Category Archives: Washington Wines

The State of Washington Wines 2019

I had a marvelous time at the Taste Washington Grand Tastings. Imagine two days of 235+ possibilities.

And I was amused with this year’s theme, Must. Taste. Everything. Not possible in the 4 or 5 hours each of the two days. Just not possible but I gave it the old college try.

Saturday, was very crowded but I managed to taste almost 40 wines. Sunday, was more laid back and I was able to taste – and spit – almost 54 wines. The plan was to taste the top tier, I.e. expensive, wines and then go on to reds. Sunday was to be dedicated to whites. I was semi-successful with the plan but did get distracted by winemakers, wine and friends. Here are my impressions to help guide your future wine purchases.

Best wine overall: Barnard Griffin Centurion 2016 Sagemoor Vineyards. So well knit, as close to as perfect a wine as you can sip. One barrel made. Thanks for sharing. $150.

Second place: Cadence Spring Valley Vineyards 1998 Red, an amazing 21-year-old. Youthful in appearance, wonderful aromas and very delightful to experience. Thanks for sharing. n/a

Third place: Cascade Cliffs Blood Red Columbia Valley 2017 Barbera, Bob Lorkowski has been making this wine for 20 years and it shows. Layered, juicy, rich, you need to try this wine. It’s amazing. $85.

And in no particular order, I would highly recommend to you:

Laurelhurst 2014 Walla Walla Petite Verdot – WOW! a dense, rich wine with so many anthocyanins it strains your glass. Relocated in the Georgetown district of Seattle, many small lot fermentations of great wines are made by the dedicated winemaking team of Greg Smallwood and Dave Halbgewachs. $36.

On the Kitsap Peninsula, Bainbridge Island’s Eagle Harbor 2015 Old Vine Cabernet from Kiona Vineyards on Red Mountain. This award winning winery produced this polished wine from Red Mountain’s first vineyard. $60.

Karma Vineyards, overlooking Lake Chelan, produced two fabulous méthode champenoise sparkling wines. The finely bubbled 2014 Estate Pink Pinot Noir and the 2013 Brut Chardonnay with hints of apple and bread dough. $50 and $70.

Avennia 2016 Justine Red Rhone is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre that will be a great addition to any cellar. The first graduate of Walla Walla Community College’s Enology and Viticulture program, Chris Peterson was awarded a Winemaker of the Year in 2017. Excellent choice. $40.

A custom crush, custom bottling and canning facility intrigued me. Finding myself in front of Cascadian Outfitters booth, I decided to find out what Goose Ridge was all about and have a sip of Cascadian Outfitters can o’ red while sorting out their relationship.

I have enjoyed many bottles of one of Goose Ridge’s five wine labels, Tall Sage. What drew me to that wine was the back label. “Arvid Monson developed his first vineyard on the advice of Dr. Walter Clore, known as the father of Washington’s wine industry: ‘Find a tall sage and you have a place that will sustain superior grape vines.’ A tall sage is one that develops deep tap roots … This release is our tribute to a man of great stature, the founder of Goose Ridge Estate Vineyards.”

Cascadian Outfitters #Adventureinacan comes in three flavors, Chardonnay, rose, and red blend. Estate wine in a can for kayaking, backpacking or biking to the next winery. A six pack is $30.

Their remarkable 2,200-acre estate vineyard is located on a gentle slope adjacent to the Red Mountain AVA. Their five labels are Goose Ridge Estate, g3, Stonecap, Tall Sage and Cascadian Outfitters.  All come from this vineyard and Goose Ridge also sells grapes to other wineries.

Goose Ridge Estate 2015 Syrah is beautiful, everything you expect in a Syrah. The long, smooth finish comes from 22 months in French and American barrels, some new but most neutral. $38.

Kerloo 2014 Upland Vineyards on Snipes Mountain Grenache is all Grenache whole-cluster fermented and concrete aged. This old Snipes Mountain AVA vineyard dates back to the early 1900’s and is extremely warm and rocky. Pump-overs and punch-downs during fermentation extract color and texture for a beautifully balanced wine with great aromatics. A stunning wine for $40.

In the spring of 1997, Chandler Reach owners Len and Lenita Parris, traveled to Tuscany and stayed in a beautiful villa. Inspired, they created a little slice of Tuscany in Yakima. Their signature red, Monte Regalo Estate 2015 Red Bordeaux is a brilliant blend from the winemaker’s block of Cab, Merlot and Cab Franc. $30.

The Parris Estate Reserve 2015 Yakima Cab Franc is fermented in small, open top fermenters and then cellared for 24 months in new and neutral French oak.  Usually a right-bank blending grape, this standalone version is outstanding. $46.

Many great wineries start in a garage. Associated Vintners, now known as Columbia Winery,  is one fine example of an early Seattle garage winery consisting of a group of University of Washington faculty members.

Ducleaux Cellars started out in their Kent garage. Today, this small family winery is making great wines from an estate vineyard and winery now located in The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, a sub-AVA of Walla Walla.

Ducleaux Cellars’ Chief Tasting Officer, Toby Turlay, was pouring their 2016 Ducleaux Cellars Anarchy. Mostly Syrah with a splash of Mourvedre, this wonderfully balanced wine from the Ancient Lakes AVA is highly aromatic and tasty! $29.

Brook & Bull Cellars is Ashley Trout’s latest venture. A talented winemaker who has produced wine in both Walla Walla Valley and Argentina. The first time I had her wines, it was the Torrontes grape from Agentina where she would work the March harvest.

Brook and Bull Cellars 2016 Columbia Valley Petite Verdot is exquisite. Another Bordeaux grape that is usually blended, this big, rich wine is stuffed with layers of flavors that make you want another taste and then another. $38.

There’s more but not today. In the meantime, save the date for the next Taste Washington, March 2020. Cheers!

