Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Sense of Place - The Final Chapter

A Sense of Place and Sense of Place - Part II were published in May and June. I apologize for being so late with the final chapter.

Day 1 - The afternoon.

Horse Heaven Hills AVA - When I was a little girl, the parents would line us up in the back seat of the car on a Sunday afternoon and off we would venture to the Tri-Cities in Washington state. Sometimes for dinner, sometimes for a picnic and usually a stop to visit our aunt and uncle. Coming back to Walla Walla, before Wallula and after the Boise Cascade plant, we would watch the illusion of the "magic gates" to the Columbia River close, also known as the Wallula Gap. As the car would travel 45-50 mph south on the old two-lane road, we would watch to our right the illusion of the ragged basalt ridges from each side of the river slowly moving together until they met. Then we would yell out from the back seat, "The gates are closed!"

The Wallula Gap is the prominent area carved between the Horse Heaven Hills on the West side of the Columbia and the foothills of the Blue Mountain on the East side. My parents, especially my Dad, would have never dreamed that some day there would be green vineyards on those rocks that towered the powerful Columbia River.

The first afternoon of our vineyard tour was winding down for the day, or at least I thought it was. Our host drove us to the area where the Horse Heaven Hills Appellation lies. Growers have been raising grapes in the Horse Heaven Hills since 1972, but the AVA was established in 2005. These hills are considered to be one of the most distinguished of the Columbia Valley appellations as it encompasses 570,000 acres (approximately 6,000 in production) on a large wedge of land that starts on the north hills of the Yakima Valley appellation to the slopes moving south facing the Columbia River. It was one long, curvy, rock-filled, dusty 12-mile stretch of road and all the way to who knows where, but I kept quiet in the back seat as I was just along for the ride and just damn glad to be there. And all of a sudden - - there it was - - the Wallula Vineyard - with the most overwhelming view from any vineyard I had seen in my entire life. Words still escape me.

We had met up with Wallula Vineyard owner, Bill "Bronco Billy" Den Hoed and he drove us to the edge of the basalt bluffs that rose above the great Columbia River. There were man-made tiers after tiers built to accommodate each basalt bluff and on each tier there was a block of green new vines. We eased down a narrow switch-back road after switch back that barely teetered on the edge of each bluff (I think "Bronco Bill" got a kick out of seeing our white knuckles clutched to our seats). The lower we got, we were able to view the marks left behind by the ancient Missoula Floods and where they deposited loads of silt on the volcanic fractured basalt. With each switchback the Columbia became closer and the wind became fiercer on this warm sunny day. I could almost reach out and touch the state of Oregon.

It took three years for the Den Hoed family to grade and plant the tiers upon tiers of vines. There are 650 acres with a combination of classic Bordeaux and Rhone influenced varietals, including several Italian-style varietals and one of the most impressive was the special 130-acre block of Riesling. This block of Riesling was established exclusively for Randall Grahm, of the California Bonny Doon Vineyard. The biodynamic-raised Riesling is for Grahm's new project in Washington State, the Pacific Rim Winery outside of Richland, WA. Den Hoed tells of Grahm laying on a small ledge of basalt where it meets with a fierce wind, but if you lay on your stomach you are one with the hawk's view. However, he warned us not to stand up too quick or a fierce wind could take you. If I had never a touch of vertigo before, this was my opportunity. I politely passed on the hawk's view.

We stood in the silence absorbing the awe-inspiring view from the edge of a bluff. Not a sound around us other than the wind slapping against our bodies. Our host, Gilles Nicault, general manager and winemaker for Long Shadows Winery, broke the silence, "It's everything a winemaker could ask for...I love this terroir."

Day Two:

We were worn out from the day and evening before. The first evening, we spent a late night with our new friends dining on good wine and food. Our evening finally ended as we fell into bed, face first, still with our clothes on, to which I groggily announced, "I hate vineyard boot-camp."

Obviously that feeling of "hate" disappeared as soon as the alarm rang. We were up, dressed, and with coffee, eagerly awaiting for Gilles, our host, to start day two of tour to vineyard appellations unknown.

Wahluke Slope AVA - This particular stretch of highway looked familar to me. It was on the way to the Vantage area and Hanford Reach National Monument. I couldn't see anything ahead of me other than slopes of sagebrush and more slopes of sagebrush. A desert. Finally, I saw green! The green vineyards of Stone Tree. Stone Tree is a 250-acre vineyard owned and managed by Tedd Wildman. We were now in the Wahluke Slope Appellation.

