Saturday, January 22, 2011

Walla Walla takes a walk on the wild "Christmas Carol" side

Some of my readers may not know that I am also a regular contributor to Walla Walla Lifestyles, a magazine about the valley's people, wine and food. In fact, some of you may not know about the magazine at all. It is distributed 11 times a year through subscription with the Walla Walla Union Bulletin.

This particular article, I have received many kind emails and comments and thought it was worthy of sharing once again. Thank you.

I love this town, and having lived here all my life, I have lots of fond memories of Walla Walla before it became a wine destination.

I’m also a big supporter of business, especially our local wineries. The positive things that that industry has done for the area are innumerable — creating full-time jobs not least among them. But not everyone feels this way.

Local citizens, expressing their opinions at city council meetings, in letters to the editor, and especially on Facebook, seem to feel that the local wine industry — evidently flush with money — should pay to fix street potholes, resurrect the privately owned Blue Mountain Mall, and build a public swimming pool.

Some anti-wine industry folks have even posited that the city’s fining of the downtown purple mollusk was driven by the wine industry, and followed it with the inevitable “I wish Walla Walla was the way it used to be.”

In the holiday spirit, my gift to the community is that, for one evening, these folks get their wish during a long winter’s nap — to clearly see Walla Walla “as it used to be,” and then to visit it in a future where no wineries were thriving. Just like Ebenezer Scrooge, who got to walk with the ghosts of Christmas past and future, perhaps they will come to see the error of their ways.

If you lived in Walla Walla 30 years ago, you will remember the way Walla Walla “used to be.”
Continued

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Walla Faces: Fusion - 2006

It's been no secret that when I reach for a bottle of wine, I typically grab a Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc. However, recently I have been screwing the ol' cork screw into the corks of many red blends. Glorious red blends that have no shame or tradition and can be fused with the sacred Bordeaux and the renegade Rhone. To me, a blend is often telling of the winemaker and of his or her style and craft. Somehow if that blend tasted excellent to the winemaker's palate, and I trust and know the winemaker, the blend is often a winner and a winner to celebrate as with each vintage and with each blend, you will never taste another bottle of wine like that again.

Walla Faces Fusion is one of those wines. Are you familiar with Walla Faces? When you walk into their tasting room on Main Street in Walla Walla, you immediately are taken with all of the happy faces that greet you, not only the staff, but the colorful and whimsical faces that surround you on canvas.

Candice Johnson is the featured artist of Walla Faces. She lived in Paris, France and it is there where she developed her painting style apprenticing under several well known Parisian artists. Candice began to create "Tetes," which is the French meaning for "heads" - small portraits of heads or in this case, faces - Walla Faces.

The label for the Fusion blend are the "tetes" of Candice's brother and sister-inlaw, Rick and Debbie Johnson, owners of Walla Faces.

It was a year ago when I first visited this Bordeaux-style red blend fused with Cabernet, Merlot and Cabernet Franc from the Walla Walla Valley. As I revisit it a year later, there is still the nose that is so prominent of Walla Walla terroir - aromas of autumn leaves smoldering in the Walla Walla Valley, like the fragrance of a cigar box, and big red ripe orchard fruit of cherries and dried dark plums. I noticed this time there were even flakes of sediment going on. (Note: We love sediment. It's a good thing.) The color of this blend now has a slight copper tinge - very slight.

You'll find on the back label of Walla Faces Fusion that Rick and Debbie found each other over 10 years ago and they work best as one - a Fusion. Cheers ~

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Substance Un-Abuse

Whether you were an A student in chemistry or flunked the class, one is still drawn to the distinctive black and white wine labels of periodic tables resembling chemical elements. However, as you get closer you notice that the "chemicals" involved are those of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.

In 2007, Jamie Brown and Jason Huntley of Waters Winery and Greg Harrington of Gramercy Cellars, both wineries located in Walla Walla, teamed up to launch their idea of an affordable wine, Substance, that would catch the eye of wine newbies and aficionados alike. In 2009, Wine Business Monthly named Substance one of the year's Top 10 Hot Small Brands. Besides the attractive and clever packaging, the wine is also meant to educate, just like in chemistry classes. However, this time with much more enjoyable homework.

