Visit 2Dor Wines at the County Line Tasting Room

Prosser is about a three and a half hour drive from Seattle. With vineyards, a number of tasting rooms, the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center, and nearby Red Mountain it’s well worth the drive for wine lovers. Plus, it’s on the way to Walla Walla. In fact, if Walla Walla is your final destination, you owe it to yourself to stop in Prosser along the way. On Merlot Drive at the entrance to the Prosser Vintner’s Village, is the spacious County Line Tasting Room featuring 2Dor Wines. This summer we accepted an invitation to visit and enjoy a hosted lunch on the patio. Boy, are we glad that we did! If you like a swoon worthy story, food, and wine then pour yourself a glass to sip on while I reveal this gem of a place.

Chalkboard hours and entry County Line Tasting Room

County Line Tasting Room

Sean and Libbey Tudor

Sean Tudor grew up in the Yakima Valley across the county line from Robert Smasne. It only seems fitting that the two jointly purchased a winery (the former Olsen Estates) and now operate it as the County Line Tasting Room. Winemaking is done on site by Smasne for his own label as well as 2Dor Wines. This means that guests can taste wine from both brands while visiting. They may also get to meet Sean’s wife, Libbey, who was busy overseeing guests in the tasting room during our visit.

Robert Smasne and Sean Tudor

Back in the day, Libbey’s grandfather planted some of the vines at Otis Vineyard. Today, the Tudor family owns that historic vineyard which is home to some of the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Washington State. Cue the music! Sean even proposed to Libbey in that vineyard. Then the couple got married there. How sentimental is that?

If you’re not choked up enough already, get a tissue because there is a bit of a sad story here. Back in the 1970’s Sean’s grandfather intended to plant 600 acres of wine grapes. Unfortunately, an untimely heart attack led to his passing before that happened.

Regardless, Sean grew up around farming when his parents took over the land. At the age of 18, he attended the Walla Walla Community College viticulture program. Ironically, Sean didn’t even like the taste of wine at the time. The driving force was his vision to take over the farm and get into viticulture. Today that dream is being realized with 2Dor Wines.

Tasting 2Dor Wines

All of the wines crafted under the 2Dor Wines label are estate grown. In other words, the family owns and oversees the vineyards producing the grapes for their wine. Estate wineries aren’t abundant in Washington State, so you know they’re serious about this. As their web site says:

“Owning the vineyard, caring for the vine, nurturing the grape, harvest, pressing, fermenting, aging and bottling is up to us and no one else. It’s our hands and hearts that we put into each and every bottle of wine.”

On the day of our visit we were treated to sips of a number of the estate grown 2Dor Wines. The 2016 Viognier expressed fruity notes of pineapple. The 2Dor MRV Blend (that’s Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier) captivated me with its lush mouth feel. It’s as though the wine was made to pair perfectly with summer and seafood. Refreshing Rosé of Sangiovese came across as dry with notes of summer strawberries. The 2Dor Wines Red Blend composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Syrah was dominated by pleasant floral notes from the Malbec. The elegant Cabernet Franc expressed the classic pyrazine (bell pepper) character of the variety yet let notes of blackberry and tayberry shine through.

I am surprised by what a great value the 2Dor wines are at $15-45 a bottle! In fact, we purchased some taking home the MRV Blend, Rosé, Red Blend, and Cabernet Franc.

Eat it Up

The County Line Tasting Room has a kitchen. With a killer chef. OMG the food is incredibly fresh and tasty! It pairs beautifully with the wines.

County Line Tasting Room Winery Food
Tuna Crudo paired with 2Dor Wines

As we sat down to our hosted lunch, Sean asked if he could order the tuna crudo for us. Whaaaaat, there’s tuna crudo in Prosser? I have to admit, I had my doubts, but Sean assured us the dish is his favorite. The bite size pieces of tuna were fresh and delicate, while rich in flavor.

We also gobbled down every last refreshing drop of gazpacho, a hearty BLT on artisan bread, and a satisfying shrimp risotto. Everything was delectable!

County Line Tasting Room Food
Shrimp Risotto

Had we known that Chef Kyle Hunter previously worked for Seattle restaurateur Tom Douglas, we probably wouldn’t have been so surprised. One might think perhaps this talented chef might grow wary of life in Prosser, outside of a big city. In fact, the opposite is true. Originally from the area, he went to Seattle long enough to get some valued experience. Then he returned home with a new skill set eager to enhance the quality of life east of the mountains.

The experience at County Line Tasting Room and the 2Dor Wines are not to be missed! I can’t wait to visit again this fall when the seasonal menu will likely incorporate Gala and Honeycrisp apples from the Tudors’ farm.

Visit County Line Tasting Room at 500 Merlot Dr, Prosser, WA 99350.

VinoSocial Savvy Tip:  if the patio is open during your visit, take advantage of the opportunity!

Update:  as of October 2018 food service is on hiatus for the season.

