Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Canines & Wines

Rolling from September into the new month of October, dogs have been on my mind and especially one in particular, my little "Chloe-Bird." Chloe is a little white/beige Yorki-Poo who will be going on her 10-month of her little 7 lb four-legged life. You see, she has kept me up at night recently, every night since Friday. Lots of "barfies and runnies," no appetite, swollen eye lids, splotchy red marks on an ear, two trips to Doggie ER and a mortgage payment later...

Chloe is now bouncing off the walls and once again herself. All of her tests came out fine and the latest medical prediction is perhaps she may have been bit by a spider or more like - - ate one. She is now bright-eyed and bushy tailed, but I am not. I am dragging...and this morning on my way to work, after watching her exuberantly taking her first bite of kibble since Thursday night and still wanting more, it made me reflect on all of the great dogs I have owned (and grieved for) in my adult life: Valentino (aka Poopus), Rosebud Lee-Marie, Lady Mae of Green Gables, and my finest companion in the best of times and the worst of times, Lucy Baines Johnson Walker. In fact, Lucy's best friend was Salsa, the black lab from Forgeron Cellars (and sometimes Salsa can be seen hanging at Long Shadows Winery). Salsa kept Lucy company during Lucy's "golden years." After two-years of being without a dog in almost 30 years - - now enters: Chloe-Bird Cristina Barcelona.

October is definitely the month for canines and wines in the Walla Walla Valley. One of October’s observances is "Adopt a Shelter Dog" and Walla Walla wineries are in the middle of their harvest – crush. We love our pets in Walla Walla and it is only fitting that during the month of October is the Annual Fall Furr Ball, a benefit for the Blue Mountain Humane Society on October 25. It’s a waggin’ tail of a good time with dinner, auction, gaming and dancing. For more info contact: BMHS.

This coming Saturday, October 4 is the Second Annual Dog Stampede that kicks off the Grand Opening of the Walla Walla Dog Park at Fort Walla Walla Park. Check here for a complete schedule.

October 10 is Walla Walla's signature benefit dinner auction - "Entwine." I love this event! It's held at the Marcus Whitman Hotel, featuring more than 70 wineries with regional art, great escapes packages and other treasures to bid on. It is co-sponsored by ArtWalla, Walla Walla Community College Foundation, and the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance.

On behalf of the great "woofers" in Walla Walla, now is the time to celebrate with some Walla Walla wine. If you are a wine aficionado who has a "crush" on canines, you can view the many photos of the great dogs who hang out with their winemakers at the local wineries. Winery Dogs of Walla Walla is a color-filled hardback book featuring beautiful photographs of 77 winery dogs associated with 47 local wineries and over 100 photos of dogs in their winery and vineyard environment. And while you're reading you'll want to be sipping on a glass of any of the Walla Walla wines, especially those featuring a winery dog label such as: Dunham Cellar's Four Legged White or Three Legged Red. Go fetch and chase down what Lowden Hills has to offer: Merlin's Winemaker's Reserve Red or their LuLu Red, a secret blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon named after the winery's guard dog, LuLu the Yorkie.

October - it's the month to celebrate man's (or woman's) best friend and to celebrate the harvest of Walla Walla's fine wines. Sante!

(...and yes, Chloe has one blue eye and one brown eye.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Wine Blogger: aka Self-Proclaimed Wine Critic

First of all, exactly what is "blogging?" Wikipedia describes it as:

A blog (a contraction of the term "Web log") is a Web site, usually maintained by an individual, with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. "Blog" can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog.

So, what wine subject do you want to read about? Only Washington State Wines? Wines from Long Island, New York? Need to follow a budget of Wines Under $20? Care about the politics and marketing of wine? Want to learn about the wines from Spain and Portugal? Are you a wine drinking hiker ? A Pinot Noir enthusiast? Want to read a blog with a wine magazine point of view? A specific winery? Prefer to take in wine blog reviews via video, instead of reading?

