Friday, May 31, 2013

A Swan Song

Someone once told me that many wine bloggers keep in their line-up of posts a "swan song" just waiting for the publish button to be hit. Well, I just hit mine.     

It's time. It's time to take a sabbatical at least through the summer, or maybe longer. I am tired and perhaps you're tired of reading this blog. 

Through the Walla Walla Grape Vine has been a big part of my life since 2005 and I may still be one of the longest running wine blogs in Washington State. Originally it was just intended to be a personal diary of my thoughts and tastings about the local wine industry. Long story short, who knew anyone was reading what I had to say? 

It's been one hell of a wonderful ride. The people I have met, the experiences I have had, I could have never imagined any of it the day I published my very first blog. And it indeed changed my life.
Nine years later I am still blogging, but need a rest and a new project or two.  For the moment I do not know what to say anymore about wine or the wine industry that hasn't already been said, or as I ponder it all - - why should I say anything about a wine? You don't need points and scores. The true lover of wine should be their own judge. They should open their minds, become adventurous, expand their palate, taste and explore wines for themselves.  

Last year the archenemy to wine bloggers, the HoseMaster of Wine wrote a few thoughts that really stuck with me. Typically Ron is relentless with satire regarding the wine industry and especially wine bloggers. I have even been his target a few times. But this time, in his blog of "The Golden Age of Wine," there were some comments that really resonated.
What amazes me is how wonderful and entertaining and fascinating wine itself is, whereas wine writing is, with few exceptions, dreary, pedantic, insipid and repetitive. Perhaps that’s because so much of it revolves around descriptions of aromas and flavors we, as humans, are poorly equipped to perceive, much less express. Wine outmatches us. I can summarize an awful lot of people in a few concise phrases. Describing Chave Hermitage, however, seems beyond my capability. And everyone else's. - Ron Washam, HoseMaster of Wine
Later in a comment to me, he said:
But what I intend is to talk about wines that move me. And even after all these years and all those wines, there are wines that can still move me. - Ron Washam, HoseMaster of Wine
This is how I have been feeling, lately. Wine outmatches us. I am feeling outmatched. 

Like anything we love, there have been high and low moments when it came to my experiences as a wine blogger. I can honestly say, the moments have been mostly "high."  

A high moment when a winemaker would bring me a bottle of their wine to sample. For me it meant they valued what I had to say about something they put every bit of their blood, sweat and tears into. It was more than a high moment, but an honor.

A moment is high when Walla Walla tourists reach out to tell me they are fans and read my blog. I am always humbled, and often surprised, when someone reaches out to say they are reading my words. The first time a tourist searched me out, I became speechless and tearful. Verklempt is the word.

A high moment came when Thomas Matthews, Executive Editor and James Molesworth, Senior Editor, both of the Wine Spectator; confronted me online, separately, about something they read on my blog that they did not agree with and chastised me. Believe it or not, truly a high moment. 

A high moment for me, but certainly not a pretty one, when I held my breath, stamped my feet and threw a hissy fit to get the organizers of Wine Bloggers Conference to not hold the 2010 conference in California or even Seattle, Washington but to listen to me and to trust me and to hold the conference in Walla Walla. So far, it has been the most attended wine bloggers conference. 

The highest moment came for me last summer when it was announced that I was up for a wine blog nomination for Best Wine Writing along with nominees such as Alder Yarrow of  Vinography, one of the internet's most highly rated wine blog and Randall Grahm, author, eccentric wine visionary, founder and winemaker of Bonny Doon Vineyard. 

I didn't need to win the ultimate award.  Just the fact of being nominated beside such well known and respected people was enough for me. Unlike Newt Romney, I had no acceptance speech prepared, because I knew there would be no need for it. Ultimately when the winner was announced, I was relieved I didn't have to go up to the stage and speak to a crowd of over 300 people. Just being at the conference, hearing the claps and supportive shout-outs from the audience when my name was called out, and seeing my name on the screen during the awards presentation clutched my breath. That was enough for me.  

Later that evening of the awards, in the hotel elevator there were three young women who were not with the conference, but looked at my name tag and screamed. They "knew" me and read my blog. As we got to their floor and as the door slowly closed, I heard one of them scream, "Oh my gosh, we met the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman!"  That moment was better than any award.

My memorable low moments? (Que the Saturday Night Live Debbie Downer sad background audio, "Wah-Wahhh,") "She has a little blog. She writes a little blog." Yet, I never heard the same spoken about any of the male fellow bloggers. I never heard anybody talk about their "little" blogs. I often wondered if I should be seeking a pat on my little head, as well. 

Another low moment came when I was dismissed of my wine writing duties and was told I was being replaced with someone "younger, hip, and more knowledgeable about wine." Even I was anxious to read this prodigy's writing, until I discovered her only "published" article was a short-term blog about college dorm life. Why wasn't I just told they were cutting budgets and the kid was willing to work for free? 

