Monday, August 06, 2012

Travels with Chili: Wenatchee's Winning Ways

The sun was just past the yardarm as we left lovely Lake Chelan and headed for our weekend getaway in Wenatchee. Since we're always ready to check out the local brews of the areas we visit, we stopped at Columbia Valley Brewing hoping for some thirst-quenching action and a nosh or three.

Kicking this leg off right…with a pint!

With a big patio overlooking the Columbia, the thirst-quenching was there in spades with a selection of everything from Belgian-style ale to the requisite NW IPA to a deep dark porter. The noshing was nowhere to be seen, however, with naught but peanuts on offer. If we'd known, though, we could have brought our own 'cue-able items, since they have a BYOM (bring your own meat) policy and the grills were getting fired as we arrived.

Baseball and beer pair well, don't you think?

The helpful bar attendant suggested that we try a local hangout called McGlinn's downtown for lunch. We arrived to find a piece of local history that was as lively as when it was the Orando Recreation Club in the 1920s. Originally housing railroad and dam workers on its top two floors, in the 30s and 40s it was home to the players for the Wenatchee Chiefs baseball team. Much of the team's equipment and memorabilia was left to molder in the building's basement when they moved out, to be found decades later by the owners who were restoring the building. That history is now on prominent display and can be enjoyed with local brews and the offerings on the wide-ranging menu.

Artisan cider is a new crop for the area.

After checking in to our room at the zoomiest Marriott I've ever seen, with its Jetsons-like (and very un-Wenatchee) decor, it was time to head out to Kyle and Marcia Green's Cashmere Cider Mill for a taste of their Lady Blush artisan ciders. Washington apples are pressed in a machine designed by Kyle himself, then combined with other fruits like raspberries, blueberries, huckleberries and even lavender to make their nonalcoholic ciders. The Greens also provide guest suites in the historic farmhouse on the property (top photo shows a view from the back porch), and if you're looking for a quiet country getaway, this would be a good choice.

Orchard country means pears, apples and cherries.

As mentioned in my post on Chelan, this area was home to a booming orchard industry in the last century. Like BC's Okanagan, it's been discovered by winemakers and vineyard developers, with many old orchards being ripped out to plant grapes. Fortunately for some, though, the region is also discovering the benefits of hard ciders made from their apples, so land that may not be conducive to growing grapes is finding a new outlet for its famous crop.

Peter Ringsrud of Snowdrift Cider.

We visited one of these hard cider producers, Peter Ringsrud of Snowdrift Cider, whose family has roots in the Wenatchee Valley going back to the 1940s. With memories of the hard ciders his family had made with a hand-cranked press and glass carboys, in 2003 he and his wife decided to try their hands at making hard cider. Discovering that the family's cider had been made from heirloom French Calville Blanc d'Hiver, and then researching other cider apples, by 2009 they had built a small micro-winery and obtained a license to produce hard ciders that are now beginning to attract serious attention.

Organic is Greg McPherson's thing.

Just down the road from Snowdrift was the farm of Greg McPherson, a jovial raconteur who loves to talk about his large organic farm, Tiny's Organic, which he runs with his daughter, Erin, and two sons Jay and John. Supplying enough for 30 or so farmers' markets in western Washington, the farm also offers a significant number of CSA shares with a dizzying variety of membership options. They were harvesting cherries the day we were there, and it was a pleasure to walk through the grass under the trees and pick the (unsprayed) cherries right off the branches.

Farmer Grant Kallstrom at Wenatchee Farmers' Market.

As luck would have it, the Wenatchee Farmers' Market was in full swing when we returned from Tiny's, so of course I had to do a walk-through to check it out and, yes, sample some more of the delicious cherries. The market's a bustling place and so popular with local shoppers that it runs three days a week during the harvest season, with morning markets on Wednesday and Saturday and an evening market on Thursday. In addition to the cherries there were beans, greens, a few early tomatoes and a trailer-load of fresh corn…unfortunately our room at the Marriott didn't have a kitchen or I would have been tempted to grab some and have dinner in.

Brewer Jason Doten of Saddle Rock.

Another lucky break? Right next door to the market was brand new Saddle Rock Pub and Brewery, named after a Wenatchee landmark known for its crazy biking trails and fabulous views. The pub has a dozen brews on tap at any given time, along with a few hard ciders. It's soon to be offering…licensing was mere days away when I was there…a selection of beers made by owners Chadd Fitzpatrick and Jason Doten. A casual place to sip beer and hang out, it's right downtown with a view of the historic river district. What's also impressive is their dedication to making their pizzas and salads with as many local ingredients as they can, and from the sampling I had the food alone is worth stopping in for.

We didn't have time this trip to visit Bavarian-themed Leavenworth just up the road or the slew of wineries that dot the valley, but theyll certainly be drawing us back for another exploratory road trip.

Read about the first leg of this road trip in Dipping Into Chelan.


Amanda said...

What a great recap of a great place! I'm still jonesing for more of that Snowdrift perry, though... that stuff's addictive!

Kathleen Bauer said...

And I'm jealous you got some of last bottling! Hoping they're able to bring some down here someday…