When I first started blogging about wine, over three years ago, there were an average of 300 wine bloggers around the world and of course in the mean time, the numbers have grown - - even wine magazines, newspaper wine columnists, wineries and even retail wine stores are getting into the blogging action - - a very smart move and in some instances, I think, met with the mindset of "if you can't beat them..."

There are now even wine blogging conventions held in the United States and internationally. All I know is from my own experience when I first started blogging: I felt alone. I was one of the few women wine bloggers out there. I was also the only wine blogger in Walla Walla, WA and the only one at the time just blogging about Walla Walla wines - - and even one of the few blogging about Washington State wines. I was met with: "Walla Wall-where did you say? Washington DC makes wine? Oh, you have that little blaaawg. Isn't that cute (pat-pat-pat), she's writing about wines from her little home town."

It was either not knowing any better or stubbornness, but I hung in there like a small yapping terrier dog chewing on whatever bare ankle was visible (hmm...I think I just described my little dog, Chloe...), and my marks must have left some toothy impressions, as the stubbornness is beginning to pay off for me.

Blogging, especially wine blogging, sounds easy doesn't it? It's certainly easy to start one, as there are various free and inexpensive blog publishing tools available to us. And far too often, as soon as we make the decision to blog and the fingers hit the key board, it's even easier to think, "This will become one of the best wine blogs around..."

That thinking is not an impossible goal, but it takes more than matching thoughts to fingers on a key board. I discovered you have to put yourself out there if you want readers, because it is going to be a readership that will make you "the best." You have to be consistent and if people are going to take you serious, you must have patience and wait it out until you get an audience. This is where consistency, and being persistent (or being stubborn) is important. The World Wide Web is huge and you just don't wait for people to come to you! And while I was waiting, I read other wine blogs and was pro-active. I didn't expect any of the wine bloggers to come to me with the wine blog welcome wagon. I introduced myself to other wine bloggers and even found the courage to ask some of them to exchange links. Some wine bloggers wouldn't talk to me about exchanging links until I had a few months of blogging behind me and they knew I was serious.

For many wine bloggers, blogging has become a life - a serious hobby and one they do out of love. It's their art, their craft, their personal expression - - the wine blog is their baby. They give their blog-baby love and watch it grow by feeding it with words. Alas, I am not a perfect wine blog parent, but I am protective about my wine blog baby, and my feelings of protection extends to many of my wine blogging colleagues. In fact, a few months ago several of us wine bloggers "took down" a wine column from a newspaper in Florida because it plagiarized one of our own. And my feelings of protection also includes my readers. Some of my readers have commented they wish I would blog everyday. I wish I could! At the very least, I try to publish a blog or two every ten days. Yup, real life happens, but if for some reason "real life" gets in the way of wine blogging or I meet with writer's block, and end up ten days or more without a blog, I try my best to let my readers know - - I owe it to them. However, I want my readers to know that when I am away from the computer I am always thinking, no matter if I am on vacation, having personal time alone, driving in the car, working in the garden, or with family and friends, the following goes through my mind, "How can I share this single experience with my readers?"

Like anything new and unfamiliar, the explosion of wine blogs have been met with controversy. The "word" on the "wine blogging street" is it's about old guard vs new guard - - meaning traditional print/journalists vs blogs/"self-proclaimed wine critics." Wine bloggers are wondering if food bloggers get as much crap from traditional food magazines and if not, is it due to wine being a high profile subject? Wine bloggers really felt the jab of the cellar rat baton recently when a prominent wine magazine was exposed for not doing their research. When caught, the magazine skirted around the issue in one of their chat rooms and ultimately it was the wine bloggers who took the heat for letting their readers know about the magazine's faux pas. Their senior editor said, "This is the problem with the 'blogosphere'. It's a lazy person's journalism. No one does any real research..."

