Friday, May 29, 2009

Waterbrook Winery and Walla Walla Wine Works

Exactly one year from its ground-breaking announcement, the new Waterbrook Winery and Tasting Room in Walla Walla will hold its Grand Opening celebration on June 5-6, which is the perfect timing for Walla Walla wine tourists who will be in the area for the “Vintage Walla Walla” event. This weekend will also celebrate Waterbrook’s 25th Anniversary.

The new Waterbrook Winery is a 53,000 sq. ft. winemaking facility located on 10518 West Hwy 12, just west of Walla Walla. Also included is a 5,000 sq. ft. tasting room. The public tasting room will offer guests a wide selection of highly-acclaimed Waterbrook wines, produced by winemaker John Freeman. The tasting room will be open to the public from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday - Friday, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Sunday (no appointment needed) with a tasting fee is $5 (note: visitors will receive a souvenir wine glass during the Grand Opening weekend).

For those who prefer to taste outdoors, Waterbrook is the perfect place to celebrate Walla Walla's natural beauty. With panoramic views of the sprawling grounds and picturesque Blue Mountains, visitors can relax on the patio with a glass of wine or engage in outdoor activities such as bocce ball on the expertly constructed bocce ball court. The goal of the Seattle-based Precept Wine Brands, who purchased the winery from Waterbrook founder Eric Rindal in 2007, is to create the ultimate wine tasting experience. They drew inspiration from Walla Walla's natural landscape to create facilities that would act as a window into the beautiful surrounding scenery from the tranquil ponds, wheat fields and stunning blue mountain range

Aside from Waterbrook (70,000 annual case production), the new winery will produce an additional 230,000 cases of premium Washington wines under the “Walla Walla Wine Works” contract name including: The Magnificent Wine Company, Apex Cellars, Pendulum and more. The entire production facility includes 10,000 barrels, 60 tanks (ranging from 1,000-3,000 gallons), a new bottling line (100+ bottles per minute) and state-of-the-art crush, bottling and warehouse capabilities. Additional amenities include a catering kitchen, large patio and multi-functional spaces for hosting private and corporate events. There will also be a private, three-bedroom bungalow located on the property for members of the trade and Waterbrook guests to stay.

The new winery opening also brings news of a retail transition for the Waterbrook tasting room on First & Main in downtown Walla Walla. The tasting room formerly known as Waterbrook reopened its doors on May 1 as Walla Walla Wine Works. With “new vino” and a “new vibe,” the Walla Walla Wine Works Tasting Room offers a vast portfolio of premium Washington wines including: Apex Cellars, The Magnificent Wine Company, Pendulum, Waterbrook 1st & Main exclusives and more! Walla Walla Wine Works Tasting Room is open every day and during the warmer months, guests can enjoy free, live music and extended hours on Wednesdays and Sundays. Visitors are invited to enjoy wines by the glass and light fare, relax on the patio amidst our charming downtown Main Street and of course, purchase their favorite selections in this destination tasting room and bottle shop.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Ashley Trout of Flying Trout Wines

Walla Walla Union Bulletin Web Producer, Jeremy Gonzalez produced this short video of Ashley Trout telling her story about winemaking. As a fan of Flying Trout Wines, I think that Jeremy has really captured Ashley's enthusiasm about her craft.

For more information about wining and dining in Walla Walla, check out: UB's Wine & Dine Walla Walla.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Buy Local Wine

This poster was designed by Fox Run Vineyards in California. It is a take-off of "Rosie the Riveter," the cultural icon, whose image was used to promote American women who worked in war factories during World War II.

The other day, this poster was published on Facebook and my name was tagged on it by Randy Hall, co-host of Wine Biz Radio from Sonoma Valley. I was flattered, that even as far as Sonoma Valley in California, someone has been paying attention to the importance I have placed on the wines from Walla Walla. I truly support buying local wines: my local - my hometown - local wines from Walla Walla. Thanks Randy for the recognition.

