This experience began with a smooth, thumb-sized ebony stone, and it helps explain why Alderbrook Resort & Spa thrives today.
In 1913, when the property along Washington’s peaceful Hood Canal first became popular, vacationing families took to skipping stones across the calm waters of this 80-mile-long North American fjord. It was a wholesome activity in simpler times when Alderbrook was accessible only by boat.
Today, guests will find a “skipper” sitting on a placard inside their suite at this renovated lodge, which is destination more than ever through the devotion of co-owner Tricia Raikes, who developed a longlife bond with Alderbrook starting as child. The Raikes reportedly have spent more than $15 million on the purchase and renovation of the resort.
It explains the draw for executive chef Lucas Sautter and anyone else who chooses to live along the south shore of Hood Canal.
“I’m a family man,” Sautter said. “I live in Shelton, 20 minutes away from Hood Canal, and I'll bring the family down and go kayaking on weekend. It’s a wonderful place to be. And when I’m working, you look out the window and that’s what you get to see everyday. It helps you deal with the stress.”
Five years ago, Max Messmer left a job in the golf hospitality industry to take over the food and beverage program at Alderbrook. Almost immediately after he arrived, he began turning the wine list into one dominated by famed Northwest producers such as Adelsheim, DeLille, Leonetti and Long Shadows.
“People come here for the Northwest experience, and Alderbrook is the quintessential Northwest lodge,” Messmer said. “It’s beautiful. It’s on the water with a great restaurant and great chef. So why not continue that influence with the Northwest wines as we do here?”
Alderbrook's dedication to Northwest ingredients makes it a natural setting for regional wines. Dusted Valley Vintners in Walla Walla has become a mainstay both on the wine list and the winemaker dinner series, and the resort provides a welcome respite for co-winemaker Chad Johnson and his wife.
“Janet and I look forward to taking our annual trip to Alderbrook,” Johnson said. “We have been going there for five years now. The lodge and the rooms are great with incredible views of the water and the wildlife.”
The work environment also helps recruit talented staff to Alderbrook, an hour's drive west of Tacoma.
“It’s been an absolute marvelous company to work for,” Messmer said. “The ownership takes care of their staff from entry level to management level, and that’s hard to find these days. I have no desire to move anywhere else.”
Raikes, a Washington State University graduate, and her husband, Jeff, a former Microsoft executive, rank as one of the Pacific Northwest’s most philanthropic, community-minded couples. Jeff recently stepped down as CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which allows the Raikes to focus more on their own Raikes Foundation. Jeff stepped up in 1992 to help keep the Mariners in Seattle by purchasing a minority share in the foundering baseball club that seemed bound for Tampa, Fla.
A decade later, the Raikeses bought Alderbrook. Tricia, who cherished memories of summer vacations spent next door to the old inn, envisioned of transforming the 88 acres into a Pacific Northwest showpiece. They researched top resorts in the region, which explainswhy the property — closed 18 months to prepare for its grand reopening — blends the upscale woodsy feel Willows Lodge in Woodinville with Mount Hood’s historic Timberline Lodge.
Their stewardship of the land includes working with state officials to rehabilitate the stream that runs through Alderbrook’s grounds and creating its own water treatment plant.
Yet, it’s high-tech with a wired conference center, free Wi-Fi throughout the campus and a gaming room that morphs into a veritable network studio for NFL game coverage on Sundays. There's a well-appointed 3,500-square-foot day spa, reminiscent of The Allison Inn in Newberg, Ore., and a glass-enclosed heated pool and hot tub. Across the ambling Highway 106 is a network of hiking trails that make for a great way to begin the morning.
“We usually dedicate one day to doing nothing but the spa and sitting out on the deck reading and sampling some great Washington vino. It’s so peaceful,” Johnson said. “We’ll also spend a day at the golf course and sometimes hiking. I suppose you could do it all in a day, but why?”
The latest hiking trail leads uphill to the clubhouse of the golf course, where Messmer recently bought a home.
