Wine-makingis a change of pace for Blaine couple

Published on Thu, Mar 1, 2007 by Jack Kintner

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Wine-making is a change of pace for Blaine couple

By Jack Kintner

Products from Ken and Jill Peck’s Dakota Creek Winery, the second winery to open in Blaine during the past year, will be available at a tasting scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday, March 9 at Northern Meadows in downtown Blaine.

It joins the Lake Missoula winery on Boblett Street in Blaine that opened to the public and began selling its products last fall.

Ken Peck retired three years ago from a career with US Customs, now Customs and Border Protection. He and wife Jill, who is still working, said they have enjoyed making 30 to 40 gallons of wine each year for their own use for several years, so much so that they decided to turn their five acres on Haynie Road into a commercial winery.

The Pecks secured federal and state permits in 2005 and this year began selling their first vintages, five varieties they began fermenting in 2005 and bottled last year. Ken Peck, 58, earned an undergraduate degree in zoology and chemistry at University of Montana and uses scientifically precise analytic techniques he learned there in his winemaking.
A compact and spotless qualitative analysis lab complete with a high-power stereo microscope sits inside his 800-square foot fermentation building.

“This way I can keep track of what’s happening on the cellular level as well as watch for problems,” Peck said. He ferments his varieties in small batches in one of several nearby stainless steel vats.

Across Peck’s parking area sits his cellaring cave, an 1,100-square-foot metal arch construction that Peck erected and then buried under several tons of soil and vegetation.

Like a real cave, it doesn’t need to be heated or cooled to keep the interior temperature within a few degrees of 60 Fahrenheit. It naturally maintains an ideal temperature for aging his wine without needing to be artificially heated or cooled.

“We did fine with it last summer,” Peck said, “and that was a good test.”
The front of the building has two huge wooden doors on big strap hinges that give it a kind of medieval look, and to each side the building is faced with eastern British Columbia river rock.

“When I built the cellaring cave,” he said, “I spent a lot of time on the details with the county, but eventually we worked it all out.”

Large steel racks hold 225 liter barrels made from American or French oak, depending upon the variety being aged and what kind of taste Peck wants to impart to the particular vintage.

“French oak makes for a more mellow taste, and American oak for a less smokey, more fruit forward kind of taste. But everyone’s taste buds are a little different, and that why there are varieties,” he said.

He uses the barrels for five years before their ability to impart taste to the aging wine has dissipated. The grapes he buys mature in their eastern Washington vineyards in late summer when Peck will then make several grape runs.
On his trips to the other side, he leaves Blaine at 2 a.m. and brings back two to three tons of grapes picked by tractor light in the cool of the pre-dawn darkness.
“I can usually make the pickup at about seven and turn around and head for home,” Peck said. Last year he bought and processed more than 18 tons of grapes from vineyards near Yakima, Vantage and in the Columbia Valley for a vintage that will be ready in 2008.

The grapes are crushed and the fermenting process begins. “We don’t stop working for very long between Labor Day and Halloween,” he said, referring to the intense, hurry-up-and-wait process characteristic of making wine, where things need to be done quickly but must also wait for just the right time.

Dakota Creek intends to remain small, bottling about 1,000 to 1,200 cases per year. The wine is currently available in five varieties: an oaked and an unoaked Chardonnay, a Merlot, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Syrah. This spring Peck will release small quantities of a 2006 Pinot Gris (150 cases), a delicate 2006 white Viognier (about 20 cases) and a blend he calls Firefighter Red, part of the proceeds of which will go to benefit the volunteer firefighters of North Whatcom Fire and Rescue.

Peck’s label, which features a graceful line drawing of a great blue heron by Gary Pendleton, is now available in four area stores: Purple Smile in Fairhaven, Compass Wines in Anacortes, Gateway Wines in downtown Bellingham and Northern Meadows.

The winery, at 3575 Haynie Road, is open for tours by appointment only.

For more information, contact the Pecks at 360/820-4752 or go to www.dakotacreekwinery.com.