These low moments are when it hits you and you question yourself and become critical of your work and  - - like the song, "The ol' gray mare ain't what she use to be." It's moments like these when I remembered one of my favorite movies, "All About Eve" starring Bette Davis. So, you don't understand the parallel of the movie and this blog? Look it up, youngster.

Last summer at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland, Oregon, I spent a lot of time by myself looking for answers and listening to the professionals of print and publishing. Unlike past wine blogger's conferences, I didn't do much socializing. I wanted to soak up information. I also looked at the young and enthusiastic faces who were ready to make a name for themselves in the wine blogging/writing world. I sat quietly and listened to them. Many informed me they were the ones who were going to make ka-billions in the wine writing world - - and I must have been at the conference visiting my wine blogging young-adult child, right?

I didn't have the heart to tell them they wouldn't become a mega-star or make their millions on wine blogging, but I wished them well. You don't go into wine writing, and especially wine blogging, to make tons of money or to fill your wine cellar for free. You do it out of love - - passion. You do it because you are eager to share your information with others. Those who share their love and the passion for their craft are the ones who will succeed.

So, what am I going to do since I will no longer be blogging and how long will I be gone?  At least through the summer I am going to give the blog a rest. Possibly even until the end of the year - - or longer.

In the mean time, one of my new projects, I have been inspired to research and write the next "great American novel." I just signed a contract with The History Press to be a part of their new book series, "American Palate." Please watch for the release hopefully in September 2014.

I have another vehicle to keep my mind and keyboard alive, whether anybody reads it or not.  Chronicles of Catie"Rants, Raves, Reminiscing, and a few Recipes ..." However, there won't be much wine speak and postings are rather sporadic. When I am not on the keyboard, I want to take advantage of my newest project, a 1967 vintage Fireball camp trailer and sell some cool shit (home decor and fashion accessories) out of it and even do some glamping. I also want to walk along the rivers and find rocks - agates, jasper, fossils - - and more rocks. 

If anything, I would like to think that in some small way this blog contributed to getting the word out about Walla Walla wines and it contributed to the wineries of Walla Walla learning about wine bloggers, as well. In the mean time, I will be in search of that wine that outmatches us. Perhaps someday I will be back to tell you all about it. 

As Margot Channing said in the movie, All About Eve, "Slow curtain, the end."

Thursday, May 30, 2013

One of a Kind: Waitsburg Cellars

He's a wine writer, critic, author, innkeeper, musician, and all around Renaissance man, so it shouldn't have surprised anyone when Paul Gregutt announced a new milestone and title in his life, creator of his own line of wines. The wines were first previewed and released in March.

Waitsburg Cellars is a winemaking project between Paul and the largest privately owned wine company in the Northwest, Precept Wines.  Paul has been given access to their vineyards, winemakers and their facility.  The goal is to create affordable, yet interesting wines that will showcase the  strength of our vines in Washington State. Paul will be hands-on with the wines.

First off, you cannot help but to notice the lovely, and very personable, black and white wine label. The goal of Paul and Karen Gregutt's label was to create their own Old World wine label, like those from days past of family crests and clan shields. Each symbol on the label represents the unification of their lives, from the music notes and book which focuses on their music, film, and book writing accomplishments to the rose symbol which represents Mrs. G's beautiful gardens of heritage roses.  Of course, the grape vines and wheat shafts speaks for itself, especially if you are familiar with the area.
Contrary to what is usual and almost traditional here in the Walla Walla Valley, it's welcoming to see a line-up of wines where four of the five wines are white varietals and only one red - - and an unusual red blend, at that.  Paul refers to the line-up of white wines as "The Aromatics" and has chosen not to write his own wine tasting notes. Instead we are to "fill in the blanks."  Here's my filler list.

Waitsburg Cellars “Cheninières” Old Vine Chenin Blanc - 2012, sourced from the Snipes Mountain in the Yakima Valley, yet very reminiscent and cleverly named after the dry Savennières from the Anjou region or "Middle" Loire Valley in France. This old vine wine has deep aromas of a flowering orchard. On the palate, summer stone fruit of ripe peaches and almost-ripe apricots with a lingering finish of citrus shining through. Pair with seafood salads - - and make sure that sea food is grilled to bring out a hint of the two-year old oak.

Waitsburg Cellars “Chevray” Old Vine Chenin Blanc - 2012
It is rare to see a Washington State Chenin Blanc on the shelves, but I am oh-so happy to see not just one, but two! The Chevray is very traditional of the Old World Vouvrays from Loire, but also sourced from the Snipes Mountain. The honey gold color brings forth aromas of Asian pears and peaches. On the palate, more peaches, a bit of honey and a finish of wet stones. Something tells me that this wine will also have that wonderful rich aging ability that seems to be a quality of many well-made Chenin Blancs. A wonderful picnic wine with fruit, cheese and a loaf of bread.  