“I can’'t ever imagine moving back to the city, and that's the honest truth,” Messmer said. “I love the lifestyle; I love the pace. I love living two minutes from work. I don’t miss I-5 or 405 in any way, shape or form.”
The relaxed, homey and pet-friendly feel of the property can be felt upon entering the lobby, where there’s a gentle fire with Alder or Brook — the resort’s lobby cats — nearby.
Whether staying in one of Alderbrook’s 77 guest rooms, 16 cottages or three guest houses, your attention gently gets drawn back to placid waters of Hood Canal, never more a stone’s throw away. Come by boat or seaplane and use the guest moorage. The 54-foot Lady Alderbrook, available for hire, also offers catered cruises.
The growing number of award-winning wineries near Hood Canal and around the Olympic Peninsula make for tasty exploration. One of the closest trips, to Mosquito Fleet in Belfair, is just 15 minutes by car.
“We have a real appreciation for what Alderbrook is doing for our area with its food and its wine,” said Mosquito Fleet winemaker Brian Petersen. “They’ve been a real big promoter and supporter of ours from the beginning.”
There’s been no shortage of culinary talent at Alderbrook since the Raikes took over, and the list includes Chris Schwarz, now corporate executive chef at Tom Douglas Restaurants, and former El Gaucho chef Tristan Holst. Sautter learned from both of them at Alderbrook after arriving from Olympia’s Basilico Ristorante in 2005.
“I started cooking in Colorado, where I was born and raised,” Sautter said. “I was a dishwasher at the time, and I saw the chefs with their chef hats and I told the chef, ‘I want one of those hats.’ So he taught me how to cook and it became a passion. It was the one thing in my life that I was good at.”
His resume of “everything from Olive Garden to Wendy’s” includes formal training at Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale, Ariz. He spent several years at Thaifoon and The Tack Room in Tucson before Crystal, whom he met in culinary school, lured him to the Olympic Peninsula.
“Chef Sautter does a great job focusing on Northwest fair and local wine pairings, and the staff is extremely accommodating and gracious,” Johnson said. “Simply said, it is one of our favorite getaways in the Pacific Northwest.”
For the Match Maker assignment, Sautter first played upon the regional theme for pairing his Crab Trio Pappardelle with the Walter Dacon Wines 2011 Skookum White.
“When I tasted the Skookum White, I tasted a lot of sweetness and a nice citrus aspect to it, so I knew it needed to be with some seafood and it would need some spice,” Sautter said. “There’s a little bit of butter and richness to balance the sweetness. It’s a favorite of a lot of people that come to the restaurant.”
Mosquito Fleet’s Syrah-based 2010 Sophia made an ideal foil for Sautter’s Veal Chop with Sauteed Sugar Peas, Sunchoke Farro Hash and Porcini Ragout.
“That was a pretty bold wine with a lot of strong flavors up front, so I didn’t want to do anything real heavy like lamb or a regular steak,” Sautter said. “I figured our 14-ounce veal chop from Willamette Valley Farms would be perfect.”
Despite the spot-on food pairings one would expect in a four-star, metropolitan restaurant, there’s a unique feel to this dining room surrounded by a year-round resort.
“People come down in the pajamas; they come down in their bathrobes because of the spa,” Messmer said with a smile. “And people come down dressed to the nine ready to start their business meeting. We cater to everybody.”
It’s also explains why Messmer and his team don’t bother with ties or vests on the floor.
“We’ve left it a little more casual than what you would expect at a restaurant that has our wine list and our menu because we don’t want the people who are dressing down to feel uncomfortable,” he said.
That suits Alderbrook’s stated goal of “family, food and fun in an unpretentious, high style heavily influenced by nature and its bounty.”
And before leaving, stroll to the shoreline and drop one of those Hood Canal skipping stones in your pocket for either a memento or the promise to toss it return it to the water someday.
