Craft Brewing began in Belgium

In Belgium, craft brewing was probably launched in the 13th century with the emergence of guilds and regulations. Brewers began adding fruits, herbs and spices to the fermenting batch of brew. Beer was aged in barrel and fermented multiple times, much like a sparkling wine.

The connection to wine began when Burgundy’s extensive realm at one time included Belgium. The influence on the beer industry can be seen today in beer bottles with corks and bale, aging in wood and blending aged beer with freshly made batches.

Modern-day France and Belgium are both known for their food and drink. In fact, if you are particularly fond of your food and beer, Belgians may call you “Burgundian” rather than gourmand.

To ferment a basic beer, all you’ll need water, malt and hops. That’s how it was done in the middle ages when beer was also known as liquid bread. Back then wild fermentation was relegated to the religious orders who also happened to house the hospitals and hotels of the day. Like wine, beer was healthier to drink than water since the nasties were fermented out of the water. This is the reason why saints and abbeys are still seen on many labels.

How did a small country renown for fantastic fries, celebrated chocolate and exquisite lace come to be a world leader in beer? The answer lies in Belgium’s hybrid history and culture.

The country has three distinct regions: Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north, French-speaking Wallonia in the south and a German-speaking community to the east. Beer is produced in just about every city and village across this nation of 11 million plus people.

The beers from each region also have a wide range of flavors, from sour to fresh and fruity to big in flavor and octane. Many Belgian-style beers are bottle-conditioned or re-fermented in the bottle. Herbs such as coriander and licorice, spices such as pepper and ginger and apples, cherries and raspberries are de rigueur in the north and south regions of Belgium.

This wide range of beer styles includes abbey beers, an array of wheat beers and pilsners, brown ales, red beers, strong golden and brown ales, saisons and other regional specialties such as Karmeliet and Cantillon. Most unique are the austere, wild yeast Lambics, a relic from the time before yeast was cultivated.

Let’s fast forward to craft brews: take two. In the early 1980s, a California microbrewer started adding stuff to the homogenous light yellow lagers, rules changed, more stuff was added and craft brewing was all the rage. Thirty-some years later, there are over 350 craft breweries in Washington alone with over 6,000 jobs producing thousands of brews and raising $1.65 billion in revenue, according to the Washington Beer Commission.

The Washington Beer Commission’s 9th annual Belgian Fest had 40 Washington craft breweries serving over 100 Belgian-styled beers. There were tripels, dubbels, saisons, blondes, wits, sour and strong ales.

Being wine-biased, I naturally gravitated to brewers that had been aging their beers in wine barrels. Bale Breaker’s Joindre Dubbel spends time in Cabernet Franc barrels. Black Raven poured the Les Oiseaux saison, La Mort Rouge strong ale, and 5×6 sour cherry, all of which showed immense complexity and balance.

Spokane’s Iron Goat Brewing went to a lot of work for their Brett d’Or du Claret. The complexity of this one comes from blending a 2 and 4-year-old golden ale, then fermenting again in Barrister Merlot and Cab Franc barrels with crushed grapes. The beautiful rose-colored beer is layered with fruit, tart and crisp.

Fremont’s Biere de Garde is aged in French oak for seven months, and Mount Vernon’s Farmstrong Brewing’s Wild Farmhouse Ale is aged in a Betz family barrel. Paradise Creek out of Pullman aged its Daily Dubbel in French oak for two years. This single barrel beer had nuances of brett, tartness and balancing sweetness.

Silver City Brewery poured its Giant Made of Shadows, a blend of the 2016 aged in bourbon barrels and the 2017 aged in port barrels. This strong ale is a hefty 10.5 percent alcohol balanced by dark fruit and caramel aromas and flavors. Please pass the Belgian chocolates.

Another style unique to Belgium is the sour beer. The introduction of lactic acid in the brewing process imparts a sharp and acidic tart taste. Sour beer, typically a red beer or oud bruin (old brown), is an acquired taste. But, sour beers are among the most versatile beers to pair with just about any dish because of that tartness.

Silver City poured its Luminous Libation tripel, a Chardonnay barrel aged beer with lots of apple and spice character and refreshing crispness. Also aged for two years in a Chardonnay barrel was the Charming Disarmer peach sour that is subtly tart, crisp with a little vanilla on top of its peachiness.

Matchless Brewing in Tumwater brought a taste of its Blueberry Sour, a 100 percent Munich malt sour ale made with 100 pounds of blueberries. Thick, rich with blueberry sweetness to balance the tartness.

From Seattle, Lantern Brewing had the most beautiful rose-colored sour wheat ale with beets and other fruit flavors. Beautiful!

And lastly, one of my favorite Belgium beer styles – Saison or Farmhouse Ale. Traditionally made with surplus ingredients and poured for laborers, it has evolved to have some of the most interesting flavors in beer. Anacortes Peppercorn Saison is made with four types of peppercorns — savory to say the least.

Diamond Knot’s gin barrel-aged saison was aged in Copperworks Northwest gin barrels. Very botanical. Figurehead Brewing was a not to be missed 1710 Saison with lavender and rosemary that also has that botanical nose, was light bodied and was very refreshing. Another gorgeously colored saison from Matchless Brewing: Pink Moon saison.

You may want to catch the Washington Beer Commission’s eighth annual open house on Saturday, Feb. 24 from noon to 5 p.m. More than 140 Washington breweries will open their doors and offer rare and unique beers, behind-the-scene tours and a chance to talk beer with the brewers.

 

Red Wine and Chocolate Events

There are many opportunities in the next couple of months to taste and learn. February has a plethora of Red Wine and Chocolate events around the state. These tastings lead into March designated as Washington Wine Month and culminating in the grandest grand tasting of Washington wines in the nation.

But first, one of my favorite listen, taste and learn events is the Belgian Beer Fest organized by the Washington Beer Commission. The 9th Annual Festival will take place this year at the Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion where there will be over 100 Belgian Beer styles crafted by Washington breweries.

Belgian beers are unique in the beer world. This amazing beer region has a myriad of styles including Saisons, Wits, Lambics, Dubbels, Tripels and Abbeys. Many are made with wild yeast, fresh fruit and aged hops. Traditional brewing methods blending new with aged and aging in neutral oak for a couple of years.

