Friday, December 24, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a Wine Christmas in Walla Walla

Yes. I am still here.

When people ask me what the most important thing about "owning" a blog, I tell them, "Be consistent."

Uh oh, I haven't followed my own rule very well. My reason? The last couple of months I have been out of sorts. I am such a creature of schedules and routines and somewhere, in the last couple of months, I have misplaced them and now trying to develop new ones. You see for the last 10 years I worked for a law office and had my routines and definite schedules. Now I am no longer stuck in a small office area manning eight phone lines with little hope of stretching my legs and maybe catching a bathroom break. Lunch? At 2:00 pm - - maybe. No longer am I keeping track of 15 people. No longer am I listening to potential client's insurmountable problems and pairing them with the right attorney. No longer am I the office guard dog deciding who gets to see the great and powerful Wizard, Dorothy. Now I have a new boss - - me. My new boss is trying to find her way.

There is so much I want to blog about and I don't know where to start. The last four months have been busy! In September I visited the wineries of Leavenworth, Chelan and Wenatchee. It was a wonderful weekend spent with 12 other wine bloggers from Washington State. In October I spent a weekend as a guest of Maryhill Winery, along with two other wine bloggers and a handful of travel writers, at the Columbia River. We toured the area, as well as Hood River. Later in October I was asked to be a judge for the 2010 Idaho Wine Competition held at Ste. Chapelle Winery in Caldwell. I have my list of highlights of the Walla Walla Holiday Barrel Tasting, complete with photos.

In the last four months I have tasted several Walla Walla wines from the many wineries, besides other wines from Washington, Idaho and Oregon and at least a hundred-plus imports. Oh yes, then I took on the project of remodeling a building in downtown Walla Walla - - and now that building holds a wine store. In the mean time, I am still here and every day I think I am going to sit down and blog. And when I finally find time, a spell of writer's block takes over. Oh sure, I have several topics to blog about, but when I look at my keyboard I feel paralyzed. Can't explain it, but it happens.

A new year is upon us and so is a new resolution. I am woman (a Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman), hear me roar. Blogging blogs too big to ignore!

One of the joys of the holiday season is the opportunity to say thank you. Thank you for reading me since 2005. May you dream of a Wine Christmas.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

From Rome to Walla Walla: Secco Italian Bubbles

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting with one of Walla Walla's newest residents - Ginevra Casa Smith. Oh sure, the Smith name sounds familiar right? Ginevra (left) and sister Olivia moved from Rome, Italy to the United States where they settled in Colorado. Not only did they pack their bags for their destination, but they packed their history, enthusiasm and passion for wine. Ginevra went to work as an Italian Wine Specialist for a Colorado distributor for four years and Olivia found a place in the wine business, as well. It was a natural for the two of them, with their strong backgrounds in wine, to dream about a wine project of their own.

Soon Ginevra became a new bride and honeymooned in Veneto with her new groom. Oh, and her groom is also a winemaker - - Walla Walla's Charles Smith. Now does the name "Smith" sound familiar? Together the honeymooners discovered wine, as well as sparkling blends in Italy.

Ginevra reminded me about the recent changes to Prosecco laws in Italy. Only the producers in the DOC and DOCG zones are now allowed to call their wine, "Prosecco." Sparkling wines produced in the IGT designation now have to call their sparkling wines, Glera - the name of the white grape variety mainly cultivated for use in Italian sparklers. The term "Prosecco" will be used to identify the region, just like the Champagne region in France, and also the sparkler will be produced with the Glera grape.

What does this mean? It means that if you are not in the Prosecco region and you are not using the Glera grape, blending the Glera grape or making a Rosé sparkler, you cannot use the name,"Prosecco."

So what's Italian girls suppose to do when they can no longer have their favorite Italian bubbles? Well, they make their own! And that is exactly what Ginevra and Olivia did. Ginevra and Olivia kept their Italian tradition alive by creating their own brand, "Secco Italian Bubbles!" And when I asked Ginevra if it was okay to mention Charles when it came to her business, she was delighted to tell me how Charles was instrumental in suggesting that Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) be used in their rosé blend.

"Secco Italian Bubbles" are fun, sexy and food friendly sparklers from Northern Italy. Secco white is a blend of the 60% Pinot Bianco and 40% Prosecco (Glera). It is crisp with fruit and floral notes and finishes dry with a light herbal note. Secco Rosé is not only pretty in the glass, but very swoon-worthy. The blend of 60% Prosecco and 40% Pinot Nero tickles the nose with aromas of roses and then tickles the mid-palate with "fizzy" cherries and berries. Seriously? I had a glass of the Secco Rosé for lunch. Oh yeah and with a chocolate cookie. See? I told you these sparklers were food friendly. Secco Italian Bubbles are luxury wines with affordable price tags.

Ginevra is charming so please take the opportunity next Wednesday, December 15 to meet her at Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman from 5-7 and sample for yourself these fun and flirty Secco Italian Bubbles.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Walla Walla Holiday Barrel Tasting and Treasure Maps

These are treasure maps of wineries leading you to an abundance of jewels such as gold chardonnays, ruby red merlots and purple amethyst cabernets. They are comprehensive maps of the area’s wineries together mapping out over a 100 wineries in the Walla Walla Valley, including Milton-Freewater, Oregon and Dayton in Columbia County, Washington.

Tourism Walla Walla partnered with the city’s Geographic Information System group to create the map, while Michele Rennie, Tourism Walla Walla’s board chair, gathered the list of wineries along with their addresses and phone numbers. The maps should never be obsolete because as new wineries pop up in the valley, as they often do, the city’s GIS group can immediately update the maps.

These four two-sided maps are conveniently divided into concentrated areas of wineries including: Downtown Walla Walla, Eastside, Westside, Southside and Oregon. Also included on the maps are major hotels and B&B's.

The colorful maps are printed on tablet like tear-sheet forms and available at the Tourism Walla Walla Visitor Center, as well as the hotels, B&B’s and the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce. Also, they are very easy to locate and print from Tourism Walla Walla’s website in PDF form.

Holiday Barrel Tasting starts today and the release of these new maps will make it convenient for tourists, and even locals, to have a better understanding of what to realistically plan for, driving and timewise, when visiting the wineries. Also, speaking of Holiday Barrel Tasting, check out what the wineries have in store for you at the Walla Walla Wine Alliance - - and don’t forget the Annual Macy’s Christmas Parade of Lights on Saturday at 6:00 pm. I cannot think of a better way to get in the holiday spirit than a visit to Walla Walla.

Remember to eat well, hydrate well and discover a new wine that you have never tried before. Cheers!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

NewAir Wine Cooler is Cool!

Let's say that after the Holiday Barrel Tasting in Walla Walla this weekend you finally get home to discover that you bought a lot of wine! Now, you have to remove the vacuum cleaner out of the closet to stuff all of those bottles of wine into. The only problem is the closet is right next to the furnace.

