Sun Mountain Lodge in Washington state's Methow Valley continues to offer a stunningly broad view of the Pacific Northwest wine industry.
And the work of wine director Don Elsing still stands out as the winner of the 14th annual Wine Press Northwest/Herbfarm Great Northwest Wine List Competition.
"We found that more and more people who travel want to try the wines made in that region," Elsing said. "Our guests ask to see these wines, so that's been our approach. The challenge is that some of these wineries are so small, you have to go to the winery to pick them up because they don't have distribution."
Those efforts by Elsing and his team at the Cascade resort do not go overlooked by the wine industry either.
Earlier this year, the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers presented its Restaurant Appreciation Grand Award to Sun Mountain Lodge, and despite the downturn in the economy, the four-season resort in the town of Winthrop remains a destination for Northwest wine lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Any winemaker who has visited the 47-year-old resort doesn't need to be asked twice to accept Elsing's invitation to help with an event. Among the regulars is Bob Bertheau, head winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle.
"He says he comes up here once a year just to get away," Elsing said. "Last year, all nine Ste. Michelle winemakers were here for an event, and they said it was the first time they had all gotten together. Ste. Michelle has done a lot of Washington wine, and it was quite a weekend."
There's also a story behind the go-to photograph of Elsing that Sun Mountain Lodge's marketing department relies on. Elsing is posing with a bottle of white Linen, a new second label of Bergevin Lane in Walla Walla.
"We've had the pleasure of being invited to participate in a few Sun Mountain Lodge dinners and enjoy Don and his team very much," said co-owner Annette Bergevin. "They definitely are the definition of service and style!"
That commitment to serving Sun Mountain Lodge guests seems to come naturally to Elsing and helped him to overcome the lack of wine knowledge he started with.
"This is seven years for me doing the wine project," Elsing said. "I had no wine experience before, which I think probably bothered some of the sommeliers on the west side of the state, but the restaurant needed more of a people person running the wine. I worked for Nordstrom in Seattle, Manhattan and Miami for 20 years, so I had that one-on-one background with customers. And I'm very honest -- if I don't know something about a particular wine, I will tell the customer that."
His award-winning work with North Central Washington wines in particular served him well during an annual site visit by resort owner Erivan Haub, who asked Elsing to suggest wines for a party of 12.
Haub, 80, a German food retail mogul, ranks No. 276 on the Forbes 2012 list of the world's billionaires. His holdings include a resort near Munich that features a Michelin-star restaurant and a 15,000-bottle cellar, Elsing said.
So Elsing reached for Boudreaux Cellars' unfiltered Chardonnay, Nefarious Cellars' eclectic white blend Consequence and Fielding Hills Cabernet Franc. Executive chef J. Russell Bradshaw and Elsing collaborated to make it a memorable meal for Haub and his wife, Helga.
"That meal was three years ago, and he said they were the best wine pairings he's ever had," Elsing said.
The Haubs recently made headlines by donating their 280-piece Western art collection to the Tacoma Art Museum, and their investment in Sun Mountain Lodge since they purchased it in 1987 has been reported to be $30 million. They've been pleased by the awards that Sun Mountain Lodge has won for its wine list, Elsing said, in part because Helga's roots in the wine industry go back centuries to ancestors who were vineyard owners.
"Helga's family crest hangs in the wine cellar here," Elsing said.
As is customary, the lodge will close the week of Halloween through the first week in December as staff waits for snow to return and bring cross-country skiers. Soon after, though, the winemaker events resume with Lost River Winery in Winthrop.
"We used to hold those in our wine cellar, but now we are having the guest winemakers pour in the dining room," Elsing said. "You can really interact better with people in the dining room. There's something about the wine cellar that intimidates people."
The wine cellar remains a destination though, and guests are encouraged to make an appointment for a wine tasting in the cellar with Elsing. Cost is $20 per person and includes a plate of artisan cheeses, handmade crackers and a sampling of a dozen or so selected wines.
"We also have a retail license," Elsing said. "We're able to discount the wines so people can either enjoy them in their room, take them into the restaurant or take them home. I sell quite a bit of wine that way."
In the restaurant, the sweet spot for pricing is from $50 to $70 per bottle, he said.
"That's a trend you are seeing because of the economy, and a lot of wineries are willing to work with us on price," Elsing said. "And restaurants are really tightening up their wine lists. We don't need another $90 bottle of Cab."
