Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Once Upon A Time: Leonetti Cellar

It's exciting to, not only taste the wines of some of the new "Rising Star" wineries in Washington State and especially in Walla Walla, but it's just important to continue to enjoy the "Shining Stars," as well.

Leonetti Cellar is one of those shining stars of Washington State and especially of Walla Walla. It is known as the winery that "started it all" - meaning it was one of the earliest wineries producing limited wines that lovers and critics started to take notice of in the Walla Walla Valley. Something tells me that Gary Figgins, winemaker and creator of Leonetti, just didn't wake up one day and say, "I am going to become a 'cult' winemaker." It was probably the furthest thing from his mind.

Once upon a time ...

It started when Gary was a young father and in the army reserves. While in the reserves, he made treks to Northern California, and side trips to the wine country. But most of all, he was influenced by his maternal-grandparents who settled in the Walla Walla valley from Italy in 1905. As many European families did, they brought their wine making craft to America.

In the mid-70's, Gary would start home wine making and used a variety of local fruit. Other friends joined Gary's enthusiasm for home wine making, Rick Small of Woodward Canyon and Cliff Kontos of Fort Walla Walla Cellars. No doubt, at the time Rick and Cliff ever imagined they would also become significant winemakers in the valley.

In 1974 the family of Leonetti planted their first estate vineyard of Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling and in 1978, Leonetti released their first wines and currently becoming the first winery in the valley. And as the story goes - - the rest is history.

Leonetti woke the sleepy giant of Walla Walla's agriculture who had relied on wheat and peas for so many generations, as well as small crops of asparagus and the famous Walla Walla Sweet Onions. As our nation started looking at our food differently, concentrating on more fresh and local, our canneries and frozen food processors started to pull out of Walla Walla leaving behind empty lots and buildings and unfortunately taking away seasonal employment that many in our community relied on.

In 1995, Leonetti was one of six wineries in the valley - - and in 5-7 years time, the Walla Walla Valley industry grew - - and grew! As Leonetti took lead, other wineries came along and opened their doors and more vineyards were planted. Walla Walla finally had an alternative crop and a new flourishing industry that brought new life to our downtown and most important revenue and jobs to our city and county.

Today, more than 100 wineries and over 2,000 acres of vineyards later, the wines of the Walla Walla Valley, and especially Leonetti Cellar, continue to receive national and international acclaim. A very happy ending.

Leonetti Cellar Wines currently available: 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 Merlot, and 2008 Reserve (Bordeaux-style red blend).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gary Vaynerchuk: Thank You and Farewell

This afternoon many "Vayniacs" watched Gary Vaynerchuk bring to his audience his
final goodbye.


Gary came onto the wine scene through Wine Library TV in February 21, 2006 and from there he held us captive. This was a significant and controversial time in wine journalism as we watched, not only Gary come onto the scene, but many wine bloggers, as well. After 1,000 episodes of Wine Library TV, the show was retired in March 2011 and we followed him to his new video project called "The Daily Grape" for 89 episodes.

He was his own human infomercial with his strong enthusiastic New Jersey accent as he shrieked at his audience like a used car salesman or a mattress king, and those of us who were fortunate enough to meet Gary in person we found him to be soft-spoken, sweet and rather humble. He left us with the impression that he truly did care about his fans - - his "Vayniacs."

Gary had the ability to break those "snooty" wine barriers for novices and younger generations of wine lovers like no other wine critic could do. The proof that he really cared about wine and his fans was when he told his audience, with conviction that there was always going to be a wine bully and he wanted to "punch them in the face."

"The one person who did read the Wine Spectator, who tells you what to drink and why the '97 is better than the '98. I want to punch the wine bully in the face," he says. "I want to make sure this generation of wine drinkers isn't élitist and snotty. I want it to be about family and bringing people together."

Gary taught us a new set of wine vocabulary such as: sniffy-sniff, oak monster, and pop-pop-pop. He improvised wine tasting as we were introduced to non-traditional sensory and flavor profile names such as: sheep butt, road kill (dead deer on road ...cut off flesh), old dirty socks, sweat, rocks, dirt, Nerd candy and Big League Chew gum. He even went as far as to sniff armpits, lick rocks and eat dirt to get his point across.