Chances are you spent a little bit of cash to buy a nice collection of assorted wines from the various wineries in Walla Walla. Keeping wine at the proper temperature is imperative if you want to keep the same true aromas and flavors that gave you the reason to buy the bottles of wine in the first place. If you keep wine at too cool of a temperature, you can risk the flavors being lost. Too warm? The aging process can speed up and actually "cook" the wine.

So let's talk wine coolers - - and no I am not talking about the bottle of adult soda pop with a little bit of so-called wine in it from the 1980's. I'm talking about a cool place to store your wine in. Late summer I was on the hunt for a little wine cooler. I wanted a wine cooler that I could keep just a few bottles cool and one with dual temps with two separate compartments - one for white and another for red wines. It was important that I have a cooler with a slim style that would fit in a corner and most of all, one that I could pick up and move easily with my old arthritic fingers and useless thumbs.

Bacchus the God of Wine must have heard my wish as Stephanie from Air n Water Inc. came to my rescue. Stephanie generously offered to send me a thermoelectric wine cooler as a sample to check out for my very own!

The wine cooler was delivered to my door and the first thing I noticed, and very surprised, how light it was, weighing in around 45-50 lbs - - the weight of a case of wine. It was the perfect size for me to haul to its permanent place. I was sent NewAir Model #AW-210ED. The wine cooler is a simple, but attractive, black cabinet with stainless steel trimmed handles on dual doors with dual temperature zones. Perfect to keep a separate selection of red and white wines at different temperatures.

The capacity is 21 bottles and the actual cooler size is 32 1/4" (H) x 13 1/2" (W) x 20" (D). I did notice that the racks are designed more for Bordeaux-shaped bottles, but after removing one or two of the handy racks, I was able to stuff the cooler with lots of bottles of bubbly.

One of the biggest features that I really like about the NewAir AW-210ED, besides being compact, is the duel temps. The cabinet's upper and lower zones are independently refrigerated allowing me to chill two different types of wine at once. The control settings were easy for me to operate with a touch button panel with a very visible LED display. One more thing - - it is quiet and doesn't vibrate. This little unit just sits in the corner and does its thing. It is reasonably priced at $285.99, but I believe there is a price break going on for the holidays.

Keep you and your wine cool, calm and collected with this great little wine cooler from NewAir.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Renegade Thanksgiving with Wine

I know your type. You're the one who is so predictable about what wines you are going to serve at your Thanksgiving table. You are about as predictable as those little marshmallows you top on your sweet potatoes. Or perhaps I am giving you too much credit when I say, "wines." If I know you, it is usually just one bottle of wine. I also know that you have perused through the Family Day and Women's Circle magazines at the grocery check-out trying to figure out what wine goes with turkey. Oh what a surprise! The magazines both agree that the only wine to go with turkey is Pinot Noir. However, this year the journalist is really living on the edge as she suggest to her readers to impress their friends and family with a "fresh" wine - a Beaujolais Nouveau.

Oh wait! You're thinking. "I have seen the Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais Nouveau, but it was a 2009 and on sale in a grocery cart in the center of the wine aisle. I will get that instead of the 2010. It's got a little age on it ... "

Okay, listen up you silly pilgrim. Thanksgiving is about the bounty, right? Traditionally, this day was a time to give thanks for a bountiful harvest. Today, Thanksgiving is a time to, not only celebrate our harvest, but to express thanks and gratitude for all of the special peeps and possessions in our lives.

Thanksgiving is the time to be bountiful in the foods we bring to the table (well, except Aunt Ginny's green bean mushroom soup casserole. I can never find the mushrooms). So why should we scrimp and scrooge on the wines? Don't just put one wine glass at each place setting, place two - - or even three.

Bring out the bubbles and bring out several! Bring out bubbles from France, Italy, Spain and Domestic. Bring out all of the colors of the bubbles from golden, pink and "black" (sparkling shiraz).

The turkey is willing and ready to be paired with Rosé. It's so pretty and pink and perfect for those red wine lovers who are seeking a lighter version. In Walla Walla we have rosé produced from Cabernet Franc, Mourvèdre, and Sangiovese. And speaking of Sangiovese, the sage, thyme, onion, and sausage in your turkey dressing is made for Sangiovese.

Come on live a little, bring a bottle of Walla Walla Merlot to the kitchen and make a reduction sauce out of it that you can later toss in the cranberry compote or even the wild mushroom gravy. What you say? You make a cranberry jelly and then mold it in the shape of a can? Well, drizzle a bit of cooled Merlot redux over the jelly and you won't be sorry. And while you are in the kitchen making a reduction sauce, be sure and pour a glass for the chef. You'll need it when your least favorite cousin's girlfriend and her mother show up uninvited.

Alright! So the magazine says you need Pinot Noir for Thanksgiving, but why stop at just one bottle. Explore the world of Pinot Noir and grab a couple of bottles from different regions.

A bottle of Riesling or even Gewürztraminer can take you from the turkey to the pumpkin pie depending if the wine is dry or off-dry. An acidic white wine will cut the fat on the palate from the deep-fried turkey, while the off-dry will make for a yummy accompaniment with the pumpkin pie or gingerbread. Explore some other whites as well, such as Viognier or blends. Chardonnay will pair well with a smoked turkey and again, add a little Chardonnay to the broth when making gravy.

Bring out the "Stickies" (late harvest and ice wines) and Ports to finish the meal. And while you are at it, bring out some cigars from the humidor, as well. Hey, why not? Cigars are about the most civilized thing to smoking the peace pipe. And my point for this rant?

Break from the one bottle of Pinot Noir tradition and be a renegade. Embark on a quest from the norm like the original pilgrims. Pilgrims Priscilla and John Alden didn't have fried onions from a can to put on a green bean casserole nor did they have marshmallows to put on the sweet tubers at the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621. Through the years these recipes have been published in newspapers and magazines and have become a big part of family traditions. These casseroles are a symbol of our bounty. If you are an expert, or even a novice lover of the grape, make wines another symbol of your bounty.

Crush happens in the fall and what a perfect time to celebrate the end of wine country's harvest with wine at Thanksgiving. Cheers!

Monday, November 22, 2010

WineTrails of Walla Walla by Steve Roberts

Author Steve Roberts did it again. Steve is best known for his popular book, WineTrails of Washington that arrived in 2007. It is a comprehensive guide for visiting Washington's wineries. The book became a best-seller in 2009 and now in its fourth printing. Along the way, came two other guidebooks, WineTrails of Oregon and WineTrails of Idaho (Yes, Idaho. They have more than 40 bonded wineries). I was so excited to hear from Steve earlier when he informed me he had a new book ready to be released this month - "WineTrails of Walla Walla."

WineTrails of Walla Walla is much more than a guide for uncorking your memorable wine tour. This 250 page book contains plenty of detailed photos, wineries listings, but also lists lodging and restaurants. One of the many things about the winery guide I found so handy, yet so clever, is that each of the wineries locations are listed in five separate distinct "trails" about Walla Walla: WineTrail West, Downtown WineTrail, Airport WineTrail, WineTrail East, and WineTrail South. There is also a listing for "Apointment-Only Wineries."

