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Washington Wine Harvest 2014

Washington wine makers are up to their ears in grapes right now.  grapes in a tubWith all those hot summer days we had, some vineyard sites and grape varieties are running ahead of the usual schedule.  Many Washington vineyards began harvesting at the end of August in what is expected to be yet another record-breaking wine grape harvest,

Crop estimates put this year’s wine grapes at more than 230,000 tons, according to the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. Last year, Washington farmers picked 210,000 tons of wine grapes. In 2012, the harvest was 188,000 tons.

What’s turning into the second bumper crop in a row has led to flurries of activities in Washington’s wineries. It’s a logistical scramble for many of the state’s wineries; handling all of this bounty takes preparation.

The reason for this is there are only so many wine holding vessels that can fit into the state’s smaller wineries. In those wineries are the barrels, tanks, fermenters and all the other accoutrements for the winemaker. In order to make room for the harvest, everything is shifted into the next phase. Barrels are emptied into bottles, tanks into barrels and fermenters into tanks.

Once that is accomplished, wineries have room for the next gondola of grapes being harvested and tons of tubs ready for delivery.

Most vineyards are machine harvested. Sturdier red grapes and Riesling tend to work better with machine harvest because the clusters hold together. It takes a crew of two to three people an hour to pick an acre with a harvester. White grapes are usually harvested late at night or early in the mornings when it is still cool and the more resilient red grapes during the day.

Some winemakers prefer hand-picked grapes which is more costly. Using a knife to cut the stem of each cluster, it would take 12 to 18 pickers to harvest an acre of grapes in that hour. But the bulk of Washington’s wine crop is picked by machine because of a shortage of pickers.

As the weather cools, grapes mature more slowly, giving them more “hang time,” this allows winemakers to make room in the fermenters. This works well as long as it doesn’t rain. Depending on when the rains come, harvesting and fermenting will likely continue through the end of October.

You can Catch the Crush in Yakima Valley on October 11th and 12th.  This well-known event celebrates the harvest with wine tastings and releases, grape stomps, crush activities, tours, hors d’oeuvres and live music. Forty-two wineries are each holding harvest parties during the weekend. Premier passes are available online for $30. wineyakimavalley.org

When you go to wine country this time of year, here’s a primer so you understand what the heck they’re talking about.

Crush – a whirlwind season of activity in the wineries at harvest time.

Barrel – made of oak and holds 60 – 100 gallons

Bottle shock – after bottling, the dumb condition of the wine from the filtering and bottling machines.

Botrytis Cinerea – beneficial mold that forms on the skins of ripe grapes that eventually concentrates sugars and flavors.

Brix – a measurement of the sugars; winemakers measure at harvest to determine maturity.

Cap – the “crust” that forms on the top of the fermenting wine.

Cuvaison – juice and skins are fermented longer for color and additional tannins.

Cuvee – a blend of different grapes or different harvests or different vineyards.

Estate Grown – must be within 50 miles of the winery.

Fermenter – great big plastic tubs that hold a lot of crushed grapes that ferment away.

Fining – filters stuff out of the wine before bottling.

Must – freshly pressed juice that has skins, seeds, and stems.

Ph – the acids in a wine. In the life of a grape, it’s very high at the start and lowers as the sugars grow.

Press – a wooden barrel shaped vat with a funnel like bottom where the must is pressed and the juice is then pumped into the fermenters.

Punch down – During fermentation, winemakers will punch down the cap twice a day to give the wine more color and flavor

Sur –lie – Tricky practice of leaving the spent yeast cells in the fermenter. Gives the wine another dimension.

Topping – Oak barrels allow a wine to evaporate, concentrating the flavors. Air, however, is detrimental to wine so barrels are topped up to eliminate the air in a barrel.

Verjus – high acid wine made from unripe grapes, usually used in cooking.

Wine thief – a long tube used to extract wine from the barrels.

