Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ferguson

A couple of weeks ago I had an opportunity to taste this commemorative wine that was named after two local wine pioneers. In fact, not only pioneers in the Walla Walla Valley, but also in the State of Washington.

This 2004 Bordeaux-style reserve was named after Jean and Baker Ferguson. The Ferguson’s founded L’Ecole No. 41 at Lowden, WA. Lowden, located in Walla Walla County, is a small farm community and also known as "Frenchtown" to the locals. Obviously the name comes from the fact that it was founded by French-Canadian settlers in the 1800s. Believe it or not, there was actually a small war in Frenchtown, known as the Battle of Frenchtown/Walla Walla, back in 1855. Local historians tell us that Lecole No. 41 and other wineries in that area, are not the first to be producing wine. Besides fur trapping, nurseries, vineyards and wine production became an important part to Frenchtown's economy. And of course like other communities of wine producers in our nation, prohibition of alcohol stopped the growing economy back in the 1920's.

In 1983, Jean and Baker purchased Lowden’s grand old school house that has been located on highway #12 into Walla Walla, since the turn of the century. Now the school house holds some of the most prestigious wines coming out of the state of Washington. The Ferguson's returned the art of winemaking to that historical area.

How did the 2004 Ferguson Commemorative Reserve taste? This classic was perfect on my tongue - it is a blend that I happen to love. The richness of dense chocolate bouchan and some chewiness came through with the 48% Cabernet Sauvignon. Berries and plums showed well with the 42% Merlot, and 5% each of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot was just enough to make the red blend interesting adding a touch of violets, pepper and chocolate orange stick candy. A velvety combination that I think will perform well with an assortment of food from a wood grilled hanger steak or salmon to a plate of fresh chocolate chip cookies. This wine is worthy in any collection and like many of Lecole's wines, it should age well. Cheers!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Adopt A Grape

For less than a penny a day, you can adopt a grape in a foreign country called Napa Valley, CA. Won't you please help?

Ever dream of making wine in Napa Valley, CA? Nah - - me neither. But the dream of making wine in Walla Walla or any place in the state of Washington is an attractive thought. However, no matter where it's from, this idea just tickles me - - very clever, educational and fun.

You can now Adopt a Grape for free and follow it from bud break through harvest, complete with a series of fun and educational notes from the vineyard crew. Remember in my last blog how I chastised those of you who gets all "romantical" and dreamy about owning your own winery and/or vineyard with no idea of how hard the work is? Now’s your chance to be a part of a winery and you won’t have to leave your Lazyboy, bucket-o-chicken and The Soprano's re-runs.

Best of all, you don’t need a huge bank account, or a degree in viticulture or enology. Any white-zinfandel drinker can adopt a grape. If you can use a computer, you can adopt a grape. You can choose a little grape from any block in the vineyard, and you will receive a series of short film updates on the progress of your grape throughout the growing season and harvest. I'm going to make holiday cards with my little grape. If you adopt a grape before it’s harvested, you will be notified by email so that you can be part of your grape’s fall journey. Aww...

So, won't you make a difference in a little Merlot grape's life?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Crush - A Labor of Love

Ahh - - the signs of Fall are among us. The evenings are cool and crisp with a smell of the forth-coming autumnal equinox in the air. The berries on the clusters have reached their ripeness. Last week, the Walla Walla Valley started their annual tradition, a tradition for many parts of the world that goes back to Biblical history, thousands of years ago - - crush.

If you are in the wine industry, winemaker to tasting room attendant, there are days when you begin to think that everyone you talk to wants to be a winemaker. It’s an easy "romantical" thought to get into. Visions of Bacchus dancing in their heads. The dream of going out to the open air vineyard amongst the green vines darted with colored fruit. The sun greets you and a light wind kisses your face. Like in dreams, slow and with animation, running to the perfect cluster, as if it were a lover. Extending your hand out to lovingly pick the rachus of colorful jewels. Like a small child, you hold the cluster on your lap all the way to the winery (there are no seat belts in dreams) where you sprinkle some sugar plum (oops - I mean grape) fairy dust on it and within minutes a magical bottle of wine appears! And what do you know, lo and behold it just happens to have a label with your name on it! Admirers come from near and far to "ooh and ahh" over the bottle you gave birth to.

