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Celebrating People, Places & the Good Life in SW Washington State
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SW Washington Wineries: An Interview with Winemaker Michele Bloomquist of Heisen House Vineyards

Southwest Washington has a very dynamic wine industry. WineTrails NW lists 30 wineries in the region. Wineries are scattered throughout the area in scenic rural areas and urban settings like downtown Vancouver.  This is the first in a series of profiles of Southwest Washington wineries and winemakers.

First up – an interview with Michele Bloomquist of  Heisen House Vineyards. With its historic, 1898 home and restored barn, which is one of the oldest in Clark County, Heisen House Vineyards is located just north of Battle Ground at 28005 NE 172nd Avenue on a site with a rich history. The Heisen House is a family home and not open to the public. However, outdoor and indoor tasting rooms (in a beautifully remodeled milking parlor) allow for visiting the winery regardless of the weather on Saturdays and Sundays from noon until 5 p.m.

A benefit of blogging – this interview was conducted while sampling nine(!) different wines in the outdoor tasting room. We are happy to report that all were excellent and two (2009 Sangiovese and 2010 “Happy” Sparkling White Wine) were purchased for later consumption.

 

Winemaker Michele Bloomquist of Heisen House Vineyards

 

Michele Bloomquist (MB): The first wine I ever heard of was Boone’s Farm. And then there were all the country coolers and all that stuff. I graduated from college in 1996.  I got a job at a company in San Francisco and I would go down there on Monday morning and come back on Thursday night. I had a good friend who lives down there and she and her husband loved to go wine tasting. They would take me wine tasting to Napa and Sonoma and that was my first introduction to wine tasting. That is how it happened in 1998 or 1999.

ZEST: How did you learn to make wine? Who were your mentors? Did you have special training?

MB: Walt Houser at Bethany Vineyard was very supportive as was Carl English of English Estate Winery. I’ve picked everybody’s brains and whenever a problem comes up, Gary Gouger of Gouger Cellars, has been very helpful. He has a degree in enology. And I also learned from books and just doing it.

I have taken some classes at Clark College. John Dingenthal and Bill Fuller were the teachers and I learned a lot from them as well.  Those classes were really helpful. I was already winemaking  by the time I started taking those classes but both of those professors were 20-year veterans of the industry so it was a great opportunity to learn from them about vines and wines.

The Historic Heisen House (1898)

ZEST: How did you end up with your winery? When was it founded?

MB: It wasn’t a plan. It happened by accident. I was driving by one day and I saw a little glimpse of the peak of the roof of the house. At that time, it was completely surrounded by bushes and shrubs.  You could hardly see there was house there. All this [the vineyard] was blackberries and briars, tires and stumps and concrete chunks. But I could see a little glimpse of the house so I pulled in and there was a for sale sign. That was 2002.

I fell in love with the house and that’s how I came here. During the process of making the offer, I found out that the house was on the state and national historic registers and here it was vacant and falling apart and neglected and the barn was falling down and the house hadn’t been cared for in many years. That is what first brought me to this property. I knew that I wanted to do something to share it with people because it’s a historic place.

So at first I was going to do a lavender farm, which you can see the remnants of my first voyage into lavender. Then that same summer the apple trees were loaded with apples and a friend said “Hey, let’s make hard apple cider.”  I had never made alcohol before but I had been wine tasting and it was so much fun and it turned out good and I was hooked.

So the next year I made cider and wine and then I started helping Walt and other people and reading about it and learning about it. You learn a lot by doing it. I spent about five years of hobby winemaking before Walt (of Bethany Vineyard) and other people were saying “You should open a winery.” So I can either thank Walt or blame him depending on the day!

The barn, tasting building and vineyard.

ZEST: Where do you get your grapes? For on-site grapes – how many acres do you grow and what kind are they?

MB: We opened on Memorial Day weekend, 2010.  We have one acre of grapes in production. I have Gamay Noir, Tempranillo, Gewurztraminer and Orange Muscat. It’s a test for the area. We are still trying to establish what grapes are right for Clark County.