Wahluke Slope AVA was established in 2006. This 81,000-acre region is naturally bounded by the Columbia River to the west and south, the Saddle Mountains on the north and by the east of Hanford. There are over 20 vineyards, one winery and two wine production facilities at this time, with approximately 5,200 acres of vineyards. This AVA harvests about twenty percent of the total wine grape acreage in the state. Wahluke Slope is one of the more drier and warmer climates in the whole state of Washington. This climate allows the vineyard owners control of vine vigor and ripening through irrigation.

This visit to the Stone Tree Vineyard was like a homecoming to our host. Gilles and Tedd went way back to the early 90's when Gilles was a intern-winemaker on an exchange from France. As we toured the vineyard, Tedd explains to us that the Wahluke Slope AVA was also defined by the Missoula Floods, while pointing to a huge chunk of petrified wood that traveled along with the floods. The Stone Tree Vineyard has the popular Bordeaux and Rhone-style varietals that we have seen in the other AVA's, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a few rows of Zinfandel and especially Primitivo. Those two varietals are usually seen in northern California.

Back in the car to another vineyard of the Wahluke Slope. We meet up with Todd Cameron of the greater Sagemoor Vineyards. We followed him to the 360-acre Weinbau Vineyard and met up with site manager, Miguel Rodriguez. Miguel has been caring for these vines since 1986. Even after working with these vines for 20-years, Miguel says that everyday he is always learning something new. Miquel and Todd explains about the challenges that the extreme weather brings to the vineyard. The warmth of the desert to the occasional frost. Watching Miguel grab a handful of leaves from a vine, he tell us that if the leaves are cool to the touch, there is no need to irrigate that day, even in the hottest weather. There wasn't a doubt how Miguel knew each and every vine like his own children.

We headed back to the Tri-Cities for lunch. We dined on salads and ice tea while enjoying a different view of the great Columbia River and this time it was on flat-land. General manager of Sagemoor Vineyards, Kent Waliser, joined us. Kent told us to forget everything we had ever heard or read on how "vines seek out water." He explained that plants do not seek out water - - plants follow water. If you irrigate too much then the roots will follow the water's depth and then of course, the canopy of the vine will grow like crazy.

The desert land of Washington state makes for a perfect growing conditions for the vines. The caretakers of these vineyards control the water intake with drip irrigation. Controlling the canopy also allows the caretaker to control the sunlight's exposure to the fruit on the vine. This exposure to light leads to the control of ripeness and sugar content. Events of man and nature working together that gives us a satisfying and memorable bottle of wine - - yes, great wines are made in the vineyard.

Day two was winding down for us and we were still in awe of the scenery. Our brains were filled with so information, they hurt and we were almost speechless. If all of this scenery and information weren't enough, our next stop would be at a winery. And not just any winery in the state of Washington, but the new building that has been referred to by many as "the most beautiful winery that you will never see."

Our magic key into the The Long Shadows Winery, west of Walla Walla, was Gilles Nicault, who had been our vineyard-tour host for the last two days. Gilles is one of the vintners partner and managing winemaker for Long Shadows. Gilles pours through the repoirtoire of Long Shadow's distinguished wines made in the Walla Walla facility and produced by some of the most acclaimed and celebrated winemakers in the world. And to think -- these beautiful wines we tasted that afternoon, their journey all began in those vineyards that we visited earlier.

As our host swirls a glass of red wine, he tells us how you have to love the land, the vines and the weather. "It’s hard. It’s difficult. You have to love it," Gilles says. "But this is what I taste in these wines. I taste love.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Adamant Cellars Semillon

Those who know my tastes in wine can tell you that Semillon is not one of my favorite grapes. You know, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I've never warmed up to it. Sure, it’s just okay blended with another white like Sauvignon Blanc, but on its own - can_not_do_it. At the same time, I am trying really hard, I really am, to learn to enjoy this wine. The reason? To practice what I preach - -

My preach? Get beyond the reds people! Why limit your wine experiences? One of my wine pet peeves happens behind the tasting room bar. Behind the bar you will always have certain customers who want you to know that they are rather wine savoir-faire and could replace you and your little cork screw, too, Dorothy. However, they blow it when they are quick with a dismissive, but superior, "Uhhh - - I don’t dooo whitesss..." (complete with eye roll) and you can almost hear a hiss from the "s" at the end of the sentence. Hmmm - would professional wine critics, judges and even Master Sommeliers get very far with attitudes like that?