Umm...okay...and who didn't do any real research when handing out their restaurant awards to a restaurant that didn't exist? Explain to me again about lazy person's journalism and real research? And then - - within a week of that stamping of tiny feet, the wine bloggers took another hit: a wine blogger arranged for several wine and food bloggers to take part in a wine review. The wine and food bloggers, who agreed to take part in the tasting and review, were sent a bottle of wine to taste and review all within a certain amount of time. On came more controversy and this time the emphasis was on "ethics." The critics came out pounding their tiny fists, charging that agreeing to accept free wine with review time conditions was unethical and very unprofessional. The critics claimed they would never agree to...blah-blah and blah and have never agreed to...blah-blah and bigger blaaaaaaaaah.

But...but...when a magazine or newspaper receives new books sent to their book editor, new tunes sent to their music editor and wine to their wine editor, isn't it rather "understood" - - an "unwritten code" that if you are going to be the very best reporter/editor you can't let these reviews slide with no time period set for a printed review? The PR firm and/or winery that sent out the items are betting these reviews will be accomplished immediately for them to be effective. What reporter, writer, critic or editor wants to be the last to report a review? Uh huh - yeah - sure - - and movie critics and sports writers always sit in the worst seats (note mocking and sarcastic tone). I questioned what I felt was double-standards, I was told, "No. You're wrong. When we, 'real journalists' receive wine, books, theatre tickets, that's different." Interesting enough, through all of the finger pointing and hypocrisy, I never read a thing about the ethics of the food bloggers who reviewed the same wine.

Here is what I think about these recent controversies, and no doubt there will be more: Ralph Waldo Emmerson said, "Fear always springs from ignorance." I smell fear. Wine blogs have arrived and finally taken seriously and so serious that the naysayers of wine blogs are speaking a lot of ignorance and double standards. Wine blogs are being used as scape goats and being put down as not being equals to the masters in print, instead of being accepted as another media tool. Wine blogging is another way to promote the most beloved, historical, cultural, archaeological, and scientific nectar of them all. The unconventional wine lover turned blogger, no matter the generation or lifestyle, should be used to capture other unconventional and potential wine lovers. To those who are willing to open their minds to something different should look to this new concept of reporting about wine and make it fit in their own lifestyle or business. The criticism and parental finger pointing towards the wine bloggers is getting tedious and most of all, oh--so--transparent.

In the future, I suspect the wine blogosphere will settle down and everyone will find their own niche in the World Wide Wine Web, if they really want it. Sure, there will be those who won't give at least 75% and will fail and unfortunately there will be several. There will be those with life changes and other opportunities who will put their wine blog to rest with intentions of waking it up at another time. Then will be the wine blogger who is passionate about their craft who will succeed and then there is the stubborn...who knows what will happen to the stubborn.

So let me end this missive with: If I have heard it once I have heard it several times, and always with a dismissive tone, "Anybody can start a blog...wine blogs are nothing special. You're all just self-proclaimed wine critics."

Yeah, that's right. If you don't like my wine blog or my wine blogging missive and have something to say about it, then start your own blog- - because after all, anybody can start a blog, right? But can you keep it fresh by being consistent in your blogging? Can you do it for almost little to zero dollars and still make your blog a viable wine information source and gain a readership? Are you willing to put yourself out there? If anybody can do all of this - then do it. I dare you. As the old saying goes, "Put up or shut up."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Weinhard Café - Dayton, WA

A best kept secret and it's such a best kept secret, I need to be reminded of it once in awhile. The only reason I need to be reminded, not because this secret isn't worthy, it's just because of the distance. And every time I do remember to eat there, I always think to myself, "Why don’t I eat here more often?" And then my aunt and uncle, living in the Ski Bluewood area near Dayton, often remind me The Weinhard Café is one of their favorite places to dine.

