Escape from Seattle: Chilling at SageCliffe’s Cave B Inn

caveb_sunset_500The SageCliffe website says it best: Where the Columbia River carves through the sunny center of Washington State, there is a destination. A place where you can experience all that the land has to offer. A place where you can share a glass of wine with the winemaker, savor seasonal, regional foods, be moved by the dramatic view…

caveb_main_500Dreamy enough?

Those words capture my first experience at SageCliffe resort exquisitely. My brief stay was like taking the best parts (potential and realized) of my three days in the Yakima Valley and rolling them into one perfect day, technically in Quincy. (You know the place: it’s next to the Gorge Amphitheatre, and typically sold out–or bought out by the band–when there’s a concert happening.)

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Upon approach to SageCliffe, I’m awestruck by the Columbia River Gorge, and then once on the grounds, the site of the vineyards makes me realize I’m in for a treat. Or many treats, starting with a chance to chat with Freddy Arrendondo, a former chef who brings his culinary skills into play as the winemaker for the Cave B Inn Estate Winery. Arrendondo, who is passionate about blending wines and food pairing, is fond of saying, “Wine is a food.”

caveb_cellar_500We sit in the cellar (once a unique place to hear live music–and maybe again in the future) tasting and an incredible number of wines and bantering about them. While I’m struck by talk of the return of the rosés, which Arrendondo says pair well with the smokiness and sweetness of grilled food, my favorite is the 2006 Merlot–so much so that in an unusual twist, that wine will dictate my dinner choice, and not vice-versa.

But not before checking into my home for the night. Perched on 900-foot basalt cliffs (this material features prominently in the make of the buildings), Cave B Inn has 30 rooms, half of which are Cliffehouses like the one in which I’m staying. My room is spacious, with high ceilings and enough glass for exposure to natural light, but also the right amount of privacy.

(At the time of my visit, the Chiwana Village was just being completed, so I didn’t get a close look at the yurts. But if you think that you’d be roughing it, note that the 25 yurts feature king-size beds, roof sky domes, private baths, iPod docking stations, and wifi connectivity.)

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There’s much to do here, from hiking to biking, boating down the river to swimming in the Cliffside swimming pool, rock-climbing and more. But this outdoor non-extremist, slowed some by wine, is ready to relax. I’m not sure which is more compelling: the chairs on my arbor-covered terrace with its panoramic view of the gorge and the coming sunset, or the comfortable couch in front of the fireplace (which is actually a two-sider, also facing the bedroom).

sagecliffe_Tendrils_N_500Soon, though, it’s time for dinner, which means a short walk to the main lodge where Tendrils Vineyard Restaurant is located. Remember that merlot? I do, meaning the lamb will be my choice, and a perfect match for the wine. My companion skips the entrées and opts for an array of smaller plates, as she loves variety.

The dishes (a few extra make their way to our table) are delightful, generally well-prepared and delicious. I’m tired of the confit craze, but duck confit beefs up some fennel-leek soup; even better is the grapevine-smoked Columbia River steelhead that I sample.

Other favorites:

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Asparagus with hazelnuts, watercress, shaved fennel, and cabernet vinaigrette equals the taste of summer.

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Warm lobster with brandy cream and lemon popover–fun presentation.

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Seared scallops with pea shoots, angel hair pasta, herbs, and saffron butter–wonderful!

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Roasted carrot raviolis with fried carrot chips, shallot-tarragon creme fraiche, and snap peas–pillows of pleasure.

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Spice-crusted Washington lamb loin with carrots, wilted greens, and sweet potato hash–the perfect pairing for my merlot.

 

caveb_sunset_cliffehouse_320We enjoy dinner inside, but as it’s an absolutely gorgeous evening, we move to the deck to enjoy dessert, a cheese plate (including some prime picks from Monteillet Farms), and coffee while watching the sunset. (In the photo to the right, my Cliffehouse is taller of the buildings, on the right.)

Chef Joe Ritchie steps outside to chat with us for a while. A former sous chef at the Herbfarm, he raves about the slower pace of life in the area, the opportunity to get to know local suppliers, the joy of having the garden right outside the restaurant, and the challenges of the changing weather. But it turns out that change is in store for him, as he recently returned to Seattle and is currently working at Poppy.

(SageCliffe is currently seeking someone to replace Ritchie, but the kitchen is still active–and you can be part of it. Chef Weekends offer hands-on workshops with wine and food. In fact, Ethan Stowell is on the program later this month, followed by John Howie early winter.)

caveb_hike_500The next morning, as comfortable as the room is, I wake early to take advantage of the morning light, and take a stroll on Steep Trail to the Columbia River Trail. It’s a little steep at the start, but very manageable, and both gorgeous and inspirational. I stop so often to enjoy the view that time starts running short (and my stomach starts rumbling); I don’t make it to the rocky beach, but that leaves the trek as something to do another time.

Appetite again intact, it’s time for breakfast, and one last chance to sit outside and enjoy the landscape. I survey the mountains to the northwest and start imagining my upcoming days in the Wenatchee Valley and Leavenworth, but return to the moment and revel in the time spent here. My companion proclaims Cave B Inn, along with the Inn at Langley, as her favorite getaway destinations in the Seattle area.

Sad to leave, we talk about returning someday to see the view again and maybe check out the on-site spa. I initially think it’s too far, but then remember the words of Arrendondo, himself a bit of a world traveler. “Get over the driving and get over to Cave B,” he admonishes, “Especially for crush.” (Check out the happenings for Harvest Festival.) At just over two hours from Seattle, the drive is the perfect amount of time to reach SageCliffe, which bills itself suitably as “a place of serenity and stunning panoramas.”

(Note: Winery tasting room, Cliffehouse interior, and Tendrils interior shots courtesy of Yanmei Shi.)

First published on TheSunbreak.com on October 8, 2010.

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