Located about 45 minutes south of Bellingham, La Conner has a variety of amenities that make it a great destination for a day trip. There's a folksy, artsy feel to the community, with a handful of bed-and-breakfasts, inns and restaurants, and, most important for us wineophiles, a terrific little winery.
I first visited Alan Holtzheimer and his wife, Diane, nearly two years ago when they were still getting Silver Bell Winery up and running from their garage in Burlington. Since then, they've established a tasting room in downtown La Conner that features a warm, dark-wood interior, some really cool custom-made lighting, and a number of tasty, well-crafted wines.
Last year's production only totaled about 600 cases, up from the initial output of 180 cases in 2010, but still at a level to comfortably keep it in the "boutique winery" classification.
"When we make and sell 1,000 cases, I quit my day job, so I'm pushing it as fast as I can," Alan notes with a tone somewhere between half-joking and serious that seems to lean toward the latter.
That's a good thing for all of us, because Silver Bell wines have become more impressive with each new release.
Wines currently available include a same-lot pair of contrasting chardonnays from Rattlesnake Hills' Copeland Vineyards. The 2012 Unoaked Chardonnay ($19) was cold-fermented in stainless steel while the 2012 Oaked Chardonnay ($22) was barrel-fermented and aged sur lie one year in new American oak.
The unoaked version carries an aroma of brioche and crisp Fuji apple flavors, while the oaked chardonnay has a gorgeous fragrance of jasmine and tropical fruit, with light toffee and caramel flavors that melt into a finish that suggests a faint sweetness. Although I enjoyed them both, I thought the oaked style was over the top.
Two red wine options include the 2011 Copeland Vineyard Merlot ($27) and the 2011 Dineen Vineyard Cabernet Franc ($34).
A whiff of the merlot is like walking through a field of raspberries, with more fresh red berries on the palate as well as a spritz of dried herbs. The cabernet franc is also a winner, with velvety dark fruits to lead off and then brighter pie cherry flavors toward the finish, along with mild, pleasant background notes of gingerbread and baking spice.
For finishing up, try the 2012 Syrah Forté ($27 for 375 ml). This port-like dessert wine has an intriguing nose of caramel and graphite and its 20 percent alcohol content is kept in check with a splash of residual sugar and black pepper accents. Here's a wine that could easily stand up to that box of Valentine's chocolates or, perhaps, a good after-dinner cigar.
Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at danthewineguy.com.