Fortunately, there are very few of those in the Northwest, which makes Washington wines easier to sell for reasons beyond their international reputation for quality, he said.
"The trend for everything seems to be local," Elsing said. "People who come from California want to try the local wines, and it's the same for people from Miami or New York because not very many have been exposed to Washington wines. And with what's going on in Chelan, Leavenworth and Wenatchee, if people want something really local, those wines fit that 100-mile radius concept, too."
Elsing did manage to squeeze in one more winemaker event before the 2012 harvest began.
"Morgan Lee of Covington Cellars is coming up for two days, which includes a seminar with our staff," Elsing said. "And we will be adding seven of his wines to my wine list."
Sadly, this marks the second straight year that the Ocean Crest Resort in Moclips, Wash., -- a three-time winner of the Best Northwest Wine List title -- is not among the restaurants profiled.
However, the Curtrights hope to break ground this fall on rebuilding their award-winning restaurant, lounge and gift shop, all destroyed June 20, 2011, by fire.
It took about a year for the insurance company to make good on their claim, said assistant general manager Jess Owen, whose family bought the property in 1953.
"We've been told it will take six to seven months to build, so we hope to be open next spring," Owen said. "We still have most of those great wines because two-thirds of the inventory was stored in a cellar off-site."
In 2008, Wine Press Northwest renamed this competition "The Herbies" -- a tribute to The Herbfarm and its co-owner Ron Zimmerman, whose work at the Woodinville, Wash., restaurant produced eight consecutive Best Northwest Wine List awards.
Each year, we use the Wine Press Northwest/Herbfarm wine list competition to determine candidates for future restaurant profiles. Restaurants among our Match Maker alumni are denoted with an "E."
Best Northwest Wine List
Sun Mountain Lodge, Winthrop, Wash.
Program: Don Elsing's list holds steady at 34 pages with an inventory of 4,200 bottles and 420 labels, encompassing about 100 Washington wineries and 30 from Oregon.
Policies: Regionality sets this book apart as North Central Washington wineries stand out because a logo reminiscent of Mount Stuart Range is next to each.
Pressings: Wine cellar designed by NBBJ, whose work includes Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Staples Center in L.A., and Sea-Tac Airport's glassy south terminal.
604 Patterson Lake Road, Winthrop WA, 98862, 800-572-0493, sunmountainlodge.com.
Outstanding Northwest Wine Lists
Blueacre Seafood, Seattle
Program: Founders of Steelhead Diner in Pike Place, Kevin and Terresa Davis buy only fish caught in U.S. waters via responsible methods. And the wine list is mostly Washington and Oregon.
Policies: Many of the wines by the glass are less than $10, rather amazing in downtown Seattle these days.
Pressings: Nice finds include Foris Dry Gewuerz, Henry Estate Mueller-Thurgau, Gamache Malbec and Domaine Ste. Michelle bubbles (by the glass).
1700 Seventh Ave., Seattle, WA, 98101, 206-659-0737, blueacreseafood.com.
Bridgewater Bistro, Astoria
Program: Ann and Tony Kischner are approaching their fourth decade along the Pacific Coast, most of them at the Shoalwater on Washington's Long Beach Peninsula. They now focus on Oregon, and their two-story restaurant in the boatyard nearly is in the shadow of the Astoria-Megler Bridge.
Policies: Perhaps the Northwest's largest offering of wines by the half-liter.
Pressings: Fun assortment of desserts and Italian varieties grown in the Northwest.
20 Basin St., Suite A, Astoria, OR, 97103, 503-325-6777, bridgewaterbistro.com.
Copperleaf Restaurant and Bar, SeaTac
Program: The diminutive list has grown slightly, yet remains dedicated to Northwest (85%). Oregon checks in with producers such as Adelsheim, Sokol Blosser, Witness Tree and Youngberg Hill. Among the boutique Washington labels here include Chatter Creek, Covington, Tranche and Tru.
Policies: Wineries employing sustainable practices depicted with a green leaf, which accounts for 11 of the 25 glass pours. Among those is private label red made by Parejas.
Pressings: Cedarbrook Lodge's 104-room environmentally conscious complex, less than five minutes from Sea-Tac International Airport, was built as a meeting center for Washington Mutual.
Cedarbrook Lodge, 18525 36th Ave. S., Seattle, WA, 98188, 206-901-9268, cedarbrooklodge.com.