Way before bourbon barrel aged stouts, Oud Bruins (old brown) were aged and blended old with new. They tend, in my opinion to be more wine like than beer like. For years, I could convert a wine only aficionado or at least have them concede that a Belgian Lambic was almost as good as a sparkling wine.

This is truly a new adventure for IPA fans but you could still sport the standard beer fest accessory – a pretzel necklace. The event is Saturday, January 27th, at the Fisher Pavilion in the Seattle Center. There are two sessions, the first from 12-4pm and the second from 5:30-9:30 pm. Tickets are $37 in advance or $45 at the door. But you take your chances at the door where limited tickets are available. The later session always sells out.

Admission includes a tasting glass and 10 tasting tokens. Each taste is 4 oz. so a tasting companion is a good idea. As of this weekend, there are 4 food trucks and about 40 breweries for your tasting pleasure. You can check out who’s bringing what here: https://washingtonbeer.com/festivals/belgianfest.php

Next on the fun and exciting things to do calendar is Wine on the Rock. Wine on the Rock is a two-day wine and chocolate affair held at each of the seven Bainbridge wineries.

This year, Amelia Wynn, Bainbridge Vineyards, Eagle Harbor Wine, Eleven Winery, Fletcher Bay Winery, Perennial Winery and Rolling Bay Winery will pour their wines and serve up tasty tidbits of chocolate, February 10 and 11, from noon until 5p.

Tickets are good for both days for one visit per winery if you wanted to check all seven out and includes a commemorative wine glass and a wine tote to take your treasures home with you. Purchase your tickets here: https://www.bainbridgewineries.com/special-events

And if you want to venture a little further afield, there is a Red Wine, Cider & Chocolate tour on the Olympic Peninsula February 10th and 11th, and 17th and 18th from 11:00am to 5:00pm. Tickets include wine glass, wine tasting and chocolate samples at all nine OPW Wineries & Cideries. Online tickets are $40 and remaining tickets will be sold for $45 at participating wineries, on a first come basis. A $10 wine tasting fee will be charged at each winery for non-ticketed visitors.

Beginning in Port Angeles, you’ll find award winning wines at Camaraderie, located at 334 Benson Road and check out one of my favorite Washington wineries, Harbinger on the west side of Port Angeles. They serve up award winning wines, local beers on tap, and handmade chocolates every day.

Founded in 1979, Olympic Cellars was Washington’s 15th bonded winery. It was founded by Gene Neuharth who planted an experimental vineyard next to his winery in Sequim. The vineyard and winery were later relocated to Port Angeles in a 100+ historic barn.

Their Dungeness Series is a nod to Neuharth and the winery’s first name. They also produce Working Girl wines, a nod to the three women who work hard at this award winning winery.

Around Port Townsend, FairWinds Winery will be pouring tastes of Lemberger and other hearty reds. They are the only winery in the state that I know of that produces a little known white grape called Aligote’, a native of Burgundy. Other rare finds are the Fireweed Mead and the Port O’Call, a wine made for chocolate.

Eaglemount Wine and Cider has moved to Port Townsend at 1893 South Jacob Miller Road. The new digs have plenty of room for dinners, dances and receptions and a guest house.

In 2006, Eaglemount started making ciders from over 30 varieties of heirloom apples on their 1883 homestead orchard. Grapes for their red wines are sourced from eastern Washington and processed at the winery. Their red wines and hard ciders have won double gold, gold, silver and bronze medal at numerous competitions.

The main focus at Wind Rose Cellars is Italian varieties, primarily Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Primitivo, Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese and Orange Muscat. Orange Muscat is definitely a chocolate match even if it’s not red.

The oldest AVA in Washington state also has the oldest running Red Wine and Chocolate event. The weekend of February 17th and 18th over 40 wineries in the Yakima Valley AVA will be pouring tastes of fine wines and nibbling on decadent chocolates from 10:00am until 5:00pm.

Wineries from Yakima, Zillah, Prosser and Red Mountain will be offering a weekend of divine decadence with the Premier Pass, which gives you a variety of specialty food pairings, library tastings, and tours not available to the general public. Premier Passes are available for $35 at the door at select wineries during the event weekend. For more information, www.wineyakimavalley2@msn.com

And finally, Taste Washington is the most decadent of wine events. Exclusive pours from world-class vintners, gourmet bites from great restaurants and private food and farm tours are events you don’t want to miss.

It’s impossible to sample everything at the Grand Tasting, I know, I’ve made valiant efforts. Thank goodness there are two days to enjoy the very best Washington State has to offer. More info: http://tastewashington.org/wineries-2018/

Beer & Wine can be part of Health Resolutions

In the new year, we sometimes make resolutions. We’ve all done it at one time or another — deciding to get fit, diet or enjoy life to the fullest. It’s a tradition that dates back to the Babylonians who made promises to their gods they would return borrowed objects and repay their debts.

Other religious traditions required one to reflect upon one’s wrongdoings over the year and both seek and offer forgiveness. The concept of resolutions, regardless of what religion, is to act upon self-improvement.

After the indulgences of the holidays, it’s time to be a bit more disciplined. Practicing a regimen with foods that contain the right amount of nutrients, antioxidants and fiber can be delicious — especially when it involves a healthy glass of red wine or beer.

Red wine may have a significant effect on cholesterol levels (“may” because studies have shown good results but …) On top of lowering bad cholesterol, polyphenols, which are the antioxidants in red wine, can help keep blood vessels flexible and reduce plaque forming in your arteries.

Antioxidants are believed to fight infection and protect cells against the effects of free radicals, which may play role in diseases. The skin of red grapes is a rich source of a polyphenol called resveratrol, which may (there’s that word again) help regulate blood sugar and systolic blood pressure. Resveratrol may also be the key to keeping your memory sharp.

The hops, yeast, and grains in beer contribute to health with a small amount of B vitamins, potassium (strong bones and teeth), phosphorus and folate. Beer also is one of a few significant dietary sources of silicon, which research shows may help prevent osteoporosis. That silicon in your pint is an essential mineral for bones.

Another study that I’ve been hearing about for a few years is that beer can keep bacteria from forming and growing on your teeth and gums. Biofilm (gelatinous masses of microorganisms capable of attaching to virtually any surface) promote tooth decay and gum disease. Never fear, just have beer!  Beer is at its best blocking interaction between bacteria, slowing its growth. My kind of mouthwash.

Hops also have anti-inflammatory properties. Being an essential ingredient in most beers, hops have been found to interfere with inflammation. Forget the ibuprofen, pop me an IPA.

