Friday, March 26, 2010

Washington Merlot Twitter Tasting - Walla Walla

As Julius Caesar would say, "Venimus, vidimus, vicimus, vino - We came, we saw, we conquered and we drank a lot of Merlot from Washington State!"

Many thanks to Josh Wade of Drink Nectar for coordinating this fun Twitter event promoting awareness of Washington Merlot; sending a unified message about Washington wine; and promoting Washington wine tourism.

Also many thanks to Muriel Kenyon of Otis Kenyon Wine for her generous hospitality and for taking good care of our "nutritional" needs with a tasty assortment of cheeses, charcuterie, breads, hummus and of course the beautiful "Sarah Brownies" made by Sarah German, Pastry Chief - all from Olive Market Place.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Twitter Tasting Event: We Are Drinking F----ing Merlot!

I can remember as if it was yesterday. There I was, sitting in the movie theatre watching "Sideways." It was the scene whereupon entering the restaurant the rather dull and morose wine snob character, Miles Raymond shrieked at the top of his lungs, "No! If anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any f---ing Merlot!"

It was at that moment I tossed a few popcorn kernels at the movie screen and hissed under my breath, "Well obviously Miles, you haven't tasted any Washington State Merlot."

Movies can influence lives and often for the better. However, it was the movie Sideways that put a cork in the sales of Merlot. Sales took a slump while Miles favorite wine, Pinot Noir had a boost in sales. Unfortunately, not knowing any better, many consumers drank some very bad Pinot Noir and forsaked some excellent Merlot

In the hands of a skilled vintner, there is nothing like a rich Merlot from Washington State. These wines are not only affordable, but many are world class. Merlot has been a key grape for us since the 1980's and in spite of Miles contempt, we are fighting back and keeping the faith for our beloved Merlot. We invite you to show your love, too!

It's easy to show your Mer-love. Here's what you do:

Twitter your love for Washington Merlot on Thursday, March 25 from 5 - 8 pm PDT.

• Locate a Washington Merlot or two or three! Make it your favorite stand-by or grab a couple of new favorites.
• Hop or fly and land on Twitter. As you're are tasting your scrumptious Merlot, you can also track the tweets. Follow the hashtag #WAMerlot in a search column and tweet, tweet, tweet away.

You can tweet from home. You can invite your neighbors and friends over and make it a party! We have a party going on here in Walla Walla (email me for info). Tweet from your favorite local winery, wine bar or restaurant. No matter where you are tweeting, just make sure you are tweeting and slurping a Merlot from Washington State!

For more information and how to sign up to show your support, check out: http://wamerlot.eventbrite.com/

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Walla Walla Wineries: It’s all your fault!

Every so often, my sense of logic gets insulted and when that happens I find myself climbing on my soapbox for a rant. Here’s my rant.

For several years now (and especially last week), as I live and breath in the Walla Walla Valley, I hear, more than I want to, negative remarks about wineries and tourism in Walla Walla. And more than often the words uttered are narrow-minded opinions that have not been researched. The opinions may be phrased a little different, but it all focuses on one topic: Everything "bad" (whatever that means) about Walla Walla is the fault (and responsibility) of the wineries.

Just when I think I have heard it all, and every time I hear a new one, my mouth drops to the floor and I can’t seem to find the strength to pick up my bottom jaw due to the fact I am blown away at the ignorance of the statements.

“They should build more chain restaurants and big box stores instead of building another winery.”

Excuse me. But could you clarify for me who “They” exactly are? Is there a clandestine committee here in town by the name of “They” that decides to shut out potential businesses and only allow wineries to open a business? I don’t think so. So should property managers not rent space and realtors not sell buildings and land to wineries and wait for some non-winery business to come along? Who would win at that kind of business proposition? No one. We've been there. Done that.

“Instead of building more wineries, “They” (there’s that darn pesky clandestine committee again) should fix the potholes on our city streets.”

Unfortunately, my SUV takes on a few new rattles every time I hit an unavoidable pothole. It doesn’t make me happy, either. One of the worst looking streets in Walla Walla bears the name, Walla Walla Avenue. Ironic, huh? However, tell me again what a privately owned winery has to do with fixing our potholes? Repairing and maintaining the streets in Walla Walla is the responsibility of City of Walla Walla’s Administration of the Public Works Department. The wineries and the City of Walla Walla are not working together to create potholes to make your lives miserable. Besides, haven’t you heard that a winery is no different than any other business? If you think privately owned wineries should be responsible for fixing potholes, then so should your private and locally owned plumbers, dry cleaners, restaurants, etc. be responsible, too. Oh and by the way - these local businesses are going to adjust the prices a bit higher so they can pitch in to pay for repair of those potholes and still make a profit to pay their employees and overhead it takes to run their business. Many wineries in the Walla Walla Valley are independent "mom & pop" family-owned businesses.

