Monday, July 18, 2011

Sipping Local in Port Townsend!

Port Townsend has long been a great place to find amazing organic local produce, small independent businesses, and lots of gorgeous northwest beach. On Saturday the farmers market is hopping and surprisingly large for such a small town. Here you can find fun things like woodfired pizza, goat milk soap, Teacup piglets for sale, and- perhaps most surprising- local organic saffron threads.  What started as a relaxing do-nothing weekend mini-vacation turned into a romp in regional eats and drink for me and my two friends. Surprising? Perhaps not.  Wins for most exciting/interesting Port Townsend finds are brought to us today by the letter "F": the Farmer's Market, Fairwinds Winery, and Finnriver Cidery!

Fairwinds Winery

Established in 1993 by two retired Coast Guard couples, Fairwinds winery is the oldest winery in these parts, only about a fifteen minute drive on Highway 20 south of downtown Port Townsend. For those less familiar with the region, we're talking the western part of Washington state, a ferry ride across Puget Sound and a jaunt over the Hood Canal Floating Bridge, heading towards Canada to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west.  Port Townsend itself sits on a northern point aside Discovery Bay and from the shore on a clear day you can see Vancouver Island in Canada.  My memories of visiting this area as a child involve beach combing in wind and rain, frolicking through the ancient cement barracks at Fort Worden, and fighting over buckets of buttery steamed clams with my family. I never once thought that I'd be drinking wine made in this place. It's cold, WET, and rugged in a northwest hippie type of way.

Though Puget Sound was the third AVA established in Washington state, only about 1% of the wine produced in the state is made from grapes grown in the region. It hard to imagine most vines would grow well here, let alone produce quality fruit. Grapevines like it dry, they like sunlight.  While local grape growers are experimenting with certain cool climate varieties like Siegerrebe and Pinot Noir Pricoce, most area wineries are getting their fruit from the other side of the Cascades.  I for one, am thankful for this while drinking these wines, but at the same time interested to see what can be done with the weirdo cool climate vines.

Now run by Micheal and Judy Cavett, Fairwinds specializes in lesser known varietals like Gewurtzraminer, Aligote and Lemberger, while also supplying much-loved Merlot, Cabernet,  and a Cab/Merlot blend. You can find Micheal on Saturday afternoon cheerfully serving up his wines in a charming wood-paneled tasting room.  

His 2009 Gewurtz is bright with good spice and a flowery stone fruit profile that is distinct to the Washington state expression of the grape. The 2005 Lemberger is friendly,  balanced, and full of fresh red fruit. A good taco/burger/sunny day red. Bold and ripe, the 2006 red blend stands out in the line up, made from Yakima grapes, 60% Cab, 40% Merlot. But by far the best- the Fairwinds star of the moment is the just released 2002 Merlot. It's round, earthy, supple, and everything that a nice Merlot should be while ageing quite nicely.

To add to the small town winery charm, Fairwinds also sells homemade wine jellies- the Jalapeno Gewurztraminer being the tastiest, especially with strong goat cheese. Micheal also has a couple other interesting treasures in his cellar- homemade mead with organic honey from Mt. Vernon, and a brewing fruit wine made with Kiwi Berries. We were lucky enough to get a special taste of the Kiwi Berry wine, which Micheal is thinking of turning into a summer sparkler.  Like no fruit wine I've ever tasted, it's tart, juicy, and totally unique.  It's these types of tasting experiences I love to write about.

Fairwinds is definitely worth a stop for the curious vacationing wine lover. Grab a bottle of the  Lemberger, a locally caught salmon, and some farm fresh greens for a delicious and distinctly Puget Sound dinner while in the area.

Finnriver Cidery

I can't say how much I love the rising popularity of local ciders in Washington state, especially those cidermakers who look toward traditional French style ciders for direction. They are moving away from the sickeningly sweet appley fermented juices to earthy, crisp, super dry crafted ciders. Finnriver is one of these places!  Located in Chimacum about twenty minutes south of Port Townsend on Highway 19, the organic farm produces blueberries, eggs, honey, several different grains and vegetables, as well as being home to goats, pigs, sheep, and other animals.  Apples, pears, blueberries, and black currants all go into their delicious ciders that are fermented on site in a small building with an adjacent adorably decorated tasting room.

A must try is the Methode Champenoise Sparkling Apple Cider (8% abv).  This cider actually won a double gold medal in the sparkling wine category at the Seattle Wine Awards last year, right up against the likes of Domaine Ste Michelle and other big players, and I can see why. Very old world in style, the cider had elegant fruit and plenty of earthy aromas, lively little bubbles, and a crisp, dry finish.  It's made using the same method as traditional French Champagne, which means a lot of time, labor, and riddling.  Impressive for a small town farm cidery.

If you're into a sweeter, fruitier flavor, taste the pear and apple blueberry ciders.  Without being cloying, they are true expressions of the fruits they are made with, not added sugar or phony flavoring.  And if you want to try something really unique, go for the Dry Hopped cider!  It'll blow you away with it's tart, dry, hay and cannabis-like flavors. It's something you can keep tasting, finding something new in it each time. Excitingly enough, Finnriver is now putting their ciders in kegs and starting a limited distribution in the Seattle area. The Noble Fir in Ballard will be the first to have Finnriver cider on tap, so stop by there soon for a taste.

Behind the tasting counter, owner Crystie is super knowledgeable and friendly, inviting everyone in back for a look at the riddling racks and ageing bottles.  An NYC native, she's still getting used to living on a farm in rural Washington, but proudly pours her bubblies every weekend and talks about taking a cider research trip to France hopefully someday soon.  Sounds glamorous.  Check out Finnriver if you're ever in the area- remember it's on the way back to the Kingston ferry from Port Townsend!

Look for more from Washington state coming up... And I promise I'm getting on that blog naming thing soon. :)

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