Mosquito Fleet Winery $29
2010 Sophia, Columbia Valley
— 250 cases, 15% alcohol
When Dr. Brian Petersen isn’t “moving bones,” he focuses his attention and hands on turning grapes from some of Washington’s top vineyards into wines worthy of their heritage.
Patience and diligence has paid off. This fall, he and his partners celebrated the fifth crush of Mosquito Fleet Winery, just 200 yards from his chiropractic office in Belfair, at the hook of Hood Canal.
“We’ve only been selling wine for not even two years, so we’ve still got a lot to learn,” Petersen said. “When you are green, you are growing. When you are ripe, you rot.”
Petersen and wife, Jacquie, partnered with Scott and Jacy Griffin to create a local following as well as shed light on the forgotten history of the “Mosquito Fleet” that shuttled people across the Puget Sound more than a century ago. The nearby Mosquito Fleet Museum previously was home to St. Charles Winery — the state’s first post-Prohibition winery.
Much of Petersen’s success at the 1,000-case winery stems from the vineyards. There’s Pepper Bridge in the Walla Walla Valley for Merlot. He’s dialed in on renowned Elephant Mountain in the Yakima Valley and Double Canyon — near famed Champoux Vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills — for his Sophia. It’s a Syrah-based blend (73%) with Mourvedre (19%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (8%) to add some firmness.
“People are loving the Mourvèdré in that,” Petersen said. “The Syrah is done surlie with regular battonage, which helps give it that beautiful mouth feel. It’s been a killer wine for us, and people continue to love it.”
Aromas of black olive, blackberry, ripe plum and dark chocolate are followed by juicy flavors of Marionberry, vanilla bean and allspice. It comes with the lively acidity that Mourvèdré brings, and is backed by chocolaty tannins, a sign of the 22 months in primarily new French oak.
It’s named after the SS Sophia, a tugboat-turned-ferry built in 1884 that served in the Mosquito Fleet between Tacoma and Henderson Bay.
* Mosquito Fleet Winery, 21 N.E. Old Belfair Highway, Belfair, WA 98528, 360-275-9100, mosquitofleetwinery.com.
Bone-in Veal Rib Chop
4 Willamette Valley veal chops, 16 ounces each
1. Salt and pepper, then grill to medium
Sautééd Sugar Snap Peas
2 teaspoons garlic (chopped)
2 teaspoons butter
12 ounces sugar snap peas (stringless andchopped)
1. In a small pan on moderate heat, melt the butter, bloom the garlic and add the snap peas.
2. Sauté for one minute and season to taste
Sunchoke and Farro Hash
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cup farro
1 pound kale, stemmed and chopped to bite-size pieces
1 small red onion (julianned)
4 ounces oyster mushrooms (cut from stem, rough chop)
4 ounces chanterelles (cleaned, torn in half)
4 ounces Mitaki mushrooms
2 ounces brown beach mushrooms
2 ounces white beach mushrooms
1/4 cup white wine
1 pound sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichoke (peeled and roasted)
1. Put farro in a pan and cover with three times the amount of water. Bring to boil cook until soft but not mushy, about 25 minutes.
2. Toss the sunchokes in olive oil, salt and pepper, then roast in an oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. When cool slice, into coin shape.
3. Put the butter and olive oil in a pan. Start on high heat, then add the red onion, mushrooms, the sunchokes and kale until all are cooked.
4. Add farro, white wine, then salt and pepper to taste.
1 teaspoon thyme, picked and chopped
1 teaspoon rosemary, picked chopped
1/2 cup cipollini onion, small diced
1/8 cup leek, small diced
1 teaspoon garlic
2 tablespoon flour
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup porcini or king trumpets mushrooms 1
dash Worcestershire sauce
Salt to taste
1. In a medium-sized pan on moderate heat, sauté vegetables and herbs until soft.
2. Add flour, cook to mix, then add wine.
3. Add chicken stock and cook for another 20 minutes. Add seasoning and Worcestershire. Then taste!
Walter Dacon Wines, $19
2011 Skookum White, Columbia Valley
— 500 cases, 13.2% alcohol
Hood Canal might not seem to be a natural setting for a winery in Washington state, but Skookum Inlet has turned into a port of call for Syrah devotees — thanks to Lloyd and Ann Anderson of Walter Dacon Wines.
