'Old Timers' of the Northwest

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From an historical perspective there is no getting around it the Washington state wine industry is an "infant" compared to other appellations around the world. This in no way diminishes the quality of wine produced here in the Northwest nor should it reduce the pride we feel in our great local wineries.

Moreover, from a consumer's point of view it creates great opportunity to enjoy world class wines at more gentle prices than similar wines from California and the wine producing areas of Europe.

It also gives us the opportunity to recognize and appreciate the contribution of the "Old Timers" of Washington state and other Northwest appellations. We have that opportunity this coming weekend when the folks from Mercer Estates Winery from Prosser travel to North Idaho for a winemaker dinner on Friday night at Scratch and a tasting at the dinner party on Saturday.

In the lead up to this great event, it has been interesting that the most common comment when folks have reserved their spots is, "I've heard of Mercer before, why do I know that name?"

The simple answer is this joint venture involves two of the longest tenured grape growing and winemaking families in the Northwest: the Hogues and the Mercers. Both families boast lineage in the grape and wine industries to the late 1970s, definitely putting them in the old timer's club, as few teams can talk about having 30 vintages under their belts.

The Hogue name of course is legendary and well known as they produce more than 500,000 cases of wine annually. However, many may not realize that the Hogues sold that winery some time ago, and it was only after being approached by some family members about a joint venture with the Mercers to again make wine that Mercer Estates was born.

The winemaking staff too comes from Hogue as winemaker David Forsyth came over to Mercer from Hogue. I would guess gladly as he went from supervising a staff of more than 40 involved in that half million case operation to a staff of three, all of whom are intimately involved in the relatively small 17,000 cases produced by Mercer.

While I have yet to ask David it probably feels pretty good to again be dragging hoses around the cellar, cleaning barrels and other equipment and even doing "punch downs."

For me as a wine professional and for you as a wine consumer, this is where the story gets compelling, especially if you are able to attend one or both of the events next weekend and sample the Mercer Estates wines. Overseeing the level of production at Hogue takes real talent, and more specifically real winemaking talent, not to mention the management skills.

When David moved though to producing a small fraction of that case count at Mercer he was able to focus his considerable talents on the actual production of really great wine. Combine that with all estate grown fruit from the Mercer and Hogue ranches, where the winemaker is controlling every aspect of growing of the grapes from watering to canopy management to harvest, and you end up with some really delicious wines.

When I first had the opportunity to try the wines back in February, in short I was very impressed. I will hold off on further reviews and tasting notes until after the event, giving all of you the chance to try them for yourselves when they are paired with Chef Jason Rex's great food on Friday or here at the shop on Saturday.

A final note on the wines. Given the quality produced these wines are incredibly gently priced, ranging from $12 to $20 retail.

If you decide to join us, the winemaker dinner will be held at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Scratch in Coeur d'Alene, and is $50 per person, including tip for four courses, all paired with full four ounce pours of Mercer Estates wines.

The tasting will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday here at the dinner party and is free and we will taste five Mercer Estates wines. You can reserve space for either event by calling (208) 765-5653.

We hope as wine consumers you can take this opportunity to try some really great wine from two of the Northwest's wine industry legendary families.

If there is a topic you would like to read about or questions on wine you can email George@thedinnerpartyshop.com or make suggestions by contacting the Healthy Community section at the Coeur d'Alene Press.

George Balling is co-owner with his wife Mary Lancaster of the dinner party - a wine and table top decor shop in Coeur d'Alene by Costco. George is also the managing judge of The North Idaho Wine Rodeo, and writes frequently for the online version of Coeur d'Alene magazine at www.cdamagazine.com. His articles can also be found on the blog at www.thedinnerpartyshop.com.

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