SCREEECH!!!....step on the dream brakes! Dream is over people. Now get to work! Get out in the vineyard and cut those grapes! There are hundreds of two-ton bins to fill and you better do it fast. And while you’re at it, make sure you don’t slice your hand with the knife. We need that hand and don't bleed all over the grapes! Yeah, it’s back breaking work, but grapes don’t wait unless you think you can get a rating with your Late Harvest Cabernet Sauvignon from the boys at the Wine Spectator. They'll laugh their ass off at you while those over-riped grapes haunt you later in your dream saying, "We told you man." Pull out all MOG (matter other than grapes) from the bins before crush. Feathers, bugs, grape leaves, whatever, and move it - move it - move it!

So you want to be a winemaker do you? Plan on early mornings and late nights during crush. Grapes don’t wait people. They are not on your schedule. The grapes rule and you are at their mercy. Those intensely flavored little berries will tell you when it is time to make wine. Crush grapes, move bins, crush grapes, move and clean bins, clean some more bins and it goes on and on. Punch downs and taking temperatures and testing brix. It’s like caring for a sick infant 24/7. Plan on being wet. A pair of waders will help keep you dry. A bit of juice splatters on the wall, you have to be there to clean it up - - now! The last thing you need is bacteria crawling on your walls, let alone all the fruit flies that have surrounded your winery like a SWAT team during a bank robbery. They're here along with the lovely pungent smell of acetobacter coming from your alley dumpster. Oh and the cellar rats you hired to give you a break - don’t get too comfy. There are always illnesses and cellar accidents. Tough! Grapes don’t wait and don’t care about the hierarchy of owner down to cellar rat. So forget about your restaurant reservations, football box seats, your weekend at the cabin and your sleep. It’s your winery - it's your dream - so get to it!

And the story of crush goes on and on. and I have just barely touched on the story of wine making. Plan on having a rest around the December holidays and kiss your wine goodbye for a couple of years, because it still has a long journey to go before admirers come near and far to "ooh and ahh" over your bottle of wine that you gave birth to.

Me? I’ve done it. I’ve worked my crush and I even have the wet t-shirt (pants, socks and purple hands to prove it). Yes - I proudly wore my purple badge of honor. Grapes are slippery and wineries need to be kept clean during crush. It seemed like I was always wet. I watched a winery worker get almost crushed to death when a near two-tons of grapes fell on him. It was a petrifying and helpless moment. Thank goodness he survived. Thankfully he recovered a little slippery, wet, and covered with grapes skins and humility. He’s now a young and upcoming winemaker in the State of Washington who had definitely paid his dues with that accident - - but his name is safe with me.

I don’t need to dream "romantical" thoughts about handpicking my grapes and caressing every little berry or sitting on my gilded throne in my chateau with the view of the vineyard while I watch my workers pick my harvest of gold and royal purple. I know that it takes at least two years of hard work and more for grapes to make their way into the bottle that holds the magic elixir. However, I am not without guilt of holding my own dreams of vines and wines. I was a fan of the night-time TV soap, "Falcon Crest," also known as "Dallas with Grapes. " I vowed I would become the next Angela Channing, but without the murder, treachery and deceit to my family and friends. I even traveled to Napa to buy bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon with the one-time label, "Falcon Crest" from the 850-acre estate of Spring Mountain Vineyard where the outdoor shots of the TV soap was filmed.

