Winemaker Anna Schafer and her family migrated east from the Seattle area to found aMaurice winery out on Mill Creek Road near the excellent Abeja winery. We ran into her father Tom who was pouring the libations in the tasting room. Tom told us what an emotional experience it was to finally make wine from their very own estate grown grapes. The 2006 Chardonnay was round, fruity and balanced, but lacked that incredible stoniness and minerality of the first Chardonnay bottling. The 2006 Syrah is somewhat schizophrenic in style. Perhaps this is because of its parentage with grapes coming from Lewis and Boushay vineyards. It appears there is a step-father involved, too, 15% Grenache from Minnick Vineyard. This androgenous combination is smooth on the one hand and a little rough on the other. It will be interesting to see how it evolves. The 2006 Malbec is a beauty with a deep rich color and and great fruit. The 2006 Red Blend, named after artist Tsutakawa is a masterpiece - a totally awesome blend of the cinq cepages of Bordeaux - Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Frnac, Malbec and Petit Verdot.
Just up the hill is Walla Walla Vintners a consistent producer of reliable wines. The wines seem to be a little more tame than in the past. The Cab Franc used to be my fave, but this time around the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard Select took the prize. The '07 Sangio blended with 14% Syrah and 9% Malbec was not bad either.
Even farther east is Spring Valley Vineyard, but they apparently have decided that they are too far out, so they have opened a tasting room right in downtown next to Trey Busch's Sleight of Hand winery. Spring Valley manages to turn out more than 5,000 cases of wine and still maintain consistently excellent quality. Uriah is usually my favorite from this winery, but this time it was surpassed by the deep dark, purple 2006 Frederick, a blend of the Bordeaux five. The 2006 Muleskinner, 100% Merlot, had a slightly too acid finish for my taste and the 2006 Nina Lee left me unmoved as it usually does.The 2006 Derby, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon,had a wonderful nose with round berry fruit flavors - delish. Winemaker Serge Laville makes fabulous wines, but one wonders how Spring Valley will sell five thousand cases at a $50 price point.
Back at the airport, we visited a French Chateau. Le Chateau Winery has a very impressive "Trompe d'Oeil", faux facade spread over a particularly long wall of an airport building. What fun! Unforunately, the winemaker seems to have achieved the same effect with his wines. With chateau level prices, they just don't seem worth it. The 2007 Castle White, a Sauvignon Blanc /Semillon blend was not bad. The 06 Sangiovese had a green quality I found unappealing. The 2005 Castle Red was not really fit for a king with it's hot finish. One questions the provenance of the 2006 Red Masterpiece. Was it really a Titian or just a copy. The giveaway? A hot finish. I don't believe these are remediable defects that will go away with ageing - too much acid and astringent tannins. The whole facade is enough to make you believe that the Emperor is wearing clothes, but is he? Well, yes, in one instance. The 2006 Cabernet Franc was well balanced with good fruit. This time Cab Franc was King instead of Cab Sauv.
We ended our trip East with a stop at Sygygy where Zack, a fellow New Yorker, still has all his astray bodies lined up in a straight line even though he no longer sell the thongs to put on those bodies. The three reds we tasted were all excellent with good fruit and lively interesting flavor profiles. The 2006 Columbia Valley Red, a blend of 56% Syrah, 20% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 11% Malbec was very smooth , friendly, interesting and a good value at $24.
Next up we go south to visit some old friends and two girls from Portland.
I got an invite from fellow blogger, Lisa Halpern inviting me to experience Wine Wednesdays at Intiman this Wednesday the 22nd. I couldn't go, but you can! I get to go to the next one on September 9th - The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. You can beat me to it! Don't miss the held over New York-acclaimed production of Othello and for a mere fifteen bucks extra you get to taste four wines from Washington winery Maryhill and hors d'oeuvres from Center House Bistro. You can probably make a pre-theatre meal of it. I 've always said that wine and the arts go together. Taste the art of the playwright and the winemaker in the same evening. To get tickets call 206-269-1900. Plan to arrive at 6:30. Let me know what you think.
Where did all those wineries west of Walla Walla come from. They came from the incubator, No, I'm not saying they are chickens. I'm saying some of them came from the "incubator" at the Walla Walla airport. The Port of Walla Walla has been offering space to new wineries for quite some time. Just east of where commercial flights actually land, most of the Quonset huts have been occupied by pioneering new winemakers. This is very convenient as you can get off a Horizon flight from Seattle in the morning head over to the wineries and fly back the same evening, but why wouldn't you want to linger to check out the more than one hundred wineries in Walla Walla. Recently, the Port decided to build a special new incubator putting up five new attractive wineries facing an open field at the end of the Quonset huts. Who are the special five? Cavu, Adamantine, Lodmell, Trio, and Kontos clockwise in the semicircle. The quality varies, but the spirit doesn't.