Friday, May 15, 2009

I Drink Your Wine - Dan McCool

Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting (over a glass of wine, of course) with Dan McCool, from I Drink Your Wine. "I Drink Your Wine" is one of those concepts, that you kind of thump yourself later and say, "Why didn't I think of that?" And yet, Dan will be honest that it is not an original idea, as others before him have been marketing items this way on the internet.

Dan started on April 1, 2009, and everyday since he's been "selling" his love of wine. "Selling his love of wine," you're thinking? Yup, he's "sellin' da lovvve." On April 1st, he started drinking a different wine everyday and will continue for the rest of 2009. In fact, he wants to drink your wine! Then, after he drinks your wine, he will post a short video, taking multiple pictures throughout the day and then blog about your wine! These days of drinking your wine are sold at “face value” so if you were starting on January 1, it would cost $1 and then of course, December 31 would cost $365.

This year, with the concept being new and all, and beings that Dan started April 1, you are getting a real bargain, because even if you don't have Dan "drink your wine" until December 31, 2009 you will only have to pay $275 instead of $365. Also, the first 50 early adopters in 2009 get preference for their choice of days in 2010.

Maybe you've already seen Dan around the wineries in Walla Walla selling his "love?" So far, he has drank the Walla Walla wines of: Elegante Cellars, Cougar Crest Winery, Cavu Cellars, Skylite Cellars, Russell Creek Cellars, LeChateau Winery, Walla Walla Village Winery, Locati Cellars, Crossroads Steak House, Dunham Cellars, and there's more to come!

The day Dan and I visited, he had just finished filming the Hendersons at Lowden Hills Winery. Sonja and Lulu look as lovely as ever - oh, and of course, so does Jim. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wine Blogging Wednesday #57: California Inspirations and the Visionary Vintner

I love stories and especially stories than can tie people and places together - giving us a common ground and a sense of home. From the time I was a little girl, I loved reading stories about young heroines searching for their own sense of home like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Or young women who, like fruit on the vines, understood their sense of place - their terroir, such as Meg in Little Women and Laura from Little House on the Prairie. The colorful and detailed illustrations of these stories also captivated me as a child and would take me away deep into the colored pages. And I think because of those wonderful stories of my youth, along with the beautiful pages of color and often whimsy, it is one of the reasons why I get caught up on the story of winemakers and their wines. I am intrigued with their stories, and especially if those stories are shared on wine labels like an artist’s palette.

The May theme for Wine Blogging Wednesday #57 is “California Inspirations.” Our host is Jeff Leverre from the colorfully illustrated wine blog, Good Grape: A Wine Manifesto. His chosen theme is inspired by the 1-year anniversary of Robert Mondavi’s passing. Jeff has asked us to choose a California wine that has acted as a memorable mile marker on our wine journey and to share the story.

I had to really think about this theme. As you know, I have limited this blog to wines from my home - the Walla Walla Valley. How could I fit a California wine into this blog? I thought about it and came up with the answer - - a true inspiration - - with a wonderful story!

One of my many favorite wines from the Walla Walla Valley has been inspired by a winemaker from California and the winery responsible for this unique consortium, has deep roots back to Robert Mondavi. Long Shadow's Vintners, located in the Walla Walla Valley, was founded by winemaking and viticulture pioneer, Allen Shoup who has forged winemaking partnerships from acclaimed winemakers throughout the world and now - - many of these winemakers have partnered with Allen to create world class wines that showcase the viticultural excellence of Washington State.

Randy Dunn of Dunn Vineyards in California, is one of those winemakers who have partnered with Long Shadows to create wines from Washington grapes. Dunn has a reputation for creating world class Cabernet Sauvignons and Randy brings his artistry and expertise to Long Shadows, from California, to produce small quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington State's finest vineyards.