Where to Taste Washington Wines

At the grandest Washington wine tasting, there will be over 236 wineries, pouring several wines each. It’s always good to make a list – and try to follow it without getting too distracted. I like to start out with the most expensive ones since they’re the first to go.

The first one I’ll be tasting is from a winemaker who has made some amazing wines at very affordable prices. Barnard Griffin’s 2016 Centurion Cabernet Sauvignon Sagemoor and Caroway Estate Vineyard. No one should bypass one of the greatest and oldest vineyards in the state and one of Washington’s best winemakers. Only $150

Cascade Cliffs 2017 Columbia Valley Blood Red Barbera is a must, too.  Owner/winemaker Bob Lorkowski has a way with Italian grapes. The Barbera is much sought after. It even has its own wine club. Excellent job, Bob.  $75

Canvasback 2015 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, $40.  Imagine a California winery moving into Washington state because they knew great wine country when they tasted it. Canvasback is part of that venerable Napa winery, Duckhorn.

From another great wine country, Red Mountain has an Italian transplant, Col Solare, a partnership between Marchesi Antinori and Chateau Ste. Michelle. They’ve been working together since 1995. The 2015 Red Mountain Cab is $75 and the 2015 Red Mountain Component Collection Cabernet Franc is $85.

Red Mountain fruit also went into Bainbridge Island’s Eagle Harbor Wine 2015 Old Vine Cab from Kiona Vineyard. $60

Gramercy Cellars is an 8,000-case winery founded in 2005 by Master Sommelier Greg Harrington and his wife, Pam. They are Rhône and Bordeaux style fans. Will be tasting the 2016 Walla Walla John Lewis Syrah, $85 and their Columbia Valley 2015 Reserve Cab. $95

In 1978, the first Red Mountain Cab grapes were sold to Preston Winery’s winemaker, Rob Griffin. (See Barnard Griffin Winery above). Kiona Vineyards, a longtime favorite, has their Red Mountain 2016 Estate Reserve Red Bordeaux Blend, for $55 and 2016 Cab from Heart of the Hill Vineyard on Red Mountain. $75

Another distinguished winery, Long Shadows Vintners, is actually a collection of renowned winemakers from revered wineries in Napa, Bordeaux, Germany and Australia. They’re pouring the 2015 Pirouette Red Bordeaux, 2015 Pedestal Merlot, $65 and Chester-Kidder 2015 Red Blend. $60

A transplant from one of Napa’s most famous vineyards, Pritchard Hill, Obelisco Estate is the work of Betsy and the late Doug Long. Can’t wait to try their 2014 Red Mountain Estate Cab 2014 for $50 and their 2015 Red Mountain Electrum Estate Cab. $75

Owen Roe’s David O’Reilly began in Oregon, making incredible single vineyard Pinot Noirs. In 2013, the O’Reillys and Wolffs broke ground in Union Gap for their Washington winery. The 2015 Pearl Block Cab Franc, $72 and 2016 Red Willow Chapel Block Syrah will be staining my glass. $55

A well-regarded Washington winery with ties to Napa’s André Tchelistcheff, the “Dean of American Winemaking,” is Quilceda Creek. Tchelistcheff advised his nephew when Quilceda Creek was on the drawing board. I’ll be tasting the 2016 Columbia Valley Red Blend. $70

Planting began in 1968 for the Sagemoor Vineyards in Columbia Valley. Today, Sagemoor farms five iconic vineyards with 20 varietals planted for “about 100 of the brightest winemakers in the state.” This 2014 Columbia Valley Cab is made by John Abbot from Bacchus, Dionysus, Sagemoor, and Weinbau Vineyards.  $70

One of the newest wineries on this list is The Walls Vineyards, located in Oregon but a sub-AVA of Walla Walla. Wonderful Nightmare 2016 Walla Walla Tempranillo, $38 and the 2016 Red Mountain Curiositas Cab.  $56

And the curious side of me, wants to investigate wineries that I’m not familiar with. There are over 500+ wines to taste, so next on the To Do list would be the ones that I’ve never heard of.

That would include Adrice Wines with California transplants settled in Woodinville. A Rosé of Grenache, Albariño, and Malbec. AniChe Cellars is a small family winery located in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge with a Horse Heaven Hills Dolcetto.

Array Cellars has bottlings of Chardonnay from Celilo Vineyard, Columbia Gorge and Otis Harlan Vineyard in Yakima. Avennia in Woodinville is serving up a Sauvignon Blanc, Red Rhône Blend and Columbia Valley Cab made by Chris Petersen who spent some time at DeLille Cellars learning the craft.

Bayernmoor Cellars in Stanwood, like many western Washington wineries trucks their grapes over from eastern Washington while waiting for their estate vineyards to mature.

Planted in 2008, Vino Bellissimo is a 5-acre vineyard on the Wahluke Slope AVA. Bellissimo Cellars is pouring the 2015 estate Cab and Merlot.

From Walla Walla, Bontzu Cellars has a Cab from Les Collines Vineyard, Rhône Blend, and a white from the Roussanne grape.

With estate vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley, Caprio Cellars produces three estate red Bordeaux.

Cascadian Outfitters offers estate wines in a can! For the adventurous who like to imbibe during hikes, picnics, and bike rides, the Goose Ridge Vineyards offers a Red Blend, Chardonnay and Rosé in a can.

Renton’s Cedar River Cellars has a Chardonnay Cab and Malbec from grapes harvested from three established vineyards in Yakima Valley,

Winemaker and owner Jean Claude Beck grew up in the Alsace region of France. ‘nough said. Located in Zillah, his Chateau Beck naturally includes a Vin Blanc, Vin Rosé and Cab.

Spokane’s Craftsman Cellars is crafting a Wahluke slope Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and red Bordeaux.