Kitsap Wine Festival is Tomorrow

Tickets are still available for the sixth annual Kitsap Wine Festival at Harborside Fountain Park.  This is a great afternoon event with plenty of sunshine, breezes off the water and catching up with friends. Proceeds go to the Harrison Hospital Foundation. You can purchase online at brownpapertickets.com

This year’s wineries are Chandler Reach, Convergent Zone, Davenport, Elegante, Kana, Laurelhurst, Long Road, Madsen, Maryhill, Mosquito Fleet  NVH, Page Cellars, Stina’s Cellar, Stottle, Terra Blanca, and Waterbrook.

The place to go for the seafood bites is the popular Summer Sipper Bar where guests can sample Rieslings, rosés and sparkling wines side-by-side from many of the participating wineries.

My favorite past time at events like this is to find the perfect wine for the delicious savories served up by Anthony’s, Bay Street Bistro, Boatshed, Bremerton Bar and Grill, CJ’s Evergreen Catering, Gold Mountain, Kitsap Conference Center, Minder Meats and Toro Lounge.

So slather on the sunscreen and pop on down to the Harborside Fountain Park tomorrow at 2:00p.m. Hope to see you there!

 

 

 

Wine Touring on Bainbridge Island

The seven wineries of the Bainbridge Alliance were open for a special Art among the Barrels last weekend.

So the Blind Wine Gang took advantage of the opportunity to taste Island wines at a few of the wineries. It had been a while and the weather was very nice – cool and almost raining. Perfect wine tasting weather, not too hot, not too cold.

Our first winery was Victor Alexander on Island Center Way. DSC00809Owner winemaker Charlie Merrill literally has a garagiste winery. Charlie poured the Blind Wine Gang his 2011 Sémillon and 3 rosés from three different barrels. The barrel tasting was immensely popular. To taste the same grape, from the same vineyard, but resting in different barrels was real education. The final blend, just before bottling, will be of all three barrels. It’s really very interesting to taste the different nuances the barrels played in this wine.

Next, we visited Amelia Wynn Winery and we’re grateful for the escort to the winery. It is not easy if you don’t know Bainbridge like a native. We were greeted by owner winemaker, Paul Bianchi who had taken a break from his other duties to grill up pizza. The garden party featured a full line up of whites, a rosés and three reds to pair with the  pizza hot off the grill.    pizza

Not only can Paul grill up a savory pizza but he can also ferment some wicked good wines. A wonderful 2012 Chard, a 2012 Roussane and a beautiful 2013 Viognier with a fragrance that would make one swoon.

The 2011 Sangiovese oozed cherries in the nose, across the palate and in the long finish. Very smooth and perfect with the grilled pizza that I slathered with a bit of blue cheese. Yum! Next was a 2011 Walla Walla Merlot, a Double Gold & Best of Class Merlot. It was near perfect.

The final wine on the list was the 2011 Syrah, which many in our group loved. I did too but couldn’t get the Merlot off my mind….

Our next stop was Rolling Bay Winery with an abbreviated group – some had to run off to an engagement at Bloedel and some had a date with a crab pot.

Rolling Bay’s signature wine is Manitou Red. It’s a blend of 4 red grape varieties and eminently drinkable with all types of hearty fare. Their Fusion is a blend of mostly Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Grigio. A good summer quaffer. The 2011 Cab from a difficult year was ready to drink but I thought the 2013 Cab out of barrel was ready to drink also. I could have tasted a case of that one and still asked for more.

Tasting with friends is an education. Seeing the different palates, likes and dislikes and whose palate is alighned with mine. Fortunately, the one friend I taste with the most has a plate that is very similar to mine.

The next Washington wine tasting. the Kitsap Wine Festival happens on Saturday, August 9th at Harborside Fountain Park. This celebration of food and wine on Bremerton’s scenic waterfront, benefits Harrison Medical Center Foundation.

Here’s a link to the wineries that will be pouring at the Festival.

Wrapping up Dungeness Crab

Crabbing on the Canal began last week and out of several successful pulls came some delicious treats I hope you will try with the wines suggested below.

The crab fest weekend featured young and old gathered around with nutcrackers in hand cracking and picking their way to a mountain of crab. The fresh crab was then wrapped up in either rice paper, tortillas or seaweed.

The first delightful dish, Crab Cushions, was plucked from the Coyote Café cook book. Simple and straight forward with crab, Mexican crema, egg yolk and flour tortilla. These crunchy little treats are deep fried and served with a mango salsa. They disappeared fast. We paired this with a Studert Prum 2012 Mosel Saar Ruwer Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett that was absolutely fantastic.

