Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Renaissance Riesling

In the late 70’s I remember drinking a lot of Riesling from Chateau Ste. Michelle. At the time, Riesling was “the” grape in Washington State. As the Washington wine industry grew, French red varietals took over and especially here in Walla Walla. In the late 90’s we saw the Riesling grape slowly find it’s way back with German winemaker, Dr. Ernst Loosen who partnered with Ste Michelle to produce, Eroica, which received many awards and accolades. And it was just a few years ago when another renowned winemaker from Germany, Armin Diel, arrived in Washington to partner with the Long Shadows Consortium and launch what would soon to be another Riesling, Poet’s Leap, which would also be well received by the wine critics.

Almost a year ago in May, Steve and I went on a two day tour of the appellations in Washington State. Our gracious host was Gilles Nicault, general manager and winemaker for the Long Shadows Winery in Walla Walla. Of course, after two days we were overwhelmed, but began to understand the “sense of place” – the terroir, which was Gille's mission for us. One of the many, many highlights was touring the Wallula Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills appellation that also happens to grow 120 acres of Riesling on land that sits above the Columbia River about 1200 ft. And that fruit will be going to one of the largest producers of Riesling – Pacific Rim, a branch of the eccentric Bonny Doon wines. The Pacific Rim facility is located in Richland, Wa.

And there is more to read about Riesling - - it is back and will be bigger than ever! Consider the above an introduction to that versatile white grape that can be fermented dry or off-dry - - Riesling. Read the Prodigal Grape from the Washington CEO magazine, by journalist, Steve Bjerklie.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tertulia Cellars

It’s a happy building. Rather prominent, with a surrounding view of the country side. The colors of the winery are distinguished, yet reminding me of Skittles candy. Like I said, "Happy." The building makes you want to go inside and see more color.

Tertulia is a Spanish word meaning "a social gathering of friends." And the colors inside and out makes me think just that. The tasting room is "hip, cool and edgy," but oh so comfy. Christina Peet, sales and tasting room manager, is knowledgeable, friendly and very hospitable. When I visit with tasting room staff I always look at them like, "Now would I hire them to work for me?" And I wouldn’t hesitate to hire Christina. So - - how are the wines?

Winemaker, Ryan Raber and I were classmates at the Center for Enology and Viticulture. Ryan was a serious and attentive student and there wasn’t a doubt he would graduate and enter the world of winemaking, producing some of the best wines around the valley. Me? I often schlepped behind moaning and groaning all through crush. Wine retail was in my heart.

There are some serious wines being made at Tertulia Cellars. Accolades and awards are being given for many of their 2005 vintages. And there are exclusive wines Ryan is producing just for their wine club. Rich wines that I groveled and threatened to hold my breath until they would sell me some, but I finally got off the floor and rearranged my dignity when a group of guests entered the winery.

In the mean time, for the dollar and quality, go Tertulia’s 2005 Red Table Wine. And it was rated "Excellent" by the Wine Press NorthWest Magazine. An aromatic blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 7% Malbec, 5% Petite Verdot - it has a great nose of dark fruit and cocoa with scent of cedar box and the nose of plum and blackberries continues onto the flavors. It’s rich and well balanced. Again, another one of those wonderful Walla Walla gems that will not put a ding in the pocketbook.

Tertulia Cellars is definitely an exciting (and colorful) new winery to keep an eye on.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Oscar Gift From The Wild Walla2 Wine Woman

Yesterday was spent working. What a work day! I had meetings at wineries to taste wine. Yah - yah, it's a tough job, but... One of the many highlights was finding out about several exciting new releases planned for Spring Release, the first weekend of May. All I can say is - - "Wow!" Today is spent catching up on bookwork and some computer geek work (Qwest was down yesterday - the bastardos!). I hope some of the Oscar commercials are extra long so I can take a break to catch up the work. But in the mean time here is a little Oscar gift, a song from the soundtrack of the Oscar nominated movie, The Big Chill and so appropriate! Note: the video montage is pretty corny, but the music is pretty great

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The New Generation of Wine Lovers - I love them!

