All posts by Mary Earl

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.

Do a Little Rain Dance

Gracious is my best descriptor of Rain Dance Vineyards owners, Ken & Celia Austin. Having been the recipient of their genial hospitality, I highly recommend their high-scoring wines and the warmth of their eco-friendly Allison Inn & Spa in Newburg, Oregon.

The resort’s lavish guestrooms are the perfect place to unwind, relax and indulge. Each room features a gas fireplace, private terrace or balcony, and best of all, a spa-like bathroom complete with a big white fluffy terry robe emblazoned with an A.

The entire place is luxurious, warm and inviting. A stroll around the grounds reveals picturesque landscaping with rose archways, bushy herbs and yard art that will make you smile. In the morning, coffee on the expansive veranda with a good book creates a cozy island of serenity.

The Austins’ ancestors started farming the Willamette Valley in 1859. Fifth-generation Ken Austin continues to farm 120 acres, of which 75 are under vine and closely monitored by a pack of prized llamas. They have one of the country’s premier llama ranches, having traveled extensively looking for the finest breeding stock resulting in national champions.

They accumulated properties over the years and then cleared the poison oak, blackberries and some of the trees left over from a Christmas tree farm so the vineyards could be planted. And they had help with the poison oak and blackberries from an unlikely source – the llamas.

Yep, those llamas helped clear the noxious weeds in exchange for their room and board. When we visited, they had just been shorn so their wool could be sold. They looked like large poodles with those goofy poodle cuts. But that’s because only certain areas have the best wool for warm and resilient blankets.

The Austins are true stewards of the land. When developing new vineyards, they will walk it with their vineyard manager and talk about each tree and how it important or not it is to the land. Groves are left for deer to graze, part of their goal to keep the Chehalem Mountains sustainable. The deer actually seek out the llamas because they’ve found the llamas will protect them from most predators.

Art collectors and supporters, Ken and Celia host an art show twice a year. The art show and their Rain Dance Vineyards tasting room also showcase Ken’s fine woodworking. Here you can see some beautiful wood work from repurposed wood. A self-taught wood turner, Ken also studied furniture making at Oregon College of Arts and Craft.

They are also collectors of restored cars that would make any motor head drool. On a tour of the Rain Dance Vineyards, we were treated to their well-balanced Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay from an ice bucket on the tail gate of a 1955 Chevy Cameo that had been lovingly restored.

The actual Rain Dance Vineyards were planted in 2009. Rain Dance has four estate vineyards in the Chehalem Mountains AVA. These sites are Low Impact Viticulture and Enology (LIVE) and Salmon Safe Certified.  Other sustainable techniques used include dry farming, multiple thinning passes, cover crops and judicious pruning.

All this attention to detail makes some pretty remarkable wines. They are made at a custom crush facility by Bryan Weil, also the winemaker for Alexana Winery in the Dundee Hills. Bryan earned a degree in enology and viticulture from Oregon State and then worked in vineyards and cellars of Domaine Serene, Hogue Cellars and Kim Crawford.

The Rain Dance Vineyard was originally a Christmas tree farm when Ken and Celia acquired it in 2009.  As they celebrated the grand opening of the Allison, they decided on a vineyard encircled by Douglas fir and oak trees. The Estate Pinot Noir and Reserve Pinot Noir are produced from this vineyard.

The 2015 Estate Pinot Noir was very aromatic with lots of dark cherry earth and spice. It paired nicely with a salad of roast pork strawberries and Lorelei goat cheese. The limited production 2014 Reserve Pinot Noir is 100 percent Pommard – my very favorite Pinot clone – and saw a bit of new oak, but the short amount of aging didn’t hide the very fragrant nose. Well-balanced and beautiful.

In  2014, the Nicholas Vineyard was acquired. This 40-acre vineyard is a mile or two east of the Rain Dance Vineyard. It was originally planted in 2001 and then planted again seven years later with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewürztraminer.

The Riesling was juicy with good acidity and citrus flavors. Not sweet but not real dry, chill it up and here’s a wine that would pair well will shrimp, scallops or crab. The Nicolas Vineyard Gewurz is from a cooler elevation and is barrel-fermented and aged in neutral oak. This, too, is very fragrant with crisp fruit flavors. Ditto on the shrimp, scallops or crab.

The Nicolas Vineyard 2015 Estate Chardonnay was whole-cluster pressed and fermented at a relatively cool temperature. This brings out a depth of flavor that is full of citrus, apple pie and ripe pear. The oak is understated with only 25 percent new French. The lively acidity makes this a great wine to pair with seafood. Ditto on the shrimp, scallops or crab.