Last spring I tasted through the wines with Substance winemaker Jamie Brown. The first thing that struck me was these wines, were not only affordable ($20), but each wine showed off its varietal character in its truest form. The wines were not soft or half-heartedly resembling the variety, but each wine was - - well - - of substance. Another aspect of these wines were the opportunity for a wine lover to taste some of the more interesting and hard-to-find varietals such as Tempranillo, Malbec and Counoise.

Whether these wines are used to understand each individual grape variety or casual sipping, I would even recommend them for a dinner party. The wines of Substance are not only an icebreaker and worthy of great conversation, but also very food friendly.

Also read: Pure and Solid Character: Substance Wines At the time of that posting, some of the Substance wines were not available as many of the more "exotic" wine varietals sell out quick. Tempranillo, Malbec and Counoise are now available.

Monday, January 17, 2011

“The Composer” - Rasa Vineyards Riesling 2009

There's a reason why Riesling is on the rise in Washington State, especially when they taste as wonderful as "The Composer" produced by Rasa Vineyards located in Walla Walla.

Riesling, with strong roots from Germany, has been planted in American vineyards since the 1800s. In fact, it was one of the first grape varietals to be grown in Washington in the early 1970's.

This aromatic white grape has gone in and out of fashion, and at times even resulted in fluctuations of acreage. The finest Rieslings are grown in Germany, Austria, Alsace and believe it or not, Washington State. At this time there are over 4,404 acres of Riesling planted in the state. Riesling produced from Washington grapes can range from dry to sweet, with even a few vintages of Late Harvests and Eisweins.

The "Composer" Riesling is produced from some of the oldest vines in the Columbia Valley AVA (planted in 1974), the Bacchus and Dionysus Vineyards at Sagemoor Farms located near Pasco on the southwest slope facing the dramatic views of the Columbia River below. These two sibling vineyards are separated by a small dirt road. So when the Naravane brothers, Billo and Pinto, of Rasa Vineyards winery were offered access to some of this old vine fruit, they couldn't say, "No." And we Riesling lovers are grateful for their nonresistance.

The nose of "The Composer" is rich with heady aromatics of pear, pineapple and floral, with slight undertones of mineral and petrol. It quenches the palate with its bright and crisp acidity, yet giving layers of fresh orchard fruit - apples, peaches and pears. The sweetness is delicate (1.6% residual sugar), not cloying, while leaving the palate with a lingering clean finish. I sat and pondered "The Composer" for a long time, from the nose to the finish, as it is a very expressive and complex Riesling. Beautifully done. Applause.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Trio, Duo and now Solo: Trio Vintners Sold

In the ever-changing, ever-evolving wine world of Walla Walla, it was announced yesterday that the first winery to fly the incubator coop has been sold.

Trio Vintners was the first winery to take flight from the Port of Walla Walla's winery incubator and landed at the historic Drumheller Building making a tasting room on the Second Ave side this last summer. Founders and winemakers, Denise Slattery and Steve Michener have sold the winery to Karen La Bonte'. Karen was a former co-owner of Patit Creek Cellars in 2008, when she and Ed Dudley purchased Patit Creek Cellars from the original owners and founders located in Dayton, WA. Dudley is now the sole owner of Patit Creek Cellars.

The original owners of Trio Vintners; Denise, Steve and Tim Boushey started their winery adventure in 2006 and were one of the first to launch at the Port of Walla Walla's winery incubator program at the city-county airport area. In time, the trio built a 1500 case production of more unique and limited releases such as Sangiovese, Mourvedre, Tempranillo and even Zinfandel. They would eventually build their brand, Trio Vintners, to be named "Hot Small Brand of 2008" by Wine Business Monthly. Last year the winemaking husband and wife team, Steve and Denise, found themselves as the "Dynamic Duo" when Tim left the trio.

My best to the new solo vintner, Karen La Bonte' of Trio Vintners and hopefully Denise and Steve will stick around the Walla Walla area and possibly find themselves a niche in the wine industry. They are truly two people that add in making Walla Walla a better and more interesting place.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Walla Walla Wine Rewind - 2010

Wow! That was fast. 2011 is already here. Let's rewind and take a look at our southeast corner of Washington State.