Living in the great Northwest where beer, wine and salmon are readily available, gives us our first nutritious meal. Steamed salmon with ginger and scallions. There are lots of Omega 3s in the salmon, powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in the ginger, and scallions have calcium, iron and vitamin A, C and K.

To accompany this delicious dish, I recommend an Alsatian Gewurztraminer, which is fragrant, dry and full-bodied. Another wonderful pairing would be Harbinger’s La Petite Fleur another aromatic wine that is a blend of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling. It’s the perfect match for seafood. For a beer pairing, go with the Pyramid Apricot Wheat. It’s fruity and crisp in all the right places.

“Buckwheat is sweet, relaxes the nerves, eases irritability and helps clear out the stomach,” a 1697 Japanese nutritional text reportedly proclaimed. Soba noodles are made from buckwheat, which contains rutin (a compound that lowers cholesterol) and thiamine, an enzyme used by the body to metabolize food for energy and to maintain proper heart and nerve function. Another nutrient in soba, choline, is good for the liver, which may be why this soup is good for you after a night out on the town.

Soba noodle soup with mushrooms, onions and chicken would warm you up on a cold winter’s night. If you top it with diced serranos, a bottle of Sound Brewery’s Dubbel would pair nicely. Or you could skip the serranos and open a bottle of Ponzi Classico Pinot Noir because mushrooms and Pinot Noir are a classic pairing.

Heart-healthy, lentils contain protein, B vitamins and soluble fiber and much like mushrooms, they attract the flavors and aromas of the spices in the pot. Cumin and ginger aid digestion, and turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties. And don’t skimp on the garlic! It’ll keep the vampires away.

Even though its strong aromas can last a while, garlic has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. Its disease fighting instinct comes from its sulfur compounds, which act as antioxidants, providing many of its cardiovascular benefits. Garlic acts as a blood thinner, reducing the formation of blood clots and your risk of heart attack or stroke.

Another hearty and healthy winter soup is made from lentils, spinach and garlic. Please pass the Syrah. Lentils are healthy and budget-friendly with loads of protein and plenty of dietary fiber, iron and high in folate, a nutrient that supports reproductive health, the cardiovascular system and the brain.

Add spinach to your soup to protect your eyes from macular degeneration. With its high concentration of vitamin K, spinach can help maintain bone density. The green stuff is also a source of potassium and magnesium as well as folate, all of which can keep blood pressure low.

For snacking or a sweet treat, blueberries have — like red wine — anthocyanins that protect you from heart disease, age-related blindness and memory loss. And they are delicious with dark chocolate. Without the sugar, dark chocolate is an extremely healthy snack packed with the same antioxidants that are also found in red wine.

From disease-fighting antioxidants to heart-healthy fats, these delicious and nutritious dishes, beverage suggestions and the health benefits are here to help you improve.

The best part is drinking a bottle of wine or beer tends to be a group activity, which makes everyone happy and that has its own amazing health benefits. So, cheers to the new you.

Cheers to the Champagne Season!

The history of Champagne has many, many chapters about a small community of people living in a demanding climate and subjected to centuries of invasions from the Barbarians, Crusaders, Prussians and Germans and the triumph over these adversities to create the most prestigious effervescent wine.

It all began with the Romans who first planted vines around 57BC. But it wasn’t until the eleventh century that Champagne made its first big splash. What happened was a great honor – the son of a vigneron from Chatillion–sur-Marne was elected pope. It was well known to gain audience to his holiness, a case of Champagne would ease the way. Sales of the vins François, a sweet, pale red to pinkish brown still wine increased.

Champagne was first famous for its fine quality wool and being strategically placed, became a commerce center generating trade fairs that attracted merchants from Belgium with lace, Russian furs, Italian leather, Mediterranean oils and wool from France.

But not wine; that was made to accompany the shepherd’s meals. By the 12th century, wool producers who made wine on the side came up with a novel idea. To entice trade fair visitors to buy their wool, they decided to provide free wine.

It was in 1668 that the wine trade started to overtake the wool industry. That’s when Dom Perignon arrived at the Abbey of Hautvillers. Louis XIV was sitting on the throne. The two had little in common other than being born the same year, dying in the same year and their love of Champagne. And both did a great deal to launch Champagne on its path to prominence.

At that time, the wine was pale red, cloudy from the leftover yeast, sweet and still. Due to fermentation with wild yeasts, no knowledge that yeast even existed and with a colder climate  than most wine growing regions, fermentation would go dormant in the winter.

But as temperatures warmed up, fermentation would begin again. Yeasts would consume the unconverted sugars and because there was a cap of sorts, bubbles were trapped until the pressure was great enough to explode. Therefore, bubbles were considered a flaw, the devil’s brew.

As the business manager of the Abbey which included the church, hospital, storehouses and vineyards, Dom Perignon’s goal was to “Aim instead for quality that brings honor and profit.”

And that he did. He set down the golden rules of winemaking: Use only the best grapes, prune vines hard in the early spring to avoid overproduction; harvest in the cool of the morning; press the grapes gently and keep each pressing separate. He was the first to use cork rather than a wooden peg wrapped in an oil soaked rag. It was the finest still wine that Louis XIV drank and what the king drank, his subjects drank.

In the late 1700s, a key Champagne house emerged – Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin was the daughter of an affluent textile businessman who lived next door to Philippe Clicquot who also ran a successful textile business in Reims. Clicquot had a son Francois, so Mr. Ponsardin and Mr. Clicquot did what any shrewd business owner in the 18th century would have done: arranged a merger.

As the newlyweds, Francois’ interest in his family’s wine business grew. All was well until 12 years later, Francois died suddenly and Barbe-Nicole became the veuve (widow) Clicquot. Her father in law allowed her to continue the business perhaps recognizing a woman with business sense. Her small business thrived until the Napoleonic Wars crushed business.

Facing bankruptcy, Veuve Clicquot took a huge gamble. She knew that the Russian market, when the wars ended, would be thirsty. If she could corner that huge market, success would be hers. Despite the naval blockades, she smuggled her wine to Amsterdam, where it waited. As soon as peace was declared, the wines were shipped – ahead of her competitors by weeks.

When sweet Champagne debuted in Russia, Tsar Alexander declared it to be the best. His order was huge – 23,000 bottles. And his subjects followed suit. Veuve Clicquot would need to improve production to keep up with the new demand.