Meet Mari Womack of Damsel Cellars

All roads may lead to wine, yet many of us take different paths before reaching that destination. Mari Womack, owner and winemaker of Damsel Cellars, did not take a direct route to crafting wines. How did this damsel – who is clearly not in distress – reach her goal of developing her own brand while traveling a route with various twists and turns? Read on to learn how her experiences along the way influence her adept winemaking.

Mari Womack, Damsel Cellars Owner and Winemaker

Mari worked in restaurants while going to college in her 20’s, and developed an appetite for food and wine pairing. Her studies were rewarded with a degree in landscaping and horticulture. Then things took a turn, steering her toward working in Woodinville tasting rooms and volunteering during harvest. That path eventually led to a position as Assistant Winemaker at Darby Winery.

While at Darby, Mari processed 85 tons of grapes per year for four years affirming, “Repetition makes you an expert.” During that time she also worked on developing her own brand. In 2017 Damsel Cellars moved into its own facility located in Woodinville Wine Country.

Today, that restaurant background informs Mari’s food and wine pairing focus and a desire to craft food friendly wines. That degree in landscaping and horticulture provides a focus on the right plant in the right place. The result is a keen sensibility when sourcing grapes. Even going into her eighth vintage Mari admits, “I’ll never know all there is to learn about wine.” Regardless of the path taken, I think most people in the wine industry say the same thing about themselves. After all, that’s part of wine’s allure.

The Wines of Damsel Cellars

The lineup at Damsel Cellars focuses on fun and youthful wine with great acidity. Fruit is procured from high quality growers such as Dick Boushey of Boushey Vineyards. It’s no wonder these wines are selling out! On the day of my visit the tasting began with a delightfully fruit forward Chardonnay. Then an easy drinking Red Blend, a GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) blend aptly named the Fates, and the Stillwater Creek Syrah were poured.

Crafting varietally specific bottlings was the initial plan for Damsel Cellars. Then, in 2015 some anticipated grapes were damaged resulting in less Grenache and Mourvèdre than anticipated. Co-fermenting the two and adding Syrah to the blend was the solution. “Syrah is my favorite and I think everything can be improved by Syrah,” declares Mari. It was completely randomly fated, hence the blend, The Fates. Matured in all neutral puncheons, the fruit expresses itself beautifully. It wows with an old-world character and conveys the classic savoriness inherent in wine grapes from Boushey Vineyard.

I received a sample bottle of the Malbec to taste at home. The wine comes across as much softer than typical Washington State Malbec. Its brambly fruit flavors make it a terrific match for my Berry Barbecue Sauce atop roasted chicken breasts coated with a smoky spice rub.

Visit Damsel Cellars

In 2017 Damsel Cellars moved into its own facility located in Woodinville Wine Country. If you’ve been to Woodinville you know this Washington State wine tourism area is not the typical wine destination. Rather, what began as a rural and industrial area is now a region densely packed with tasting rooms. About a half hour drive from Seattle, the location is much closer to city life than the state’s vineyards. Find Damsel Cellars tucked away among warehouses in what is referred to as the Artisan Hill District. The cozy tasting room is housed in the front portion of the winery. It’s a clever repurposing of the space, really.

Woodinville Winery
The tasting bar at Damsel Cellars offers a peek into the barrel room

These are serious wines, yet Mari sets a casual, lighthearted tone for the winery.  The experience conveys her belief that it can be fun learning about wine, especially with a group of friends. So if you enjoy wines with old world character and an intimate tasting room experience, it’s time you visit the Damsel.

Experience Livermore Valley’s Harvest Wine Celebration

If you long to be in wine country for harvest festivites, now is the time to plan to attend the Livermore Valley Harvest Wine Celebration coming up on Labor Day weekend! Last fall I had the great opportunity to become a winemaker at Wente Winemakers Studio in Livermore Valley Wine Country. That experience combined with an exploration of the area’s picturesque vineyards and other family owned wineries made me a fan of this destination. Ideal for wine lovers, Livermore is located in the Tri-Valley Region just about an hour east of San Francisco.

Taking place on Sunday, September 2, 2018, the popular Harvest Wine Celebration festival in its 37th year includes 35+ local wineries showcasing Livermore Valley wine, food, art, crafts and music for ticket holders—each at their own winery. That means that guests will experience the true personality of each winery through its wines, people, and activities. This is a notch above the usual wine tasting! As a bonus, 30 wineries will honor event wristbands for free tasting on Monday as well. That means ticket holders receive a two day experience for $40 in advance and $45 at the event on Sunday.

wine tasting livermore valley
Murietta’s Well

Event Highlights

Concannon Vineyard will host an Escape Room for ticketed guests
Murrieta’s Well will offer vineyard tours every hour
Retzlaff Estate Winery will give a cork demonstration and tours of the historic estate and organic vineyard and garden
Garre´ Vineyard & Winery will host bocce ball and lawn games
Wente Vineyards will serve up barrel samples with a food pairing at the Estate Tasting Room on Tesla Road
el Sol Winery will present beekeeping demonstrations throughout the day

Resources:
Check the Livermore Valley Wine Country web site for a full list of participating wineries and details on activities at the Livermore Valley Harvest Wine Celebration.

