Tuesday, November 18, 2014

It's finally here. What took you so long? Wines of the Walla Walla Valley: A Deep Rooted History

It had been in my brain since I was about seven years old,  I was going to write a history book about Walla Walla. Growing up, next door to our house was a wheat field and nearby the field was a road sign that said, "Welcome to Walla Walla. Cradle of Northwest History." I would often stand in front of the sign and stare at it. 

One summer when I was in 4th grade,  my aunt (a 4th grade teacher) left her classroom library at our house for me to spend the summer reading through many of the children's classics. When the other kids were out swimming, I stayed in my room and read. I wanted to become a writer. 

In the 6th grade I would write "romance" stories in spiral stenographer notebooks about Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeer and icon, Annette Funicello. Her adventures were usually of her hanging around soda shops, movie theaters, library, and riding horses. 

In junior high, after I scored an "A" on my journal about the travels of a glass pop bottle, I knew I needed to continue to write. 

In high school an English teacher allowed her visiting teacher's assistant to unfairly accuse me of plagiarism on a "magazine" story, although she could never produce the proof of the story I supposedly "plagiarized." The TA told me I would never become a writer, let alone get anywhere in life. She called me a failure. Years later, I would shudder when I thought about that experience and hoped that no child would have the accuser as a teacher and the TA's place in the world needed to be an assistant librarian at a state prison for hardened criminals - - if best. Also, I never looked at the English teacher with the same respect, but I knew I needed to continue to write. 

In my early adult years, I would jot down a few childhood memories or things I remembered about my dad and grandfather - such wonderful memories. 

There was an "unhealthy minded" co-worker who always  bitched at the boss that he needed to quit giving me files to work on because I "did not know how to write." She wanted the work instead. Great. No skin off of my nose. Let her do the work. Well, my other co-workers had fun with her the day my first magazine article came out. All through the office you could hear comments of, "Too bad Catie doesn't know how to write ..." But I knew I needed to continue to write, as the "unhealthy" co-worker was the one with the problem.   

Oh, I am not a perfect writer. Over all I can spell, but become befuddled with commas. I like to get creative with words and syntax, which some editors enjoy, but the serious do not. When I die, I want to be remembered as a quirky "Wordsmith." I can be long-winded. Sometimes my adult dyslexia kicks in and I will struggle, but it is important that I keep writing. I will always continue to write, even when I stop having an audience. 

In spite of my faults, I feel my words are either dripping with "sarcastic wit" or very heart felt. I like to give my words a "full circle" feel to my blog posts, magazine articles, and now my book. After all, history does have a way about repeating itself - - it becomes "full-circle." Life is full-circle.

In 2005, I started this wine blog. I had no intention of anything other than a place for me to keep my wine notes and stories.  I had no clue anyone was reading. 
In 2006, I started writing my notes for my book. The table of contents were drafted, as well as the first chapter, with other notes and quotes scattered about. I continued to write with no direction or goal of a publisher or deadline. 

In 2013, I was contacted by a commissioning editor to write the story of Walla Walla and her wines. I signed the contract to write a history book a few months later.

Writing a book has been a journey, with many stories to tell even when it came time for the book to be released with a few disgruntled souls who wanted to slow or stop the presses, while ensuring they would be in the book and it would be only with glowing remarks - - of course. 

Today my history book, Wines of  Walla Walla Valley: A Deep-Rooted History was officially released. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Clever Marketing or Old World Tradition: Beaujolais Nouveau

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! The New Beaujolais has arrived!

If you are a knowledgeable wine retailer, you know it's rather festive
 to bring a case or two of Beaujolais Nouveau in for many reasons: to educate some wine newbies and to assist those wine lovers who keep this tradition. Also, if you are a wine retailer it is best to calculate how much you are going to sell because it's my opinion the goal should be that you blow this new wine out of your shop before Christmas Eve. 