So in my quest to finally find a Semillon that I liked, I didn’t have to go far because this Semillon found me! In June, when wine tasting with fellow blogger, Gene the notorious "Seattle Wine Blogger", he made a quick trip into Adamant Cellars to buy a bottle of wine he had previously tasted. Of course, I followed to see what I was missing out on and there it was - - I tasted the white wine before I knew what it was - - a perfectly chilled Semillon! And the verdict? I liked it! I really liked it! Gene, who knew my dislike for Semillon, could not believe his own ears when I announced, "Wow! What a bright, crisp wine! Perfect for the summer! I really like this. What is it?"

Devin Stinger, winemaker and owner of Adamant Cellars, really did this grape justice. I think the reason why I enjoyed this Semillon so was due to the fact that the grapes only met with steel and zero oak. I was able to taste the fruit without the heavy swipe from the old oak tree. A single designated vineyard wine, Walla Walla’s Les Collines, and only 180 cases of this Bordeaux-rooted white were made. Definitely check it out because two weeks ago Devin said there wasn't much of this 2006 vintage left.

This is one of the first releases for Adamant Cellars. They are currently part of the new Port of Walla Walla incubator winery project at the airport. Devin also released a Rose’ - 2006 for the summer, using the Saigne method in a small stainless steel tank. It was a blend of 65% Syrah, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Merlot. Sorry - all sold out, but I can vouch for this fresh and fruity Rose' - delicious!

Named for a legendary stone of impenetrable hardness and sometimes identified with a diamond, Adamant is definitely a winery I would recommend to be there for their future releases.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Freshly Pressed

Wine blogging friend, Jill Bernheimer, of Domaine547 has one of the most refreshing and exciting wine sites around. On her site, it states that no snobbery or attitude is allowed and if you disagree then you will be met with the talking wine bottle and cheese wedge who will remind you, "more wine, less attitude."

Not only does Domaine547 offer a blog to their readers, but an online wine store, too! There’s a great selection of wines from Argentina, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and California - - now if we can get Jill to start selling wines from Washington, especially those from Walla Walla. She will in time, as long as I keep heckling her about it.

Sometimes Jill likes to take time off from blogging and bring in guest bloggers to do the messy job of spraining the brain and pushing the keys, and on occasion I have been there in her time of need. Last week Jill asked me several "pushy" questions and of course, I was left with only one choice - - give her "pushy answers."

Anyways - I am thrilled to be on her interview list. In the mean time, sit back and scroll through Domaine547, but leave your wine snobbery and attitude at the door.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Wine Buyer's Poll

Do you purchase wines online? If not, have you considered purchasing wines online and if so, what is important to you? Please answer the poll. If you have any other comments about the whole online wine buying experience, please feel free to use the comment section.

Thanks for your time!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Cooking Through The Walla Walla Grape Vine

For the month of August (I missed July due to vacation - sorry) my guest gourmet and talented foodie is Kris Reed from Rare Finds in Walla Walla. Rare Finds, Inc. started out as an online store. Not only was it an outlet to discover and purchase unique and tasty artisan foods, but most of all it provided a year-round outlet for small artisan food producers to sell their products. The site was so successful, Kris took the next step and opened up a retail location on Main Street in Walla Walla. Kris has it all - appetizers, condiments and sauces, jams, cookies, candy, pasta, spices and more! Rare Finds is the source for artisan foods.

Kris told me that she gets constant requests for Walla Walla Sweet Onion products and she is adding products that feature our sweet and homegrown globes. In fact, the recipe from Kris features Walla Walla Sweet Onions! She says this onion pie makes a great side dish for a BBQ or picnics (equally good hot, cold or room temperature). She also suggests to add Walla Walla Sweet Onion sausage and says it is a wonderful main dish.