The eye-catching tasting room has that tranquil feeling, a place where you’ll be greeted with that gracious hospitality. Cheers!

Wine as a Hostess/Host Gift

Summer is a highly social time with barbeques, picnics, dinner parties, wine tastings beer events and vacationing family and friends.  Being the considerate person that you are, you should arrive on your host’s door step with something more than your sparkling personality, stunning though it may be. It’s better to err on the side of graciousness and put a little joy in someone’s life.

Bringing a hostess/host gift is easy. Even if it seems like bringing coals to Newcastle, do it. But personally, I draw the line if there is an animal on the label or wines produced in Modesto, California. Other friends may not be so finicky.

So, bring your hostess/host a really nice bottle of wine. Select something in the $20-30 range that looks intriguing and is highly recommended by anyone with some sort of credentials. Buying something because it has a cool label is out. Them are the rules.

On a recent high school/college buddy reunion in the wild, wild west town of Livingston, Montana, we brought a case of Pacific Northwest wines, home-smoked salmon and a bucket of frozen blackberries. Yep, we blew their socks off with the wines and salmon. And that jug of wine with the yellow animal on it was strategically positioned in the far corner of the kitchen counter.

Here’s a few of those wines:

I’m out to impress my friends, right? So popping the cork on this cellar dweller makes perfect sense. Ch. Ste. Michelle Ethos Columbia Valley 2007 Reserve Merlot was awarded a national wine magazine’s Editors’ Choice Award. That’s pretty special, and so was this almost 10-year-old. Ripe, round, toasty and medium-bodied, this is a classy wine, especially for the price. A ton of black cherry, cassis, spice and toast is seductive. The tannins have smoothed out after all these years. What a beautiful wine.

Ledger David Winery is owned by David Traul and Lena Varner, who have a passion for food and wine. They created their dream place in Oregon’s Rogue Valley with the Varner-Traul Vineyard in Talent, Oregon. At their Le Petit Tasting Room, you can enjoy Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and other award winning red blends. Their 2016 Rogue Valley Viognier is very aromatic, reminding me of melon and peaches with a hint of citrus. Loved the balance and the lingering finish despite the 14.5 percent alcohol. Their 2015 was awarded Silver from the San Francisco Chronicle Competition

A little further north of the Rogue Valley is the cool Umpqua Valley. There lies the Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards. Owner winemaker Stephen Reustle is a cool climate specialist and has a thing for low yields and clonal selection. It’s no wonder they were awarded the 2017 Northwest Winery of the Year. I thoroughly enjoyed their well-balanced Gruner Veltliner Winemaker’s Reserve. This little-known grape variety is estate grown from vineyards on steep, south-facing hillsides. Very much like its native Austria.

Terra Blanca 2016 Arch Terrace Rosé is a blend of mostly 66 percent Sangiovese with 34 percent Cabernet Franc. Beautiful fruit and great balance make it a fabulous match with summer fare whether picnic, patio or bbq. It’s well-balanced, with lush, tropical fruit and crisp lively acidity on the finish. Stainless steel fermentation followed by extended sur lie aging heightens the beautiful fruit while creating weight and structure all balanced by the crisp acidity. This wine has some complexity to it.

Harbinger Rattlesnake Hills Two Coyote Vineyards Viognier is a blend of 76 percent Viognier and 24 percent Roussanne. These two varietals have been blended since Hector was a pup in the Rhône. I love how Sara Ganon, owner/winemaker, describes her wine. “Viognier loves to pour on the fruit, but struggles with structure, while Roussanne can sometimes be a bit like engineers — so focused on load support, they forget to stop and smell the honeysuckle.” This wine boasts heady aromas of honeysuckle, tropical fruit, ripe pear, lemon and spices. It’s pretty much heaven in a bottle.

Established in 2010, Kevin White Winery set out to produce limited, hand-crafted wines that pair well with food. Founders’ love for Rhone Valley wines naturally led to a focus on Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedré. The Kevin White 2013 Columbia Valley Mourvedre was a wine that hit it out of the park.

It’s a blend of one barrel of Boushey Vineyard Mourvèdre and one barrel of Olsen Estates Vineyards Mourvèdre produced only 42 cases. This medium-body wine has all the traditional spice, pepper, leather and raspberry flavors of a Rhone-style wine, and I was in heaven. It’s meant for grilled foods of all kinds.

Domaine Pouillon is a family-owned winery located in the scenic Columbia River Gorge.  Grapes are hand-picked in small lots, aged in neutral French oak, or neutral oak and stainless steel for whites.