"Feather" is Dunn's creation from Washington State. A couple of weeks ago, I did a private tasting at the winery of the new 2006 release. Beautiful! Rich and full-bodied like a Cabernet Sauvignon should be crafted, but at the same time it was velvety and smooth. The nose was aromatic of fresh berries and the palate was spicy and condensed with notes of dark ripe cherries. As a fan of Feather's past vintages, the new vintage didn't disappoint me. It's on my list of "swoon-worthy" wines - - and a wine I would consider a "California inspiration" and journeyed all the way up to Walla Walla, WA!

And as I near the end of inspirations and wine journeys, I am reminded back to May 16, 2008, the morning of Robert Mondavi's passing. After I heard the news, I thought about the legacy Mondavi left to everyone who was a New World wine aficionado, whether they knew of him or not. And I also wondered how he may have influenced Washington State's own wine legacy and of course, especially the wine industry in Walla Walla. Later that morning, I was reminded of this quote from Allen Shoup, of Long Shadow's Vintners in Walla Walla, WA. It was from an article in the March 21, 2008 issue of the former WASHINGTON CEO Magazine, "Refined Vintages" and I added the quote to my blog about Mondavi, titled: Visionary Vintner.

"The genesis for Long Shadows goes back to Robert Mondavi, who I got to know when I worked for Gallo in the 1970s and who is still a good friend," says Shoup. "In 1978 he and the Baron de Rothschild came out with Opus One, their joint project in Napa Valley. It instantly hit me as an ingenious thing to do. California was still fighting back then for recognition and Opus One helped put Napa wine on the map -- I give a lot of credit to Bob, who always promoted Napa ahead of his own wine. But if Bob was building a mountain in California, up here in Washington we were still in a chasm." - - Allen Shoup

A couple of days after the Mondavi blog entry, Allen Shoup of Long Shadows left a comment that he was one of the five speakers who had been invited to speak at the private event held for Mondavi. Allen thanked me for remembering Robert Mondavi on my blog. I felt humbled and honored that Allen took the time to share this with my readers and me.

So that's my personal wine journey of my "California inspiration." It tells a story of tying people and places together - giving us common ground and a most of all, still leaving me with a sense of home.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Blind Wine Taster

The New York Times video collection, "One in 8 Million" features a collection of "characters" from New York City displayed in sound and images. It's a collection of these "character's" passions and problems, relationships and routines, vocations and obsessions, from the subway, the Midtown, the streets, and the neighborhoods - - all with something to say.

From that collection is The Blind Wine Taster." Even before losing her sight in 1995 because of diabetes, Alexandra Elman, 40, had a sophisticated palate. Elman, and her seeing eye dog Hanley, travel the globe to find family-owned vineyards with a dedication to producing wines that reflect the uniqueness of their sites and grapes. And from these vineyards, Elman selects wines for restaurants and shops.

The people. Their stories. The black and white images. Wonderful.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Spring Release 2009: The After Mass - Final

After my visit to Mannina Cellars, I decided to venture out to the end of the airport to the Port of Walla Walla winery incubators. Stopping at the Winery Incubators is one way to taste several wines without having to drive and look for another parking spot in the rain. And wow! Were they drawing a crowd and it would soon be time for lunch! But sure enough, someone just pulled out of the parking lot, so I secured my space. Also, this was my opportunity to find out what Seattle's Skillet Street Food was all about, but first - wine to taste.

My first stop was Kontos Cellars to taste the new release of their Merlot - 2006. I had tasted it back in November during a tasting with Cameron, but wanted to see how it had changed (oh and btw - the Merlot was beautifully constructed with fruit from great sources: Alder Ridge, Boushey, and Ash Hollow Vineyards). And most of all I wanted to drop in and say hi to Chris and Cameron's better halves - Kelli and Becca. The Kontos brother's may be pouring the wine, but these two "wild Walla Walla wine women" are the ones really keeping the show going.