The last count of wineries, based on the new wine maps by Tourism Walla Walla, is 103 wineries are operating in the valley and more than 1,800 acres of vineyards are part of our agricultural landscape. Sure - lately wineries have come and come, but usually very few go. Unfortunately, 2010 bought to a close, Yellow Hawk Cellars and Nicholas Cole Cellars. Yellow Hawk Cellars had been operating since 1998 and been known for their affordable Italian varietals. For Yellow Hawk partner's, Tim Sampson and Barbara Hetrick, their decision to leave their business was based on taking advantage of their stationary condition and leave while the going was good. Their last day of business was July 3.

Mike Neuffer of Nicholas Cole Cellars will be known for his beautiful red Bordeaux-style blends affectionately named after the women in his family. Mike's wines were founded on the belief that "great wines are made one vine at a time" and released his inaugural Bordeaux blend in 2001. Indeed it was a sad announcement to hear, just before Christmas, that he would be placing an indefinite hiatus on wine making and future vintages of Nicholas Cole and GraEagle wines. Mike relocated to Seattle to be with his children, Michele and Nicholas, after the loss of their mother, Susan, in August due to cancer. I wish Michael, his family and the Nicholas Cole Cellars staff all of my best.

It was musical chairs when it came to Walla Walla wineries. Amavi Cellars built an ultra-modern facility on Peppers Bridge Road and Gramercy Cellars will be moving into Amavi's old facility on North 13th. Bunchgrass Winery reopened with additional partners after being closed for awhile. Trio Vintners moved out of the incubator facility at the airport and Corvus Cellars moved in. Trio Vintners can now be found at their new tasting room at 102 S. Second Avenue. Ash Hollow Winery left their Second Street address to move to the airport and Mackey Vineyards moved in. SuLei Cellars opened up a tasting room on Second Ave, in addition to their winery at Beet Road. Sinclair Estate Vineyards opened a tasting room on Main Street.

This spring, Tero Estates in Milton-Freewater announced their open house and new releases located on the old Windrow Vineyard as well their purchase of the Flying Trout label leaving founder/winemaker Ashley Trout more time for production. Tim and Lori Kennedy opened their new tasting room in Milton-Freewater naming their winery and vineyard after Lori's grandfather, Don Carlo. In the mean time, Jan and Doug of Tero Estates, Tim and Lori of Don Carlo and Mike and Penne of Locati Cellars announced their move to the neighboring tasting rooms at the Marcus Whitman Hotel on Second and Rose Streets (a great neighborhood).

And also in that 'hood, Trey Busch of Sleight of Hand Cellars announced he would be leaving his Second Street tasting room as he broke ground for a new facility to be opened in the spring of 2011 on JB George Road. Now the guess is, who will move into that spot? Whew! Have I forgotten anyone? In the meantime, there are other new winery moves on the horizon, but at this time I am sworn to secrecy.

Speaking of moves, like the great pioneer spirit, "Go West Young Men" and that's what they did. About a half-dozen Walla Walla wineries from A - Z (Amavi to Zerba) opened second tasting rooms in the growing wine villages of Woodinville near Seattle. Reason? To increase sales and to go where the dollars and people are. It is still on the board on what the impact will be to those wineries and in fact, impact on those wineries remaining in the Walla Walla Valley. Will Walla Walla lose that tourism from the West they have relied on and will those second tasting rooms be diluting their customer base?

In January Cayuse Vineyards announced that after 13 years of releases on their usual first weekend in November, the 2010 November’s Cayuse release date would be cancelled and moved to April 2011. This announcement left us wondering what would happen to the independent Fall Release Weekend that Walla Walla wineries had based their weekend around Cayuse. Will they drop their usual weekends and follow Cayuse around or stand on their own?

A new fangled thing called, "Social Media" came-a-knocking at the Walla Walla wineries and it was embraced. The first Twitter Taste Event to promote awareness of Washington Merlot was held at Otis Kenyon Tasting Room. Later we would rally around with our cell phones and laptops again while drinking wine at the Olive Marketplace twittering like crazy promoting all Washington wines and then again this fall at Amavi Cellars and Seven Hills Winery promoting Washington Cabernet.

