Thursday, February 01, 2018

Wine-and-chocolate pairing: Love them, love them not!

The verdict is in: Some wine lovers enjoy a bite of chocolate with a sip of red wine, and others do not. Opinions by winemakers and wine writers for loving or not loving these two luxurious “food groups” can be as contentious as ... well ... as the recent presidential election.
There are numerous articles claiming one must stop the “silliness” of pairing chocolate confections with wine, while other reviewers celebrate the union of these rich mates on the palate.
Some critics of wine-and-chocolate pairings even go as far as picking on the red-foil heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolate gooey centers, nuts and chews. (I must admit, I rather love the tacky, nostalgic heart-shaped boxes.)

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Story in a Bottle

Wine is personal. It’s personal when it comes to favored tastes and aromas, but there are often personal stories in a bottle of wine. Sometimes the stories are from the winemaker, and sometimes there are new stories and memories to be made by the collector of the bottle. Today, wine consumers want to know everything about a bottle of wine – and they want to hear the story.                           

In the Walla Walla Valley, there are many stories, and many wine labels reminiscent of memories right out of an old family scrapbook. One of these labels tell a story about a man who would eventually blaze a trail of history - - literally. 


Monday, May 01, 2017

Mother Earth: Vines, Wines, and Moms

Studies have shown a mother’s impulse to love and protect her child appears to be hard-wired. This impulse is often referred to as “maternal instinct.” Is there a mother’s impulse to love and protect the wines and vines, as well?  In the Walla Walla Valley, it is certainly true. 
There are at least 1,200 people employed in the Walla Walla Valley wine industry. This number includes winemakers, production, hospitality, retail, and administration. Women are still under-represented in this industry, but they are certainly not excluded. 

In the U.S. there are roughly 10 percent of wineries that have female winemakers, yet the number is growing. In the Walla Walla Valley there are over a dozen women winemakers that are also mothers who wear that “purple badge” of honor on their hands – it’s the lingering stain of the grape that tends to make a mess of a new manicure or a favorite article of clothing.           


Saturday, April 01, 2017

Keepers of the Vines

After a very long and unusually hard winter’s nap, the grapevines of the Walla Walla Valley are beginning to come alive.                                                                                                             

The Valley is home to 116 vineyards with a total combined of 3,100 acres of wine grapes. SeVein Vineyards, home of the original Seven Hills Vineyard first planted in 1980, is one of the first commercial vineyards in the area and is located on the southern border of the Walla Walla AVA in Oregon State.


Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Rose': The Drink of Kings

Often known as a girlie drink because it's so pretty in pink... 

It was the drink fit for kings and aristocrats.

Provence is a historical province of southeastern France. It is known for its vast fields of lavender, as well as known for being the oldest wine growing region in France. It was in 600 B.C. when the Greeks founded the area and introduced the first grape vines. 

The first wines to be made in Provence were Rosés, and by the end of the 20th century, that lovely blushing wine would find its way to Walla Walla.                                                                                                       
Rosé – Rosato - Rosado, no matter in France, Italy, or Spain; the meanings are the same – pink. French-inspired Rosé wines are made from red grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Pinot Noir, and Syrah; to name a few of the red grapes often used for Rosé wines, and even Pinot Gris (aka Pinot Grigio), a white fleshed grape with a pinkish gray skin. In Italy their Rosato’s are typically produced from the popular red grapes, Sangiovese or Nebbiolo; and in Spain their Rosados are often produced from their widely grown red grape, Tempranillo.

And yes – to those who were entranced with the creation of “White Zinfandel,” a pink off-dry “blush” wine introduced in the mid-1970’s that would technically be considered a Rosé, and yes – it is made from the very dark red grape, Zinfandel. There are no pink or white Zinfandel grapes growing on the vines in California. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Bring Out Some Elder Vintages

“Out with the old and in with the new” is a concept many people celebrate as December ends and a new year begins. However, it isn’t always accurate when it comes to wine; there, it’s more about “out with the oldest, and in with the old.”
Many a wine-lover can quote lines from the movie “The Jerk,” starring Steve Martin. His character, Navin Johnson, is dining, and when the waiter asks if Navin would like another bottle of Chateau Latour, from a prominent 18th-century French winery, Navin exclaims, “Ah yes, but no more 1966. Let’s splurge! Bring us some fresh wine! The freshest you’ve got — this year! No more of this old stuff.”

Monday, April 04, 2016

Go West, Pinot Noir Lovers

The following appeared in the Yakima Magazine, a monthly publication of the Yakima Herald News.

In 1865, Horace Greeley, an American author was quoted in the New York Tribune encouraging America’s expansion westward, “Go West, Young Man, Go West…” Who knew that a little detour to the south of the Columbia River, to the now abundant Willamette Valley, would pay off? 

The Cayuse War of 1847, an armed conflict between the Cayuse people of the Walla Walla region and the United States Army, resulted in most of Eastern Washington being closed off to possible settlements in the Walla Walla and Yakima areas. 

In the mean time, before the Cayuse treaty was established in 1859, new settlements had been channeled around the area of conflict further west to the Puget Sound area, and especially to southern Oregon near the Willamette Valley. Among one of the settlers was Henderson Luelling, a horticulturist who traveled to the area and planted the first known grapes in the Oregon Territory in 1847. 

