Category Archives: Northwest Wines

What makes a Great Vintage?

How do you know if it’s a great vintage? While the viticulturalist is trained to know when to prune, how to manage leaf canopy and control pests and disease, for the most part, it’s the weather during the growing season that makes all the difference between good and great.

The 2019 Washington crush began the third week of August. Treveri Cellars always crosses the finish line first. And the reason for that is sparkling wines are harvested at a lower brix level (18–23°).  

In wine country, grapes are warmed by the sunshine which brings up the grape sugars and cooled at night which promotes that balancing acidity. In any vintage, a brix reading (usually around 24 brix) will signal the time to harvest grapes intended for still wines.

Brix is used to measure the sugar in grapes, the more sugar, the riper the grapes. When harvesting grapes early, the must will have less sugar and more acidity – ideal conditions for sparkling wines.

A higher brix level can be achieved by many days of hot weather, long hang time or drying the grapes. Hot weather raises the sugar levels; cool weather takes longer to reach maturity.

By comparison, the 2015 harvest – a very hot year – began August 6th.  In 2010, – a very cool year – white grapes weren’t harvested until September and no red wine grapes until October!

The 2019 grape harvesting is in full swing right now. And it’s shaping up to be a very good year. Not too hot and not too cool. I know because I’m a certified sorter, a very important and well-paid position. 

Sorters pull leaves, bugs and dried grapes out before the grapes are put into the destemmer where the grapes are separated from the stems. A destemmer is a big stainless steel tub with a big screw that pushes the grapes one way and the stems the other way. The big colander type basket at the bottom funnels the grapes and juice into one bin. The woody stems are pushed into another bin.

While sorting grapes for two wineries this past week, I tasted the grapes. One winery had Red Mountain Merlot and the other Horse Heaven Hills Merlot. And I can tell you from that tasting, Red Mountain and Horse Heaven Hills Merlot grapes tasted unique to their terroirs.

While sorting grapes, the winemaker does the scientific stuff by taking a reading of the juice to determine the brix (the sugar in the juice which will tell the winemaker what the final alcohol content may be), stabilizing the must (SO2 preserves the fruit color and kills the wild yeasts) and other winemaking techniques they may have picked up along the way.

In addition to adding SO2, Ben Smith of Cadence Winery pumped the juice out of one fermenting bin back into the same bin. This was to “stir” the juice so the SO2 was evenly distributed.

At Mosquito Fleet Winery, winemaker Brian Peterson added a 25-pound bag of oven toast oak chips to the three fermenting bins. This helps set the color and promote polyphenols. He also added a bag of dry ice to the fermenting bins – an effective way to cold soak when you don’t have refrigerated storage.

The bin mover sets the pace when a winery has tons of grapes to process. Using a pallet jack or forklift, the bins are moved around where needed – grapes to the destemmer, full fermenters to the side for a 24-hour cold soak, empty fermenters to catch the next ton of grape juice from and the bins of stems to the compost pile.

As I mentioned, certified sorters are well-paid. This year I earned two bottles of wine, a private barrel tasting, 22 gallons of saignée juice and free lunch. 

Saignée is a French term which translates “to bleed.” It’s a winemaking techniques that “bleeds” or removes juice and a few grapes from a fermenter.  Since there is a higher proportion of skins to juice, a richer more concentrated wine is the desired result of this technique. And the lightly-colored juice that is bled out will produce a rosé for next summer’s drinking pleasure.

A long time ago, I had the opportunity to taste a Carmenet Cabernet from the same vineyard, fermented in the same tank and aged in the same French oak. The only difference was the coopers used. I was stunned at the difference of what should have been a more similar than different wine. Lesson learned.

The private barrel tasting at Mosquito Fleet Winery was another educational lesson in French oak. We tasted three 2018 Cabernets aging in oak barrels. Two were the same grape, harvest, and fermentation aging in French oak barrel from different coopers, Taransaud and Bootes. The difference was very striking. The Bootes was a much bigger wine and the Taransaud was smooth and more fruit forward.