Last week I was reading recent articles about other wine regions; such as Napa, Sonoma and the Fingerlakes, having problems with drunken wine tourists in limousines. Some compare the behavior to "frat boy" and some readers of these articles left comments assuming it's the college students who behave this way and not the "Cabernet and Brie" crowd (their reference name).

I'll tell ya, after spending a few years behind the tasting room bar, I have to defend the college students, especially the locals. I wish some of the "Cabernet and Brie" crowd would behave the way most college students behave when visiting area wineries. From my experience the college crowd are some of the more thoughtful and insightful visitors to pour for and visit with, and of course that is after we get the checking of ID (21 years+) formality out of the way. And interesting enough the Walla Walla Valley is the home to three colleges, Whitman College, Walla Walla University (both private colleges) and Walla Walla Community College.

Walla Walla University is a Seventh-Day Adventist college. Religion courses are an integral part of the general studies curriculum, as well as health and well-being are another important aspect. Their campus serves only vegetarian food and students are asked not to drink alcohol. Overall, the very strict no alcohol rules seems to be respected by their students - - at least when it comes to visiting tasting rooms.

Whitman College is also a private university. I have met with groups of Whitman students and often with their parents. For many students growing up, wine has been part of their culture and it isn't necessarily about the alcohol. It's about the history and the art of wine. The students and parents of Whitman College have been some of my favorite visitors. Many Whitman students have traveled around the world sharing their own wine experiences and knowledge, especially the dark red Cot (Malbec) of Cahors, France or the Malbecs of Argentina.

Of course, Walla Walla Community College is the home to College Cellars, a teaching winery at the Center of Enology and Viticulture on campus. Natually, students from the Center are visiting wineries for more than just the wine. The craftmanship of winemaking, wine chemistry, wine marketing, networking and tours make up a large part of their visits.

We also see parents and students from Washington State University traveling through Walla Walla stopping by wineries on their way home to the other side of the state.

Now, it's not to say that the college students haven't done their share of partying. Sure we see the frat pranks and some rowdiness at the local hang-out taverns, but then again it's college students and for many, it is their first time away from the parents and exercising their independence. No excuse for bad behavior, but if we were to go back in time and remember our own youth...

This is a great time to be going to school in Walla Walla, especially if you are a lover of good wine. For the serious eonophile college student on a budget, in spite of the world class wine prices, we still have many quality wines that are affordable. Most wineries have their own red table blends for under $20.00. There are also Walla Walla wineries whose mission is to produce quality wines at a great value, such as Balboa Winery, DaMa Wines, K-Vintner's Magnificent Wine Co., and new winery, Wines of Substance. These four are terrific examples of good wines not breaking the college budget or any collector's budget as far as that goes.

So anyways - - I felt I had to defend our new generation of wine lovers out there, especially the ones in the valley. Latest research states that over 25 percent of those buying wine fall between the ages of 21 and 34. New homes are being built for gracious entertainment and to include wine storage. Hosts and guests often make an evening about the wine, it's flavors and aromas, food pairing, the origin of grapes, the soil, the climate - - the terroir. I like the direction our new generation of wine lovers are headed and me as an old Boomer, I plan to follow them.

PS (2/21/08) - Many thanks to Evelyn Resnick, author of book and blog, Wine Brands, for adding her insight to the new generation of wine lovers. Please check out her blog.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Damn Those Grapes For Making Washington State Money! How Dare They!

Beware - - she's on another rant. Run for cover!