This German winery, operating since 1541, is located in the town of Bernkastel-Wehlen in the Mosel region. On German wine labels, adding an “er” to the name shows possessive, meaning Wehlener means it comes from around the town of Wehlen with Sonnenuhr immediately following the town being the name of the vineyard. Remember the more names on the label, the more specific the area where the grapes are grown, usually the better the wine.

The two were the proverbial match made in heaven. Pure crab and pure German Riesling. The classic Riesling flavors of apricot honey and minerals pared so well with the unadorned crab.

The second delightful dish, Spring Rolls, was more spring rollsof a spontaneous what’s available to wrap up in the rice paper? Crab, lettuce, bean thread noodles, basil, and green onion tucked into a rice paper wrapper and then dipped into a sauce of sushi rice vinegar, chopped shallot and a couple of squirts of Sriracha Chili Sauce. This healthy snack was also paired with a German Riesling, a Bauer Haus Rheinhessen 2010 Kabinett. Notice the difference? Just a region, no town, no vineyard and no Riesling. It was a delightful wine nonetheless to pair with the crab and stood up to the mild vinegar and hot sauce.

The third wrap was a California roll. With real crab, not the imitation that many recipes call for. Obviously, they do not live in the greatest place for fresh crab. For this crab and avocado treat, a Vinho Verde was the perfect match. This crisp, medium dry white wine has low alcohol (8%) and a bit of spritz to it, making it very refreshing. It hails from a region in northern Portugal and literally translates to green wine.DSCN0245 Perfect for a hot  summer day.

Please heed the warning on the label: “Not to be opened with gas or air pumps.” It’s a screw cap. (grin)

And that, my wine loving friends, is a wrap!

Affordable Chilean Wines with Empanadas

Chile is that long, narrow country just to the left of Argentina. The Andes are to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west and the vineyards are planted along an 800-mile stretch of valleys in the foothills.

The northern wine regions are hot and dry compared to the cooler, wetter regions in the south. As with all the world’s vineyards, rivers play an important role. The Maipo, Rapel and Maule Rivers are the major rivers that serve as temperature moderator.

Chile is home to both wine values and the upper crusty stuff. Like California, they have a long history with Vitis Vinifera grapes. Back in the 16th century, the Conquistadors planted vineyards to “the common black grape” otherwise called Pais or in California, the Mission grape. This thin skinned grape produces a thin bodied, rustic red. It is valued for its vigorous growth and ease of cultivation. A perfect jug wine grape.

The Phylloxera epidemic in France pretty much changed the direction of Chile’s wine industry. Many French enologists and viticulturalists made a new start in Chile. Isolated by the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, Chile to this day has never been invaded by the destructive root louse known as Phylloxera

Today, Cabernet Sauvignon vines are now the most widely planted red grape with almost 95,000 acres. Sauvignon Blanc is planted to almost 33,000 acres, Chardonnay 27,000 and Merlot to 26,000 acres. The forgotten Bordeaux grape, Carmenere, is now planted to 23,500 acres.

Chile’s Central Valley is divided into four main subregions: Maipo, Rapel, Maule and Curico. The Rapel region is further divided into the Colchagua and Cachapoal Valleys.

One of my favorite Chilean wines is Viña Cono Sur Colchagua Valley Reserve Cab that sells around $12. Another to look for is Veramonte Colchagua Valley Cab also around $12 or Los Boldos with 3 different Cabernets ranging from $10 to $14.

While exploring Chilean wines, a traditional Chilean dish to pair with those wines is Empanadas de Pino. Empanadas are like samosas, calzones or pasties, a savory stew wrapped in dough. There’s just something fabulous about a flavorful package for picnics, hiking or wine tastings!

