Chatter Creek’s simplicity tastefully refreshing

There’s a winery in Seattle that’s the antithesis of those mega-money, almost theme-park shrines to wine that have sprung up over the last couple of decades in California, Oregon, and even on the shores of our own Lake Chelan.

Clandestinely located at the end of a dead-end street in the northwest part of Seattle’s University District, Chatter Creek is a winery more like what you’d expect to find while backpacking through Europe rather than riding a limo through Napa Valley.

Chatter Creek is a refreshingly basic winery run from “soup to nuts” by Gordon Rawson who, like most others bitten by the Bacchus bug, has let his hobby get a bit out of hand. Within the basement of his and Dani Rawson’s home is a completely self-contained working winery that is a testament to efficiency. No space is wasted in Rawson’s playground where he single-handedly deals with all phases of the winemaking process. Even the porcelain throne doubles as an office chair where the computer is within easy reach.

Rawson admits he looks at life mechanically and has a propensity to find out how things work. “I think I was born with a gear-head gene because it seems that whatever attracts my interest, whether it’s guitars, wine, or anything else, I need to figure out how it’s made and then try to make it better.”

He first became interested in wine back in the early 1980s when he went to work at a wine wholesaling company after a period in the rock ‘n’ roll industry. “I started as a driver delivering wine, and back then we needed to know as much about wine as we could because selling became part of the job,” Rawson recalled.

In 1984, genetically driven to prove that he could make wine every bit as good as the wines that he was meeting in his new vocation, Rawson started making home-brewed wine. In 1987 he went to work at Columbia Winery and studied, mostly through osmosis, with a master of wine, David Lake, who taught him a lot about the art of blending wine. In 1996, Rawson decided to embark on his own and start a commercial winery after more than 20 years of preparation.

Since Rawson had developed a passion for champagne, and the process of making sparkling wine intrigued him, he started Alexia, a winery that seemed to fill a niche in the market. Almost immediately big-money corporate pressure came calling in the form of a lawsuit. Apparently, a Russian vodka producer back East named “Alexi” didn’t like knowing that a little garage winery in the Northwest had a similar name. Threatened with a lengthy legal battle and mounting attorney fees, Rawson did what any levelheaded gear head would do and offered to sell them the winery for $80,000. Although that didn’t fly, the firm let him sell out his inventory of Alexia and dissolve the winery.

That’s how Chatter Creek Winery was born in the latter part of 1999. It’s named after a tributary of Icicle Creek outside Leavenworth, where Rawson used to camp and fish as a kid. “I have very fond memories of that place, and it seemed like a good name for a winery,” he said.

After more than four years, a few tears and a lot of cheers, Chatter Creek can now consider itself a success story with many more chapters to be written. Rawson is producing about 1,800 cases of wine in his tiny home winery, and it’s hard to imagine much more of an expansion. Still, who knows, maybe one day Chatter Creek will become another of those “Disneyland” temples to wine. I sure hope not.

Chatter Creek is open to visitors on the first and third Saturday of each month from 11:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. During that time you may tour, taste or buy the wines. Chatter Creek is at 620 NE 55th St., Seattle. Call 206-985-2816 or visit www.chattercreek.com.

Jeff Wicklund, wine consultant and writer, is the proprietor of Colby Hospitality in Everett. He can be reached at 425-317-9858, or wick@colbyhospitality.com.

Here’s how to reach us.

The winery phone number is (206) 985-2816

The address is 620 NE 55th St. Seattle, WA 98105

Chatter Creek wines

Chatter Creek 2002 Syrah Jack Jones Vineyard, Columbia Valley $20 From the Jack Jones Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope, this syrah is rich and intense. It starts a bit shy but opens in the glass with a savory nose dominated by bay leaf, rosemary, blueberry and roasted coffee. The first taste is full of blackberry, black plum, grilled meats, dark chocolate and mocha notes, then unfolds to a lingering, port-like finish.

Chatter Creek 2002 Syrah Lonesome Springs Ranch, Yakima Valley $20 The fruit qualities from Lonesome Spring, a newer vineyard near Benton City, are dark and rich. Blackberry, sage and white pepper come out on the nose with time in the glass. Tastes of rich black plum, blackberry, cassis, and rosemary. Firm tannins maintain balance, and the long finish ends with a silky hint of toasted nuts.

Chatter Creek 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Alder Ridge Vineyard, Columbia Valley $20 This stylish blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot shows dark purple with some ruby on the rim, and its bright nose blends complex floral notes of gardenia, rose petal and cherry blossom. Flavors of plum, black cherry, mineral, cassis and cedar lingers, and a soft, creamy finish captures the heat of the vintage, leaving you satisfied yet ready for more.

Chatter Creek 2002 Cabernet Franc Alder Ridge Vineyard, Columbia Valley $16 Riper and more forward than the 2001, the 2002 Cabernet Franc sparkles with bright, deep garnet color with a nose of violets, blueberry and black cherry. On the palate it warms to plummy cherry and blueberry fruit with fresh acidity. The finish is framed by notes of toasted almonds and vanilla bean. Traditionally a Bordeaux blending grape, this cabernet franc deserves not only to be bottled by itself but also could serve as your whole meal.

Chatter Creek 2003 Pinot Gris Evergreen and Minick Vineyards, Columbia Valley $12 This wine shows pear, apple and tropical fruits on the nose with mixed melons, pit fruits, citrus and flint on the palate. Since this wine didn’t undergo malolactic fermentation, the bright acidity supporting its long, clean finish is preserved.

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