Each month, Fabulous Washington is giving the local wine community the chance to shine. If you missed last month’s spotlight, simply click here. Already checked it out? Read on!
Northstar Winery is located in the Washington wine region called Walla Walla, which happens to be a past winner of Sunset Magazine’s national “Best Wine Town” award. As one may expect, Northstar is named after the actual North Star, the brightest star in the Little Dipper. Because of its location in the sky, it stays in a fixed position, allowing anyone the ability to always find true north.
Northstar took the name when it opened in the early 1990s – with its first official vintage in 1994 – as it aimed to carve a path for the growing and cultivating of merlot in the area; to serve as a guide just as the North Star does. According to the winery, the area is ideal for full-bodied merlots because it lies at the same latitude as the Bordeaux region in France but has a longer growing season, leading to perfectly ripened fruit required for the varietal to succeed.
Buoyed by the brand’s success, Northstar opened its public tasting room in 2002, a laidback and lovely space I had the privilege of visiting a few years ago. There are two experiences in particular that are “musts” when you have the chance – the popcorn pairing and the Blending Experience – as well as a handful of bottles well worth a taste (or two…or three).
Now, Northstar has the more standard charcuterie for purchase as well as the option to order bread and olive oil to pair with your tasting, glass or bottle. But, I personally recommend the popcorn trio if peckish while sipping. The flavors change by season, and each is meant to complement specific wines in the vineyard’s portfolio. I actually recommend to folks all the time to try traditional popcorn when tasting wine at home as the butter, salt and texture really play into certain wines. Here, they take things up a notch substantially, but with the same delicious outcome.
The Blending Experience
It is a safe bet that if a vineyard offers a blending experience, I am going to try it. And you should, too, as not all blends are created equal. Northstar does it right, starting by offering a well-paced tasting of limited release wines to help set the mood. Then, guests travel downstairs to a full-on blending space that appears as of from nowhere. It truly feels like a winery inside a winery. For those who have never attempted to blend any type of wine, the visual is a kick. There are barrels around the room and then a table in the center with beakers a la high school chemistry class and measuring instruments reminiscent of Mr. Wizard or Bill Nye the Science Guy set-ups. Each guest has a bevy of red wines from which to choose to make his/her/their custom blend, with the goal of developing a perfect red blend or merlot by the day’s end.
Now, blending an entire bottle to take home would take hours. Instead, you blend a sampling of your wine into the Bill Nye cup, which has measurements that allow the winemaker guiding your team to provide the actual amounts of each wine you will need to fill an entire bottle with your recipe.
Certainly, tasting continues during the blending process, which only adds to the fun of it at the table. It also makes filling the bottle from the barrel once you get your perfect measurements a great photo opp. One especially cool element they offer here is the option to physically cork your bottle once you make your preferred blend. It takes a little elbow grease to cork, but definitely opt to do it yourself when given the chance. Finally, though I am no artist, they give all guests the option to decorate and name their bottle before taking it home. My mom, who often attends tastings with me, flexed her creative muscles hard here, and impressed the entire table. It made for the perfect end to the visit.
Now, your blend will be lovely, I am sure. Or at least drinkable. But do not leave the winery without a bottle or two of the award-winning professional winemaker’s best offerings. My personal favorites are: the 2016 Premium Merlot (of course you have to get a merlot here!); the 2016 Red Wine Blend, which earned 92 points from Wine Enthusiast; and the 2017 Malbec, which I love for its cherry and cocoa notes as well as its soft finish.
To learn more about Northstar Winery, visit www.northstarwinery.com.
Featured image credit: Ste. Michelle Wine Estates