Those of us who didn't know a thing about football, would soon be kept up on the scores and schedules of the New York Jets as, not only would he wear the Jet jerseys, but even his spit bucket was adorned with hunter green and white decals of his beloved football team.

"Gary Vay! Ner! Chuk!," as he often introduced himself at the beginning of his videos, inspired many of us wine geeks to film our own talking head videos, to author books, grasp social media and to seize the opportunity to become entrepreneurs. In August 06, 2008, I was thrilled to be able to interview Gary in Four Wine Questions For: Gary Vaynerchuk

We watched Gary on main stream TV such as "Ellen" and also "Conan." We kept up on his new books and we all awaited the birth of his first child in 2009 - a girl. His audience followed him around the world and he never forgot about Washington State Wine Country and even reminded his audience in one video with a handwritten poster behind him that said "Wash St. is REAL".

In one of the many videos he would eventually do about Washington State, Gary even filmed in front of the Qwest Field in Seattle in a smack down of Washington State vs New York Riesling (you'll have to watch to find out who the winner was).

Gary once said, "Walla Walla, Washington is the most exciting thing happening to wine in the country."

And Gary proved it with his many videos about Walla Walla wines, in particular Finding Walla Walla, Walla Walla College Cellars in Five Colleges Battle it Out and A Very Cool Winemaker - our very own Charles Smith.

Thank you Gary for blazing a trail for many of us wine bloggers, vloggers and pod casters. Thank you for giving wine lovers, and especially new wine lovers, the confidence to learn, to enjoy and the ability to express themselves about wine. No doubt, we will see you again. Best wishes in the next chapter of your life.

Photo By Amy Rootvik - 2008
Left to Right: Catie, journalist Steve Bjerklie and Gary Vaynerchuk

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pape Culture: Tranche Cellars

The dictionary says, the word "Tranche" is a French word meaning "slice" or "portion."

In 2004, Lauri and Michael Corliss, owners of the prestigious Corliss Estates, designed a second "slice" to add to their wine portfolio known as Tranche Cellars. Four years later, their slice became a reality when they opened the doors of their new winery at the base of their Blue Mountain Estate Vineyard on the old Berney Drive in Walla Walla.

The wines of Tranche Cellars were born out of the Corliss's curiosity to explore, not only unique blends in their cellar, but also varietals from their vineyards. The goal of Tranche Cellars is to craft wines to the same standards as their predecessor, Corliss Estates. However, it was equally important to produce quality wines with reasonable price tags. While the wines from each winery are of uncompromising quality, each label of Corliss and Tranche are produced at their own separate facilities. At this time Tranche Cellars produces around 2,000 cases per year.

I discovered my first slice of Tranche Cellars while perusing over a wine list at a local wine bar in January of 2010. It was the Tranche Cellars Red - 2004, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. Obviously the wine was Tranche's first release and it definitely had some lovely age on it. A week later, I used my new discovery for a Wine Blogging Wednesday project. Wine bloggers from all over the world were asked to look out our windows and imagine snow and then imagine what wine we would like to enjoy during a "snow day." It wasn't a tough task to imagine, especially since it was January in Walla Walla and all around the valley were the snowy foothills and caps of the Blue Mountains.

Since that "snow day," I learned there are two series of wines that Tranche Cellars produces: The Slice of Pape Series and the Varietal Designation Series. I should note that I have also tasted through many of the wines from both series.

The Slice of Pape Series: Pape (pronounced "Pop") is reminiscent of those blends native to France's Southern Rhone Valley. Does Châteauneuf-du-Pape ring a bell? Slice of Pape (red), Slice of Pape Blanc, and Pink Pape (a dry rosé of Syrah and Cabernet Franc) are traditional blends using traditional Southern Rhone red varietals such as Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. White varietals include Roussanne and Viognier. These blends of the Slice of Pape Series reflect Old World style in a very New World of - - do I dare say "pop culture?"