Tasting young red wine before it has been bottled is instructive but these young wines with their high acidity and tannin only hint at their true greatness after they have been in bottle for a few years. The key ingredient in my opinion, is to pay attention to the fruit. Is there enough fruit component to vault the young wine to an attractive maturity? For these two fraternal wines, the answer is a hearty Yes!

Up and down the west coast, you can look forward to the promise of a very good 2019 vintage. Cheers!

When it comes to wine, trust your palate

You’ve probably read many times, as I have,  what a wine should taste like from reviews in publications or the back labels.

Descriptive phrases that may include words like full-bodied, tropical, vanilla, buttery, citrus, cherry, brambleberry, spice, cedar, cigar box, tobacco, herbaceous or award winning, 90-some points are helpful but …

Once you absorb these words, it all comes down to your palate. Do the reviews make the wine taste any better? Sometimes yes and sometimes, not so much. Tasting is the true test of a wine’s ability to please you.

Tasting wine gives you a better idea of what grapes, styles and regions you prefer. That’s why it’s important that you get your tickets for the Kitsap Wine Festival on Saturday, August 10th

Bremerton’s Harborside Fountain Park is the sunny setting for this afternoon of sipping wine with friends and family. More than 30 wineries from Washington and Oregon will be pouring tastes of over 100 pretty delightful wines. And to enhance the experience, local restaurants will be whipping up some delectable bites.

The Kitsap Wine Festival began 11 years ago and through the years has benefitted several local nonprofits. This year, it’s the Kitsap Humane Society’s pets. Their cadre’ of volunteers will ensure an extra layer of special to the event. From the welcome to the raffle baskets, golden ticket prize to the retail shop at the end.

So, get online and buy your tickets ASAP at https://kitsapwinefestival.brownpapertickets.com

General admission includes 12 tickets, food samples, and your wine glass. But wait! There’s more! The VIP Experience includes an hour earlier access, 15 drink tickets, delectable bites, 5 raffle tickets, and your wine glass.

Come celebrate with me at the Kitsap Wine Festival! Here’s a few wineries I’m excited to try or revisit.

From the Port Angeles area, Harbinger Winery is an artisan winery with an annual case production hovering around 3000.  They’re bringing their bistro wine series which includes the 2018 Albariño fermented in stainless steel for a crisp, citrusy treat.

The La Petite Fleur is an intensely aromatic Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling blend for a unique summer wine. Dynamo Red is a gold medal winning, velvety layered wine rich with berries and toasty oak.

And happily, my favorite summertime red, the 2013 Barbera which garnered a gold at the International Women’s Wine Competition. Bring on the beefsteak tomatoes!

Also from the Olympic Peninsula is Wind Rose Cellars, a boutique winery in Sequim. During the week, it’s a traditional tasting room. And on Friday and Saturday nights, it’s live music, wine by the glass and light snacks.

Other wineries attending from this area are Eaglemount Winery, Port Townsend Vineyards, Hoodsport Winery and Camaraderie Cellars.

Moving east to the Kitsap Peninsula is Long Road Winery near Belfair. Since they don’t have a tasting room yet, they share their wines at tasting events such as the Kitsap Wine Festival. The same for Seabeck Cellars, no tasting room yet but here’s your opportunity to taste their wines from grapes shipped from eastern Washington and Oregon.

The newest of the new Kitsap Peninsula wineries is Hard Hat Winery in Poulsbo. Established by three veterans last year, here’s the occasion to try their wines while waiting for the tasting room to open.

And speaking of veterans in the wine business, the Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island will also be there pouring wines from the seven wineries on the “rock” – Amelia Wynn, Bainbridge Vineyards, Eleven, Eagle Harbor, Fletcher Bay, Perennial, Rolling Bay.

Long Cellars in eastern Washington will be pouring their 2018 Lake Chelan Pinot Gris and 2018 Dry Rosé of Pinot Gris. The 2017 Red Wine is a blend of Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet, and a 2017 Cab Franc.