Walla Walla Onion Pie

1 cup Ritz cracker crumbs (about 2 sleeves of crackers)
1/4 cup melted butter
2 cups Walla Walla Sweet onions, half moons thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup half and half
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Gruyere, shredded
1/2 lb sliced Walla Walla Sweet onion sausage (or other Kielbasa style sausage), browned (optional)

Combine the cracker crumbs with the melted butter. Press the crumbs into a pie plate to create the crust (use the edge of a large glass to help push the crumbs up the sides of the plate).In a skillet over low heat, saute onions in the butter until onions are translucent. Layer the onions over the crumb crust. If you're adding the sausage, arrange it in a layer over the onions.

Place the eggs in a medium bowl and beat by hand until frothy. Add the half and half, nutmeg, salt and pepper and beat to combine. Pour over the onions. Spread the grated cheese over the top. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes until the center is well.

So, what kind of wine-pairing for this pie? I would suggest any local white such as dry Riesling. Even an off-dry Riesling would pair very nice with the cheese and the sweetness of the onions. Of if you prefer to stay with a dry wine, Roussanne and especially Three Rivers White Meritage would be another suggestion. If sausage is added, I would go a little bold and pair it with some of the local Sangioveses like those from Mannina Cellars and Russell Creek Winery. By the way - Walla Walla Sweet Onions have a short life-span, but I noticed they're still for sale at local highway stands. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Three Rivers Winery - Meritage White

A white Meritage you say? "How can this be?" You’re probably thinking, "We usually see red Meritage!"

Well, a "Meritage®" (pronounced like "heritage") can be any Bordeaux varietal including: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Sauvignon Vert.

Three Rivers Winery have been producing Meritage White since the 2001 vintage and have received great press and medals for this exceptional Bordeaux-style blend ever since. And for the quality, you cannot beat the value at $19. This Meritage blend is 72% Sauvignon Blanc and 28% Semillon. I found it to be a refreshing wine with a nose of light floral and lemon - very clean. The flavors were zesty with citrus and a bit of mineral. I particularly enjoyed this blend as the majority of it is Sauvignon Blanc, which is a white grape that I am a bit partial to.

There had been some sur lie aging, which added balance to the acidity, but it didn’t take away from the crispness of this blend. And in true Bordeaux-style tradition, the wine was aged in 100% small French oak barrels.

Since I believe that great wines start in the vineyard, this bright wine is proof of my beliefs. The Sauvignon Blanc came from Evergreen Vineyard locate outside of Quincy WA, in the Columbia Valley AVA and Klipsun Vineyard. The Semillon was sourced exclusively from Klipsun. It's tough to compete with a grape from the Klipsun Vineyard at Red Mountain.

Three Rivers Meritage White - 2005 makes for a perfect summer sipping wine on the deck or pairs quite well with cheese, chicken salad, grilled shrimp and light fruit desserts. Cheers!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Walla Walla Art & Design Center at NoMa

For years I've been driving west on Rose Street and would admire the woeful old Victorian located on the corner of Rose and Spokane Streets. In spite of its run down appearance with the wrap-around front porch, often cluttered with old sofas, boxes, and an occasional rusty stove; this building told me that at one time the porch and upstairs balcony were enjoyed and not used for a dispository of cast-offs and rubbish, but for relaxation and a view. And every time I drove by, I would wish that someone would see the building the same way I saw it and give the building back its integrity the day it was built in 1902.

In the early years of Sonoma and Napa Valley, San Francisco natives, Alexis and Roger Quiring, would spend time in the California wine country admiring the charm of the small towns, the old buildings, views of the country and of course, the wines. In time, as you know, others discovered the same secrets of the Northern California. By vacation and relocation of old friends, the Quirings visited Walla Walla and once again, found themselves surrounded with charm, historical buildings, views of the country and of course, the wines.

Fashion author and event coordinator, Alexis longed for a new project, but most of all a project that would give her a reason to journey out of the busy area of San Francisco once in awhile. At the same time, one of Alexis's best friends from high school, Ceil Blayne and Ceil's son, Damon Bruck were making plans to open a new restaurant-market, Luscious By Nature in the newly restored Schwarz/Adams Edgewater Plaza at Colville and Alder Streets.

