A few weeks ago I took some friends on a tour of some my favorite wineries in Woodinville - La Tour des Favorites in total Franglais. They had originally wanted to go to Walla Walla, but not in August, so we saved 250 miles and five hours of driving by visiting Woodinville only half an hour to an hour from anywhere in the greater Seattle area (nothing against Walla Walla which I love). On my list were ten wineries including Ponum, Sparkman, Gorman, Darby, Mark Ryan, Brian Carter, Novelty Hill/Januik, Hestia, Adam's Bench, and Barrage. Unfortunately, we had to limit ourselves to only five wineries and even this was too much. We went to the wineries that responded quickly, offered discounts and waived fees.
We started off at Novelty Hill/Januik where we tasted at least a half a dozen wines including two Chardonnays, Viognier, Syrah, Sangiovese, and Mike Januik's big Red. All the wines were fabulous. "Never a bad one in the bunch." We shared six delicious thin-crust pizzas on the patio with the Sangio. One member of the group said he didn't want to go to the other wineries - he just wanted to stay there on the patio of Novelty Hill. All of the staff were wonderful to us. Special thanks to Diane.
Off to Adam's Bench where winemaker Erica Blue tasted us on two vintages of Reckoning, a bottle of Myth, and the very successful Sangiovese. Fabulous dark, rich wines of substance. Erica is a physician, chemist and wine "alchemist." One of the top new wineries to watch. Get on their mailing list or join their wine club while you still can.
On to Shannon at Hestia where he has expanded his offerings to include a Rose and a Chenin/Viognier blend among other. The Cab and the Syrah were faves of the group. This is another new winery to watch. Sign up, don't wait.
Kevin at Barrage had a groaning board of food that the group fairly lunged at. We were a few hours late and felt we had to move on. The Trifecta is a winner and you can expect a barrage of good wines from this newcomer.
We wrapped at Brian Carter winery. We arrived ten minutes before closing but the good ladies of the tasting room accommodated us pouring Brian's outstanding magical kitchen sink blend called Abracadabra - Poof! Great "everyday" wine followed by L'Etalon Brian's excellent Bordeaux style blend.
The group was amazed at the collection of outstanding wineries hidden away in a warehouse district just slightly north of downtown Woodinville. There are so many other fabulous wineries to visit you could spend days checking them out. BTW, those of you Wine Bloggers coming to Walla Walla next June should plan to arrive in Seattle early and stay a few days. I would be happy to take you around to Seattle's fabulous wineries. As most of you know the grapes are grown in Eastern Washington with the "perfect climate." The grapes are shipped to Seattle in small lugs where Boeing Wine Club grads and former Ch. Ste. Michelle winemakers make some of the best wine in the U.S. Why fly to France or even California, when you can get the best of both right here in Washington (no, The Washington State Wine Commission did not pay me to say that). If any of you would like to tour the wineries of Woodinville, South Seattle Artisans, Vashon wineries, Yakima wineries, the Columbia Gorge, Red Mountain, Walla Walla leave a comment with your email address and I'll get back to you.
Late last month, a posse of Zapatistas rode into town following the Rhone Rangers. Since Zin requires heat, it seems they brought some heat with them. Since many are from places like Paso Robles, they seemed unfazed by the 90s temps that could make Zin grapes appear to grow out of the bottle before your very eyes and the wine bubble, bubble. The posse was only a small cadre of the 300 some odd Zinfandel Advocates and Producers almost all from California. Zin is grown all over California. My favorite region is the Sierra Foothills including the Amador and El Dorado AVAs. Paso Robles produces some excellent Zins and the Russian River area of Sonoma produces the most elegant Zins. If you really want to get down and sin, try Seven Deadly Zins from Lodi.
It really was too hot to enjoy red wine, but it was great to get to taste so many wines in one room. In fact, for a change, it was the right amount of wine in the right amount of time in the right amount of space thanks to the event planning skills of wine impresario David Le Claire. There were many small wineries and most of the biggies you can find on the supermarket shelf. Bogle was there as were Rancho Zabaco, Peachy Canyon, Four Vines and Ravenswood. At the higher end Rosenblum and Ridge were represented as well as Opolo, Renwood and Sobon. Among smaller wineries were Hendry, Proulx, and Quivera.