From the Woodinville area be sure to stop by the Adrice Wines booth. The name Adrice is a portmanteau, (a mash-up of 2 words to make a new word) using the last names of the winemaker, Pam Adkins and co-owner Julie Bulrice. I first tasted Adrice Wines at another wine festival and was duly impressed with this craft winery transplanted from Napa Valley in 2015.

And if exploring Washington wineries is on your list, these wineries will also be there:

Davenport Cellars, Eleganté Cellars, Gouger Cellars, Mercer Estates, Michael Florentino Cellars, Monte Scarlatto Winery, Naches Heights Vineyard, Scatter Creek Winery, Silvara Cellars, Simpatico Cellars, Stina’s Cellar, Tanjuli Winery, Terra Blanca Winery & Estate Vineyards and Vino Aquino.

Finally, and most importantly, Raptor Ridge from Newberg, Oregon. Raptor Ridge is celebrating their 25th harvest with a special on their 2015 Brut Rose for $25 on the 25th of each month!

At the Kitsap Wine Festival, they will share the – rare for the Pacific Northwest – Estate Grüner Veltliner. I first had this wine back in 2017 while visiting the Chehalem Mountain wineries. Its balanced fruit, acidity and minerality make this the most food friendly of wines.

Raptor Ridge will also be pouring the 2018 Rosé of Pinot Noir, a blend of two vineyards, one in the McMinnville AVA and the other in the Eola Amity AVA. Another of their wines I can highly recommend.

Visit the Kitsap Wine Festival site for the latest on who will be pouring and more importantly to buy your tickets. The Kitsap Humane Society and I thank you!

Cheers!

Water and Wine: Exploring Lake Chelan’s bounty

There’s a colorful collection of brochures, maps and business cards piled on the desk reminding me of a brief but fantastic visit to Lake Chelan Wine Country.

The sunshine, miles of blue water views and surrounding green hillsides sprinkled with vineyards and wineries painted a pleasant setting to explore.

There were stories from winemakers and tasting room staff who shared their passion. Here are my top 5 stories about the Lake Chelan’s water and wine industries.

Story One: The brief history of the Lake Chelan wine industry.

In the years leading up to my momentous wine-cation, Lake Chelan was all apples and tourism. The hills encircling the popular 50-mile long lake was once primarily apple orchards, but now many trees have been replanted to vineyards.

The first commercial vineyards were planted in 1998. From the first bonded winery in 2001, it only took eight years for Lake Chelan to become Washington’s 11th American Viticultural Area (AVA).

Today, there are over 30 wineries and tasting rooms nestled among the 31 hillside vineyards. Almost 300 acres of vineyards are planted to a wide range of grapes – Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Clairette Blanche, Counoise, Gewürztraminer, Malbec, Merlot, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah, Picardan, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Roussanne, Syrah, Tempranillo and Viognier.

Story Two: Bringing Rhône to Lake Chelan

Cairdeas (Car dis) Winery is the passion of the dynamic duo of Lacey and Charlie Lybecker. At a Taste Washington event a few years ago, they introduced me to their Rhône-styled wines with Gaelic names such as Caislean an Papa. Given my Irish heritage and love of Rhone, this is high on my favorite Washington wineries list.

How this family winery evolved from beer to Sauvignon Blanc to their Lake Chelan winery fermenting unusual- for Washington –  grapes is a remarkable story.

While living and working in west Seattle, Lacey would bring home a bottles of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. They would compare the different producers and learned what a difference there could be in wines even from the same area.

After years of research, their passion for Rhône wines mushroomed. They were the first Washington winery to plant Picardan, a little known white grape from southern Rhône.

Traditionally, those AOC wines such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape can be blended with up to 13 red and white varietals. Following that tradition, Clairette blanche and Syrah vines were planted in the former apple orchard surrounding their winery.

Cuttings for these little known vines came from California’s Tablas Creek Winery, a partnership between Chateau de Beaucastel’s Perrin Brothers and Haas family of Vineyard Brands. In 1989, Tablas Creek began importing vine cuttings and building a grapevine nursery in Paso Robles.

And now Cairdeas Winery has a little bit of Washington Châteauneuf-du-Pape or in Gaelic, Caislean an Papa for you to enjoy.

