The annual Crystal Mountain Wine Festival in Washington state offers food, wine, and music in a beautiful setting.
Summertime at Crystal Mountain near Mt. Rainier National Park offers just about everything a hiker could want: beautiful vistas, wildflowers, high alpine trails, and challenging treks. An added plus that really sets the area apart is the Crystal Mountain Wine Festival. The event is held annually at the Alpine Inn Restaurant (part of the Crystal Mountain Hotels group, http://www.crystalhotels.com/) at the base of Crystal Mountain. A large, tented area for the wineries, a stage for live entertainment and plenty of Adirondack chairs to relax in make a perfect outdoor setting for a wine festival.
Along with the offerings of more than 15 local wineries, the Alpine Inn provided a seemingly never-ending flow of delicious appetizers and canapés. What had been advertised as “light appetizers” (usually meaning cheese, crackers, and maybe some olives), turned out to be a large spread of interesting and delicious treats. The long tables were loaded with trays of mushroom pate, raw veggies, chips, dips and, yes – cheese and crackers. The centerpiece was a rotating selection of more substantial offerings such as lettuce wraps, shrimp skewers, bruschetta, and crab cakes. Chef Lindsay and her crew made sure that the platters remained full and fresh throughout the afternoon and evening.
The festival highlighted many great wineries from Eastern Washington. One such winery was Reininger Winery http://reiningerwinery.com/ based in Walla Walla, Washington. Winemaker Chuck Reininger used to spend much of his summers near Crystal Mountain where he worked as a mountain guide taking clients to the top of Mount Rainier. After hanging up his climbing gear, Chuck gave some brief thought of starting a microbrewery, but the wine bug bit him. Chuck and his wife, Tracy, returned to her hometown of Walla Walla and purchased some land. This land is a wine oasis located in the southeast corner of the state.
Along with the Reininger label, the winery produces under the Helix label. The Helix Cabernet Sauvignon has a big taste and a beautiful bright garnet color. The name Helix comes from the small town located south of Walla Walla where Tracy’s grandparents had a wheat farm in the 1800’s. With Tracy and her brothers involved with Reininger Winery, they boast five generations of farming experience.
Another notable wine area is the Okanogan valley near Oroville, WA, five miles south of British Columbia. This new wine producing region is home to Okanogan Estate & Vienyards. http://okanoganwine.com/, which produces a wonderfull Pinot Noir.
The web site of the Okanogan Estate says this is a “hidden tresasure” and, make no mistake about it, their awarding-winning wines are indeed a treasure. While winter temperatures can at times plummet to -26 F, the summer temperateus are perfect for growing Pinot; highs in the upper 80’s and cool evenings of 53 degrees F. Also of note is the limestone in the soil which helps to bring a crisp, complex taste to the Pinot. However, it takes a great winemaker to use the natural elements of an area to make a great wine. Owner and winemaker Michael Buckmiller brings more than 30 years of horticultural experince to the task. Dr. Alan Marks of British Columbia also serves as wine consultant.
Seattle residents might scratch their heads at the name of the next winery: Laurelhurst Cellars. http://laurelhurstcellars.com/Laurelhurst is in neigherhood in North Seattle (and in Portland). It’s not part of any American Vitcultural Area (AVA). The winery was initially started in the Seattle Laurelhurst home of one of the owners. They quickly outgrew the basement and are now located the Georgetown area in south Seattle (still not an AVA). Their award-winning wines are sourced from several elite vineyards in Eastern Washington, such as Klipsun Vineyard (in the Red Mountain AVA), which provides the grapes for some excellent Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. An excellent Syrah is sourced from the Kiona Vineyard, also part of the famous Red Mountain AVA. Many think Red Mountain produces some of the best red wines available. No arguments here!
After all the wine and food – you wouldn’t want to miss the hiking in the area. Within a 30 minute drive, there are more than 25 hiking trails. Some are right outside the door of the Quick Silver Lodge. http://www.crystalhotels.com/the-quicksilver-lodge/ Also from the lodge, you can take the Gondola to the top of the mountain and start your hike at the 6,872 foot level.
In the winter, of course, the gondola services skiers – taking them up the mountain to the many ski trails. In the summer, some folks just enjoy the views of Mount Rainier from the top and then a delicious dinner at the Summit House http://www.crystalmountainresort.com/Summer-Activities/Summit-House .
For those looking for a hike – a great workout is Crystal Peak.This hike offers some of the best views of Mt. Rainier along with views of Mt. Adams to your south. If you are looking for an easier hike, several shorter, easier trails can be found a short drive away. The Sourdough Ridge hike from the Sunrise Visitors Center is 4 miles round trip with just a 600 ft. elevation gain.
Wine, great food, challenging hikes, wild flowers, and a stroll at the foot (or on the top) of a majestic mountain. Really, what more could you want? – by Michael Fagin, RFT Contributor