Not all damsels are in distress! In fact, Damsel Cellars winemaker Mari Womack is in heaven making a Boushey vineyard Red Rhône Blend, Stillwater Creek Syrah, and a Columbia Valley Cab. I would be too.

Darby Winery at the Hollywood Tasting Room produces a White Rhône, Horse Heaven Hills Cab and Stillwater Creek Vineyard Syrah.

This is only a taste of what’s being poured Saturday and Sunday, Saturday & Sunday, March 30 and 31 at the CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle. Tickets are still available but not for long! Cheers!

 

Taste Washington Vineyards

For a truly grand wine experience, Taste Washington is the place to be. It’s four days of events that overflow with Washington’s culinary riches. There are delicious wines from over 235 Washington wineries to sample and bites from over 65 local restaurants at the Grand Tasting on Saturday and Sunday, March 30 and 31, at CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle.

At the Grand Tasting you can also watch today’s hottest chefs demonstrate their culinary skills on stage, get the wine story from hundreds of winemakers, and indulge in the splendor of it all.

One of my favorite tastings at the Grand Tasting is the “Taste the Vineyards” because vineyards are where it all begins. And you should know that many different wineries are often sourced from the same Washington vineyards. Think what fun and educational tasting this could be!

When you sample wines from the same vineyard, you may learn to identify vineyard profiles. You also learn how the tools and techniques different winemakers use for the same grapes from the same vineyards may be the reason the wines are so different from each other.

Unlike most vines growing in the world today, all vines in Washington are planted on their own rootstocks, since phylloxera, a root-eating aphid, is not an issue here. The combination of the Columbia Valley’s desert dryness in the summer and deep winter chill makes it more resistant to pests and molds. Having vines on their own roots helps us maintain the health and longevity of our vineyards and preserves the grape variety in its natural state with no influence from the grafted roots.

This year, some old and some new vineyards are featured: Alder Ridge Vineyards; Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Cold Creek Vineyard and Canoe Ridge Estate Vineyards; Red Mountain’s oldest, Kiona Vineyards; Coyote Canyon’s Vineyards high atop Horse Heaven Hills; Lake Chelan’s Double D; Clos Che Valle Vineyards; and two other Red Mountain vineyards, Shaw and Quintessence. Intriguing, right?

Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Canoe Ridge Estate is 559 windswept acres in the Horse Heaven Hill’s AVA overlooking the mighty Columbia River. Planted in 1991, it is on the south facing ridge 950 feet above sea level.

Coyote Canyon Vineyard started out as a World War II bomb test site. In 1994, after years of wheat and vegetable farming, the first 20-acre plot of Cabernet vines were planted along a southern slope. It’s now over 1,125 acres of quality wine grapes in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, which is over 570,000 acres overlooking Canoe Ridge and the mighty Columbia River.

Those 1,125 acres grow 25 varieties of grapes that produce fruit for many award-winning wines for almost 30 wineries, including Northstar and Columbia Crest, part of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

Rocky Pond Winery’s Double D and Clos Che Valle Vineyards are also on a gentle slope overlooking the Columbia River but further north in the Chelan AVA. First planted in 2013, Double D Vineyard is between 700 and 940 feet in elevation and the perfect place for 165 acres of Syrah, Cabernet, Malbec, Merlot, Grenache and Mourvedre.

The 50-acre Clos CheValle Vineyard is at 1,250 to 1,600-foot elevations along the south shore of Lake Chelan. This big body of water moderates weather extremes in summer and winter, giving the grapes a chance to develop evenly – both sugars and acids.

With the perfect combination of the lake controlling temperature extremes and the glacial till soils, the 10-year-old vines of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (a relatively unknown grape in the Pinot family usually used in blending a Champagne) are producing some fine wines. Other grapes grown are Riesling, Viognier, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Syrah.

In the wine industry, a winery name usually comes first and then “vineyards” is tacked on the end if they own them. Not so with Kiona Vineyards. On its website, it states emphatically, “We’re not Kiona Cellars. We’re not Kiona Selections. We are Kiona Vineyards. That’s an important distinction for us to make, because we grow grapes. For our own winery and for more than 60 others. Kiona Vineyards … is … the essence of our family’s forty-year tradition.”

Kiona Estate is Red Mountain’s pioneer vineyard, planted in 1975 by John Williams and Jim Holmes. Predominately Cabernet and Merlot, it also is home to Washington’s oldest and best Chenin Blanc, Riesling and Lemberger vines.

According to its website and I wholeheartedly agree, “…this vineyard and the attention it has received over the last 40 years has made Red Mountain what it is today.”

Today, the Williams family owns Kiona Vineyards. Jim Holmes went on to his own 120 acres of neighboring vineyards and is a highly sought-after vineyard consultant. Some 30 wineries get their grapes from Holmes’ Red Mountain vineyards and many more are waiting in line to buy his grapes.

Also on Red Mountain are the older Shaw Vineyard and the newer Quintessence Vineyard, where, for almost three decades, Dick Shaw’s extensive experience has produced grapes for many award-winning wines.

As a result of all that, Dick and Wendy Shaw were inducted into the 2018 Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame. The two were honored at last year’s Legends Gala at the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center for their 38 years of producing spectacular and much-sought-after fruit on Red Mountain.

The Quintessence Vineyard, along the eastern ridge of Red Mountain, is a partnership between Dick Shaw and Paul Kaltinick. The vineyard is now almost 300 acres, but the pair started in 2010 with 68 acres planted to Cabernet.

You can taste these vineyards, the hundreds of other wines, the delectable bites and learn more about Washington’s fabulous wines at Taste Washington on March 29 and 30. Purchase your tickets at https://tastewashington.org/event/grand-tasting-2-day/.

But wait! There’s more! The Red & White Party that takes you “into the cellars” of Washington’s premier winemakers, Taste Washington On the Farms, the swanky Canlis Wine Dinner with rare Washington wines, The New Vintage, a backstage pass to meet and mingle with the chefs and winemakers, seminars and Sunday Brunch with Pacific Northwest flair.