When the yeast digests the sugar, it produces alcohol in the primary fermentation and carbon dioxide, better known as bubbles, in the secondary fermentation. The problem was the sediment – the dead yeast cells in the bottom of the bottle gave the wine its cloudy look. The Champenois removed sediment by pouring the wine from one bottle into another, a time consuming, wasteful process.

Veuve Clicquot developed a better method. Instead of transferring the wine from bottle to bottle to get rid of its yeast, the bottles were turned upside down and twisted, shaking the dead yeast into the neck of the bottle where it could be easily expelled and the bottle topped up. This method, known as riddling, is still used today. It would be a long time before any of the other Champagne houses became wise to the riddling method, giving Veuve Clicquot an advantage.

Charles Heidsieck grew up in Reims and in 1851 at the age of 29, founded his own Champagne house. The house of Charles Heidsieck focused on selecting, blending and ageing wines to produce higher quality champagnes, and buying grapes from individual growers.

He was successful selling to Belgium and England and in 1852 became the first merchant to market his own Champagne in the United States. He became a social sensation with one New York newspaper describing him as “Champagne Charlie”.

He traveled to New York three more times until the Civil War disrupted trade. In 1862, he returned to recover his debt from his New York agent but the agent refused payment on the grounds Congress had passed a law absolving northerners of all debts to southerners.

Desperate, Heidsieck secretly traveled to New Orleans to recover his money directly from the merchants but found them bankrupt. One merchant, however, did have a warehouse full of cotton and Heidsieck accepted that as payment. His use of blockade runners to smuggle the cotton out had him arrested for spying and imprisoned.

At the intercession of President Lincoln, he was released and returned to France very sick and bankrupt. Shortly thereafter, the brother of the agent sent a messenger to Reims with a bundle of papers. He was paying his brother’s debt in the form of land deeds to a small town in Colorado called Denver.

With the money from the land deeds, he was able to pay his debts and purchase several old chalk quarries, called crayères which dated from the Gallo-Roman era. These were used for riddling while the wine matured. Today, all Champagne houses use the crayères to mature their wines. During World War I & II, most Champenois lived for years in the crayères.

Wishing you a very Happy Holiday!

Holiday Traditions and Memorable Dinners

The holiday season has its traditions. For some, it’s putting up twinkling lights, last-minute shopping, and celebratory parties. For me, it’s memorable dinners.

My holiday wining and dining kickoff is at Seaview’s Shelburne Inn. The Wild Mushroom and Pike Brewing Dinner, now in its eighth year, has one common ingredient in each course — wild mushrooms. And more often than not, a splash of Charles and Rose Ann Finkel’s accompanying brews.

A few of the memorable dishes over the years were a cedar planked salmon with Man on Horseback mushrooms, lemon confit and pine nut relish; a duck and Porcini mushroom pie; Canary, Delicioso and Red Russula mushrooms, squash and white cheddar gratin; a luscious deconstructed Lobster mushroom lasagna; and an incredible elk shoulder pastrami bruschetta with Anjou pear and King Boletus mushrooms.

Sometimes, even the dessert has mushrooms. Sounds sort of weird, but the house-made Pike Stout ice cream in a Porcini Florentine cookie topped with pumpkin caramel and Porcini brittle was so decadent, I might have licked the plate.

This year, we sat down to a cream of wild mushroom soup with a touch of cayenne perfectly paired to Pike’s Hive Five Honey Ale. For this ale, Pike Brewing collaborated with the Salish Lodge. On the hillside above the famed lodge are their beehives and their honey used to make this gold medal-winning ale.

Perfectly paired with the Kilt Lifter Scotch Ale was a pretzel sandwich stuffed with a pork and wild mushroom sausage, peppers and more mushrooms. Next up was a pan-seared king salmon with sautéed wild mushroom and a huckleberry demi-glace accompanied by Pike’s Monk’s Uncle, a Belgian tripel-style ale. Then an elk sirloin with a wild mushroom risotto partnered with Pike’s Entire Imperial Russian Stout 2016.

A longtime fan of wine, I asked if we could enjoy a bottle of wine with these wonderful mushroom dishes. The salmon and the elk and mushroom risotto were outstanding with Knudsen’s Pinot Noir.

Another pre-holiday tradition is a harvest potluck with friends. For that occasion, it was another Oregon Pinot that stole the show.

We began with a Kitzke 2011 Red Mountain Nebbiolo, salami and cheese. Nebbiolo is the late-ripening grape of the Barolo and Barbaresco regions of northwest Italy. Traditionally, Barolos can be long-lived, 15 to 25 years; Barbarescos, the more approachable, in 5 to 10 years.

Before Barolo can be released, it has to have been aged three years, two in cask and one in the bottle. This was because Barolo tended to be very high in tannins as a result of the traditional three-week fermentation on the skins.

That was the traditional way. The new generation is more inclined to produce a wine with an “international” profile that doesn’t need to age as long. This controversy has sparked the Barolo Wars.

The Nebbiolo was showing its age, in a good way — light in color, a slight brick rim and a silky mouthfeel. With only 30 months in neutral oak, the aromas and flavors showed traditional rose, faint cherry and a bit of tar.

Next, Raptor Ridge’s 2016 Chehalem Mountains Grüner Veltliner was a beautiful match to the Geoduck Carpaccio with Shichimi Togarashi citrus vinaigrette. An unusual find in the Pacific Northwest, Grüner Veltliner is a refreshing, peppery white wine with stone fruit flavors.

Chelan’s Cairdess Northern White accompanied the chicken white chili. This Rhône-style blend of Marsanne and Roussanne from Boushey and Lawrence Vineyards was packed with peach and mineral flavors.

The crowning glory of the dinner was the sous vide tri-tip steak. Sous vide (French for under vacuum) is a new kitchen gadget that’s like cooking in a hot tub. The meat evenly cooks in a baggie in a water bath for much longer time than normal. This ensures all the moisture is retained. The Tri-tip came out very rich, tender and silky.

We had two very different wines with this course. The first was the Domaine Drouhin Louise 2007 Pinot Noir. Not a great year for some producers, much depending on when the grapes were picked.

The 2007 spring came off without a glitch; summer was cooler than most without any heat spikes that could disrupt the growing season. Everything was great going into harvest — and then it rained.