Story Three: Diversifying – Apples and Grapes

Fielding Hills Winery was established in 2000. Owners Mike and Karen Wade began as many wine pioneers began, in the apple and cherry business.

In 1998, in need of more grapes for their growing winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle offered apple growers a contract to plant grape vines where apple orchards stood. The Wades transplanted 10 acres near Mattawa as a trial venture.

Merlot and Cab were first, later Syrah, Cab Franc and Malbec were planted. The Wade’s Riverbend Vineyard, not far from Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Indian Wells Vineyard, now totals 23 acres of coveted grapes.

Grapes were first sold to other producers but eventually the wine bug bit. In 2016, after making Fielding Hills wines for 16 years, the Wades opened their first tasting room overlooking Lake Chelan.

Fielding Hills Winery’s production is small at 2400 cases. The predominantly rich, red Wahluke Slope wines are award winning blends from the Riverbend Vineyard planted 22 years ago.

For warmer summer months, an amazing Riverbend Rose made from 100% Cabernet Franc was added to the all red lineup. The first year it was made, it sold out in two days.

More Rosé and white wines, Chenin Blanc, Roussanne and Chardonnay are being made with the help of Tyler Armour.

The Wade’s Concentric Wine Project label is based on the idea of “Serious experiments. Fun wines.” Armour is winemaker alongside owner and winemaker Mike Wade.

The Pinot Gris Pétillant Naturel is refreshingly crisp. It’s the one to grab and enjoy while taking in the panoramic view. The wine is bottled before primary fermentation is finished, creating a natural, lightly sparkling wine.

Their other unusual but perfect summer wine is a red made from Gamay Noir. That’s the grape that Gamay Beaujolais is made from. This lighter bodied red is wonderful slightly chilled.

Story Four: New World wines from Old World tutelage

C R Sandidge’s winemaker, Ray Sandidge has much to brag about. He’s a charming storyteller and a great winemaker. Growing up in a military background, he has traveled the world.

The tales he tells of wandering around Japan as a very young child and his remarkable opportunity to make wine for an old established winery in Germany are entertaining and insightful.

This shaped his winemaking to some degree. His Sabrina White is co-fermented with 67% Riesling and 23% Gewurztraminer. The creation is dry, aromatic and perfect for a summer day. The Rosé of Syrah, another dry, crisp wine that is the palest of pink evokes the distinguished wines of Provence.

His rich, aromatic reds include Caris, a blend of Malbec, Merlot and Cab Franc; Whistle Punk Red is Syrah with a dollop of Malbec and Petite Syrah; and Tri*Umph – as in three Bordeaux grapes – is Malbec, Cab and Merlot.

Save room for dessert! The No. 18 Devil’s Smoke Stack Port, predominantly Petite Sirah with a splash of Syrah is a blend of 5 vintages.

Story Five: A vacation wonderland

Lake Chelan is a tourist’s paradise. Water sports, winter sports, hiking and biking trails, wineries, breweries and cideries abound.

The population of about 4,000 residents grows to over 25,000. Where to put all those vacationers? Hotels, motels, lodges and vacation rentals, that’s where.

In fact, Chelan County ranks an astounding 4th out of 39 Washington counties in lodging tax collected. Many knew what I finally appreciated, Lake Chelan is indeed paradise.

Vintage Lake Chelan

Chelan is a Salish word meaning “deep water.” And it’s no wonder, Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in the United States. It has long had an excellent reputation for fishing and other water related activities. Today, Lake Chelan also has an excellent reputation for wine.

The first grape vines were planted along the shores of Lake Chelan in 1891. But it wasn’t until almost 100 years later, that Bob Christopher and Steve Kludt planted a vineyard that was the beginning of something big.

In the years leading up to that momentous occasion, Lake Chelan had been a successful orchard region but when the apple market collapsed in the 1990s, orchards in eastern Washington were taken out and grape vines went in.

By 2001, Lake Chelan Winery had become the first bonded winery in the area. It would only be eight years later when Lake Chelan became Washington’s 11th American Viticultural Area (AVA).