A few weeks ago I read a letter to the editor in the local paper. The writer was from Milton-Freewater, Oregon (which is 10 miles from Walla Walla, WA) and she was complaining, not only about the wineries in Walla Walla selling the heathen devil's juice, but also complaining about a new Harley-Davidson sales room that was going downtown Walla Walla. Yup, the last thing we need in Walla Walla is another winery contributing to our state/county/and city revenue, let alone encouraging the sorted bunch of ruffian outlaws like the local doctors, attorneys, bankers and funeral directors to buy another Harley-Davidson for their collection. How silly this person is. And my answer to her is: If she doesn’t like wine and Harley-Davidsons in Walla Walla, then stay in Oregon. As it is in Washington State, as a courtesy to our Oregon neighbors, we do not charge them sales tax on their purchased items. It is a courtesy depending on the retailer and there is no law in Washington or Oregon that says we cannot charge tax to an Oregon resident. Therefore, I think the next time this woman comes over to Washington we should charge her tax for breathing our Washington air.

So last week I ran into an acquaintance and of course we talked about the weather. Then the bad weather conversation led us to the poor conditions of the streets in the city of Walla Walla. Out of her mouth, she said, “They won’t put any money into our streets, but "They" sure will put money building another winery.” Sigh - - here we go again...who are these people by the name of “They” and why do “They” cause so much trouble?

I couldn’t keep my mouth shut on that one and spoke out to this acquaintance. “The city is in charge of budgeting and maintaining the streets in Walla Walla and the wineries have nothing to do with it. The money that is spent building wineries is all private. So you think that a private party wanting to build a winery should repair a city street instead?”

What is she thinking? She owns a small business, herself. Perhaps the next time she invests more money into her lipstick inventory, she should give her profits to a street pothole instead. I wanted to continue the rant, but didn’t. Narrow minds do not open very far and sometimes people only hear what they want to hear and often speak like parrots with no thought to what comes out of their mouths. And what they don’t understand is that wineries and grapes have contributed a lot to the economy in Washington State and especially in Walla Walla. The first of the month the Washington State Wine Commission and the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers announced the results from a study regarding the economic impact of the Washignton State wine industry. The 2006 study showed wine and wine grapes are worth $3 billion annually to the state. The Washington State wine industry contributed 19,000 jobs with a payroll of $579 million. An increase of 8,000 jobs from the 11,000 wine industry jobs reported in 1999, from the previous study. Revenue from Washington State wineries have increased to $436 million in 2006 from $289 million in 1999. Also, from 1999 to 2006, the number of wineries have increased from around 150 to more than 400 and at this time, the state is over the 500 count. Wine tourism in the state has blossomed - - greatly! In 1999, 350,000 people visited wineries and wine-related events in Washington State. In 2006, the count increased to 1.7 million people, and dollars from wine tourism brought in $237.6 million!!!

Those who complain about wine tourism in Walla Walla need to step back and look at the big picture here. Tourist to Walla Walla is nothing new. I suppose one could look at Lewis and Clark as the original tourists back in 1805-1806. In 1927, the grand Marcus Whitman hotel was built to hold all of the tourists who were visiting Whitman College, the symphony and theatres and the downtown shopping. And if you really go back into history, downtown Walla Walla was full of hotels and some of those old buildings still remain. In the 1970's with the boom of the malls all over the nation downtowns like Walla Walla became run-down looking ghost towns with nothing to offer and old grand buildings became poorly maintained with old facades from the 1950's. Finally in the 1990's, at least in Walla Walla, wineries started popping up, restaurants followed, the Marcus Whitman Hotel received a major facelift and voila - tourists! And tourists created jobs and incoming revenue!

So the whole point of my rant is that how can you argue with that kind of return? And if that disturbs your little closed minded life, then what are you doing to contribute to the healthy economy of Walla Walla? Do you have any better ideas?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Wine Blogging Wednesday #42

It's been several months since I have participated in WBW. The reason is many of the topics, I've had nothing to contribute. You see, I only write about Walla Walla wines and sometimes other wines from Washington State. This month, Andrew of Spittoon is the host. He has asked that we blog about an Italian red wine. Andrew also asks that we summarize and review the chosen wine in just seven words. Well, this month I am going to cheat - - just a little. How about if I blog about a red grape with Italian origins, but grown in Walla Walla? A Sangiovese from a Walla Walla winery with an Italian name? Come on! It was named after the winemaker's maternal grandmother who emigrated from Italy! Are you going to deny me a chance to blog about someone's beloved nonna?