Waitsburg Cellars Old Vine Pinot Gris - 2012, sourced from the Yakima Valley. Easy drinking! Aromas of an apple farm and hints of rain.  Honeydew, muskmelon, pears and apple, with just a hint of citrus are on the palate. This is a summer porch sippin' wine, but easy to pair with some favorite summer menus, as well.  

Waitsburg Cellars Old Vine Riesling - 2012, Columbia Valley or Mosel? Aromas of orchards and rose gardens. On the palate a nice balance of sugar and acidity with flavor notes of peaches, Asian pears, and a touch of wet slate. Clean. Crisp. Something tells me that this wine will also age quite nicely, perhaps eventually taking on those old Riesling notes of petrol. I would take advantage of this wine and use it to enhance any of the flavors and spices of Thai and Chinese cuisine.

Waitsburg Cellars “Three”  - 2011, a unique, but elegant red blend from three winemakers, three vineyards, and three grapes - - a blend of 64% Merlot, 20% Malbec and 16% Mourvedre. I am happy to see that Merlot takes up the larger percentage, as there is nothing like a Merlot from Washington State. It's almost difficult to describe this wine as it is very complex, yet there's no conflict as each grape seems to meld and enhance each other. Violets and roses on the nose with a hint of patchouli. A palate of bramble berries, cherries, currants are mingled with cocoa, espresso, rich dark earth, a hint of Grand Marnier and lingering spicy finish of vanilla and cracked black pepper.  The food pairing with this wine is almost endless.

Last year when the majority of these grapes were harvested, we saw more than once, a blue moon, so the moon on the Waitsburg Cellars label is very symbolic and with hopes we will see a few more blue moons with every harvest. And last but not least, the "One of a Kind" on the banner is the official slogan for the little community of Waitsburg, in Walla Walla County, where Paul and Karen has made their forever home. The town, like the wines, are every bit - - one of a kind.  

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesday

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Soutirage

Soutirage is French for racking.  Racking or soutirage traditionnel is a traditional method in wine production of moving wine from one barrel to another using gravity rather than a pump that we are so use to seeing being used in modern wineries.  

Soutirage was developed in the Bordeaux region of France in the 19th century when there was no electricity to power pumps, of course.  This Old World method of racking, moving the wine from barrel to barrel, helps clarify the wine by removing sediment, as well as enhancing the aromatic qualities. 

Many estates in Pomerol and Ste. Emillion still employ this labor-intensive method. Check out the video below. Ryan Raber, winemaker for Tertulia Cellars in Walla Walla shows a fine example and description of  Old World racking.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesday

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Meditrina
Original painting by Emily Balivet -  2009

Move over fat, bloated, arrogant, and slothful wine gods, the wine goddesses are in town!

Meditrina was the Roman goddess of wine and the daughter of Apollo, as well as the cousin of Cupid. She was the deity in charge of wine, longevity and health. In fact, she often used wine, along with herbs, for healing. There's a rumor that the word, "medicine" came from her name, however something tells me from the history of the alchemists, they would never use a woman's name and would prefer to burn her, and women like her, at the stake, instead. Does that sound bitter?

Meditrina also happens to be the name a popular red blend of pinot noir, syrah and zinfandel produced from the Sokol Blosser Winery in the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Artist Series: Woodward Canyon Winery

Woodward Canyon Winery, known for their premium award-winning wines, is tucked away in the Walla Walla Valley at Lowden, Washington and was founded in 1981 by winemaker, Rick Small and his wife, Darcey Fugman-Small. Their line-up of wines include merlots, chardonnays, many other wine varietals, and last but not least, Woodward Canyon's selection of cabernet sauvignons. Their current selection of cabernet sauvignons include: Walla Walla Valley, Old Vines Reserve, Nelms Road, and Woodward Canyon's Artist Series.

Woodward Canyon's “Artist Series” began in 1992 when the winery made a decision to produce a new cabernet sauvignon from the Canoe Ridge Vineyard in which the Smalls were partners. They were looking for a unique label that would distinguish it from their Old Vines Reserve and Walla Walla Valley Cabernet labels. Also, the wines used for this series were to be  heavier-bodied cabernets, with typical aging of 10+ years.

While they were pondering a new label, it just so happened that Rick was in Portland, Oregon at a wine tasting event and was approached by an artist, Jennifer Marks. Jennifer suggested using one of her works of art on a wine label. After discussing her idea, the Small's created the “Artist Series” Cabernet Sauvignon and Jennifer became the winery's first artist on their new cabernet production. Not only do these special pieces of art adorn the wine label, but posters are also printed and available for purchase. 

