Al Mathews is a very talented fellow. He's a building contractor who has develeoped a small Southwestern-style stucco and straw-bale village at Malaga Springs Winery, which he owns with his wife Kathy.
He's also a potter, whose utilitarian and artistic pieces can be found at the winery on Cathedral Rock Road.
During the summer months, Kathy, an interior designer, runs the tasting room while Al heads up to Bristol Bay, Alaska, to work the commercial salmon fisheries.
But his passion is growing grapes and making wine. Now 66, he's been making wine and craft beers since he was in his 20s. He earned a degree in microbiology at Oregon State University and loved the science as well as the taste of the beverages he made, most better than he could buy.
The couple now have 5.5 acres of vineyard on rolling hills nestled against a rocky bluff far above Malaga. The massive rock reflects light and heat into the vineyard. The land's gentle swells create currents of air and offer various soil compositions appropriate for the 13 grape varieties they have planted. They bottled about 900 cases of wine last year, but expect to increase that by 25 percent a year as young vines produce more grapes.
I admire anyone who can source good grapes and make great wine. There's an astonishing number of people who have done just that and established fine wineries in North Central Washington over the past dozen years.
Farther up on my admiration chart are those who grow their own grapes to make their wine, in the French vintner tradition. The Mathewses are among that group, and they've managed in a short time to produce wine grape crops worthy of making award-winning vintages on land that most farmers would have overlooked.
Malaga Springs wines have won numerous medals at the NCW Wine Awards, Seattle Wine Awards, NW Wine Competition and the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Its 2012 Chenin Blanc won Best of Class there last year.
Two other wines to taste are the 2010 Zinfandel, one of few zins made in Washington; the gold-medal winning Cabernet Sauvignon, made from grapes grown on leased property in the famed Red Mountain AVA; and the 2012 Cabernet Franc, which ripened beneath a shroud of smoke from the Wenatchee Complex fires that year. The last is a very interesting wine that's not likely to be duplicated under similar conditions anytime soon. At least I hope not.
The couple truly takes a "hands-on" and sustainable approach in every step of their wine production. The scenic drive to the winery is an essential stop for anyone wanting to learn more about the Wenatchee Valley's growing wine production.
More information about Malaga Springs Winery — and a map to help you locate it — can be found at malagaspringswinery.com.
Here are my notes on a few of the winery's recent releases:
• 2013 Sauvignon Blanc: Lots of tropical fruit including pineapple, slight banana and peach aromas followed by a burst of ruby grapefruit. Sweeter beginnings than a lot of sauvignon blancs, but well balanced with bright citrus acidity.
• 2013 Viognier: Wildly floral, bursting with jasmine; like getting off the plane in Kauai, said a friend with whom I shared a glass. I envisioned biting into a juicy ripe peach picked right off the tree in July.
• 2010 Syrah: There's plenty to love about this rich, full-bodied Syrah. Lots of ripe berry, spiced with pepper, clove, vanilla and tobacco. This is the perfect wine for barbecued ribs or anything off the grill.