By the first of December, Beaujolais Nouveau is like Thanksgiving house guests who are still lingering and wearing out their welcome. Seriously - one of my pet peeves is to walk into a large supermarket and see this stuff (often Georges Duboeuf brand) perched with the Valentine chocolates and it's wearing a big mark-down. Clearly you are doing something wrong in your marketing if that happens.

Beaujolais Nouveau is simply "new wine" made from the Gamay grape and most notably grown in Beaujolais and in the Loire Valley regions of France. This red grape goes through a quick fermentation process, about three days, and bottled just weeks after its harvest. Therefore, the wine is fresh and fruity with little to zero tannins, so it's not a wine you want to age. 

At one minute past midnight on the third Thursday of each November, (this week, November 20) little villages and towns around Beaujolais, province of France, celebrate the wine  with parades, fireworks, music and festivals - - and of course, lots of drinking of this new wine. By French law, Beaujolais Nouveau is to be released no earlier than the third Thursday of November. These regulations came about in 1935. The official release date was set for November 15th, however by 1985, the date was changed to the third Thursday of November tying it to a weekend. 

In America, retailers begin to receive it usually by the Tuesday or Wednesday before the epic third Thursday - - and with that said, it just happens to be delivered before the American Thanksgiving, which is always the fourth Thursday.  Clever marketing by the most well-known producer of Beaujolais Nouveau, Georges Duboeuf or coincidence?  

If you must go with a Beaujolais Nouveau, Georges isn't going to like me very well for writing this, but go for one that is a little higher in price - - and when I say this, the majority of these new wines are all affordable and usually well under $20.  Just don't go for the $9 special. Check out those from producers: Joseph Drouhin, Domaine Jean FoillardDomaine Marcel Lapierre, and Louis Jadot Village, if possible. 

Yes, when Beaujolais Nouveau is served with your Thanksgiving turkey it isn't a bad pairing. the lively fresh and fruity acidity can cut the butter and fat from the gravy and other Thanksgiving side dishes, as well as a fine pairing with the dark meat turkey leg and thigh. 

When a Beaujolais Nouveau is nowhere to be found? There are other wines that I think will be even better with the holiday turkey and sides.  From Oregon I would recommend Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot Noir - 2013. It's a whole cluster fermentation with a carbonic maceration, and very much similar to a fresh and fruity Beaujolais Nouveau. 

Also, if possible and sometimes rare, is a Lemberger from Washington State. Lemberger is a red grape, also known in Austria as Blaufrankisch, with notes of berries, cherries and pepper that will complement those cheesy, creamy casseroles that Aunt Martha and Aunt Edna  brings to the holiday table. If you paced yourself with your dry crisp summer Rosés from France, and especially Walla Walla favorites like Tranche Cellars, Charles & Charles, and Waters Winery, now is the time to open up the remainder and enjoy. When holiday dining with Rosés, you get the best of a red wine, but much lighter so that it doesn't overpower the menu.

And one more thing - - don't scrimp on one bottle or one type of wine, either. Bring out an assortment of wines such as your favorite whites like Chardonnay, Riesling, and Viognier. Don't forget the Late Harvest or Ports for dessert, either. La Fêtes est arrivé!

Thursday, November 06, 2014

It's Fall Release Weekend: No Fallout on Etiquette

Yeah-yeah-yeah, it's been awhile since I have lectured y'all on tasting room etiquette, but in my couple of years of being away from my wine blog, but still behind the wine counter, a few of you have gotten a bit rusty on your tasting room etiquette.  

I would like to say, "You know who you are ...," but you obviously don't know who you are or you still wouldn't be such a .... never mind. 

Now, if this is the first time for you to visit our area, welcome. We hope you enjoy your visit,
but might I recommend that you first read up on the wineries and what to expect? Last summer we had an influx of tourists asking for "sweet red wine" and "White Zinfandel." Noooo ... chances are you won't be finding that style of wine around Walla Walla. 