Over the years the cabernet sauvignon has transitioned from being a vineyard-designated wine to a blend of  some of the oldest and most well-respected vineyards across Washington State. 
Moonlight Becomes You
The artist's work used for these vintages have primarily been from the Northwest; with the exception of one artist from Chicago and one from the San Francisco Bay Area. Darcey says that artists will often find them or suggestions are given from the Small's friends or winery customers.  

The 2011 vintage will be Woodward Canyon's 20th anniversary and the work of local artist Melissa Webster, who designed their original Woodward Canyon label in 1981, will be featured.

This blogger is proud to say that I own the 1993 #2 Artist Series poster which is from a pastel and named, "Moonlight Becomes You" by local Walla Walla artist, Elizabeth Harris. It was a gift that holds a very special place in my heart. It is framed and matted in a black and gold wooden frame and hangs in my dining room.

And now to the current 2010 "Artist Series"Cabernet Sauvignon - this exceptional piece of art features 65 handmade paper roses on canvas by artist, Taras Lesko and Friends, with a dedication to those with cystic fibrosis (see original below). It just so happens  included in the artist's listed friends was the Cramer Family, whose two children live with cystic fibrosis and are being treated at the same hospital.

Rick and Darcey purchased the artwork at the Auction of  Washington Wines which assists in benefiting  Seattle Children's Hospital. The Smalls made a commitment to donate a portion of the proceeds of their 2010 "Artist Series" Cabernet Sauvignon to Seattle Children's Hospital to support children living with cystic fibrosis.   

The recent vintage 2010 Woodward Canyon "Artist Series" Cabernet was included in Decanter Magazine's, Top Wines of Washington. And yes, I have sampled this lovely new vintage. The blend of vineyards used are from Champoux Vineyard (55%), Woodward Canyon Estate Vineyard (24%), Sagemoor Vineyard (17%), and Weinbau (4%). The addition to this cabernet varietal is 7% merlot, 5% cabernet franc, and 1% petit verdot.  

A rich and aromatic nose of earth and a cedar lined cigar box mixed with aromas of dark stone fruit and black currants. On the palate more richness showing off notes of pepper and very juicy blackberries.  Complex and generous with a long finish.  

Besides the beautiful labels, and the extraordinary wines, the series of art posters are a wonderful keepsake long after the wine is gone.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

A Stan Story: Stan Clarke Vineyard - Walla Walla

"Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some people move our souls to dance…” - Flavia Weedn 

... and some move our souls to plant.

If you ever read my article in the 2009 November issue of Walla Walla Lifestyles, and also here, then you might remember The Stan Story. 

The Stan Story was a short collection of people sharing their own stories about our Founding Associate Director of the Enology and Viticulture Program at Walla Walla Community College. This week the college just announced the new marker for the Stan Clarke Vineyard that was donated by College Cellars at Walla Walla Community College and The United States Air Force Academy - Class of 1972. 

Looking at the photo of the new engraved stone marker, once again I was reminded of another
"Stan Story."

I was one of the first classes that Stan taught when he first came to the program at the Eno/Vit Center at WWCC.  It was a busy time for me, as not only was I a full-time student, but I was also working a full-time office job, and a weekend job at a local winery. After work, I would hurry and close the office, change from my office shoes to "gardening" shoes and hurry onto my evening viticulture class, still in my professional office attire. 

This one particular day was no different as we were told to meet on an empty lot at the airport. Stan announced to our class that we were going to plant a vineyard, as he often did such surprise announcements, and often last minute. It was the beginning of March, almost at dusk, windy, and storm clouds ahead.  This early evening's goal was to measure out the rows, run posts at each end, and then each student was given a row to plant before next week - - Spring Break.  

Now, how in the hell was I suppose to get this done in a short amount of time? Before I went to work and by the time I got out of work, it was often dark.  I had one free morning in that week, but not enough time to dig holes and plant the vines. However, it was important to me to personally plant those vines and be a part of their early start. I started thinking about the lean time frame and asked Stan, 

"So wonder if I have a limited amount of time to plant the vines, but have zero time to dig the holes? Any chance I could bribe a classmate to dig the holes for me while they are digging their own? I would pay well with bottles of wine."

Stan answered, "Well, any smart business woman, especially one that owns a vineyard, knows that she needs to manage her time well, therefore a smart business woman could definitely hire someone, for less money than what her time is worth, leaving her with time to do what is a priority for her."   

That's all I needed to hear. I made two classmates very happy with a few bottles of wine, and I found the time one glorious sunny morning to lovingly plant each of the twenty-some Merlot vines in the burrowed row and placing the soft cool dirt around the vines to keep them steady.  

