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Rio Vista Estate Merlot

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John Little casts his fly at one of his favorite fishing holes on the label of his Rio Vista Merlot.

His daughter, Kerry Siderius, designed the label, along with all Rio Vista's labels, from one of her original watercolors. An added feature at the winery on the Columbia River north of Chelan is the gallery of her accomplished artwork.

But back to that 2010 Estate Merlot, which I sipped over two evenings last week. John calls it his "Winemaker's Catch" and it's easy to understand why. Though young, it's soft, supple and smooth and loaded with fresh fruit aromas, ripe cherry and raspberry flavors and subtle notes of oak, leather and pipe tobacco, all the right ingredients of a fine merlot.

This really is a good catch of a wine and one I'm sure John Little is proud to label with his image.

I'm always impressed when I meet people like John and his wife Jan who can retire from successful careers — they were both teachers — and then learn how to do something completely new, do it themselves, and do it well.

They grow seven grape varieties on three acres of vineyard above the river. A small amount of grapes for their under 1,000-case annual production comes from Ed Haskell's vineyard a few miles away near Methow.

In addition to learning how to grow grapes and make award winning wines — one of them, Rio Vista's 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, just won a double gold medal at the Seattle Wine Awards — they've learned how to market their wine in a unique way.

Rio Vista is the only winery in the region that can be accessed by car, boat or float plane. Its tasting room was named as one of Washington's top 10 wine stops by Seattle Met Magazine last year.

"Retailing is the part we'd never done before. It's been a pleasant surprise," John said. "We do it all and we really enjoy it."