Virtually all of the wines were good - not a bad one in the bunch, but there were very few standout wines. The good thing is, with that kind of consistency, you can almost buy any Zin and have a good quaff. The bad thing is the really exciting wines are reserve and vineyard designate wines that are pricey. Some of the best wines were made in small quantities by big wineries and mostly available only at the winery. I keep telling you the best way to to buy wine is to taste it at the winery and bring it home with you in your air-conditioned car. Happily, very few wines were big and jammy and in-your-face. Almost all the wines had a consumer friendly profile of good fruit with a hint of "sweet" feel in a light to medium bodied style. My bias is toward big brambly Zin with "garrigue" and enough tannin to stand up to any roast, stew, or steak. Many of the wines I tasted seemed more suitable for Pizza, burgers or a picnic. Not too long ago, Sobon Reserve or Renwood Grandpere fit the bill. Now they seem like big brothers to their more common sibs.
Something was missing? My favorite Zin profile, yes, but also, where was the Washington State Zin? Yes, Washington State Zin! Washington winemakers and grapegrowers are adventuresome, on the edge, experimenters. You can get almost any grape you want in Washington, even Pinot Noir. Among others, Paul Portteus grows Zin, makes Zin, and sells Zin to others. From California Turley Zins were absent, although I must admit that I prefer her Petit Sirah. Maybe I'm just a crotchety old Grandpere, but I expect more character from 90 year old vines. On the other hand, if you are having pizza, burgers or a picnic, you can pretty much grab a Zin off the shelf and count on a good quaff.
What better way to launch the 2009 Auction of Washington Wine than in a partly cloudy partly rainy field outside Chateau Ste Michelle. Eric Dunham's beautiful Starry Starry Night painting didn't quite capture the scene. Falling Rain Cellars did. But Northwesterners have webbed feet and the staff were prepared so most of the event got moved under the at-the-ready big white tent. The evening seemed subdued between the weather and the economy, but the wine and food were great. I ran into lots of friends - Mary McWilliams and Bill Getz to name just two and lots of winemakers, Trey Busch, Chris Sparkman, Marty Clubb, Brian Carter, and Kevin Correll of Barrage Cellars.
There were all the usual fun events - ring toss, etc and you could bid on a barrel of wine. The winemakers who had donated barrels offered tastes of the wines in the barrel. There was a silent auction and best of all the opportunity to taste lots of wine. The wines were organized by varietal. The varietal tables were fun because you could compare and contrast, say, all the Rieslings.
I arrived early, so they wouldn't let me in. I hadn't tasted Ste. Michelle wines in a while so I went into the tasting room where I was lucky enough to meet the very fair and able Bridgette who provided me with a private tasting of Cold Creek Vineyard designate wines all of which were excellent. The 2007 Cold Creek Vineyard Chardonnay was just as good as usual with that wonderfully European minerality that I love so much. The 2006 Cold Creek Vineyard Merlot was smooth and soft with great berry fruit. Friendly and easy, but still interesting. The 2006 Cold Creek Cabernet Sauvignon was soft round and fruity, too, with good cherry vanilla flavors.The 2005 Col Solare was like a pillowtop mattress, soft on the top with a firm underpinning. The 2006 Ice Wine Chenin Blanc smelled of honeysuckle and was intensely sweet, but not cloying and annoying. And Lagniappe was the current bottling of the Eroica Riesling which was open because the good Doctor Loosen was in the house and Bridget copped me a taste. Thanks, Bridget. What a great way to get off the ground.
I checked out the food tents and immediately realized there would be lots of good fare that I could eat. A good part of the Washington wine industry donated wine, so there were dozens of each varietal to taste. After tasting through virtually all of the Rieslings the Gilbert stood out as just right for - full of flavor, but dry and crisp - perfect. Riesling is soooo much a matter of taste, of sugar really, it's all about how sweet you like your wine. Among straight Merlots, Barrage Trifecta was the winner. Among whites in general, the Roussanne /Viognier blend from new winey Tranche was a winner. As usual, all of the Syncline wines were wonderful. Mark Ryan's Deadhorse was a killer wine.Elsom Red was , good and Falling Rain winemaker, Judith Papeesh was full of Mischief blending a brew of Merlot Cab Sauv and Malbec. Here come the bests:
Best Reisling - Gilbert
Best White - Tranche Roussanne/Viognier
Best Syrah - Syncline
Best Merlot - Barrage Trifecta
Best Rhone Style Blend - Syncline Cuvee Elena
Best Bordeaux Style Blend - Falling Rain Mischief
Best Winery Name - Falling Rain
Best New Winery Name - Tranche
Best New Winery - Elsom
Best Of Show - Nicolas Cole Dauphine
Joan Didion, Goddess of the Santa Ana winds, describes her agony of grief at the sudden loss of her significant other in The Year Of Magical Thinking. Ease the pain, in the true tradition of an Irish wake, a little of the old whiskey, well, in this case wine at the Wine Wednesday wake for Didion's spouse on Wednesday, September the 9th at 6:30 p.m.. Okay, so you are already bummed out enough. Think about it, that's where we are all going. Slouching toward the grave. "Et Satan conduit le bal, conduit le bal." Get out of denial, face reality or try some "Magical Thinking" with Didion and wash it down with some wine from Maryhill Vineyard. That's where I'm gong on the ninth. See you there!