After my visit, I stood under the eaves of the Kontos building and looked around the incubator village - who do I "prey" upon next? I had met Andrew Lodmell a couple of years ago, and in fact at his lovely home for a dinner party, but I hadn't had an opportunity to visit his winery. For Lodmell Cellars, it seems it is a natural progression in their family to have a winery. Andrew is a Walla Walla fourth generation, whose family's original interest was farming wheat. Now a portion of their family's original land is home to Lodmell Vineyards.

Not only have the Lodmells received praise for the Merlot from their vineyard, but praises should go to their wines, especially the whites! I was very impressed with the Sauvignon Blanc - 2006 and even more so with the Lodmell Cellars Chardonnay - 2006! The Chardonnay was very Burgundian in style, bringing fruit and minerals to the palate. Truly a great food wine and one that you need to keep on hand (chilled, of course) for "porch sippin'" and especially with light summer meals. Andrew's Saigne Rose' was another nice surprise! A blend of 50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon that was barrel fermented. Another perfect summer sipper which left the palate with touches of rhubarb and tart fresh berries. I believe that Lodmell Cellars is a winery to keep an eye on and visiting with the Lodmell family and hearing about their wines, really added to my day.
(Photo Right: Andrew, winemaker and his sister, Kristie Lodmell Kirlin, Lodmell Cellars Marketing Director)

And just next door was Adamant Cellars ("No!" to my wacky sisters! It is not Adam Ant!) Winemaker and owner, Devin Stinger also added to my day with bliss! Bliss, I tell you! Bliss is the name for one of the most aromatic whites I've encountered. The Bliss - 2008 was alive with floral and citrus notes. In the nose I detected grapefruit and tangerines and frankly - - I wanted to dab a bit of it behind each ear as my new signature fragrance. It really caught me by surprise! 65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Semillon makes this blend a very fruit-forward wine with overwhelming notes of honey, pear, citrus, and yet with only 0.5% residual sugar. Seriously, I think this is a wine you need to drink with caution because before you know it - - you could drink the whole bottle by yourself. I mean "you" could - ummm - but I would never...

As always it was a delight to visit with Devin. When he first opened his winery, the first Semillon he produced made me realize, as someone who has never really enjoyed Semillon, that I could change my mind and actually enjoy them! And it is still holding true today. Now Devin's reds ain't too shabby, either. The new Adamant Red is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon & 40% Merlot. Lots of dark fruit (even rich dates!) along with cigar box and spice. And no matter if it is an Adamant red or white - if you want them, you have to get them NOW. Adamant Cellar wines sell out - - fast!

It was the first big weekend for CAVU Cellars at the incubators. Why CAVU? CAVU is an acronym for the aviation term ceiling and visibility unlimted. Winemaker, Joel Waite's father, James is a former pilot and the aviation reference is very appropriate when you consider their location is in the airport area and was also a former Air Force base. James is also helping Joel fulfill his goal of producing small-lot, unique varietals that Joel himself enjoys drinking, such as Malbec and Barbera.

Joel is a graduate of the Center for Viticulture and Enology at Walla Walla and his former profession was a chef and he owned a catering company that focused on high-end private dinners in the Washington DC area. With a food background, such as Joel's, there isn't any doubt that he understands the "art" of great food and wine pairings. It was a treat to be able to barrel sample his Barbera that is set for release this fall.

Before I knew it, my time was running out and my watch was letting me know if I didn't make my 2:30pm obligation, my coach would turn into a pumpkin and my glass slippers would turn into an ordinary pair of Birkenstocks. However, I could smell the food from Skillet Food. Many satisfied stomachs extend their thanks to Denise and Steve from Trio Vintners for bringing Skillet Street Food from Seattle to Walla Walla for the weekend. I waited in line for my bacon cheese burger with ARUGULA! And to my surprise, it even came with a generous serving of pomme frites! Skillet Street Food is not your ordinary lunch truck with not your ordinary lunch menu. Instead it is a bistro on wheels, based in a shiny Airstream, serving up fine cuisine or making the "ordinary" not so ordinary!