I would later take very patient family members and friends to that vineyard so I could show them the vines and with pride tell them, "I helped plant that vineyard." 

Today, looking at that monument, I take even more pride and with much gratitude.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesday

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Bacchus 

Bacchus,  known as Dionysus in ancient Greece, was the name adopted by the Romans as the god of wine and grape harvest and all around wild and crazy parties.  You know, a lot like Spring Release in Walla Walla, with wine, intoxication, fertility rites, orgies, endless music, ritual madness, gluttony, ecstatic dancing, and often nudity. The prime years of Bacchus too place around 200 BC. Spring Release in Walla Walla takes place every first weekend of May.

Bacchus also happens to be a white hybrid wine grape created in Germany at the Federal Research Institute for Cultivated Plants in 1933. It is a Silvaner x Riesling cross with Muller-Thurgau. This wine grape received varietal protection and released for general cultivation in 1972. Of course, it was named for the Roman party animal, Bacchus.  
A young Bacchus with the nymphs at Bennington Lake at Walla Walla.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesday

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Fumé Blanc

First of all, there is no such grape variety as Fumé Blanc. The name is simply an approved synonym for Sauvignon Blanc, a grape with strong roots from the Bordeaux region of France.  

However, no disrespect to Robert Mondavi, who created the name in 1968, as his effort was noble during a time when we, American wine consumers, were trying to find acceptance and understanding of wine. Instead of copyrighting or trade marking the name, Mondavi offered the name to anyone wanting to be progressive and market a dry Sauvignon Blanc.

Fumé translates to "smoke," and Fumé Blanc", derived from Pouilly-Fumé, a dry white produced from Sauvignon Blanc in the Loire Valley in France. Pouilly-Fumé receives its name from the grapes that are coated with a smoke-colored gray bloom, as well as the white fog that often lays over the Loire Valley.

However, the name Fumé does not necessarily mean smoky in the aroma or flavor profile of the Sauvignon Blanc grape or the wine. Other than the possibility of barrel fermenting or oak barrel aging, oak doesn't have to be used at all in the fermenting or aging process and Mondavi still welcomed winemakers to use the name. During this time frame of finding ourselves in the world of wine, the name was frequently used by wineries as a way to gain shelf space in the supermarkets. It's important to note that the term is only used on American wines. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

"It's Showtime, Folks!" You're a Tasting Room Attendant!

Spring Release is just around the corner. It's a time that many of us look forward to and by the end of the weekend, sometimes can hardly wait until it's over, especially if you are a tasting room attendant and been on your feet all day.  It is a learning experience for the visitors as they have tasted new wines and learned new things about the valley. It should also be a time where the wineries, from the winemaker to the tasting room attendant, has learned something new about the Spring Release experience, as well. 

I don't want to rehash the same old advice that I have for years about tasting room etiquette and how to make the most of your visit, in a tasting room. It's pretty much the basics of  Robert Fulghum’s, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten:
Share everything, play fair, don’t hit people, say you are sorry when you hurt people, wash your hands before you eat, flush, hold hands and stick together, cookies and milk are good for you
Okay, so you can trade out the cookies and milk for cheese, crackers and red wine. A few more things to remember: Turn off your damn phone. You're not that important and if you are, your Secret Service folks will answer the phone for you. Go outside to chat with the baby sitter on the phone as nobody in the tasting room wants to hear about baby's poo-poo. Also, give your palate a break. Don't try to pack in 13 wineries and all of their wines in one day. Spread it out, slow down, pace yourself, and enjoy as there will be no shortage of wine anytime soon. You can come back to visit us again, right?

So now it's time to give a little friendly advice to tasting room attendants. I have been on both sides of the bar, as I have worked tasting rooms for over seven years and been a visitor to tasting rooms for many years. People often think that working as a tasting room attendant is a glamorous job. You schlep numerous 45 lb cases of wine, pour out nasty dump buckets, stand on your feet all day, put up with obnoxious people, you wash racks of glasses, and get wine stains on your clothes and hands, to name a few of the "glamorous" duties.  

I like to compare the tasting room attendant position to the bank teller. You are the representative of the winery (bank) and often the first and only person the public sees, you get to hear winery (bank) customers complaints, and you are also the lowest paid person at the winery (bank). 

However, you better act like you are the highest paid person at the winery (bank) and loving every minute of it. You may have had a lousy morning, but you better learn to be an actor, look
in the mirror and put on a happy face when you enter the tasting room. "It's showtime, folks!"

There were only two times, especially in the last five years where I was treated like "persona non grata." That's Latin, by the way, for being treated like "shit."