Granted by the federal government, an AVA is an appellation of indicating an area with distinguishing climate, soil and physical features that makes it unique. The Lake Chelan AVA encompasses the southernmost and easternmost areas of the lake and the surrounding lands that are at or below 2,000 feet in elevation.

Lake Chelan’s soil is a coarse, sandy sediment with significant amounts of quartz and mica that lend a certain minerality to the wines. The AVA is also notable for the significant “lake effect” that fosters mild temperatures resulting in a longer growing season.

In the ensuing decade, more pioneers followed Christopher and Kludt’s lead and more vineyards were planted and wineries bonded.  Paul Benson of Benson Vineyards, Mary and Bob Broderick opened Chelan Estate, Denny Evans started Tunnel Hill Winery, Bob Jankelson introduced Tsillan (pronounced Chelan) Cellars, Larry Lehmbecker launched Vin du Lac, Lynn and Henry Munneke introduced Chelan Ridge Winery, Dean and Heather Neff instigated Nefarious Cellars, Katy and Milum Perry began Tildio Winery, Ray Sandidge unveiled C. R. Sandidge  and Don and Judy Phelps unveiled Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards.

In 2015, vineyards had grown to 140 acres with 15 bonded wineries and a Wine Grape Growers Association. In 2018, the Lake Chelan AVA had over 30 wineries with about 300 acres planted to Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Clairette Blanche, Counoise, Gewürztraminer, Malbec, Merlot, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Syrah, and Viognier.

On June 7th and 8th, Lake Chelan celebrates 10 years as an official American Viticulture Area (AVA). The Lake Chelan Wine Valley and members of the Lake Chelan community invite you to join the festivities dubbed “Vintage Lake Chelan.”

At Vintage Lake Chelan, you’ll have the opportunity to taste delectable wines at the welcome reception, two seminars and a grand tasting at Larc Hill Vineyard Ranch on the South Shore.

The inaugural Vintage Lake Chelan will kick off with a welcome reception on Friday, June 7 from 6-8 p.m. at the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center. This is a great  opportunity to earn about this exciting AVA while tasting a selection of wines and bubblies, and talking with the wine industry folks.

The next day, Vintage Lake Chelan features two tasting seminars, led by representatives of the Walter Clore Center, and a grand tasting event.

“The Pioneers of the Lake Chelan AVA” will delve into those visionaries of the Lake Chelan AVA. Panelists include Alan Busacca, the geologist that studied the region and filed the official petition for the Lake Chelan AVA, Steve Kludt of Lake Chelan Winery, Bob Broderick of Chelan Estate Winery, Judy Phelps of Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards, Heather Neff of Nefarious Cellars, and Larry Lehmbecker of Vin du Lac Winery.

“Lake Chelan AVA – A Balancing Act from North to South” is a deep dive into the most extensively planted varietals on both the north and south shores, including Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah.

Panelists and their wines include Rocky Pond Winery’s Shane Collins and his 2017 Riesling; Jason Morin with Ancestry Cellars 2016 Reunion Dry Lake Vineyard Chardonnay; a 2016 Estate Pinot Noir presented by Michelle Fanton of Tunnel Hill Winery; a 2016 Whole Cluster Pinot Noir offered by winemaker Oscar Castillo of Lake Chelan Winery; Dean Neff of Nefarious Cellars will pour his Defiance Vineyard Syrah, and founder/winemaker Angela Jacobs of WineGirl Wines will pour her Tildio Vineyards Syrah.

A grand tasting with 20+ wineries culminates that evening with delectable bites and delicious wines of the Lake Chelan Wine Valley. You can see the full lineup at http://lakechelanwinevalley.com/vintage-lake-chelan

A couple of highlights – CR Sandidge’s 2018 Sabrina is a white blend made by co-fermenting Gewurztraminer and Riesling.

Early on this Washington winemaker also worked at Weingut Georg Breuer in Germany. While there, Sandidge helped produce the highly acclaimed 1989 Georg Breuer Berg Rottland Trockenbeerenauslese. Winemaker Ray Sandidge has produced highly rated wines both red and white that have earned many awards in many competitions up and down the west coast.

