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. 
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