Lodi Wine and Food: Where to Eat, Drink, and Explore

Last fall I had the pleasure of visiting Lodi, California for the first time. The trip was an eye opening exploration of the over 125 varieties of wine grapes grown in Lodi, the multi-generational family farms, the ground breaking wineries producing varieties beyond Zinfandel, and sustainable vineyards. I went home thirsty for more! When an invitation to return arrived, my answer was an enthusiastic, “YES!!!” Sponsored by the Visit Lodi! Conference and Visitors Bureau, my latest trip offered an even broader perspective of Lodi wine and food. Here is an itinerary perfectly suited for a weekend getaway.

An Itinerary for Exploring Lodi Wine and Food

Day 1

Weibel Family Winery Tasting Room

Join us for wine tasting at Weibel’s darling, we saved you a seat!

Popular with the locals, Weibel’s is a fun spot in charming Downtown Lodi to unwind before dinner. Zsa Zsa Gabor was a fan (yes, they’ve been making wine for that long!). The family even struck a deal to have her do some promotion for them back in the day. It’s worth visiting here just to see the resulting print ads for their wine adorning the walls! This comfortable tasting room offering affordable sparkling wines served in vintage Champagne coupes, still wines, and frosé.

Dinner at Fenix Restaurant

Chef Richard Hyman (lower right, with Visit Lodi! President and CEO, Nancy Beckman on the left and digital influencer Samantha Capaldi) offers guests a flavorful menu at Fenix

Stroll down the street to Fenix for dinner where the philosophy is fresh, local, and seasonal in a friendly, casual atmosphere. Talented chef Richard Hyman says don’t call it farm to fork. He believes that should be a given for any small chef driven restaurant. Sit at the counter to enjoy a peek-a-boo view of the kitchen at work. The flavors here pop and the creativity of the chef shines through. Roasted carrots are seasoned with exotic za’atar. Cooked to perfection mesquite grilled swordfish is accompanied by zippy house made jalapeno aioli. Plus, the wine list includes a fantastic selection of wines by the glass or bottle, heavy on the local options.

Update:  as of fall 2018 Fenix has closed. Check the Visit Lodi website for other dining options

Continue reading “Lodi Wine and Food: Where to Eat, Drink, and Explore”

Become a Winemaker at Wente Winemakers Studio

Wineries all along the west coast are ready to pour a tasting flight when you walk through the door. What sets one apart from another? An experience that is unique and engaging can totally differentiate a winery. One of the most memorable tasting room experiences I’ve had is a wine blending session at the Wente Winemakers Studio in Livermore Valley Wine Country.

Being based in Seattle, when we plan a trip to California the lure of the familiar wine regions Napa and Sonoma is hard to resist. If only we’d known over the years of our visits to the Golden State that we were missing out on intimate and engaging experiences in other wine regions. Enter Livermore Valley. Just about an hour east of San Francisco in the Tri-Valley Region, I was surprised to find that we were driving past beautiful vineyards on roads with little traffic.

The area is home to Wente Vineyards, the pioneer of California’s number one white grape variety, Chardonnay. Somehow it had escaped me that the majority of California Chardonnay is a Wente Chardonnay clone. I might be living a wine centric life, and yet this 5th generation family winery that is celebrating its 135th anniversary this year has unfortunately eluded me. With multiple tasting rooms, dining options, and event venues, Wente Vineyards is quite an enchanting playground for wine lovers. My time there was spent at the Wente Winemakers Studio. Even within the Winemakers Studio there are several interactive experiences from which to choose including blind tasting, wine aroma discovery, and wine and food pairing. During my visit I tried my hand at the winemaking blending experience.

Not only does the hospitable staff offer a friendly greeting, upon entering the studio wine glasses and notebooks are set up on tables hinting at the tasting experience ahead. Upon being seated, the session begins with an introduction to the history of the winery. Next comes the anticipated tasting of the estate wines and copious notetaking. Although tasting in this setting is more a function to help one determine which wines and how much may be desired in a custom blend, it turns out it is still fun!

Livermore Valley Wine Tasting

The setup of the blending room is remarkable. Barrel heads with spigots line one wall. This is where we pour Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties into beakers in order to create our blend. We then bottle the finished blend, cork it, put a capsule on it, label it, and ultimately take home our personal creation.

Wente Blending

This memorable blending experience at the Wente Winemakers Studio is delightful and the hospitality remarkable. I highly recommend it and look forward to revisiting Livermore Valley. Have you been to the region? If so, head on over to my post on Instagram and share your experience! #LetsTalkAboutWine

Plan Your Visit

Wente Vineyards
Wente Winemakers Studio
Livermore Valley Wine Country
Visit Tri Valley
Black Tie Transportation