It’s a lot like Christmas, indulge! Cheers!

What’s up in Walla Walla during Washington Wine Month

Welcome to March, Taste Washington Wine month. Wineries, restaurants and retailers promote the many wines Washington has to offer. It culminates at the end of the month with Taste Washington, a four-day event celebrating Washington wine and food.

The wine industry in Washington is new compared with Bordeaux, where there are thousands of chateaux producing wine from Cabernet, Merlot and the other permitted grape varieties.

In comparison, Washington has 900-plus wineries and a little more than 60,000 acres  planted to vineyards, making it No. 2 in wine production behind California with its approximately 4,500 wineries and 880,000 acres under vine.

Kicking off the Taste Washington Wine month, the Walla Walla Wine Alliance came rolling into town to promote that corner of the Washington wine industry. It was a wonderful opportunity to catch up and get acquainted with some of the newer wineries from that American Viticultural Area (AVA).

Walla Walla Valley is one of four Washington AVAs that include portions of neighboring states, most into Oregon and one into Idaho. Walla Walla has one recently recognized a sub-AVA, the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater. This AVA lies entirely within the Oregon portion of Walla Walla Valley.

Most of the vineyards are in the hills that flank the Walla Walla River, a tributary of the mighty Columbia River. The climate is perfect for traditional Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet, Merlot, Cab Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec.

This is also Rhone varietal country with plantings aplenty of Syrah and Grenache with a sprinkling of Mourvedre, and whites Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Rousanne and Marsanne.

There are also vineyards planted to the Spanish grape Tempranillo and the long-lost Bordeaux variety, Carménère, which is making a meteoric comeback in Chile and Walla Walla.

One of the oldest settlements in Washington, Walla Walla was a trading post for the Idaho gold rush and French fur trappers. The French being French planted vines in the area around the 1850s.

But a freeze took out the vineyards and the railroad skirted through Spokane instead, nipping this agricultural center in the bud.

Fast forward almost 100 years and Walla Walla is now renowned for its wheat fields, onions and, yep, wines.

The second and more sustainable wine wave began with four wine pioneers, Leonetti, Woodward Canyon, L’Ecole and Waterbrook. The wine revival came in the late 1970s, when these pioneering vignerons embarked on planting vineyards in the valley.

From those early days, some 100-plus wineries are now producing great wines from about 3,000 acres of vineyards. The top five varieties are Cabernet at 36 percent, Syrah at 18 percent, Merlot at 16 percent, Cab Franc at 7 percent and Malbec at 4 percent.

While standing in line waiting for a pour at one of the newest wineries, The Walls, I slid left to Tertulia Cellars for a sip. And oh my!

Time is the best way to describe Tertulia’s winemaking philosophy. Winemaker Ryan Raber poured the 2015 Carménère; 2015 GSM, dubbed Great SchisM; Ryans’ Reserve; and 2013 Phinny Hill Vineyard Horse Heaven Hills Cab.

I learned some interesting things from Raber. For instance, the GSM stands for “Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre” and is called Great SchisM. This wine comes from The Rocks AVA. The estate vineyard is called Riviere Galets, which is French for river of rocks. And quite literally, the ground is covered with rocks, much like southern Rhone.

Another unusual process was aging in large neutral French oak barrels called fudre for 16 months. These larger barrels were used to lessen the impact of the slow oxidation in the traditional barrels. Since the wines spend less time in oak, more of the fruit character is preserved.

The Ryans’ Reserve, a blend of the traditional Bordeaux grapes, is named for Winemaker Ryan Raber and Vineyard Manager Ryan Driver. The grapes are from their Elevation Vineyard, terraced at 1,500 to 1,700 feet.

The Elevation Vineyard is quite unique. With soils composed of silt and basalt, this vineyard was not planted but rather drilled. Yep, they used jackhammers to drill the holes to plant the grape vines. The resulting harvests are small but the fruit is concentrated.

A blend of 83 percent Cabernet Sauvignon with a little Merlot and Petit Verdot, Ryans’ Reserve is also unique in the way it is racked. After 22 months in oak, this wine was racked using the old-world technique of “soutirage,” a process of racking the wine without a pump from barrel to barrel before bottling.

These old-world traditional techniques are pretty rare anymore, with only a few wineries or even Chateaux using this technique, which softens the tannins.

One great Bordeaux chateau that continues with this process is Cheval Blanc. And Rader and I had a chuckle remembering good old Miles from the movie “Sideways.” You remember the guy that drank the spit bucket? Very gauche.

But that was not half as wicked as his next conflagration – drinking his most prized bottle of 1961 Cheval Blanc from a styrofoam cup, alone.

We all know the best way to enjoy Cheval Blanc, Tertulia or any wine is together with family and friends and in a wine glass. Cheers!

Another Gift Idea for the Wine Lover

Taste Washington
March 28-31, 2019 

Taste Washington is a Washington wine celebration! It’s a food and wine lovers’ wonderland! And tickets are on sale making this a fabulous stocking stuffer.

With more than 235 wineries, 65 restaurants and some of the nation’s most-talented chefs, this is the ultimate tasting. Get ready to drink and eat to your heart’s content.

Thursday, March 28
For one night only, this exclusive experience takes you ‘into the cellars’ of Washington’s premier winemakers to taste the best of the best. This is the only event at Taste Washington where you will you find Washington winemakers’ most-coveted bottles.

Friday, March 29
Home to everything from shellfish farms to fruit orchards, it’s no surprise Seattle has one of the most unique and exceptional farm-to-table dining scenes in the country. Taste Washington On the Farm invites you to come around the table with farmers, winemakers and chefs to celebrate the hands and land behind Washington’s food and wine. You’ll have the chance to get outside and tour a local farm, then enjoy a sensational lunch paired with some of the best Washington wines alongside the chefs and winemakers who craft them.