This year marked the 10th anniversary of Walter Dacon, named as a tribute to Lloyd’s grandfather. The tasting room south of Shelton opened in 2005 with wines from the 2003 vintage, and Anderson quickly made his mark with red Rhône grape, producing three cuvéés that achieved international acclaim.
All totaled, Walter Dacon bottles five Syrahs and a Syrah-based red blend to account for the lion’s share of its annual 2,000 case production.
“We carry three of their magnificent Syrahs,” said Max Messmer, director of food and beverage at Alderbrook Resort & Spa.However, there’s more behind Walter Dacon than Syrah and the Andersons’ antique tasting bar, a circa World War I circulation desk from the Fremont Library in Seattle.
In the past, the Andersons bottled Roussanne and Viognier — two white Rhône varieties. The problematic vintage of 2011 forced them to take a different tack, so Pinot Gris became Walter Dacon’s only white production. They sell it as Skookum White, borrowing the Chinook tribe’s ubiquitous reference for excellence.
“We had a lot of support for our Viognier, which we made just a bit off-dry, but we stopped making it after 2010 when our source back then couldn’t get it to ripen in 2011,” Lloyd said. “So we went in a different direction with Pinot Grigio and have had a lot of support for that, too.”
They produce it in a slightly off-dry fashion, leaving 1 percent residual sugar, which makes for a “skookum” pairing with delicacies from the Salish Sea.
Walter Dacon recently sold through the 2011 and did not produce a 2012 Skookum White, but its 2013 vintage from Two Gun Vineyard in the Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley will be released in early 2014. That site is at the core of several award-winning whites from Jones of Washington — Wine Press Northwest’s 2013 Washington Winery of the Year.
* Walter Dacon Wines, 50 S.E. Skookum Inlet Road, Shelton, WA 98584, 360-426-5913, WalterDaconWines.com
Crab Trio Pappardelle
4 ounces Dungeness crab (pick, clean, then reserve in cold storage)
8 ounces red crab
20 snow crab claws
3 tablespoons butter
3 teaspoons garlic
2 teaspoons shallot
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon parsley
1/2 cup shaved fennel
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup oven-roasted tomatoes (recipe below)
1/2 pound thyme pappardelle (recipe below)
Oven roasted tomatoes
Makes 1 cup
2 pounds ripe tomatoes (stemmed and cored)
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon thyme, chopped
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Large dice the tomatoes and toss all ingredients in a large bowl.
2. Place mixture on one or two large baking sheets.
3. Roast at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes until the skins are loosen. Cool then move to appropriate storage container.
Serves 4, Makes 1/2 pound
1/2 pound all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tablespoon fresh-picked thyme
1. Mix all dry ingredients, then make a well with the flour.
2. Put the eggs in the middle and whisk well with a fork. Add the oil and thyme and fold in the flour.
3. When all incorporated, let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Then roll out flat and run through a pasta machine to the No. 5 setting and cut into six wide strips.
1. Create the sauce. Put half of the butter into the sauté pan and add the garlic, shallot, fennel and the oven-roasted tomatoes. Sauté for one minute.
2. Add the crab claws and red crab, then pour in the white wine. Follow with the herbs and remaining butter. At the end, add salt and pepper to taste.
3. Boil the pasta.
4. Pour the sauce over the pasta and top with the Dungeness crab meat.
ERIC DEGERMAN is co-owner of Great Northwest Wine, a news and information website. For more information, go to www.greatnorthwestwine.com.
CHARITY LYNNE is a photographer based out of Seattle, Wash. You can find her online at charitylynne.com.