Vigneron Alexis Pouillon was born to an obscure family of French nobility that escaped the guillotine. After the dividing up the family estate, his share was a 4-by-7 meter plot of land with a 3-wheeled Deux Chevaux and feral cat. He abandoned the cat to go and work at Chateau de Beaucastel. That accomplished, he came to America to seek his fortune, thank goodness!

His travels brought him to the Columbia Gorge, the “world of wines in 40 miles.” The 2016 Black Dot McKinley Springs Vineyard is a very interesting blend of 33 percent Zinfandel, 28 percent Syrah, 24 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 percent Dolcetto. All cranberry, raspberry and plum sprinkled with white pepper make this wine an award-winning, grilled-foods-smoked-salmon kind of wine.

And, of course, I had to bring a wine from Kitsap. Alphonse de Klerk’s Rolling Bay 2014 Syrah has garnered some gold and silver in regional competitions.  This Bainbridge Island winery sources its grapes from south-facing rocky slopes on Snipes Mountain, an excellent site for Syrah.  This wine was elegant with wonderful aromas and flavors. It made a great impression.

The trip was a reminder of the importance of good food, great people, and wonderful wine. Cheers!

Mary Earl has been educating Kitsap wine lovers for a couple of decades, is a longtime member of the West Sound Brew Club and can pair a beer or wine in a flash.

Planting 30 acres in a Summer

In 1971, a Washington timber product executive, very much in love with Champagne and Burgundy wines, found his slice of heaven in the Hills of Dundee. And very much like the Adelsheim and Ponzi pioneer families, it didn’t matter how old you were, if your parents had the passion, you were planting vines and talking wine morning, noon and night.

Imagine a fifth grader writing a short essay on how I spent my summer vacation if your parents owned a 200 acre walnut orchard they were replanting to grape vines. Now imagine that fifth grader a few decades later, president of the 130 acres planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir producing award winning wines. Celebrations around the world are clinking glasses with wines from vineyards your family planted. That’s a pretty heady feeling and something to write about.

Oregon wine pioneer, Cal Knudsen and family actually grew up in the Seattle area. Knudsen was convinced that Oregon’s Willamette Valley with its climate, topography and sedimentary soils similar to Champagne and Burgundy, could make great wine.

Cal, Julia Lee and their children spent their summers planting and working their vineyards. In the early 70s, theirs was the largest vineyard in Willamette Valley with 30 acres planted to vines. And by 1975, with 60 acres planted to vine, theirs was the largest vineyard in Oregon.

In 1975, Knudsen and Dick Erath formed the Knudsen Erath bonded winery #52 and built one of the first commercial wineries on the property. As one of the largest wineries in the state, they produced Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and sparkling wines.

When that partnership dissolved in 1987, Erath Winery emerged and continued to contract grapes and occupy the winery on the Knudsen Estate. Knudsen, still residing in Washington, entered into a long term grape supply contract and vineyard management arrangement with Argyle Winery.

Throughout the decades, Knudsen Vineyards supplied both Argyle and Erath with grapes. While the second generation Knudsens were off pursuing non-wine related careers, Argyle continued to manage the Knudsen Vineyards.

Knudsen Vineyards remains the prime supplier of fruit to Argyle Winery, which has grown to be among the largest in Oregon, winning more awards for its sparkling and still wines than any other winery in Oregon.

Dick Erath continued making great wines from Knudsen fruit under a long term contract that expires in 2018. Recently sold to Ch. Ste Michelle, Erath Winery will continue to make wine from the Knudsen Vineyards until their vineyards come to fruition and the new winery is built.

Today, the second and third generations of Knudsens have under the care of vineyard manager, Allen Holstein who started his viticultural career in 1980 moving from Vineyard manager to overseeing all of Argyle Winery’s vineyards as Senior Vineyard Manager. With 130 planted acres with a mix of old and new high density blocks planted with Dijon clones of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Pioneers Cal and Julia Lee created a legacy in the Dundee Hills so many decades ago. The second generation continues to seek innovative viticulture, stewardship of the land and produce limited production of quality wines from their family vineyards.

What I’ve been Drinking on my Summer Vacation

If my dining table could tell the tales about the many bottles it held this summer, it would go something like this: I’ve been holding on to these for a good reason, a virtual share with snippets of their storied past and what may pair well with them.

Knudsen Vineyards has had a long and award winning history. Lunch at RN76 hosted by the Knudsens introduced their second generation mission. Oregon wine pioneer, Cal Knudsen and family actually grew up in the Seattle area. Knudsen, a timber company exec, found his little slice of Burgundy in the Hills of Dundee. The family spent their summers planting and working their vineyards. In the early 70s, it was the largest vineyard in Willamette Valley at 30 acres.