And how was my burger? It was delicious and grilled perfect for my taste. I was happy! The crispy arugula and eggy brioche-style bun really complimented it. The fries were crunchy with the right amount of salt and fresh parsley for added flavor. However, later I thought the burger and fries was missing just one important element considering where I was and everything - - I should have gone back into Kontos Cellars and had Cam pour me a big glass of Merlot to pair with it!

My one and only day of the Spring Release weekend was great fun and ever since I keep hearing from many locals how the "Three-R's" (Rain, Remoteness and Recession) did not keep the crowds away. Some wineries were saying it was one of their biggest turn-outs and other locals told me how the highway coming into Walla Walla on Friday afternoon was bumper to bumper. And as I pointed out earlier, the traffic downtown Walla Walla absolutely showed no signs of "remoteness" as the oh-too-eager journalist pointed out our so-called "remoteness" in an earlier article. And let me say this about Spring Release in Walla Walla:

I know that for many lovers of the grape, they are still shocked to hear that Walla Walla is a viable and growing wine community featuring many world class wines, and far too often these wine lovers are still in the mind-set that we are only known for onions and the Washington State Penitentiary. So for those of you who still don't understand - Spring Release is not a weekend in Walla Walla where the inmates are released on a Spring weekend into the community...

Cheers!

(For more photos of Spring Release in Walla Walla, check out the "Walla Walla Wine Woman" Fan Page on Facebook.com - - and don't forget to become a fan! )

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Walla Walla Spring Release 2009: The After Mass - Part II

My first winery visit for Saturday morning was a 9:00 am appointment at Garrison Creek Cellars. I looked forward to seeing the final completion of the winery, as I had seen it in several stages while it was being built. The weather, on my drive out on Cottonwood Road, reminded me of the Oregon Coast. There was a bit of fog rolling from the multi-colored foothills of the Blue Mountains. The sky was gray, but clear and calm. The drive through the Les Collines Vineyards to the winery reminded me back to the days when it use to be pea fields and now there were beautiful buds of soft green and pink hued grape leaves breaking on pefect trellised rows.

From the distance, Garrison Creek Cellars seems to blend in with the rest of the rural setting. A lone barn sitting in the middle of a "field" until you get up close and realize this isn't just any old barn and those fields are yes - - "grape" fields! The new pond in front of the winery had been filled and the setting was peaceful. David March, winemaker and manager, not only gave me the tour, poured their current releases, but we went down to the caves and did some barrel sampling of some of the 2008 from Les Collines Vineyard's fruit. These are rich and intense reds and as David explained, the winery is at the advantage as they can give the fruit some extra hang time as once it is picked it can be pressed within almost eight minutes from the vineyard. From the barrel, the Zinfandel was very distinct with loads of raspberries and dark cherries and an ongoing spicy finish. The ultimate was their Malbec. Putting my nose deep into the bowl of my glass, I would have sworn I was smelling a 'Bux extra bold sumatra coffee. It was intense and the finish kept going. What really blew me away were these wines have just begun to get some barrel age and they were already showing overwhelming and distinct qualities.

I left Garrison Creek and destination was out to the Middle Waitsburg Road to Couvillion Winery. I know - I know, I am always tasting the wines of Couvillion, but Jill is one of my "gurlz" - my "homies." (do the youngsters still use that term?) And besides - I was feeling a bit peckish and I knew she was serving up authentic tacos with spicy shredded chicken prepared with citrus juice and wrapped and cooked in banana leaves. For dessert, spicy chocolate truffles from Petit Noirs chocolatier were paired with Jill's red wines. I also wanted to taste the new 2006 Cabernet and Riesling and visit with the rest of the Couvillion family - Craig, Lisa, Nicole, and Felicia. So there!