Every bottle of wine that is sold in the city or county of Walla Walla is charged a revenue tax, as well as tax is charged on prepared food and lodging. The standard revenue tax rate charged on every of bottle of wine is 8.0% (county) or 8.3% cents (city) on the dollar with .015 or .018 being local and of course, comes back to our area. There are a lot of bottles of wine being sold that the city and county of Walla Walla are benefiting from.

"Why don't "They" use winery money (or instead of building another winery) to clean up the Blue Mountain Mall?”

I live near the Blue Mountain Mall (BMM) and I hate-hate-hate that eyesore. It is shameful. But here's the deal folks - - the wineries are not responsible for cleaning it up. The BMM is a privately owned corporation. Expecting wineries (or any other private business) to be responsible for clean-up of another private business is no different than expecting wineries to clean up your neighbor's lawn or house that is in need of weed-pulling and repair. Let me guess, you also expect Burger King to buy you a bigger size pair of pants, too?

"Why don't "They" spend more time promoting the Walla Walla Sweet Onion instead of wine? Wine has taken over the status of the onion."

Well gosh boys and girls, guess what? Wine tourism has actually helped the status of our beloved Walla Walla Sweet Onion. Growing up in Walla Walla, the house I was raised in was surrounded by sweet onions. Family and family friends are or have been Walla Walla Sweet Onions farmers. Unlike wineries, Walla Walla Sweet Onions are seasonal. The harvest is short as well as the shelf life of the onions. Most wineries are working all the year round. However, when onions are available wine tourists buy their share either from the road-side stands or at the downtown Farmer's Market. The years I spent working in winery tasting rooms, several tourist's plans included the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival in July.

We got the Walla Walla Sweet Onion voted as the official vegetable of Washington. What else do you want?

"Wineries do not create very many jobs."

They don't? Wineries not only need staff, but they rely on services from other local businesses (banks, attorneys, advertisers, computer techs, office supplies, lawn and ag services, food and catering, automotive repair, electricians, plumbers, etc.) Wineries create tourism. Tourists need gasoline, accommodations and food.

The Marcus Whitman Hotel is one of many accommodations in the area and a large employer creating jobs from wait staff, housekeeping, maintenance and even their own staff that keeps the furniture repaired and upholstered. The hotel provides employment almost 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And it wasn't always that way. I hear many yammer on about how they want Walla Walla back to the way it "use to be." When? Back in the 1970-80's when the downtown was full of empty store fronts and the Marcus Whitman Hotel was on its way to have a date with the wrecking ball? Out-of-towners owned the building and could have cared less about our history. The building and it's furnishings were pillaged. In 1999, Kyle Mussman and company bought the historic structure. It was restored, expanded and once again, the hotel is the way it "use to be" providing more jobs than ever.

Besides creating jobs, Walla Walla wineries give back to the community. They donate a lot of money and goods to many of our local charities. You can bet if there is a fund raising campaign or a charity event, several wineries are going to be there donating their wine or a special party. Many wineries create the expensive large formats of wine just to give away for fundraisers knowing that the larger bottles of wine can bring in big dollars.

Change is hard and I am not immune to it. But I have realized to keep things that are important to us, sometimes we have to bend and open the mind. I am of the attitude, if you don't like something then either put up or shut up. There is nothing wrong with having an opinion, but instead of yammering incessantly about something, understand the real problem and find the proper channel to voice your opinions to - - and stop blaming everything on "They!"

Friday, March 19, 2010

Brad & Buffy: Wine Tasting in Walla Walla

Okay, so I've got the "movie making bug." Thanks to Greg Harrington of Gramercy Cellars for the inspiration of playing with this movie making toy, as well as Margot Sinclair Savell of Write for Wine for the inspired topic. In other words, don't blame me. Heh.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sommelier Starts A Winery

This video is not only funny, but as brilliant as his wines. Greg Harrington, MS of Gramercy Cellars tells the story, with the help of robots, on how it all began. Next stop: Walla Walla.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Tiny Terroir-ist: Alice Feiring

Tiny in stature, but certainly not on opinions, Alice Feiring is a wine journalist, author and one of the leading advocates of natural wine in the USA. Wednesday evening, Walla Walla had the great experience of listening to Alice speak at Whitman College. And many thanks to Professor Kevin Pogue of the Geology Department and the Lecture Series for making it possible.