Saturday & Sunday, March 30-31
CenturyLink Field Event Center
A truly ‘grand’ experience, this two-day event is overflowing with Washington’s culinary riches. With delicious samples from over 235 Washington wineries and bites from over 65 local restaurants, there a lot of good things to taste here.
Whether you’re a seasoned wine and food connoisseur or simply a fan of eating and drinking great things, there’s something to satisfy every taste bud at this event. Thank goodness there’s two days to discover many good wines and foods.
Wishing you a very Happy Holiday!

Washingon’s Big Fruit Harvest

It’s been a bountiful harvest on the Kitsap Peninsula. Everywhere there are apple, pear and plum trees are bearing tons of fruit. In my yard, the three apple trees, Italian plum and two walnut trees are keeping me pretty busy. The race began in earnest the end of August, picking blackberries before the heat of the day.

Next on the to do list were apples. I froze them, thawed them and then pressed them for some of the sweetest cider I’ve ever tasted. Then I fermented 5 gallons of cider, baked couple of apple cakes, cooked up a dozen jars of apple sauce and when I ran out of jars, sliced over 30 pounds of apples and dried them. It’s a great snack, especially when accompanied with a thin slice of cheddar and a glass of Riesling.

The plums were plentiful too. They accompanied me to every meeting I went to. Out of town guests were sent packing with a bag of plums and apples. Plum tarts, plum wine and jars of spicy plum sauce now occupy my kitchen. I will trade a plum tart for a bottle of wine.

In my spare time, I helped out with crush at a few Bainbridge Island wineries. At Perennial Vintners last month, bottling was the order of the day. Because that’s what you have to do in a small winery to make room for the coming harvest. There is only so much room for a limited amount of tanks.

And this time of year, tanks are needed. Whites are bottled and reds go into barrels. At Perennial, the wine was pumped from the tanks into a smaller container about the size of an aquarium with six spigots. Next, bottles were gassed and then filled, corked and labeled by a crew of volunteers under the direction of owner/winemaker Mike Lempriere. He’ll be harvesting Müller -Thurgau from the Puget Sound AVA soon.

At Eleven Winery, owner/winemaker Matt Albee crushed Elephant Mountain Syrah and Viognier in mid-September and then Tempranillo. This week, the Lemberger is scheduled to arrive. Wine grapes arrive in big tubs called lugs. The lugs are so full of grapes, they’re moved around with a fork lift.

Albee had devised a system to tilt the tub with the fork lift so one volunteer can rake the grapes onto the moving conveyor line where two volunteers remove leaves, bugs and dried grapes. As the grape bunches reach the top of the conveyor, they fall into the crusher/destemmer. Stems fall into one lug and crushed berries fall into another.

When crushing is finished, the lugs are moved into the winery, treated with SO2 and covered with a cloth sheet to allow the sulfites to do their job of killing wild yeasts before off-gassing for 24 hours. After that, the yeast culture is added and voila! Fermentation begins.

Belfair’s Mosquito Fleet Winery has a similar setup however, their sorting tables are manned by at least a dozen enthusiastic volunteers who pick out the dried berries, leaves and other debris that are not Petite Verdot and Malbec grapes. It’s a convivial event with owners Brian and Jacquie Petersen and Scott and Jacy Griffin; lunch and, of course, tastes of award winning wines. Small wineries welcome and take very good care of their volunteers.

With anticipation and apprehension, winemakers keep tabs on their vines and weather at harvest time. It’s the age old winemaker question, when should picking begin? The answer, my wine friends, is blowing in the wind and different for each grape variety. Some are early ripeners, like Syrah and some are late ripeners, like Cabernet.

At an estimated 268,000 tons, the 2018 harvest in Washington is likely to be bigger than last year but not as big as 2016. That year holds the record for grape harvest at 270,000 tons. In contrast, Oregon’s harvest is estimated around 85,000 tons, on par with their 2015 record crop. And in British Columbia, harvest was at an all-time high of 32,700 tons.

A staggering two-thirds of Washington’s grape harvest is handled by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, which includes brands such as Columbia Crest, North Star, Intrinsic, Col Solare, Seven Falls, 14 Hands, and, of course, Ste. Michelle.

Much of the growth is due to 58,200 acres of new vineyards that have matured. Most of these plantings are in established AVAs. But hold on to your hat – five new AVAs are on the docket. Applications for Goose Gap, Royal Slope, The Burn, White Bluffs and Candy Mountains have been filed.

It’s a busy time of year in but somehow the Yakima Valley wineries manage to harvest, crush and celebrate. They invite you to celebrate their bountiful harvest during the  Annual Catch the Crush on October 13th and 14th. Each winery offers its own celebratory activities such as grape stomps, crush activities, tours, free-run juice, hors d’oeuvres, live music, and of course, wine tasting.

If you purchase a Catch the Crush Premier Pass, you’ll enjoy exclusive food pairings, library tastings and tours. Wineries ask you to bring your own glass, photo ID and designated driver for this annual wine adventure. Cheers!

Producers to Savor during Harvest 2018

Bottling has been the major activity in many wineries these past few months, an annual pre-harvest must. Preparation for bottling or crushing usually takes more time than the actual bottling or crushing. It all has to do with keeping everything — vessels, hands, filters, bottles, corks and hoses — that comes in contact with the wine clean.

California’s harvest began two weeks ago with sparkling wine producers who always pick early for slightly under-ripe grapes. in 2017, over 4,000 wineries crushed 4 million tons of wine grapes. Oregon has also had several banner years. Its 474 wineries had 84,949 tons of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and other grapes to ferment, rack, age and bottle.

Washington state’s wine grape harvest is shaping up to be bigger than 2016’s record-breaking harvest of 270,000 tons. More than 940 wineries harvested 227,000 tons in 2017.

