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Vintners Of The Valley Forget The Napa Valley; Here’s A Three-Stop Wine Tour Of The Spokane Valley

Sam Francis Staff writer

In the Manz home, wine is a family affair.

It’s supper time, and Pat Manz carefully pours glasses of the time-honored beverage.

The wine is dark, red and fruity, with hints of plums and berries. Tonight they’ll try a California Merlot.

“We have wine with dinner every day,” explains Manz.

“Wine is part of food. Like baking bread, it links you to the past.”

European countries have been perfecting the art of making wine for centuries. But the vintage tradition is also alive in the Inland Northwest.

You don’t have to go to Napa Valley to taste world-class wines. A summertime winery tour is just a short hop away in the Spokane Valley.

Today, we tour three Spokane Valley wineries. We’ve provided directions, hours of operation and descriptions of each winery. Salud!

Mountain Dome Winery

“Champagne is a name of a region in France, and the French people hate it when Americans make a sparkling wine and call it Champagne,” explains Manz, Spokane’s resident-expert on sparkling wine.

She and her husband Michael started dabbling in winemaking back in 1984. They taste-tested each batch, carefully perfecting their craft. In 1992, they opened Mountain Dome winery.

Nestled between Ponderosa pine trees in the foothills of Mount Spokane, Mountain Dome is the only winery in Spokane dedicated to making sparkling wines.

The winery has evolved from a grass-roots operation to a 4,000-square-foot facility. Now, they sell 1,500 cases (18,000 bottles) of wine every year.

A year after the winery opened, Pat and Michael took their three kids to wineries in Champagne, France. The trip inspired them to bring the quality of French wines to the Inland Northwest.

“We really like the taste of French champagne more than most California sparkling wines, so we really try to imitate their style,” says Manz.

“Imitation” is a lengthy process. To achieve the tiny bubbles present in fine French champagne, each bottle must be aged four years, and then undergo a rigorous freezing process.

Mountain Dome’s best seller is the “non-vintage” wine, made from a blend of several successive harvests.

The winery is open by appointment for tastings and tours.

Latah Creek Winery

When Mike Conway came to Spokane to make wine 14 years ago, he wasn’t sure what to expect.

He had worked for some of the country’s most prestigious wineries - Ernest and Julio Gallo, in Modesto, Calif., and the Parducci Winery in Northern California.

Spokane had, well, nothing.

After helping other Spokane wineries get their start, he decided to open his own in the Valley.

What resulted was Latah Creek.

Located off Indiana Avenue, just west of the new Spokane Valley Mall, Latah Creek is a small winery with some impressive credentials.

Production is small - Latah sells about 11,000 cases a year. But smaller means better, says Conway. Latah Creek’s 1995 Merlot was selected as one of the top 100 wines in the U.S. by Wine Spectator magazine.

The winery itself is a small, cream-colored stucco building. A wooden wine press sits on the lawn, surrounded by red brickscape.

Inside the gift shop, Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” floats overhead, and connoisseurs sniff and sip Feather Chardonnay from long-stemmed glasses.

Is this really the Valley?

The winery has certainly attracted a continental crowd. Conway and his wife Ellena have greeted visitors from every state in the union and most European countries.

But some visitors are homegrown.

“We go on our own little Saturday tours of the wineries,” says Nienke Krick, a lifelong Valley resident. “You can try out some wines and not have to spend all the money.”

In addition to the wines, shoppers can find huckleberry taffy, Pasta Mama’s noodles and specialty mixes by Canterbury Cuisine.

Latah Creek is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Arbor Crest Winery

For Angelika Tann, pouring wine is a reminder of her homeland.

“There are roots and stability here, which is often so lacking in this country” says Tann, holding a bottle of straw-colored wine.

Tann moved from Germany to the United States as a child, and started working in the Arbor Crest tasting room three years ago.

The picturesque winery sits atop a steep basalt bluff, overlooking the Spokane Valley. The actual manufacturing facilities are located off-site, like many large wineries in California, says Candace Frasher of Arbor Crest.

Arbor Crest was started in 1985 by Valley brothers David and Harry Mielke.

The centerpoint of the winery, the Cliff House, was built by inventor Royal Riblet in 1924. It fell into disrepair in the mid-1980’s, when the Mielke brothers purchased it. Their vision has transformed Arbor Crest from an abandoned hilltop mansion into a world-class operation.

In the last decade, Arbor Crest has become Spokane’s largest winery, selling more than 40,000 cases annually.

It’s also the only winery in Spokane to actually grow some of the grapes used in their wines.

“These are French hybrids, and over there are European Vinifera,” says David Mielke, explaining the different grapes growing in his 4-1/2-acre vineyard. The lifelong farmer says raising grapes has been a challenge.

“There’s a little bit of art involved,” he admits.

Mielke spends hours each day perfecting that art. Visitors enjoy the fruits of his labor, seeing hundreds of varieties of flowers, listening to classical music on outdoor speakers, or playing checkers on a life-sized checkerboard.

About 100 visitors a day pass through the mediterranean-style tasting room for samples of the wines.

One of their top sellers is the Sauvignon Blanc, which critics describe as “consistently fresh, clean, grassy and steely.” Their 1993 Reserve Merlot was named in the top 10 Merlots in the country by Wine and Spirits magazine.

Arbor Crest rivals the best wineries in the country, visitors say.

“When I lived in Northern California there were very good wines there, but there’s just something about Washington wineries,” says Colleen Chapin, a San Diego-based computer consultant.

Arbor Crest is open daily from 12 noon to 5 p.m.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Photos; Map of area wineries

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: DID YOU KNOW? Number of bottles per case: 12 Storing wine: Either keep the bottle on its side, or upside down, so the wine touches the cork. This prevents oxygen from reaching the wine. How to taste wine, step by step: Pour a small amount of wine into a glass. Always hold the glass by the stem, to avoid warming the wine with the heat from your palm. Move the glass in a circular motion, to agitate the molecules. Put your nose just inside the rim of the glass and inhale deeply. Slowly, taste the wine, holding it in your mouth briefly. Try to describe the many flavors in the wine, using specific adjectives. A beginner’s wine course is taught by Spokane Falls Community College. For more information, call 533-3522 Wine trivia from Arbor Crest: British lab scientists cultivated bacteria colonies of the kind associated with food poisoning. Then they poured several alcoholic beverages over a sampling of each. They learned that most liquors had little effect, but wine killed almost all of the bacteria.

This sidebar appeared with the story: DID YOU KNOW? Number of bottles per case: 12 Storing wine: Either keep the bottle on its side, or upside down, so the wine touches the cork. This prevents oxygen from reaching the wine. How to taste wine, step by step: Pour a small amount of wine into a glass. Always hold the glass by the stem, to avoid warming the wine with the heat from your palm. Move the glass in a circular motion, to agitate the molecules. Put your nose just inside the rim of the glass and inhale deeply. Slowly, taste the wine, holding it in your mouth briefly. Try to describe the many flavors in the wine, using specific adjectives. A beginner’s wine course is taught by Spokane Falls Community College. For more information, call 533-3522 Wine trivia from Arbor Crest: British lab scientists cultivated bacteria colonies of the kind associated with food poisoning. Then they poured several alcoholic beverages over a sampling of each. They learned that most liquors had little effect, but wine killed almost all of the bacteria.

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