Thursday, April 30, 2009

Walla Walla Spring Release 2009

Yup, it’s here again and what can I say other than the same ol’ reminders... hydrate-hydrate-hydrate...strap on the ol’ feedbag of a breakfast- -with gravy ...designated driver... yada-yada-yada...yakkity smakkity - lather, rinse, repeat...

This year I am only going to remind you of three things:

1.) Review, memorize and apply the poem by Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

2.) Open your mind to wine. Seriously. Don’t be turning your nose up at a member of the tasting room staff when they ask if you would like to try a Chardonnay, Riesling or a pretty pink rosé. Taste it. Who knows? You might even like it. And it's okay for real men to drink rosés. Really.

3.) Have a wonderful time in our valley and make some great memories. There is so much to do this year! And for some ideas, check out the Walla Walla Wine Alliance or with Heather at Walla Walla Wine News.

Cheers!
C~

Monday, April 27, 2009

It’s all your fault, you bunch of Wine Blobbers, you!

Here we go again. Last year it was the Wine Spectator who spoke out against the wine bloggers after the bloggers caught wind of the WS scandal regarding the magazine presenting one of their esteemed "Wine Spectator Award of Excellence!" to a faux restaurant. The scandal was exposed at the American Association of Wine Economist Conference 2008 and later on the AAWE wine blog.

Instead of the magazine explaining their error and mustering up a good defense, they took it to their WS Forums message board and spun the focus towards wine bloggers instead:

"This is the problem with the 'blogosphere'. It's a lazy person's journalism. No one does any real research, but rather they just slap some hyperlinks up and throw a little conjecture at the wall, and presto! you get some hits and traffic..." - James Molesworth, Senior Editor to the Wine Spectator

This year, and not to be outdone by Molesworth, Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate took his turn to speak out against those pesky wine bloggers and he also chose to do it on his eRobertParker.com message board, titled under “What bothers me about Wine Blogs... (and please note how I slapped some hyperlinks up)

“…looking at that Bloggers Conference, it does look like a big and free sloppy kiss and then some from the California wine industry...with much more than minimal hospitality offered...love to see some transparency from the bloggers(how many of them are paying for travel,car rental,hotels and meals?)...or should I say blobbers since they are the source of much of the misinformation, distortion, and egegious falsehoods spread with reckless abandon on the internet…" - Robert Parker, Founder Wine Advocate

Did Robert Parker just call us “blobbers?” That’s a pretty funny name, especially from a guy by the name of - - - Bob.

That’s right boys and girls. The lesson here is: when the crumbling cork gets shoved into your - - umm - - bottle of Chateau Petrus and you can’t finger it out or your worm on your favorite corkscrew gets all bent out of shape or when you catch a nasty case of pantie-scratching 2,4,6-trichloroanisole - - whadda ya do? Take it to your forum and blame the "wine blobbers!" Wine forums are known to hate-hate-hate those pesky self-proclaimed wine critics known as wine bloggers. Your online message board will stand behind you with a mob mentality assisted with the best AOL technology! You will be able to depend on your forum as they show their displeasure with frownie yellow faces holding wine glasses and their own platitudes of wine criticism and falsehoods and reckless abandon and…

But chin up wine blob…err.. bloggers everywhere! We are being recognized and bashed by the best! Sigh - - if only Al Gore would have gotten around to inventing the internet a little earlier, like back in the 1970’s when His Majesty Prince of Pointiness first introduced his vision of how wines should be critiqued, because Bob and his Bitches would have cornered this wine blogging thing and given us all some respectability!

Gosh, I sure hope I get some hits and traffic over this distorted reckless abandon of lazy person's journalism.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Four Wine Questions For: Tom Wark

Welcome to my fifth interview in my 4WQ4 blog feature. This is the first 4WQ4 for 2009 and if you are not familiar, this is a quarterly article where I ask four Q&A’s to a “celebrity” in the wine industry.

When I use the word "celebrity" I am not just referring to those who are making the wine headlines in glossy magazines, but just as important "celebrating" with and for those who are in the background making a difference in the way we think, drink, purchase, and even for a few of us, how we sell wine. If you haven't met Thomas Wark, here is an opportunity for you to find out how he is making a difference and contributing to how we drink and think about wine.

When I first started wine blogging and reading other wine blogs, I came across Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog owned by Tom Wark. It is one of the most read wine blogs amongst wine consumers, as well as the wine industry. It was from his wine blog, I discovered there are many "wine-sides" to Tom Wark and they all mesh together well. Located in the Sonoma Valley wine region of California, Wark is a 25-year wine marketing and public-relations professional and is the owner of Wark Communications, specializing in solutions to address the unique needs of the wine industry. And as an advocate for wine blogging, Wark addressed the validation and credibility of wine blogs by designing and hosting the American Wine Blog Awards.