A ton of wine will typically produce 768 bottles of wine. And, 270,000 tons equals almost 5 million bottles of Washington wine. An average American drinks 18 bottles a year. Fortunately, American wines are enjoyed by our friends Downunder, in Europe, Japan, China and Canada to name a few countries.

Here are some wines, in no particular order, recently tasted. Going through my notes, I’ve picked out wines that I found particularly delightful. Some are still available, others you’ll just have to get the newer vintage.

Beaucastel Chateau Neuf du Pape 2004 was on the bottom of the cellar and was out of sight for 10 years. It needed to be drunk now, I thought. But when I pulled the cork, aromas of cinnamon and Asian spices filled the air. And it was a gorgeous ruby color without a touch of orange. A beautiful wine with a lamb chop.

And another from the cellar, Roberto Voerzio Vigna Serra 1990, vino da tavola della Lange, da una Nebbiolo e Barbera. The Nebbiolo Barbera blend was earthy and plummy with wonderful aromas. The critics say he makes age-worthy Barolos. This wine was beautiful at 18 years old.

Luigi Righetti 1990 Capiteldella Roari Amarone della Valpolicella Classico is produced from Corvina, Molinara, and Rondinella. After harvest, the grapes are dried on wooden racks for five months before they are pressed and then aged in oak barrels. On the back label, I was informed that in 1990, Righetti produced 28,000 bottles of this Amarone. I thoroughly enjoyed No. 24081 with friends.

Child’s Play Columbia Valley 2015 Zinfandel was made by Tendril Wine Cellars owner and winemaker Tony Rynders. This had a fantastic balance. Not a huge, jammy, high-alcohol type Zin but more in the early California style of a claret. The fruit and acidity balances the 14.2 percent ABV.

Cairdeas Winery Diffraction 2016 Yakima Valley is a blend of 37 percent Syrah, 20 percent Grenache, and 17 percent Petite Sirah. The remainder is other traditional Rhone grapes: Mourvedre, Cinsault and Carignan. This one had earthy, chocolate, spice and plum aromas and flavors with Asian spices on a long finish.

The Chehalem Willamette Valley Three Vineyard 2016 Pinot Gris also has fantastic balance. This certified sustainable winery in Newberg produced this wine in the French style, meaning it is not fruit-forward like a Pinot Grigio but rich with peach, lemon peel and spice. Like a Pinot Gris from Alsace, this wine is in a bottle similar to Riesling.

Another great find this year was a bottle of Greystone 2014 California Petite Sirah.  This wine caught my attention when I read Greystone and Petite Sirah. The back label said “cellared and bottled by Greystone Cellars.” Notice it didn’t say “produced by.” Only cellared and bottled. My guess is a negotiator bought some juice, made the wine and Greystone Cellars took it from there.

Greystone is this massive building built by a businessman to house the Christian Brothers winery and to store wines from other wineries. When it was built in 1889, it was the largest stone winery in the world. Its cavernous tunnels held 3 million gallons of aging wine. Today, the building houses the Culinary Institute of America, which owns the building and the name.

Joe to go Oregon Rosé wine is made in Oregon and is really good wine. Back label states that it’s Oregon Grapes, fermented in stainless steel, produced and packed (in a can) by Wine by Joe, Napa, California.

Vinted and canned by Canned Oregon is a non-vintage Oregon Pink Rosé Bubbles that bursts with red berries, apples and a bit of spritz to make it refreshing. This is the ticket at the beach or after the long hike up the mountain.

Canned Oregon hails from Dayton, Oregon, the heart of the Yamhill Carlton AVA. In this AVA are such heavyweights as Ken Wright Cellars, Lemelson Vineyards, Carlton Cellars, Soter Vineyards, Elk Cove Vineyards and Tendril Wine Cellars.

12th Annual Columbia Winery Charity Run & Walk

A recent email about the Columbia Winery Charity Walk & Run caused a series of flashbacks in my thirty something years in the wine industry.

Did you know Columbia Winery was originally founded by a group of garagists, over half were University of Washington professors? In 1962, the group formed the Associated Vintners and made wines that caught the attention of Leon Adams and Andre Tchelitscheff.

Did you know Columbia Winery hired one of only 11 worldwide Masters of Wine as head winemaker? In 1979, David Lake took Columbia Winery where no other Washington winery had gone: producing the first series of vineyard designated wines and the first Washington Pinot Gris, Syrah and Cabernet Franc wines.

Did you know that Columbia Winery’s Woodinville facility was built in the 1980s for the now defunct Haviland Winery? It was loosely designed with California’s Beringer Winery in mind. Haviland won the first platinum medal for Washington. Platinum medals were awarded to the best wine from a taste off of gold medal winners from competitive tastings.

Did you know Columbia Winery was a stop on the Spirit of Washington dinner train? In the summer of 2007, the train was forced to stop the Woodinville run when the owners of the Woodinville Track Subdivision, BNSF Railway, wouldn’t extend their track contract.

But enough Columbia Winery history! Here’s what they’re up to this Saturday:

The 12th annual Columbia Winery Charity Walk & Run is a 10k, 5k run/walk and kids’ dash designed to support uncompensated care at Seattle Children’s Hospital. In 2017, Children’s provided $120 million in care to families in need.

Columbia Winery’s tasting room will also be open to visitors during and after the race. Run participants can receive 25% off their purchase or take advantage of a discounted tasting flight.

Where: Columbia Winery’s historic tasting room at 14030 NE 145th Street in Woodinville, WA

When: August 18th  The road closes at 8:30am into the area.

To register or if you’d rather just give:

click here or visit www.columbiawinery.com

ChardoYay! or ChardoNay?

Chardonnay was the very height of fashion in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s still the queen of whites especially when Hood Canal crab season rolls around.

