Friday, January 29, 2010

There's Some New Faces in Town: Walla Faces!

Rick and Debbie, along with Janice and Jane, are the new faces of Walla Walla's Main Street.

As they say, "It all starts in the vineyard." And for Debbie and Rick Johnson, it certainly did. The Walla Faces Vineyard was planted in 1999 by Three Rivers Winery (formerly known as the Ahler Vineyard). In 2006, the Johnson's purchased the Ahler Vineyard, as well as the home site above the vineyard and renamed it Walla Faces Vineyard. Along with a new name, they also brought organic farming practices to the vineyard and of course, with these changes brought a new degree of excellence in the wine.

There are other faces of Walla Faces, such as Matt and also Candice. We'll get to Jane, Janice and more on Rick and Debbie, later. In 2008, Matthew Loso became the winemaker "face" for Walla Faces. Prior to joining Walla Faces he was the founder, owner and winemaker at Matthew Cellars in Woodinville, Washington for 15 years. During that time Matt built a solid reputation in winemaking with many accolades and national wine review publications

Not only have I had the pleasure of visiting with Rick and Debbie, but also the creator of these "Faces," Candice Johnson. Candice is also Rick's sister. Trained as a interior designer, Candice's creativity has brought her to places from Los Angeles to Paris, France. While in Paris she apprenticed under several well know Parisian artists. Her art has been sold and celebrated throughout the world, but it is Walla Walla where she has hung her hat or more like "placed her face." Her faces shows her enthusiam for life, color and a youthful spirit. I also discovered Candice has embraced her own "Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman."

Walla Faces tasting room on Main Street is very comfortable and modern, with memories of the past from the brick walls to the tin ceiling. There are colorful touches of Candice's small portraits around the room, which she refers to as “Tetes” (French meaning heads). And it just so happens those Tetes are also on the labels. And this is where we will meet Janice and Jane.

Janice is the Face on the Walla Faces Cabernet Sauvignon - 2006. Right up front Janice told me she was a Cabernet with her bold, dark and sassy fruit. Janice is juicy! She is nicely balanced and her tannins are visible, but just enough to tell me she is also worthy of some beauty sleep to turn those tannins into silk. $34.90

Jane is the Face on the Walla Faces Syrah - 2006. This estate Syrah is inky in color. Jane shows off her dark fruit with aromas of Walla Walla's earth and flavors of blueberries and spice and still - there's a lot going on with this wine. Most Jane's I have known do not like to be known for their "fullness" but Jane isn't afraid. She is big! Jane will definitely scream more of her personality after being decanted. An excellent price at $28

Rick and Debbie have been fused together to create Fusion, of course! This Bordeaux-style red blend is a real show off - showing off the terroir of Walla Walla. It is lively with a nose of dark fruit and a bit of the ol' cigar box. The "fusion" of Cabernet, Merlot and Cabernet Franc makes this wine complex - there's a lot going on. Yeah - it's a wine that I could get greedy with and not want to share. $29.90

So, just face it. Stop by and introduce yourself to the new Faces of Walla Walla - Walla Faces.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Four Wine Questions For: Amy Mumma

Welcome to my sixth interview in my 4WQ4 blog feature. This is the first 4WQ4 for 2010 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. However, I have to admit I failed in 2009 and was short three interviews. But hey - this is a new year and I have another chance to meet my goal!

To start 2010 off, I decided to interview a woman - a wine woman - a Washington Wine Woman! (You know how I love those "W's") I was first introduced to Amy Mumma from the movie documentary, Washington State: Get the Dirt on Wine. A few years later I would meet Amy in person - - in fact, I met Amy at my house a few months ago! And of course, I poured her some good stuff - a lovely Merlot from Walla Walla!

Amy Mumma is the coordinator and instructor for the World of Wine Program at Central Washington University at Ellensberg and is internationally recognized for her knowledge of wines. She holds an MBA in Wine from the University of Bordeaux Business School, the Advanced Certificate of Wine and Spirits from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust in London, and a Diploma of Tasting from the Université de Bourgogne in Dijon, France.

A biochemist in protein-chemistry research, Amy's scientific background provided a foundation for her strong knowledge of the science of wine. Her business background includes nine years in international business with experience in sales, manufacturing, distribution, wholesale, retail, import, export and international finance.