Many may know Alice from her controversial book, The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization Since the release of her book, Alice has added to the fans she already had through her blog, Veritas In Vino and also added some critics to her list.

It was a pleasure for me to visit with Alice before she went up to the lectern. She was genuine and warm. We mostly discussed her visit to Walla Walla and the politics of wine blogging. Alice started her wine blog in 2004 (I started a year later) when wine blogging was still very much a "man's world." Watching her mannerisms, they were very delicate and ethereal and she even curtsied at the end of her speech. There was a sense of shyness about her and I thought to myself, "This cannot be the same woman who was kicked out of Mark Squire's Forum - - I mean, Robert Parker's Forum."

So you might wonder, "How did Alice save the world from Parkerization?" The New World has been accused by many of pandering to Robert Parker's palate, which often means "manipulating" and following a "recipe" to get Parker's palate all twitterpated. After all, a "twitterpated Parker palate" (say that three times) can often bring high scores. It can also be a double-edge sword if it means losing the expression of the terroir.

Seconds before Alice took the stage, I looked behind me and saw the auditorium was filled with WWCC Eno/Vit students, winemakers and vineyardists. Something told me before the end of the evening, "feathers would be ruffled." Or is that vines would be shaken and leaves would be ruffled?

Alice Feiring believes in the natural wine movement, such as organic and biodynamic wines. Alice prefers wines that have not been "manipulated" by man, even down to the irrigation (I knew the irrigation comment was going to get some reactions from the audience - and I was right!) She feels that wines are manipulated by irrigation when we water and then stress out the grape. Water should only be used to keep a vine alive or when newly planted, says Alice, pointing out the vineyards in the Sinai Peninsula.

Of course, it is no secret that some New World wines have been "manipulated" by oak, adding acids to over-ripe grapes, using packaged yeasts instead of "wild yeasts", adding water to correct sugars, and even reverse osmosis removal of alcohol. She even suggested that stirring of the lees in white wines was a manipulation.

Do I agree with everything Alice had to say. No, but it was certainly good food for thought. Alice says oak is to be used as a vessel and not for flavor. I can appreciate the use of the vessel, but I will admit that I enjoy "vanillans" in merlot and cabernet sauvignon, yet I hate "getting run over by a logging truck of oak" in white wines.

This is the second visit to Walla Walla for Alice. She was here in 2004 and this week she returned to several of the vineyards and wineries she visited back then. She mentioned in Washington State we still haven't defined our terroir. I think that is true when you consider how extreme in climate and soil the state of Washington is. But she did say, the closest wine she has tasted to being Washington terroir was the wines from Cayuse Vineyards in Walla Walla AVA.

When I left the auditorium lobby I was wishing I was a little mouse in the pockets of the winemakers and vineyardist who were possibly rebutting what Alice had to say. I love these kind of discussions and I love hearing both sides, because I feel there is no wrong or right. Let me say this, I think all Alice really wants is for consumers to think about the next bottle of wine they purchase. And I think Alice wants winemakers and vineyard owners to think about their next vintage and how they can make it more expressive of the terroir.

And when it is all said and done, for better or worse, we all want the same wines that "Appellation Feiring" wants (from her blog): " ... I want my wines to tell a good story. I want them natural and most of all, like my dear friends, I want them to speak the truth even if we argue. ... those who love the differences in each vintage, who abhor homogenization, who want wines that make them smile, think, laugh,and feel sexy."

Monday, March 08, 2010

Do You Love Washington State Merlot?

Do you love Washington State Merlot? As Pee-wee Herman would say, "If you love it, why don't you marry it?"

Well, unfortunately we can't marry Merlot. I understand it is still illegal to marry Merlot in several states, especially in the southern states - ahem. Don't cry and there's no need to picket! Not all is lost. You can Twitter your love for Washington Merlot on Thursday, March 25 from 5 - 8 pm PDT.