Again, I was reminded when my DOD group, (Dining Out Diva’s) selected to dine at the Weinhard Café for their "dining experience" in month of September. The Weinhard Café refers to their restaurant as "New American Cuisine." I just refer to it as "fresh and delicious." The Weinhard Café, owned and operated by Tiffany Cain and Mae Schrey, has a casual, yet intimate atmosphere. The restaurant has been opened for eight years and the last four years it has been located at 258 E. Main, across the street from their original spot at the Weinhard Hotel. Sunset Magazine even gave the dining experience a recommendation.

We chose salads as a starter and from a wonderful assortment on the menu from the Mediterranean-style Panzanella to a Farm Tomato Salad. My dining companions all chose the beef tenderlion with corn cakes and fire roasted onion relish as their entree. I, who usually eat meat about once a week, chose a vegetarian meal with fresh made noodles covered with pesto and sitting on top of a crown of new red potatoes and fresh and crunchy haricot vert (Umm...yeah - - tender green beans. I just like writing "haricot vert" to pretend like I am cool and know some French words.)

The wine list at the Weinhard Café is very generous featuring many Walla Walla wines. However, when dining with most of the women staff from Forgeron Cellars - - you drink Forgeron Cellars wine. I have to wonder if beef was on my dining companion's minds ahead of time as a bottle of Forgeron Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon - 2003 traveled with us to the restaurant. Once the cork was pulled and glasses were poured, my Dining Out Diva companions commented on how the elegant Cabernet Sauvignon made for a perfect pairing with their beef tenderloin. And frankly, I didn’t care how it was suppose to pair with my vegetarian bowl of flavorful carbs. All I cared about was how fragrant the nose of blackberries and lilacs wafted from the glass. The deep colored wine was dense with a mouthful of ripe, yet concentrated blackberries. The aroma and flavors from the wine seemed to remove all of the worries in my world. (Please note: when bringing wine into a restaurant, please call ahead regarding corkage fees and wine menus.).

Now, no matter if you have filled up on starters and entrees and you protest and stamp your tiny feet telling your server that you are full and couldn't handle another bite - - stop it. You know you want to and especially when your server teases with the bulletin board list of desserts. My advice? Do not resist. Order! You don’t care if you are full. Just do it! Share if you must, but don’t let their desserts get away. I chose a piece of fresh peach and blackberry pie - - and the crust - - oh my - - flakey, buttery and a hint of sweetness. Probably one of the best crusts I have ever tasted. My dining companions had some chocolate-type of desserts, and again - - I could have cared less as I was so involved with my own dessert. But what I can tell you about their chocolate dessert is I kept hearing these moans and sighs of joy and "yums" at the other end of the table.

The Weinhard Café is open Tuesday - Saturday with lunch hours from 11:00 am - 2:00 pm and dinner starting at 5:00 pm. And just in case - I would recommend reservations. Seriously - it’s worth the miles.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wine Blogging Wednesday #49 - End of an Era

Here we are - - it’s Wine Blogging Wednesday again and for the month of September our host is Dhoning, a self named cartoonist and wine geek. He is also a political commentator and the wine blogger of 2 Days per Bottle. So it's no surprise, with him being a political commentator, that he has chosen this particular theme: What will you drink to toast the end of the Bush era?"

At this time, I honestly don’t know what I will drink to toast the end of the Bush era. Probably nothing. It's not about an end of an era for me, but more important - - the new era. I prefer to look ahead than look behind us. But I will say this, no matter the results, it will certainly be an historic era considering the candidates from both parties.

Originally I decided to choose a wine based on the final presidential election. If I am happy with the election, I will reach into my personal wine cubby and grab a 2005 Feather from Long Shadow’s Winery. And why am I choosing this particular wine? First of all, cabernet sauvignon is my favorite grape and second, I will be tickled with a "feather" (groan) if the election results go my way.

Feather is a cabernet sauvignon produced in Walla Walla by one of Napa Valley's distinguished Cabernet Sauvignon vintners, Randy Dunn. If the wine descriptions are any indication of the results I wish for the final ballot, this cabernet sauvignon is balanced with great concentration and depth. It has received accolades by many.

