Cairdeas Winery owners Charlie and Lacey Lybecker have what it takes to operate a winery in Lake Chelan’s tourist-driven climate. The 30-something couple are gregariously friendly, energetic and passionate about the wine they make. And it is very good wine indeed.
The name Cairdeas is fitting. It comes from the Gaelic word meaning friendship, goodwill or alliance. Charlie eagerly pours goodwill along with wine while making new friends and building alliances at the modest tasting room close to Manson. It’s also close to popular Lake Chelan Winery and Benson Winery. The three tasting rooms and others in Manson benefit from their close ties and stay busy with a continuous flow of wine sampling customers through the summer and fall months. With Lake Chelan Crush going on now, it’s a great time to pay a visit.
Charlie tells visitors about the wines, their origin and inspiration, where the grapes are grown, how the wine is made and how the winery itself came to be. He recommends other local wineries for customers looking for a specific varietal he doesn’t make. He tells them how Lacey introduced him to the world of wine and how romance grew between them over bottles of Syrah. He tells them about their two young boys, Eugene and Francis.
“I didn’t know a thing about wine,” he told a couple of wine tasters from Tri-Cities.
I was there to interview the Lybeckers for an upcoming Foothills magazine story. I didn’t really have to ask Charlie any questions. He told the whole story, piecemeal but personably, to customers who were as curious about his winemaking background as the wine itself. Nearly all purchased a bottle, some took out a case.
“We blend everything here. I love learning how different aromatics and flavors work together,” he told another group from Canada.
The couple started the winery in 2009 in the garage of their home in West Seattle. It didn’t take long for them to realize wine making was more than a hobby. They moved to Manson a couple years later and started their business on leased property. They later purchased six acres and opened their present winery and tasting room in April 2014.
“We came here on vacation and were having a glass of wine and looking over the lake and decided, this is it,” said Lacey, about their decision to move from Seattle to Lake Chelan. “We knew we didn’t want to be an urban winery. We wanted the wine country lifestyle.” Lacey splits her time between the tasting room, marketing their wines and working as marketing manager for the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce.
The couple looked at several locations in Washington and Oregon before deciding Lake Chelan was the ideal spot to start a winery, grow a vineyard and grow a family.
Cairdeas specializes in making wines inspired by the Rhone Valley of southern France. Syrah is the primary grape, often co-fermented with a small amount of Viognier for fragrance. Charlie seeks out exotic grapes like Roussanne, Marsanne, Picpoul, Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan, Counoise and Cinsault for blending.
“We love the aromas and flavors of Rhone blends,” Charlie said. Blends from such grapes are common in France, but still very new to Washington wine drinkers. “Even people who are familiar with wine aren’t familiar with our wine varietals.” Cairdeas bottled about 2,500 cases this year, but plans to increase production after a new winery and tasting room is built on the present site next year.
Charlies says he learns more about winemaking with each batch and each year. The tasting room wall covered with awards shows he’s come far fast. He gives Lacey credit for his winning blends.
“She tastes everything and tells me when my work is done,” he said.
Here are my notes on the four Cairdeas wines now available. The 2013 Syrah will be released later this year to wine club members only.
2013 Southern White: This classic Southern Rhone blend of Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne, with smaller amounts of Picpoul Blanc and Viognier is lively with fragrances of ripe fruit, lemon and spice. A smooth drinking wine that is refreshingly different from the usual Washington white varietals. $22
2013 Nellie Mae: This may be my favorite white wine of the year. Wonderful tropical fragrances of 60 percent Viognier float off the Roussanne foundation that gives this blend a lightness that at the same time is very substantial, smooth and lingering. Very tasty! $22
MV Tri: This is a terrific blend of three different vintages of Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache Noir and Petite Sirah. Uncommonly smooth and silky on the palate, this one kept opening with aromas of clove, pepper, licorice and hibiscus and flavors full of ripe blackberries, coffee and raspberry-chocolate. $34
2012 Consonance: Equal parts Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot marry nicely with smaller amounts of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon in this Bordeaux-style blend. Grapes are well selected from Wahluke Slope, Rattlesnake Hills and Red Mountain vineyards. Smooth, complex and delicious. $34
2013 Syrah: Three-year-old Eugene Lybecker’s colorful art decorates the label of this tasty wine. Syrah co-fermented with 4 percent Viognier makes for a silky, feather-soft wine that had me thinking of a bicycle ride along the Mediterranean coast. Super ripe blackberries, with notes of nutmeg, cardamon, cumin, cinnamon and a touch of cayenne. Careful with this one, it’s a 14.5 percent alcohol delicious bomb. Available only to wine club members.