So, with that little tantrum behind me, here is my contribution to WBW#42. I am going to blog about Mannina Cellars Sangiovese - 2005. And here are my seven words to describe my choice: Gold medal winner. Pair it with tiramisu.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Happy and Healthy Valentine - Red Wine and Chocolate!

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, my thoughts always think of chocolate. It’s no secret that I happen to love chocolate and red wine together. In the early years of my wine exploration I learned how to drink dry red wines accompanied with chocolate. A bite of chocolate from one hand and a drink of red wine from the other. And of course, I got hooked.

In moderation, dark chocolate and red wine happens to be good for us, besides being delicious and decadent. Chocolate contains flavonoids, particularly potent antioxidants that possess an ability to clear free radicals and protect against inflammation, which helps in protecting your heart. Red wine contains an abundance of the antioxidant resveratrol, which assists in making our cells healthier.

In the Valley we are fortunate to have Lan Wong and James Boulanger, who moved here from New York and opened a chocolatier boutique named Petits Noirs. Their chocolate creations are not only inspired by the fresh produce grown in the Valley, but also derived from the various complex notes found in the wines produced in the area. With interesting flavors such as thyme, lavender, and clove, it is obvious that their chocolates are a natural accompaniment to Walla Walla wines.

Their variation of the French Mendiant is like experiencing a little chocolate bowl of fruit, nuts and spices. Each morsel is made with solid dark chocolate with the addition of fruit, nuts and spice. Two of my personal favorites are the Calmyrna fig, pistachio Mendiants with fennel seeds and in honor of the Aztecs, for discovering chocolate, are the toasted corn nut dusted with cayenne pepper. I’m telling ya, the corn nuts with just a hint of cayenne is a natural chocolate bite with red wine.

I can’t quite wrap head around red wine for breakfast (I am working on it), but I certainly can get into chocolate marmalade. Petit Noirs chocolate marmalades are inspired by the numerous orchards in the Walla Walla Valley. Their marmalades are made with fresh local fruit and generously combined with bittersweet dark chocolate. It is so delicious spread on croissants or on top of brie or goat cheeses and served on sliced baguettes. My favorite way is with a spoon - - right out of the jar and a glass of red wine on the side! Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Many Wild Walla Walla Wine Women

Yes, you read it right. Women - - plural. You will read how it takes a lot of Walla Walla women who like wine to make one Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman.

A few years back when I was attending the viticulture/enology program, there were a few extra classes that took us out of the vineyards and cellars and into the classroom. One of those classes was Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management, taught by Debbie Frazier (Debbie and I were in Junior Club together many moons ago) The most interesting part of the class for me was Chapter 15 - E-commerce (in fact, to this day the text book is still on my desk with a blue Post-it Note marking the chapter). I loved this concept of retailing on the web. During those business classes, instructor/web designer Nanqi You visited our class showing us the importance of good web designs especially wine related. I stored all of this info in the back of my mind. I just knew I would need it some day.

So once my wine blog took off I started getting emails from readers interested in more stuff about the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman and it got me to thinking - - e-commerce. Last spring I started talking. I talked to Nanqi You and Julia Herres at Walla Walla Web Weavers/Winery Design and told them what was on my mind. They liked my idea. I talked with friends, Anne Hull (Anne, Debbie and I were in Junior Club together many moons ago)and Marie-Eve Gilla at Forgeron Cellars. I told them my idea and what I had in mind. Annie gave me product and shipping advice. Marie-Eve thought Becky Wilson of Chameleon Design could capture the visual that I had for this wild Walla Walla wine woman. And Marie was right. Becky had designed beautiful and distinctive labels for some of the valley's wines.

I met Becky at her "office," a cozy outdoor table at Merchants LTD Deli in downtown Walla Walla to where she asked me questions about the concept of the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman. What does she look like? Can any woman be a wild Walla Walla wine woman? What color of nail polish does she wear? Does she wear polish on her toe nails? What is her favorite wine? Her breast size??????

