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Wineman’s Toast: Crayelle achieves solid reputation for excellence

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Craig Mitrakul examines a bottle of Karma sparkling wine.

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One of the region’s smallest and youngest boutique wineries is also the lovechild of one of the region’s most accomplished winemakers.

Crayelle Cellars is something personal for Craig and Danielle Mitrakul. Craig is one of North Central Washington’s longest residing university trained winemakers. He was an early winemaker for Ryan Patrick Vineyards and Saint Laurent Estate Winery, both which helped expand local wines statewide and nationally. Both have since been sold to larger wineries.

Craig now is winemaker and vineyard manager for Karma Cellars in Chelan. That prestigious winery is now in the process of expanding its production to become one of the state’s leading producers of premium sparkling wine in a new plant Craig helped develop in Entiat.

After earning a masters degree in wine science at Cornell University, Mitrakul worked at several well known wineries including Chateau Ste. Michelle, Rosemount Estates (Australia), Ponzi Vineyards (Oregon), Lamoureaux Landing Wine Cellars (New York) and Three Rivers Winery (Walla Walla).

But his heart is heavily invested in a creation of his own. He and Danielle started Crayelle just a few years ago and plan to grow it slowly as they have time, money and as the wines build their reputation. They produce only about 300 cases of wine in just a few varieties each year.

Crayelle’s wines have already achieved a solid reputation for excellence. Starting with only a Syrah and a Riesling, each vintage has been true to its type and style and presented with consistent, flawless and nicely understated character.

I had a chance to sample some recent releases and they were all I expected and more.

One of Crayelle’s hits last year was the 2012 Albariño, a frangrant, flowery white wine that’s popular in its Spanish homeland, but rarely produced here. Craig said the first vintage was very well received and sold out quickly. The couple were still bottling and labeling the 2013 vintage, but expect to have some available for sale later this week.

2013 Albariño: It’s a beautiful wine to celebrate spring and Apple Blossom festivities, bursting with aromas of fruit blossoms, honeysuckle and ripe peaches. Just slightly sweet with flavors of honey, peach, banana, pineapple and tropical fruit. The grapes came from Milbrandt Brothers famed Evergreen Vineyard in the Ancient Lakes AVA near George.

2011 Gabriel’s Horn: This is a sumptuous red wine blend of 66 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 34 percent Syrah. Smooth and full-bodied with racy notes of pepper and spice from the Syrah, this is a great steak or barbecue wine. Fruity aromas of currant, pomegranate and clove. The 2011 is already easy drinking with flavors of black cherry, Marionberry and subtle hints of oak.

I also sampled one of the last bottles of 2010 Gabrielle’s Horn before it recently sold out. It was a truly remarkable wine. Craig said the blends really improve with a year in the bottle. Buy a couple of the 2011 now and stow them away. You won’t be sorry.

2010 Bishop’s Block: This wonderful blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvédre is dear to my heart. Grapes came from a specific section of Ryan Patrick’s Bishop’s Block Vineyard near Quincy. Terry and Ryan Flanagan planted the vines together in the French Rhone River Valley style of vineyard blending.

I’ve made my own wine from grapes (Cabernet and Merlot) purchased from this vineyard and felt right at home with this bottle of wine, which was admittedly way better than my own. The elegant blend is soft, fruity and complex, perfect with red meats, pastas and even lighter fare. I served it with a hearty lamb shank stew earlier this year. The dinner and wine brought back wonderful memories of my few weeks in southern France. This is really a many faceted gem of cherry and berry flavors.

Crayelle Cellars has a tasting room at 207 Mission Ave., Cashmere. It’s open from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, and Sundays too, starting in May. There are other tasting rooms, restaurants and shops in the Mission Ave. mall. Definitely worth a visit.

Two regional wineries are top winners at Oregon event

Jones of Washington and Kyra Wines were top winners at the second annual Great Northwest Wine Competition held last month in Hood River, Ore.

Jones of Washington 2013 Pinot Gris, made by winemaker Victor Palencia from grapes grown at Jones’ own Ancient Lakes AVA vineyard in Quincy, was a Double Gold medal winner and picked as Best of Class at the competition, at which more than 900 Northwest wines were judged.

The thumbprint of Victor Palencia is found on a growing number of Washington State wines, but he doesn’t seem to be losing his touch, particularly with white wines for his primary employer,” wrote Andy Perdue, a judge and organizer of the event and editor of Great Northwest Wine.

The Quincy winery wasn’t the only one to come away with major awards. Kyra Wines of Moses Lake won two Double Gold medals, for its 2013 Chenin Blanc and its 2012 Syrah.

About Kyra’s winemaker, Kyra Baerlocher, Perdue said she is one of Washington’s most versatile winemakers, seemingly equally at ease with Pinot Noir of Syrah and a one-woman revival show for the noble Chenin Blanc.

NCW Gold medal winners included Ginkgo Forest Winery in Mattawa, for its 2010 Syrah; Milbrandt Vineyards of Mattawa, for its 2012 Traditions Cabernet Sauvignon, and its 2012 Traditions Riesling; Tsillan Cellars of Chelan, for its 2012 Estate Nudo Chardonnay; and Wedge Mountain Winery of Peshastin, for its 2010 Northridge Vineyard Malbec.

There were also many Silver and Bronze medal winners from NCW. For the entire list, go to

In vineyards, springtime is a busy time

Spring is a busy time in the Northwest as receding snow and frigid weather demand that tasks set aside for the past few months be done right now.

Vintners who grow their own grapes have much to do outside in their vineyards preparing for the new crop of grapes as well as in their cellars preparing to bottle the previous year’s wine.

My weekends are now spent trimming vines back to a couple promising fruit buds, training and tying young whips to trellis wires and checking drip irrigation lines. My tiny vineyard has six rows of about 20 vines each, so it’s not a monumental task. I try to do a row or two at a time.

When the sun is shining, as it has the past couple of weekends, it’s extremely pleasant work. I’m still learning which canes to leave, which to cut back; which will be productive, which will provide a healthy cordon to hang the future.

Cellar work right now requires fewer big decisions. My first task was to take hundreds of empty wine bottles to the dump. I’ve been saving and collecting bottles for years until my small basement/wine cellar. It was so cluttered I had little room to work. I saved just what I needed to bottle what I have aging from 2012 and 2013.

Next came racking all of my wine from one carboy to another to get it off the sediment that precipitates over the past months in the container. I use 5-gallon glass carboys rather than barrels because my production is small and I like to make several wine varieties. This is a good time to taste the wines to see how they’re coming along. So far so good.

The 2013 red wines also contained oak chips to mimmic the flavors that come from barrel aging. The chips can add flavor fast, so it’s important to remove them after a couple months.

The 2012 reds and few gallons of 2013 whites are now ready for bottling. I’ll get to that a few weeks later this spring.