Cavu Cellars, as distinguished from Cavu Winery, a start up in California, appears to be a father/son operation. The '08 SB is balanced and well made, the '06 Horizon a blend of Cab Sauv juiced up with 7% Petite Verdot is fairly big and dynamic. The Barbera will not be released until August 2009. It is deep and dark, definitely a food wine, nowhere near as rough as some of the Italian versions can be - very appealing. The Cab Sauv will be released in 2010. The fruit comes from the Les Collines Vineyard in the Blue Mountain foothills. It's a real winner.
Adamant has lost its baby fat and is now a healthy two year old. It has become even more shapely and Adamant wines are selling out like hotcakes. I seem to have lost my notes on the wines, but trust me, you can't go wrong with one of Steve's wines. Steve's wife Deborah is a very talented artist. It appears they are both artists. Last year I said this was a winery to watch. You had better get on their mailing list.
Lodmell Cellars offered three wines - a balanced 2006 Sauv Blanc, a round strawberry-rhubarb flavored Rose, and a deep dark squid's ink 2006 Syrah with fruity, round ripe flavors and hints of spice, everything a Syrah should be.
Trio Vintners was founded by three winemakers who somehow seem to cooperate. This the best new kid on the block. We were introduced to Trio by our friend Mary who brought us a bottle of the 2006 Mourvedre - an authentic wine that reminded us of the Rhone and the south of France. All the other wines we tasted were of high quality. The 2007 Riesling was classic with striking peach flavors. The 2007 Rose was sweet tasting and pretty.The 2006 Sangiovese was round soft and very appealing. The 2006 Zinfandel was round and fruity. Altogether a winery to watch.
Kontos at two o'clock on the semi-circle offered four wines. Our favorite was the 2006 Boushay Syrah. Boushay Syrah is almost always more elegant and refined than most other Washington Syrah.
There are many more wineries at the airport. Eric Dunham, for example, has just not not been able to tear himself away. Next time we will visit other airport wineries including a chateau and then drive out east to aMaurice and a few others.
Living in Washington state, we are so fortunate to have such an abundance of fresh seafood, especially oysters. Once again the Taylor Shellfish Company announced the results of its annual Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Awards and, guess what, five out of ten wines were from Washington
and roughly two thirds of the judges were from California, San Francisco and L. A. to be specific. One hundred thirty-two wines were submitted, so one out of thirteen winners is not a bad ratio. The Taylor Shellfish Company itself is a winner with it's Totten Oysters and Kumomotos. The poor judges had to suffer only having Kumomotos to taste with the wine. Here are the 2009 Washington State winners.
2008 Airfield Estates Thunderbolt Sauvignon Blanc
2007 Cedargreen Sauvignon Blanc
2008 Ch. Ste. Michelle Pinot Gris
2007 Covey Run Pinot Grigio
2008 Hogue Pinot Grigio
What is an oyster wine? It seems that dry crisp, tart whites go best with the briny little bundles of flavor. That's probably why even California judges preferred the Washington State wines. With longer days, and less sunshine, it is easier to produce dry, crisp wines in Washington than in the sunshine state. We are talking here about raw oysters, an acquired taste for many of us, but worth acquiring. I think that a wider variety of white wines go with cooked oysters such as Oysters Rockefeller. Red wines with oysters seem to yield an unpleasant metallic taste. The good thing is both the Ch. Ste. Michelle and the Hogue wines are widely distributed around the U.S. and may even be available overseas. The bad thing is that they are not dry enough for my taste. Just to show that I am not a chauvinist, my favorite oyster wines come from France, Italy and Spain. Muscadet and Entre-Deux-Mers are my faves from from France. They are Sauvignon based and generally of good quality. Wines made from the Albarino grape in northwest Spain are also perfect with oysters, and the "real" original Pinot Griglio from Italy works well, too. The widely distributed Bella Serra Pinot Grigio is searingly dry for those who want something to rough up that oyster. BTW, as most of you know, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are that same grape, although I think I've noticed that wines named Pinot Gris are less dry. As always you can drink anything you like with oysters. Buty or Amaurice Chardonnay are not bad with Kumomotos, for example. My favorite oysters, apart from Kumomotos, are our local Quilcenes, pleasure in a shell.