Varietal Designation Series: Tranche Cellars also produces small quantities of single varietal wines. Tranche strives for purity of character in each grape varietal while allowing the wine to express the terroir of each Washington State vineyard. Grape varietals that have been used are Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Syrah and of course the original Red Blend that I first discovered.

Just like I did, discover your own slice of Tranche Cellars - - and don't wait for a "snow day."

Monday, August 15, 2011

Legendary: Walla Walla Vintners

People often ask me, "What is your favorite wine?" That's really a tough question. It depends on my mood, vintage, season and sometimes even a wine that is based on a past or recent memory or event. Sometimes I will even have a new favorite, "Wine of the Month."

Again, it always varies. However, I do have a wine that when people persist on me giving them answer of only one wine, I reach into the wine scrapbook of my brain and usually answer, "Walla Walla Vintners Cabernet Franc."

Walla Walla Vintners, owned by Myles Anderson and Gordon Venneri, is a winery dedicated to making handcrafted red wines. It all started when Gordy took a trip to Calabria in Southern Italy to visit family and sampled his family's homemade wines. He returned with a desire to make wine and it was then Gordy and Myles started producing their own batches of wine. In 1995, they made it official and began their adventure in producing limited quantities of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cuvée, Malbec, Merlot, and Sangiovese. And like their title, they specialize in making wines from grapes grown in the Walla Walla AVA.

They are still crafting their wines like they did when they first started home winemaking using traditional, yet labor-intensive, techniques, such as fruit sorting and picking by hand, manual punch downs in open-top fermenters, gentle extracting in a basket press, individual topping off barrels and hand racking each barrel four times a year. The wines are unfiltered, unfined and cellared in separate vineyard lots. "Free run” and “pressed wines” are placed in separate barrels for aging, and then later blended by the team's "picky palates."

I believe that if I go back through my wine notes, I will have tasted every vintage of Walla Walla Vintners Cabernet Franc starting with 1995. Cabernet Franc also happens to be the flagship wine for Walla Walla Vintners. Their recent 2009 vintage is 85% Cabernet Franc with 12% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose is definitely that of cigar box and candied walnuts. The mid-palate reminds me of the rich sticky toffee date cake that I savored in Sydney, Australia and have never been able to get out of my mind. The toffee continues on the palate along with flavors of cocoa. Each vintage of their Cabernet Franc often takes me back to the special moment when I was sipping on this particular wine. - - 2011 Seattle Wine Awards Gold Winner.

***********************************

Legends of Washington Wine
2011 Legend Inductee


PROSSER, WA (Press Release) — Founding Director of the Institute for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College and owner/winemaker of Walla Walla Vintners, Dr. Myles J. Anderson was selected as the 2011 inductee to the Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame.

The Walter Clore Wine and Culinary honored Dr. Anderson during the 2011 Legends of Washington Wine induction gala held on Friday, August 12, 2011 on the grounds of the Clore Center in Prosser.

A distinguished winemaker, Dr. Anderson and his partner, Gordon Venneri, launched Walla Walla Vintners in 1995. A boutique winery, Walla Walla Vintners was the eighth winery to be opened in the Walla Walla Valley.

A graduate of Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, Anderson earned his bachelor’s degree in elementary education. He also holds a master’s degree in counseling and educational psychology from Bucknell University and a doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of Wyoming.

As the author of several instructional texts, Anderson was charged with developing and launching the enology and viticulture program at Walla Walla Community College in 2000. More than 1,600 students have completed enology and viticulture coursework since the program was launched. Dr. Anderson continues to consult with College Cellars and also serves on the advisory committee of the Institute for Enology and Viticulture. A 31-year employee, Anderson also served as counselor, instructor and administrator for Walla Walla Community College.

Legends of Washington Wine are selected for their contributions of historical and lasting significance to the community and the wine industry. Nominations are received from the public, and an industry-based selection committee evaluates and scores recommendations based on specific criteria.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Walla Walla Wine Brought to You Today by the Letter "T"

We didn't plan it that way, it just happened.