A green skinned grape, Chardonnay is a low maintenance vine that adapts to a variety of climates resulting in fairly high yields worldwide. Those high yields translate into millions of bottles of many different styles. The price of Chardonnay? Anywhere from $4.99 to a pinky-up Corton Charlemagne for upwards of $300.

However, there are still some people that haven’t tried it in 20 years. Tough to understand when you consider the many diverse styles produced worldwide. You just have to know the style you prefer and host a blind tasting.

The grape is a winemaker’s playground when it comes to fermentation and aging. Whether fermented in stainless, barrel or concrete vats, each produces a distinct style. Chardonnay can be aggressively oaked or a big, buttery bomb from malolactic fermentation. It could be fermented in a stainless steel tank for a crisp, clean white wine that pairs well with a sharp cheddar and apple slices.

Having a clear mission, a blind wine tasting was organized with wine lovers, oaky Chardonnay lovers and me. At the top of the oaky Chardonnay loving list is my wine buddy, Brynn Grimley who started this column and blog several years ago with a little help from her wine buddy – me.

Brynn loves Chardonnay, the oakier the better. I, however, am not a fan of oaky Chardonnay. She’s evolved. I think you’ll find our notes amusing no matter what we profess.

Ground rules: You don’t have to like it. You can pour it out but you have to try it and render an opinion whether it’s a simple thumbs up or down or something more effusive. Your favorite wine may be the one that others don’t like, that doesn’t make them right and you wrong. Each taster is poured an ounce or so and can revisit their favorite(s) after tasting all six.

The wines were tasted older vintage to newer vintage. Everyone had the same style glass, so no variations there. Below are my translated notes, the Big Reveal follows.

1) Very deep gold, delicate aromas and faded fruit (definitely a wine with age). Lovely bit of spice on the finish. One taster declared it was the best Chard ever. Many liked it.

2) Gold, muted aromas, subdued fruit, took much swirling to open up then aromas of caramel and some butterscotch on the palate. After more swirling, less caramel and more spice on the palate.

3) Light gold color. A better balanced wine with aromas of spice that follow through on the palate. Crème brulee flavors, good depth and a lighter gold, hints at a newer vintage. My fav so far.

4) Light straw color, no detectable oak, more peach, pear and ginger spice. Beautiful complexity with layers of acidity, minerals, flowers and spice. Very impressive!

5) Aromas of tropical fruits, with layers of minerals, crème brulee, stone fruits. My fav so far – charming from the start with balance and complexity.

6) Light straw color. Mineral and bready with pear and lime zest in the back ground. Mouthwatering, straight forward, and easy to quaff.

The Big Reveal

1)     Chateau Ste Michelle 1989 Columbia Valley Cold Creek Vineyards Chardonnay 13.7%

Winemaker’s notes: “This vineyard ripens relatively early and exhibits intense flavors of melons and apples. Enhanced …. with barrel fermentation, malolactic fermentation and aging in French oak to add complexity.

2)     Gallo Family 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay 14.2%

The name produced a Whaat! This generation of Gallos has a different winemaking program that their Italian heritage grandparents Ernest and Julio, who launched some 80 years ago.

3)     Shafer Vineyards 2005 Napa Carneros Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay 14.8%

Shafer has been cultivating this sustainable vineyard since the late 80s. Carneros covers the southern portion of the Napa and Sonoma AVAs, where the gently rolling hills are cooled by breezes from San Pablo Bay. This 13-year-old was barrel fermented and aged in oak.

4)     Chehalem 2016 Willamette Valley INOX unoaked Chardonnay 13.2%

“The winter was warm, budbreak was early and 2016 never looked back – bloom, veraison and harvest were all early records.” Out of Newberg, this estate grown wine is Salmon safe and certified sustainable. Fermented in stainless steel tanks with native yeasts and aged 8 months in tank.

5)     J. Lohr 2016 Riverstone Arroyo Seco Monterey Chardonnay 13.5%

Winemaker Kristen Barnhisel makes this Chardonnay from the “sustainably farmed, cool, windy Arroyo Seco vineyard in Monterey County. Malolactic barrel fermentation with sur lie ageing…” and the price made this my favorite, so far.

6)     Tendril Wines 2017 Child’s Play Willamette Valley Pinot Chardonnay 13.5%

Produced by Tony Rynders, an acclaimed winemaker with a master’s degree in Enology and Viticulture and a world of experience in Napa, Italy, Australia and now Oregon.

In the 60s and 70s, some California winemakers labeled their wine Pinot Chardonnay because they thought it was another Pinot mutation like Noir, Grigio, Meunier, and Blanc. At first, I thought Rynders was being quaint. But after I read his label, I discovered this wine is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. Just like they do in Champagne only this one doesn’t have the bubbles. This is so worth slipping it into your next blind tasting.

Brynn:

Being an oak lover, my two favorites were the Shafer and the J. Lohr. The Chateau Ste. Michelle was too old. I bet it was a fantastic wine in its prime but, to me, it was over the hill. The stainless Chards were not my style, which is too bad because despite being an oak lover, I do love a crisp Chardonnay.

While I enjoyed the Shafer best, I was really hoping for a Chardonnay that blended all the styles in one bottle, hints of the warmth that oak imparts as well as the minerality and the crispness of apple and pear.

After some years of experience, the oak lover and the not-so-much-oak wine lover liked the same wines the best.

Where to Begin with so Many Wines?

I find the infinite variety of wine, beer, and spirits to be both overwhelming and an adventure. As I was taught while training for sprint distance marathons, the hardest part is getting started.

Take Taste Washington marathon for instance. When faced with the delightful dilemma of a roomful of wine, where do you begin? Are you the adventurous type? The loyal kind? Or the frugal approach?

At Taste Washington this year, there were over 200 wineries, each pouring three or four wines with the opportunity to taste approximately 700 wines if you attended both days. This does not cover the vineyard designated areas that were pouring a dozen or so wines. Or the wines at the Red and White event, Taste on the Farm or the seminars.