Amy was awarded the prestigious title, Professional Wine Woman 2005-2006, the top award of the International Wine Women Awards in Paris, France. She lived and studied in France for several years and continues to enjoy traveling and learning about vineyards and winemaking regions around the world.

W5: At what point in your life did it all come clear for you that the wine industry was what you wanted to be a part of?

AM: I was at the University of Burgundy while doing my undergraduate studies in Foreign Languages and International Affairs and it is there where I earned my Diploma of Wine Studies. It was much more interesting than 18th century French grammar!

I lived with a French family who worked in the wine business. The father of the family worked with negociants and both large and small estates. I was exposed to the world of domestic as well as export sales and was able to participate in many facets of the wine industry. And during my time there I was lucky to be able to travel and visit the major wine regions of Europe

I also studied overseas and received my Advanced Certificate in Wine and Spirits from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust in London. I think it's great to expand your horizons beyond wine to the wider world. I learned a lot about Scotch and other drinks that is very applicable to tasting in the wine business. Another example was a tasting put on by Herradura tequila down in Tequila, Mexico which was very informative. It all works to improve your palate and tasting skills. My MBA comes from the Bordeaux Business School in France and that was certainly and eye-opener. The Bordelais are quite closed when it comes to wine tourism and are steeped in tradition. I was fortunate to visit many of the esteemed growths, view the winemaking process and talk with the owners and feel even though they have a strong hold on the market, they still are attempting to maintain and increase the quality of their wines. There is also a lot of innovation going on in the south of France where old vines are being pulled up and replanted to higher quality varieites.

W5: When you were at the University of Burgundy, was it common for women to be in wine studies?

AM: It was a humbling experience. I was one of just a handful of women in the program and the only one that was not French. Fortunately at the time I was fluent in French, but it was still very difficult. I remember our first blind tasting exam which was a Santenay (Pinot Noir) 1984. The instructor handed the test back to me and said "At least you got the color right mademoiselle".

W5: What's the most interesting development you've seen in the Washington State wine industry over the past five years?

AM: Of course we've seen the rise of many small family wineries, but what I think is exciting is the rise in overall quality for Washington wines. Although, I think we still have a long road ahead on recognition of Washington wines around the world.

W5: How much larger can the Washington State wine industry grow, do you think? Is there a limit somewhere that will inevitable be reached? Have we reached it and how do you feel the State of Washington could expand their recognition around the world

AM: That is a very good question which I am not sure has an easy answer. For one thing, we are limited by water supply for irrigation so that may limit our vineyard plantings. Currently we have enough grapes and are not undersupplied. Can we add more wineries? I am sure we can, but as an industry grows there will be consolidation which we have already seen. In addition those wineries not producing wines up to quality will eventually fade out as consumers chooses higher quality wines.

I think Washington State can expand their reach in a number of ways. The first and foremost is to have consistently high quality. Just one winery can bring down the others, but fortunately, quality has increased dramatically. Then of course there is the inevitable marketing. The wine industry is a 3 legged stool: wine, vineyard and marketing. Forget the marketing and the stool does not stand. It can be expensive to market, so it's important to work smarter rather than spending a lot of money and wasted effort. Be creative, look for a niche, find a target market. You can't be everything to everybody.

If wanting to work out of state, a winery has to take the time to research the market, the consumers, key buyers and distributors. Visits to the marketplace are essential to meet with key players and get a pulse on the industry. It is also crucial to have large players in the industry that can spread the word on Washington. It's expensive to go out of state for many small producers, so it's a good idea to support the bigger wineries in spreading the word.