Program: Blaine Walker continues to earn a spot in this ranking for his devotion to Oregon and Washington.
Policies: The menu highlights seafood, so the list targets fruit-forward, high-acid wines such as Abacela's Albarino, King Estate's oyster-friendly Acrobat Pinot Gris, Kyra's delightful Chenin Blanc and Syncline's Gruener Veltliner.
Pressings: There's such pride in Cheri's cuisine, the Walkers offer a 100% unconditional money-back guarantee if you are not pleased with your meal.
4201 Pacific Way, Seaview, WA, 98644, 360-642-2323, 42ndstreetcafe.com.
Mother's Bistro & Bar, Portland
Program: Bright, cheery downtown spot prides itself on Lisa Schroeder's comfort food, and this lists is easy and fun digest.
Policies: Nearly all wines are in the $30-70 range. List opens with arguably the best rose in the U.S. -- Barnard Griffin -- and includes King Estate, Bethel Heights, Cristom, Purple Hands, Patricia Green, Vin du Lac, Alexandria Nicole, Ken Wright, Maysara, Van Duzer, Seven Hills and Willamette Valley Vineyards.
Pressings: If the politicially active and civic-minded Schroeder sees you often enough in her restaurant or adjacent Velvet Lounge, she may give you a piece of pie.
212 W. Stark St., Portland, OR, 97204, 503-464-1122, mothersbistro.com.
Program: Rockstar chef Michael Mina grew up in Ellensburg, Wash., and continues to spotlight NW wines at this fascinating venue, one of 19 he owns in the U.S. Cayuse, Cristom, DeLille, Ponzi, Soter, Syncline and Westrey -- but there's some love for small producers Des Voigne, Kerloo and Love and Squalor.
Policies: Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen and his sommeliers oversee wall-mounted menu boards that use flashing lights to alert patrons of instant changes to wine list.
Pressings: Several reds from Long Shadows available in half-bottles. A Jeroboam (the equivalent of six bottles) of Gramercy 2008 Syrah goes for $556.
1433 Fourth Ave., Seattle, WA, 98101, 206-456-7474, michaelmina.net.
Salish Lodge & Spa, Snoqualmie, Wash.
Program: Before the Herbfarm's storied run, the Salish topped our Best Northwest list. The 58-page book provides glimpse of 900 labels and 5,000 bottles. Most impressive is fascinately long assortment of Washington red blends, along with Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and two of B.C. famous labels, Mission Hill and Osoyoos Larose.
Policies: Corkage of $25 per bottle, with max of 2, or 1 magnum at $50. List updated quarterly.
Pressings: Early vintages of Northstar and 2003 Temp from Seven Hills Winery appear. Let us know how the double magnum of Woodward Canyon 2001 Artist
Series #10 ($445) held up.
6501 Railroad Ave., SE Snoqualmie, WA 98065, 800-272-5474, salishlodge.com.
Six Seven, Seattle
Program: American portions of this list inside the historic Edgewater Hotel feature Northwest houses of varying sizes with seafood-friendly whites and pinks.
Policies: During August, those showing tickets to that day's Sounders FC match got 10% off food/drink bill.
Pressings: Property celebrated its 50th birthday this summer.
2411 Alaskan Way, Pier 67, Seattle, WA, 98121, 206-269-4575, edgewaterhotel.com.
Skamania Lodge, Stevenson, Wash.
Program: Wineries along Columbia River lead, including Hood River's Phelps Creek and Viento. Savviness shows with Zinfandel and Primitivo from Thurston Wolfe, Maryhill and The Pines 1982.
Policies: Despite its resort setting, the wines are priced fairly. Jovino, which are Pinots made by Oregon icon Joe Dobbes, are available by the glass for about $10.
Pressings: Renowned resort less than an hour from Portland features a spa and a tree-lined golf course that turns 20 years old next year. Activities page on lodge's website includes links and descriptions to 30+ nearby wineries.
1131 SW Skamania Lodge Way, Stevenson, WA, 98648, 509-427-7700, skamania.com.
Steelhead Diner, Seattle
Program: Big brother to Blueacre, this single-sheet list continues to rank among the most thoughtful in the Northwest.
Policies: Many of the wines glass pours can be had in the $10 range.