And last, but certainly not least, Wark serves as the Executive Director of the Specialty Wine Retailers Association, where he promotes and manages legal and legislative efforts on behalf of wine consumers and wine retailers, opening more states for retailers-to-adult wine consumer shipping.

W5: Right up front Tom, this may be the toughest question of all four, but I have to ask you on behalf of Walla Walla wine lovers everywhere - - what you know about Walla Walla wines and overall the wines from Washington State?

TW: Over the years I've drunk numerous WA state wines. What's always struck me about them, particularly the reds, is their balance. I've come to count on WA Cabs, Merlots and blends to deliver structure. That's important to my palate.

W5: As the Executive Director of the Specialty Wine Retailers Association, could you explain to the readers more about the association regarding what you do and will we ever see a day that wine consumers all over America will have free access to the wines of their choice.

TW: I don't think we'll see a day anytime soon when all Americans in every state have access to the total American wine market. There are simply some states where the culture and traditions make that difficult. However, I do believe that we will, and must, see a liberalization of American wine law if only because the evolution of the wine culture in America has far outlived the usefulness of the traditional state-mandated three-tier distribution system that was created in the 1930s and does not serve consumers or an industry that have both changed drastically since the three-tier system was put in place.

SWRA represents non-winery wine shippers. After the Granholm Supreme Court decision, many states choose to or were forced to allow wine shipping from out-of-state. However, few of them extended shipping rights to retailers. The upshot of this was that while consumers in many states were able to have wine shipped to them from wineries that choose to ship, those same consumers could not get access to hundreds of thousands of wines that were either imported, not shipped by wineries or were older vintages. Many retailers carried these wines and would love to ship them across state lines, but were prohibited from doing so because retailers were not included in the expanded shipping rights that came after the Granholm decision.

This restrictive posture toward retailers resulted from many things including: 1) Retailers not being politically organized, 2) Powerful wholesalers who used that power to excluded retailers from being included in new wine shipping laws, 3) an unwillingness of wineries and retailers to work on behalf of each other's rights, and 4) a general misunderstanding by consumers of the importance of having access to retailer shipping as well as winery shipping. SWRA uses litigation, legislation and education to address the restrictive laws that affect consumer access to wines.

W5: Any memorable incident or the most blatant quote you have heard or witnessed from someone who was willing to compromise truth to protect their own financial interests by opposing wine lovers having free access to the wines of their choice? Any in particular that really deserves to be at the top of list of the Wall of Shame? And if it is a direct quote and you think they are mighty proud of that quote, we can certainly use their name.

TW: I'm particularly fond of this one: "Most Americans were satisfied with the system [the wine distribution system] as it is except for a small, very vocal segment who say they can't get their bottle of 1997 whatever." - Craig Wolf, Wine & Spirit Wholesalers Association, New York Times - January 30, 2008

That said, wholesalers in particular have fought to keep consumers from having access to any wines they don't themselves provide to retailers and restaurants based largely on the notion that direct shipping will lead to minors obtaining wine. Based on this charge they argue that direct shipping should not be allowed at all. Yet you never hear them say that brick and mortar sales of wine should be shut down because minors can get their hands on wine in that manner. The wholesalers' arguments on this issue have been duplicitous, fully incoherent, obtuse and often straight out lies. Yet, they know that lawmakers aren't inclined to take kindly to laws that will "hurt the children". Yet, to-date, no member of law enforcement in any state and no alcohol regulator in any state has said they have seen a problem develop as a result of minors obtaining wine via Internet sales.

W5: Here is what I know about Tom Wark: He has indefatigable energy traveling to state capitals working on behalf of wine consumers so they may have freedom from 21st century prohibition. He is the creator of the American Wine Bloggers Awards (Boo-hiss! I'm jealous because I have never won a AWB) and he has a crush on redheads that give of themselves to save the world from "Parkerization." Any trivia or scandal that my readers or the National Enquirer would want to know more about Thomas Wark?

TW: I've been very lucky in this business because I've have some very good and inspiring mentors including Bill & Sandra McIver of Matanzas Creek Winery, John Hinman of Hinman & Carmichael, and Gracelyn Guyol of Gracelyn Associates. I've always believed that we all do our best work when we have a fire in our belly. The fire in my belly has remained lit for quite some time. Beyond that some folks might find it interesting that I sold Kirby Vacuum cleaners door-to-door and was good at it, I make the best beef jerky in California, I mix a damn good Manhattan, and if I could make a six figure income off blogging I would move to the beach in Mexico and make that living.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Jump Back to the Feast! Spring Forward with Walla Walla Wine!