Also high on my favorite Washington wineries is Cairdeas (say ‘Cardis’), an ancient Gaelic word meaning friendship, goodwill or alliance. West Seattle transplants Charlie and Lacey Lybecker believe good wine should be shared with friends, goodwill spread at every opportunity, and the alliances created have brought their flair for Rhone-styled wines to Lake Chelan.

The Lybecker’s dedication to Rhône Valley varietals is evident in their estate vineyard, planted to Syrah and two unusual white varietals: Clairette Blanche and Picardan. Both are widely planted in the renowned Châteauneuf-du- Pape appellation of France.

Tickets for single-day and weekend passes range from $45 to $275, and can be purchased online. For more information and details on Vintage Lake Chelan, check it out at www.vintagelakechelan.com

 

Chenin Blanc an underrated grape that offers so much

I tasted some amazing bottles of wine recently. The depth, complexity and sheer loveliness was so great that it needs to be shared with you.

It may come as a surprise that it was not a Chardonnay, Cabernet or Syrah. Indeed, it wasn’t even from Washington or California. It was from the icon of vinifera grapes, France.

The French make a white Burgundy that every Chardonnay producer wants to hold a candle to. Same with Cabernet. Who can beat a first growth Bordeaux or even a super-second?  Have you ever tried a red wine from northern Rhone? Where Syrah is co-fermented with Viognier? All perfection.

But here is another grape you must taste. It’s a grape that was once held in high esteem, but because Chardonnay, Cabernet and Syrah fetch more profit, this grape’s popularity has waned. This is my shot at convincing you to try a bottle of Chenin Blanc. Or Vouvray. Or Montlouis. Or Bonnezeaux. All from the delightful, versatile Chenin Blanc grape.

The Loire Valley, west of Paris, stretches 630 miles from the Atlantic through the center of France. Dubbed the “Garden of France,” its well-groomed gardens are bountiful, castles and chateaux magnificent, and its vineyards produce great whites.

Indigenous to this region, Chenin Blanc is produced in the center of the Loire Valley with Muscadet to the west and Sauvignon Blanc to the east. Chenin Blanc comes in a wide range of styles from a lush sweetie (Quarts de Chaume) to bone dry (Savennières). Its wonderful sparkling wines are labeled Mousseaux or Cremant.

The climate, soil and topography give the wines a minerality and acidity that balances the concentrated flavors pear, peach, lemongrass and honey flavors. Its greatest asset is its acidity, which is ever present even under warm growing conditions like that in eastern Washington. That balancing acidity also makes these wines age-worthy and food worthy.

Aged Chenin Blancs unveil complex aromatics, body and minerality that make these wines so distinguished. Have you ever had a 9-year old bone-dry Chenin Blanc that was the best white wine you’ve ever tasted?

If not, you may want to try a Domaine des Baumard 2010 Clos du Paillon Savennières. It was sublime. The best wine at the gathering. Everyone was blown away by this amazing, old Chenin Blanc. It paired particularly well with the Thai mussels in coconut milk.

The other outstanding Chenin Blanc we tasted was the Domaine des Baumard 2009 Quarts de Chaume. A luscious, honeyed wine with remarkable acidity for a 10-year old sweet white wine. The 375ml bottle yielded about an ounce and a half in each glass. Enough to enjoy the concentrated aromas for some time before indulging in the taste that lingered forever. A slab of pate is the quintessential accompaniment.

Many years ago, domestic Chenin Blanc was a well-received jug wine with few exceptions. One that stood out was Chappellet Vineyard’s old vine Chenin Blanc. High up on Pritchard Hill in Napa Valley, the original vines were producing when Donn and Molly Pritchard purchased the property back in the 1960s.

In the 1980s, Washington was white wine country. Specifically, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat and Chenin Blanc. Two wineries that excelled in Chenin Blanc were Kiona Vineyards and Bookwalter Winery.

