Some people know how to think big. A new destination winery near Roslyn and Cle Elum is one of those big thoughts, made real. Opened last September on the grounds of the high-end Suncadia Resort—with its luxury accommodations, restaurants, spa and hiking trails—Swiftwater Cellars elevates more than just the wine experience; it brings with it a full-service restaurant, as well. The Hoist House includes two gorgeous barrel rooms and rustic but elegant venues for events. With a top-shelf facility in place, Swiftwater owners and longtime Tri-Cities farmers Don and Lori Watts brought in two seasoned winemakers to help them realize their vision of creating excellent wines from Northwest fruit. Consulting winemaker Tony Rynders, who spent 10 years at Domaine Serene in Oregon (and has worked at Argyle and The Hogue Cellars, and has his own wine-consulting business), made the first Swiftwater wines at Walla Walla’s Artifex wine-production facility. He is joined by winemaker Linda Trotta, formerly of Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma, on successive vintages at the shiny new Suncadia facility.
Swiftwater Cellars is really two labels: Swiftwater Cellars is the premium brand, with the higher-end Proprietary Red Blend and Syrah, and Pinot Noir from Rynders’ old stomping ground in Oregon. The second label, No. 9 (with its red Bordeaux blend and white Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc), refers to the name of the nearby Roslyn No. 9 mine, which produced coal until 1963. The mines in the Roslyn area have a fascinating history, starting with the influx of thousands of Eastern Europeans, Italians and English workers in the 1880s, to the labor strikes in 1888 and 1889. Remnants of coal-mining history are everywhere at Swiftwater, from the original entrance to The No. 9 mine, just across the courtyard from the tasting room, to Tipple Hill, a huge pile of coal slag now overgrown with grass and shrubs. That Swiftwater embraces this history is no surprise, since the Watts family has been in the agriculture business for three decades, with 20,000 acres of farms in Kennewick. They join their experience growing fruit in eastern Washington with the heavy-hitting winemaking expertise of Rynders and Trotter. “We see Swiftwater as a chance to showcase some of the fruit from Zephyr Ridge Vineyard [in the Horse Heaven Hills, just south of Kennewick] we’ve been tending since 1994,” says Don Watts. Bringing elements of the past into the present, and pairing flavors of both the east side and west, this winery hopes to be the best of all worlds and chart a bright course into the future.
SHANNON'S WINE PICKS
2007 No 9. Red Blend ($28)
A Cabernet Franc (60 percent) and Merlot (40 percent) blend, this wine, featuring fruit from Walla Walla and Horse Heaven Hills, is bursting with red fruit—cherry and raspberry—with a bit of spice and earth, and a lovely long finish. Pairs with: Roasted duck and caramelized cipollini onions.
2007 Swiftwater Syrah ($35)
An earthy 100 percent Syrah from Walla Walla Valley, with a smoke and leather nose, flavors of blackberry and black pepper, hefty tannins and a long, luscious finish. Pairs with: Lamb chop and dried wild mushroom ragoût.
2009 No. 9 Semillon ($18)
A white blend of Semillon (76 percent) and Sauvignon Blanc (24 percent) spends seven months in neutral oak, just to soften the finish and add complexity. It’s a fresh mouthful of lime zest, honeydew, herbs and fig. Pairs with: Seared diver scallops with lemon beurre blanc.
2007 Swiftwater Proprietary Blend ($50; not pictured)
This wine starts out as a Bordeaux-style red, with Cabernet Sauvignon (44 percent), Cabernet Franc (18 percent), Merlot (16 percent), Petit Verdot (12 percent) and a bit of Syrah (10 percent) to punch up the fruit and add a smudge of smokiness to the mix. The result is a lovely wine with aromas of black cherry, dried herbs, cedar and black olive. The flavors pull from the range of dark fruits, including black plum and blackberry, along with elegant tannins and balancing acidity. Pairs with: Braised pot roast and white fingerling potatoes.