Okay - so here I am and the truth of my experience with crush is I never care to do it again. Okay, well maybe for one non-committal hour. Umm - maybe two non-committal hours. At this time of my life, my contribution to the crush is to enjoy the fruits of the labor, write about the wine and maybe even sell a few bottles. Yeah, I still get happy chills when I see the Hysters loading the fruit-filled bins onto the crush pad and also when my nose meets the fragrance of crushed purple fruit topped with bright pink foam during fermentation. All of these senses remind me that a new vintage is on the way, but not without respect and observation of the love and labor that went into each and every bottle. With every bottle I am reminded of the caretakers of the vines and 365 days of their diligence and trust of the terroir. I am reminded by those in the cellar who put more than their backs into the wine. Their heart and their soul and most of all, a huge commitment.

Crush - - it is truly a labor of love.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Don't Wear Whites After Labor Day - Drink Them!

An old custom and rule of etiquette eschewed wearing white after Labor Day. Who knows where it came from, but after the three-day weekend holiday, we are "told" to put away our summer white shoes and other white accessories. And - - if you are a man, you have no business with white shoes and especially a white belt anyways. They should have been tossed a few decades ago with John Travolta and Barry Gibb's disco garments. However, there is one white you can keep out long after Labor Day and that is - - white wine.

In September, the Walla Walla Valley still has some warm summer days and cool nights. Some excellent examples of whites to pair for those late summer harvest meals - Skylite Cellars "Sierra " is a refreshing, crisp and fruit driven blend of 63% Sauvignon Blanc and 37% Pinot Gris. Walla Walla grapes gives this wine floral notes, structure and for food with a spicy kick, it pairs great with a clean finish. I really enjoyed this white blend and paired it with spicy pork verde wrapped in lettuce leaves and wedges of tangy chicken quesadillas with melty and gooey cheese topped with mango salsa.

Ask Lynn Chamberlain of JLC Winery about her Semillon. She is very proud of it and with good reason. It's her new vine estate Semillon and it is another white wine that embraces food. Crisp, clean with floral notes and very lightly oaked so the nuances of the young fruit really came through. I paired it with roasted red bell pepper hummus and a spicy crab dip. This white really stood up to the spiciness of both appetizers.

In the summer months, one of my favorite styles of wine is rose'. And not just any rose'. They must be crisp, dry and still showing the full flavors of the red grape. I tell wine-lovers to drink these wines even up to Thanksgiving. I personally think they pair very well with turkey, cranberries and sweet potatoes. Get beyond the Pinot Noir tradition for Thanksgiving people and go rose'! You know what else I like about these rose'-beauties from the Walla Walla Valley - - very affordable!

Again, Skylite Cellars Rose - 2006 is a blend of 58% Sangiovese and 42% Cabernet Franc. Lots of good fruit going on with layers of berries and tart cranberries. I paired this chilled rose' with a big juicy strawberry dipped in white chocolate. The juiciness of the wine really came out.

JLC Winery also has a Rose, "The Muse" made with Walla Walla Valley grapes. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot brings to this wine cherries and strawberries. I just sipped this without a bite of food and I sipped and sipped. So good. Lynn suggests a range of foods from the spicy to sea food and absolutely suggests it with the Thanksgiving bird.

This week I wanted a good ol' home cooked meal and someone else to do the dishes. The Whoopemup Hollow Cafe was the answer. When I heard the special for the evening, I bit. They had me. I mean, how can one overlook a special of chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, biscuits and huckleberry gravy? Okay, so I didn't need that heavy food but I had to try this huckleberry gravy. Yes - - it was wonderful. But since it was still warm outside, in the low 80's, with rich food, a full bodied red wine was not appealing for me, so Waterbrook's Sangiovese Rose - 2006 was a great choice for me. 100% Sangiovese that offered a summer berry salad in the nose and it continued in the taste. Lots of berries, crisp and with a bright ruby red grapefruit finish. But most of all it finished clean.

So, if you've put away your summer whites and not quite ready for winter, you can keep the summer alive in your wine glass by looking for ways to pair whites and roses' with food or just for leisurely sipping. Cheers!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

"The Potential of Washington Wines" - - The Potential?

