Spokane - Near Nature, Near Wine.

After spending some time in Coeur d'Alene and Sandpoint a few weeks ago, (cough...official Wine Blog business...cough), I capped off the adventure with a world wind visit to Spokane.  Now, I used to know Spokane as well as every hair on my chest, spending my formative college years there.  I knew every back alley, bar, dumpster, and honky-tonk, and had powerful connections who could get me backstage and behind the scenes wherever my heart desired in the Lilac City. Things have changed in eight years though, and this was a new Spokane.  One with art, culture, wine, and a populace who was left to wonder, "who the bleep is this Josh Gana fellow?"  A city where despite all best efforts I most definitely was not able to get a ticket for the Tosh Tour 2010 even though I tried with tens of minutes of notice before the start of the show.  Nonetheless, I was excited to become reacquainted with downtown Spokane and the wine scene I have been hearing so much about.

I arrived in Spokane mid-afternoon and promptly checked in to my accommodations for the evening. The fine folks at the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau hooked me up with a room at the newly-renovated Hotel Ruby, an urban chic former motor inn espousing comfort, style, and value in a downtown environment.   Located in the shadow of one of my favorite restaurants, the Steam Plant Grill, the Hotel Ruby instantly reminded me of the Hotel Jupiter in Portland.  My room had a hip and fresh feel, with amenities such as complimentary internet access, continental breakfast and coffee, and a fridge and microwave in the room, at a price point of around $70 you can't go wrong.  Oh yea, a darn comfortable bed and cool lighting.  Did I mention the location?  Next door you'll find Dempsey's, for all of your heteroflexible drinking and dancing pleasure, and across the street are concert venues for rocking late into the night.  Even better, the Hotel Ruby was within walking distance of my two winery destinations for the day:  Grande Ronde Cellars and Robert Karl Winery.  To the wineries!

Grand Ronde Cellars

Located in a cooperative tasting room on Second Avenue in Spokane, Grand Ronde produces single-vineyard and Bordeaux Blend wines from two of the finest vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley - Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills.  Producing wine since 1997 under the GR label, I was lucky enough to stumble in the tasting room on release weekend for the 2005 vintage and got to taste some nice wine.    While the single vineyard stuff was nice, the biggest surprise was the 2006 Cellar Red:

A Bordeaux Blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Carmenere, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Merlot, I knew the Cellar Red was my style before I stuck my nose in the glass.  With all Seven Hills fruit, this wine was fruit forward with a sharp peppery finish. 100% french oak aging comes through in a delicious way at a value price-point.

With my first tasting under my belt, it was off to the second stop of the day for some more wine.

Robert Karl Cellars

On West Pacific Avenue, Robert Karl blends the concept of tasting room and production facility into one. That is, the tasting room is a table set up in their production facility. It had an awesome feel. I walked through the door and was greeted by co-owner Rebecca Gunselman, who had ironically been following my twitter traffic all day.  Robert Karl has been producing wine in Spokane since 1999 after Rebecca and husband/winemaker Joe moved to Washington to start the winery.  A family business with all hand-picked and manually punched fruit, the 2500 case per year production is a delicious labor of love.  I was thrilled to find 5 reds open for tasting, all with Horse Heaven Hills fruit.  All HHH all the time?  Sold.  I enjoyed all 5, but the 2008 Syrah stuck out as extra-good:

Co-fermented with 8% Viognier in a classic style, the syrah poured a gorgeous purple and was a medium, well-balanced wine on the palate.  With relatively smooth tannins, you get plenty of smoke, berry, and spice on the tongue and next thing you know the glass is empty.  The fruit is from McKinley Springs Vineyard aged in french oak for 15 months.  With a production of 150 cases there won't be enough to go around. 

A barrel room tour capped off the trip to Robert Karl, and with that I stumbled back to the hotel to enjoy a pleasurable night sleep.

If you are planning a trip to Spokane, really any time is good.  Averaging 260 days of sunshine and at least 16 wineries in the area, the proximity to plenty of outdoor activities provide a nice break when you need to give your palate a rest.  While we weren't able to connect on this trip, the Nectar Tasting Room is also going to quickly become a Spokane mainstay worth checking out.  Oh, while I'm on the topic, the Steam Plant Grill is Spokane's home to Coeur d'Alene Brewing Company, who make a mean Vanilla Bourbon Stout.

Why on earth would you not visit Spokane?  Heck if I know.  Great wine, plenty of nature, awesome food, and some sweet lodging options such as the Hotel Ruby.  Oh, a killer college basketball team as well.  The Zags, perhaps you are familiar with them?