Julia at Winery Design was very patient with me and would email me sample colors. How about this one. Nope, too dark. No border. Okay, maybe a little border. Nope, no border. Nope, too brown, not enough red, more yellow please, too orange and...and...can you make the lips bigger?

There were good days of planning and a few bad days. I would moan and groan, but find encouragement and a listening ear from friend and winemaker, Jill Noble (Jill, Anne, Debbie and I were in Junior Club together - - you get the picture. Hey, that's Walla Walla for you). Yes, there were a few days of tears and frustrations and thought I would just forget the idea. Thank goodness my sweetheart, Steve wouldn't let me. A road trip to Montana to camp with Steve and my family helped immensely. With a camping chair attached to my butt and a wine glass attached to my hand, I watched my adorable young granddaughters play with their cousins, along with the fresh air, the lake and gorgeous mountain views; all combined it did wonders for my soul.

Putting this project together to form the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman was kind of like an old quilting bee where women came together with ideas, designs, and colors. There were no endless reams of paper printed with flow charts, numerous lists of progressive phases, competitive analysis, assessing customer psychographic babble, demographic tech surveys, blah, blah and a big fat blah-bee-blah. I just set some goals, jotted them down on a legal pad so they would be tangible in print, marked each goal off as they were completed and logic told me what I needed to do next and with what person - - and here we are!

Isn't she beautiful - the Walla2 Wine Woman logo? Becky read my mind and put her on canvas and Julia and Nanqi put her into pixel. And now the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman is the mistress of her own wine shop. Please check "her" out. The Wild Walla2 Wine Woman has a selection of wines from the Walla Walla Valley, gourmet goodies such as local artisan chocolates, and there is more to come! I have just begun to search out the finest that this valley has to offer, besides gifts will be arriving bearing the wonderful Walla Walla Wine Woman logo, so every woman can be identified as a WW2W Woman.

I think the timing is quite appropriate to say, "It takes a village of Walla Walla women to raise a Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman." Many thanks, hugs and smoochies to all of those fabulous Wild Women of Walla Walla!

PS: Thank you to Jill at Domaine 547 (the coolest online wine store in the LA area) for the warm welcome into the internet wine retail world. Under her column of "Wine Jargon" she lists the meaning of "Internet Wine Retailer:" Folks who be crazy!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Unspoken Code - Will She Crack It?

One of my Washington State Wine blogging collegues, Thad at Beyond the Bottle, wrote a thought provoking topic that I have been pondering ever since and wanted to address it myself. Thad directs his own readers to a quote from Paul Gregutt, wine writer for The Seattle Times:

"There is a sort of unspoken code among many in the wine press not to be too critical of specific wines or wineries."

Gregutt comments that he tries to stay on the "sunny side of the wine-reviewing street," but once in awhile he will give objective criticism in a positive direction for growth. Thad points out that many wine writers are given a lot of free (and unsolicited) wine by wineries, which raises questions about the wine reviewers objectivity. So with a flow of freebies coming your way, why risk it with a unsavory review?

Thad continues to point out that with the new wine "press" in the name of blogging becoming stronger and stronger by the numbers, that many of the wine bloggers are following the same approach - - post nice - - practice the unspoken code. However, in the wine blogging world, there are those who crack the unspoken code. Examples are, Alder at Vineography who will say it like it is. In fact, last summer Alder made the top of my list of wine blogging heros when he shamed the California wine retailers for not selling Washington wines - - and Alder is from San Francisco! Alice Feiring, long time wine blogger and author was banned from the Robert Parker message boards because she took on the Prince of Points (I’ll get you and your little dog, too). So with that said - -

What about the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman? Does she open her door every morning to find free cases of Walla Walla wines stacked on her front porch? When she tastes free bottles of wine, does she let the "free-ness" of those wines influence her and - - does she dare (gasp!) break-the-un-spoken-code?