Some picked early to get it in before the rains, but the grapes weren’t really ready. Some harvested between the rain events, hoping for some usable grapes even if they had not fully ripened. But those who waited while gnawing on their nails fared the best.

The Louise opened to tart cherries with a bit of leather and dust, the acidity was good and the color youthful for a 10-year-old wine. It was a very nice bottle.

Next, we poured a 2015 Yakima Valley Sheridan Cab. The difference was night and day, one elegant with age, the other elegant in its youth. Big and rich, ripe plums and pencil lead, this wine knocked our socks off. We were all grinning over the awesome aromas of plums, cassis and pencil lead.

But the pièces de résistance was the Domaine Drouhin Oregon Louise 2007, the “Rolls Royce of Oregon Pinots” according to our host. I agree. The Louise cuvée had the most compelling perfume.

From the Red Hills of Dundee, the grapes were handpicked, sorted, de-stemmed, and then slowly fermented. For each vintage, DDO focuses on a few favorite barrels that, once nurtured and blended, will become the Louise. Typically in barrel for 15 months, it maintains balance because they use only 20 percent new French oak.

The lesson learned is not to dismiss rainy vintages. Winemakers working with what Mother Nature gives in a cool vintage, have higher acid levels and lower alcohol levels than usual, and with patience, producing some of the most lovely, fragrant wines.

Cheers and happy holidays!

After Thanksgiving Traditions

Fresh air with a walk in the woods is a great way to spend the day after Thanksgiving. We headed west. A couple of uphill hikes and another along the Elwha Dike Trail, watching the river rush to the strait,  built up a powerful thirst. Good thing Washington State has an incredibly good winery in the neighborhood.

Just west of Port Angeles is an artisan winery making award winning wines from eastern Washington State grapes. With engaging staff and dressed for the holidays, Harbinger Winery’s tasting room is warm and welcoming.

For $5 you can stand at the bar or lounge around a table to enjoy the six wines on the tasting menu. For those of a different persuasion, Harbinger has Washington ciders and beers on tap, too. With homemade fudge on the shelf and cheese in the fridge, they have all the essentials covered.

Handcrafted, food-friendly Washington State wines are the mission at Harbinger Winery. They focus on varietals that are rarely seen on a supermarket shelf, as well as traditional favorites. As owner/vintner Sara Gagnon promises, “…we strive to keep your cellar varied, your palate delighted and your state of mind pleasantly surprised.”

From Two Coyote Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, their 2015 Viognier is fermented in stainless steel. It’s crisp and floral perfect for creamed fish or chicken dishes. I remember tasting this at the Kitsap Wine Festival this past summer. It was a hot day, the wine was perfectly balanced. It was heaven with the seafood bite from Anthony’s.

Another perfect shellfish or crustacean wine is Harbinger’s La Petite Fleur Washington White which is a blend of Chardonnay (43%), Pinot Gris (37%) and Riesling (20%). Again, 100% stainless steel fermentation which gives this wine wonderful white fruit flavors balanced with bright acidity. That acidity would also be a good foil to the drawn butter you’re dipping a freshly caught Dungeness crab in. This wine has won quite a few medals in previous years.

Another multiple medal winner is the 2010 El Jefé a Rhone style blend of 62% Syrah, 25% Mourvedre, 13% Grenache. Rich with a touch of licorice, this guy is polished with age with a plummy, earthy way of expressing itself. A leg of lamb or even a warm bowl of lentil soup would have the angels singing.

Barbera is an indigenous grape from the northwest – of Italy that is. This Barbera is from Columbia Valley’s renowned Sagemoor Vineyards, one of the state’s oldest. It’s a medium bodied, high acid wine with lots of concentrated red fruit flavors. It’s a natural with tomatoes, whether fresh dressed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and Parmesan cheese or marinara. This is an award winning Washington State Barbera, a concentrated mouthful of crushed berries, and plums.  

The 2011 Sangiovese is from one of Washington’s highest vineyards in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA – Elephant Mountain.  In Italy, this is the grape of Tuscany and regions such as Chianti and Montalcino.  This wine is amazing not only because exhibits great acidity for a six year old wine but it has bright red fruit flavors and an earthy note with a long finish. It’s showing its maturity, throwing sediment.

Cranberry Bliss is their festive wine made for that turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce. With bright fruit, and the buttery flavors of barrel-fermented Chardonnay and a douse of Syrah, this wine is delightful with picnic fare – cheese, crackers, a little smoked turkey and some dried cranberries.

From Graysmarsh Farms in the Dungeness Valley is their source for the Blackberry Bliss. Because they use over 2½ pounds of blackberries to make one bottle, there is a mountain of blackberry goodness in that bottle. On the dryer side at 13% alcohol, it has the right amount of acidity and sweetness to be a refreshing quaff.

The tasting room is open from 11:00 until 6:00 Monday thru Saturday, Sunday from 11:00 until 5:00p. As a result of limited production, Harbinger wines are exclusive to Northwest Washington but their wines can be shipped. Call 360.452.4262 to place your order or do the virtual visit. But I would highly recommend a walk in the woods or the beach and then their warm and welcoming tasting room.

Guidelines and Suggestions for your Thanksgiving Wines

Thanksgiving is my favorite feast. You don’t have to send cards or give gifts. You’re not expected in church, synagogue or mosque. You get to play chef, then dine, drink and be merry.

Turkeys, sides, pies and wines are the focus of this family and friend feast that marks the start of the high holiday season. You eat a little too much, celebrate a little too much. Afterwards, it’s acceptable to stretch out for a nap, occasionally check the score.  And, if all goes well, your team wins; there are lots of leftovers and much to be thankful for.

This year there are only 39 days in the holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. So be smart, look for wine deals. Buy a case of wine, typically 12 bottles that will save you 10-15 percent off of your case of wine.

Pairing the proper wines is pretty easy. With the traditional table fare of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, roasted root vegetables, sweet potato soufflé, cranberries and stuffed onions, there are myriad of flavors. Go for food-friendly wines. These would be not too oaky, sweet, alcoholic or tannic.