Similar to the regions of Washington Territory near the great Columbia River, the European and French-Canadian presence was also known among the “French Prairie” at Champoeg located in the Willamette Valley. The immigrants brought with them grape stock from their European homes and experimented with many wine grape varieties, until the Prohibition era banned all alcoholic beverages from 1920 to 1933. 

After the Prohibition era, there wasn’t much of a presence of wine grapes in the State of Oregon, especially not much wine, other than the occasional “country” wines made with the local Oregon fruit sources, such as Marionberry, pear, and other orchard fruit-style wines — or at least not until the 1960’s when the first Pinot Noir grape vines were planted in Oregon. 

Pinot Noir is a red grape variety with a reputation for being finicky in the vineyard and finicky in the vat. The thin-skinned grape in its tightly packed cluster and shaped like a pine cone, is grown all around the world yet takes comfort in cool regions, and particularly thrives in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. It’s a temperamental grape that viticulturist and winemakers alike, love to hate and hate to love, but the consumer has fallen in love with this historic grape with roots as deep as its vines, dating back to 100 AD in the Burgundy region of France. The grape is known to produce some of the finest wines in the world with its flavor notes and essences of cherries, strawberries, and herbs. 

Today in the Willamette Valley, and all through Oregon, there are a total of over 20,000 acres planted in Pinot Noir and over 500 wineries with many producing Pinot Noir. The Willamette Valley is designated as an American Viticultural Area (AVA), with a total of six sub-AVA’s. American Viticultural Areas are known as designated wine grape-growing regions in the United States. They are distinguishable by geographic features and their boundaries are defined by the United States Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The following sub-AVA’s within the Willamette Valley are: Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, and Yamhill-Carlton. 

The wine country of the Willamette Valley area is vibrant — and not just with wineries. There is great farm-to-table dining, lodging, shopping, tourist attractions, annual Pinot Noir celebrations, and a scenic jaunt of around 60 miles to the Pacific Ocean. Here are three, not to be missed wineries of the Willamette Valley… 

Domaine Drouhin

Domaine Drouhin - Oregon
Domaine Drouhin Oregon (DDO) in Dayton, may be a state-of-the art winery, but it brings with it deep historic roots from France. The DDO vineyards and wines are known for their “French soul” — produced with Oregon soil. The Drouhin Family has been making wine since its early days in France when it first established Joseph Drouhin wines back in 1880. 

Across the globe in 1961, the third generation of the Drouhin family “discovered” Oregon, and by 1987, Drouhin purchased land in the Willamette Valley. Two years later the Domaine Drouhin Oregon winery was opened with an emphasis on Pinot Noir. This was a perfect partnership as the Willamette Valley is at the same latitude as the Burgundy region of France, as well as a similar climate, making it the perfect home for the finicky Pinot Noir grapes to thrive. 

Today the fourth-generation Drouhin family is behind the beautiful French-inspired wines that come out of Oregon. Don’t just stop at tasting their Pinot Noir, but take a moment for a worthy sip of their Chardonnay as well. 

Stoller Family Estate 

Stoller Family Estate
It started as a turkey farm in the 1940’s by the Stoller family, located in the farm land of the Dundee Hills. Throughout the next five decades, the turkey farm would grow from a small family farm to one of Oregon’s largest poultry operations. When the farm closed in 1993, Bill Stoller, whose father and uncle originally started the farm, took the opportunity to purchase the land from a cousin. The old farm buildings and property would be alive once again keeping with its agriculture roots; however this time the only turkey to be found would be on the label of a bottle of wine. 

Staying true to Bill Stoller’s rural Oregon upbringing, Stoller’s quest for sustainability earned the vineyard the first-ever LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification in the world. At this time their vineyard is the largest contiguous vineyard in Oregon’s Dundee Hills. The property spans 373 acres, with approximately 190 acres dedicated to growing vines at elevations ranging from 220 to 640 feet, and over 120 acres dedicated to Pinot Noir. The winery grounds are peaceful with views of the vineyards from all around. Melissa Burr, head winemaker has been with Stoller since 2003. Once again, don’t stop at the Pinot Noir, but if in season, seek out their cool crisp and mouth watering Pinot Noir Rosé. It’s pretty and it’s pink. 

WillaKenzie Estate 

WillaKenzie Winery
If you are a fan of Pinot Noir then you have definitely struck gold when you reach the doors of WillaKenzie, with at least 10 different Pinot Noirs to sample from their variety of Pinot Noir clones, to the various elevations from which the vines are grown. There’s a French term used in agriculture known as “terroir,” meaning a “sense of place.” Indeed, WillaKenzie Estate Wines gives meaning to “sense of place” with the distinct elevations and various soils on the one parcel of land. Owner and winemaker of WillaKenzie, Bernard Lacroute grew up in a small village in the Burgundy region of France. Accepting a fellowship to study in America, he eventually found his way to Oregon. In 1991 Lacroute and his partner, Ronni Lacroute purchased the 420 acre cattle farm in the Yamhill area and began planting the vines. In 1995, the winery was ready for business. 

When visiting the WillaKenzie tasting room, a three or a five flight of Pinot Noir is encouraged. Discover the differences, especially to focus on the uniqueness and even the similarities that each distinguished Pinot Noir brings to the palate. 

This is just a short day or perhaps a long afternoon of the bounty of Pinot Noir to be found in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. No, you won’t make it to all of the wineries, but you can come back for another visit or two, right? 

Catie McIntyre Walker - Author

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