It's no secret that Walla Walla is a hidden little destination and during the week of June 21 eight miles of old U.S. Highway 12 was re-opened after it was tucked, plucked, widened and realigned, but the new highway's "cosmetic surgery" caused problems for several wineries. Wineries such as Bunchgrass, Cougar Crest, Glencorrie, Long Shadows Vintners, Skylite Cellars, Reininger, and Three Rivers, located on the "old" stretch of highway, were no longer on the GPA and it couldn't have happened at an inconvenient time, as over 300 wine bloggers and industry people were coming to town - -

Unattractive whining, crying, screaming, kicking and breath holding (don't look at me) took place during discussions about where the 2010 Third Annual North American Wine Bloggers Conference would be held. The last two years Napa Valley/Sonoma in California had been host but event coordinators were looking for a new environment. The Washington Wine Commission threw their hat in the ring on behalf of Woodinville. Sure, Woodinville is close to a cosmopolitan area and has plenty of tasting rooms - - but where were the grapes? In Walla Walla, of course! With the assistance of the Elizabeth Martin-Calder, former Executive Director of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, she reeled them in and the conference was a sell out! In fact, the largest to date. Walla Walla Wine Alliance, Tourism Walla Walla and the Downtown Foundation went over and above to show our guests a wonderful time. What it meant for the Washington State Wine industry was a new awareness of Washington wines, as well as an increase in their role in the wine social media world.

A month after the successful North American Wine Bloggers Conference,the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance announced that Elizabeth Martin-Calder resigned her post after more than four years as Executive Director. The WWVWA has yet to fill this position.

And then there was crush ... no wait. Not yet. And then there was crush ... Nope. Not quite yet ... hold on ... hold on ... and then finally - - there was crush. There was precipitation and then there was heat and then a small window came about to get the grapes in before frost. There were many a winemaker feeling a mix of a welcome challenge and a small bit of confusion. My guess? 2010 will be a banner vintage, but with a small production.

Many Walla Walla wineries received awards and accolades, in fact Washington State as a whole received an abundance. Walla Walla's Gramercy Cellars was named Food & Wine magazine’s "Best New Winery in America." Tamarack Firehouse Red Columbia Valley 2008, Waterbrook Merlot Columbia Valley Reserve 2007, and Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2007 made the Wine Spectator's Top 100 wine list. The WS gave the highest scores (97 points) ever to Charles Smith Royal City Syrah 2006 and to Cayuse Armada Vineyard Syrah 2006. In fact, the WS also devoted their cover and pages to the wines of Washington State.

The following wines found their way on the Wine Enthusiast's Top 100: Long Shadow's Poet’s Leap Riesling 2009, Rulo Syrah 2007, Woodward Canyon Chardonnay 2009, Buty Sémillon-Sauvignon-Muscadelle 2008, Abeja Merlot 2008, and Dowsett Family Celilo Vineyard Gewürztraminer 2009. Dr Jay Miller of Parker's Wine Advocate was also very generous with the many deserving wines of Walla Walla.

Fall Release weekend came and went and before we knew it, it was Holiday Barrel Tasting/Macy's Christmas Light Parade which has always been held the first weekend of December. Movement about the town seemed slower than previous Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekends. There were the usual concerns about the weather, of course. Hey, it’s winter, right? It was also a big weekend for WSU Cougar and UW Husky rivals to once again face each other at the long-standing Apple Cup. There were also concerns that Seattle-ites may have forsaken the frosty wine country of Walla Walla to stay home and visit St. Nick and the Woodinville “strip-mall” wineries instead. This may have been a convenient choice for many since a few of the Walla Walla wineries also have tasting rooms in Woodinville.

2011 will be another exciting year for the wine industry of Walla Walla and many questions will be answered. Will Woodinville and Walla Walla give each other the hairy eyeball as to who will change their holiday weekends? Will the WWVWA ever find an Executive Director? What winery will move to Second Street? What winery will move to Woodinville and what winery will leave Woodinville? Will the wineries follow the new Cayuse weekend again and again ...? What winery will move in 2011? Stay tuned to these answers and more as the Walla Walla Wine World Turns.

Here's to a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. Cheers!