Many studies have shown that to be successful, it is important to be in the UK market. The UK market has often been a gauge for global success. But it is a fiercely competitive market where retailers are squeezing suppliers. It makes sense to also put effort into new emerging markets such as Asia. Washington State already has trade ties to Asia and wineries should leverage that. Washington wines are considered in the premium price category which is what many Asians buy on as wine is considered a luxury and often a symbol of status. Washington has a long way to go. Relationships take time to develop. We are a young industry and it is important in the world of wine tradition to be patient, smart and look for new opportunities.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wine Blogging Wednesday #65: "Snow Day" - Tranche Cellars Red

Today is Wine Blogging Wednesday #65 and our hostess, Michelle Lentz also known as "Wine Girl" of My Wine Education has asked wine bloggers everywhere to look out our windows and imagine snow and then imagine what wine we would like to enjoy during a "snow day." In Walla Walla, Washington it is easier to imagine snow, then it is what wine we want to drink. You see, no matter where we are in the valley, we can often get a glimpse of the the snow covering the Blue Mountains and the foothills in the winter months, but in Walla Walla, Washington imagining what wine to drink can be difficult since there are so many great wines!

Last Wednesday, I met with friend-wine lover-winery web designer-extroidinare, Julia Herres of Winery Designs at one of my favorite places to enjoy a glass of wine - The Vineyard Lounge at the Marcus Whitman Hotel. And no, it wasn't snowing. But we sat, I can honestly say, is one of my favorite places to enjoy, with or without the snow, a glass of wine. Especially if you get a table with the comfy chairs or the sofa by the fireplace. The elegant room gives us an outside view, with many windows, of the impressive entrance to downtown Walla Walla.

Decisions. Decisions. Decisions. Julia and I spent about 20 minutes trying to decide what bottle we wanted to order from the large book of Walla Walla and imported wines. Finally, Julia pointed out the Tranche Cellars Red - 2004. Neither one of us had tried it yet - and that bottle would be the star of the evening - - along with the cheese and fruit plate.

Tranche Cellars is an "off-shoot of the Corliss Estates vine." Corliss Estates is owned by Michael Corliss and Lauri Darnielle with Kendall Mix leading the winemaking for both wineries. Inside the bottle of Tranche Cellars Red - 2004, adorning a label reminding one of currency, is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. When the server handed me the cork, at first glance I couldn't help from noticing the residue of "wine diamonds" on the bottom of the cork. Just that alone, I knew I was in for a treat. And as we swirled the wine, we couldn't help notice the rich sediment in the bottom of our glasses. This was definitely a wine worthy of decanting.

Julia and I decided to take notes on this luscious red blend we were enjoying. As I refer back to our notes, the aroma was smoky with notes of coffee and mocha. The taste was bold and round with notes of blackberry, brown sugar and creme brulee - - with just a hint of licorice. We took our time and enjoyed this wine - like four hours worth! Tranche Cellars Red is just too good of a wine to hurry through and it gave us a good reason to relax from a busy day in a big comfy chair to talk a little gossip and a little wine biz by the warm and cozy fireplace. Tranche Cellars Red is definitely a "snow day" wine.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Natural Wine: How au naturel before we lose the point?

Allow me to have my quarterly rant.

In the last few weeks I have been bombarded with so much information about organic and “natural” wines, "natural yeast" vs. “unnatural yeast” (Ahem – native yeast vs. “cultivated” yeasts. All yeast is natural.) and even “going green.” There is so much discussion on these topics that I am going green - from nausea. How much more natural can we make our wines, apart from our winemakers and cellar rats working in the wineries au naturel? When it comes to alcoholic beverages I have always considered wine as being the most natural, as wine is not distilled. It is not brewed. It is picked "fresh" from the vineyards and immediately transported to the winery to be fermented into wine.

It’s even been suggested that the government steps in again and make wineries add their ingredients, serving size, nutritional and caloric intake to their already congested labels. How romantic the art and craftsmanship of winemaking will become - not! Let alone that someone is going to have to pay those costs to meet the requirements. That "someone" is the consumer.

Hey people – didn’t we learn anything from the sulfite fiasco? The listing of sulfites on wine bottles caused much unnecessary hysteria and unfair blame with very inaccurate and self-diagnosed “allergies.” When studies came out from UC Davis, it was determined sulfites affected 1% of the population in the US. And more than likely, half of the 1% didn’t even drink wine.

In past discussions I have had regarding sulfites, the majority who were against sulfites in their wine didn’t realize there were more sulfites in their dried fruit and in many of their dehydrated backpacking meals, then in a glass of wine. Over and over I have listened to customers in tasting rooms tell me they could only drink white wine because all the sulfites in red wine gave them headaches (ahem - slightly higher sulfite amounts in white). Once I explained to a white wine drinker that sulfites were natural and found in the soil, plants and in fact that the human body produces about 1000 mg/day, which would be 100 times more than in a single glass of wine. They responded very seriously with, "Well, that explains why I am allergic to myself."

