Rio Vista Winery not only offers beautiful river views but an assortment of wines to enjoy along with that view. It reminded Ed of a Roman estate where patricians would go out to tend their vineyards. Rio Vista is a beautiful, well manicured yet slightly remote estate. Surrounded by grapes on the estate, you need to first navigate a dirt road through orchards to find this winery along the river. It is off the beaten path, lying northeast of Lake Chelan and beside the Columbia River, but some of the best of the Washington Wines are a little out of the way.
Rio Vista Winery is a small scale Washington winery, producing just over 600 cases of wine a year. With it’s first commercial production in 2006, Rio Vista Winery began as a family vacation property that has evolved into their full time home and business. Located in the new Lake Chelan American Viticulture Area (AVA), Rio Vista Winery grows the majority of the grapes that make their way into their wines. Three acres of vines are carefully tended on their 7 acre property. Rio Vista Winery estate grown grapes include: Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztaminer, Pinot Gris, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. These vines are aligned north-south to ensure optimal sun exposure and lie at 600 ft elevation on a gentle slope along the Columbia River.
Microclimates can be confusing to many people and they are frequently mistakenly referred to as the yineyard or even the region where the grapes are grown. John Little understands microclimates refer to the specific grape plants and canopy. He has selected and marked specific plants for special attention. The grapes from these specific vines will be used to create Vitner’s Select wines.
We were lucky to taste a number of Rio Vista wines on the deck. We purchased their cheese and salmon plate to accompany the wines and our conversation with John. We started with their award winning Rio Vista estate 2007 Chardonnay. The nose was green apple but the flavor was pineapple, nectarine along side the green apple. No oak, John calls this wine a “naked beauty” where the fruit is allowed to take center stage, both in terms of sweetness and acidity. Next we sampled the Rio Vista estate 2007 Riesling. This wine is fruity with sweet strawberry nose and flavor. Peach and tropical fruit flavors are balanced with soft acidity. The residual sugar is 2.7% but is slightly tempered by the acidity. Our favorite white wine at Rio Vista was Sunset on the River. Sunset on the River is an estate blend of Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris. It is delightfully refreshing yet fruit forward, full of peach, lemon and strawberry. This wine is well balanced and the spectrum of flavors reminded us of the colors of a sunset. Blended in layers and evolving, this wine invited us to relax and savor. This is the exactly the kind of wine that we like to have in our hand on a hot summer evening.
Rio Vista Winery Rose is dry rose wine. It is a blend of estate grown Merlot and Pinot Noir grapes from Antoine Creek Vineyard. This rose is a deep, and beautiful watermelon color and the flavors are bursting with strawberry and cherry. The residual sugar is 2.5% and has exceptional body. The sugar is well balanced with bright acidity.
Rio Vista Winery’s most popular wine is Loony Red. The 2006 Loony Red is smooth drinking with a food friendly tannic structure. The flavor is full of dark cherry and chocolate. The Rio Vista Winery 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is a young wine yet drinkable. The nose is licorice, black cherry and a touch of green pepper. Aged in neutral American oak, this Cabernet Sauvignon has a sturdy tannic structure and enough fruit to ensure that it will age well. This is a wine that you will want to be patient with and cellar it for a couple of years to allow it to reach its full potential. The 2007 Cabernet Franc was my favorite red at Rio Vista Winery. Just bottled, this wine was young and tight but showed good potential. The nose was full of plum, fresh black currents and dark cherry. The flavor was intense with more plum, cassis, and dried fruit. This Washington Cabernet Franc had an exceptional mouth feel for such a young wine. This wine has all of the fruit, tannins and layers of flavor needed to age well. It will be another year or three before we open up the bottle that we took home.
The last Rio Vista wine sampled was a 2008 Gewurztraminer Ice Wine. This was Ed and Jonathan’s favorite wine of the day, (out of the five wineries visited!). The Gewurztraminer ice wine was ready but there wasn’t any currently bottled. John Little sampled the gorgeous amber colored ice wine directly from the vat. These were not estate Gewurztraminer grapes, but he harvested them himself, by hand, out a friend’s vineyard who didn’t want the hassle of picking frozen grapes in 10 degree weather. The nose was jackfruit, mangosteen, and lychee. Just think of the tropics and you know what this Rio Vista Gewurztraminer Ice Wine smells like. Ed wanted to just smell that ice wine all day, stating that it was the most aromatic wine he had ever smelled. Ed calls it the penultimate dessert wine. I admit that I am not an ice wine fan and I did not sample this one but Ed and Jonathan loved it and wanted to buy several bottles. They got to bottle, cork and label their own bottles of this Washington State ice wine. I think their crooked labeling adds character!
Award Winning Rio Vista Wines:
- Seattle Wine Awards
- Rio Vista Chardonnay 2007 – Gold Medal
- 2009 Washington State Wine Competition
- Rio Vista Rose 2008 – Bronze Medal
- Rio Vista Cabernet Franc 2007 – Bronze Medal
- Rio Vista Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 – Bronze Medal
All wines we tasted were of above average to excellent quality. Between the three of us tasting that day, at least two of us really enjoyed each of the wines sampled, from the sweet to the bold to the subtle. Ed loved that this winery was calm and uncrowded, we had the winery tasting area to ourselves. It is with mixed feelings on Ed’s part, that we selected Rio Vista Winery as our winery of the month as once the word really starts to get out about Rio Vista Winery, wine lovers will start to make that extra little bit of effort to visit the winery by boat up the river or down that dirt road off of Highway 97. Right now, about 50% of winery visitors arrive by boat and dock on the beach just outside the winery tasting room. If you coming by land, look for signpost 244 – 245 off of Highway 97 and follow the dirt road south. Look for the winery sign. The tasting room at 24415 Highway 97, Chelan, WA . The winery is open most weekends from 12-5pm. Call ahead, 509-682-9713, to make sure the winery tasting room is open or to schedule an appointment.
This is a destination winery, a Washington winery where you can relax and truly enjoy your wine. Give yourself time to enjoy a snack and the view. Jan and John Little have been working on creating this property and winery for years as a part time project. Now retired from their careers as teachers and orchard farming, this winery and the lovely property on which it is situated, is their full time project. Relaxed and pristine, it is easy to forget how much work it is entailed to create a vineyard and winery of this caliber.