The first time happened in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. We were on vacation and chose to leave our wine-related business cards at home. We didn't want to talk wine-speak in public. We just wanted to sip, enjoy, and learn something new. The offending winery had two women behind the bar and no doubt it was time for both to retire from the business. There were about six people already tasting and we later joined in - - or at least tried. It wasn't a private party, either. 

Both attendants stared at us and not once asked us if we wanted to taste. Like duh! We were standing at the bar, so we asked if we could have a couple of glasses. It almost seemed as if they were purposely ignoring us, as they would pour for the other guests and always over look us. With each pour, we had to ask if we could try the wine. It reached a point of being uncomfortable when the guests also started looking at us the same way the tasting room attendants were - - like we didn't belong. What?  We weren't wearing our underwear on our head and the underwear we were wearing correctly were clean. Our hair was combed and there were no boogers in our noses. We were treated as if we were two lost homeless people looking for a rest room and a hand-out. However, even two lost homeless people looking for a restroom and a hand-out should have been treated better. Frankly, it was a humiliating experience. 

The most recent time of being treated like persona non grata was just last fall. I went out of town on a wine business related adventure and thought I would check into a winery I had visited a few years before, as I was taken, not only with their selection of white wines, but curious as how their new winery was progressing. 

We stepped into the tasting room and there were two attendants, a man and woman. Once again we chose to remain wine tourists. The young woman attendant was friendly and busy with a customer who was taking too much of the attendant's time while yammering about his selection of square dance tunes on his iPod. (Note to visitors: don't hog the tasting room attendant and keep them from doing their job. Step aside and share the space.)

The woman attendant smiled at us several times as an acknowledgment that we were there. In the mean time, the male attendant was busy flirting with two young women and ignoring everyone else. We waited our turn to be noticed and served. The male attendant finally acknowledged us after the young women left, and but not near as enthusiastic, while the poor woman attendant was trying to get out of listening to the boorish and rude customer yammer on about his iPod music. 

The male attendant poured us our first sample, his cell phone rang, and he took off to answer it - - and left us there all by ourselves, while the young woman attendant was still trying to break from the iPod idiot. We stood there with empty glasses, twiddled our thumbs, and could see the male tasting room attendant still yapping on his phone in the back room. If we could see him, no doubt he could see us, but we seemed invisible to him. 

In the mean time, the young woman attendant finally broke free from the iPod idiot and approached us with apologies and completed our tasting while the other attendant remained on his phone ... or at least he remained on the phone until the owner/winemaker recognized me and came out of another room to greet me, gave us a tour and picked my brain about social media.  I took a glance at Mr. I-Am-On-the-Phone tasting room attendant's face as it looked a little white, then pink, and then red, as he saw his boss reach out to me.

The lesson here is do not assume anything about your customers. Treat them all like wine critics and as if they have a million dollars in their pocket.  Here is a little more advice so you can give your guests the best tasting room experience ever: 
  • Greet your customers as soon as you see them. Be friendly, hospitable, and most of all knowledgeable about your wines. 
  • Keep your ears and mind open and learn. Although you may have command of the tasting room, you are going to eventually meet someone who has a lot more wine experience than you have. That's the beauty about wine - - there is always something to learn.
  • Keep your dump buckets emptied as much as possible. Oh and by the way to you tasting rooms, I have a pet peeve. Don't ever use a pitcher as your dump bucket. It confuses the guests when they go into a tasting room who uses a water pitcher for exactly what the pitcher was designed for - - water.  Use another type of vessel for dumping - not a pitcher. 
  • Keep some hard copies of tasting notes around so customers can write their personal tasting notes on them, and best of all they will take a little bit of that advertising home with them.  
So here is my mantra about this whole world of wine that I would recommend to anybody who works in the wine industry or enjoys collecting and learning about wine: We do not need wine. However, wine is here to enhance our lives. 

Let it enhance your life by having fun, relax, share what you know and always be willing to learn more. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesday

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Blush

Nope. No way. No how. Don't use it (and I recommend not to drink it either, unless you truly are a fan of very sweet wines and want a big headache). I don't care what you have heard, those traditional pretty pink Old World wines and finally those from the New World, are not "blush." Blush is the term used after your grandmother pinches you on the cheeks or the wines from your grandma's bridge games. It's oh-so-1978.

In fact, in 1976 the name "Blush" was originally started as a joke by a California viticulturist, Charles Kreck, who would later trademark it. However, his own grandson, a winemaker, even chose not to use the term for his own wines.  

In France these light wines of various shades of pink are referred to as rosé and often the same French name for the word, "pinkish," is used in the New World of winemaking. In Spain and Portugal, these darling pink wines are named, rosado and in Italy, they are referred to as, rosato.

And with that said, if I had my way I wouldn't use the term, "white zin" either as the zinfandel grape is not white - - and then there is the name, fume' blanc - - but that is, after all, another Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies.   