Regarding the Long Shadow Vintner's project in Walla Walla and their Food & Wine award for Winery of the Year: Lettie Teague, Food & Wine’s executive wine editor said "...she has admired the incredible ambition of this project...its brilliant outreach to prove the potential of Washington wines."

To prove the potential...hmmm...the potential? For some reason the word, 'potential' is disconcerting to me. Meriam-Webster says this about the adjective, ‘potential.’

1. existing in possibility : capable of development into actuality

Come on Lettie. - you know wine! You even write books on how to turn a novice wine drinker into a master sommelier practically overnight. Give us more than 'prove the potential.' When it comes to wine in Washington State - - we have moved way past the word, ‘potential’ and way past being capable of developing.

It was not by chance or gamble that former Ste. Michelle CEO Shoup chose to do this project in Washington state, let alone by accident did he choose Walla Walla for winery location. It is not by accident or stroking the rabbit's foot that the State of Washington has vineyards with distinct terroir and award winning wines by those of Cayuse Vineyards, Leonetti Cellars, Quiceda Creek Vintners to name a few, besides many other award-winning wines. It was not a blindfold game of stick a pin on the map and see where it lands, that wine movers and shakers like Randall Grahm, Bonny Doon of California, chose to build a winery in Washington to prove the potential. These wineries and winemakers are not here to prove anything. They already know or they would not have staked their claim into the Washington wine industry. Sorry Lettie, but we are so over potential. Washington State wines have moved way past the point of potential about 10 years ago. Washington wines have arrived as a force to be reckoned with - - -

They_are_here!!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Winery of the Year and Parker Points - Can it get any better?

Once again, Walla Walla is on the wine map. Food and Wine Magazine has awarded Winery of the Year to Long Shadows Vintners in Walla Walla. Once named as "the most beautiful winery that you will never see," this international collaboration of wine talent began four years ago by Allen Shoup, former CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. The profile of Long Shadows Vintners and their "Dream Team" will appear in the October 2007 issue and is part of the magazine's 10th annual American Wine Awards.

It is an impressive line-up of winemakers from all over the world who place their talent and individual labels under the Long Shadow's name: Armin Diel of Schlossgut-Diel Winery in Germany (Poet's Leap), Randy Dunn of Dunn Vineyards in Napa California (Feather), John Duval of formerly of Penfolds Grange in Australia (Sequel), Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari of A&G Folonari Tenute in Italy (Saggi), Agustin Huneeus and Philippe Melka both of Napa, CA (Pirouette) and Michel Rolland from Bordeaux (Pedestal). Gilles Nicault, who produces the Chester-Kidder label (Columbia Valley red blend) along with Shoup, is resident and managing winemaker. If you read my Sense of Place series, Nicault was our host during the tour of the Washington State appellations with a focus of the vineyards that supply grapes to Long Shadows Vintners. Through Gilles, we were able to see what he saw and felt - the love of terroir and how great wines start in the vineyard.

After I found out about the award, I went to my wine closet and lovingly held, hugged and stroked my bottles of Sequel, Feather, Pedestal, Chester-Kidder and Poets Leap. Good bottles...what good bottles they are.

But that's not all that is going on at the Long Shadows Vintners. One of their assistant winemakers divulged to me that famous Seattle glass artist, Dale Chihuly was at the winery with his team installing new blown glass light sculptures.

Also in the Walla Walla grape vine news, Dr. Jay Miller of Robert Parker's "The Wine Advocate" was in Walla Walla doing a bit of tasting. A total of 145 wines were reviewed. Thirty-Five Walla Walla wineries were given scores of 80 and above and 26 wineries received scores of 90 points and higher. And no surprises here, that Cayuse Vineyards earned multiple scores above 95, including two 99s. Leonetti Cellar was awarded a 95 and a 97. Congratulations!