July 4th we had a great time with Maxine and Al. We started by visiting one of our favorite wineries - Palouse. Linda tasted us down the entire list starting with the '07 Viognier, an appealing wine with a hint of butterscotch added to the profile. Great with summer fare, fish and seafood. The '07 Riesling is classic off dry with a little more body than typical and the usual suspects in the flavor profile. The "Dynamique" name for the Cab Franc is clever pun combining the names of the two vineyards, Dineen & Meek from which the grapes were sourced.
Unfortunately, this bottle had a hint of that "prune" quality in the nose - a tip-off that the bottle has been open too long, but in the mouth there was good fruit accompanied by a hint of tobacco and chili pepper. The '05 Eclipse was it's usual good self, full of beautiful fruit. The '06 Solitaire was a little too bright for my taste, but good nevertheless. The "06 Ahh Syrah is sourced from three Yakima Valley vineyards - Portteus, Dineen, and Meek. One sip of this deep dark beauty will evoke oohs and ahhs. Although deep in color and big in the mouth, this is no monster, having that certain smoothness associated with Yakima Syrah. The 06' Cab Sauv is Linda's fave. She sure got it right! It's our fave, too! Sourced from Dineen Vineyard it another deep dark beauty full of exciting black fruit. With these two, George more than achieved his goal of "smooth, round and voluptuous." The '06 and '05 "Black Pearl" Petite Sirah are excellent, too, George's favorites, but they suffer by comparison with the outstanding 2004 Black Pearl. I guess Linda wins this round. The 100% Cabernet Sauvignon seems to be this year's winner.
What about Jasnieres, you say? What is Jasnieres? What's Jasnieres got to do with Vashon? What's the rolling hills of the Palouse got to do with Vashon, for that matter? Instead of checking out other wineries, we went to Vashon Thriftway which has a spectacular wine selection. This destination supermarket is worth a trip to the island, just to check out the wine. Of course, you might want to take your bike, too. Then you will save almost enough on the ferry fare to buy a bottle of Jasnieres at Thriftway. Since the 2006 Jasnieres from Pascal Janvier is a Kermit Lynch Selection distrubuted in the Seattle area, you can probably find it without the ferry trip. How fortunate, though to find it on Vashon. It was perfect with the beautiful salmon dinner Maxine prepared.
Ever since tasting Jasnieres at the font, at the Hermetagerie, near Grand Luce, in the Loire Valley, I have been searching despairingly for it in the states, and while the Jasnieres by Janviers isn't exactly Jasnieres by Gigou, the best IMHO, it is still quite wonderful. Made from the Chenin Blanc grape, it is so much drier than its more famous and flabbier cousin, Vouvray. The unusual combination of fruitiness and dryness is fascinating by itself and perfect with salmon. The Janviers finishes with just a hint of citrus which picks it up and will pick you up on a summer afternoon.
What ever happened to the rest of Walla Walla? Look for posts on the airport, the stateline area and others. Look for Back To The Future - Paso Robles, Foxen Road etc., in coming posts.
Thank you so much for a wonderful dinner at Bistro Four. It was so good to see you. As usual, the conversation was great, the food was delish, and the wine interesting. Better to be at a simple bistro, than a pretentious wannabe like 26 Brix. You seemed to love your Croque Madame and although I craved the Duck pizza, it was not to be. The salad Nicoise was excellent although with my carb fears, there were too many potatoes. The Spanish Barbadillo was such an excellent dry white, and so inexpensive. At first I thought I was hallucinating, back at the old Nick's in McMinnville where wines were marked up only $8. Imagine - an $8 corkage fee. Well, Bistro Four actually seems to have reasonable prices and if you purchase to take home, you get ten per cent off, so , in effect, a ten percent corkage or markup in the restaurant - very reasonable! The service by Nathaniel was great, and while the menu is somewhat limited, this is a great place to eat at reasonable prices, don't you think? Christophe tells me that the owner is a single mom. She bought the place from the owner of Grapefields which was the previous incarnation of this venue where she had been chef. Great to see such entrepreneurship and guts, yes?
So, despite the good wine and food, the most interesting thing was our discussion of the next venue for the third annual Wine Bloggers Conference. This year is a repeat of Sonoma. Much as I would like to see my wine blogger friends, a return to the same old venue seems boring and why would I want to leave Seattle at the end of July which is the perfect time to be here. So you told me that there seems to be some sort of contest between Walla Walla and Woodinville for next years conference. I have to say, that, while there are excellent wineries in Woodinville , this would be a very limited sampling of Washington State wines and I don't actually know of a venue that can support a conference of 200 some odd participants in Woodinville, other than the Willows Lodge, but I don't believe they have the accommodations for 200 participants. Limiting the tastings to Woodinville would be a shame since that would exclude Quilceda, the South Seattle Artisan group, Yakima, Red Mountain and Walla Walla to say nothing of Snipes, Horse Heaven Hills, the Gorge, and Lake Chelan.
