Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Spring Valley Family Reunion

During the Spring Release Weekend, Spring Valley Vineyard had an afternoon gathering for family and friends of their wine, appropriately titled "Family Reunion." Steve received an invitation and he was a smart man to include me (ahem!). The Spring Valley Estate is one of his favorite local wineries for many reasons. He loves the drive out to the vineyards, which are a dozen or so miles north of Walla Walla in hilly wheat country with the Blue Mountains rising behind; he loves visiting with Serge Laville, Spring Valley's expert young winemaker who was born in Paris and who learned the wine business in the Rhone; and he loves Spring Valley's wine, especially the two blends, "Frederick" and "Uriah." These are Bordeaux-style blends, and even though Steve's from California and has tasted his fair share of great California wine, he always says the Frederick and Uriah rank as two of the best red wines now being made in North America. Who am I to argue?

The reunion was held behind the winery building in a clearing by a pond with a beautiful view of the hillside vineyards. It was really a lovely day. If you didn't want to walk from your car across a mowed field to the clearing, one of the Corkrum/Derby family members would happily transport you to the picnic via utility vehicle. Out by the pond there were tables of wine to be tasted and food to enjoy -- a beautiful assortment of French cheeses, Italian salumis, smoked salmon, fresh asparagus, artisan breads, pickled condiments and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate truffles. We were quick to notice that the foods paired beautiful with the wines we sampled.

The first wine I tasted was the 2004 Uriah (60% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Franc, 4.5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3.5% Petit Verdot), and boy, I was overwhelmed by the flavors that sparkled in my mouth: dark plum and blackberry with an essence of spices. Some say that crushed stone and harvested wheat can be found on the tongue after a sip of this wine, which makes sense considering the history of the Spring Valley terroir.

Then we tried the 2003 Frederick (71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc). Thick and dense! A very inky-colored wine with a ripe fruit-forward taste of blackberry pie and licorice. It finishes with a sweet, yet tannic vanilla finish. It it so rich it makes your mouth purple!

The 2003 Derby is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and is an intense and rich wine of blackberry, spices and brown sugar - like blackberry cobbler! We visited with owner Dean Derby (former football player with the Steelers) about this wine -- his namesake. Dean, with a cowboy's amiable humility, admitted to us that he is still a newbie about wine, but the first day he tasted this wine he said he actually noticed the rich blackberries on his palate and how proud he felt as even he, an old beer drinker, that he could detect this delightful sensory evaluation. A couple days later Steve was back out at Spring Valley to interview Serge for The Economist (while I was home pulling weeds! Harrumph!), and together they barrel-sample the 2004 Derby. Steve says it's an unbelievably good wine -- complex and layered without being over-bearing, full of flavors and aromas that just go on and on. Spring Valley will bottle it later this summer and release it in the fall.

Those naysayers of Merlot would be begging forgiveness if their lips ever landed on Spring Valley's beautiful and very well-balanced 2004 Merlot, called Muleskinner. Scents of bramble berries and cassis mixed with cigar box and hay (again, the terroir of the past) is inviting. A mouth of plums and other dark fruit and finishes with coffee and chocolate covered cherries. This was another wine that made the palate come alive.

After visiting with Serge and members of the Corkrum/Derby family, our visited ended in one of the old rustic out buildings where a large collage-scrapbook stood with pictures and documents of the the family's rich farm heritage from 1865 to present. A very lovely afternoon.

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