Friend and wine colleague, Joan Corsi of Vinum Distributing visited Walla Walla on Sunday. It was a day off for both of us, and looking for something to do, we decided to check out some wineries Joan was not familiar with. It was going to be a day of leisure for the both of us and not business. Now, a few wineries weren't opened on Sunday and we were had limited time (just in case a few of "youse guys" corner me and wonder why we didn't visit you). Our first stop was;

Tero Estates/Flying Trout: Not only does Tero Estates/Flying Trout have a winery and vineyards in the valley, but they also have a tasting room in downtown Walla Walla located at the corner of the Marcus Whitman Hotel at Second and Rose. We visited with Michelle Fletcher Hunt, super-pouring-assistant-extraordinaire and we could not have had better timing as co-owner-winemaker-vineyard-dude, Doug Roskelley was there, as well. (Note: the RO in ROskelley is the RO in TeRO).

Tero Estates Winery is located at Windrow Vineyard. They source as much of their fruit as possible from their estate. Windrow is a rolling 32 acre (25 acres are planted in vines) picturesque property surrounded with an amazing view of the foothills and other vineyards. Windrow is part of the first commercial vineyard planted in the Walla Walla Valley AVA.

Michelle poured us through a magical assortment of luscious deep reds: Flying Trout Malbec and Flying Trout Lake Blend. Tero Estate Cabernet, Tero ST (Super Tuscan), including some new releases, Tero Estates Herb's Block - Windrow Vineyard Merlot, and Tero Estates Windrow Vineyard Cabernet Franc. All beautiful and I could not decide my favorite.

Trust Cellars: This was the first visit for me since Steve and Lori Brooks left their old facility south of Walla Walla and moved to their new digs at the airport. Their new winery is a very comfortable space painted in a warm tone of peach and accented with still life paintings of fruit.

The charming Mr. Brooks was there to pour his repertoire of wines while he and I also caught up on news, quips and colorful stories. (A few weeks earlier, Steve, Sean Sullivan of the Washington Wine Report and I gathered for drinks one evening. The three of us caught up on news, quips and colorful stories before we were "kicked" out of the bar - long story - bartender wanted to close early - had a hot date- my glass of water was practically whisked from my hand while I was drinking. Thank goodness they let me finish my glass of bubbly. So Sunday was a continuation ... and of course every tidbit I learn is off the record - ahem.)

Steve poured for Joan and I the following: 2010 Riesling, 2010 Cabernet Franc Rosé, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008 Syrah and T.A.T.T. (Tried and True - red blend). Steve's wines have always been on the top of my list. I was happy to see this year that the new vintages of Cabernet Franc Rosé and Riesling were still available as it seems as if I can never get it to them in time. They fly out of the winery. For once my timing wasn't off!

Tertulia Cellars: It's at the other end of town by the foothills and so worth the drive. As you come up the road, the building of Tertulia seems to appear as if it is an oasis. And as the afternoon reached higher temps, it definitely was. Joan and I were greeted by Michelle Aichele, tasting room manager.

Michelle poured for us her Sunday's line-up of: 2010 Viognier, 2010 Syrah du Rosé, Sobra Red Blend, Tempranillo, Malbec and Carmenere. Which one did I love the best? It was the Syrah du Rosé. No wait! It was the Malbec! No wait! It was the Tempranillo! No wait! It was the Carmenere! No wait ... It's tough to decide which one of winemaker, Ryan Raber's wines are my favorite.

Tertulia's signature "circle of friends" is not only a distinctive icon, but they also show it with their warm hospitality. Later, Michelle asked us to join her on the patio overlooking the gorgeous view. We sipped a glass of Syrah du Rosé while enjoying the fresh air, the view of the mountains, vineyards and even saw a few pheasant. It was a wonderful way to end a summer afternoon.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fjellene Cellars

A few months ago, a friend sent me an email asking my help to solve a bet. He was told there were over 400 wineries in the Walla Walla Valley and my friend knew this claim was grossly incorrect. According to the Washington Wine Commission, there are just over 700 wineries in Washington State. In Walla Walla, depending on the day and the direction of the wind, there might be anywhere between 105 - 125 wineries in the Valley. One never knows when a new winery in Walla Walla will pop up and when they do, those that are out of the ordinary in their mission statement and of course, quality of their wines will capture my attention.

