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Winery releases new lavender-flavored blend

When life hands her lemons, Kathy Charlton is the type of woman who makes lemonade.

Or, in this case, when a cooler-than-usual summer produced less-ripe-than-usual grapes, Charlton turned what one person might have deemed 100 gallons of useless berry liquid into 42 cases of lavender wine. Le Mélange Nouveau, French for “the new blend,” was released July 12 along with Olympic Cellars Winery’s new Gracefully Aging Red, a 2006 Zinfandel.

Le Mélange Nouveau is made with grapes from Dungeness Bay Vineyard, located off Lotzgesell Road and owned by Tom Miller, and flavored with lavender buds from Angel Farm. Coincidently, the vineyard is located across the street from the cemetery where Gene Neuharth, founder of Olympic Cellars, is buried. Neuharth was a grape grower from California who retired and moved to Sequim with a vision of growing grapes in the cooler, wetter region.

“We’ve gone full circle,” said Charlton, Olympic Cellars co-owner.

Though Charlton and her business partner Molly Rivard were unsure how the lavender-flavored wine would turn out, the duo is pleasantly pleased. “I was afraid the citrus flavor of the grapes and the lavender would fight against each other but they don’t, they complement each other,” Charlton said.

Le Mélange Nouveau is the second wine Olympic Cellars has released using Olympic Peninsula-grown grapes. Le Vin Nouveau, which translates to “the new wine,” was released in 2007.

A complete grape study is available on the winery’s Web site, www.olympiccellars.com, mapping where grapes grow best on the Olympic Peninsula.

Will more peninsula-based wines be released in the future? You bet, answered Charlton and Rivard in unison. “This is a growing vision just as lavender was 12 years ago,” Charlton said. “The peninsula will never be eastern Washington but it can produce unique flavored wine unlike anywhere else and be paired with Dungeness seafood, produce and other entrees.”

Bottles of the limited edition lavender wine will be available for sale at Olympic Cellars, off U.S. Highway 101 East, during the 12th annual Lavender Festival July 18-20. Volunteers will serve the wine by the glass as part of the first-ever culinary tour at Angel Farm, located off Old Olympic Hwy.

Each lavender farm on tour is hosting a cooking demonstration Sunday, July 20. A complete schedule is available in the Sequim Lavender Festival official program produced by the Sequim Gazette.

Cathy Angel, owner of Angel Farm, said she is delighted to play a part in the making of Le Mélange Nouveau — even if it’s a small part.

“The main reason I am so thrilled is because I love what they do at Olympic Cellars Winery,” Angel said. “It’s not just the wine; it’s their attitude toward the community and empowering women. They are an inspiration.”

Though Angel takes minimal credit when it comes to producing the wine, harvesting culinary lavender is no easy task. The plants must be properly watered and tended year-round.

Hundreds of different types of lavender exist, Angel said, and not all of them are culinary. In her experience, lavender plants in the “English” family are the best for cooking, she recommended. “They are smaller, softer, sweeter and not as strongly scented, yet they are deep in color and beautiful.”

Non-culinary varieties of lavender, which often are strongly scented, tend to be overpowering if used as a cooking ingredient, the veteran lavender farmer advised.

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