It’s still a rich, velvety-smooth 100% Cab Franc that is unfined and unfiltered. In addition, a lovely new Amphora Cabernet Franc (pictured), Orange Muscat and a delicious Au Naturel Pét-nat also display the new label. Most importantly, the Whole Picture label showcases sustainability and organic farming, as well as other notable vineyard and winemaking practices by Judy and Don. And don’t worry, the racy theme still continues with other wines and tasting room decor.
Hard Row to Hoe Wine
These are the wines we brought home: Whole Picture® Au Naturel Pét-nat 2019, Nauti Buoy® 2020 and Seduction 2017. We had a difficult time choosing, because all of Judy’s wines are stellar. And don’t forget, we tasted them in two locations. In Leavenworth, our wonderful host Tess served us sparkling wines, whites and reds. At the winery, Danielle Ross was our rock-star host, sharing stories and pouring delicious Pinot Noir, Cab Franc, Syrah, Nauti Buoy®, Seduction, and two sparklers.
Hard Row to Hoe Whole Picture® Au Naturel Pét-nat (Cab Franc) 2019 ($38)
Au Naturel Pét-nat 2019 is a special project by Judy’s son and assistant winemaker, Julian Shaver. Short for Petillant Naturel, this is an amazing wine made in a very natural way, omitting typical winemaking tools like cultivated yeasts, artificial nutrients and over-use of sulfites for preservation. Low in alcohol, this sparkling wine is full of flavors of fresh berries, almonds and vanilla. Judy recommends serving it in a large white wine glass.
Nauti Buoy® 2020 ($22)
We did not expect to like this Riesling-Gewurztraminer blend, Nauti Buoy®. But we loved it. On one hand, it was a pleasant surprise because these two grapes are not our favorites. On the other hand, we adore all of Judy’s creations, so it’s not a surprise at all. Nauti Buoy is 90% Riesling and 10% Gewurtz — dry, fresh, complex and balanced, with fruit scents and flavors, backed by beautiful minerality. We took Nauti Buoy to a patio party, and he was a crowd pleaser. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
Seduction 2017 ($42)
This photo is titled “Rowing in Seduction.” Look closely and you will see that the oar on the glass is dipping into Seduction 2017 — a brooding, lush, seductive blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (44%), Cab Franc (44%) and Petite Sirah (12%). Each varietal was fermented separately and blended right before bottling. Oh we love this wine! Judy suggests pairing it with poached pears, BBQ ribs or chocolate truffles. Photo credit goes to our friend Chuck Kinzer, a professional photographer.
Other Standout Wines We Tasted
- “Good in Bed” Sparkling 2018 Blanc de Blancs – This is sourced from a single variety, single vineyard, single vintage, which Judy says honors the distinctive nature of Lake Chelan terroir. $56
- Shameless Hussy Rosé 2020 – This is a refreshing Grenache and Tempranillo blend, with flavors of watermelon, strawberries and cherries. $25
- Pinot Noir 2018 – This is a gorgeous Pinot, fermented with native yeasts. It’s fresh, pure, balanced and powerful. $40
- Whole Picture® Estate Cabernet Franc 2018 – See below for notes. $45
- Whole Picture® Amphora Cabernet Franc 2019 – See below for notes. $28
In conclusion, Hard Row to Hoe wines depict the focus, dedication, talent and skills of Judy and Don Phelps, who use unique and/or notable winemaking and vineyard practices. And, as you can tell by the names of their wines and their story, Judy and Don are a lot of fun too. Above all, we recommend a visit to either of their tasting rooms. Likewise, you can purchase these impressive wines at their website.
Previous recent stories about Hard Row to Hoe:
- Unexpected Trip 2021
- Whole Picture Cabernet Franc 2021
- Amphora Cabernet Franc 2021
- Favorite 50 Wines in 2020
- Holiday Whites and Rosé 2020
- Holiday Wine 2020
- Thanksgiving Wine 2020
- Rosé Roundup 2020
- Favorite Washington Wineries in 2019 (and every year prior)
- Amazing Wine from Hard Row to Hoe 2019
- Burning Desire 2019
- Hard Row to Hoe – Wine with a Story 2016
- A Chance to Support Lake Chelan Wine Valley 2015
- I Heart Cab Franc 2010
Margot and Dave