Fjellene Cellars (Fyel-LAY-Nuh) is one of those new wineries that has captured my attention. Fjellene Cellars was founded by Matthew and Sarah Erlandson in 2008. The winery gets its title from a Norwegian name for "mountains."

Matthew's mission is about planet earth and it is more than just words for him, as he was an outdoor educator and mountain guide across the globe for 13 years. Not only statewide, but internationally, as well. While employed at Northern Arizona University, he took a three month leave to come to Washington State to dabble in wine making. Shall we say the rest is history ... as he immediately went back down to Arizona, gave notice, and ... his first wines were released earlier this year.

The first vintages of Fjellene Cellars were 2007, 2008 and 2009 and produced while he was an assistant at Beresan and Balboa Wineries. Matthew is dedicated to crafting distinct, varietal-specific wines with sustainability in mind. The Erlandson's mission is to create elegant, approachable and food friendly wines that deliver back to the earth. And once again, these statements are more than just words as it shows from the very beginning to the grape pumice and stems reduced to compost by local farmers to the very end with natural cork closures and clean, yet elegant packaging.

Once the attractive bottle is opened, a wine enthusiast will find the wines of Fjellene Cellars are vineyard designated wines that showcase the fruit and terroir of Washington State from as far as Yakima and the Columbia Gorge to local vineyards in Walla Walla. The repertoire of Fjellene Cellar wines include: 2007 North Col Blend (50/50 Cab Franc/Merlot) and a 2007 Malbec. 2008 single varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah and 2008 South Col Blend (Bordeaux-style). 2010 Syrah Rosé and 2010 Sauvignon Blanc.

My personal favorites? 2007 North Col Blend (almost gone at the winery), 2008 Cabernet Franc (sold out), 2010 Syrah Rosé (swoon worthy and first place winner at the 9th Annual Rosé Revival in Seattle held at Ray's Boathouse) and the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (crisp and so refreshing).

This spring I was fortunate to be seated next to Sarah and Matthew at a local wine dinner. I so enjoyed listening to each side of their story about how Fjellene came to be, as well as their faith and pride in each other. I also knew Matthew was my kind of person during the before dinner "cocktail hour," as he "magically" pulled out from his back coat pocket a bottle of fine French bubbly he brought with and generously poured me a glass.

In turn, later I shared with Matthew my course of corn and morel mushroom salad with foam of foie gras. I have to admit, while I love all vegetables and fungus, I am not a huge fan of liver delicacies. Matthew enjoyed the foie gras more than I ever could and I took great delight watching him relish this fine fare, as he even ran his finger inside and around the petite casserole gathering every last bit of the rich foam. It was this exuberance that reminded me and confirmed the mission of Fjellene's wines; elegant, approachable and food friendly. Not only does Matthew take pleasure with fine food, but there isn't any doubt he brings the same enthusiasm to every bottle of Fjellene wine.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A Summer Swooning Wine: Walla Walla Viognier

My first introduction to a domestic Viognier was from Cayuse Vineyards tasting room on Main Street in Walla Walla, several years ago. It was so long ago that Cayuse was actually opened to the public and there were no "lists." I have been spoiled, ever since, but always looking for one or more of the benchmark characterics my olfactory system has set. I will never forget the nose, the flavor on my tongue and - - of course, the moment. The moment was one of those memories that many a wine lover carries with them forever.

Viognier is typically known for it's floral aroma. Often stone fruit, pears, honeysuckle and orange blossoms exude from the glass. While it may be heady with aromas, it's a delicate wine with a hints of honey and soft spices, like nutmeg on the finish. Typically it is meant to be enjoyed young as it can lose its perfume as it ages. It has often been coined as a "swooning wine ... oozing sex and sensuality" - Oz Clarke, wine writer.

In the mid-to-late 19th century there was the historic decline of French vineyards due to phylloxera and with that came the abandonment of the vineyards due to World War I. By 1965, around 30 acres of Viognier vines merely existed in its Northern Rhône homeland appellation of Condrieu, France. Even as late as the mid-1980's, Viognier in France was endangered. Paralleling the growth of Viognier in the rest of the world, especially in the last ten years such as in the United States and Australia, the vines in France have grown dramatically ever since.