However, if you are a worthy tasting room attendant, you will encourage this customer by giving them suggestions about other wines and even a history lesson on how "White Zinfandel" got its start.  Okay, so I was guilty of laughing at a tourist when he asked where the Walla Walla White Zinfandel was. Then I asked, "Where are the hidden cameras? Is this a reality game show?" But I quickly apologized, shared with him the knowledge I had regarding White Zin, and ended up selling him a bottle of rosé from Walla Walla. The point is, these potential wine lovers have to start sometime, right? They are in your winery. You have a captive audience. Capture them. 

So here goes my list of what not to do in a tasting room if you are a visitor: 1.) Put the damn cell phone away. We don't want to hear your obnoxious, but clever ringtone; nor do we want to hear you blab that Junior made poo-poo in his diapers or listen to you boast to Tad and Buffy this is your seventh winery visit before noon. And besides, your loudness is ruining the ambiance of the winery. Seriously you are not that important that you have to be tied to your phone, and if you are, let the Secret Service answer the phone for you, and 2.) Cut down on the fragrance. Or as my beloved father (RIP) use to say, "You smell like a French whorehouse."
You too, men. You are often the worst offender. Now, I have no idea what a "French whorehouse" smells like or if they smell any different than an "American whorehouse," but I guess my dad knew the difference - - he use to bring up French women a lot from his days as a soldier ... who knows, maybe I have a half-sister somewhere in France ... okay, I am rambling. Never mind, and ... 3.) Don't name drop. So, you know Gary Figgins. Cool. You know Christophe Baron. Cool. Yeah, so do we and no - - you are not going to get in their wineries, no matter who you are, or you would already have an invite and 4.) You are there to sample wine, not drink a 8-ounce pour. Not too many businesses where you get to sample before you buy. Use the spit bucket, but don't walk around with it. Other people would like to use it, too. 

Now this next paragraph goes out to the Tasting Room Attendants: I feel for you. I really do.
You are what I often refer to as the "bank teller." You are the face of the winery, and like in a bank you more than likely have the lowest paying job in your company. Then you have to put up with the jerks who loudly and rudely blab on their cell phones, smell like a "______________ Whorehouse," fill in the blank: a.) French b.) American c.) Irish. Not to mention the boorish name dropper. 

No doubt you, the tasting room attendant, has been on your feet all day, and for several hours getting ready for Fall Release. So, you drank too much the night before, this is your second job, you aren't getting a lunch break, and you are pissed off at your boy/girlfriend, but here is the deal - - BUCK UP! If you walk into the winery that morning reporting for work or coming back from a break and you are not feeling it, here is what you do.  Go to a quiet room where there is a mirror. You look into the mirror, and with the best of the "jazz-hands" pose, you wipe the grumpy off your face, put on a smile and say, "It's showtime, folks!
It's showtime, folks! 

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Casual: Michel-Schlumberger Rouge

When I chose to return to blogging about wine, one of the plans was to mix it up a bit. While I will continue to write as much as possible about Walla Walla and her wines, I want to shake things up a bit by writing about wines that are not from Walla Walla ...

So let's start with a California wine, shall we? An affordable little wine, but from a winery with a long history and European roots - Michel-SchlumbergerThe first vines were planted on what is now Michel-Schlumberger Benchland Estate in 1979, by Jean-Jacques Michel, a native of Switzerland. In 1991, Jacques Pierre Schlumberger joined the winery team, bringing with him more than 400-year family legacy of winemaking in Alsace, France, at Domaine Viticoles Schlumberger.  Therefore the Michel-Schlumberger brand was born, and over the years their reputation of the wines in Healdsburg has been solid. They have also been a leader in sustainable farming. 

The wine of this hour is Michel-Schlumberger “Maison Rouge" - 2012. It's not a high-end wine but priced out anywhere from $7.00 - 15.00, and with a screw-cap.  Okay, so there is nothing wrong with a screw-cap, but I would categorize this wine as a BBQ/outdoor casual wine - - pizza wine. I have a feeling that Michel-Schlumberger produced several cases of this wine.  

