Wednesday, June 02, 2010

A Field Trip to Woodward Canyon Winery with Chef Bear

When Chef Bear Ullman, of the Marcus Whitman Hotel asks you to attend a field trip, well - - you just do it. You show up on time. No questions asked - with or without a note from your parents.

Hank "Bear" Ullman, Executive Chef has built The Marc Restaurant's excellent reputation by highlighting the Walla Walla Valley's "Sense of Place" profusion with the freshest locally grown products available. Chef Bear also has a bold and adventuresome palate pairing local wines from The Marc's award-winning wine list. And he just doesn't talk the talk. Chef Bear gets out there and walks the walk. It's important to Chef that he keeps a rapport with his local food purveyors and wineries - - and it goes beyond just work, as many of them have become friends. There is a sense of admiration and trust for each other and of their talents, whether it's growing asparagus, making wine or creating a finishing sauce.

The restaurant's Wednesday morning field trips can also be a learning experience for the staff members of The Marc. Previous field trips have included visiting the Monteillet Fromagerie, L'Ecole No 41 winery, and indeed a real "field trip" to the Locati Brothers' fields to check out how asparagus is farmed. This particular field trip that I would be joining with Chef Bear and his assistant, Nate would be a journey to Woodward Canyon Winery to visit with Rick and Darcy Small to check out their organic commercial vegetable gardens. Besides the Small's producing world class wines, who knew they would find time to grow produce for commercial use, as well?
(Photo L-R: Nate, Chef Bear and Rick)

We started at the new Reserve House located on the grounds of Woodward Canyon. The Reserve House was built for intimate, sit-down tastings and meals. It also features a commercial kitchen. The large event room is light and airy with a view of the neighboring vineyards. Located in front of the building are raised beds of produce and herbs. Did you know that you can grow artichokes in Walla Walla climate? I didn't know that you could, but Darcy and Rick can! Overall, the Small's have been growing commercial produce now for five years.

Rick loaded us all up in his vehicle and off we went to the famous Woodward Canyon Vineyards. It is important to the Smalls that all grapes are sustainably or organically grown at the Woodward Canyon Estate Vineyard. Of course, this means the same practice for their produce. The vineyard is located at over 850 feet of elevation, three miles north from Lowden in Washington. It was quite a view from the top as we could see our neighbors in Oregon. There are 42 acres of estate vineyards with a surrounding of 320 acres of land which is in conservation. Three generations of family previously used the land, including the vineyard area, for cattle and wheat.

Woodward Canyon Vineyard was first planted in 1977 and to this day old vines of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc face the valley along with small amounts of Italian and Rhone varieties. It is like a treasure hunt up and around the canyon of vines as there are nooks and crannies with gardens of tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, egg plants, leeks, shallots and even a hot house for the seedlings.

We later came back down to "earth" and went back to the winery and continued to tour the grounds, as well as Woodward Canyon's wine library. What a wine feast for the eyes! And speaking of feast, if you are taking a field trip with a chef and a winemaker, chances are there is going to be one - - and there was! Chef Bear and Nate had prepared and packed a picnic of flavorful and moist baked chicken, fresh green salad with a light vinaigrette and a plate of fresh local asparagus, soft cheese, red bell peppers and olives. Shari and Marlene from the winery joined us to complete the party and Rick and Darcy generously brought out the wine! Our lunch was paired with Woodward Canyon's Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and the newly released 2007 "Old Vines" Cabernet Sauvignon.

This was where I had to remember to "mind my manners" as I could have taken off with that bottle of Cabernet and not shared a drop. It was dark and earthy with notes of cherries and ... okay, enough of my dreaming about wine ...

With or without a "note from my mother" this was a field trip to top all. It fact, I discovered something new I didn't know before about the Walla Walla Valley. It was exactly what a field trip should be about: experiences outside our everyday activities. It is also an experience that Chef Bear Ullman can bring back and share with his guests at The Marc.

4 comments:

Woodward Canyon said...

Thanks for the lovely write up, Catie. It was wonderful to have you, Nate and Bear visit us. We'll have to do it again soon!

Catie said...

Oh and thank you very much for your hospitality. It was great fun! I still have more photos of the day, but only so much room on the blog. I would love to visit again.
Cheers,
C~

Sara said...

Great read! I enjoy your blog and the insight into great local wines! Thank you!

Catie said...

Thank you Sara and thank you for dropping by!
Cheers,
C~