Then I started thinking, "what wine will I drink if the election doesn't go my way?" I thought about this for a while and finally realized I would drink the same. I would still drink the Long Shadow's Feather Cabernet Sauvignon. Why? Because the silkiness and rich mouth feel of this particular cabernet reminds me of a favorite blanket - - my security blanket that I will need to hold onto for the next four years.

Anyways - - either way, I will be prepared with my chosen wine, to either toast a new era in or a wine to bring me comfort - - and in the mean time, I will wait patiently the outcome until the last vote has been dredged from the Florida swamps.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Walla Walla Wine Woman Does the Willamette

Ahhh...Willamette, Oregon Wine Country - - the home of Pinot Noir. To be honest? I've never been a fan of Pinot Noir. However, I have noticed that lovers of Pinot Noir are passionate about this grape and possibly more passionate wine drinkers than any other wine. If made well, it is fragrant, silky and a elegant wine, but for some reason it's Cabernet Sauvignon that caught and kept my attention all these years.

Pinot Noir is the greatest challenge to winemakers and also the greatest challenge in a vineyard, but this Burgundian grape has found it’s place in Oregon. I can’t tell you how many times when I was working behind the tasting room bar, wine customers would ask, "When is Walla Walla going to get on the bandwagon and start producing lots of Pinot Noir?" My answer, "Why should we when the Willamette Valley is doing such a terrific job?"

I often wondered if these comments had something to do with the movie, "Sideways" as the main character Miles hated Merlot, but loved Pinot Noir. And of course, after the movie the craze of Pinot Noir sparked new-wine-consumer America, where ultimately a lot of bad Pinot Noir was sold and a lot of great Merlot was ignored.

In April, I had an opportunity to taste a lot of pinot noir while judging for the Northwest Wine Summit held at Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood, OR and I even found a couple I liked, so my interest was peaked to taste more. So last month, Steve and I did some wine tasting in the Willamette, but of course we first had to make a stop in Portland to relax and dine at one of my favorite restaurants, Pazzo Ristorante. Yummy martinis and brick oven pizzas! We stayed at the historic Hotel Vintage Plaza and do they ever know how to start your visit! We were greeted with a hosted wine tasting in the lobby. A couple of glasses of wine, after the four hour drive, were welcomed (Pazzo Ristorante is also in the same building). After we settled into our room, we went for a walk to check out the city and wouldn’t you know, right across the street was a wine bar tucked into one of my favorite shopping areas at Morgan’s Alley. Oregon Wines on Broadway is where we did the flight of Pinot Noir (see Raise Your Glass to the Pinot Noir Glass) and discovered how the right glass can make a difference in the taste of a wine.

Our original destination was the Oregon coast for a couple of days, but on the way to the coast and back to Walla Walla, we visited the wineries of Stoller Vineyards, Anne Amie Vineyards, Domaine Drouhin, Carlton Wine Studio and WillaKenzie We tasted several wines, mostly Pinot Noirs. Coming home from the coast, Steve and I discussed which wines we liked and which ones we didn't. We both agreed that we enjoyed the wines from Stoller Vineyards, WillaKenzie and the chardonnay, "Arthur" from Domaine Drouhin. "Arthur" was a classic white burgundy in style, as it should be, considering Domaine Drouhin's background. Their two pinot noirs, Willamette Valley and "Laurene" were very good, but we thought the Laurene's price tag, $65 per 750 ml bottle, was a bit high, in comparison to Stoller's SV (Senior Vines) elegant and silky Pinot Noir at just $40 a bottle.

It was no surprise to us that we liked everything we tasted at Stoller Vineyards, since Steve was already a club member and we had experienced the Stoller wines before. We sampled a beautiful rose' of pinot noir, two chardonnays, the JV Pinot Noir, besides the SV Estate Pinot Noir. We discovered two days later, over looking the sun sinking into the ocean, how wonderful the chilled rose' of Pinot Noir paired with fresh smoked salmon, croissants and an assortment of Tillamook Oregon coast cheese.