Almost any well balanced wine will complement or contrast with at least most of the meal if you use these simple guidelines:

  1. Generous fruit. Not necessarily sweetness but fruity with balancing acidity with both reds and whites are the key to pairing with most of these dishes.
  2. Modest tannins. Many young red wines have that drying feeling that’s a product of their thick skins and long stays in oak barrels. Some dishes can turn this kind of wine into an unpleasant, astringent tartness.
  3. Welcome guests with something bubbly — sparkling wine, cava or prosecco. It sets the celebratory mood. Bubblies can be crisp, cleansing and slightly sweet for the gathering of guests, a perfect start to the holiday season.
  4. While the turkey is resting, pop the rest of the corks and have the guests take a seat. Let the passing begin. Anyone who prefers fruity sweetness will navigate to a Riesling or Gewurztraminer. For reds, think about the perennial favorite Beaujolais or a fruity, dense Spanish Grenache or California Zinfandel; and others will navigate to the red blends.

Riesling or Gewurztraminer

Both are highly aromatic whites. Riesling greets the big flavors on the table with gobs of fruit and crisp acidity. Gewurz also has loads of juicy fruit with a touch of spice. And both varieties can be fermented to be sweet or dry with the ability to pair up with the turkey, sweet potatoes to the sausage dressing.

Spokane’s Latah Creek Riesling has a medium-sweet appley flavor with a crisp finish, or the best bang for the buck — Riesling from Chateau Ste. Michelle, the superbly crafted Columbia Crest Two Vines — is more on the stone fruit end of the spectrum with balancing acidity, all under $11. Gewürztraminer is becoming a rare commodity. As a result, many are more than modestly priced.

Beaujolais

The third Thursday of November is the official release day for Beaujolais Nouveau. This red wine is the ultimate refreshing Turkey Day wine. It can be served slightly chilled and actually does go well because it’s fruity with low tannins. It’s made from the Gamay grape, harvested in September, and graces your holiday table two months later. Because of the carbonic maceration method of fermentation, this wine is without tannins, full of fruity flavors and red, a perfect beginner red.

Wine aficionados may prefer a Cru Beaujolais with a little more stuffing to it. And you’d get that from a Beaujolais Village, whether Morgon, Fleurie or Brouilly. Classic producers like Lapierre and Duboeuf are lighter-bodied but have brambly red and black fruit character with baking spices and a smooth silkiness.

Grenache

Cherries and spice are often found in Grenache with an acidity level that balances the weight of most Thanksgiving dinners. GSM blends — Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre — have dark plummy, blueberry layers that links with the earthy root vegetables and savory stuffing.

The Spanish and Australians have a wonderful selection to choose from, most in the $10 range – before your six bottle discount. For Spanish, anything imported by Jorge Ordonez is worth every penny. Tres Picos Borsao Garnacha is an award-winning wine and a particular favorite of mine. Garnacha de Fuego Old Vine, Torres Sangre de Toro, Vina Borgia Campo de Borja are all under $10 and delicious.

Zinfandel

Jammy black fruits laced with spices make Zin a juicy red for Thanksgiving as long as the alcohol level is moderate. Some Zinfandel could be as high as 16 percent, which accentuates the hot effect. Bogle, Ravenswood, Cline and Fetzer have been around for the longest time and are modestly priced because they own their vineyards. Old vine Zins that aren’t aged in oak are great wines at great prices.

Red blends

On the other side of the planet, the Australians are the fourth largest exporter of wines with quite a number of fruit forward Shiraz blends that would please the party palates. Look for reasonably priced Lindemans, Jacob’s Creek or Penfolds.

Other reds that would make a terrific holiday wine are a blend from the Delicato family, Hand Craft. Reminiscent of the Italian immigrant practice of field blending, this Zinfandel Merlot is juicy, packed with ripe black fruits and delicioso.

Woodbridge Red Blend is composed of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Syrah that’s rich with jammy blackberry and baking spices. Totally affordable and quaffable.

My annual advice remains the same: buy wines you like at prices you can afford, open a wide assortment of wines and raise a glass with your family and friends with each and every wine.

Cheers and a very Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Grape Harvest Challenges – 2017

An ideal grape growing season would be 7 months long with a frost-free spring for the tender new shoots emerging. A long, mild summer with warm days and cool nights for measured grape maturity, a balance between fruit sugars and acidity.  Harvest at the end of September would be rain free with warm, sunny days and cool nights.

However, hot, dry summers have shortened the grape growing seasons by weeks for several years now. And unseasonable storms brought on by climate change shorten the growing season to the detriment of the wine industry.

Typically, higher, cooler elevations were picked in October, now picking is in September and moving into August. The wine growing season is changing.

Devastating spring frosts, isolated hailstorms and prolonged heatwaves have been presenting more of a challenge. Wine producers around the world debate and plan for the impact of extreme weather – more hardy rootstock and better placement of varietals. Some even plant multiple clones in one vineyard. Some clones may be heat resistant and some may be mildew resistant.

France and Italy are the top wine producing nations in the world often trading first place for tonnage harvested. But for both countries the 2017 grape harvest has been greatly affected by weather extremes. The spring frosts in Bordeaux, Loire and Alsace reduced the crop size.  Then August hailstorms further decimated what survived the frosts. This year’s harvest was reduced to the size of the 1945 harvest.

Bitter cold struck the right bank of Bordeaux twice within a week in April, ravaging the fragile shoots and buds that had emerged prematurely during the mild temperatures in March. To combat the frost, Bordeaux winemakers set fires in oil drums, and then positioned them carefully between the rows of budding grapevines. Giant fans were also deployed to battle the cold to move the cold damp air.

In Italy, several regions also experienced frost and then a heatwave nicknamed Lucifer, left grapes vulnerable to drought. The brutal summer sun shut down the vines and the crop size was reduced drastically. Vineyards with mature vines that had deep roots were able to tap water with roots that had grown over the years deep into the ground. Younger more shallow roots could not survive as well under these climatic conditions.

California is the third largest wine producing region in the world. That industry also has felt the heat with drought and heatwaves. And then the heartbreaking, devastating wildfires hit Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino wine country during harvest.

In 2008, California wildfires burned 1.3 million acres and the state experienced record levels of air pollution. That year, the wildfires left many California vineyards with smoke-tainted grapes.

Harvest was in full swing when the devastating fires broke out in Napa, Mendocino and Sonoma last Sunday. While 90 percent of the wine grapes have been harvested, there were still grapes in the vineyards to be picked.

With most of the harvest fermenting away, a wildfire roaring close by, closed roads, electricity and cellular service down, winemaking in California faces new challenges. Without access or electricity, fermentation is running rampant. But at least some still have wine fermenting and a building to do it in.