My first intro to Walla Walla was a Society of Wine Educators conference held at the Hilton in Bellevue, but there was a pre-conference trip to Tri-Cities and Walla Walla that was great. I think the best plan would be similar. A Bellevue or Seattle conference venue, but with extensive pre-conference side trips to SSAW, Yakima, Red Mountain, and Walla Walla. The Marcus Whitman in Walla Walla would be a great venue for a conference and there are more than enough motels for overflow. Maybe Christophe would volunteer to knock their socks off! There are so many great Walla Walla wineries, and besides, no one would get to see our fabulous Eastern Washington vineyards. After all, while there are close to a hundred excellent wineries in the Puget Sound area, all the the grapes come from eastern Washington. Holding the event in Woodinville would be like holding an event in Paris or a Bordeaux suburb without visiting the Medoc, St. Emilion, or Pomerol, for example. I look forward to a Wine Bloggers conference in Washington, but I do hope it won't be limited to one narrow corner of the state. Have fun at the second annual Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma and say hi to Joel for me.
The king of pop may be dead, but the king of the stones lives. In fact, Christophe Baron rules both in his domain at Cayuse and in the surrounding cailloux ( French for stones). I must admit to a certain amount of skepticism about all the apparent hype and spin around Cayuse. Commenters on the Seattle Wine Blog argued that Les Cailloux and other Cayuse vineyards should be included in The Top Ten Washington State Vineyards at the same time complaining that Seven Hills is in Oregon. As Bob Tovey would say, common folks, which is it? All the Cayuse vineyards and the studio/atelier/winery are in Oregon even though Cayuse maintains a downtown Walla Walla presence and Christophe lives in Walla Walla, Washington.
Christophe very graciously received us at the studio, and finished regaling us with the official story already started by his able assistant, Trevor. Christophe comes from an old winemaking family in Champagne. Unfortunately, this Champagne is not available in the States. Christophe earned his stripes in Burgundy and came to the U.S. planning to make Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley. He visited a friend in Walla Walla and "on his way" to the Willamette Valley, " just happened upon" the stony soil in the southwest quadrant of the Walla Walla AVA.
"Cailloux!", he exclaimed excitedly upon seeing the stony soil of the apple orchids along Sunneyside Road (Actually there were already plantings of grapes in the stones when Christophe arrived. The old Seven Hills vineyard, now called Wildrow was there along with some others). That was the beginning of the end for Christophe - no more Willamette Pinot for him. Roughly thirteen years ago he set down roots among the stones of Walla Walla AVA and has never looked back. I asked him if regretted not going on to the Willamette. His answer - not at all. I would have been just one of many Frenchmen making Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley and here I am unique." Kathy Tovey remembered Christophe as a somewhat scrawny young man peddling his wine at a country fair in Oregon in the mid-90s. Christophe has come a long way since then.
Now, Christophe has a domain consisting of many vineyards, and has recently discovered "biodynamique." This suits him perfectly, since in its purest form, biodynamique is about an ecological microcosm, a self-sufficient domain. Christophe took us on a tour of his home base,
Armida Vineyard. He told us that he has 25 full-time permanent employees to maintain the vineyards and in the winery. Most of them probably work in the vineyards and in keeping with the sustainability ethos of Oregon they have health insurance. My guess is that, as usual, they are Hispanic , and to produce my own stereotype, hard-working. conscientious and productive. Walking on "cobblestones" trodden by others, one still has a wondrous sense of something "sauvage" and yet "pastorale." As we walked among the stones, Christophe regaled us with tales of his conquests in Walla Walla. Christophe told us that others had said he would break his machinery on such rocks, but the "Bionic Frog" persevered. Finally, we arrived at a plot of Grenache planted 3ft.X3ft. Rows with spaces not wide enough for most overweight Americans, let alone a motorized cultivator. Horses! Christophe will cultivate this plot with the help of several Belgian horses. Beyond this plot, piles of manure, excuse me, organic fertilizer.
And then, the producers of this fertile pile - les vaches (the cows). To the south, an organic cherry orchid rejected by commercial buyers because the cherries didn't conform to grade. Perhaps this is the best description of Christophe. He doesn't conform to grade. This non-conformist thinks and lives outside the box.