Walla Walla has certainly seen their share of growth with this delicate white grape, but two of the earlier Walla Walla producers of Viognier come to mind when I think about this cool summer favorite:

Bergevin Lane - Viognier 2010: It was a challenging year, but an extraordinary year, especially for the whites which brought complexity to this light nectar. Wafts of floral bouquets and hints of exotic spice come from the glass. At first sip there's a little bit of the peach orchard here and a little bit of the apricot orchard there. Little bit of lemon here and a little bit of Asian pear there. And the finish? A little bit of custard here with lots of voluptuous notes of honey all over there. Swoonworthy!

Cougar Crest - Viognier 2008: Typically Viogniers do not require heavy oaking to provide balance, so often use of neutral oak barrels or steel is used. The Viogniers of Cougar Crest are fermented dry without use of oak or even malolactic fermentation. Once again, a Viognier has been created that is so perfumey of orange blossoms and honeysuckle that you'll want to dab a bit behind each ear and pulse centers. A mouthful of white peaches, honeydew and star fruit dances around the mouth. The natural oily characteristics of the Viognier grape coats the palate with rich honey notes.

Swoon and sip these wines by themselves or enjoy with soft cow's milk cheese, chicken, sea food and especially fish prepared with cream and herbs.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Young Guns Wine Society

Hide the women-folk and children! The Young Guns are coming to town!

Okay, okay - so hiding the women and children is a bit of an exaggeration - - but who are these young men who may be coming to a town near you (and the truth is that many of the "women-folk" won't be hiding much as the handsome Young Guns often draw a lot of attention).

The Young Guns Wine Society (YGWS) is a group of five young winemakers in the Walla Walla Valley. They are dedicated in uniting the next generation of winemakers, especially under the age of 35 years old and from the Northwest. Along their journey, the goal is to also define and showcase the next generation of wine. Each one of the original members of YGWS brings to the group their own unique story of their personal journey into the wine industry.

However, while they may have different backgrounds, they all have one common goal: bringing to the wine industry a young vibrant energy while respecting and honoring traditions.

The YGWS started as an idea in 2010 with Justin Basel of Basel Cellars and Josh McDaniels of Sweet Valley Wines. In 2011 that idea became a reality and was officially formed. Shortly after the launch Cameron Kontos of Kontos Cellars joined followed by Greg Matiko of Skylite Cellars and Ryan Raber of Tertulia Cellars.

The appeal of the YGWS is not just for the young wine lover. Wine lovers of all ages will enjoy learning about and tasting the wines and often the first to experience the YGWS's new releases. And between all five of the winemakers, their list of accolades and awards are many! The YGWS have already had some successful wine dinners and tastings under their belts (or is that under their holster belts?) and more events are being planned. Unlike many traditional winemaker dinners, a dinner featuring the YGWS is an opportunity to dine with five winemakers and to experience an assortment of winemaking styles and varietals.

Meet the Young Guns Wine Society:

Justin Basel, age 26 from Basel Cellars Estate Winery was raised in the Walla Walla wine industry. He got his start at age 11 when his family planted their Estate Vineyards, Pheasant Run. Before taking over as the Head Winemaker with the 2006 vintage Justin worked multiple years as the assistant winemaker and also attended the Enology and Viticulture Program at WWCC under the late Stan Clarke (photo: front left).

Josh McDaniels, age 23 first entered the wine business at the age of 15 when he began volunteering at local wineries. By the time Josh was 18, his father David saw how dedicated Josh was about winemaking and gave him an envelope with $1,000 to start a new winery and shortly after, Sweet Valley Wines became a reality. Josh also attended the Walla Walla Community College Enology and Viticulture program. Besides the winery, Josh also works at Figgins Estates/Leonetti Cellar and manages his own 5 acre vineyard (photo: back left).