The wines we had at the Carlton Wine Studio, which is just outside the charming little burg of Carlton, we chose a flight of two syrahs including a red blend, and a flight of two pinots. We liked the Ribbon Ridge pinot a lot (its fragrant, beautiful nose especially), the other (Lazy River) not so much. We also liked the house-label red blend. The syrahs were from Washington fruit, (Andrew Rich and Dominio IV) and they just weren't typical of Washington made syrahs that we are so spoiled on, we thought.

WillaKenzie makes two whites, a pinot blanc and a pinot gris, that were both highlights and real deals at $18 each. They also make about a thousand vineyard-designated pinot noirs (six, actually) and one blend. All of these wines are beautifully crafted -- you can tell that real expertise went into each of them. Of all of their pinot noirs the "Aliette" was a very noticable wine for me. It was very elegant, yet full bodied wine. We also noticed indeed the difference between drinking Oregon Pinots in regular Chardonnay style glasses vs the new Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glasses.

Unfortunately, the wines of Anne Amie Vineyards were all forgettable, as was our tasting-room experience there. The less said, the better. However, our tasting-room experiences at Stoller, Drouhin and WillaKenzie, especially, were wonderful. Stoller might win by a hair in the friendliness competition, WillaKenzie in the scenery department and for as big and as crowded Drouhin was, it wins for patience and professionalism in spite of the limosine that showed up at closing time - - but wow, all of them were very memorable and there isn't any doubt we will buy more bottles from all of them in the future.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Honor Roll at L'Ecole Nº 41

In today’s wine industry, marketing professionals are advising wine businesses, from wine making to wine retailing, about the importance of branding. What is branding? “Branding” is collection of images and ideas, such as name, logo, slogan, and design that convey the essence of a company, product or service. Brand recognition is nothing new for L'Ecole Nº 41, as they have been "branding" premium, handcrafted wines in the Walla Walla Valley since 1983. In fact, their recognized brand, based on their historic Frenchtown School, has evolved to another brand, their hearty table blend with a name that reminds us to take a break, "Recess Red." And speaking of recess and school, if you never made the honor roll back in school, L’Ecole No 41 is going to give you a second chance.

Brooke Williams, L'Ecole's Tasting Room Manager just told me about their new "Honor Roll." This cleverly named event is where you can experience a one-of-a-kind private tasting in the cellar of their historic Frenchtown Schoolhouse. At the event you will taste a combination of five wines including new releases, limited production, library and/or reserve wines that will be showcased exclusively to Honor Roll attendees. And while you're enjoying the fruits of being a "wine achiever," you will also receive an informative tour of the production facilities and the beautiful grounds. What a great way to enjoy a leisurely Friday afternoon!

To secure your place on the "Honor Roll" is $25 per person, but Brooke says if you are one of the Vins de L'Ecole wine club members, this event is only $10! Honor Roll Friday's will be held April through November, @ 2pm-3pm (Excluding 4/4 & 5/2). Of course, reservations are required. And if you want to make the Honor Roll, it's limited to 15 people, so I would call Brooke at 509-525-0940 or Email her ASAP! Don't let someone else take your place on the L'Ecole Honor Roll!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Looking Through the Eyes of Out-of-Town Visitors and a Dog: The Walla Walla Farmer's Market

If you have not taken the time to consume the sights, the sounds and the delicious smells of the Walla Walla Farmer's Market you have until the weekend of October 25-26 to do so. Now - - don't expect to find a bottle of Walla Walla wine for sale at the market, located on Main & 4th, but you will find many other items that make perfect accents for wine: from fresh produce to decorated wine glasses.