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

L'Ecole Nº 41 Grenache Rosé - 2012

Beware, by the time this gets posted this luscious Rosé may be another chapter for the history books. Boo-hoo! You've been warned.  
L'Ecole Nº 41 is known for producing quality wines that are consistently crafted for richness and complexity.  Their focus is on terroir-driven and expressive wines that reflect the greatness in our vineyards of Washington State, and especially here in the Walla Walla Valley.  Their limited bottling of Grenache Rosé is no different.  
Since 2010, L'Ecole Nº 41 has been sourcing the grenache for their rosé from Alder Ridge Vineyard located on the Columbia River in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA near Paterson. This vineyard, located in an area known for its harsh conditions, is one of the more prestigious and older vineyards in Washington State.
Picked at 26 brix with a residual sugar of 0.9% (dry), the nose reminds me of sitting on my back deck and smelling the scent wafting from my rose garden. There is also just a faint scent of an orange being peeled.  The flavors are luscious of more citrus such as tangerine, but tart berries enter the palate such as cranberry and raspberry and then more rose petal notes.  It's crisp. It's bright. 
The food pairing for this wine is endless, if you can keep the bottle around long enough after it's been opened.  Definitely a wine to be used for an assortment of tapas such as: deviled eggs, sea food, ham, spicy sausages, potato salad, Cobb salad (it's about the bacon, eggs and cheese with this salad), paella (a natural), and curries - - and don't forget a cheese plate from the creamy to the salty Manchego

Monday, April 22, 2013

Be a Renegade and Drink a Rosé - I Dare Ya: Renegade Wine Co.


Finally, we are seeing people in Washington State drinking more and more rosés as they learn  these pretty pink wines are not your Grandma's Bridge Club Blush. These are the wines reminiscent of rosés the men in the neighborhoods of Provence drink while tossing their metal balls during a game of pétanque. 

The Renegade Wine Co., a second project for Sleight of Hand Cellars, has been producing a  rosé since 2010.  The ultimate goal of this project is to, not only keep it fun and no frills, but to bring great wines to the wine loving masses at affordable prices. 

So once again, this ain't your Grandma's Bridge Club Blush. I mean, can't you tell by the tough looking hombre' dude on the label? 

The 2012 Renegade Wine Co. Rosé is the style of a Southern Rhone with a blend of 76% Syrah, 20% Mourvedre, and 4% Cinsault. It's fresh! It's lively! Flavors of pomegranate, citrus, cherries and strawberry-rhubarb pie.  A great wine to pair with your renegade gatherings, especially a backyard BBQ. Pair with salads, grilled salmon, and a plate of assorted cheeses. Okay, so you're a tough dude and you want pork chops and a pot of beans? Yes, this wine will pair just fine.  
There were only 500 cases produced and as of a week ago Wednesday, Trey Busch of Sleight of Hand Cellars  said he had only four cases left - - going fast!
Join the Twitter World with Sean Sullivan of the Washington Wine Report for an April Virtual Tasting of the Renegade Wine Co. 2012 Rosé. The tasting will take place on Wednesday, April 24th 7-8pm PDT. Grab a bottle from your favorite local wine shop and tweet your comments about the wine on Twitter using the hashtag   #renegadewine and follow Sean @wawinereport.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Nostalgic: L’Ecole Nº 41 Chenin Blanc - 2012

In a wine area that is famous for its red wines, one of the longest produced and sought out wine just happens to be a white. Since 1987, L’Ecole Nº 41 has been producing Chenin Blanc that is very much like those gentle whites found in the area of Vouvray in the Loire Valley of France. 
Since the early days of L'Ecole, founding winemaker Jean Ferguson crafted her version of Chenin Blanc and it has been a popular, yet nostalgic wine for the winery ever since.  In fact, the 2012 vintage will enter the record books as one of the largest in Washington state with usual normal yields, besides an increase in acreages of this vibrant white grape. Sourced from older vines in the Yakima Valley: Willard Farms, Phil Church, Upland Vineyard, and Rothrock Vineyard. 
Harvested in the cool early-morning hours, the fruit was immediately delivered to the winery and without delay, was gently whole-cluster pressed. The aromatics are feminine with notes of orange blossom. On the palate there are flavors of honey, crisp apples, and stone fruit with a light mineral finish. 

And like those Old World Vouvrays in France, Chenin Blanc is usually one of the few white wines that will age gracefully, while showing off the color of honey. But why age it? Drink it often and as much as possible. 

L’Ecole Nº 41 Chenin Blanc - 2012 makes for one of those lazy afternoon sippin' wines on the porch and yet will pair with rich cream sauces such as a gourmet mac & cheese, crab cakes with a beurre blanc sauce, Eggs Benedict for brunch, or a simple plate of fresh fruit and French cheeses - - and don't forget the buttery croissants.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Waters Winery Rosé - 2012

It would appear that I am spending a lot of time writing mostly about the local rosés, but you have to talk about 'em immediately and grab them immediately or like the lead character, Verbal Kint of the movie "Usual Suspects" said about the legendary Keyser Söze in his story

"And like that, poof! He's gone ..."

The rose' from Waters Winery isn't going to be any different. If you don't get it now, poof! It will be gone. 

The color is a lovely pale peach color. The aromatics are of posies and apricots. To give the rosé the soft salmon color, whole clusters of 63% syrah and 37% viognier were pressed with no additional skin time. The wine is  fruity and juicy on the mid-palate and ends with crisp acids almost leaving a bit of effervescence on the tongue. Refreshing by itself while sippin' and sittin' on the porch, or paired with a light fare of foods such as seafood and fruit.  Or you might consider the nosh I was enjoying with it, bacon wrapped water chestnuts basted with a light Asian inspired plum sauce.

Waters is a boutique winery located near the foothills, south of the Walla Walla Valley. Founded in 2005, their mission is to produce distinctive wines that rival the best of Old and New World regions and aimed at sense of place. Waters Winery produces  a few 1,000 cases of small lots each year.  

Dreux and Robbi
I was happy to meet up with Robbi Ebel, Sales Director and Dreux Dillingham, Winemaker, of Waters Winery earlier this week at a distributor's spring release event and tasted a selection of Waters newest releases, including this delicious rosé with the sophisticated packaging.

Grab this wine when you see it or like that, poof ... 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesday

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Estate-bottled

First of all, this is a term used and regulated by the TTB, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Estate-bottled means that 100% of the wine came from grapes grown on land owned or controlled by the winery. Also, the vineyard must be located in a AVA desginated area, and both land and winery be on the same AVA  area, as well.  

Therefore, the winery must grow, crush, ferment, age, finish and bottle the wine in a continuous process on the same winery's premise. 

In the Walla Walla area,  a few estate-bottled wines to look for would be those from Leonetti, Woodward Canyon, L'Ecole #41, Pepper Bridge, Spring Valley, Tero Estates, Cadaretta, Dumas Station ... to name a few.  

Besides, doesn't everyone that works in the Walla Walla wine industry live in an humble little home like the one in the photo?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Dowsett Family Mourvèdre - 2010

It may surprise you to hear that a local winemaker, known for his shiny Gewurtz belt buckle and hailed for his dry cool crisp Gewürztraminer, just released a Mourvèdre.

Chris Dowsett produced his first ten gallons of Gewürztraminer in junior high school. Later, he would put in a year studying wine science at Roseworthy College in the Barossa Valley of Australia. He would return to America and work harvest for Robert Mondavi. You've heard of the Mondavi name, right?

Chris would later make a move back to the Northwest, work a few years at Canoe Ridge Vineyard/Winery in Walla Walla and assist with their Columbia Valley Gewürztraminer. While winemaking at former winery, Lattitude 46, also in the Walla Walla Valley, Chris would also produce a dry barrel fermented Gewürztraminer under the Lattitude 46 label. In 2007,  he would become winemaker for Artifex Wine Company in Walla Walla. It was there, at this world-class custom crush facility, that Dowsett Family Wines was conceived with its first 300 cases of wine. Chris has since moved on from Artifex, but when Chris isn't producing his own wines, he is now the head winemaker for Buty Winery, also in Walla Walla. 

So with all of this background in a white wine with strong Germanic roots, it seems rather an extreme to make a red wine with French roots and is the latter, but prominent component in "GSM" blends where Mourvèdre is the "M" blended with "G" for Grenache and "S" for Syrah. However, if you are familiar with Dowsett Family "Devotion" red blend, then it makes perfect sense. "Devotion" is exactly that, a GSM styled wine and like the back label of the wine bottle says: "Three varieties, one wine."

However, this new release of a red wine is "one variety, one wine"  -- and one vineyard. Heart of the Hill Vineyard is in the Red Mountain AVA west of Walla Walla. The vineyard itself lies mid-slope and is known to be a very warm site.

The notes of Dowsett Family Heart of the Hill Mourvèdre is dark, yet bright in color. Notes of cherry and flint in the nose. The flavors are rich, with just enough tannins to remind you they are needed to be age worthy. On the palate more red berries shine through, and even a hint of licorice with a finish of black pepper. Spicy. 

This is a wine meant to be paired with foods: roasted and grilled meats (I understand Chris eats a lot of lamb due to an active 4-H family), and spicy sausages. However, if you prefer more vegetables dishes such as chili rellenos, grilled vegetables of charred eggplant, summer squash, peppers, and mushrooms.

I wouldn't hesitate to grab this very special bottle of wine.

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