And when I say WineTrails of Walla Walla is more than a guide, it also gives some wine history, wine labels, tasting notes on the varietals, winery amenities, "sipping and cycling," wine touring with kidlets, wine tasting etiquette, and shopping and recreation listings. There are even pages to jot your own wine notes. Steve says the book is the most advanced book yet.

This last Saturday I was excited to meet with Steve at the shop. I had lots of questions for him (and of course, I made him sign my copy of WineTrails of Walla Walla first).

W5: Why Walla Walla - of all of the tourist locations, why did you choose this little place that is so tough to get to?

SR: Whenever I visited I would hear accents – American accents, foreign accents – and I realized that Walla Walla had become a destination of sorts. The fact that I needed to book a hotel room well in advance on event weekends also informed me that wine lovers enjoyed going to Walla Walla. Then when Sunset Magazine named Walla Walla as one of America’s top wine destination, that crystallized it for me. Couple that with the fact that the Valley offers so much in terms of places to stay, places to eat and things to do, I realized that a guidebook was screaming to be written.

W5: How many times have you visited Walla Walla?

SR: For my first book, WineTrails of Washington, I made a dozen trips to capture the wine scene. However, that was back in 2007 and the industry has proven to be more than organic – it’s changing all the time. Thus, when it came time to do the research for WineTrails of Walla Walla I knew I had my work cut out. (W5 note: Steve also says that he isn't ready to leave his Seattle home, but he feels that Walla Walla is his "home away from home." To quote him: "She's like a mistress and a not so secret lover.")

During the winter and spring of 2010, I made 17 separate weekend trips to Walla Walla from my home in the Seattle area. Four hours and twenty minutes each way – thank God for Sirius Radio! Incidentally, I know that change is a constant in the wine industry and especially in the Walla Walla Valley. Therefore, the book has a companion website at WineTrails NW that keeps pace with the changes (or at least I try to) and I am committed to updating the book on a regular basis.

W5: Do you feel that places close by, like Walla Walla, are becoming more important to the traveler, especially with the economy and how air travel has become uncomfortable and not as desirable?

SR: Yes and not just for the so-called culinary traveler. Most folks that I meet in the tasting rooms are not connoisseurs of wine – they might go wine tasting a few times a year and typically buy wine for their evening meal. From Spokane, Boise, Portland and Seattle it is less than a five hour drive to get to Walla Walla and it makes for a fun weekend getaway. I understand that for most travelers, Walla Walla is not a day trip. However, the fact that the Valley offers so much in the way of amenities makes it a pure joy to experience. I don’t have statistics on it but I suspect that most visitors to Walla Walla are not first time visitors – they are repeat offenders because they know that they can experience amazing wines and great cuisine in small city splendor.

W5: Small city splendor. I could not have said it any better. Thank you Steve.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hang On To Your Hat. It's Nine Hats from Long Shadows

If you are familiar with Long Shadows Vintners in Walla Walla, then you probably know that the winery is a group of famous winemakers from around the world who have been producing highly rated wines from Washington State fruit since their first releases in 2003. The names of the Long Shadows wines are: Feather, Pirouette, Pedestal, Sequel, Saggi, Poet's Leap and Chester Kidder.

If you are familiar with the wines then you probably know these famous winemakers include California winemakers Randy Dunn (Feather) and Agustin Huneeus (Pirouette), Michel Rolland (Pedestal) owner of Pomerol's Chateau Le Bon Pasteur, Australian John Duval (Sequel) formerly of Penfold's Grange, Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari (Saggi), and German Riesling producer Armin Diel (Poet’s Leap). Also, local resident Walla Walla winemaker, Gilles Nicault (Chester Kidder).

So if you have a few extra barrels of highly rated Long Shadow's 2007 vintage hanging around, such as their Sangiovese, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, as well as an additional Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec, what'cha suppose to do? You make a damn good red blend out of it. You know - - something that you can hang your hat on.

And that's exactly what Long Shadow's did. "Nine Hats" is a blend of 60% Cabernet, 15% Syrah, 11% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, and 4% Cabernet Franc. Of course, if you have had any of the Long Shadows red wines, then you know they are big and ripe, and "Nine Hats" is no different. A mouth of dark fruits such as cherries and plums appear with flavors of espresso, cocoa and a bit of ye' ol' cigar box. This blend almost leaves that signature, "Yup this is a Washington wine" on your palate.

"Nine Hats" is the best of Long Shadow's with an affordable price. In the mean time, I have been staring at the label thinking there is one extra Derby. The red Derby in the middle of the label has to belong to Allen Shoup, himself, the founder of the Long Shadow's partnership and also one of the founding fathers of the Washington wine industry.

We tip our hats an' raise our glasses.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Credibility As A Wine Blogger

Yesterday, a respected wine writer wrote on his personal blog wondering now that I have started a new commercial enterprise, how will it impact this wine blog? He is wondering if my "transparency and credibility" will suffer and will this wine blog become more of a tool for commerce and less of a passionate calling?

At first thought, I was going to post my resume for the last thirty-years, stamp my feet and give all of the reasons why my credibility shouldn't suffer. Then the more I thought about it, I decided that I didn't need to explain myself. Just like my wine blog started in the beginning, I will let my readers decide its path. If there comes a day I no longer have any readers, then I guess we will have our answer on my credibility.

Wine blogging has been a hobby and in fact, one of my hobbies. I enjoy "collecting." Depending on my mood, sometimes I collect Depression glassware or 1900's-1920's furnishings. Sometimes I might collect rose bushes, vintage purses and perfume bottles or miniature grizzly bears hand carved out of stone or wood. One of my collections happens to be several old and worn biographies of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States. In fact, a photo of ol' TR hangs on the wall above the computer that I write this very blog on. Here is an old quote of Teddy's that rather sums it up for me.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Take a Stroll to Nicholas Cole

Stroll up Main Street in Walla Walla and on the corner of Main and Palouse streets you will find Nicholas Cole Cellars. The winery is very much about family and it shows in the name of the winery and the wines - even the majestic gold "NC" insignia resembles a crest which often stands for history and heraldry of family generations.

Owner and winemaker, Mike Neuffer took a thoughtful approach when naming his winery after his son and daughter, Nicholas and Michele Cole. The beautifully named artisan winery is devoted to complex and concentrated red wines. The first release for Nicholas Cole Winery was a 376 case production of a 2001 Bordeaux-style blend, a Claret, which immediately put the winery on the Walla Walla map. Production of this blend was later increased with the next vintage and Mike changed the wine's name to "Camille," in honor of his grandmother. The arrival of other bold and elegant wines, named after family members, continued.

Jeanie Inglis-Chowanietz, general manager of Nicholas Cole strolled me through the wines:

Camille - 2005: This is the wine that started it all for Nicholas Cole. A blend of 45% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Franc, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 1% Petit Verdot. It is rich and silky with notes of milk chocolate and spice.

Michele - 2006: "Rich and Ripe" are the two words to describe this classic blend of 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Petit Verdot. Smells like an autumn evening in the Walla Walla Valley. Black fruit of plum and cherries show off with hints of cocoa and cigar box.