Back to the studio/atelier/winery. As we entered the "studio" we had a lively discussion of order and disorder. This was triggered by the incredible flying pig hanging from the ceiling of the winery. Starting with a pinata purchased by Christophe, his artist friend painted it over, adding two jet engines and other paraphernalia. Christophe insists they are Boeing engines and not Airbus. My guess is that Airbus represents the uptight, buttoned up, stultifying cadre of France with their inhibiting rule-bound society as opposed to the fresh air of America for a French person. Disorder is "necessaire" for creativity, originality and limnality. On the other hand, order is a necessary foil for disorder and it is necessary to define "a thing." So we enter the inner sanctum - a frigid place of order! Rows of barrels, "eggs," cement fermenters, neatly laid out. But many of the barrels are turned with their provenance and stats unavailable to the naked eye. Christophe is both ebullient and charismatic, on the one hand, and private and secretive, on the other.
As he explained early on, "terroir" is everything. He described himself as primarily a "vigneron," a grapegrower, but the implication was of an artist united with the soil (see my D.H. Lawrence quote on the masthead). Christophe, the artist, reminded me of Picasso and Gauguin. I asked him if he was a guardian of the vineyards. "Not at all! Maybe in a hundred years, in a thousand years." Now he is a pioneer, a discoverer, an explorer, an experimenter, an adventurer. Christophe has the personality of Lewis Hyde's "Trickster." Hermes, he is! Egoist, narcissist, yes, but his charisma is real, not some put-on persona. I once heard a French teacher describe her job as "seduire." To seduce, is to teach. Christophe is very seductive, very charismatic. A seller of Gentiane at a market in southwest France, once told us that his product would make anyone "drop his pants" or was it "her pants." That's Christophe!
You were wondering about the wine? Exceptional! These wines are giants. Bigger than most California wines, yet not jammy. Bigger than most Australian wines, yet not linear. Bigger than most French wine, yet not classic. Bigger than most Washington wines, yet not soft. These are big wines in big bottles, but really they are amazingly over the top, really nothing like them in intensity. Huge expansive wines, just like Christophe! How does Christophe do it? Apparently he has many secrets, but the most obvious trick is in the vineyard - keeping the yields low, dropping clusters down to five or six per vine, or in the case of the 3x3 Grenache maybe three per vine resulting in yields of significantly less than two tons per acre, like 1.2 or 1.5 tons per acre. This is amazing when you consider that three tons per acre is considered low by the mere mortals growing grapes in other vineyards.
From the cask - '06 Grenache - Armida, '06 Syrah -Armida, '06 Syrah -Cailloux, '08 Bionic Frog. The 2006 Armida Grenache is big, dark and inky, smelling of spices and tar, tasting of rhubarb and strawberry. A huge, smooth, seamless wine -plus d' agreable. 2008 Armida Syrah - incredibly dark, perfection in a bottle, deepest, darkest Walla Walla. The flagship Cailloux vineyard was founded in 1997 - super-intense, liquid tar, somewhat like the tar and roses of a traditional Barolo, but so much more intense. This is not your average aperatif, maybe an acquired taste. For me, incredible! The 2008 Bionic Frog blend is from the Coccinelle vineyard and has a pretty nose - complex, spicy and herbal, in the mouth - round, soft, seductive and approachable - closest to the gout Americain, thus very popular. BTW, Coccinelle means ladybug in French, but also is the name of a pioneering transsexual and a line of handbags.
From the bottle - 2007 Widowmaker, 2007 Bionic Frog, 2007 Impulsivo. The 2007 Widowmaker is a killer Cabernet Sauvignon from the En Chambertin vineyard. Once your man drinks this liquid cassis and blueberry pie that tastes like a spice rack, it won't be long 'til you get to finih the bottle in peace and quiet by yourself. The 2007 Bionic Frog is big, spicy and complex. The 2007 Impulsivo is 100% Tempranillo from the En Chambertin vineyard. Deep, black, incredibly intense, without being jammy. The beautiful image on the label says it all - the last tango, to die for, or from! Truly a tour de force.
Are the wines representative of the terroir. Without a doubt! They are so different from each other.. This was especially illustrated by four different Syrahs from four different vineyards. Are they only terroir? I don't think so. As usual, the winemaker has left his stamp, his signature, on the wine. Christophe is both a terroiriste and an artiste - a "vigneron!" Christophe's wines are gigantic like Christophe who is un geant de la terre. I was forced to read Giants In The Earth in high school and hated it. Now the name has served me well in describing this amazing French winemaker who has spread his seed in the fertile soil of Walla Walla. The "Rock" Star exceeded my expectations and his reputation. Stones R Us, or rather, Stones R Him.