We buy our grapes from growers in Eastern Washington (Walla Walla and Benton City). Our vines are still two summers away from having fruit. We’ll have hopefully four barrels of wine from those vines. But we are making 500 cases of wine a year so we have well exceeded what our vineyard would be able to provide. We are growing and we don’t have enough land to plant all the grapes that we need so we will always have to both purchase and grow, which is very common in the industry.

ZEST: What are your available wines?

MB: Currently, available wines are Reds – Merlot, Sangiovese, Cabernet, Cab Franc, Tempranillo and “one Love” Reserve Red Blend (all vintage 2009) and Whites – Dry Muscat, Dry Rose and Happy (a sparkling wine) (all vintage 2010). (Descriptions are available here.)

ZEST: Which is your favorite?

MB: Cabernet Franc

ZEST: Where are your wines available?

MB: Just here for now. We are probably going to have our wines soon at the Heisson Store and Mill Creek Pub in Battle Ground.

Heison House Winemakers Chris Eckels and Michelle Bloomquist

ZEST: How do you spend your days? What is a typical day for a winemaker?

MB: Well, I have another business. I work full-time as a freelance writer so Monday through Friday, I’m wearing my writing hat and the winery is our evening and weekend endeavor. My typical day is juggling  responsibilities – family, a freelance career and then the wine.

I don’t know if there is such a typical day. It’s very seasonal, in the fall we are making wine, in the winter, we are planning for the summer and pruning, in the spring we are bottling, in the summer we are open and waiting for the grapes and maintenance.

ZEST: How would you describe the SW Washington wine industry?

MB: We are in the golden age which is the emerging winery region. It’s a very special time. At every one of these wineries most likely the person behind the bar is going to be the winemaker who is pouring the wine. It’s a very special time and a very small window. For a lot of people who are serious wine tourers, that is the epitome of the winery experience to meet the winemaker at every single stop and you can do that here in Clark County.

ZEST: When you aren’t drinking your own wines, what are your current favorites?

MB:  My very favorite and probably the first wine that I tasted it and “got it” what good wine was at a place called The Pines in the Columbia Gorge. Their Red Zinfandel, which often sells out, that was the first time I thought “Wow, this is what good wine tastes like.” I would say that Hood River is one of my favorite areas (for tasting).

Lavender crop

ZEST: What is the best thing about being a winemaker?

MB: The best thing about is when the truck pulls up with a big bin of grapes and it’s time to get dirty.  That’s the very best part of being a winemaker. It is fun to make wine. I LOVE it.

ZEST: What is the hardest thing about being a winemaker?

MB: It is probably that I don’t get to go wine tasting as much as I used to and I miss it! And I would love to do more traveling but for right now we are growing our business and we need to be here.

ZEST: What is coming up that you’re excited about for your winery?

MB: We have the Battle Ground Wine Loop Tour next Saturday. Memorial Weekend is our big kickoff of the season – we will be open Saturday, Sunday and Monday, noon to 6 p.m. We are launching our Friday night music that same weekend. Every Friday night we will have music from 6-9 p.m. and a local restaurant comes out and serves food starting Memorial Day weekend all the way to the end of September. And then we have four farm festivals in the summer where we have artists and craftspeople come and set up and then we have fun that way, too!

Winery Details

Details about Heisen HouseVineyards are available at the winery Web site. The Battle Ground Wine Loop Tour,  which is held the 2nd Saturday of the month, visits Heisen House Vineyards along with Rusty Grape Vineyard and Olequa Cellars. For a complete (and growing!) list and map of 11 Clark County wineries visit here. For a longer list of wineries throughout Southwest Washington, visit WineTrailsNW.  No need to head to Napa. Get out there and try our local wines!

Winery photos courtesy of Heisen House Vineyards.

 

 

 

 

April 12, 2012   1 Comment

September: Anime, Alpacas and Art plus Roller Dolls and a Rod Run

With summer winding down, there aren’t as many events happening around the region. But if quality trumps quantity, it will be a great month to tour the area.

September 3-5Chelatchie Prairie Railroad Trip – The Chelatchie Prairie Railroad will be taking 10 mile trips out of Yacolt on Labor Day Weekend. Check the Web site for reservations.