During the month of June, I had the pleasure of long time family friends from Seattle stay with me for a weekend. I had to work that particular Saturday morning, but I told my guests if they were looking for something to do until I returned, not to miss the Walla Walla Saturday Market downtown. Sometimes those of us who have been living in Walla Walla for many years, and especially before the wine-influence, often take for granted the many things that Walla Walla has to offer. I know I've been guilty. Unfortunately, at that time, I hadn't taken the opportunity to get to the market this season, so it was a great surprise (and reminder) to see the market from fresh eyes and the added benefit of enjoying their Saturday Market “harvest” which included: Monteillet Fromagerie cheese, food-to-go vendors, cookies, baguettes, local produce and fresh herbs. My guests were so impresssed with the assortment, the quality, the fresh flowers, chattered up the bake goods, the Monteillet cheese and of course, being from Seattle, my guests said if only the market had fresh caught fish and seafood from the docks of the Walla Walla Bay (ahem...), it would be even better!

And since my friends visit, I have made several trips back and with different reasons. Here are a few: looking for a morning adventure and in hopes of running into friends and acquaintances, to pick up local fresh produce for cucumber and onion salad, in search of the fresh green bean to fill the needful crave of Grandma's recipe of simmering green beans and Walla Walla Sweets, only fresh basil would do for the evening's spaghettini, finding fresh ingredients to make sofrito to spread on crostinis - - and when toasting crostini, I needed bread from Hidden Valley Bakery and John’s Wheatland Bakery (and at either bakery, I could not resist the fresh fruit Danish and croissants) and one last reason - - to socialize Chloe.

Chloe? Who's Chloe, you ask? She's a beige/white 8-month-old Yorki-Poo, with one blue eye and one brown. She is all but 7 lbs wet and I'm told won't get much bigger. "Chloe-Bird" was the ultimate birthday gift to myself, when a previously planned gift/event had failed. I had known about this little four-legged bundle of energy for awhile and it has been almost two years since I've been without a four legged companion and always having one in the last 25 years. Well, once I saw her - - well - - we needed each other. The Walla Walla Farmer’s Market has been a wonderful outlet to visit with other dog owners and for my little Chloe-Bird to "visit" with other dogs. She especially loves the Walla Walla Farmer’s Market when the “dog treat lady” is there to give out samples. Chloe lines up with the rest of the tail-waggin' customers and samples the delectable hand-made natural treats. Looking at the Walla Walla Farmer's Market from Chloe's view, she keeps so busy that she has to nap on the way home, which is rare for her to stay settled in the car.

When you first enter the market on Main Street, you immediately hear the tunes of local musicians and smell the food from the many vendors. Trust me - you will want to arrive hungry. During one of my last visits, even Washington State Representative Maureen Walsh was grilling up the famous Walla Walla Sweet Onion sausages from Onion World, her family’s business. Graze Catering is also at the market and everytime I walk by the booth to say hi to John, it's busy! At the other end of the market is often my friend Paul Freeman with "The Grill." Paul and his assistants serve up some of the most tender and flavorful Santa Maria-style Tri-tips. At my house, we've enjoyed some of The Grill's specialities and if you're a Cougar fan, you may have already tasted The Grill's BBQ at the WSU Field House during football season (and Paul has recently purchased the historic old town bank building on Main Street in Milton-Freewater, OR).

If you want "fresh," you will find a great selection of local veggies, fruits and herbs from various vendors. I have enjoyed tomatoes, cukes, peppers, green beans, onions, fresh herbs, and even blackberries from vendors such as R & R Produce, Ideal Organics, and Locati Farms, to name a few. And with an armful of bags filled with veggies, herbs, berries, focaccia, baguettes and morning pastries, it's a pleasure, and comfort, knowing the Blue Mt. Humane Society is also in attendance. They are not only featuring their non-profit programs, but guiding pet owners how to care for their furry companions during "the dog days of summer. "

Calling out to Aimee, Bud, Skip and everyone else on the board, including vendors and volunteers: Congratulations on another successful year!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Raise Your Glass to the Pinot Noir Glass!