Wineries and vineyards have burned as a result of the fires, including Nicholson Ranch in Sonoma and Frey Vineyards, a pioneer in organic and biodynamic wines, in Mendocino County.

Among other damaged wineries, White Rock Vineyards, established as a winery at the foot of the Stag’s Leap in 1871, burned to the ground; Signorello Estate, a family-owned winery along the Silverado Trail, was also burned to the ground, Santa Rosa winery Paradise Ridge is an ashen pile of rubble on a blackened hillside.

Some wineries were more fortunate, in Santa Rosa, Ancient Oak Cellars reported a house and two outbuildings were destroyed but fortunately the majority of the bottled wines and all of its wine in barrels were safe in other locations.

Many wineries are still standing but have sustained landscaping damage. Kenwood Vineyards, BR Cohn, and Chateau St. Jean reported fires damaging the grounds surrounding the wineries. With power out, the wineries are finding it difficult to take care of the wines fermenting away in stainless steel. With many vineyards on the fire line, assessing crop and vineyards damage is still an unknown.

At least 35,000 acres in Sonoma and 12,000 acres in the Atlas Peak fire has burned, there are no reports yet about the number of vineyard acres that may have burned.  In addition, time will tell if smoke taint will be an issue.

Gallo, who owns the famous Stagecoach Vineyard off of Soda Canyon Road in Napa Valley, has not been able to get updates on the vineyard’s status. Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet is highly prized by dozens of top Napa wineries.

When the fires broke out, the 2017 grape harvest had been in full swing, somewhat ahead of schedule. Winemakers were rushing to pick during a September heat wave since the sugar levels had spiked and grapes ripened almost overnight.

Now questions remain about the extent of damage the fires will have on California’s wine regions. It appears Cabernet, which was not quite ripe yet, will be in very short supply.  As will Pinot Noir in the Mendocino region, which hadn’t been harvested before the wildfires.

Big and small, top drawer and everyday wines, this is a devastating loss to the area’s residents and businesses.

In our own backyard, a hot summer and the ever present wildfires may have influenced the flavor of the 2017 harvest in ways that we wish it hadn’t. But it seems likely that Washington wines will be in high demand considering the challenges in France, Italy and California.

Washington, second behind California in wine production, has almost 900 wineries that contribute approximately $2.1 billion to the state economy. Last year, 350 growers harvested a record 270,000 tons of grapes and produced 17.5 million cases of wine.

Even with the spikes in temperatures and the threat of wildfire damage, Washington’s harvest began in late August, a bit later than the previous two years.

Production for 2017 is estimated to be less than 2016. For instance, at the sixth week mark, about 40% of the Washington grape harvest is in. Data from the Washington Wine Report regarding tons harvested by Oct. 2nd:

2015 – 540,000 tons   (82% complete)
2016 – 419,000 tons   (67% complete)
2017 – 211,000 tons   (~40% complete)

The waiting game in the vineyards may make harvest a nail biter, but the purple hands at the wineries gives us hope for the coming vintages.

Wandering Walla Walla continued ….

For 25 years, Woodward Canyon’s Old Vines Cabernet sported a portrait on the front label and a local history lesson on the back. The portraits were of early Walla Walla developers who were influential in Walla Walla’s agricultural, banking, or governing. I was especially impressed with the three ladies, Lettice Reynolds, Mabel Anderson and Annie McC. Mix, who were prominent in high society, philanthropists and benefactors of Whitman College. For an interesting look at 1900s Walla Walla, check out the labels here.

Woodward Canyon Estate Vineyard was first planted to Chardonnay in 1976 on the Small family’s wheat farm. The canyon was named for A. P. Woodward an early Walla Walla Valley soldier, stockman and farmer. Mr. Woodward came to Walla Walla County in 1852, did some soldiering and bought a 400 acre farm in the canyon that now bears his name. This introduction was made on the inaugural 1981 Old Vine Cabernet Dedication Series.

The Woodward Canyon Artist Series began in 1992. This is a fuller bodied Cabernet from some of the oldest and renowned vineyards in the Columbia Valley. Each year features a different artist with the original artwork hanging in the tasting room in Lowden. The 2014 label was the work of Linda Lowe of Gig Harbor.

The grapes for the Old Vines and Artist Series Cabernet are sources Columbia Valley’s Sagemoor Vineyards from a section planted in 1972. Woodward Canyon is a partner in Champoux Vineyard, also planted in the 1970s, in the Horse Heaven Hills appellation also part of the Old Vines and Artist Series Cabernet.

Walla Walla is a small town of 25,000 and connections in the wine industry are inescapable. For instance, Gilles Nicault made his Washington winemaking debut at Woodward Canyon. Nicault is now Long Shadows’ Director of Winemaking, the second winery on the Rick Small and Jordan Dunn Small WWander itinerary.

Long Shadows Vintners is just a short jaunt from Woodward Canyon on Frenchtown Road, a fitting road name for this winery. Long Shadows is named for the people who have cast long shadows across the wine industry. It’s a Who’s Who of winemakers from all corners of the wine world. Founder Allen Shoup, met many of winemakers, viticulturalists and vineyard owners during his 18+ years at the helm of Chateau Ste. Michelle.

Long Shadows Vintners is a collection of exceptional wines showcasing Washington fruit fermented and blended by several internationally acclaimed winemakers. As director of wine making, Nicault has overseen the crafting of Chester-Kidder, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend, Poet’s Leap Riesling and Saggi, a super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Cab.

Atlas Peak’s esteemed Randy Dunn fashions Feather, a mountain grown Cabernet; John Duval, best known for his years at the helm of Australia’s Penfolds Grange, crafts Sequel; rising star Philippe Melka produces Pirouette, a red blend; and Pomeral’s Michel Rolland, a right bank Bordeaux wizard, conjures up Pedestal from 100% Merlot.

Another connection – South of town is Tertulia Cellars. Jordan Dunn Small managed Tertulia Cellars tasting room and sales before joining the family at Woodward Canyon. The tasting room and winery overlooks the Péntaque field. We were treated to the Viognier, Syrah, and the award winning Great Schism, a Rhone blend of 50 Grenache, 40 Syrah, 7 Cinsault and 3 Mourvedre.

And we learned the rules to play Pétanque. The number 1 rule is you must play with a wine glass in hand. Easy! Pétanque is a game where the goal is to toss or roll hollow steel balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet, while standing inside a circle. It’s played in facilities called boulodromes which have gravel surfaces. Very fun. Prior practice pitching softballs, putting and pool served me well.