When I first stuck my nose in the glass the pronounced smell of California Merlot and American oak was there. Now when I say California Merlot, that is exactly what I mean as California Merlot smells nothing like Merlot from Walla Walla. The past blends of this table red have been traditionally around 32% Merlot, following up with Carmenere, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.  Pretty much everything but the kitchen sink - - so to speak. Tasting notes, you ask? Heavy on the Merlot (California) with lots of spice, cherries and pepper. 

So over all, if you see it on the shelves somewhere at a discount, I think it is okay to put it in your cart. It's not a bad wine. Worth a couple of glasses keeping an open mind and using comparisons on Washington State Merlot - - and when you are done, I think it would be terrific used to cook with in a beef stew. Remember, once again - - keep an open mind because it is not yo' mama's Walla Walla Merlot. 

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

A Grenache That Liked Me: Maison Bleue Winery

In France, it is known as Grenache. In Spain, it is Garnacha. Cannonau is the synonym it's referred to on the island of Sardinia

In the 19th century this spicy berry-flavored red grape, with notes of pepper and spice, found its way to California, more than likely from Europe. It was mostly planted in the San Joaquin Valley, where it was mainly used as a blending grape for sweet jug wines. 

Grenache finally hitchhiked its way up north to Washington State where it made its appearance in Yakima, around 1966. This wine blogger finally tasted Grenache in the year 1978. It was a 1976 Chateau Ste Michelle Grenache Rosé. My mother introduced me to it and it became a family favorite, while we often bought 2-3 bottles of it at a time, until one day  - - it disappeared. I don't remember ever seeing it again. 

Through the years I would pick up a French Grenache rouge (not rosé) here and there, but they never agreed with me.  They would often clutch me around the mid-chest as they were going down, and later give me horrible heart burn. However, like I tell people (if they are paying attention) to keep trying whatever varietal that you are not crazy about or disagrees with you, as perhaps some day you may find just the right one - - and I did. I took my own advice. 

It just so happens that Maison Bleue Winery has two Grenache's that liked me and I very much liked them. In fact, I could have sipped on them both all day, especially the Le Midi Grenache - 2011. It is such a "pretty" wine. If I could give the wine a gender, it would definitely be a feminine wine. The fruit was sourced from Boushey Vineyards in the Yakima area. The nose is very floral with hints of blackberry. In my slow sipping of the wine I picked up more of the blackberries and other dark fruit, with light hints of pepper and spice. Indeed a long finish. This is a wine I would relax with and sip on.

Okay, so I was going to grow up and be a Latin major, and currently me hablo Espanol muy poquito. However, while I can pronounce many French wine labels,  La Montagnette Grenache - 2011 does not roll off of my tongue very gracefully.  It's me, not the wine's fault. However, I can tell you this Grenache, from Upland Vineyard at Snipes Mountain, is a bold wine compared to the Le Midi. The nose  of La Montagnette presented itself of dark ripe fruit and spice. More dark fruit and spice was offered at first sip and even a hint of light herbs and mineral showed up. This is a wine that I would definitely pair with roasted and smoked meats. 

And best of all, with both wines, there were no after effects of heartburn. The only residual was nice memories of two beautiful wines. Thank you Jon at Maison Bleue Winery, you have given me hope when it comes to Grenache. 

Saturday, November 01, 2014

In Remembrance: Eric Michael Dunham

I am not sure what else there is to say that hasn't already been fondly, yet passionately said. On Thursday, October 23 the wine community of Walla Walla lost one of their best - Eric Dunham, a founder and partner of Dunham Cellars. Eric was a son, brother, husband, father, friend, and a winemaker. 

Today a celebration of Eric's much too short, yet rich life will be held at the winery.  Also, a fund has been established at Banner Bank in the name of the "Eric Dunham Memorial" for the benefit of his and his wife Kanae's young son, Hikari. 

If we believe in the after life for humans and their animals, then we can take great comfort that Eric is now with his beloved three-legged dog, Port. But the fact remains; Eric will now join his father, Michael Dunham on the list of legends in the history of Walla Walla and her wines. Rest in peace.  
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