So, it turns out I wasn't the only one who had been admiring the old 1902 Victorian after all and Alexis Quiring got her wish. She found herself a new project located on the corner streets of Rose and Spokane. The old Victorian with the great bones is once again alive and filled with positive movement thanks to Alexis and her dreams for the former run-down apartment house. Named the Walla Walla Art & Design Center, not only has the outside of the building been treated to a face lift, but the inside, too! The WWADC consists of seven tasteful renovated suites ready to accommodate an assortment of artists, designers and other creative entrepreneurs. Several times a year, the WWADC will host special events in their Garden and Interior Galleries featuring a variety of artists. I toured the building last night. The decor is beautiful with a blend of contemporary and vintage-style lighting, soft warm colors, and sea grass floor runners highlight the original wood floors. The first tenants to stake their claim is a mortgage company, video production company, a long time jewelry designer from California, and last but not least is the exquisitely decorated hair studio of Rob Paul. Nancy Mirsky is property manager and director for the new WWADC.

Last month, The Walla Walla Downtown Foundation awarded certificates to Roger and Alexis, in recognition of their restoration of the Walla Walla Art & Design Center and special recognition was also presented to them for the coining the phrase, "NoMa,'' which describes the developing district north of Main Street, where the WWADC is located on Spokane and Rose Streets.

This Friday, August 10, an artist reception will be held for Carolyn Amerian and her photography. Carolyn's works celebrate six years of found objects in her travels from Europe to California. Ceil and Daymon from Luscious by Nature will cater the artist reception and Walla Walla produced wines from Lynn Chamberlain, winemaker/owner of JLC Winery will be poured (by the way: Lynn has a fabulous Spofford Station Estate Syrah that really shows off the true terroir of Walla Walla).

My recommendation is to keep an eye on this resurged and vital downtown corner and when I hear more progress about new tenants and upcoming events, I will definitely let you know.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

This cowboy says, "Stop the high alcohol!"

Appellation America recently announced the surprising email to the wine media from one of the industry’s most respected winemakers, Randy Dunn, owner of Dunn Vineyards in Napa, CA. Known for his uber-Cabernet Sauvignons and Zinfandels, Randy shared with his peers that higher alcohol wines should stop! After blending his own Cabernet Sauvignon - 2004 vintage wine that registered in at 14.11% alcohol, Dunn decided it was time for wine consumers to enjoy wine for it's unique aromas and flavors and not for the high alcohol peak that masks the flavors of a meal. This was the first time in Dunn's 28-years of wine making to reach that high percentage (and did you know that wines over 14% elevate to a higher federal excise tax bracket?).

Dunn's focus is against the new trend of high alcohol wines and these "hot" wines are not just limited to the occasional cherry cough syrup flavored Zinfandel that we run into once in awhile. We are seeing 15% alcohol in Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and even Pinot Noir. The reason for the high alcohol wines? It starts in the vineyard. If we remember junior high chemistry, we know the basic - - yeast + sugar = alcohol. When grapes are picked too ripe at a higher brix (sugar) and fermented to "dry" (removing most of the residual sugar), not only is the wine left with a higher alcohol content, but most of all the characteristics known to the varietal and the uniqueness from the appellations of origin are seriously diluted. Dunn, a supporter of regional identity, explains that the only way to get back to terroir and celebrate our appellation's unique differences is by returning to lower alcohol wines.

Also note that Randy Dunn is no stranger to Walla Walla. This humble, yet celebrated winemaker has partnered with Long Shadows Winery. He is producing small quantities of his Cabernet Sauvignon, at the Long Shadow's facility located in Walla Walla, from some of the oldest and most diverse vineyards in Washington State. The 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, known as Feather, is at the top of my list when it comes to elegant Cabs. In fact, I have been hoarding my last bottle of this rich and silky dark wine. Oh - - and the alcohol? 14.2%. Fair enough.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Changing The Wine World on Conan

Better late than never - -

Yesterday, my friend Ryan at Calwineries Blog informed me that the energetic and refreshing wine critic, Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV, will be a featured guest tonight on Conan O’Brien’s NBC’s Late Night Show. Gary V, whose "Changing the Wine World" trademark, was recently in TIME magazine, Wall Street Journal, and NPR to name a few.

Gary V represents the new wine faces of the future and takes the "snoot" out of wine drinking. According to Gary V, "Getting everyone to know wine is about personal taste and not what a critic says, and more importantly to try new things and bring younger people into wine."

You can view his Episode #177 where he reviews Washington Wines, including those from Walla Walla. I hope I can stay up long enough to catch the show.