So, the other day I got a few goose bumps while sitting in my car at the stop light facing north on the corner of First and Main Streets. I was day dreaming that just over 10-days ago I was standing in the middle of the same street, on pavement, under a large tent with chandeliers above me. And even better I was holding a glass of Walla Walla wine and noshing on a crepe. And NO! It wasn't one of those dreams where I was standing there naked in front of everyone, either. This was real! Really! It was a feast! It was big party in a tent! And - - we were all wearing our clothes!

It was the second annual Feast Walla Walla located in the beautiful and historical downtown Walla Walla. Inside the large tent, bringing tourists and locals together, there was an assortment of talented winemakers, chefs and artists showing their best and allowing us a taste or two - - or three… Proceeds from this fabulous event went the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation to continue their hard, and much appreciated, work.

Once we walked into the tent, we were given an etched glass commemorating the event, a plate to hold our "feast" and several tokens. The tokens were used towards nibbles and noshes and glasses of wine. Okay, so what was my favorite nosh? They were all my favorites! I sampled scallops wrapped in duck prosciutto, clam chowder, stuffed mushrooms with crab, crepes, Spanish Manchego cheese, chocolate, sweet potato gnocchi, and - and more! But I gotta tell ya - - the all-time swoon worthy was the crepes stuffed with beef tenderloin and chipotle dressing from T. Maccarone's. And what wine did I drink?

Well, what wine didn't I drink? I sampled wines from Flying Trout Wines, Cadaretta Winery, Va Piano, Sapolil Cellars, Forgeron Cellars, Lowden Hills, Morrison Lane, Mannina Cellars, Spring Valley Vineyards and - and - even more! I even sampled cool and refreshing hard cider from Blue Mountain Cider Company! Whew!

And now, after all of that fine food and glorious wine from Feast Walla Walla Past, I've been resting up the ol' tastebuds because just around the corner is Spring Release Weekend, May 1-3. And once again I will be getting goose bumps thinking about all of the new vintages from fruits of many labors past and the bill o' fare of fine food offerings. And when it is all over, it will seem like a wonderful dream, and thank goodness a dream where I wasn't standing naked in the middle of a street or a winery or...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Woodward Canyon: Revisited

Of course, it is only natural that tourists and locals sometimes get very focused on visiting the newest wineries in town. However, it’s just as important to revisit the “pioneer” wineries who were the first ones on the Walla Walla wine map. After all, they are the “heart” of the Walla Walla wine industry and possibly without them, we wouldn’t have the succession of exciting new wineries in our valley today.

Woodward Canyon is one of those “pioneer” wineries. It got off the ground in 1981, by Rick Small and his wife, Darcey Fugman-Small. From the beginning Rick decided that quality was more important than quantity and to this day Woodward Canyon has remained "humbly" small starting from 1,200 cases to it's current production of around 17,000 cases.

Last Saturday, I revisited Woodward Canyon. I love this tasting room and it's possibly one of my favorites in the valley. No "flash." No "frills." The old 1870's farmhouse with the walk-way through the colorful flower gardens and old trees standing guard, it seems the perfect setting considering their history in the valley. As soon as I walked into the door, I was immediately greeted by Bob, one of the members of their tasting room staff and Shari, in charge of guest services. When it comes to tasting room staff in wineries, I always pay this little game in my head. Would I hire them if I owned a winery? And the answer is: most definitely yes. And adding to the highlights and what I came for:

Woodward Canyon Dry White Riesling - 2007: I have tasted past vintages of their dry Rieslings and they never disappointed. Get in line of the "never disappointed" vintages, because - ding-ding-ding - we have another winner! This is like sipping the juice of pure stone fruit. It's crisp. It's clean - - with just a bite of mineral. If you can leave your mitts off it and give it some proper storage, there is no doubt it will age like a fine old Riesling from Germany.

Woodward Canyon "Artist Series" Cabernet Sauvignon - 2006: Mmmm...a nose of spice and cigar box. A bold wine with a long finish. Up front you really catch the dark berries and cherries and it slowly evolves to flavors of dark cocoa and creamy coffee. What I enjoyed about this red, was just the perfect touch of oak but still allowing all of the fruit to shine through. And besides being an age worthy and a classy Cabernet, you get a "purdy pi'ture" on the bottle, too.