Dauphiné - 2006: Like the name, this wine is stunning. A sophisticated Rhone-style wine of 100% Syrah. Dark and smoky with notes of blueberries, espresso and spice. Reminded me of brunch in a snowed-in cabin with a menu of blueberry waffles, bacon and a double espresso latte.

Juliet - 2006: Unfortunately this wine is now sold out. Boo-hoo! Named after Mike's sister, this wine may be elegant, but it is super! Super Tuscan, that is. 53% Sangiovese, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot. Spicy!

GraEagle RedWing - 2006: Mike has the right touch with his blending. 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc, 18% Merlot, 6% Syrah, and 3% Petit Verdot. An affordable wine for $25, yet it doesn't taste so "affordable." It tastes like a million bucks!

Estate Reserve - 2005: Last, but certainly not least. This wine is the "million-dollar baby" with a blend of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot from the Neuffer Estate Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley. Only 200 cases were produced of this instense and complex blend. A mouthful of chocolate cherries and rich cherry liquor. Velvety.

Visit Nicholas Cole's tasting room and check out the recycled, yet attractive, barrel stave paneling. Once you taste the wines you will understand why their motto is: Great wines are made ‘one vine at a time.’

Friday, November 05, 2010

Walla Walla Fall Release Weekend

In Walla Walla, for the last 29-years, the first weekend in November has long been known as the Walla Walla Wine Auction Weekend. Then in the last nine years, the weekend had an added dimension as it became the "Cayuse Vineyards Release Weekend." Basically it's this - - unless you know about "the list" or on the "waiting list to get on the list" or on "the list," this Cayuse list didn't mean anything to you.

However, what it meant to the wineries in the Walla Walla Valley, it meant: crush is over (well, not this year), polish up your building, clean the purple gunk out of your fingernails, bring out your new releases and smile because there are a whole lot of wine lovers in town! And after they are finished picking up their wines from Cayuse, they still want to find some more wineries to visit. This weekend is now known as our "Fall Release." And wouldn't you know, Cayuse Vineyards has changed their annual weekend to next spring instead.

But no frets my pretty, as there are plenty of things to do in Walla Walla and the wineries are bringing out some of their finest, showing off their newest and even have some special events planned. Now, I know I can give you my annual do's and don'ts such as: eat well, hydrate-hydrate-hydrate, don't try to do a 25-wineries-in-a-day marathon and brag about it to the last 12 wineries you visited, put the cell phone away when visiting a winery (let your secret service people take care of it since you are so damn important) and yada-yada-yada ...

However, read and get Walla Walla wine educated and make your own list, since there is no list to either be on or not be on. Which means is this - discover some of the latest wines and wineries who have recently been given medals, points and accolades. And please also remember this: just because a winery or a wine doesn't have the medals, points and accolades, doesn't mean they are not worthy to seek out. It takes a lot of time and work for the wineries to get their wines to those who give out medals, points and accolades. I mean, the wine fairy just doesn't magically show up at night and place a medal on the wines. If it were only that easy ...

Enjoy the weekend.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Seven Hills Winery - One of the Originals

Fall Release in Walla Walla is just around the corner. Many wine enthusiasts are taking note of the newest wineries around the valley and adding them to their list of wineries to seek out. But while you are making a list, don't forget to visit and re-visit some of the originals in the valley.

Seven Hills Winery is one of those "originals" in the Walla Walla Valley. The winery was established in 1988 by Casey and Vicky McClellan (Vicky - right photo). In 1982, Casey joined his father in planting the original Seven Hills Vineyard, which has since expanded with new owners and known as one of the ten greatest vineyards in the world. One has to wonder if Casey realized at the time he was participating in Walla Walla wine history in the making.

Seven Hills Winery has helped put Walla Walla on the map with their Cabernet, Merlot and other Bordeaux-style red varietals. The McClellans now have 20 acres of vines adjacent to the famed Seven Hills Vineyard. In addition to their estate wines, they also produce vineyard-designated wines from other celebrated vineyards in the Columbia Valley and Walla Walla AVA's. Surprisingly, they also produce a Pinot Gris with fruit from Oregon.

The winery and tasting room is located downtown Walla Walla in the historic Whitehouse-Crawford building at 212 North 3rd Ave. The old woodworking mill and furniture factory was built in 1904 and in 2000 the old brick building was remodeled to house, not only Seven Hills Winery, but also the popular Whitehouse-Crawford restaurant. Visitors to the winery and the restaurant can view the working barrel room from the large glass windows.

This weekend add one of the originals to your list and taste the newly released vintages from Seven Hills Winery:

Ciel du Cheval Vineyard, Red Mountain Vintage Red - 2008
Pentad, Walla Walla Valley Vintage Red Wine - 2006
Carmenere, Walla Walla Valley - 2006


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Trick 'r Treat! What's in my bag?

Halloween and Thanksgiving are my two favorite holidays. I think it has to do with the weather. I love the turning of the leaves, the fall colors and the rich sweet and smoky smells around Walla Walla. It has to be the "big kid" in me, because I love decorating for Halloween. Unfortunately, this year decorating for Halloween totally escaped me. I typically put out a collection of black cats (besides my two fat real ones, Crosby and Nash) and a smattering of pumpkins here and there. Sometimes I even invite a few "witches" over for a cup o' tea and some "lady fingers" (Umm - okay. More like glasses of vino - blood red, of course). But between my latest project I finally looked at the calendar and realized that Halloween was in a few days. Oh HELL, there's always next year.

In the mean time, I did take the time to put together a collection of wines that are purr-fect for Halloween.

Fetish "The Watcher" Shiraz - 2008 from the Barossa Valley, Australia. The label reminds me of something from the Blair Witch Project. The little crafty twigs and feathers hanging from the trees in that movie were a bit eerie, but other than that, the movie was a snooze fest. However, "The Watcher" is far from a snooze. It's vibrant! A medium-weight shiraz that is juicy and shows off dark fruit of blackberries and plum. Bits of white pepper and white chocolate surprises you and then leads you to a long finish. It's a wine that you can cellar for awhile.

Moselland Zeller Schwarze Katz Riesling (aka "The Black Cat from Zell") - 100% Riesling from Germany. A typical and affordable riesling with a fruity nose. The flavors are crisp and fresh showing off the typical Riesling acidity. Hints of lemon and apple show off a bit. Hey, this is a no-brainer. It's an affordable German riesling, but it truely is about the bottle. A collector's item for cat lovers and the kitty comes in different colors.

Thirsty Pagans Communion Red - 2005 If you are a local wine enthusiast, then you know these three notorious thirsty pagans from Walla Walla - Jeanie, Rob and Crandall. Their red blend, from the Alder Ridge Vineyard, is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 5% Malbec, and 5% Petit Verdot. The fruit is hand-picked and hand-sorted. They personally remove all bats, bugs, leaves and sticks. In other words, no MOG. No dear ones, MOG is not a Latin word or a fancy scientific viticulture word. It just means: Material Other than Grapes. How does it taste? Dark, spicy and smoky. What? You think the name is a little controversial? Of course it is! And yer point ...?