See me rolling my eyes? Since the FTC, FDA and ATB likes disclosures and labels, here's mine:

I am not a HATER against wholesome, natural foods and wine! I am a label reader. I drive across town to buy “organic” meats and free-range eggs. Buying local and seasonal foods are a priority for me. I was raised on "organic" meats and vegetables before we knew of this trendy term, "organic." Hey, I even did my time as a vegan in my glory days. In the 80's I stopped buying canned tuna because of commercial fishing practices netting dolphins along with the tuna - - and I haven't bought a can of tuna since.

I am proud to say our local wine community has a voluntary group of winemakers and growers who have formed VINEA - Winegrower's Sustainable Trust and have embraced environmentally-friendly and socially responsible viticultural practices. And laugh at me or not, I think one of our local winemakers may be onto something with his witchy wine practices by the taste of his esquisite wines. But what would the future hold for him? Will he have to list the ingredients of the compost mixture he used to fill the cow horn he buried in his vineyards?

It gets even crazier when you consider while we pontificate and demand "natural" wines, we will overlook that some of our finest wine crystal glasses we drink our "natural" wines out of are made with over 24% lead.

This is what I am a HATER of: misinformation, unnecessary hysteria and extreme measures. I also fear that with all of the trendy movement towards "natural, organic and green" we will move it right into a moral and class issue. It doesn't mean that families with many mouths to feed on a limited income doesn't care any less about their children if they have to stretch their food dollars by purchasing a 99 cent bag of carrots and a box of Quaker oats instead of a $3 bag of organic carrots and a handwoven hemp bag full of oats hand plucked by barefoot virgins. At this point, I would just like to see more families return to the kitchen and the dining table instead of tossing a sack of Mac-Shac at the kid in the back seat.

So how far shall we, as consumers, push it? How about if we start demanding that all independent restaurants and cafes list all ingredients and nutritional information on their menu's or slap a label on the table when we are served our entrees? Talk about putting a damper on a special or impromptu evening under candle light. Oh yeah, is the candle burning made from soy or paraffin hydrocarbon (aka wax kerosene)? And who will pick up these added costs? Shall we push further and force the Colonel to list his secret 11 herbs and spices on the KFC bucket? And will we insist his spices are Fair Trade Certified and the herbs are organic wild and not hothouse?

Shall the winemaker have to expose his skill and methods with each unique vintage and be reduced to tweaking a formula and even risking his vintage and harvest to comply with government labeling and "natural" standards?

And here's the irony of getting oneself in a dither about "natural" wines and being an alarmist when it comes to sulfites and what type of yeast were used produce a bottle of wine: How many people have died due to addictions and liver disease that have been the direct cause due to sulfites? How many people have died after they wrapped their car around a telephone pole due to drinking 350 ppm of sulfites (parts per million with 350 ppm being the maximum legal limit) in their wine? How many fatal car accidents have been the direct cause of cultured yeast? I can hear it now - the coroner stating, "If they would have drank wine fermented with native yeast instead of cultured yeast they might have walked away from the fiery wreck."

The alcohol is going to get you before the sulfites, calcium carbonate, asorbic acids and cultured yeasts ever will. To sum it up:

"All things in moderation, including moderation." — Mark Twain.

Friday, January 08, 2010

SYZYGY Walla Walla Syrah - 2006

As the winery says:
When earth, moon and sun align - it’s syzygy
When earth, vine and sun align - it’s SYZYGY!
 
One might think with the self-named title of Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman that I kick up my heels every night drinking wine and hanging by downtown lamp posts - - au contraire. Believe it or not, I slip quietly into wine bars and restaurants, don’t make a fuss and usually home by 8:00 pm.

The Vineyard Lounge at the Marcus Whitman Hotel is one of my favorite places to haunt in Walla Walla. I have a favorite table, which I am not going to tell you which one it is. When I visit the lounge, I play a little game in my head regarding which wine I will order, so I look for a "sign." When I check the wine list and there are so many tempting Walla Walla wines to sample, I need a little help. So, I look for a "sign"...