If you wander to Red Mountain’s Kiona Vineyard, their old vine Chenin Blanc is a must. In this AVA, well-known for its powerful reds, this pioneering family planted Chenin Blanc in 1976 and then another block in 1983. If the conditions were right, the result was a heavenly ice wine.

But with warmer and warmer winters, ice wine conditions are becoming few and far between. Kiona rolled with the change in climate. Their newest edition is Fortunate Sun, a dessert wine much like a Vin Santo. By pruning the leaf canopy late in the season, the autumn sun works its magic to raisin the grapes. Thus concentrating flavors, aromas and sweetness.

Not too far away in Richland, Bookwalter Winery has a drier version of an old vine Chenin from Yakima Valley’s Willard Vineyard, planted in 1980. Bookwalter hand harvests and whole cluster presses then ferments at cold temps with 60% in concrete egg for 4 months and the remainder in stainless steel. Delightfully delicious.

Other dry and off dry, crisp, aromatic, full-flavored Washington versions that compare favorably to those produced in the Loire Valley:

Lobo Hills Roth Rock Chenin Blanc

McKinley Springs Horse Heaven Hills Chenin

L’Ecole No. 41 Yakima Valley Chenin Blanc

Cedergreen Willard Vineyards Chenin Blanc

This delightful yet highly underrated grape offers so much. So much complexity, flavors and aromas. And its wine pairs so well with a wide range of foods from appetizer to dessert throughout each season, won’t you try some today?

Cheers!

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!

 

Harvest is Over, Time for Celebrations

Harvest is over. Crush is complete. Punch-downs and pressings are nearly finished. The wines from the 2018 vintage are fermenting awaiting the next stage. The year’s busiest shift for a winemaker and his crew is winding down. With the intense harvest season in the rear view mirror, now’s the perfect time to celebrate!

Harvest wine tours abound this month. Each region has their own special way of celebrating. Here’s a list of regions to visit and wines to taste. Most events take place in the next few weeks, just in time for you to try something special and snag it for Thanksgiving dinner.

The Harvest Wine and Cider Tour on the Olympic Peninsula is self-guided with small batch and award winning wineries and cideries from Chimacum to Port Angeles. These small craft wineries and cideries will throw open their doors and welcome you and your friends on November 10th and 11th.

At Harbinger Winery on the far side of Port Angeles, they are serving up a palatial tour of northwest bounty with award winning wines paired with slow cooked pot roast with root vegetables, apple and chevre bites, and a wild mushroom and sausage quiche. I envision lounging on the couch sipping great wines and enjoying the repast. One of my favorites is their Barbera, a wonderful wine that is crisp and perfect with a bowl of hearty stew. Their Bolero is a blend of two prolific Spanish grapes, Tempranillo and Garnacha aged in Hungarian and American oak.

Finnriver Farm and Cidery makes all kinds of great ciders from traditional cider apples from their 50 acre Chimacum Valley farm. Last spring, I was invited to Finnriver for lunch (catered by the Port Hadlock Inn) and a property tour as part of the Taste Washington on the Farm event. I was greatly impressed with this sustainable operation with many partners. This is so worth the visit, if you’re interested in traditional cider apple varieties, lambs, geese, herb farming, restoring a salmon creek or incredibly delicious ciders. At the event and most weekends, you can taste a slice of wood fired pizza hot off the Dented Buoy oven made with local seasonal ingredients.

Nestled in the woods by Port Angeles, Camaraderie Cellars will be serving up the newly released 2015 Sangiovese and 2014 Merlot paired with the Turkey Pumpkin Chili and pheasant sausage. This Award winning winery is all about big reds made for the dinner table.

Tickets for this Tour are available at Brown Paper Tickets and will get you a free tasting at each of the wineries, a commemorative wine glass and perhaps a bottle or two to grace the Thanksgiving table?

Bainbridge Island’s annual Wine on the Rock presents a Wine & Charcuterie Weekend on November 10 and 11th, just in time for your Thanksgiving Dinner menu planning.  Bainbridge Island winemakers will be on hand babysitting fermentations, pouring or just greeting their visitors.