Empanadas de Pino

The dough:

4 cups of all-purpose flour

1 tbsp of baking powder

1 tsp of salt

1 cup of vegetable shortening

1 cup of warm milk

 

In a food processor, pulse flour, baking powder and salt for a few seconds to combine. Add the vegetable shortening by spoonfuls. Pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal. With the blade is running, add the warm milk. Process until the dough starts to come together in a ball. Transfer to a floured surface and knead for a few seconds and form it into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest in a cool place for 30 minutes while you assemble

The filling:

1 lb of ground beef

3 medium-sized yellow onions, diced

2 or more cloves of garlic, minced

2 tsp sweet paprika

2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 cup of beef broth

1 tbsp of all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp of kosher salt

1 tbsp of vegetable oil

3 hard boiled eggs, sliced

15 green olives, sliced

1/3 cup raisins

Heat some oil in a large skillet and cook the onions on medium high heat, stirring until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more. Add the ground beef and brown. Add the beef broth and simmer until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Sprinkle the flour over the beef and stir until thickened. Cool while you’re rolling out the dough.

Cut the dough in half and roll each half into fairly even logs. Cut six even pieces of dough in each log so you have 12. On a floured surface, roll each small ball of dough into a 6” in diameter disk. Fill the center with 2 spoonfuls of your cooled pino. Top with a slice of hard boiled egg, a few slices of olives and some raisins. Then fold in half so you have a half moon shape. Gently seal all the edges by folding the sides up and pressing gently.

Brush with an egg wash (an egg white mixed with a tablespoon of water). Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or lightly greased. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Cool on a rack while resisting the urge to taste for a few minutes anyway.

Weekly Wine Defined – Bud Break

The start of the grape vines’ growth cycle begins in the spring with bud break. The small buds on the vine start to swell or “break” out and shoots begin to emerge from the bud.
The buds have been hanging out since the previous summer. During the winter, they turn brown and go dormant. Then when the weather turns spring-like, tiny green shoots emerge from the buds. This growth is energized from carbohydrate stored in roots and trunks. Soon the shoots sprout leaves and photosynthesis begins. Six months later, it’s harvest time.

Wine Defined – Loess

Loess is a very important component in Washington wines. It’s an aeolian sediment formed by the accumulation of wind-blown silt, twenty percent or less clay and the balance equal parts sand and silt that are loosely cemented by calcium carbonate.

Many of Washington’s vineyards are located on gentle slopes or on valley floors. Almost all of these vineyards are planted in loess derived from sediments deposited by a series of glacial floods, known as the Missoula Floods.

Underneath much of these vineyards is the other reason Washington is unique in the wine world. The bedrock is basalt alluvium or just plain basalt. At higher elevations the loess directly overlies basalt bedrock.

Basalt is dense. Basalt keeps the average temperatures above average. And most importantly, basalt keeps the root louse away.

What did our Presidents Drink?

One of the more fun-filled presidential facts I remember reading years ago had to do with what our forefathers drank while composing the Constitution of the United States of America and all those endless late-night meetings they attended.

They drank Madeira, and lots of it. Why is that you may be wondering? During the Revolutionary War it was the only wine available from Europe. The British being the rulers of the Seven Seas back then forbade other European countries from shipping goods to the Colonies.

But Madeira happened to be outside the boundaries of the ban being out in the middle of the north Atlantic Ocean and was unaffected by this decree.

There was plenty of homemade beer in the Colonies. In his early teens John Adams started his day drinking beer for breakfast, and by the time he began his days at Harvard at age 15, it was a daily regimen.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate was completely self-sufficient. There were vegetable gardens, farms, orchards, smokehouses, root cellars and brew houses where beer, cider and wine were fermented. Washington would drink home-made beverages and Madeira wine with the abundance of the land: game, fowl, pork, beef, plantation grown fruits and vegetables, fish from local rivers and a little port with the puddings or cream trifles served up at a state dinner.

President Thomas Jefferson was America’s first wine connoisseur with a studied preference for Bordeaux and Burgundy and Champagne. He brought back cuttings from his European travels and had them planted on his estate in Virginia. The first vinifera vines planted on the east coast.

President James Madison was small and slender and not much is said about what his preferences were, however, his wife, Dolly, was quite the entertainer at White House dinners. This remarkable woman was raised Quaker and yet entertained royally with beer and wine.