Back on the highway with destination: the airport "wine ghetto." My first planned stop would be the new winery, Le Chateau housed in a 10,000-square-foot former Army warehouse. However, with a little paint, a mural on the front of the building designed by using the French technique of trompe-l'œil and - - voila! You have an elegant chateau complete with fifth century Ionic columns! While I visited with tasting room manager Angela Locati (also in the photo with Angela is Marissa) and winemaker, Bruno Corneaux, a French-born winemaker, (also winemaker for Claar Cellars in Pasco, WA) I tasted Castle White, a blend of 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Semillon. It was a full bodied wine and with a big fruit forward taste, yet with less than 1% residual sugar. The fullness of the fruit made the wine almost sweet, yet still showing layers of acidity. Also, an impressive blend was Masterpiece Red, from local vineyards Ash Hollow and Winchester which really showed off the quality of Walla Walla fruit.

I decided my next stop at the airport was - - whatever winery that didn't have tons of cars in front. Mannina Cellars actually had plenty of cars parked around the winery, but all of a sudden there was an empty spot! Perfect, as I wanted to taste Don's new release Maddily Rosè named after Don and Nicole's two young daughters, Madeline (who also designed the label) and Emily. Maddily is a 100% Sangiovese Rosè, crafted from the free run juice of cold-soaked Walla Walla Sangiovese. It was dry showing notes of strawberries, raspberries and I even picked up a bite of almond in the finish. And it went so well with the assortment of imported cheeses Mannina was offering.

Next stop: The Port of Walla Walla Winery Incubators! Part III

Monday, May 04, 2009

Walla Walla Spring Release 2009: The After Mass - Part I

To the writer who penned the AP article, "Remoteness hurts winery-oriented businesses in Walla Walla, Wash., during recession.:

So much for "remoteness." Since when has our "remoteness" hurt our wine sales? Walla Walla is a destination and in fact, Sunset Magazine recognized us as Best Wine Destination of 2005. Oh and by the way missy, have you even visited Walla Walla? We could have used your ass Friday afternoon during our height of so-called "remoteness" to direct traffic on Main Street. Downtown was packed! Sounds to me (excuse the pun) a bit of sour grapes going on. Now that I have that off my chest - -

This morning the news quoted the Swine flu was on the decline, but I had to wonder if those who attended Walla Walla Spring Release weren’t suffering from the Wine Flu this morning. For the last couple of weeks, I pondered how I would maneuver Spring Release, as my motto is: "So many Walla Walla wines, so little time." First of all, I was able to do some pre-tasting of Spring Release wines days before. Some highlights of my Pre-Spring Release tasting:

Downtown Walla Walla I found all kinds of surprises waiting for me. Ashley Trout’s winery, Flying Trout released a gorgeous dark pink rose' from 21-year-old Malbec vines. It was crisp, fruity and just the right amount of acidity. A mouthful of berries! And as I was leaving with my share, she informed me the winery was just about sold out! When I asked Abigail Schwerin out of all of her wines at Sapolil Cellars which one would she want me to taste, her answer was their proprietary blend, "Papa Loves Mambo." Good choice! A rich blend of 70% Syrah, 20% Sangiovese, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon that was dense, dark fruit, chocolately and left a real juicy mouthfeel leaving me to want more! Gotta love the name "33 1/3" for a Rhone-style blend with 1/3 Counoise, 1/3 Syrah and 1/3 Viognier. Dean Morrison claims this wine was an accident, but rolled with it. And now it is one of Morrison Lane's first to be sold-out wines! And guess what the price is - - $33.33. And yes, do I dare say I left with a 1/3 of my share?

