Rocky Pond Winery raced into Chelan last summer like a kayak knifing across a windless lake. Or maybe David and Michelle Dufenhorst might say, like a bike ride through the vineyards of France and Italy.
It was, after all, those bike rides through Europe that inspired the Seattle couple to start their own winery. It's a dream that has been in the works for some years. It all came together last summer when Rocky Pond opened a tasting room in downtown Chelan. A second tasting room also opened in the Woodinville Warehouse District. Rocky Pond's entrance into the Chelan wine market is substantial.
Maps of France's Bordeaux District and the Lake Chelan AVA are superimposed on the wall of the Chelan tasting room, at 212 E. Woodin Ave. The maps offer a clue as to why vineyards surrounding Lake Chelan's east shores are starting to produce world class wines. There is a striking similarity of latitude, soils and climate.
The Dufenhorsts purchased Clos CheValle Vineyard overlooking the lake in 2013. The 35-acres of vineyard is well established, planted in 2004. They also purchased what was the former Twin W Orchard, along the Douglas County side of the Columbia River. Now called the Double D Vineyard, the property is also home to Rocky Pond's outdoor invitation-only music, wedding and events venue, as well as their second home. Yet, another property closer to Orondo will eventually have a wine processing operation, underground wine storage similar to the wine caves of France, and a boat dock and beach area, similar to what Rio Vista has several miles north on the river, said David Dufenhorst.
Wines are currently made by Ron Bunnell at the Bunnell Family Cellar in Prosser. Bunnell has gobs of experience, having worked for Charles Krug, Beringer Vineyards and Kendall-Jackson before moving to Washington to become head red winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle in 1996. He opened his own winery in 2004 and has been a consultant for many wineries in Washington and California.
With those credentials and great vineyards, you expect Rocky Pond wines to be good. They live up to those expectations quite nicely. Current releases favor white wines made from the Clos CheValle grapes. Reds planted since 2013 at the Double D Vineyard are still aging, but what few wines that have been released show great promise. Plantings include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec, Tempranillo, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, Mourvedre and Grenache. Also Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.
Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Viognier, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Meunier and Syrah are planted at Clos CheValle. Most of the grapes are sold to other wineries for now, but there's sure to be lots of great Rocky Pond wines to come.
Rocky Pond, by the way, makes Riesling in three styles: Dry, Classic and Late Harvest. That Late Harvest was a Gold Medal winner in the 2016 Wenatchee Wine and Food Festival.
Here's a few notes I took during a recent tasting at Rocky Pond's Chelan tasting room served up by its friendly manager, Jill Babcock.
2014 Glacial Treasure White: A creative, floral blend of 50 percent Gewurztraminer, 33 percent Viognier and 17 percent Riesling. Really nice dry version of grapes usually offered too sweet. Full floral nose with flavors of Mandarin orange, lemon and spices.
2015 Sauvignon Blanc: Lots of fully ripe grapefruit and hints of vanilla. Here's that perfect wine for shellfish and lemon pasta.
2015 Viognier: Tropical fruits and orange blossoms on the nose followed by pineapple, Texas grapefruit and a smooth finish. Fresh, fruity and dry.
2014 Rattle Snake Hills Chardonnay: This is the only wine made will grapes sourced from other vineyards. It's a good one though, buttery and full with apple and pear aromas and flavors. Just a hint of oak in a nice dry French style.
2015 La Domestique: A fruity red blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec ready to drink young or be put away for a few years. Full of ripe berry flavors, hints of cocoa spiced with cardamom.
2015 Double D Syrah: Rocky Pond's first red varietal is a winner. Ripe blueberries with notes of cedar, leather and earth, spiced with black pepper. Full bodied with a lasting finish.