Anyone with an interest in wines can probably recall the occasion or particular wine that led to their wine-tasting epiphany.
For me, it was sometime in the early 1980s. Then-Bellingham resident Marsha Kremen (cousin of current Whatcom County Councilmember Pete Kremen) introduced me to a beautiful white wine called Macon Fuissé.
At that time, my definition of a "good" wine was one that was sweet, made me feel happy, and fit nicely into my $2-a-bottle budget. I didn't know exactly what Marsha had poured me, but I knew that it tasted much better than the Blue Nun I was introduced to during my college days.
About the same time I struck up a friendship with Kim and Jim Dooley, a couple of other locals who were just getting into something called "premium Washington wines."
Jim's brother-in-law, Maury Balcom, owned a new winery in Pasco, the now-defunct Quarry Lake Winery (and if you remember that one, give yourself a gold star and don't forget to renew your AARP membership). The Dooleys invited me along for a trip east of the Cascades for some wine tasting. I had no idea what I was in for.
Walking into the barrel room, I inhaled the intoxicating, baked-bread aroma of yeasts working their magic turning sugars into alcohol. I also recall that Maury produced some pretty awesome wines, including chenin blanc, chardonnay and merlot.
That trip to Quarry Lake was essentially a life-changing experience, and showed me that handcrafted wines, made right here in Washington, were a cut above anything mass-produced on the national level.
In 1985, the Dooleys and I travelled to Kennewick to attend something called the Tri-Cities Wine Festival, then in its seventh year. Sixty wineries were at the festival, which represented virtually everyone producing in the state at the time.
Like kids in a candy store, we eagerly attacked everything we could get our hands on. I don't even remember sampling that year's Best of Show winner, a 1983 merlot from a little up-and-coming winery called Leonetti Cellar.
Fast forward to 2014, which is quite a landmark year for me. I'll be attending the same Tri-Cities Wine Festival, this time for the 30th consecutive year. The festival has had its ups and downs during its history (who hasn't?), but recent improvements have gotten it back on track. And even after all this time, anticipating the wines and wineries in attendance still creates an air of excitement.
This year also marks the 15th anniversary of my wine column for The Bellingham Herald, with my column running nearly every week since August 1999. I'd like to thank the Herald for giving me the opportunity to use the column as a podium to promote wines, especially those from Washington, which is now home to an amazing 800-plus wineries.
I'll continue to do this as long as you'll have me, because writing a weekly column has become so routine that it hardly seems like work. Visiting wineries, meeting with winemakers and tasting new wines is still as fresh as it was during that first trip to Eastern Washington more than 30 years ago.