Pressings: Seafood-friendly varieties such as Albarino (Abacela), Arneis (Ponzi), Auxerrois (Adelsheim) and Grenache Blanc (Two Vintners) as well as bubbles by Treveri get their due here.
1700 Seventh Ave., Seattle, WA, 98101, 206-659-0737, blueacreseafood.com.
Urban Farmer, Portland
Program: Portland steakhouse on 8th floor of The Nines Hotel rounds up Oregon Pinot Noir and Washington reds.
Policies: More than 60% of wine list is Northwest with goal of pairing sustainably farmed beef with like-minded wineries. King Estate's NXNW brand, Raptor Ridge, WillaKenzie and L'Ecole No. 41's Estate Syrah from Seven Hills are among those.
Pressings: Played host to winemaker dinners with famous Walla Walla vintners, including Chris Figgins (Leonetti) and Kyle MacLachlan (Pursued by Bear via Dunham Cellars)
525 SW Morrison St Portland, OR 97204, 503-222-4900, urbanfarmerrestaurant.com.
Best Washington Wine List
Campbell's Bistro, Chelan
Program: Wine director George VanOver stakes claim to this award, having won it every year since 2004 for this 170-room, family-owned destination. And he shows strong support for several nearby wineries, namely Benson, Fielding Hills and particularly Nefarious.
Policies: Thoughtful descriptions and laughably low prices on some cult wines make the wines approachable and inviting.
Pressings: On. Oct. 6, longtime/homegrown chef Troy Nesvacil and VanOver collaborate on "Washington's Great Blends" during their annual Bistro Wine Dinner on Lake Chelan's crush weekend.
104 W. Woodin, Chelan, WA, 98816, 800-553-8225, campbellsresort.com.
Outstanding Washington Wine Lists
Barking Frog, Woodinville
Program: The Washington Wine Commission bestowed its "most innovative" wine list award, and about half of Woodinville's wineries are represented.
Policies: Offers 24-hour food-and-wine room service to Willows Lodge just across the driveway.
Pressings: Few chefs are as engaging, entertaining, talented and as supportive of neighboring wineries as Bobby Moore.
Barking Frog, 14580 NE 145th St., Woodinville, WA, 98072, 425-424-2999, willowslodge.com/wine_dine/
Cafe Flora, Seattle
Program: Wines made with sustainable practices, such as VINEA in Walla Walla and LIVE in Oregon, are embraced at this gluten-free and vegan restaurant.
Policies: Reds from Naches Heights, Nelms Road and Snoqualmie's Naked program fit nicely and inexpensively as glass pours.
Pressings: Cheers for offering three Northwest sparking wines by the glass, including Townshend's fun huckleberry bubbles.
2901 E. Madison St., Seattle, WA, 98112, 206-325-9100, cafeflora.com
Masselow's Restaurant, Airway Heights
Program: Northern Quest Resort & Casino took its support of Inland Northwest winemakers to another level by serving as the new home to the Vintage Spokane food/wine festival.
Policies: Enjoy a flight of three whites from the glass pour sheet for $10, three reds cost $14.
Pressings: Restaurant's name is a tribute to Kalispel chief who refused to move tribe from Pend Oreille River valley.
Masselow's Restaurant, Northern Quest Resort & Casino, 100 N. Hayford Road, Airway Heights, WA, 99001, 509-242-7000, northernquest.com/dining/masselows.
Latah Bistro, Spokane
Program: Walla Walla and Inland Northwest producers spice up wine list, which fits in with restaurant theme of local ingredients when possible, but Coeur d'Alene Cellars, Robert Karl and Whitestone deserve placement on any list.
Policies: Nodland Cellars of Spokane makes the house red, available by the glass.
Pressings: Longtime chef David Blaine, a driving force for local food in the region, left this summer yet stayed local to launch Central Food at the Kendall Yards development.
4241 S. Cheney Spokane Road, Suite C, Spokane, WA 99224, 509-838-8338, latahbistro.com.
Program: Those who consider nothing other than Northwest wines may start at Page 52 of Chris Horn's 66-page document.
Policies: Want to bring a special wine from your cellar? If they don't have it, corkage is waived on the first 750-ml.
Pressings: The "lost" Bordeaux variety Carmenere has its own section, including Reininger. Nice job of offering Gewuerz from Dowsett Family and Vin du Lac as well as Washington Pinot Noir by Syncline. For those who have the guts, there are Northwest-built grappas by Clear Creek (Muscat) and Soft Tail (Merlot/Syrah/Cab Sauv).