Now, y'all listen here. These two girls from Portland actually went east to be where the boys go. The good ol'boys have known for some time now that some of the best vineyards are down south Oregon way. That's why the Walla Walla AVA is a bi-state grape growing region, that's "bi" as in bi-state. Anyway, winemaker Tanya Woodley and manager Elaine Jomwe founded SuLei Cellars just off state line road. They are truly garagistes, having converted a garage into a winery. We tasted three of their wines. The fine rose is sold old. The 2008 Roussanne was a little too leesy for us but tasty never the less. The 2007 Beet Red blend will make you turn red with pleasure - a good buy at $20.
Farther south down in Oregon, you will find Zerba Cellars as you approach Milton Freewater from the stateline. Though they grow their own grapes, most of the wine is made from grapes sourced from Washington.The Wild Z Red Table wine is still a wild thing. A fabulous red for the price 9$20), it is a curious melange of Merlot, Cab Sauv, Syrah and Petit Verdot.The 2006 Sangio was our favorite - round soft fruity and friendly, rounded out with a little Syrah. We also loved the Merlot and the Malbec. All the dry whites were good buys at less than $20 per bottle. The NV Wild White is a blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, Semillon, and Roussanne a little to fruity for my taste but a wine that you might love if you are a Riesling drinker. And if you like really sweet dessert wines , you are in luck. The 2008 Semillon Ice Wine is bronze in color (like a well aged Sauternes) with fabulous nose and taste of peaches and hazelnuts. Zerba has pretty much figured it out. Virtually all of their wines are very good and many of them are priced under $20.
Tune in for more Walla Walla South II...
Winemaker Anna Schafer and her family migrated east from the Seattle area to found aMaurice winery out on Mill Creek Road near the excellent Abeja winery. We ran into her father Tom who was pouring the libations in the tasting room. Tom told us what an emotional experience it was to finally make wine from their very own estate grown grapes. The 2006 Chardonnay was round, fruity and balanced, but lacked that incredible stoniness and minerality of the first Chardonnay bottling. The 2006 Syrah is somewhat schizophrenic in style. Perhaps this is because of its parentage with grapes coming from Lewis and Boushay vineyards. It appears there is a step-father involved, too, 15% Grenache from Minnick Vineyard. This androgenous combination is smooth on the one hand and a little rough on the other. It will be interesting to see how it evolves. The 2006 Malbec is a beauty with a deep rich color and and great fruit. The 2006 Red Blend, named after artist Tsutakawa is a masterpiece - a totally awesome blend of the cinq cepages of Bordeaux - Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Frnac, Malbec and Petit Verdot.
Just up the hill is Walla Walla Vintners a consistent producer of reliable wines. The wines seem to be a little more tame than in the past. The Cab Franc used to be my fave, but this time around the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard Select took the prize. The '07 Sangio blended with 14% Syrah and 9% Malbec was not bad either.
Even farther east is Spring Valley Vineyard, but they apparently have decided that they are too far out, so they have opened a tasting room right in downtown next to Trey Busch's Sleight of Hand winery. Spring Valley manages to turn out more than 5,000 cases of wine and still maintain consistently excellent quality. Uriah is usually my favorite from this winery, but this time it was surpassed by the deep dark, purple 2006 Frederick, a blend of the Bordeaux five. The 2006 Muleskinner, 100% Merlot, had a slightly too acid finish for my taste and the 2006 Nina Lee left me unmoved as it usually does.The 2006 Derby, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon,had a wonderful nose with round berry fruit flavors - delish. Winemaker Serge Laville makes fabulous wines, but one wonders how Spring Valley will sell five thousand cases at a $50 price point.
Back at the airport, we visited a French Chateau. Le Chateau Winery has a very impressive "Trompe d'Oeil", faux facade spread over a particularly long wall of an airport building. What fun! Unforunately, the winemaker seems to have achieved the same effect with his wines. With chateau level prices, they just don't seem worth it. The 2007 Castle White, a Sauvignon Blanc /Semillon blend was not bad. The 06 Sangiovese had a green quality I found unappealing. The 2005 Castle Red was not really fit for a king with it's hot finish. One questions the provenance of the 2006 Red Masterpiece. Was it really a Titian or just a copy. The giveaway? A hot finish. I don't believe these are remediable defects that will go away with ageing - too much acid and astringent tannins. The whole facade is enough to make you believe that the Emperor is wearing clothes, but is he? Well, yes, in one instance. The 2006 Cabernet Franc was well balanced with good fruit. This time Cab Franc was King instead of Cab Sauv.