Christophe tells me he has 4500 people on the waiting list, but I have a feeling people are dropping off the mailing list like flies due to the horrendous economy. Sign up, you never know, you might get to the head of the list faster than you think, and by that time maybe your finances may have recovered enough to be able to pay the price for a bottle paradise (or is it hell?) in a bottle. Trust me, it's worth it. Spend your last red cent on an impulse and die happy. Despite my reticence I was totally seduced by Christophe and his incredible wines. Cayuse rocks!
Okay, so this isn't so real-time, but it's still the latest poop on Walla Walla West. Graduates from the Walla Walla Airport incubator, tend to end up on Highway 12. Reininger and Cougar Crest are classic examples. In fact, it has seemed to me that Reininger went downhill when they moved, but recent evidence suggests a recovery. Cougar Crest seems to have made the move without ill effects. Waterbrook was never in the incubator and came up with some wonderful surprises - great values.
In the recent past, Reininger seemed to me to have lost its way. Apparently, highway 12 is disorienting. You can get wound up and twisted into a double helix. The Helix wines used to be great values, but at $30 a throw, that is no longer an accurate description. Nevertheless, many of Chuck's regular bottlings are quite interesting and delicious. The 2003 Cima, tasting a little old (or had it been open too long), was quite beautiful. The 2005 Merlot, despite the grapes from Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills vineyards, was light - enough to confirm "Miles" opinion of Merlot. The 2005 Cab Sauv had great fruit and tasted a little like what a Merlot should taste like. The 2008 Ash Hollow Syrah had nice tobacco and pepper notes. The 2006 Carmenere was probably the most interesting wine. As I read over this paragraph, it appears that I had a negative impression of Reininger wines. This is not true. Most of these wines had character and interest. Reininger survived the jinx of route 12 and Codi ably poured all these wines with a great running commentary on each. It was obvious that she is really into wine. She is a student at the enology program at the community college and I predict she will become a great winemaker in her own right in just a few years.
Deborah and Dave Hansen survived for the longest time in a "Quonset Hut" at the airport. So far, their move to route 12 seems to be liberating. Sooo much more space! Both have deep roots in Walla Walla and, in fact own several vineyards. They tore up apple orchids and own vineyards in the stones just over the border in Oregon to the west of highway 125. They sold a vineyard to finance their beautiful new winery on highway 12. Dave is a farmer, a vineyardist who is happiest on a tractor or a forklift. Deborah is an outstanding winemaker. Cougar Crest is one of the most consistent labels around. This is a great help in a restaurant when you are unsure what to order from the wine list. The 2006 Walla Walla Viognier is an outrageously good wine. Viognier at its best - dry, stony, with good subdued fruit - to my gout. The Grenache Rose is pleasant, a cut above most American Roses. Dedication is a delicious wine dedicated to the hospital that saved the life of Dave and Deborah's daughter after near fatal injuries. The 2006 Walla Walla Valley Anniversary Cuvee is fairly light , but totally great for chocoloholics. The 2006 Walla Walla Valley Cab Sauv is a delicious blend and the 2005 Walla Walla Syrah is an outstanding wine. Virtually all Cougar Crest wines are made from estate grown grapes. Since moving into their new digs on highway 12, Dave and Deborah couldn't quite let go of their original hut at the airport, so they've started producing a new line to sell there - Walla Walla River Winery. This is their opportunity to explore various varietals from grapes sourced from all around the Columbia Valley. I didn't get to taste these wines, but I'll bet they are good.
Waterbrook just opened a new winery on highway 12. This high tech building is spectacular and is home to Precept Brands in all of its manifestations. I must admit to not expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised by the Melange Noir and White, to say nothing of the Sangiovese Rose and a perfectly typical, classic Riesling all at very reasonable prices. I found the higher priced wines to be somewhat disappointing for the price, but Waterbrook is producing some fabulous value with great price points.
So the western entrance to Walla Walla is a good introduction to Walla Walla wines, but the best is yet to come south of town and at the airport.
Amazing! This is almost real time blogging from Walla Walla. Today we checked out wineries West of Walla Walla on Highway 12 as you come into town from Seattle. One could imagine a game of hopscotch among wineries trying to be the first to greet wine tourists on the road into Walla Walla. Such a game of musical chairs would be so 1990s, so California, but I can hardly imagine the down-to-earth folks of Walla Walla playing such a game. As it turns out Woodward Canyon is first and they have been there for quite a while, founded in 1981 by Rick Small.