Host second generation David Knudsen also happens to be President and CEO of Ostrom Mushroom Farms. So, naturally mushrooms permeated each course. There was a Mushroom Consommé en Croute accompanied by the 2014 and 2015 Chardonnay.

An Arctic Char Mi-Cuit (mee coo ee), which is a fun French way of saying pretty pink in the middle, was presented on a bed of mushroom ragout. Waiting on the wing were three glasses of Pinot Noir, the 2014, 2015 and the Estate Reserve 2015. My favorite was the 2014 for its maturity, complexity and accessibility. The 2015s were great also, they just needed more ageing.

In 1972, California’s Central Coast also had a pioneer planting vineyards. Raised on a South Dakota farm, Jerry Lohr found his way to Monterey County and planted over the years his 280 acres in the Arroyo Seco appellation.

Kristen Barnhisel is the white winemaker for J. Lohr Estates. Dinner with fresh fish dishes at Matt’s in the Market was a sumptuous meal. We tasted the Arroyo Seco Sauvignon Blanc, 2015 Riverstone and October Night Chardonnays and a 2014 Late Harvest White Riesling. It was a delightful time.

Williams Selyem was the original garagiste wine. Begun as a hobby in a garage in 1979, they rose to cult status after competing with 2,136 other wines to win the California State Fair’s Sweepstakes Prize for their 1987 Rochioli Vineyard Pinot Noir.

While talking about California wines, my friend Lindsey and I sat down one evening and savored the William Selyem 2001 South Coast Coastlands Vineyard Pinot Noir. This time we just wanted to highlight the matured wine so the nosh was crusty bread and Gruyere. The dark ruby red wine had a slight brick rim, a sign of maturity. Aromas of raspberries and tea leaves opened to juicy acidity and a weighty mouthfeel of raspberries. The lengthy finish was impressive.

Last year’s winecation included travels around Yakima and Red Mountain where I chose a few favorites and finally popped the corks this summer.

Powers Columbia Valley Malbec is from another wine pioneer. For over 30 years, Bill Powers has grown some of the finest wine grapes. Powers and son Greg planted their Badger Mountain Vineyard in 1982. The 80-acre estate transitioned to organic viticulture and in 1990, Badger Mountain Vineyard became Washington’s first Certified Organic vineyard.

Upon receiving the Washington Association of Grape Growers Lifetime Achievement Award, Bill Powers divulged, “I am the luckiest guy in the world because I get up, walk out the door and get to do what I love every day.”

With aromas of pomegranates, plums and a touch of minerality, this wine has depth and complexity. Flavors of anise, plum and minerality with a rich mouthfeel made this 2014 Columbia Valley Malbec a great match with the grilled ribs and corn on the cob on the deck overlooking the Canal with Alan, Vic and Linda.

In 1994, the Mike Andrews planted his first 20-acre plot of Cabernet Sauvignon grape vines in the middle of the family property on Horse Heaven Hills. The plot grew over the years, edging out wheat, watermelons, and corn. What started as a World War II bomb-testing area has now grown to over 1100 acres of vineyards which have produced more than 25 internationally awarded wines.

Another BBQ, this time with old friends Andy and Michele to share a gold medal winning wine. The Coyote Canyon Winery 2013 Tempranillo and dollop of Graciano grapes are sourced from H3. This well-balanced wine had a nose that drew you in. Leather, spice, and cherries mingled together. It was fantastic with the pulled pork sandwiches.

Visiting from Chicago, my longtime friend Ann and I had dinner at Place Pigale. It was a lovely celebration that kicked off with Treveri Blanc de Noir. This 100% Pinot Noir has hints of strawberries with crisp acidity that paired perfectly with the signature mussel appetizer.

For the main course, we were torn between the salmon special and the scallops on a bed of Belgian endive doused with orange vinaigrette. So we did the sensible thing and ordered both and shared. Both were delightful with the Gran Moraine Yamhill-Carlton 2013 Pinot Noir. Produced in the Burgundian tradition, it did take a bit of swirling to get it to open up. And when it did, it was heaven.

Ann and I also enjoyed NXNW Winery Columbia Valley Rose’ with a smoked salmon spread with a touch of Tabasco. The wine is a blend of seven varietals with a hint of sweetness that paired nicely with the little kick in the smoked salmon. NXNW Winery is part of King Estate Winery, a well-known Oregon winery. They began producing affordable Washington wines in 2005.

And finally, my first foray into canned wine! Yep, my friend Catie thought it would be a hilarious hostess gift when she came for dinner. We thought it was a decent quaff and a must for hiking in the mountains with requisite rations of salami, bread and cheese. Although there’s something a little unsettling opening a wine and it sounds more like a cold beer. Cheers!