430 106th Ave. NE, Bellevue, WA, 98004, 425-502-6292, thepurplecafe.com.
Program: Katelyn Peil's assortment spans 41 pages, sticks much closer to home, includes Riesling by Owen Roe, Pacific Rim, Long Shadow's second label of Nine Hats and Zero One.
Policies: Try before you buy when it comes to the glass pours.
PressingS: Among fresh new faces are Martedi's Syrah from Yakima Valley and Rasa's QED Rhone blend.
323 Park Place Center, Kirkland, WA, 98033, 425-828-3772, thepurplecafe.com.
Program: A team of five, led by Chris Horn, will help guide you through the 70 pages, including the eclectic flighting of "Washington, Varietally," which brings 2.5-ounce pours of Sangiovese (Martedi), Cabernet Sauvignon (Brand), Merlot (Gamache) and Syrah (Basel).
Policies: Many of these wines can go out the door for 40 percent off list price.
Pressings: Lullaby 2009 Viognier, crafted by Virginie Bourque from Walla Walla fruit, is on offer for $72.
1225 Fourth Ave., Seattle, 98101, 206-829-2280, thepurplecafe.com
Program: Once again, Katelyn Peil's promotes her neighbors with a "Wines of Woodinville" category that represents nearly 30 wineries.
Policies: Buy a case of your fave? Ask them about retail pricing.
Pressings: More Pinot Noir from Oregon available than France or California.
14459 Woodinville-Redmond Road NE, Woodinville, WA, 98072, 425-483-7129, thepurplecafe.com.
The Marc, Walla Walla
Program: The restaurant for the Marcus Whitman Hotel offers a 25-page list devoted local wineries like few in the Northwest, with nearly 90 wineries represented.
Policies: Library wines listed as vertical must be purchased as such. Let staff know if you don't see a favorite. "You may find it here on your next visit," according to the list.
Pressings: L'Ecole No. 41 crafts house white/house red. Nearly a dozen Northwest dessert wines.
6 W. Rose St., Walla Walla, WA, 99362, 509-525-2200, marcuswhitmanhotel.com.
The Melting Pot, Spokane
Program: International franchise of 140 restaurants, which began in 1975, makes room for local placings. In Spokane, that means Arbor Crest, Barrister, BridgePress, Coeur d'Alene, Grande Ronde, Latah Creek, Nodland, Robert Karl, Townshend. Among restaurants to participate in corkage-free program with Spokane-area wineries.
Policies: Wednesdays brings 50-percent discount on wine bottles with combination fondue dinner.
Pressings: Hidden bargain is Gifford Hirlinger 2005 Cab for $44.
Crescent Building, Second Floor,
707 W. Main Ave., Spokane, WA, 99201, 509-926-8000, spokanemp.com.
Tulalip Bay Restaurant, Tulalip
Program: Washington Wine Restaurant Awards celebrated Tommy Thompson's work by giving him its Grand Award.
Policies: Each multi-course dinner can be ordered with wine pairings. Woodinville vintner Christian Sparkman will be honorary winemaker for annual Taste of Tulalip on Nov. 9-10.
Pressings: Dale Chihuly designed chandelier that hangs in wine room.
10200 Quil Ceda Blvd., Tulalip, WA, 98271, 360-716-1500, tulalipresort.com
Valley Cafe, Ellensburg
Program: Perhaps the first restaurant east of the Cascades to commit pairing cuisine with Washington wines, starting in 1981.
Policies: Washington wines dominate. Public pouring by wineries in adjacent deli/wine shop happen First Friday Art Walk, and that winery is featured all month. Milbrandt earns the spotlight in October.
Pressings: String of awards for longtime proprietor Gregory Beach's list from Washington Wine Commission goes back to 2003, and from Wine Press Northwest to 2000.
105 W. Third Ave., Ellensburg, WA, 98926, 509-925-3050, valleycafeellensburg.com.
Visconti's Restorante Italiano, Leavenworth
Program: More than half of the 500+ list is Washington, which includes nearly 100 entries from Wenatchee/Leavenworth/Chelan region.
Policies: Affordable pricing of local wines.
Pressings: Co-owner/chef Daniel Carr judges North Central Washington Wine Awards for Foothills Magazine, also operates new Italian market -- Cured by Visconti -- in