Cameron Kontos, age 31 grew up in the Walla Walla Valley in a winemaking household, as his father is one of the owners/winemakers of Fort Walla Walla Cellars. Cameron was the assistant winemaker at Forgeron Cellars for eight years under the tutalage of Marie-Eve Gilla. It was there he was able to learn traditional French techniques for crafting fine wine, barrel selection, and vineyard management. Today Cameron is the winemaker and a partner of Kontos Cellars (photo: front right).

Greg Matiko, age 25, his journey into the wine industry was at the age of 18 working as a helper during crush. At the time he had no interest in wine at all - it was merely a job. However, by the end of his first harvest he knew that he was hooked and his passion for wine, and the industry, has grown from there and continues to grow. Greg worked several harvests at Forgeron Cellars before he joined the team at Skylite Cellars (photo: back right).

Ryan Raber was born and raised in Washington State and his first experience with wine was in his early teens, making wine at home with his mother. In the spring of 2005, Ryan graduated with a degree in Enology and Viticulture at WWCC. Following graduation, he accepted the position as winemaker with Tertulia Cellars. After a brief absence Ryan has returned to Tertulia with the same passion and dedication to making world class wines (not in photo).

For more information about the YGWS events you can visit their website or become a fan on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Monesia's Song

It is always a such special treat when I am invited to a private tasting with a winemaker at their winery and especially at his or her home. So when winemaker, Josh McDaniels invited me to his house to taste the wines of Sweet Valley and Righteous Wines from Walla Walla, I knew it was going to be a great evening - and it was. With the view of vineyards from Josh's back dining room window, we tasted through the current releases and one of the most memorable - Monesia's Song.

Josh's entry into the wine business was at the age of 15. He began volunteering at local wineries while still balancing high school and athletics. After a few years of winemaking, his father David saw his enthusiasm for the business and handed him an envelope with $1,000 to start a winery. 2005 was a significant year for Josh, as not only was it his senior year of high school, but his new winery Sweet Valley bottled their very first wine.

After high school, Josh would graduate from the Enology and Viticulture Center in Walla Walla, as well as working full-time for longtime mentors, Leonetti Cellar, in addition to his winemaking duties at Sweet Valley. In a continual pursuit to broaden his knowledge and education, Josh received an internship with Paul Hobbs Wines at Vina Cobos Winery in Mendoza, Argentina.

Today, Josh continues to strengthen the wine portfolio at Sweet Valley and Righteous Wines, as well as his work with Leonetti Cellar and the newly-formed Young Guns Wine Society, a group dedicated to defining the next generation of wines and winemakers in the Walla Walla Valley.

If all of this weren't enough, recently Josh became very involved with a new project, Embracing Orphans. This non-profit organization assists in helping orphanages all around the world. Josh's passion for and involvement with Embracing Orphans led him to craft a high-end red wine called, Monesia’s Song.

During the last days of the 2007-2008 winter's school break, local junior-high teacher Carl Robanske had just returned from a visit to Jamaica and bringing back with him were the memories of Blossom Gardens, an orphanage for children from babies to age seven. After his visit, Carl could not forget the 65 children, many with mental and physical disabilities, and unfortunately a limited staff to care for their needs. But most of all, he could not forget Monesia.

It was an afternoon naptime when Carl noticed all of the children were asleep with the exception of one little girl. Monesia was a heartbroken, confused and deeply quiet child and her only form of expression was a single tear that rolled down her soft brown cheek. Carl later discovered she had been at the orphanage for two weeks and since Monesia's arrival she had never spoke a word. Carl spent many hours reading and playing with Monesia to bring her out of her shell. He used stuffed animals to carry on conversations with Monesia and eventually she laughed after being tossed in the air over and over again. As Carl embraced the small girl she unexpectedly sang to him - in a very soft tiny voice,

"How often we forget that we are loved."

Josh was inspired by this story and collaborated with Carl in an effort to raise funds to improve the quality of life for the orphaned children of Jamaica. They created a wine label that shares this reminder of the need for love with a portrait of Monesia in a bright blue dress.