Taste Washington is overwhelming but an adventure I look forwards to each year. While pausing at a table to set down my wine glass and a small plate of Assagio’s bolognaise (so good) for a free hand to make notes, I shared a table with older couple. We chatted about which wines were our favorites and where to go next. They had gone to the big names, Betz, Mark Ryan and Long Shadows.

I talked with a friend of a friend after the event and he had pretty much followed the path of tried and true 90+ point wines. He also whined about too many unrated wines and he wasn’t willing to spend valuable tasting time researching so he stuck with the ones he knew.

There was a time that I’d head for the most expensive, the 90+ pointers and make that the plan. But that evolved to wineries that I read about but had never tried. This year, the plan progressed to wineries that were fermenting unusual grape varieties.

Choices included traditional Italian varieties such as Barbera, Nebbiolo, Primitivo, Sangiovese, and Dolcetto. French varieties were well represented by Auxerois, Carmenere, Chenin Blanc, Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Lemberger, Mourvedre, Picpoul, Roussanne, Petite Verdot, and Petit Syrah.

German grapes that do well in the Puget Sound AVA were represented with the scarce Siegerrebe and Madeleine Angevine. Even more scarce are Albarino and Tempranillo, a white and a red that epitomize Spain. Scarcer still, Grüner Veltliner (Austria), Tannat (Uruguay) and a handful of Vermouths (Germany, Italy, France). There was a lot to taste, so where to start?

Custom frequently requires one should begin with a sparkling wine. And so I did. Karma Vineyards was pouring their Blanc de Noir, Blanc de Blanc and Pink sparkling wines. These were classically made – dry, crisp and really paired well with Blue C Sushi’s seared salmon bite with crème fraiche and the cider poached tuna salad with chickpea mayo from Capitol Cider.

The Barbera grape is from the Piedmonte region of Italy so that was an easy choice for me. Maryhill, MonteScarlatto and Cascade Cliffs were particular standouts. Cascade Cliffs and Maryhill are located along the Columbia River in the Columbia Gorge AVA which is dubbed “A world of wine in 40 miles.”

Cascade Cliffs has been making Barbera for a couple of decades and this 2016 was classic with the big black fruits and the high acidity the Barbera grape is prized for.

Cascade Cliffs has been making other Italian varieties, like a Tuscan Red that is a fabulous blend of Cab, Merlot and Sangiovese. They also make a Nebbiolo of Barolo and Barbaresco fame. Seattle’s Upsidedown Wine had a delicious Nebbiolo Rosé that would be great some hot summer day.

Maryhill as Winery of the Year for a number of years, made this 2015 with 18 months of barrel aging in 40% new French oak. It’s a mouthful yet smooth. My favorite pairing with Barbera is fresh sliced tomatoes splashed with balsamic and olive oil, fresh ground pepper, basil and a crusty, rustic bread.

The MonteScarlatto Vineyard at Red Mountain is a fairly new vineyard of 10 acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Barbera, Merlot, Malbec and Petite Verdot. They were pouring the 2013 Barbera which my Tasting Partner raved about.

Located in Woodinville, Martedi Winery also produces wine in the Italian tradition with a Sangiovese Rosé, a great spring and summer wine. They also have a Sangiovese and a great Nebbiolo.

Claar Cellars 2013 Sangiovese – the grape that made Chianti famous – was really nice, perfectly balanced strawberry and herb flavors. It spent 12 months on oak which probably accounts for the smoothness of the wine.

Vines from the original Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain were planted in the 1970s. Another 80 acres was planted twenty years later. This prestigious vineyard grows grapes for some of the top wineries of the state.

Grenache is widely planted in Spain where its known as Garnacha and is a large component in France’s Chateauneuf du Pape where it adds body and fruit to the wine. Woodinville’s Convergence 2013 Ciel du Cheval Grenache was a favorite from this prestigious vineyard. And then I ran across Ded Reckoning’s 2013 Ciel du Cheval Grenache.

Lots of Rhone type wines both red and white. Red could be a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Counoise and Cinsault. Whites would be any combination of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul. There are other grapes but I haven’t seen any Clairette Blanche or Bourboulenc, both white grapes.

With summer on the way, it’s time to be looking for Rosés and whites. Tranche Rosé is a blend of Cinsault, Grenache and Counoise. There were a handful of Grenache Blancs and a couple of Picpouls. These white grapes are the best summer wines. The Walls Vineyards in Walla Walla Grenache Blanc was easy drinking, Cairdeas and Callan had fabulous Grenache Blancs, crisp, fruity and minerals. Callan’s Picpoul was the white wine of choice at Taste. It was very, very good. Another Picpoul worth seeking out comes from Syncline in the Columbia Gorge AVA.

Woodinville’s Warr-king Winery and Seattle’s Latta Wines both have a Roussanne also worth seeking out and Lobo Hills Auxerrois was amazing. This white grape originates from the Alsace region of France.

Forgeron, Hedges and Stottle all made a white Rhone; Forgeron’s was a blend of 39 per cent Roussanne, 34 Viognier and the remainder Grenache Blanc. Hedges blend is 75 per cent Marsanne and the rest Roussanne. The wine was full-bodied, rich and viscous. Stottle’s was a blend of 78 per cent Viognier and the balance in Roussanne. Viognier is a very aromatic grape and this was showed that off to the hilt.

Seattle’s Bartholomew 2015 Rattlesnake Hills Tannat the was an adventure with stunning results. Tannat is the ‘black wines’ of Madiran in southwest France, a fairly obscure wine region. Uruguay recently latched onto this varietal and is making some black wine of its own. And yes, inky black in color. This is a big, big wine.

One last winery with spectacular wines is Samson Winery in Whatcom County. They make the absolute best fruit wines. No words can describe their perfection. Try them and you too will be captivated!