Sometimes I just have to pinch myself.

"Ouch!" OK, I'm not dreaming. I really do live in the greatest country, in the greatest region, and get to do for a living what I love every day.

This week is one of those weeks where I really am pinching myself over an over again.

I just returned from a one week school for professional photographers on San Juan Island. My favorite part of the whole week was on Tuesday evening when we took some time to visit San Juan Vineyards to photograph the vineyards and the staff, eat dinner, and drink wine.

San Juan Vineyards is located on the northeastern side of the island near Roche Harbor. It is just a few miles from the ferry dock, and easily accessible by bicycle or moped if you decide to leave your car on the mainland. Sixty acres of beautiful landscaping and vineyards, with a little church, covered events area, and plenty of room to roam make the vineyard a great event center to host parties or a beautiful wedding.

Owner Yvonne Swanberg warmly met us at the tasting room. The vineyard, started by her late husband, and friend Tim Judkins, has been producing wines since 1999. Cutting-edge winemaker Chris Primus joined the winery in 2006. His background as assistant for vintners in Willamete Valley prepared him to create food friendly wines in even cool climates. His whites are bone dry, and his reds are dark and structured.

I had the opportunity to sample through several of Chris' wines, and thoroughly enjoyed every one.

The first that I found to be exceptional was the '07 Siegerrebe. Siegerrebe is a cool weather grape varietal that has a lot of characteristics of a Pinot Grigio. It is cool and crisp, with flavors of pear and citrus. With a residual sugar of .06 percent it is a great wine to pair with fish, or sip on the deck on a summer evening.

The second wine that I found exceptional was the '07 Madeline Angevine. This is also a fairly rare varietal that is suited to grow well in cool, wet climates.

Chris has done an exceptional job in creating a dry wine with flavors of melon and citrus. It tasted to me like I was eating cold honeydew right off the vine. Crisp, yet flavorful, this wine would pair very well with alfredo or other cream sauces.

The '07 "Afterglow" is a fantastic Rosé. The wine is a blend of several red grapes from the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, mixed with San Juan Vineyard's own Madeline grapes. Nicely balanced with good acidity, fruit, and depth.

How does a winemaker in a cold climate create an award winning Merlot? He sources his grapes.

Chris created his 2005 Merlot from Alder Ridge and Kestrel Vineyard fruit. This wine has great color, depth, and textures. I especially loved the flavors of cocoa and chipotle mixed into the deep rich stone-fruit of cherries and plum. This wine has won several awards, including a recent double gold.

Next time you are planning a trip to San Juan Island, take the time to visit the vineyards. Tell my friends there that I sent you!

Rich Breshears, the East Oregonian's wine columnist, is a commercial photographer and marketing consultant for the wine industry in Oregon and Washington. He lives with his family in Kennewick, Wash. You can reach him by e-mail at


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