Next up is L'Ecole #41, founded in 1983 by Marty Clubb. I got to talk with Marty about his newest interest - Ferguson vineyard, 18 acres above Pepper Bridge or was it Seven Hills. Like so many other winemakers he has been bitten by the "sustainability" bug.
As I tasted through L'Ecole wines, they all seemed lighter and friendlier(too friendly?) than they used to be, but it seems to me they used to have more character. The Semillons are less intense, the reds less deep. The Fries Vineyard Semillon goes with tuna. The 2008 "Walla Voila" Chenin Blanc shows lots of interest with a floral spicy nose, round and fruity body, and a hint of spice and citrus in the finish. Much more enjoyable than 99% of Chenin Blanc based Vouvray from the Loire Valley. The 2006 Walla Walla Cab has great fruit in the nose an is an altogether satisfying wine. The 2006 "Apogee" is the apogee of the the L'Ecole line up. Fortunately, the Perigee is not the perigee but not as wonderful as the Apogee. The 2006 Columbia Valley Syrah was pretty good, too.
Moving right along, we come to the new kid on the block - Glencorrie, owned by Ronn Coldiron and ably managed by Heidi Harrison. Wow! Awesome! Ronn is a geologist who runs a consulting firn in California. With the help of Charlie Hoppes, Glencorrie has fashioned it's first wines from Stillwater and Gamache grapes. The 2006 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a medium bodied wine with very appealing fruit and lots of character. It gets your attention. It stands out from so many ever so pleasant wines. As usual the Walla Walla version of Cab ( Widrow & Dwelley) is more upright, more serious - a good food wine. The 2006 Cuvee Marquis is the gem in the show - round, soft, but exciting! Sourced from multiple vineyards around the Columbia Valley. This is an up-and-comer. A winery to watch! The next new thing! Get on their mailing list. BTW, they are having an Open house June 29th in the evening. Call 509-525-2585.
Retailers of the world, more specifically, of Washington and Arizona, wake up, you have nothing to lose but your sales. We have heard many reports of wineries increasing sales out of their tasting rooms, consumers ordering direct from the winery, because you are not carrying Washington state "boutique" wines that consumers want. It is time to think outside the box instead of hunkering down and folding up the tent. Follow in the footsteps of Kent Jeppesen at "the wine station." You are the bottleneck between eager consumers and eager wineries. Where are those Washington wine end displays? Right out in front of Australia? If you don't lower your prices and offer the wines that consumers want, you may be cut out of the loop. Cheers!
Move over Trader Joe's, Costco, Total and Bevmo. Here comes the Wedgewood Shell Station! The what? Yeah, it's a gas station in northeast Seattle. What's a gas station got to do with wine? I told you you could find one of the best buys in the world, Columbia Crest "Two Vines" Chardonnay and Merlot, at gas stations all over Washington state, but Kent Jeppesen, owner of the Wedgewood Shell station (9501 NE 75th Street, phone 206-384-48440), has taken gas station wine sales to the next level. He had the business acumen to realize that wine has an excellent markup and that people want wine for under $10. When it comes to wine, you can get get anything you want, almost, at the Shell Station. Washington, Australia, France, Chile, you name it and chances are they have it. You may not be able to find the pepperoni or the chips, but you can find a decent quaff for the night at less than ten bucks. Kent keeps his prices right. He buys closeouts from distributors and sometime has a lower than normal markup to give you a good value. Soon, or maybe already, wine may contribute more to gross revenue and profit than that other necessity, gasoline, at the "Wine Station."
Living in Washington state, you can't help but become a strawberry lover. Of course, the best strawberries are local ones from places like Spooner Farm and Sakama farm. The season for these is a few scant weeks in June, but good strawberries can be had at other times of the year. When I am desperate for a strawberry, the overly firm, last forever, simulacrum from Watsonville will do, but if you want something with real flavor look to Mexico and other California venues. IMO, Santa Maria produces the most flavorful commercially grown fruit, followed by Santa Ynez, Oxnard and Salinas.
Strawberries are great by themselves and, of course, dipped in chocolate. Try strawberries with prosciutto or cold smoked salmon. Strawberries and semi-soft cheese are the perfect accompaniment to wine. Semisweet wines such as Riesling and Gewurztraminer work well, as do almost any dessert wines. I've never had a bad match with red or white wine, but a real Northwest eyeopener is Washington Strawberries and Oregon Pinot Noir, though I wouldn't object to a California Pinot or a Red Burgundy.