Can a glass really make a difference in the wines we taste? I'll admit to being persnickety about certain beverage glasses (never liked drinking wine out of a glass that has a thick rim) and although I do own a few sets of Riedel glasses that I love, I’ve been a bit cautious to not get so caught up on their "magic."

A few weeks ago, Steve and I were in Portland on our way to wine tasting through the Willamette Valley. We stayed downtown Portland and across the street from our hotel was the "Oregon Wine Bar on Broadway" - - and of course, we had to check it out. It was a friendly bar (staff and customers) that was bright and roomy, with an excellent assortment of Northwest wine including an impressive selection of wines from Walla Walla. We decided, "When in Oregon...,"so we immediately jumped into a flight of Pinot Noir - 2006. Steve was particularly happy with the selection offering as the flight included one of his favorite labels of Pinot Noir, Stoller Vineyards. Also, included were two other Oregon wineries, Hamacher "H" Wines and J Christopher Winery.

At first glance of the flight, I noticed the glasses were a cheaper bar glass like what you would see at a fraternal lodge stag bar, where wines are often an afterthought - short stem, small 4 oz bowl with a very thick rim. The glasses were also very scratched from many visits to the dishwasher. Being familiar with the wines from Stoller, I was very disappointed in the nose and taste. The nose was closed and what aroma I finally caught was pungent and sour. This wine did not have the elegant quality that I remembered and seemed kind of tight - flavorless. "H" was a little better in flavors, while J. Christopher seemed to be a heavier, thicker tasting Pinot, but Steve noticed a bit of vinyl taste. Overall, the experience of this Pinot Noir flight was still enjoyable and a perfect way to kick off our visit to the Willamette.

The next morning, we were on the road - destination Willamette Valley with our first stop at Stoller Vineyards. The glasses given to us at Stoller to taste from, were nothing I had ever tasted from before. I had only seen these interesting shaped glasses in catalogs. They were very different from the typical round Burgundy glass, but with an extra-large crystal bowl that flared towards the rim. Of course, they were Riedels. We commented about the glasses and were told they were especially designed for Oregon Pinot Noir. I remembered reading about such glasses but rather passed it off, with a raised eyebrow. The same 2006 Pinot Noir that we tasted at the Oregon Wine Bar on Broadway was not the same wine - - but it was! It was the exact Junior Vines Estate Pinot Noir - 2006! The nose was full of sweet strawberry jam and cherry pie with accents of almond. The taste was earthy with a spicy finish and never showing a flaw. We told the tasting room attendants about our positive experiences with their wines (Steve more so as he is a club member) and about the not-so positive the night before - - their wine was our least favorite of the three wines in our flight. Of course, it was like the light bulb went on for all of us - it was all about the glass. The staff explained to us about what a difference the Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glass made: from how crystal alone conveys aroma and flavors better than ordinary glass and the fruit of the Pinot Noir is accentuated with the tapered glass.

Our last wine of the Stoller flight was their SV Estate Pinot Noir - 2006. This wine was the selection of their very best senior vines and the best of the barrels. The nose was just about the most exquisite wine ever and could make a non-lover of Pinot Noir change their mind. Aroma of violets, spice and earth came through and the ripe flavors of cherries. We savored this wine while enjoying the view of the perfectly manicured vineyards. Our tasting room attendant encouraged us to take a walk down the hill and up the slopes to the vineyard. Along with the invite, she poured us another glass of the SV Estate into a heavy plastic wine glass especially made to pack in a picnic basket. We "inspected" the pristine vineyards, assessed the canopy management, the fruit zone, the clay top soil (yah okay, we're grape geeks) and of course, took in the view of the Willamette Valley scenery from the hilltop. And while we were absorbing everything around us, we couldn't help but notice the difference of the same wine we had tasted earlier in the Riedel Pinot Noir wine glass. Flavors and aromas were there, but noticeably very muted in the plastic glass with the thick rim! Viva la difference! I will never raise my eyebrow again.