Food & Drink

Challenger Ridge Winery near Concrete on the upswing

Looking for an afternoon getaway that includes good wines in a quiet, rural setting? A trip to Challenger Ridge Winery could be just what you need to fit the bill.

Located just west of the town of Concrete, the winery is a leisurely one-hour drive from Bellingham and a terrific day trip to neighboring Skagit County.

The tasting room is situated in an over 100-year-old farmhouse on 68 acres near the Skagit River. The facility includes seven acres of pinot noir grapes and plenty of area for picnicking. Overnight camping is also available at the creative, and very reasonable, cost of one bottle of the winery’s wine per adult per night.

The winery has had its share of ups and downs in the past, but certainly seems to be on the right track with the recent addition of Robert Smasne as winemaker. Smasne has earned critical acclaim for wines produced under his own label as well as a number of other Washington wineries.

Here are my tasting notes on the wines I sampled during a visit to the winery last month:

Kiss Me Kate 2011 Rosé ($16) – A combination of estate pinot noir and a splash of Eastern Washington viognier, this Rosé is practically guaranteed to put a smile on your face. The color, aroma and flavors are spot on, with Jolly Rancher watermelon candy along with a smack of sweet strawberry on the finish.

2009 Savant ($18) – This completely underpriced, overachieving pinot noir-based blend includes grenache, merlot and tempranillo. Beautiful cherry and berry aromas lead off, carry over to the palate, and conclude with a soft, velvety finishing note.

2009 Diablo Red ($20) – Using the same varietal composition as the Savant, this red blend differs in its Columbia Valley vineyard sources. It features the same cherry and berry fruits, with more of an acidic edge and spicy accents.

2009 Estate Pinot Noir Block Three ($26) – Light and delicate with dried cherry flavors, this estate-grown pinot displays good minerality, a bit of earthiness and gentle smoky undertones. It’s a prime candidate to serve with an entrée of salmon or duck confit.

There are a number of other wines currently available for tasting, including a white wine blend, two additional pinot noirs, a syrah and a cabernet sauvignon.

To get to the winery, follow Interstate 5 southbound to the Cook Road exit. Travel east until you connect with the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20) in Sedro-Woolley and follow the highway to Concrete.

The tasting room is open noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, and on weekdays by appointment. Contact tasting room manager Sandra Hambleton at 425-422-6988 or and she’ll be happy to make the arrangements.