Thunderbird or MD20/20? Well, not quite that bad. How many times have you ordered wine on a flight only to be disappointed? Even in First Class? The last wine I had in First Class was a not so first class Viognier from California. I vaguely recall having some good wine in Business Class many years ago. At least in steerage you can buy those little six ounce bottles. Water is probably a better choice and sometimes offered free on some airlines. Anyway, I decided to see which of those 187ml bottles offered the best chance of a decent quaff on a plane, not that you really have a choice on a given flight. We only tasted Chardonnay. Sutter Home was sweet and flabby. Gallo was acceptable. Delicato anything but delicate, but workable, Stone Cellar from Beringer was not bad at all, well balanced with a (oh, no!) slightly stony quality, and good fruit. BTW, This is available at Trader Joe's for only $3.99 ( four buck chuck ?) and it is a lot better than Charles Shaw Chardonnay. Too bad you can't BYOB. I am so far behind on my posts that I thought I would send this little post along just to remind you that I'm still in the game:)
BULLETIN: FWC (Federal Wine Commission) to bailout wine industry. The FWC is a little known division of the Federal Reserve. Fiat will take control of Deageo and the Federal Government will own 60% of Constellation Brands. Deageo and Constellation will let go of over 50% of retailers and restaurants. Constellation will sell a significant portion of it's portfolio of wineries to buyers in China and Japan. Congressmen have complained of a lack of oversight, arbitrariness, unregulated rule by fiat, lack of clear and sound guidelines and criteria, and the impact on local communities. Some may have to drive more than 100 miles to get some wine. This will be beneficial to state budgets as the number of DWIs will increase. Goldman Sacks has indicated an interest in securitizing these debts (DWIs & DUIs), even under the regulation of the Federal Reserve (too bad Hank ain't around no more). A certain amount of wine in large formats with be held in Reserve for the Feds' own use. Already there has been a populist outcry over these outrageously oversized last minute bonuses.
On Wall Street there has been a huge rally in the stocks of American bucket manufacturers. In pre-market trading American Bucket(ABC), Kick The Bucket(KICK), and Bucket List(LIST), have risen 24%, 39%, and 103%, respectively. A little known earmark in fine print specifies that only American buckets from Arkansas and Kansas are to be used to drain the lake of wine in the U.S. resulting from excess inventories of cult wines and and wines priced at $14 and up. Like housing, there has recently been noted a slight increase in consumption by entry level buyers and those who have had to scale down during the "worst Recession since the Depression of the 1930s". Wines priced at the high end have suffered the greatest drop in sales and anyone who has a few bucks left can get on virtually any "list". "Allocated" wines can now be allocated to YOU, if you want them. Overseas, Asian and European bucket makers fell on the news. Several Asian CEOs and one French CEO kicked the bucket on the news. Interestingly, very few top level bucket makers had the decency to kick the bucket. Instead they seem to have taken out their bucket lists and are flying around the world checking off items at a rapid rate.
President Obama made it perfectly clear that he had no intention of nationalizing the wine industry or the bucket industry. He stated that it was necessary to bailout the wine industry because the country is drowning in a lake of high-priced wine. At his speech in Napa, he noted that roughly half of the countries in the world, including many Muslim countries, produce wine. He stated, unequivocally, that countries must abide by the Non-Proliferation Treaty and that, while no country could or should dictate the wine-growing behavior of another country, non-producing countries must sign the treaty and abide by its provisions. He also pointed out the absurd maze of state regulation and the intra-state attempts to coerce the behavior of individuals living in particular regions. He called for an end to the checkerboard of dry and wet counties found in some regions. Conservative Senators accused Obama of being unduly influenced by what they called a special interest group - Free The Grapes. Former Vice President Cheney virtually accused Free The Grapes of socialism and terrorism
Returning to the international arena, he said that the peaceful use of wine for domestic consumption enhances the GHP (Gross Happiness Product) of individuals and countries, but that threats of overproduction from rogue terroiristes are unacceptable and will be met with firm opposition by the international community. Terroiristes who turn in their plows will be welcomed into the community of nations. He expressed optimism that in the long run, the American wine industry could recapture it's lead by cutting prices and increasing innovation. He said that he understood the long suffering of the followers of Bacchus and Dionysus and history of hostility between them. He acknowledged how difficult it will be to overcome decades of cultism, but said that we must, and will, be guided by our moral obligations to do the right thing. While acknowledging the rights of teetotalers, he asked the world to unite in celebrating diversity, and asked us all, within the bounds of our various values and religious beliefs, to eat, drink, and be merry which is a universal human desire and a human right!