You know the feeling you get when you meet someone (or several people) who instantly make you feel like family? That’s the feeling I got after the warm greeting I received upon arriving at the Stemilt Creek Winery Wine Club event at the home of Kyle and Jan Mathison earlier this month. High above the Wenatchee Valley on the Stemilt plateau, the Mathison’s graciously host this annual event which is exclusive to the winery’s wine club members.
After taking in the gorgeous setting amongst the rolling hills and sipping on a marvelous glass of the winery’s rose, I sat down with Shelly Lindemann, Sales, Wine Club and Tasting Room Manager to briefly chat about this event. “This is an appreciation party for our wine club members, a way of saying thank you, as the public is really the backbone of our winery” she stated. While there is no public access to the vineyards except for this event open only to wine club members annually, the winery has two tasting room locations; one in downtown Leavenworth and one in downtown Wenatchee. Both locations offer all of the winery’s wines and a true taste of the family history and story that paved the way for all that the winery encompasses today. One quick look at the various wine titles– “Boss Lady”–for example, tells a story and reflects the rich legacy of how Stemilt Creek came to fruition.
I then headed out for a narrated tour from Stemilt horticulturist Jaime, that really allowed an up close and personal glimpse of the production of the wines. As we wound our way through the orchard roads above the Wenatchee Valley towards the 20 acres of vineyards, I couldn’t get over the views of the Columbia River and the surrounding area. The climate and soil in north central Washington prove very beneficial for grape growing and wine production, as evidenced by the growth in established wineries in this region throughout the last several years. We tasted grapes fresh from the vine upon arriving at the vineyard, and Jaime took time to answer questions from others on the tour. Stemilt Creek Winery prides itself on these 20 acres of vineyard that allows for a rich focus on quality over quantity.
When the tour moved on to the warehouse, we witnessed grape pressing and the chemistry that goes into the production process led by winemaker Richard Hood, who joined the Stemilt team in May. Richard took time to answer some questions for me following the wine club event:
Anna: I was really impressed with the “family” atmosphere at Stemilt Creek Winery and each aspect that goes into the wine making process. It’s evident a lot of love and labor go into each bottle of wine. Where do you see Stemilt Creek in the short and long term?
Richard: Stemilt has historically been a pillar within Wenatchee. Our winery, which is part of Kyle Mathison Orchards, was started by Kyle’s wife Jan. And her approach to winemaking was truly a labor of love. Our wines tend to evolve in the bottle favorably to a much greater degree than is typical for a New World wine. I was very impressed by this. It was actually a revelation of sorts. In the short term with some of the changes, such as the introduction of new product lines, we want to insure we maintain the brand ethos and preserve the continuity of image that Kyle and Jan had originally established.
Anna: Can you speak to the vision of the company?
Richard: I plan to strive to continue to offer our wine club members greater value, and a greater experience overall. We want our members to feel at home, relaxed, and to enjoy our wines at leisure…to have almost a familial experience. In a very real sense they are part of our extended Stemilt Creek family. From a product standpoint part of this is accomplished by our new wine Kyle’s Fair Market Red, which offers an accessible, round, easy drinking red blend with appealing aromatics at a lower price than we have previously offered.
Anna: Are there plans to add more acreage to the vineyard?
Richard: Right now the primary focus is honing our vineyard practice at its current acreage. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if we develop some new parcels in next five years. Our vineyard is a very unique site and is a big part of the Stemilt mystique. Our vines are planted on steep slopes at high elevation and with narrow spacing, this contributes to low-yield and smaller berries. The end result of all this is deeper color and more intense flavors.
Anna: I’d love to hear more about the “Ascent” wine that you mentioned at the conclusion of the tour.
Richard: The Ascent is our higher end label. This is essentially our barrel select program where we choose the very best barrels from each vintage and bottle them unfiltered. We focus on three to four wines depending on what the standouts happen to be that vintage. The goal is to showcase our vineyard in a straightforward way by bottling varietals. This not only calls attention to the acclaim of our vineyard, but it also educates people on varietal characteristics. Our inaugural vintage is 2014, and has already been bottled. We have a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Syrah, and a Merlot. The 2014 Ascent wines will be released in spring 2017. These wines will be poured in our tasting rooms (Wenatchee & Leavenworth) but can only be purchased by active wine club members.
It’s evident that Stemilt Creek Winery is a treasure in north central Washington and truly is a place that sells “liquid love” in the words of Kyle Mathison. If you’re in the area and wish to treat yourself to a taste of rich family history and commitment to producing high quality wines, visit one of the tasting rooms and check out the wine club membership. You won’t regret it!
If you go:
Wenatchee Tasting Room is located at 110 N. Wenatchee Ave in downtown Wenatchee, WA.
Leavenworth Tasting Room is located at 617 Front Street, Suite 4A in Leavenworth, WA.
The Stemilt Store, also a highlight, is located at 3615 State Highway 97A, north of Wenatchee, WA.
Much more information about the winery, wine club, fruit sales, operations and family and company legacy can be found here.
Special thanks to the Mathison family, Richard Hood, Shelly Lindemann and Diane Davies. Tasting Room photos courtesy of Stemilt Creek Winery.