September 3-5Kumoricon – Anyone who is interested in Japanese anime should head to the Kumoricon 2011 convention in downtown Vancouver. Events will be at the Hilton Hotel and the Red Lion at the Quay. Anime lovers in costume will be wandering the streets. Should be very interesting!

Kayaks along the Columbia

September 9-18 - Lower Columbia River Kayak Roundup – These folks are into serious kayaking! It’s a great way to explore the Puget Island area. is an instructional retreat for kayakers of all levels. 2011 will be the 5th and final event. Full-day and half-day classes are offered on the weekend, and intensive multi-day programs are offered during the week.

The Rainy City Roller Dolls

September 10Roller Derby! - Centralia’s Rainy City Roller Dolls take on Salem Oregon’s Cherry City Derby Girls at the Back to School Beat Down.

Cars in a Past Rod Run

September-10-1128th Annual Rod Run to the End of the World – A mass of vintage cars are expected for this annual auto gathering in Ocean Park. But it’s not just about the cars. Jamie’s Rock & Roll Legends with Elvis, Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline & Connie Francis will perform live on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The beach will be rocking this weekend!

Seattle's jazzy Groove for Thought

September 11Groove for Thought – They were fabulous on The Sing-Off (watch their performance here) and now the Seattle a cappella singing group performs a fundraising matinee concert for Pearson Air Museum. Get your tickets here.

Alpaca from the 2009 Tour

September 1713th Annual Clark County Harvest Celebration Day – Nine farms will be open for visitors from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. This is a great way to see rural Clark County and it’s free!

September 17 and 18ARTrails – Check out the 9th Annual ARTrails Open Studio Tour. This self-guided, free event takes you though the towns and backroads of Lewis County to visit the artists and studios of Lewis County.

September 30 & October 1 - Columbia River Country Days and Grays River Covered Bridge Dinner – There will be a Farmer’s Market, Pumpkin Patch, Farm Tours,
Old Time Auction, and an October 1st dinner at Grays River Covered Bridge. For more information, call 360-795-3278

September 2, 2011   No Comments

A Visit to the Pomeroy Living History Farm: Chickens, Pigs and Pumpkins

Where do eggs come from? How about bacon? If your children answer “Fred Meyer” or “Safeway” or if they haven’t fed a chicken or met a pig face to face, it’s time to take them out to Pomeroy Living History Farm.  

Welcome!

I love farms. With clear memories of summers and weekends on my grandparents Iowa farm, I was looking for some reminders of childhood this summer. They were there in form of gardens and animals, tractors and the smell of hay at the historic Pomeroy Farm. I fed the chickens and goats, talked to the snorting pigs (always my favorite farm animal) and made my very first cornhusk doll. Farm life in the 1920’s is on display. In 2010, it will be owned by members of the Pomeroy family for 100 years. 

“This house is full of memories,” Lil Freese told me as we stood in the diningroom of the original log home of her grandparents, E.C. and Adelaide Pomeroy who purchased the first 160 acres in 1910.  She graciously shares stories about 1920s log house at the farm, which over time expanded to 677 acres. Pomeroy family members started the living history program at the farm in 1988. Last year, 3500 school children visited the farm.

A spinner at work

On the porch, a costumed spinner turned wool into yarn while an “old time” band played. As I tried to churn cream into butter in the diningroom, I enjoyed the lesson but silently gave thanks for modern grocery stores. Upstairs, five bedrooms in the log house displayed the lifestyles of five different decades. Wandering through the farm, I toured the gardens, working blacksmith shop, historic barn and met the chickens, goats and pigs.

One of the residents at Pomeroy

A real oinker

Feeding the goats

October is a great time to visit. That is when Pumpkin Lane is in full swing including a mile long hayride past 70 “pumpkin people” and a stop at the Pumpkin Patch plus animals, children’s carnival games, entertainment and pumpkins available for purchase. Dates in 2009 are October 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18, 24 and 25. For the latest information including admission fees and directions visit www.pomeroyfarm.org or call 360.686.3537.

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September 28, 2009   1 Comment