Out on the highway I found Woodward Canyon was busy getting ready for the big weekend. They were putting some final touches to their new Reserve House and the gardens and I was busy leaving with some great wine. Marlene, Woodward's Marketing Assistant told me I had almost the last of their 2007 Dolcetto - a red wine that is lighter in body and oh so perfect for upcoming summer months. And being a variety with Italian roots, it pairs nicely with all of those summer tomatoes. Back down the highway, making a left on Frenchtown Road, viewing the rolling green hills, right in the middle were a few golfers trying out the new Wine Valley Golf Club. Indeed it was a lovely day for 18 holes. Past the golf course, I made a right onto the twisty and elevated drive to Long Shadows Vintners. It was a great way to spend my lunch while doing a complete tasting of all of their wines and even some wines that are not ready for release. The new '06 Feather Cabernet was swoon-worthy as always and the new '07 Poet's Leap Riesling is going to be another outstanding vintage once it's released. It's barely been in the bottle for a couple of months. An interesting note: the 2007 Poet's Leap was showing some very different qualities that past vintages of this Riesling hadn't showed before - which I think is exciting.

And somewhere between downtown, the highway and before Spring Release, I was able to taste the wines of Cadaretta. Wow! They are everything I would expect from winemaker, Virginie Bourgue - elegant and layered. The Syrah 2006 was inky, meaty, yet leaving a silky finish. The SBS 2007 (a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon) goes down too easy - too easy, especially with the right amount of chill on it. I've been hearing that the trend is to make "wine-tails" out of the SBS. GASP! I cannot imagine wanting to add any kind of a mixer or booze to this white refreshing blend. That kind of a move calls for a spankity-spank with a barrel stave!

Oh about that "remoteness" in Walla Walla? The wineries out on Mill Creek Road, especially around the Upland Vineyard area, is about as remote as can be. It was the weekend before Spring Release and Gordy (co-owner and co-winemaker) of Walla Walla Vintners was expecting me and I was running a bit late. You sure couldn't tell Walla Walla was a remote area, especially the Blue Mountain foothills, as the Walla Walla Vintners tasting room was crammed-packed around 11:30 am! Al Rose, their steady and dependable tasting room staff member, was busy pouring and I felt guilty adding another glass to the reach of Al's pouring. But as always, the red wines of Walla Walla Vintners were solid and rich. I wanted them all, but left with their swoon-worthy Cabernet Franc and "Bello Rosso," their version of a Tuscan-style blend.

A Pre-Release Spring Release event was held Thursday evening at College Cellars at the Enology/Viticulture Center. Not only was there wine, but the students of the Culinary Arts program presented us with food pairings for the wines to be poured that evening. Whoever said you cannot pair asparagus with wine didn't know what they were talking about. College Cellars Semillion 2007, from the Sagemoor Vineyards, could not have been more perfect with the locally grown asparagus from Locati Farms. The green and tender stalks were lightly seasoned, chopped and placed in baskets of parmesan crisps. The accent of citrus and pineapple from the white wine and the creamy mouth feel from the parmesan just worked! Finally - the new College Cellars Lemberger 2008 is here! Reminded me of strawberry jam, with a hint of pomegranate and a long finish of black pepper. Really a red wine you want to put a slight chill to and sip on the patio during these long cool summer evenings in Walla Walla. And last, but not least, the wine I was looking forward to tasting was College Cellars Syrah - 2005. It was the wine that made the top two in the college cellars round-up on Wine Library TV with host Gary Vaynerchuk. The syrah was paired with a coconut macaroon. And not just any coconut macaroon - it was sweet and moist, but with accents of bacon, thyme and topped with a blueberry. That cookie, with a sip of Syrah, was really a party for the taste buds! So good - so good!

A couple of days before Spring Release 2009 I contemplated how I would approach the upcoming weekend. Would I take hostages with me, like I did for December Barrel Tasting? Or would I be the "Lone Taster?" (Who was that masked woman?) There were several wineries on my list, some new and some old, and I had to get it all done before 2:30 pm on Saturday. And besides tasting, I love visiting with the winemakers and often mingle with new faces like they are my long lost relatives. Or as I was recently accused: "working the crowds." Hey! Someone has to tell the new visitor to a winery not to turn his nose up at a great Sauvignon Blanc or the terrific saignee-style rose' without tasting it first! Stay tuned for Part II!