Razor’s Edge Cabernet Sauvignon - 2008 From McLaren Vale, one of Australia’s renowned wine regions, famous for producing some the best wines in the world. Razor's Edge wines are gaining a reputation from Parker and the WS as being a best buy and value for the quality. This dark bloody cabernet offers an array of harmonious flavors including black currant, beetroot, cloves and roasted chestnut. Integrated and finely grained tannin structure. It "cuts deep" into the palate.

Have a fun, but safe Halloween. BOO!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Battle Begins: Initiatives 1100 & 1105

The battle isn't just about proponents and opponents, but also just the battle of trying to understand these issues. I haven't seen an initiative yet that makes the language very clear. It is often so twisted that what you think you may be voting "yes" on, you really just voted "no" - - or vice versa.

Here are copies of the original initiatives filed (pdf):
Initiative 1100
Initiative 1105

Proponents of these initiatives feel that Washington state needs to get out of the liquor business. With the state out of the liquor business proponents of these initiatives feel the consumers will be provided with fair prices, more buying options and convenience.

Opponents of these initiatives feel that if passed, deregulation will cut over 1,000 union jobs across the state. They feel it will dismantle a system that generates over $300 million for important state and local services, besides increasing the availability of liquor to minors.

How could these initiatives affect the local wineries in the Walla Walla Valley, you ask? Here is a letter I received today.
Dear Friends,

Washington State has become the testing ground for a major new push by chain store retailers to test their political and economic clout by using the citizen’s initiative process. After losing their court battle to strip the Washington State Liquor Control Board of their mandate to regulate alcohol sales two years ago, Costco and other giant retailers are trying to circumvent this court decision by using the initiative process via Initiative I-1100.

Afraid of losing control of their own industry, distributors and manufacturers of hard liquor have also usurped the initiative process, and are promoting their own version of getting rid of the Washington State Liquor Control Board’s regulatory authority by introducing I-1105.

Both of these initiatives would allow any retailer of wine or beer to also sell hard liquor, increasing the potential number of hard liquor retailers to over 5,000, from the current 315. Yes, the current system probably results in liquor being more expensive than it would be if it was sold in gas stations and grocery stores, but a lot of the increased cost is due to taxes that the state uses to help cities and counties provide essential services. In this economy, does our state really need to lose that revenue? It would have to be made up by taxing something else, or giving up some of our already stretched public services. And why? So these huge retailers can increase their profits!

The other important issue that the promoters of these two initiatives don’t mention in their well-funded advertising, is that they both want to get rid of what is called “tied-house” rules. These rules prohibit manufacturers and distributors of alcohol from giving incentives (bribes) to retailers in order to influence their purchasing choices. These rules prevent large, wealthy companies like Gallo, Franzia, or Sutter Home, from offering free goods, free advertising, and paying for shelf space for their products at retailers like Costco, QFC, Safeway, Fred Meyer, etc. Small wineries and breweries without the money to compete, would lose sales. Eventually the consumer would only have the large, international brands to choose from as shelf space is auctioned off to the highest bidder.

For small, family owned wineries, breweries, and retailers, the tied house rules help level the playing field, making it possible for us to compete with the mega-companies. They are one reason why Washington consumers can proudly say that we have 700 wineries across the state that have some of the highest quality wine in the world.

We urge you to vote “NO” on I-1100 and I-1105. Both of these initiatives will harm Washington’s small wine and beer producers, causing many of them to close because they can’t compete with the bribes offered by huge international suppliers. The Washington State Liquor Control Board rules have been arrived at after more than 75 years of Post-Prohibition experience. I-1100 and I-1105 would get rid of them merely so that already huge companies could make even more money. Is that why we have the initiative process?

Thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy letter. These issues are not simple, but the bottom line is: Should we let the initiative process be used by big companies to help them get even bigger?

Debbie and Dave Hansen
“Mom” and “Pop” of Cougar Crest Estate Winery

Debbie later points out to me:

We certainly can’t count on getting all our information on the issues from the sponsors of the TV advertisements. Those ads only cover 1/8th of the issues involved and are certainly skewed toward the sponsors of the initiative. I contend there is a lot more at stake here than just the economics of the tax base. The issue of viability for companies that aren’t billion dollar, multi-national corporations, is also at stake. There are many small businesses and their employees at stake as well, not just the employees of the state liquor stores. Of the 700+ wineries in Washington, if you look at the smallest 690 of them, you will see they are very small businesses, certainly not able to compete financially with the big wine companies of the world that will be aggressively pursuing the Washington wine market if either one of these initiatives passes.

To me the main issue is this: There are some very large, wealthy retailers who want to become even larger and wealthier, and they have written and sponsored these initiatives in order to do so. They are stirring a tempest in a teapot in order to cover their main motives. Will we the people be able to see through the dustup in the teapot and say no, we don’t want our initiative process used to increase the profits of big corporations? We need to be questioning why do we need this initiative and who are the big beneficiaries? The difference in the taxes, where they come from and who pays them, is nothing compared to the extra profits to be made by these large corporations. Follow the money; who are the really big beneficiaries here???
My wine blogging peers, respectively, have given their opinions. John of Wine Peeps has been "agonizing and analyzing" while Sean of Washington Wine Report "boiled it down and boiled it down again." I would advise wine consuming readers to please read each blog and while you are reading, do take the time to check out what the Wine Spectator has to say about these issues, as well. Last, but not least, the Seattle Times says, "Yes" and the Seattle PI says, "No." (Note: it is important to have just one glass of wine, not two, while reading these opinions so that you don't get even more confused.)

Most important? Please vote on Tuesday, November 2. If you don't vote, you don't get a voice.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Revisit Old Friends with Friends: L'Ecole No. 41 Apogee and Perigee

The autumnal equinox is a reminder there is something going on in the sky that is bigger than all of us. It's about the changes of our planets. The sun crosses the celestial equator and moves southward in the northern hemisphere. This year the equinox coincided with a Harvest Moon - - and it was just last week the moon wasn't totally full, but it was hovering above the closest center point of the earth, which is referred to as a Perigee.

You don't have to have a telescope or wait for night to fall to take in a Perigee or even an Apogee (the opposite of Perigee, when the moon is at the greatest distance from the center of the earth). You can visit either celestial occurrence anytime you wish.

L'Ecole No. 41 Apogee - 2007: This single vineyard red is sourced from the Pepper Bridge Vineyard, known for it's premier fruit throughout the state of Washington. Apogee is a Bordeaux-style wine with a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 6% Malbec, and 4% Cabernet Franc. Since it's first release in 1993, this proprietary blend has been known for being aromatic with touches of spice, cigar box and the rich earth that is so unique to the Walla Walla Valley. Dark stone fruit of cherry and plum with a hint of black currant cassis rounds out the mouth. No matter the vintage, Apogee has shown to be an exceptional age-worthy wine.