This is a marvelous opportunity to meet with the winemakers, from 12-5pm on both Saturday & Sunday. Tickets are valid for both days (one visit at each winery) and includes the usual event wine glass, wine tasting at each winery, charcuterie to complement the wine tasting, and a four bottle wine tote.

The transportation options are numerous, buses and ferries, Uber and Lyft and the downright cool

Note: Amelia Wynn Winery will not be open for this event. Instead, their downtown Winslow Way tasting room will be open to taste and buy their fabulous wines.

From Friday, November 9 through Sunday, November 11th, a fabulous wine tasting takes place in and around Prosser in the Yakima Valley. The Drink Prosser Wine Club Experience is a wonderful opportunity for wine club members of participating wineries to be a guest member of other participating Prosser wineries. Grab your pass from your “home winery” and enjoy member benefits throughout town. And if you’re not a participating Prosser winery club member, you can still purchase a pass and be a Prosser Winery member for a day!

In Walla Walla, you can wander in the footsteps of winemakers, eating lunch at their favorite places, taste their wines and visit their favorite watering holes. Each weekend through December 16th has amazing itineraries to follow: Holly Turner at Three Rivers Winery, Jean-Francois Pellet at Pepper Bridge and Amavi Cellars, Cody Janett at Forgeron Cellars, or Ashly Trout, philanthropist, founder and winemaker at Brook & Bull Cellars and Vital Wine. There’s more to check out, winemakers, itineraries and other fun activities at Wander Walla Walla

These itineraries are free, self-guided and pay-as-you-go experiences. When you register for free, you do get perks at the winery of the weekend. Such as waived tasting fees and 10% off a purchase of two bottles or more.

There are also many regions that traditionally host Thanksgiving in the Wine Country. More on that and what wines work best with that traditional turkey dinner next time. Cheers!

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

Kitsap Wine Festival 2018

The Kitsap Wine (and beer and cider) Festival is fast approaching. For the tenth year, it continues at Harborview Fountain Park on Bremerton’s inviting waterfront.

Since it began in 2008, the festival has featured live music, delicious bites from local restaurants and, of course, mostly Washington wines (and lately local beers and ciders). This is a great opportunity to explore and discover new and emerging wines without a trek into the crazy traffic across the pond.

Wineries to check out include Belfair’s Mosquito Fleet Winery which placed in the top 3 of the Seattle Times’ 50 best wines of 2017. Other Washington, Oregon and California wineries to become familiar with are California’s Ava Grace Vineyards, Port Angeles’ Camaraderie Cellars, Davenport Cellars is back, Eaglemount Winery & Cidery from Port Townsend, Walla Walla’s Eleganté Cellars, Bainbridge’s Eleven Winery, Port Angeles’ Harbinger Winery (bring the Barbera!), Hoodsport Winery (Island Belle?), Long Cellars (Petite Sirah and Dry Riesling, please) , Masquerade Wine Company  (Syrah, sirah, please, oh please)  Michael Florentino Cellars, Naches Heights Vineyard, Nota Bene Cellars, the one year old Port Townsend Vineyards, Scatter Creek Winery (Key Auntie?), Silvara Cellars, Stina’s Cellars ( bring the ice wine!!), Red Mountain’s Terra Blanca Winery (I love you,  Onyx), Trinchero Family Estates, Williamette Valley Vineyards, Wind Rose Cellars (Dolcetto? Primitivo?) and the Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island.

For several years now you can also buy your new favorite wine at their on-site wine shop. Proceeds from the Kitsap Wine (and beer and cider) Festival benefit Olympic College Alumni Association programs supporting student success.

WHEN:  Saturday, August 11, 2018 from 2 p.m. to 5:15 p.m.
WHERE: Harborside Fountain Park, adjacent to the Bremerton ferry terminal
PRICING: Event passes for the Kitsap Wine Festival are on sale now. All guests must be 21 years or older to attend. Event pass pricing is as follows:

§  $60, June 1-August 10

§  $75, August 11

PURCHASE: Visit kitsapwinefestival.com to purchase tickets