Springfield, Illinois was the stomping grounds for President Abraham Lincoln when he began as a circuit lawyer and then senator. It’s where his family home, tomb and presidential library are located. But few know his boyhood Kentucky farm was named Knob Creek Farm. Knob Creek Bourbon was named to honor Honest Abe and his Kentucky roots. Probably would have been tasty in the hot black coffee that was his drink of choice.

Weekly Wine Defined – Chablis

Chablis is a little town about 110 miles southeast of Paris, France. Its surrounding vineyards, planted exclusively to Chardonnay, produce one of the world’s most famous wines.
It’s a small island miles from the rest of the Burgundy wine region of which it belongs. The soil is chalky and produces a dry flinty Chardonnay that pairs very nicely with oysters.
The name Chablis has long been used by Australia and America but with a totally different style of wine. One producer even made a Pink Chablis which it sold in a jug – with a handle. In California, Thompson Seedless grapes were used to make a jug of wine with Chablis plastered on the label.
In 2005, an agreement between the United States and the EU addressed the use of European place names on American wine labels. Those names, Chablis, Burgundy, Port and Champagne have been used here for over two hundred years. With this agreement, U.S. winemakers are legally permitted to use these names on on existing brands if accompanied by an adjacent appellation of origin.

So, William Fevre Chablis Grand Cru les Clos or Almaden American Chablis in a 5 liter box? I know which one I’d like to taste

 

Riesling for Harvey’s Recipes

Mary writes:

Riesling was one of the first vinifera varieties planted in Washington, dating back to late 1880s. Much later, in the early 1970s, there were more acres planted to Riesling than there were Merlot.

Probably because Riesling is the most versatile, complex and food-friendly of all the noble grapes. And because back then, many, many people preferred a sweeter wine. In the next two decades, winemakers started making some Rieslings drier because of the demands of the market.  We can safely say that no other varietal has been crafted to express so many different styles from bone dry to ice wines and everything in between.

Rieslings have very floral aromas, a crisp, vibrant character with peach, citrus and apple flavors that morph into apricot as they age. When noble rot or botrytis attaches itself to the skins, the resulting wine is a concentration of sugars and flavors to produce a wine of incomparable intensity.

With Ann Vogel’s Harvey’s Butter Rum Batter recipes, the versatility of Riesling was the key that unlocked the synergy door. Riesling has just the right amount of sweetness and acidity to pair with apples, pork, pineapple, ham, red pepper flakes and cheesecake.

Riesling is all over the place when it comes to residual sugar (RS). It can have a ton of RS, making it a late harvest or ice wine. Or it can have as little as a Chardonnay – around .5% – and a crisp acidity for food friendliness.

Germany has been making some stunning Rieslings for a few centuries and it’s to Riesling what Bordeaux is to Cabernet and Merlot – the bench mark. That’s why it’s so cool when German winemakers come to Washington to make wine with Washington grapes.

Washington has 6,320 acres planted to Riesling. The most expensive is the Long Shadows Poet’s Leap Ice Wine at $85 for a half (375ml.) bottle. It’s made by one of my favorite German winemakers, Armin Diehl. This being a very special and labor intensive wine, it’s to be expected.

Other Washington Rieslings are as little as $3 for a 750 ml and continue up to around $20. These more expensive wines tend to have more work put into them and are generally drier.

There are three major Riesling producers in Washington State. Hogue, Ch. Ste. Michelle and Pacific Rim. All three have received numerous medals from around the world for their Rieslings.

For the Harvey’s Pork Chops with Apple Compote, try the Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling. This wine is a blend of grapes from all around the Columbia Valley made in an off-dry style at 11% alcohol and 2.2% RS. $10.

Pacific Rim’s Columbia Valley Riesling is crisp and slightly sweeter, a lovely wine with fiery red pepper flakes and juicy sweet pineapple in the Harvey’s Glazed Ham with Pineapple Chutney. Another blend of grapes from around Columbia Valley made in an off-dry style at 11.5% alcohol and 3.1% RS.

Cheesecake was made to be paired with Riesling. That being said we’ll move to a Riesling from another longtime giant in the Washington wine industry, Hogue. Their Late Harvest Columbia Valley Riesling was picked mid-October through the first part of November. It has 11% alcohol and 5.4% RS and at $10 a bottle is a total bargain.