My recent tasting of the Apogee - 2007 was a reminder to me of previous vintages that was shared around memorable and special occasions.

L'Ecole No. 41 Perigee - 2007: Once again, another single vineyard (estate) red, but with fruit sourced from the Seven Hills Vineyard, located just 10 miles south from the Pepper Bridge Vineyard. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc went into this Bordeaux-style blend. The Seven Hills Vineyard was one of the first commercial vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley AVA. It was planted in 1980 and later expanded in 1989. The average elevation is around 900 ft. - - high!

I stuck my nose deep into the glass bowl of Perigee. The nose reminded me of the autumnal air in Walla Walla. It was smoky and earthy. The liquid on my palate was velvety and smooth and almost melted like a rich chocolate-covered cherry. Just a hint of spice to remind me it was there, but finished once again with notes of milk chocolate, cherry cordial and the smell of rich earth. If I had tasted this wine out of town, it would indeed remind me of home - Walla Walla.

I typically don't rate wines, but every so often I will find a wine from the Walla Walla Valley that I will label as "swoon-worthy" and indeed - - Perigee made me swoon. Beautifully done.

Short days with moon-filled nights are slowly announcing themselves. For me, these autumn and winter months are for entertaining, such as holidays and just evenings to "hunker-down" from the winter elements with family and friends. L'Ecole's Apogee and Perigee are wines that are meant for these special evenings.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Meet The Winemakers: Ashley Trout of Flying Trout Wines

Once again another great production by Jeremy Gonzalez of the Walla Walla Union Bulletin and once again he let me tag along!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tales from the Cryptkeeper - - Errr, I mean Shopkeeper

Did you think I was never coming back to blog?  Did you think that maybe I was suffocated under a pile of bureaucratic paperwork and bound by red tape?  Actually I have been.  It's funny how we need to comply with the government and yet the government agencies makes it difficult for us to comply - - it's a Catch-22 really.  If it weren't for people wanting to open up businesses, then those difficult government workers wouldn't have a job.  And it is the revenue from these businesses and the potential increase of revenue from proposed new businesses that assist in making the payroll for those people who do everything they can to make it difficult to open a business.  One example: I kept getting told I had to change my LLC name on some paperwork to an LLC name that didn't even belong to me.  I kept asking her why did I have to add a LLC name to my forms that I didn't own, never owned and/or was incorrect.  I never did get an answer to her error and she eventually dropped it.  In the mean time, I spent four lost days trying to put out that little fire she started. 

A week ago I became free - - a free business woman.  You see,  I was being held hostage by my painter.  What was suppose to be a  two-week project was going on week five.  When it was time for payroll,  the painter would collect the check and disappear for days.  When he did paint, of course all production on my end was stalled because I couldn't be in the building due to fumes and residual spray.  I couldn't conduct much business such as working with distributors, tasting wines, let alone order wines, supplies and store furnishings and have them delivered while the painter was coming in and out of the building.  

Have you ever seen the television show, Top Chef?  At the end of the show a contender is cut from the game.  One of the judges has to announce to the loser, "Please pack your knives and go."  Well, needless to say I was forced to make that phone call to my painter one day and say, "Please pack your brushes and go." Once he left the building it was a huge relief and we finished up the painting ourselves.    

Oh by the way, did I happen to mention I am opening a retail wine store?  The new digs will be at 19 North Second Avenue, between Rose and Main Streets,  a few doors down from the Marcus Whitman Hotel. The Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman aka "W5" will feature wines of the Walla Walla Valley - - and the World!  And when we say, "World" we like to make a big circle with our arms!  A couple of Wednesdays a month (of course Wednesdays since I am all about alliterations) the W5 will also have wine tasting events and even "Wines of the World" tastings and classes.  So keep an eye on the W5 and watch it grow!

Last weekend I was one of the guest wine bloggers invited by the Cascade Valley Wine Country Association.  For three days we toured the wineries of Wenatchee, Chelan, and Leavenworth.  It was a wonderful weekend of good wine, good food and once again connecting with the finest wine bloggers in the State of Washington.  If you are not familiar with this area of Washington, I can tell you it is some of the prettiest in the state and also a reminder of why we are known as the "Evergreen State."  The hospitality given to us by the CVWC was first class.  I will blog about my experience later and some of the wines that made quite an impression on me (and hopefully will be available at the "W5"), but in the mean time please read more about this weekend written by my favorite Eastern Washington wine blogger, Josh Wade of  Drink Nectar

This thing I do called,  "Wine Blogging" has become an interesting journey.  I started in 2005 and didn't have a clue where it would all lead.  What is really amazing about this journey is that visiting with my blogging buds last weekend, two other wine bloggers are also starting their own full-time wine-related businesses due to their talents and persistence in their wine blogging craft. 

Keep checking in with me as I have lots of blogs to catch up on such as my visits with Jeanie at Nicholas Cole Cellars,  Vickie at Seven Hills Winery and Denise at Long Shadows.  I also revisited an old "friend" by the name of  L'Ecole No 41 Apogee and made a new friend with L'Ecole No 41 Perigee (It made the Swoon-Worthy Wine Award in my mind) and again, my wonderful weekend with my wine blogging buds in the Cascade Valley.  Cheers! 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Amost Your Mother Episode #9: Jesus, Facebook and Wine

Take one Gen-Xer and one Baby Boomer ...

If you live in Walla Walla and familiar with the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, then no doubt you are familiar with Sheila Hagar.   She is a popular U-B columnist and blogger of  "From the Storage Room." If you keep up on the U-B's videos that are focused throughout Walla Walla, then you may have run across  Jeremy Gonzalez.  He is the Online/Social Media Coordinator for the U-B, as well as keeper of his own blog, "The Jeremy Conspiracy." 

These two have joined mighty forces (Well at least Sheila is the mighty one, because after all, she is the Mom) to form a podcast named, Almost Your Mother.  Their podcast began with a few barbed remarks, a couple of snide comments, one blogging competition and a crazy coincidence — before they knew it, a relationship was born between the two.  They discuss everything from parenting, poop, piercings and baseball. 

Last week I was honored to be a guest.  Check it out while we talk about Jesus, Facebook and of course, wine:

Friday, September 10, 2010

Old World Style: Stella Fino Winery

The day I had made plans to visit with Marlene and Matt Steiner of Stella Fino Winery, little did I know I would also partake of tasting many imported Italian wines earlier the same week. What I discovered, after my journey across the  Washington/Oregon border to Stella Fino, was the pleasure of tasting more "Old World" Italian-style wines. However, this time these wines were produced with fruit from Columbia Valley and Walla Walla.

Matt Steiner "grew up" drinking Old World wines as his father was a collector of French and Italian wines.  It's no wonder that from the first grape crushed at Stella Fino, their focus would be creating wines from Italian varietals. It is important to Matt and Marlene that their wines not only honor Old World Italian wines, but  their wines also express a "sense of place," while maintaining New World cellar practices. 