The other night, I walked into the Vineyard Lounge and sitting in there was Zach Brettler, winemaker and owner of SYZYGY Winery. Could this be a sign? Sure enough. I opened up the wine list and there it was - my sign! The first "rouge" wine on the list that jumped out at me was SYZYGY’s Walla Walla Valley Syrah - 2006! I had to have a glass.

Okay, so I am not one of those bloggers who give scores and QPR’s. If I say a wine was yummy, then trust me, it is yummy! But if you are familiar with the vineyards in the area, how can it not be "yummy" considering the fruit for this 100% Syrah came from Seven Hills, Morrison Lane and Les Collines vineyards? The nose came through with berries and a hint of vanilla and smoke. The flavor - - a lush mouthful of ripe blueberries and a gentle finish of spice. The tannins weren’t in your face, but just enough to remind you they were there. Defintely you could lay it down for awhile, but why? Enjoy it. It's a classic Syrah showing all of the components of a Syrah that I look for and immensely enjoy.

Again, I am not into points and scores, but when I did some further research about the SYZYGY Syrah, I discovered that the Wine Spectator also liked it and gave the Syrah 93 points.
Cheers!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Send a Wine Blogger to Walla Walla!

Yup, for only one week skip that morning "iced latte grande with 2/3 half-caf free trade, 2 1/2 pumps of sugar-free cinnamon dolce, 2 1/2 pumps of sugar-free vanilla, 1 pump sugar-free gingerbread, half 2% milk, half nonfat, a splash of soy, 2 raw sugar packets, 3 Splenda packets and 3 honey packets (shaken not stirred in the hot espresso first) light with ice and whip, heavy on the chocolate sprinkles, light nutmeg sprinkles, and don't forget the twist and two olives."

Just think - with all the money you’re spending on fluff, flavoring, whip and grounds, you could help send a wine blogger to Walla Walla! Now, I bet you're thinking, "Why would I want to send a wine blogger to Walla Walla?" Here's why - so they can share with their many readers all about the growing wine industry and the many distinct wine appellations in Washington State, as well as Walla Walla’s own fabulous wines, food, agriculture, and historical downtown. Th-Th-That’s why!

The Wine Bloggers Conference Scholarship Fund was designed to sponsor selected recipients in attending the Third Annual North American Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, Washington held at the Marcus Whitman Hotel, June 25-27, 2010.

Funds for the Wine Bloggers Conference Scholarship Fund are generated by donations from wineries, PR and marketing agencies, wine industry members, and individual wine lovers. Through a committee, applicants are asked to describe their blog, their financial needs pertaining to the Wine Bloggers Conference, and why they are deserving of a sponsorship. Funds are awarded based on the committee selection process, and monies are pooled. No one donation will be given to a specific individual, which provides more wine bloggers to attend the conference. It is important to know that the committee members, who will determine the scholarship recipients, have paid all their own individual fees to attend the conference.

Now, what’s that reason again to send a wine blogger to Walla Walla? First of all, the majority of independent wine bloggers write for free - for the love of the grape. In the mean time, the wine industry's traditional media is evolving and traditional print is being replaced with social media and blogging. And if you don’t believe it, ask the traditional print media why they have suddenly hopped on the Facebook, Twitter, and the blogging bandwagon. And here you thought Facebook et al and blogging was just for techy, love starved, angst ridden teen-agers.

The Third Annual North American Wine Bloggers Conference offers an extraordinary opportunity for wine bloggers, wineries and wine and media related industries to learn more about this exciting industry, from soil to bottle, and most of all, gain further understanding of each other's needs. Wine lovers, wineries and companies that donate to the scholarship fund will be spotlighted on the Wine Bloggers Scholarship Fund website, and every effort will be made to encourage the winning scholarship recipients to blog about you as well.

And when this is all said and done, who will benefit most of all? It is the wine consumer who will benefit as they seek up-to-date information online about what wines to purchase and overall information about the growing world wide wine industry.

Many thanks to Thea Dwelle of the Wine Bloggers Scholarship Fund and her committee. Tell them I sent you.