Specialty gift and wine store opens
By Tara Nelson
When Christy Lonquist, of Blaine, opened Northern Meadows,
a wine and gift shop on Peace Portal Drive earlier this month,
she wanted to give Blaine residents a shopping experience
Lonquist, a native of Oroville, Washington, a border town north of Wenatchee, moved to Blaine with her husband Rodny more than 11 years ago as part of her former career as a customs house broker.
She said she got the idea to open a gift store for her store from a trip to Sonoma County, California with her sisters.
“We spent three days going to all these little gift shops in the vineyards,” she said. “You get a glass and you walk around and buy things. It’s a very relaxed and easygoing atmosphere. I kind of wanted to create that here.”
Here at her store on the corner of Peace Portal Drive and H Street, customers (21 years and older, of course) can sample a glass of wine and browse her selection of wine, gifts, food and other locally-made crafts from around Washington state, such as the goat’s milk soap, lotion and salt scrubs from Grace Harbor Farms in Custer; kitchen goods such as a beautiful hand-carved Narra wood bowl by John Novak in Bellingham; locally-made felted wool hats; crocheted purses and rugs from Colville; as well as framed photographs by Blaine photographers Jack Kintner and Allie Ryser, and photographs by Steve McKinley of Lynden.
In the corner of the room, Lonquist transformed an old bank vault that pre-dates 1910 into a wine cellar. And, in the back, she created a workroom where she crafts beautiful custom-made gift baskets on request.
“People tell me what they want or how much they want to spend, or if they want them with or without alcohol, and I put it together for them,” she said.
Not all of her gifts are from Washington, however. The Tuscan Vineyard candles ($14.95), for example, are from one of California’s wine regions but make a great gift, regardless. A pack of three comes neatly wrapped in cellophane with bunches of real grapes inside, giving the candles a delicious fragrance that scents up your home in a few minutes.
And, for those who enjoy a snifter of port during the holidays or just wine all year long, Lonuist samples at least one or two wines per day, with the selection rotating daily.
Lonquist said she was also thinking of sampling some of her food items such as the lobster, crab and smoked salmon pate, which are made locally on Salt Spring Island in lower British Columbia ($5.95 or $11.85 with mini spatula and netted gift wrapping), her eclectic line of jams and jellies that include such curious flavors as blackberry guava daiquiri, brandied raspberry peach, Chardonnay, fresh garlic, hot pepper, pinot noir and sweet pepper.
“We’re not just a wine store,” she said. “I’ve heard a couple people say they’re not going to come in because it’s a wine store so I want to emphasize that.”
wine, in fact, was an after thought, she said.
“I originally wanted to open a gift shop,” she said. “But then I thought I should do something a little more diversified if I want to make it in Blaine.”
The regularly scheduled wine tastings could also fill an underutilized niche in Blaine’s less-than-hopping nightlife.
Last Friday, for example, approximately 20 Blaine and Birch Bay residents attended a sampling of a line of desert wines by Samson Estates winery in Everson. The Oro, Samson’s own hazelnut wine ($11.95), was so popular, it sold out that night.
“It’s a very versatile wine,” said
Dhar Dhaliwal, who owns Samson Estates along with his brother
and helped host the wine tasting.
Dhaliwal said he recommends drinking the lightly-sweet and nutty wine over ice, in steamed milk or in espresso drink similar to an Irish Coffee or in steamed egg nog.
The Framboise ($9.99), a raspberry desert wine, was also delicious with a bright, ruby color, fruity aroma and a tart flavor similar to a mouthful of raspberries.
Samson’s Blu, or blueberry port, was powerfully sweet, like a port wine would be, and Dhaliwal recommended pouring the purple concoction over ice cream or sipping straight while smoking a fine cigar. The wine also won a silver medal at the 2005 Tri-Cities Wine Festival.
“It’s about as close
to a port wine as you can get,” he said.
The Cassis ($9.99), however, was this reporter’s favorite with a tart flavor and complex aroma of black currants, chocolate, nuts, and steak, which it incidentally pairs well with.
great gift wines include Pasek Cellar’s
delightful cranberry wine ($11.85), which tastes almost
identical to its non-alcoholic cousin; Moser Cleto’s
Campo De Borja, a red wine of Spain that comes in a unique
sand-coated bottle ($7.49); and the Neuschwanstein Castle’s
Riesling from Germany that comes in a hand-painted bottle
Lonquist said she has other wine tastings and special events planned for January, including a demonstration of how to taste Italian wines and a grand opening party, though she hasn’t yet scheduled the exact dates.
“There’s so many things we can do,” she said.
Northern Meadows is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. They can be reached by calling 332-4921.