Marlene and Matt told me about their journey to Walla Walla. Talk about an old world pioneer spirit, as well. They bought their first car, packed everything in it they owned, left their  home in New York and traveled to Walla Walla, sight unseen.  After Matt put some cellar and crush time in at a couple local wineries, Stella Fino Winery was created in 2005. The name comes from Matt's great-grandmother, Stella Fino, who emigrated from Italy to New York in the early 1900's. Stella Fino now has a 1,000 case production.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


When Food & Wine Magazine named Gramercy Cellars the “Best New Winery of the Year” for 2010, inquiring minds wanted to know: Who were the husband and wife team, internationally known as "Gramela," behind the hot new winery? What made them the Brangelina of the wine world? And how did this pair of ex-Manhattanites wind up in Walla Walla? Now there are answers. The secret to their success has been leaked by sources close to the couple. This exclusive video outlines their plan for global domination, reveals top secret winemaking and marketing tactics and shamelessly inflates the couples already huge egos.

Watch the video THEY don’t want you to see. And you thought Heidi and Spencer were strange...

Founded in 2005, Gramercy Cellars is the realization of owners Greg and Pam Harrington's dream to make the wines that they love in a special place: Walla Walla. The youngest American to pass the Master Sommelier Exam at the age of 26, Greg and his wife Pam, focus on great vineyards and minimalist intervention in the winemaking process to craft balanced, earthy wines, including Gramercy Cellars limited production Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo.   Congratulations Gramela!  It's this kind of news that keeps Walla Walla on the wine map!

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Do you remember back in school when the first essay of the new year in English Comp was themed, "How I Spent My Summer Vacation?" For me, this was the first summer I have had off in over 12 years and also one of the first where I didn't go too far from the area.

It was a summer of taking in many local events, as well as working a wine bottling line, attending wine dinners, going out wine tasting and our tri-annual family reunion. It was also a time where I made a huge decision that would impact the rest of my life.  The Summer of 2010 will be marked as one of the most memorable events as 200 of my wine blogging peers arrived in Walla Walla. Finally, they all understand what I have been blogging about now for five years.

They say that "A picture is worth a thousand words." Well, here are my thousands of words.

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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Whites After Labor Day: Walla Walla Wines

Mother use to say that you should not wear white after Labor day.  A clear sign of bad manners use to be wearing white shoes before Easter or after Labor Day.  This fashion rule seemed to start in the American South, which was always a  little more formal than other regions of the United States.  The rule may have been started due to practicality, as white deflects the heat making for a good color to wear during the hot summer months.  But no matter the rule, when it comes to white wine it is totally appropriate to "wear it" after Labor Day.

It is true to say I am mostly a red wine drinker, but through the summer months I find myself reaching more for the white wines.  These chilled light and crisp wines quench the thirst that a red wine cannot do.  Long after the outdoor grills are stored away, you can still enjoy white wine with a large variety of foods that we typically think of eating during the cooler months, such as roast turkey, cheesy pasta dishes, fried chicken, fish or chicken stews and chowders. The crisp acids in the white wines helps to ease though and cleanse the richness of these comfort foods.

Monday, September 06, 2010

King of Grapes on Twitter: Seven Hills Winery

Social media wine days have been very well received here in Walla Walla.  The wine industry in Walla Walla have come together at various wineries and local eateries to celebrate with other wine lovers around the state (and sometimes the world) the joys of wine. 

Thursday, September 2 was no different as we celebrated the King of Grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Our Cabernet Day Tweet-up was hosted by Vicky McClellan and Julie Titus of Seven Hills Winery. 

Established in 1988, Seven Hills Winery is one of Walla Walla Valley's oldest and most respected wineries. Guided by founder, winemaker and fourth generation farmer, Casey McClellan and his wife, Vicky. 

Also featured for the event at Seven Hills Winery, was the premiere of AK's, Andrae's Kitchen, from our local Food and Wine Guy and "underground" restaurateur Andrae Bopp's new mobile kitchen. 

See for yourself how we came together to celebrate the King of Grapes on Twitter. 

Saturday, September 04, 2010

The Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days Aint Just For Cowboys: Charles Smith Wines

The Walla Walla Fair and Frontier Days has been a tradition every Labor Day weekend. There was a time when I wouldn't miss much of it, but then again times have changed.  I now skip the rodeo as those seated next to me didn't appreciate me cheering for the calf and the bull to win.  I now skip the concert as I don't have a clue who these country singers are?  Country you say?  I like country music, but to me country is Willie, Hank, Patsy Cline and the ol' Possum.  So what's left you say?  The Demo Derby!  My best kept secret is that I love the Demolition Derby.

It never fails, when I leave a Demolition Derby my voice disappears from the dirt, smoke and exhaust fumes in the air.  And sure enough, if you are a local there are going to be a few favorites in the arena you are going to scream and cheer for.  The participating vehicles are stripped of interior fixtures, trim, plastic, lights, and glass.  They are usually repainted, often in loud, garish designs to mark names, slogans and identification.  Local spray paint sales in town are solid.  And you just don't have to be a cowboy to participate in the Walla Walla Fair and Frontier Days Demolition Derby, either - - winemakers race, too.   Check out the Battle Wagon!

The Battle Wagon is on top of his race this year.  Charles Smith, winemaker and racer of the Battle Wagon was recently given some smash 'em and crash 'em scores.  I am not one to promote a lot of scores, but when you see numbers like these you gotta talk and do some cheering for the racer behind the driver's seat. 

2007 Charles Smith Wines “Heart" Syrah - Royal Slope Columbia Valley:
Earth, underbrush, truffle, brier, game, bacon, and blueberry aromas lead to loaded, super-rich, uncuous, full-bodied Syrah. Mouthfilling, already complex, and multi-dimension, it has exceptional length and impeccable balance. 98 Pts. Robert Parker.

2007 Charles Smith Wines “Old Bones" Syrah - Royal Slope Columbia Valley:Savory, rich, layered, and laready complex, this exceptionally lengthy mouth-filling, hedonistic Syrah. 99 Pts. Robert Parker

2007 Charles Smith Wines “Royal City" Syrah Stoneridge Vineyard - Columbia Valley:  An inky purple/black in color, it deals out aromas of mineral, truffle, espresso, licorice, lavender, incense, and blueberry. Super complex, suave and debonair on the palate, this is a lengthy, concentrated, impeccably balanced, complete Syrah. 99 Pts. Robert Parker

2007 Charles Smith Wines “Skull" Syrah - Royal Slope - Columbia Valley:From the Stone Ridge Vineyard on the Royal Slope, it was aged in 20% new oak with some stems. It is a more brooding effort with aromas of earth, underbrush, truffle, Asian spices, incense, and blueberry.  98 Pts. Robert Parker

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

WallaFaces Winery and Dr. Kevin Pogue: From Dirt to Delicious

Dr. Kevin Pogue
When I hear people moan and groan there is nothing to do in Walla Walla, I tend to roll my eyes and shake my head. You do not have to be a lover of wine to get the benefits of some of the great events in the Walla Walla Valley that are being sponsored by the local wineries. WallaFaces Winery has been very creative in implementing events for locals and wine tourists alike. In fact, the morning of August 7 was one of those days, and a blistering hot day, as they boarded us in a comfy air conditioned bus for a three-hour geology tour guided by Kevin Pogue, PhD and Chair of the Whitman College Geology Department. Dr. Pogue is also founder of Vinterra Consulting, PLLC.
Walla Walla Inns at the Vineyard

It was during the Wine Bloggers Conference 2010, I was reminded by something that many of our visiting bloggers pointed out: Walla Walla isn't just built of one terroir, but many terroirs. So let's back track a bit about the word, "terroir" and its meaning. Terroir comes from the word "terre" meaning land. It was originally a French term that was used to denote unique characteristics of geography that were apparent in wine, coffee and tea. In fact, all produce can denote those special characteristics, such as our own Walla Walla Sweet Onions. Terroir is about agriculture sites in the same region that share similar soil and weather. Loosely translated it is also known as "Sense of Place."