These impressive wine scores will no doubt bring in the masses and the old "supply and demand" model could kick in. This is great news for the true wine aficionados as they will have an opportunity to have some of the finest Walla Walla wines in their collections and with pride and pleasure the Walla Walla wineries will be able to accommodate them. And then, as always, high scores will bring out the "cherry pickers." Ahh - - if you are in wine sales or ever been in wine sales - ya gotta love 'em. Cheers!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Rare Find In Walla Walla

Before Kris Reed was tall enough to reach a kitchen counter, she loved food and cooking. Her major in college was hospitality and she later attended chef’s school. Along came a family and Kris discovered that the food/hospitality industry and raising a family did not mix. While her family was growing, Kris entered Seattle’s hi-tech industry and soon became part of corporate America. After living in Seattle for many years, Kris needed more sunshine and decided it was time to move to a smaller town. While visiting Walla Walla during a wine tasting weekend, she knew where she needed to be.

Once her children were grown and out of the house, Kris was able to return to her first love - - food. Out of that love Kris founded Rare Finds, an online store that provided a year-round outlet for small artisan food producers, who are often limited to seasonal farmer’s markets and small food events. Rare Foods Inc.Com was so successful that Kris took her business to the next obvious, but giant, step and opened up a retail location on Main Street in Walla Walla.

Now that Rare Finds Inc. is planted on Main Street, Kris is going to let the business grow organically based on customer requests. She delights in calling a customer to let them know she has found the long lost favorite food product that they have been searching for. Rare Finds gets constant requests for Walla Walla Sweet Onion products so Kris is adding a line called Walla Walla Gourmet Kitchen featuring, Walla Walla Sweet Onions, of course. Corporate and individual gift baskets are a large business for Kris. Eventually, she will add wines to their online business. She feels that Rare Finds, Inc. occupies a unique space in the food market as it crosses many lines into a gourmet food store, grocery store and health food store. Her goal is to find the very best products produced by people who are passionate about food like she is. Local ingredients and cooking in small batches is equally important as it means healthier foods without all the additives and preservatives. And she is also getting requests from customers who have food allergies. While she is not a health food store, she does believe that the chocolate covered potato chips found in her store produces good mental health to those who eat them. Yum! My kind of health food!

Some of Kris's favorite products are the finishing sauces from Bittersweet Herb Farm, oils and vinegars from Hare Hollow, and Coastal Seasonings spice blends to name a few. Kris has been in Walla Walla now for two years and her store hours are Tuesday - Friday from 10:30 – 5:30 and Saturday from 11 – 5. Kris says she is addicted to the town, its people and wants to see her business expand so it can provide more living wage jobs for Walla Walla. The best part of Rare Finds? The personal attention Kris provides.

(The last couple weeks I have received so many compliments on Kris's recipe I posted in the August "Cooking Through The Walla Walla Grape Vine." If you haven't tried her Walla Walla Onion Pie, I recommend it. I discovered, along with others, what a versatile recipe it was. As an example, I didn't have any Gruyere cheese and used Fontina instead. Another person said they used lamb instead of sausage and discovered what an interesting pairing it made with the sprinkle of nutmeg. I also heard of some different, but great Walla Walla wine pairings to go with. If you haven't tried this recipe - - do!)

Washington Wines on Wine Library TV

For all of you Vayniacs out there - Gary Vay-Ner-Chuck from Wine Library, America’s number one wine show, is back with more wines from Washington State. Today Gary V does tasting from Washington on Episode 307 and as he says, “...brought out the ‘big ass glass’ for some serious wine." And two of those serious wines happen to be made in the Walla Walla Valley - L’ecole No. 41 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - 2004 and Pepper Bridge Merlot - 2004. Gary V comments that Washington State is a player and not a punk in the wine industry.

So in the mean time, watch Gary sniffy-sniff! Watch Gary spit! Watch Gary put a wine bottle to his ear! Listen to Gary yell with enthusiasm and help Gary change the world of wine!