Latah Creek Wine Cellars Review
Address: 13030 E. Indiana Ave Spokane,Washington 99216.
Phone Number: 800-528-2427
Tasting Hours: 9:00-5:00
Region: Spokane Valley, Washington
Reviewer: Denise Gangnes
Review Date: 10/20/2012
Reviewer: Denise Gangnes
Fans of the movie, Oh Brother Where Art Thou? will recall the scene where actor Charles Durning refers to a musical recording as “old timey.” It stuck in my head while visiting Latah Creek, one of Spokanes two founding wineries. While Arbor Crest, the other 1982 entry, has created something of a majestic mega-complex high on the hill overlooking Spokane, its counterpart in the valley seems a bit stuck in time.
The Place:  Latah Creeks website describes its setting as “picturesque.” Considering that while sipping Merlots and Chardonnays one overhears the sounds of I-90 literally in their backyard, this is something of a stretch. To be fair, the stucco and tile construction and cozy courtyard are romantically reminiscent of a mission, conjuring images of what Californias first wineries must have been like “in the day”. The website is spot on in describing Latahs “one-of-a-kind gift shop and a room-wide wine tasting bar”. Actually, there are three rooms designated for tasting well, that, and shopping. In truth, one could argue whether the focus is on the wines or wine-related knick-knacks. The tasting room(s) are a cacophony of nearly every wine-related artifact imaginable. Room after room contains a dizzying array of trinkets and whatnots. Personally, I am often lured into taking home a bauble or two with my bottles, so I wasnt completely overwhelmed. Lets just say I was glad I left my husband at home.
The Wines:  Owner and Winemaker Mike Conway started making wines in the late 1970s at E&J Gallo. Trained by John Parducci, he and wife Ellena moved to Washington, drawn by the rich grape-producing hills in the eastern half of the state. After years making wine for Hogue Cellars, he started Latah Creek with $100,000, naming the winery after a local tributary. As with most Washington winemakers, with longevity comes the privilege to score grapes from some of the best vineyards. Thus, Latah Creeks Merlot, Cabernet and Chardonnay are grown 150 miles away, on the Wahluke Slope; white varieties come from vineyards in the Yakima Valley. Wines range in price from $9 to $30. Recent double gold award winners include a Pinot Gris and a sweet Moscato. The 2008 award-winning Petite Sirah, grown in some of Washingtons most ancient soils, found its way into my trunk. Oh, and let us not forget the Huckleberry wine, which has also taken home its share of accolades. It has a huge following as do most of Conways sweeter wines. I couldnt resist a 375 ml bottle of the desserty Natalies Nectar, paired with a cellophane bag of chocolate cups for sipping.
The Experience:  The tasting room was remarkably quiet during my visit. Only a random visitor, and the lilting sounds of country-western music playing in the background, provided ambient noise. The individual behind the counter was evidently new to the facility, and not used to probing questions from a west-side stranger. Fortunately, he and I conjugated over the laminated placards on the tasting bar in order to unravel some of the mysteries of the winerys existence. While he brushed up on winery details, I ruminated through the various tasting rooms, evoking visions of a packed house enjoying fellowship among the 600+ gallon oak casks and storage barrels that adorn the overflow tasting rooms.
Insiders Comment: Rumor has it that Latah Creek has a staunch following, and from the looks of the five-bottle sampler baskets stacked high in readiness for upcoming holiday release parties, I have to assume the facility gets a lot livelier than I saw on that chilly Sunday afternoon. The winery has a distinct advantage over the downtown tasting rooms: it is one of only a handful of Spokane wineries open on Sundays.
Will Latah Creeks tasting room ever lose its 80s feel? Natalie Conway-Barnes is learning the trade quickly and has produced a tasty first vintage, a respectably sweet blend of Petite Sirah grapes. Natalie just might be the one to bring Latah Creek into the Millennium.