We can attribute the beginning of our "Sense of Place" many 15 million moons ago when the region experienced a series of lava flows. Of course, the lava would eventually cool and harden leaving us with basalt bedrock covering most of eastern Washington and south into northeastern Oregon. In later years, came the Ice Age Missoula floods from the north. This gigantic piece of ice formed a natural dam which created the glacial Lake Missoula. The water behind the glacial dam slowly gathered until the volume was sufficient to float the ice dam south and allow the huge reservoir of water to flow out. This process repeated itself many times over a three thousand year period leaving behind deposits of well-drained sand and silt which is now the basis for the soils of many of eastern Washington's premier vineyards.

When Mother Nature was all done with her drama, she left the Walla Walla Valley with four very distinct terroirs:

1. Thick Loess - Vineyards with this terroir of wind-deposited silt and sand are Spring Valley, Leonetti Upland, Leonetti Loess, Dwelley and Les Collines. They are located to the northeast of the valley or at the foothills of the Blue Mountains. Loess soil provides good drainage for the vines. To this day we still see the effects of loess with every wind storm in the valley.

2. Missoula Flood Sediments - Vineyards with this terroir are Pepper Bridge, Seven Hills, Ferguson Ridge and Forgotten Hills. All four of these vineyards are south of the Walla Walla Valley and are found below 1,200 ft. elevation. The soil from these floods are rich and layered with loess and minerals.

Ferguson Ridge
3. Stream Gravels - The vineyard best known with this terroir is the famous Cayuse Vineyard which is located south of Walla Walla in the Milton-Freewater, Oregon area. Walla Walla is surrounded by an alluvial fan. This fan shape of gravel, spreading onto a flatter plain, was created by the Walla Walla River. In fact Cayuse Vineyard was specifically chosen for it's resemblance to the “galets roules” (rolled cobblestones) of the southern Rhone vineyards in France. This area has often been referred to “Oregon’s Châteuneuf-du-Pape.”

Cayuse Vineyards
4. Basalt - There are no vineyards grown in solid basalt at this time. Maybe in the future? These areas are often of solid bedrock and sometimes with just a thin layer of loess and can be as high as 1,200 feet or located in steep areas where much of the sediment was removed in time by water or wind. The Woodward Canyon Vineyard is located nearly 900 feet of elevation three miles north of Walla Walla and layered with wind-blown loess over fractured basalt.

Now, when you put all of these geology profiles together with an average annual rainfall of 12.5 inches, add a long 200-day growing season with arid high temperatures and then a shift of temperatures in the evenings, thanks to the cool air from the Blue Mountains, the results are grapes that are perfectly balanced of sugars and acidity.

Located on latitude 46°, the Walla Walla Valley also straddles the line between the Burgundy and Bordeaux regions of France, and it is this high latitude that means once our autumn arrives the weather is quick to cool and our hours of daily sunshine quickly leaves our valley.

As a result of this seasonal change, the grapes are able to remain on the vine weeks later after many other regions are finishing with their harvest. Our extra hang time on the vine allows the grapes to intensify bringing us some of the best in world class wines.

The end of our tour brought us the results in a glass of the very distinct terroirs. The glasses of wine were not only wine from WallaFaces Winery, but wines of Dusted Valley Vintners and Waters Winery. Chad Johnson of Dusted Valley was there to pour his latest vintages of 2009 Malbec, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon that are still in the barrel and Jamie Brown from Waters Winery poured for us two different and very distinct 2009 Walla Walla Syrahs from the Leonetti Loess and Forgotten Hills vineyards. WallaFaces poured their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, 2009 Riesling, as well as their 2006 Fusion red blend.

Many thanks to our hosts Rick, Debbie, Lois and Carol of WallaFaces and our speaker and tour guide, Kevin Pogue. I cannot think of a better way to learn geology on a Saturday afternoon.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Bunchgrass Winery: Columbia Valley Syrah - 2007

It was great news when we heard Bunchgrass Winery had returned to life after the original owner, Roger Cockerline retired with the last of his 2005 vintage.  Roger started his wine career in the 1980's when he planted the small vineyard on his family's farm. The fruit was eventually sold commercially, along with Roger and three of his friends also using some of the fruit for their own home wine projects. In fact two of the friends, Gordy Venneri and Myles Anderson, would eventually start up their own winery Walla Walla Vintners.

Entering the Walla Walla wine scene in 2002 was William vonMetzger who pursued his love of the grape at the Institute for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College. Not only was William attending classes but also began working part-time at Walla Walla Vintners where he would eventually become production winemaker. The timing couldn't have been more perfect as William was looking at his future and the possibility of starting his own winery.  Gordy Venneri supported William's interest and also knew of Roger's interest of retiring.  To make a long story short, William started making the wines for Bunchgrass in 2006.  Walla Walla Vintners was used as their production area for the 2006 - 2008 vintages.  However in 2009, crush returned once again to the Bunchgrass Winery on Highway 12.   

The wines of Bunchgrass Winery are limited and yet still moderately priced.  If you have an opportunity to grab one - - do it.  I had an opportunity to "grab" a bottle of their 2007 Syrah.  In fact, it was just listed last week in the Seattle Metropolitan Magazine as one of their Top 100 Washington Wines:

Bunchgrass Winery Syrah, Lewis Vineyard, Columbia Valley - 2007
The Lewis Vineyards are located southeast of Prosser in the Yakima Valley AVA.  Summers are hot in that region and the Lewis Vineyard has the distinction of a higher elevation. The location on a southern slope allows the cool night's air to flow away from the vineyard allowing the fruit to have an extended hang time.  Longer hang time on the vine develops the maximum of concentrated flavors. 

The nose of this wine didn't seem to me the typical smokey and espresso notes that I often find with local Syrahs. Instead the inky black liquid spoke of sweet cherries and floral notes of lilacs. The fragrance was elegant and not so bold on the nose, but fooled me on the palate with its deep flavors of dark brambleberries and a lingering of spicy black pepper.  The tannins were noticeable, but the oak was not.  I later found out it was aged  in only 20% new French oak.   Only 260 cases were produced. For the quality this Syrah is priced excellent at $28.00.
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