We ended our trip East with a stop at Sygygy where Zack, a fellow New Yorker, still has all his astray bodies lined up in a straight line even though he no longer sell the thongs to put on those bodies. The three reds we tasted were all excellent with good fruit and lively interesting flavor profiles. The 2006 Columbia Valley Red, a blend of 56% Syrah, 20% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 11% Malbec was very smooth , friendly, interesting and a good value at $24.
Next up we go south to visit some old friends and two girls from Portland.
I got an invite from fellow blogger, Lisa Halpern inviting me to experience Wine Wednesdays at Intiman this Wednesday the 22nd. I couldn't go, but you can! I get to go to the next one on September 9th - The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. You can beat me to it! Don't miss the held over New York-acclaimed production of Othello and for a mere fifteen bucks extra you get to taste four wines from Washington winery Maryhill and hors d'oeuvres from Center House Bistro. You can probably make a pre-theatre meal of it. I 've always said that wine and the arts go together. Taste the art of the playwright and the winemaker in the same evening. To get tickets call 206-269-1900. Plan to arrive at 6:30. Let me know what you think.
Where did all those wineries west of Walla Walla come from. They came from the incubator, No, I'm not saying they are chickens. I'm saying some of them came from the "incubator" at the Walla Walla airport. The Port of Walla Walla has been offering space to new wineries for quite some time. Just east of where commercial flights actually land, most of the Quonset huts have been occupied by pioneering new winemakers. This is very convenient as you can get off a Horizon flight from Seattle in the morning head over to the wineries and fly back the same evening, but why wouldn't you want to linger to check out the more than one hundred wineries in Walla Walla. Recently, the Port decided to build a special new incubator putting up five new attractive wineries facing an open field at the end of the Quonset huts. Who are the special five? Cavu, Adamantine, Lodmell, Trio, and Kontos clockwise in the semicircle. The quality varies, but the spirit doesn't.
Cavu Cellars, as distinguished from Cavu Winery, a start up in California, appears to be a father/son operation. The '08 SB is balanced and well made, the '06 Horizon a blend of Cab Sauv juiced up with 7% Petite Verdot is fairly big and dynamic. The Barbera will not be released until August 2009. It is deep and dark, definitely a food wine, nowhere near as rough as some of the Italian versions can be - very appealing. The Cab Sauv will be released in 2010. The fruit comes from the Les Collines Vineyard in the Blue Mountain foothills. It's a real winner.
Adamant has lost its baby fat and is now a healthy two year old. It has become even more shapely and Adamant wines are selling out like hotcakes. I seem to have lost my notes on the wines, but trust me, you can't go wrong with one of Steve's wines. Steve's wife Deborah is a very talented artist. It appears they are both artists. Last year I said this was a winery to watch. You had better get on their mailing list.
Lodmell Cellars offered three wines - a balanced 2006 Sauv Blanc, a round strawberry-rhubarb flavored Rose, and a deep dark squid's ink 2006 Syrah with fruity, round ripe flavors and hints of spice, everything a Syrah should be.
Trio Vintners was founded by three winemakers who somehow seem to cooperate. This the best new kid on the block. We were introduced to Trio by our friend Mary who brought us a bottle of the 2006 Mourvedre - an authentic wine that reminded us of the Rhone and the south of France. All the other wines we tasted were of high quality. The 2007 Riesling was classic with striking peach flavors. The 2007 Rose was sweet tasting and pretty.The 2006 Sangiovese was round soft and very appealing. The 2006 Zinfandel was round and fruity. Altogether a winery to watch.
Kontos at two o'clock on the semi-circle offered four wines. Our favorite was the 2006 Boushay Syrah. Boushay Syrah is almost always more elegant and refined than most other Washington Syrah.
There are many more wineries at the airport. Eric Dunham, for example, has just not not been able to tear himself away. Next time we will visit other airport wineries including a chateau and then drive out east to aMaurice and a few others.
Living in Washington state, we are so fortunate to have such an abundance of fresh seafood, especially oysters. Once again the Taylor Shellfish Company announced the results of its annual Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Awards and, guess what, five out of ten wines were from Washington
and roughly two thirds of the judges were from California, San Francisco and L. A. to be specific. One hundred thirty-two wines were submitted, so one out of thirteen winners is not a bad ratio. The Taylor Shellfish Company itself is a winner with it's Totten Oysters and Kumomotos. The poor judges had to suffer only having Kumomotos to taste with the wine. Here are the 2009 Washington State winners.
