Head swiftly to Swiftwater Cellars

Wine Press NorthwestSeptember 2, 2013 

We tell our employees to treat our guests as they would their mothers,” says Andrew Wilson, general manager at Swiftwater Cellars in Cle Elum, Wash.

Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children—everyone in the family—will feel well treated at Swiftwater, a destination winery located within Suncadia Resort. Just 80 miles east of Seattle and 200 miles west of Spokane, the 46,000-square-foot facility is part winery, tasting room, wine bar/lounge, full-service restaurant and bar, barrel room and pro shop, with myriad private-event spaces, a wine library, private wine lockers, a boutique and 2,600-seat amphitheater to boot.

Nestled in the heart of the Cascade Mountains, overlooking the 18-hole Rope Rider golf course, Swiftwater sits atop Coal Mine No. 9, which operated from 1930 until 1963. The area’s rich coal-mining history is a recurring theme throughout the winery’s design, décor and graphics. Think pick-axe door handles, displays of coal-miners’ equipment and heavy timbers throughout the property.

Swiftwater produces three levels of wine. The aptly named No. 9 collection provides the winery’s easy-drinking, entry-level house pours; the Zephyr Ridge label comprises estate-bottled Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon; Swiftwater Cellars is the flagship bottling.

Two veteran winemakers produce the winery’s 5,000 cases. Linda Trotta, who spent 20 years as Director of Winemaking at Gundlach Bundschu Winery, makes the Columbia Valley wines on site. Tony Rynders makes the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir for Swiftwater at his winery in Gaston, Oregon. Before starting a consulting service in 2008 Tony worked for 10 years as winemaker at Domain Serene Winery.

Among our favorites were No. 9 Semillon ($18), Riesling ($18) and Pinot Noir ($30). We also took home bottles of Swiftwater’s top-of-the-line 2007 and 2008 Proprietary Red ($50).

This winery on steroids is a family-run business started by first-generation produce farmers Don and Lori Watts. They made their fortune in the frozen-foods business, planted the 300-acre Zephyr Ridge Vineyard in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills in 1995, founded Swiftwater Cellars in 2007 and opened the winery in September 2010.

Swiftwater wines are designed to pair with the seasonal menu served in The Hoist House (a full-service, 130-seat restaurant with an open kitchen and woodburning oven), the expansive patio (seating for 80!), tasting room and Fireside Lounge. All venues boast glorious views of the golf course, Tipple Hill (a slug pile left over from the old No. 9 Mine) and mountainous terrain beyond.

During lunch on a sunny summer afternoon, we made short work of Chef Mark Maccherola’s Alaskan Cod Fish Tacos and Northwest Crab Cakes Salad. Wilson said many dishes, such as the No. 9 Riesling-Poached Prawns, incorporate Swiftwater wines. The Blanco Flatbread with grilled chicken, fontina cream sauce, seasonal mushrooms, roasted garlic, marinated artichokes and caramelized onions has become a signature dish.

Products from long-running Cle Elum businesses figure prominently here, such as sausages from Glondo’s Sausage Shop and Italian Market (opened in 1986) and charcuterie and T-bone steaks from Owens Meats (circa 1887!).

Swiftwater rustles up the beef for its Steak Potato Skins, Greek Steak Salad and 10-ounce filet-mignon entrée from Double R Ranch based in Loomis, Wash. Other locally inspired menu options include Kettle Chip-Crusted Halibut and Cedar-Planked Okanagan Steelhead.

On August 31, Swiftwater celebrated Wine in the Pines, its signature annual event with tastings from more than 30 wineries and 10 restaurants. On Friday, Sept. 13, Jim Belushi & The Sacred Hearts will play the winery’s final summer concert of the year.

Crush is another great time to visit, culminating in the Harvest Fest Grape Stomp on Oct. 12, with live music, German-inspired cuisine and a beer garden. If spending the night at Swiftwater, consider Suncadia Resort’s intimate 18-room inn or majestic 252-room lodge overlooking the Cle Elum River.

And big news! In 2015, the Watts family plans to open 20 cabins, that combined, will hold up to 80 people. The idea to add lodging to the already impressive mix of amenities at Swiftwater was sparked by brides and grooms who wanted to stay right on property in preparation for the big day. “We want to provide an extraordinary experience for everyday people,” says Don Watts.

Mother would be very proud.

--Braiden Rex-Johnson is a Seattle-based cookbook author, food-and-wine columnist and blogger. Visit her online at www.NorthwestWiningandDining.com.

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