We left town at 6:30am, our phone loaded with enough podcasts to keep me awake through the duration of the three hour trip to Chelan. Three hours may not seem like much, but when you combine a night of minimal sleep with the mind numbingly boring landscape that occupies the stretch between Spokane and Chelan, it is long enough. The vast swath of agricultural land has its own kind of beauty, but when you find only slight interruption to rolling brown hills for that long, everything starts to run together, and your brain starts to think that it can shut down on you. In my tired state, I definitely needed the podcasts to keep the ol’ noodle engaged on the task at hand.
The excitement had been building for several days as I anticipated my weekend in Chelan. One of my good Tri-Cities friends had been kind enough to invite us to spend the weekend with them at their house along the lake. Things have been busy, so a little weekend getaway with some friends was a welcome break. Not only that, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a proper wine tasting excursion, and even longer since I’ve tasted in the wineries around Lake Chelan. I was looking forward to trying some places that I haven’t experienced, and our first stop turned out to be at a gem, called Cairdeas (pronounced Cardis) Winery.
There were a number of things that intrigued me about Cairdeas. To begin with, they specialize in Rhone varieties, which are a personal weakness of mine. My interest was only increased when I realized that they are sourcing some fruit from one of my favorite vineyards, Boushey Vineyard. I always get excited when I see Dick Boushey’s name on a wine. Finally, their journey in the wine world connects very personally with me, as it mirrors Beth and my journey in many respects.
Charlie and Lacey Lybecker are clearly dream chasers. Charley got into wine from a curiosity about what made the individual wines that he was tasting so different from one another. That curiosity turned into a pursuit of a dream. It takes vision to start a winery in a garage in Seattle, and then to take the decisive action to pull up stakes and move your fledgling business and your lives to a new area. Of course, when you take a look at the view from their new vineyard, scenes like this can definitely make that transition an easier one.
The name Cairdeas is a nod to Charlie’s Irish heritage. The word is an ancient Gaelic word meaning friendship, goodwill or alliance. The trio of meanings all feel like an apt fit for the winery. Upon entering the tasting room, the welcoming vibe is readily apparent. You also quickly get a feel for the alliance between Charley and Lacey. This winery is clearly a family affair, with the winemaking duties falling to Charley, while Lacey takes on the role of “head of everything awesome,” which includes, but is not limited to, marketing for the winery, tasting room duties, and even helping in the cellar. This is the kind of winery that you immediately want to like, and fortunately, the wines grant you that pleasure.
There are no weak wines in the lineup that I tasted. Charlie has managed to secure some really great vineyard sources for his wines. My heart nearly skipped a beat when I saw the words ‘Grenache Blanc’ on the tasting sheet, immediately followed by the words, ‘Boushey Vineyard’. One of my favorite varieties, grown on one of my favorite vineyards. The wine was delightfully light and refreshing with the crisp mineral and citrus notes that pair so nicely with a summer day around the lake. The good feelings carried through onto the 2014 Nellie May, a Viognier and Roussanne blend that far exceeded my expectations. The blend lead off with the smell of honeysuckles that always reminds me of the vines that used to grow outside of my house in Texas. What waited on the palate was a surprisingly elegant wine, a nice change from the over-ripe influence of Viognier that often find in Washington state Rhone blends.
My Rhone-loving sensibilities continued to be treated as we tasted the reds. The Tri blend was a great example of what I love about the varieties from the Rhone Valley. The mix of rich fruit, spice, and savory umami notes were nicely integrated into the blend. Following the Tri, we tasted a bit of a rarity, a varietal Cinsault. Earthy with lovely red fruit, the 20% Syrah that was blended into the wine added some nice depth and texture. The grand finale was the 2013 Consonance blend, a blend of 38% Syrah that was co-fermented with 5% Roussanne, plus 38% Petite Sirah, 10% Mourvedre, and 9% Grenache. This is a wine of awesome structure, and the choice to co-ferment with Roussanne adds an interesting oily texture to the wine. A perfect way to finish off the tasting.
I will admit, despite only talking to the Lybecker’s briefly, reading their story made me feel a little bit of a kinship with them. I can relate to the curiosity about wine that turns into an obsession, and I can relate to taking risks to pursue a dream. I can relate with packing up everything and moving in pursuit of that dream. This is the romance of the wine industry. Sure, the actual winemaking process is pretty much the work of a glorified janitor and sanitation expert, but there is definitely something about wine that can awaken a passion so strong that it can cause some to change their entire life in the pursuit of its creation. I will always appreciate projects of passion, especially when they are executed well. From my introduction to Cairdeas, they seem to be doing a good job of applying their passion.