2008 Airfield Estates Thunderbolt Sauvignon Blanc
2007 Cedargreen Sauvignon Blanc
2008 Ch. Ste. Michelle Pinot Gris
2007 Covey Run Pinot Grigio
2008 Hogue Pinot Grigio
What is an oyster wine? It seems that dry crisp, tart whites go best with the briny little bundles of flavor. That's probably why even California judges preferred the Washington State wines. With longer days, and less sunshine, it is easier to produce dry, crisp wines in Washington than in the sunshine state. We are talking here about raw oysters, an acquired taste for many of us, but worth acquiring. I think that a wider variety of white wines go with cooked oysters such as Oysters Rockefeller. Red wines with oysters seem to yield an unpleasant metallic taste. The good thing is both the Ch. Ste. Michelle and the Hogue wines are widely distributed around the U.S. and may even be available overseas. The bad thing is that they are not dry enough for my taste. Just to show that I am not a chauvinist, my favorite oyster wines come from France, Italy and Spain. Muscadet and Entre-Deux-Mers are my faves from from France. They are Sauvignon based and generally of good quality. Wines made from the Albarino grape in northwest Spain are also perfect with oysters, and the "real" original Pinot Griglio from Italy works well, too. The widely distributed Bella Serra Pinot Grigio is searingly dry for those who want something to rough up that oyster. BTW, as most of you know, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are that same grape, although I think I've noticed that wines named Pinot Gris are less dry. As always you can drink anything you like with oysters. Buty or Amaurice Chardonnay are not bad with Kumomotos, for example. My favorite oysters, apart from Kumomotos, are our local Quilcenes, pleasure in a shell.
July 4th we had a great time with Maxine and Al. We started by visiting one of our favorite wineries - Palouse. Linda tasted us down the entire list starting with the '07 Viognier, an appealing wine with a hint of butterscotch added to the profile. Great with summer fare, fish and seafood. The '07 Riesling is classic off dry with a little more body than typical and the usual suspects in the flavor profile. The "Dynamique" name for the Cab Franc is clever pun combining the names of the two vineyards, Dineen & Meek from which the grapes were sourced.
Unfortunately, this bottle had a hint of that "prune" quality in the nose - a tip-off that the bottle has been open too long, but in the mouth there was good fruit accompanied by a hint of tobacco and chili pepper. The '05 Eclipse was it's usual good self, full of beautiful fruit. The '06 Solitaire was a little too bright for my taste, but good nevertheless. The "06 Ahh Syrah is sourced from three Yakima Valley vineyards - Portteus, Dineen, and Meek. One sip of this deep dark beauty will evoke oohs and ahhs. Although deep in color and big in the mouth, this is no monster, having that certain smoothness associated with Yakima Syrah. The 06' Cab Sauv is Linda's fave. She sure got it right! It's our fave, too! Sourced from Dineen Vineyard it another deep dark beauty full of exciting black fruit. With these two, George more than achieved his goal of "smooth, round and voluptuous." The '06 and '05 "Black Pearl" Petite Sirah are excellent, too, George's favorites, but they suffer by comparison with the outstanding 2004 Black Pearl. I guess Linda wins this round. The 100% Cabernet Sauvignon seems to be this year's winner.
What about Jasnieres, you say? What is Jasnieres? What's Jasnieres got to do with Vashon? What's the rolling hills of the Palouse got to do with Vashon, for that matter? Instead of checking out other wineries, we went to Vashon Thriftway which has a spectacular wine selection. This destination supermarket is worth a trip to the island, just to check out the wine. Of course, you might want to take your bike, too. Then you will save almost enough on the ferry fare to buy a bottle of Jasnieres at Thriftway. Since the 2006 Jasnieres from Pascal Janvier is a Kermit Lynch Selection distrubuted in the Seattle area, you can probably find it without the ferry trip. How fortunate, though to find it on Vashon. It was perfect with the beautiful salmon dinner Maxine prepared.
Ever since tasting Jasnieres at the font, at the Hermetagerie, near Grand Luce, in the Loire Valley, I have been searching despairingly for it in the states, and while the Jasnieres by Janviers isn't exactly Jasnieres by Gigou, the best IMHO, it is still quite wonderful. Made from the Chenin Blanc grape, it is so much drier than its more famous and flabbier cousin, Vouvray. The unusual combination of fruitiness and dryness is fascinating by itself and perfect with salmon. The Janviers finishes with just a hint of citrus which picks it up and will pick you up on a summer afternoon.
What ever happened to the rest of Walla Walla? