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.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesday

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Saignée
Saignée is the French word meaning, "bleed" (pronounced “sen-yay”). Sounds delicious, doesn't it? Okay, so it may not sound exactly appetizing, but the results can be tasty especially when it is applied to red wine grapes and used for  pretty pink rosés. 

During crush, red grapes are processed as usual, de-stemmed and crushed. And as usual, the grape skins will separate from the juice and will rise, creating a "cap." At this time, winemakers who are looking to produce a rosé will separate the juice from the skins. The pink juice will be pumped or “bled” into barrels or tanks to ferment. 
This method is also referred to as “cap and drain.” The free-run juice is now treated like a white wine and most often allowed to ferment to dry. All the taste of the red grape varietal, such as Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese, but much lighter and crisper for the long hot summer months - - and in a variety of colors from pale peach to hot warm pink. 

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Beguiled and Bedazzled - Julia's Dazzle 2012

What can I say that I haven't already said about Dazzle? No worries here, I will find more to say about this pretty pink wine. See my past posts:

Once again, Dazzle has proven itself to be one of the top rosés in Washington State. And not only is it delicious, but the packaging is quite delicious, as well.  

This vintage, with a slight name change - "Julia's Dazzle," is once again a special project of Allen Shoup, CEO and founder of Long Shadows Winery and Long Shadow's managing winemaker, Gilles Nicault.   Gilles' talent and his time spent making wine in Provence, the world leader in Rosé, gave him the skills to craft this unique Rosé.

The wine is named after Allen's granddaughter, Julia. And as a reminder, you won't find Julia's Dazzle at Long Shadows or on their mailing list as it is an independent project, and is produced to be sold only at restaurants and wine shops - - and it is going fast. 

As the last two vintages, the packaging is stunning with it's clear glass bowling pin shaped bottle and the gold silk screen label. The fruit is still the same as last vintage, with 98% Pinot Gris and 2% Sangiovese sourced from The Benches (formerly Wallula Vineyards), a vineyard that Long Shadows acquired. It's a dramatic vineyard that overlooks the Columbia River from the Washington side, three miles south of the Wallula Gap.

Pinot Gris, a grayish pink grape which is classified as "white," was lightly macerated and fermented like a red wine on its skins, giving the wine it's sole source of color as in traditional Provence rosés. Gilles added the skoosh of Sangiovese to add more fruitiness and to tinge the wine a lovely pink color. The grapes were whole-cluster pressed and the clarified juice was fermented at cool temperatures to retain its intensely vibrant aromatics and flavors.

The release for  Julia's Dazzle - 2012 was the weekend of this last Easter, so of course a bottle for Easter dinner was most fitting, along with a bottle of Juliette's Dazzle - 2011, that I could not believe I still had tucked way in the wine cooler. 

We tasted both vintages side by side and both vintages had hints of ripe strawberries and rhubarb on the nose. Both were easy sippers, especially chilled. I noted both wines left a mouth full of juicy ruby red grapefruit and red berries, but the 2011 ended with a slight caramel finish, while the 2012 had a long finish that was a bit off-dry, but still crisp and bright. There were definitely more acids on the 2012 like when I first tasted the 2011 a year ago.  The 2012 was fruity and tart and an easy sipper and perfectly paired with our meal of creamy deviled eggs, ham, asparagus, and gourmet macaroni and cheese (four different cheeses including Bleu).

So what more can I say? Well, for one thing recycle the bottle. It makes for a perfect vase or a chilled drinking water container for a casual dinner party or BBQ. In the mean time, run, don't walk to get dazzled.

Friday, April 05, 2013

A Rocky Start: Proper Wines

Wouldn't you know, the Eastside girl is often the last one to tout about one of the newer, and most distinctive wines around. That Sullivan character from the Westside beat me to it. 

The word on the street is they're calling the Proper Syrah, "Baby Cayuse." When I received a bottle, not only was I intrigued with the simplicity and style of the packaging and of course, the stone on the label, but I also wanted to know the story of these five men from Colorado. I wanted to know more about the rock on the label and yet, I didn't realize how close to home I was. 

In Colorado Springs, during the year of 2005, two friends, Conor McCluskey and David Houle were sharing the #3 with egg roll, as well as sharing visions and potential business ventures. You know how, as friends do. 

I've heard of crazier ideas, but eventually, after a visit to taste the wines of Walla Walla,  McCluskey and Houle's thirst for adventure brought them the opportunity to purchase a small eight-acre parcel of cherry trees at the state line in the Walla Walla Valley and Milton-Freewater area. Now it just so happens this cherry orchard wasn't located in just any area, but in the famous area in the Walla Walla AVA, known as "The Rocks." 

The Rocks area is known for its vineyards that are planted in ancient riverbed rock, or rather Oregon’s answer to Châteuneuf-du-Pape. The Rocks is home to the world class wines of Cayuse Vineyards, and most recently, the celebrated wines of Reynvaan Family Vineyards.

In 2007, the old orchard was replaced with vines soon to bear grapes of syrah. A few years later, the duo would be joined by other close friends, Kevin Dibble, Billy Adams and David Kunstle. Enter a former geologist, who understands rocks, with a reputation for producing wines with Old World style of the Rhone region, Walla Walla winemaker, Sean Boyd. Long story short, the wines of "Proper" were born with the first release of  2010 Syrah and Rose'.

The name of their winery defines that when something is “done proper” it’s done in the same style of its origin, paying homage to its roots. The goal of the quintet is to showcase the uniqueness of the Walla Walla Valley and keep the integrity, as much as possible.  

So the burning question is, how does the wine taste? 

I just happened to share the bottle with two other fellow wine industry and eno/vit grads, and once the bottle was opened, I wished I had not been so generous and kept the bottle for myself - - kidding. The three of us just sat around for several minutes and kept our nose in the glass. The aromas were compelling. We discovered notes of blueberries, bacon, blackened meats, strong coffee and briny black olives. The taste was earthy and rich with a touch of minerals - wet rocks. The dark purplish-black and inky liquid brought flavors of blueberries, espresso and almost a bloody quality, again of blackened, but rare roasted meats. The wine was smooth and supple on the palate. Distinguished.

Typically, when I reach for a syrah, I expect a lot.  Therefore, I don't reach for syrah very often, unless the syrah is done 'proper." With that said, this syrah is worth reaching for.  

100% Syrah - 2010. Aged 16 months in 20% new French oak. Approximately 450 cases produced.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesday

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Meritage

Merit + Heritage = Meritage. The term was originally created by a group of California
wineries in 1988 to satisfy labeling requirements since they could not name Bordeaux-style wines a varietal unless it was 75% or more of the grape variety. And of course, most definitely the name 'Bordeaux' was out. 

Now let me say that some of you like to "Frenchify" this word up a bit in your pronunciation. Too many times, I hear the term, 'Meritage' with the last syllable, "tage" sounding like that in the word, "taj," as in Taj Mahal. 

Nope. Don't do it, or I will roll my eyes at you. Check for yourself on the Meritage website. Meritage rhymes with "heritage." Like, duh.

For red wines to be a Meritage they must be the following and with no grape dominating more than 90% of the blend: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Malbec, and Carmenère. 

For white wines to be a Meritage they must be the following, and with no grape dominating more than 90% of the blend: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon or Muscadelle du Bordelais. 

Also, the above red or white blends will not qualify as a Meritage if the blends includes any other grape variety. Keep the pinot noir or the chardonnay away. It's also mportant to know that to use the word 'Meritage'on a label, you must be a member of the Meritage Society. Meaning, you will pay the dues and follow their trademark regulations. 
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