Keeping a winery up and running with a consistent product year after year is no small feat. The fact that Mike and Ellena Conway of Latah Creek Wine Cellars have been doing just that since 1980 is nothing short of amazing.
When the Conways started their winery in Spokane nearly 35 years ago, there were only 17 others in Washington. Since that time, the state’s winery count has swelled to 850-plus.
What’s their secret? Certainly their commitment to affordably priced wines in a relaxed atmosphere has to be a consideration. The tasting room, located just off Interstate 90 a few miles east of downtown Spokane, is as unpretentious as they come, with an unabashedly kitschy retail inventory that engulfs the tasting bar.
While that might be off-putting to some, people with more of a laid-back, casual approach to tasting wines will probably feel right at home.
That’s likely what the Conways envisioned while nurturing their mainstay Washington winery to its current annual production level of around 15,000 cases. And to ensure that sense of family continues, their daughter, Natalie Barnes, joined the winery in 2004 and now shares winemaking duties.
Here are my tasting notes on some current releases I sampled during a visit to Spokane last month:
2013 Riesling (about $10) – Gentle floral aromas lead off, with juicy melon and tropical fruit flavors. Steely acidity balances out the sweetness that comes through as a whisper of honeycomb on the finish.
2012 Chardonnay (about $12) – This biannually produced chardonnay bears some nice minerality from the Ancient Lakes region’s terrior, along with Golden Delicious apple and pear flavors. There’s a touch of citrus in the latter stages along with a hint of toasted oak.
2014 Moscato (about $15) – Mike Conway considers muscat one of the state’s most underappreciated grapes, and his interpretation of the varietal offers a nice balance of fruit, acidity and sweetness. White flower aromatics, lychee and pineapple flavors, and a finish of subtle spices highlight this aperitif-style wine.
2012 Ellena’s Sangiovese (about $18) – Bright red fruit flavors of cherry and currant melt into a slightly smoky finish with grippy tannins in the background. A pairing with pasta and marinara sauce immediately comes to mind.
Non-Vintage Monarch Red (about $20) – This complex blend of merlot, tempranillo, malbec and syrah is drinking beautifully. Delicious plum, dark cherry and black currant flavors melt into layered finishing notes of espresso and mocha.
2010 Natalie’s Nectar (about $15) – This blend of finished and unfiltered juice from syrah grapes displays a mouthful of dried cherry flavors and slightly sweet finish. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind red wine that pairs well with dark chocolate.
Latah Creek Wine Cellars’ tasting room is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Order online at latahcreek.com.