Our next stop was a local taco joint Mi Pueblito where we picked up some chips, three very good salsas, pombazo and tacos to go. I chose the pombazo because I had never even heard of it. it turns out to be Mexican bread. This particular dish was a bun about 8″ in diameter and filled with potatoes with chorizo. We enjoyed the food at Burwood Brewing Company’s new taproom at the airport.

Another connection – Burwood Brewery owner David Marshall taught Jordan’s husband how to brew beer. And Marshall spent a few years in the wine industry as assistant winemaker at Long Shadows before switching over to brewing instead of fermenting. A Master Brewer, he worked for a few years at Pyramid before opening his own brewery. He uses local malts and Yakima hops and also makes a tasty root beer.

WWander Walla Walla Wine Country is truly a wonderful wine experience. Curated by 10 very cool Walla Walla winemakers, each itinerary is a same-day, pay-as-you-go experience with suggestions to local favorite places to eat, taste and explore.  Exclusive tastings, helping out with harvest, winemaker talks, property tours, wine club member benefits for the day or complimentary tastings are perks that await!

All you have to do is register for the Saturday of your choice at WallaWallaWine.com/WWander   Registration is free. So pack your bags, register to wander and explore these excellent Walla Walla Valley itineraries. Cheers!

How to Wander Walla Walla Wine Country

The Walla Walla AVA was established in 1984 with only four wineries, Leonetti, Woodward Canyon, L’Ecole No. 41 and Waterbrook. It was unique at the time not only because there were only four wineries but because approximately 57 percent of the vineyards were in Washington, the other 43 percent were in Oregon.

With few vineyards planted, those wineries sourced grapes from Columbia Valley. While many of today’s wineries continue this practice, the increased vineyard size allows some wineries to put the Walla Walla AVA designation on their wine labels. Wineries must source at least 85 percent of the grapes from a specified area if that area is on the label.

A mere 23 years later, thanks to a combination of climate and charm, Walla Walla boasts almost 130 wineries and more than 2,960 acres of vineyards. Walla Walla wineries and tasting rooms are spread around six designated areas: airport, downtown, westside, eastside, southside and Oregon.

So now imagine, it’s fall, the leaves are turning and crush is just about over. You’re in Walla Walla wine country, map in hand. You’ve picked a favorite winery to visit but need to break for lunch. Or you’re in a downtown tasting bar and you want to figure out what other tasting bars or wineries are within walking distance. Or maybe a place to rent a bicycle and take a leisurely ride or go for a run.

Well, cool news! The Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance has cooked up  wonderful wine experiences called “WWander Walla Walla Valley Wine.”  These Saturday itineraries are curated by 10 pretty cool Walla Walla winemakers.

Each itinerary is a same-day, pay-as-you-go experience with  suggestions by the winemakers to their favorite places to eat, taste and explore. They offer perks such as exclusive tastings, helping out with the harvest, winemaker talks, property tours, wine club member benefits for the day or complimentary tastings.

All you have to do is register for the Saturday of your choice at WallaWallaWine.com/WWander  Registration is free and you get an official badge to wander like a winemaker.

We recently did a trial run and I can tell you, this is a real treat. This partial itinerary was compiled by Woodward Canyon’s Rick Small and Jordan Dunn Small, first- and second-generation owners.

The first stop on the tour was breakfast at the Colville Street Patisserie. Owners David Christensen and Tiffany Cain’s case displays mouthwatering classic French pastries. We had to make the hard choice of which to have with the locally roasted freshly brewed coffee. So I picked two, one with coffee and one for later.

We  took a stroll through the 115-year-old Pioneer Park, designed by the celebrated Olmsted Brothers of Central Park fame. There’s a lot to take in — the beautiful old sycamores, the aviary, and an incredibly whimsical sculpture by Tom Otterness to name a few.

On to Woodward Canyon’s tasting room, located in a beautifully restored farmhouse next door to the old tasting room, a converted machine shop. The complimentary estate vineyard tasting will give you a sense of the vineyard’s maturity and the winemaking that is more French in style with balance, complexity and the ability to age gracefully.

We tasted the Estate Sauvignon Blanc sourced from 15 year old vines, fermented in stainless and briefly aged in neutral oak. It was wonderfully crisp, full bodied and well balanced, a perfect food wine.

Next, the 2014 Barbera was juicy with plenty of dark fruits and acidity, the kind that makes you wish for a plate full of sliced tomatoes sprinkled with balsamic, olive oil and shaved parm.

The family has been working with clones and root stock to prepare for the coming climatic changes. We tasted the Estate Cab where a blend of three clones produce a wine with dark fruits, bright acidity and a long finish.

The 2013 Reserve was a blend of 33% Merlot, 33% Petite Verdot, 22% Cab Franc and 12% Cab. It’s also a blend, this time with 13 clones that give it depth and richness not found in wines this young. With some age, this wine will be stunning.

We finished up with the 2013 Erratic, a southern Rhone blend of Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache. This gorgeous wine is big with rich raspberry and spice flavors. It would accompany a leg of lamb perfectly.

Woodward Canyon Estate Vineyard was first planted to Chardonnay in 1976 on the family’s ranch.  In addition to the Chardonnay, it’s now planted with Cab, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc with a few rows of Barbera, Dolcetto, Mourvedre and Grenache.

The winery continues to purchase grapes from Columbia Valley’s Sagemoor Vineyards where a section planted in 1972 is part of the Old Vines and Artist Series Cabernet. Woodward Canyon is a partner in Champoux Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills appellation also part of the Old Vines and Artist Series Cabernet.

Next on the itinerary was lunch at Brasserie Four. It’s a local favorite, with amazing moules-frites and Coquille St Jacques. We took Rick and Jordan’s advice to indulge in a glass of something imported with lunch. The J J Prum Kabinett was a standout. Mouthwatering French cuisine and an amazing collection of wines by the glass and by the bottle. What more could you ask for?

A trip focusing on wine, food and the obligatory after-indulging exercise in the Walla Walla Valley is a slice of heaven. It can also be a bargain when you keep in mind that this is the shoulder season and many area hotels and airlines offer lower rates. So pack your bags, register to wander and explore these excellent Walla Walla Valley itineraries. And remember, your first case of wine flies free.