"Monesia's Song" was released in the spring of 2011 and is a fine Bordeaux-style red blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Petit Verdot, and 5% Merlot; sourced from some of the finest Walla Walla Valley vineyards in Washington State. The nose wafts of dark stone fruit, cigar box, black pepper and mocha. The palate has flavors of plums, dark Bing cherries and creamy, yet tangy, Rainier cherries and finishes with tones of espresso. Definitely a wine I would let rest for a few months. Only 75 cases produced.

When purchased, 30% of the cost is a financial gift to Embracing Orphans. Please contact Josh for more information at: Josh@SweetValleyWines.com

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Keeping Wine Budgets in the Black: Blacksmith Wines

Now days when discussions of the US debt ceiling have been looming above us, there's no reason why your wine cellar coffers have to take on a deficit. Blacksmith is one of those wine labels that all parties can agree upon, unless of course you truly are an invited member of a high-tea party with extended pinkie and beverage of choice is a cuppa Earl Grey or Oolong with two lumps and a spot o' cream.

Forgeron Cellars, located in Walla Walla, is located in the site of a former blacksmith shop. The name, Forgeron is a French word for "blacksmith" and also refers to artisans who craft and build with their hands. Marie-Eve Gilla, part owner and winemaker of Forgeron Cellars has been bringing to the winery her complex, yet food friendly wines since 2001. She not only sources the fruit locally, but also chooses vineyards from the entire Columbia Valley region for their maturity and flavors.

Looking to expand, Marie-Eve and her team released a new wine label in November 2010 appropriately named "Blacksmith." This line-up of wines, designed for retail at wine shops and fine restaurants, contains single varietals showcasing each grape's characteristics at an exceptional price. Blacksmith will typically not be available at the winery, but once again, Marie-Eve has blacksmithed these grapes into the highest quality wines possible. In November the first release was a 2008 Syrah and a 2009 Pinot Noir. Both priced under $15 each. In fact, the 2008 Syrah was recently awarded a double gold from the 2011 Seattle Wine Awards in June.

Unforuntately the Syrah and Pinot Noir from Blacksmith is now just a memory in many of the wine shops racks and restaurant's menus, however not all is lost as Blacksmith Chardonnay - 2010 and Blacksmith Merlot - 2008 have just been released. Both priced around $15.00.

Blacksmith Chardonnay - 2010: It is this Walla Walla wine lover/blogger's opinion that Marie-Eve Gilla set a benchmark for Washington State Chardonnays. While we were drinking California's version of over-oaked and over-buttery chardonnays that were masking the fruit and terroir, Marie was earning her masters degree in enology and viticulture at the University of Dijon and apprenticing at various Burgundian wineries and vineyards. With the Blacksmith Chardonnay, Marie-Eve has given us an opportunity to sample her talents with the Chardonnay grape at an affordable price (note: her Forgeron Chardonnay is one of her most popular wines amongst a "red sea" of Forgeron's red wine offerings).

Like the Forgeron Chardonnay, Marie has given the Blacksmith a gentle touch by using 67% used oak. It’s a classic! Notes of Asian pears and honeysuckle greet the nose setting the stage for a palate of pineapple, stone fruit with hints of citrus. A porch sipper or paired with casual dining of chicken salad sandwiches, chilled prawns and fresh fruit salsas.

Blacksmith Merlot - 2008: A deep inhale from the wine glass bowl is going to tell you this Merlot is from Washington State. Not satisfied with the ordinary, Marie-Eve added 12.5% each of Zinfandel and Petit Verdot and included sources from Rattlesnake Hills, Horse Heaven Hills, Yakima Valley and Walla Walla for complexity.

Once again the majority of oak was used at 70%, while still leaving reminders of cigar box and cedar on the nose. The palate screams Washington State Merlot with those flavors of dark chocolate covered cherries, fig cookies and finishing with brown sugar, spice and pepper. Priced just right for casual sipping but exceptional enough to be used in your favorite recipes such as Julia Child's classic Boeuf Bourgignon or a real Washington state favorite of a Merlot redux drizzled over our native salmon - - and of course, affordable enough to procure an extra bottle to pair with the meal.

I will be anxious to see future Blacksmith releases. Sante!