Okay, here are the facts. I do not find free cases of wine on my front porch nor do I solicit free bottles of wine. Once in awhile a winery may recognize me and give me a bottle, but the majority of the wines that I write about - - I have purchased. Sometimes I will take a "field trip" and go wine tasting or sometimes a friend may drop by one of his/her favorite wines, but the majority of the wines I review - - I have purchased. In fact, when I first decided to blog about wine, it was not on the premise I was going to be up to my spit bucket with free wine. I assumed that anything I blogged about I would be the lone reader. Who knew others would want to read what I had to say?

So, when I "review" a wine, do I dare break the unspoken code? I have to be honest here and the answer is - - no. I do not venture into breaking the unspoken code, especially when I write about wines from Walla Walla. And why not? I am not getting paid when it comes to wine blogging, but most of all I have to live in Walla Walla. I don’t need empty wine bottles thrown at me because I bashed someone's wine.

If there is a wine that I do not care for or a winemaker/winery that I disagree with their practices I don’t say anything at all. Now, my readers may start assuming because I didn’t list a particular wine or a winery that I don’t like that wine/winery - - don’t assume. Chances are very great, if not hugely great, that I just haven’t gotten to them. You see, blogging is a hobby for me, as I do have a real day job. In my free time, I do a bit of freelance writing for a couple of magazines. Then if that isn’t enough, I am in the process of developing my own business. But the biggest reason for not listing a particular wine is I cannot keep up on all of the wines being produced in the Walla Walla Valley! When you consider there are over 100 wineries and figure in that each winery has at least five to seven, if not ten wines that are released every year - - I should be wearing a t-shirt that says: "So many Walla Walla Wines, so Little Time" (and if you make a t-shirt with that saying - remember to cut me in on the profits.)

Here is another reason why I haven't broken the unspoken code and one of the most important for me. The taste of wine is subjective and it is all about personal taste. Should I be liking a wine because someone from a wine magazine gave the wine 99 points? No and I don't listen to movie critics, either. I am a foodie and love pairing wines with foods. I might try a Merlot by itself and it can taste ordinary, but if paired with the right food, it might taste extraordinary!

An example of my personal tastes: There is a winery in the Walla Walla valley who has built a great reputation for their hand crafted wines. Their red wines are elegant, well structured and I would never-ever turn down a rich red drop. They are terrific food wines, too. However, I do not care for their white wines and trust me, there is nothing wrong with the craftmanship of these white wines. These wines win awards and get much acclaim. No matter what I may think, the bottom line is this (and the most important): their white wines sell very well. It wouldn't be fair to the wines and my readers to say what their tastebuds should and should not approve of. Just because my tastebuds may not find a certain wine approachable, doesn't mean it is a bad wine. I want all wine lovers to discover their own personal choices. Educate your palate regarding different varietals and styles of wine.

Do I get controversial? Do I break any codes? Do I remain all Bambi, Thumpers, peace, love and hippie beads? If you have been reading me for awhile, you know that I will climb up on my soap box when it comes to the point system and ill-mannered wine tourists and will continue to write my missives about those two subjects. I don't feel that I "review" wines. I just talk about my own personal experiences with the wines and hope my readers will find their own personal experiences with the wines or wineries that I write about. I don't give points and never will. I would encourage every wine lover to get beyond the points and don't let them rule your wine life. Sure, use them as a base, but don't let them dictate your style. Nothing worse is a "cherry picker" who will sashay into a winery and only wants to taste the 93+ point wines or will buy the wines not caring what the varietal is, let alone bother to taste the wines. Because the wine has a high score, the wine expert-poser assumes he/she will like them. What? You cannot trust your own tastebuds and have to rely on points? Then there is the cherry picker who will not go to a winery because the winery has no points on their wines. You do know that the winery has to submit their wines to be judged, don't you? There is no little wine fairy that flies around from winery to winery choosing wines to be judged.

I agree with Thad at Beyond the Bottle: If your decisions are based solely on one magazine, one column, or one reviewer, you're missing out on a lot of what wine has to offer.

I would encourage my readers to educate their own palate, keep an open mind and most of all, just enjoy!