Woodward Canyon Dolcetto - 2007: The timing of this release could not have been any more perfect. With summer entertaining around the corner and victory gardens being planted, this is a red that is going to stand up to those endless tomato dishes. It's light, fruity and spicy! And yet for a red, it's light enough to add a bit of a chill to the bottle to assist in combating the summer heat or even the spiciest bbq sauce.

After my "revisit," Shari and Bob helped me to my car with my purchases and I left with a smile on my face. Revisiting Woodward Canyon was a wonderful way to start my day of wine tasting.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Five Colleges Battle it Out!

No, we aren't talkin' basketball or football. We're talkin' college wineries! Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV is tasting five wines from five different wine college programs. The players are:

Spartan Cellars at Michigan State University
Chapel Creek Winery at Redlands CC at Tulsa, Oklahoma
Santa Rosa Junior College at California
Northwest Wine Academy at South Seattle Community College
College Cellars of Walla Walla Community College.

Find out who will win! Will California come in first? Will SSCC and WWCC be another battle like the Huskies and the Cougars, pitting each side of the state against each other? Or will Michigan surprise us all and come out the strong number one champ? I know I am keeping my fingers crossed for my alma mater, College Cellars of Walla Walla!

Check it out for yourself:

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Robison Ranch Cellars - 2010!

Our valley has long been known for wheat and with the growth of vineyards in the horizon, vineyard expansion and wine production has not been embraced by everyone in our prolific little valley. However, it’s exciting when some of the valley’s wheat ranchers do get behind the wine community and understand it's importance to the livelihood in Walla Walla – creating more jobs and revenue.

Jim Robison, of Robison Ranch, a third-generation, family-owned ranch located in Walla Walla County, is one of those wheat ranchers who is delighted the wine industry has taken root in the Valley. It’s no surprise, especially when Robison Ranch also owned a specialty foods company featuring agriculture products such as pickled vegetables (asparagus, green beans, etc), Walla Walla Sweet Onions and was also one of the nation’s largest producers of shallots. So it seems only natural they would take the next step and open a winery.

Brad Riordan and Jim Robison have teamed together to form Robison Ranch Cellars. Like Jim, Brad also has some strong roots planted. He had the good fortune to have studied under Stan Clarke, former Associate Director at the Center for Enology and Viticulture at WWCC before Stan died in November of 2007. From learning at Stan's "knee," Brad established a small hobby vineyard (1/4 acre 220 plants of Merlot and Syrah) and later in 2005 he produced 60 gallons of "vins de garage" Cabernet Sauvignon from Spofford Station Vineyards. Eventually Jim Robison would sample the 2005 Cabernet and asked Brad if he would be interested expanding his wine hobby out at the Robison Ranch. And do I dare say, "the rest is history" as they became a bonded winery in May, 2008.

During this long winter naturally I was "more than happy" to sample some of their first "garagista-style" wines due to the generosity of Brad and Jim's daughter, Margaret Robison Ely. The Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah were produced with local fruit and showed all the character of Walla Walla terroir. The real surprise was Brad's "Tuscan-blend" of Sangiovese and Cabernet. Hearty, yet with a velvety finish and so generous with flavors and nose. This, no doubt could be Brad's signature wine. One important thing I learned about these wines - - very food friendly.

This last weekend we did some barrel sampling out at the Robison Ranch. First of all, let me say before I get on with descriptions of wines, the hospitality of Jim and Brad was wonderful - a first class barrel sampling! And one more thing - - this ain't no "hobby-tasting" wine. Brad has the talent to understand the fruit and is pulling out their best qualities. With the first crush of 2008, Robison Ranch will produce about 300 cases. During the barrel sampling we were generously treated to tastes from several barrels and some of the real show stoppers were a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and a rose'.

One of the Cabernet Sauvignons was produced with fruit from Dwelley Jones Vineyards. It was big, complex and showing the characteristics that Walla Walla fruit is known for. The Syrah from Spofford Station had a smoky, bacon-y nose and the flavors of ripe and juicy blueberries. The Bordeaux-style rose' was aromatic, crisp and the notes of Cabernet Franc were dominant. The beautiful dark-pink color was not only striking in the glass, but the essence of strawberry was lively. At first taste, all of us were "oohing and ahhing" and even Jim Robison, with a slight smile and a gleam in his blue eyes, modestly said, "It's not bad."

If you expect to see Robison Ranch Cellars wines in the near future, you're going to have to be patient. Remember the ol' saying: "Anything worth having is worth waiting for."

Robison Ranch Cellars goal is to have their wines out on the market about mid-2010. The red wines will age an average about 18+ months in a deliberate combination of new and old oak. Brad's approach to winemaking is very much like the Robison family's style of doing things: conservative and committed to quality - - or nothing.