Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pure and Solid Character: Substance Wines

The dictionary gives many definitions to the word, substance: 1.) that of which a thing consists; physical matter or material. 2.) a species of matter of definite chemical composition. 3.) the subject matter of thought, discourse, study, etc. 4.) substantial or solid character or quality. 5.)consistency; body. 6.) something that has separate or independent existence. 7.) possessions, means, or wealth.

I couldn’t agree more that when it came to naming what is now one of the hottest wine brands in America; the collaboration of this second-label project between Jason Huntley of Waters Winery, Greg Harrington of Gramercy Cellars and Jamie Brown, Winemaker for Waters; they could not have chosen a more innovative name. A name that also involves fresh, clever and hip marketing views and labels. This alone follows under all of the above definitions.

It was during one of our recent spring days here in Walla Walla that I was treated to a wonderful afternoon in the sun tasting the wines of Substance with Jamie Brown and also Christa Hilt, Marketing Director for Substance and Waters Winery. It was the best "chemistry" lesson I have ever had. As you see, for each varietal they are labeled to resemble the periodic table of chemical elements. The striking black and white Substance label is printed with two-letter abbreviations such as Cs (Cabernet Savignon), Mb (Malbec), Me (Merlot) and Ch (Chardonnay).

Jamie explained to me that the goal of Substance is to captivate all generations and tastebuds, whether it be a novice or a seasoned wine lover. You won't find any blends on the Substance periodic table either, as their concentration is on each distinct varietal so their audience can experience the true character of each individual grape. Besides the standard varieties, you will also find more of the obscure and unique such as Ci (Cinsault), Mv(Mourvedre) and Rn (Rousanne) to name a few. However, you can be sure that the more obscure wines are going to sell out quickly besides being a limited production. Also on the back of each label gives descriptions and some education about the wine.

The wines of Substance are also priced right - $20 and under. Now, just because they are affordable, doesn't mean they have skimped on quality. I found the wines of Substance to be expressive of their character and in many cases with intensity. Although they are wines to be enjoyed now, I think you will also find them cellar-worthy. But why cellar? Enjoy these wines now as just like the chemical elements listed on the periodic table, Substance is going to be around for a very long time.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Revisit the Magic: Sleight of Hand Cellars

This Spring Release in Walla Walla, make some time for a little hocus-pocus - Sleight of Hand Cellars. The beautiful labels will sweep you in, but it's the wine that will keep your attention. I recently had the pleasure of revisiting the wines of Sleight of Hand Cellars and without me going on with catchy and punny adverbs and adjectives, I'll keep it simple - - these wines by winemaker/co-partner Trey Busch just keep getting bigger and better. Seriously.

In 2009, Seattle Magazine listed Sleight of Hand Cellars as one of the next cult wines in the state of Washington. I can agree with that. These wines are alluring for their style and affordability, but of course you cannot help being attracted to the detailed and artistic labels that are reminiscent of vintage magic posters.

For every day sipping or casual dinners, you cannot go wrong with Sleight of Hand The Magician Gewurztraminer - 2007, The Magician Gewurztraminer - 2008 and The Spellbinder Red Blend - 2007. All three wines are priced under $20 and packaged with screw caps, screaming "Hellooo backyard and picnics!"

Gewurztraminers aren't always easy to find, but once you find them, it's a shame not to enjoy this aromatic white. The big fruits of the Magician, along with the level of acidity that Washington grapes are known for makes for a perfect pairing with Asian-influenced meals and also my favorite curry chicken salad.

The Spellbinder - 2007 is a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, and 14% Sangiovese pops with flavors of dark fruits, licorice and cocoa. Can you say BBQ? Oh yeah. If you are serving food with grill marks, Spellbinder is a great pairing.

Levitation - 2007 is a 100% Syrah and when I revisited this wine it showed off all of the qualities I look for in a Syrah. Blueberries, smoke, bacon and coffee. Yeah, it's on my list of Sexy Syrahs. Revisit this wine and keep revisiting - that is if you can keep it around that long. It's definitely an age-worthy wine.

As I look through my tasting notes, I have a drawing I made of a big star next to The Archimage - 2007, a proprietors blend of 54% Merot and 46% Cabernet Franc plucked from the Walla Walla Valley. This wine could be Washington's answer to the red blends of St. Emilion. Really. It's an elegant wine and the Cabernet Franc really spoke to me.

Continuing down my tasting notes there is another star, but this time I accented the star with lines to represent "shines" as in shining star right beside The Illusionist - 2007. The Illusionist is a blend of 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc, 20% Malbec, 14% Petit Verdot, 6% Syrah and 4% Merlot. Complex and rich. It is definitely a red wine that will give you a cult ranking. Lucious dark fruits are showing through the tannins. And of course, another age-worthy wine.

Sleight of Hand Cellars will be releasing their popular and third vintage of The Magician’s Assistant 100% Cabernet Franc Rose' for Spring. A mouthful of crisp watermelons and a hint of strawberries on the nose, which is so traditional for a well made Cabernet Franc Rose'. It's a "pretty in pink" wine that will move as quick like a rabbit out of a top hat (groan - sorry, I had to get one last pun in there.)

So don't forget, when visiting Walla Walla Spring Release this week be sure and visit Sleight of Hand Cellars before all of their wines disappear - - right before your very eyes!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Attention Wine Loving Peeps: Stop Bill HR 5034

Once again, the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) are trying to find another way to prevent wine lovers from having choices on what wines we drink and purchase. Oh wait, it's not the WSWA. This time it's the National Beer Wholesalers Association (WBWA). And what does the NBWA have to do with what wine we choose to drink? Well who knows, but the WSWA sure are behind ... I mean applauding it loudly and supporting it.

On April 15 members of Congress introduced HR 5034, which was crafted by the NBWA. If passed, this bill could end direct shipping of wine and other forms of alcohol in the United States, or at least put major roadblocks in front of lawsuits by consumers and wineries trying to reduce restrictions on direct shipping. This bill would strengthen the three-tier system of distribution for wholesalers, giving them control of what wines you can purchase in your state and discriminate against out-of-state wine shippers.

Of course, WSWA wants you to believe they are really doing this to "protect our children" from ordering expensive bottles of wine online with their American Express Cards. Gosh, back in my day we would hang ... well, not me, but I heard there were classmates who would hang behind the local mini-mart and give Creepy Carl their lunch money to buy them a cheap bottle of Olde English "800" Malt Liquor or Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill. It was certainly quicker and satisfied our, I mean, "their" instant gratification than waiting three to five working days for an expensive bottle of wine to be delivered by FedEx or UPS. I guess the WSWA and the NBWA hasn't heard the news that FedEx and UPS remedied the problem of online sales of alcohol landing in the hands of minors. Policies have been set that a person over 21 with ID has to sign for the package of alcohol upon delivery.

In all seriousness: if HR 5034 passes, consumers will loose the ability to fight in the courts for laws that allow them to buy the wine they want and what winery or retail store they want to purchase it from.

Please help defeat HR 5034 by writing your U.S. Congressional Representatives. Also please join the official Facebook Page of STOPHR5034 to show your support.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Dynamic Duo at Trio Vintners

Spring Release 2010 is around the corner and there is big news at Trio Vintners. Denise Slattery and Steve Michener announced that they have taken on full ownership of Trio Vintners winery and all winemaking responsibilites.

Their winemaking and business partner of four years, Tim Boushey, has decided to move back to the west side of the state and pursue opportunities there. Steve and Denise are excited to take the reigns of Trio and make this a true family operation. However, it is clear that they are still very much a trio when you consider the real trio of their partnership is the triple combination of soil, climate and fruit. Listed below is just a trio of some of the wines they produce.

Once again Trio Vintners Tres Rosé (2009) will make an appearance at Spring Release. We also got a early sneak preview a week ago at Feast Walla Walla. There is just a skoosh of sweetness in this 50/50 blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre, sourced from the Far Away Vineyard in the Columbia Valley, and that skoosh makes it a pleasant afternoon sipper. Grenache brings to the wine Old World tradition and the dark Mourvèdre grape gives the wine a color Trio says you will want to paint your kitchen with. Rosés produced in the Walla Walla Valley have become a popular, yet limited wine, and you better not be a procrastinator if you want to grab a bottle. Tres Rosé is going to move fast!


It's a Riot at Trio Vintners. RIOT (Trio spelled backwards)is the first ever red blend for the Trio and it's appropriately named as it's a riot in a glass! This affordable wine is an unusual blend of 52% Sangiovese, 36% Syrah, and 12% Mourvedre sourced from the Yakima and Walla Walla Valleys. A nose of spice and fresh cherries jumps out in your face. The Syrah speaks out with hints of blueberry and smoke. There is a youthfulness in the palate and yet the complexity makes it a very age worthy wine that you will want to revisit later. Can’t beat the price for the quality.

Tempranillo may be a Spanish native, but this red varietal has adapted well in the Walla Walla Valley at the Les Collines Vineyard at the foothills of the Blue Mountains. The addition of 9% Carmenere and 8% Sangiovese, also from Les Collines, melds this 2007 deep red vintage together with aromatic spices of cinnamon and vanilla. Trio Vintners Tempranillo brings to the palate full flavors of black cherry, coffee and cola. It is medium-bodied and moves along with a smooth finish. Elegant.

Since 2006, Trio Vintners has created food friendly wines from small lot production using fruit grown throughout eastern Washington. They are known to challenge convention and indulge with lesser-known varietals, low-to-no oak, high natural acids and alcohol levels you can live with and enjoy food with. Unrestrained revelry? Not following the norm? Maybe - - but definitely a RIOT!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Caretakers of History: Tero Estate Winery

Once upon a time two local doctors, Dr Herb Hendricks and Dr. James McClellan planted a vineyard by the name of Seven Hills. It was also the first commercial vineyard in the Walla Walla area, since prohibition. In 1994, the vineyard was split in half - half of the vineyard was sold, along with the rights of the name, Seven Hills. The remaining half of the vineyard was renamed, Windrow. Since 1995, several Who’s Who of the Walla Walla Valley wineries have used the Windrow Cabernet Sauvignon for their outstanding wines. Thirty-years later, a new partnership was formed and they would eventually become the new caretakers of the Windrow vines.

In 2006, Jan and Doug Roskelley traveled from their home in Woodinville to check out the vineyards in Walla Walla. Much to their good fortune and surprise, they discovered that the old Windrow Vineyard was for sale. Later, partners Mike Tembreull & Doug Roskelley lent the first two letters of their last names to create Tero Estates. In July of 2007, the Roskelleys would make Windrow Vineyard their home. Doug immediately went to work rebuilding the old equipment shed into a winery. In February, I visited their “old equipment shed” located at 52015 Seven Hills Road in Milton-Freewater during the "Tero Estates Announcement Party." To my surprise, what I discovered was no old equipment shed. Instead, the old shed “shed” its cocoon and released a beautiful new winery. The top of the new winery holds a magnificent view of the surrounding vineyards and the Blue Mountains.

However, underneath the newness and the beauty still remains some of the old shed. If walls could talk, the old walls would tell its visitors how it was a part of Walla Walla wine history, as many of the original discussions about the formation of the Walla Walla AVA were surrounded by the old shed walls.

Tero Estates first crush was in 2007 and they will release their Estate Cabernet Franc, Herb's Block Merlot (estate), Estate Windrow (their signature Bordeaux-style red) in October 2010. Also included in their first releases will be Cabernet Sauvignon and a table red produced from Walla Walla fruit. Spring of 2011 will be the release of their estate Cabernet Sauvignon and a Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon - all from the 2007 crush at Windrow. During the afternoon event, we were treated to an early sip of the Estate Cabernet Franc. It was chocolatey, peppery and herbacious - just how I love one of my favorite reds.

More surprises were waiting us at the Tero Estates Announcement Party on that wonderful sunny afternoon at the vineyards. We were met by a smiling Ashley Trout pouring her elegant Flying Trout wines. I tasted through her collection and I was very taken on how Ashley's winemaking skills just keep evolving. Her wines are sophisticated and complex. The big news was Flying Trout and Tero Estates have “merged.” Flying Trout’s new home is at the 52015 Seven Hills Road winery. Ashley now has the support and a facility she needs to continue to build on her outstanding wine portfolio. She will also act as a consulting winemaker along with Doug, who is the winemaker for Tero Estates. There’s Malbec on the Tero Estates and no doubt, Ashley will know exactly what to do with it – as she continues to make her annual winemaking trek to Mendoza, Argentina.

The country life has been good for Jan and Doug Roskelley. Not only is Doug busy as the winemaker for Tero Estates, but he is also designer and construction-dude for their new home on site, as well as expanding their vineyard. Jan is a gracious hostess and eager to get involved in "social media" on behalf of their winery. And this “once upon a time” beginning will definitely have a happy ending – with Jan and Doug living in the middle of a vineyard with two dogs and ten cats and they will all live together happily ever-after.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Feast Walla Walla 2010

Just like in the movie, The Wizard of Oz - "Ignore the voice behind the curtain."