It's easy to show your Mer-love. Here's what you do:

• Locate a Washington Merlot or two or three! Make it your favorite stand-by or grab a couple of new favorites.
• Hop or fly and land on Twitter. As you're are tasting your scrumptious Merlot, you can also track the tweets. Follow the hashtag #WAMerlot in a search column and tweet, tweet, tweet away.

You can tweet from home. You can invite your neighbors and friends over and make it a party! Tweet from your favorite local winery, wine bar or restaurant. No matter where you are tweeting, just make sure you are tweeting and slurping a Merlot from Washington State!

For more information and how to sign up to show your support, check out http://wamerlot.eventbrite.com/

Friday, March 05, 2010

It Was Finally the Right Time to Open the Leonetti.

Now mind you, I'm a frugal kind of "girl" and I don't keep a lot of Leonetti Cellars around in my modest wine collection. Since I've been single in the last 12-years, I find what I would spend for one bottle of Leonetti Cellars I could buy almost three bottles of exceptional wines from the Walla Walla Valley. Hey, my maiden name isn't McIntyre for nothing. Scots are known for their frugality.

In the last month, for some reason, I kept staring at my last bottle of Leonetti Cellars, a 2001 Columbia Valley Merlot. What ran through my mind was, "Do I open it? Do I put some more age on it? Or shall I just tuck it away 'forever' and let my kidlets and siblings find it someday in my estate and either enjoy it or have a good chuckle?"

I eventually just stuffed those questions in the back of my mind, like I often do knowing that when I least expect it, I will have my answer. You see, I didn't buy any of my Leonetti's. They were either gifts or wine trades from one very special person. If you are any kind of a professional or self-proclaimed "wine-o" you have to know about the wines from Leonetti Cellars in Walla Walla. Quality exudes from these luscious red wines.

Exactly a week ago Friday morning, I finally had my answer on what to do with the last bottle of the Leonetti Cellars. I called some friends and invited them over to my house the next evening. One of the friends I invited is a student at the Eno/Vit Center in Walla Walla, whose wine palate I respect. The other phone call was to long-time family friends who just moved to Walla Walla from Seattle. They are extreme "foodies" and known to make road trips with bottles of Leonetti Cellars just in case the restaurants they dine in doesn't have any "decent" wine on the menu.

Saturday afternoon, just before I headed out to run some errands, I finally opened the bottle of Leonetti Cellars Merlot - 2001. I wanted to give it some breathing time. As I opened the bottle, I was reminded of how I obtained it. I giggled to myself, fondly remembering this elderly and very distinguished gentleman and how I would type some special projects for him. And even though I was on law office time and worked at the law office that bore his last name, he would often drop by a gift of thanks. He would drive in the parking lot and stop his car at the front door of the office before he headed to his personal parking space in the back. He would come in the front door with a bottle of wine wrapped in a plain brown paper sack and quietly place it under my desk. He would then head back out to his car, drive it to the parking spot and come in the back door like he always did every morning.

Through the last ten years we would exchange opinions about the local wines. I would often tell him about some of the new wineries and their wines and he would tell me about some new wine gadget he had just purchased and whether or not it worked. Sometimes we would trade bottles of Walla Walla wines and I often felt as if I got the better part of the deal, but that's how he preferred it. He had a good palate and understood quality - well, not just with wine but with everything in his life.

My friends showed up that evening and we had a feast of cured meats, cheeses, olives, flat bread and chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons. We gathered around the kitchen island which seems to be the gathering place, while the formal dining room now gets ignored. The Leonetti was poured. The color of the Merlot was a deep red with just a halo of copper showing that the wine indeed had some age. Aromas of fall leaves and sweet straw came from the glass. The anticipated sip brought large flavors of bramble berries and undertones of currants and licorice. It wasn't big on oak, but rather silky on the tongue. The finish kept traveling with hints of spice. The wine was just what we hoped it to be - it didn't disappoint. Of course, before we tasted the wine we had toasted the gentleman who gave me the bottle. The room remained silent as we pondered the wine and the moment.

I have discovered the most important thing about wine, and especially wines of this quality like Leonetti Cellars. Wines shouldn't be tucked away forever like trophy pieces. They are meant to shared and enjoyed. Wine can make new memories and revive memories. This bottle was given to me with a lot of thought behind it and given with the intent for me to enjoy. It was a bitter-sweet ending that I would eventually share this bottle of wine with friends, just as it had been shared with me.

Here's to you, Dutch. I feel honored to have had you in my life.