Thursday, April 08, 2010

Sold Out! Wine Bloggers Conference - Walla Walla!

Yup, that's right. The Third Annual North American Wine Bloggers' Conference in Walla Walla is now SOLD OUT!

This year in Walla Walla the attendance was raised to 300 from 270 in the last two years when the conference was held in Napa/Sonoma. Destination Walla Walla was ahead of the game and selling out before Napa/Sonoma did in 2008 and 2009. Three hundred wine bloggers and wine industry representatives are registered to attend the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, Washington June 25 – 27. Registrations will continue to be accepted and names are now being added to a "Wait List." Participation in the conference will be on a first-come, first-serve basis from the wait list as space becomes available.

And "they" say it couldn't be done - for many reasons and for many reasons that went without research: "Walla Walla is too far and the closest airport is in Seattle. Walla Walla produces wine? There are vineyards in Walla Walla? The only wine country in Washington state is in Woodinville." Even when it was announced at last year's conference in Napa/Sonoma, there was speculation made that "Napa/Sonoma set the bar pretty high and Walla Walla better be on top of their game." Was there any doubt? Walla Walla is on top of their game!

In the last five years, wine bloggers have changed and are still changing the way wine consumers gather information about the wines they want to drink. Traditional media is still a valuable and reliable tool, but for how long with the new up-and-coming wine drinking generations who rely on their iPhones and iPads for information? Why do you think traditional wine media are adding blogs to their websites?

In the mean time, now more than ever, the WBC Scholarship needs your help. Currently there are 13 scholarship applications needing assistance to attend WBC10. The committee will need to make some difficult decisions in the next few days and without your generous support, they will be unable to fulfill all of their wishes. Please donate generously and assist a wine blogger to "blog 'n walla" in Walla Walla!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

New Roots Meet Established Roots at Robison Ranch Cellars

I typically don't run a lot of press releases and if I do, I will often change things around. But today I am going to be guilty of reposting someone else's words - - well somewhat. I am still going to change words around (you know me), but overall I couldn't have said this any better. The press release is also about the Robison-Riordan Families. Yeah - I am rather fond of them.

One afternoon I was visiting with Jim Robison and although he is a third generation wheat farmer in the Walla Walla Valley, he told me how he liked the wine industry and how they have contributed to the valley. Enter family friend, Brad Riordan a wine and vine hobbyist. And yes - - I have sampled all of the wines. I recommend them.


In 2005, Walla Walla newcomer Brad Riordan dug more than 200 holes through pure river rock to plant new grapevines on his quarter-acre “hobby” ranch. Two years later, he became the winery partner of one of the Valley’s most established wheat ranchers, Jim Robison.

Brad's short path from a “quarter-acre vineyard and a mule” (the mule being Brad himself) to becoming a winemaker and winery owner is a true Walla Walla story. He studied winemaking “at the knee of a great teacher and person,” Stan Clarke, the former Associate Director at the Center for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College. Third-generation rancher and successful Walla Walla businessman Jim Robison then discovered Riordan’s winemaking. Together they formed Robison Ranch Cellars.

Robison Ranch Cellars debuted its first vintage last fall with the single release of 2008 Rosé. The release has since sold out. This May, Robison Ranch Cellars will release its second vintage of Rosé and inaugural vintages of 2009 Viognier and 2009 Semillon. Later this fall, Robison Ranch Cellars plans to release inaugural vintages of 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008 Merlot, 2008 Spofford Station Syrah and 2008 Sangiovese. Robison’s first artist’s series wine, a 2008 Red Mountain Petit Verdot, will debut winter 2010. Brad is most excited by the 2009 Viognier and the 2008 Spofford Station Syrah.

The Robison Ranch Cellars winery facility is housed in a converted shallot production building on the 3,000 acre Robison Ranch, just 5 minutes from downtown Walla Walla. The winery sources grapes from several noted Walla Walla vineyards including Spofford Station, Dwelley and Blue Mountain and plans production of 500 cases for its 2009 vintage. On-site Winery events will be held twice each year (for Spring and Fall Release) in the historical shallot barn on the ranch. Winery visits are also available by appointment.

Stay tuned for more info regarding Spring Release and don't forget to check out their new website.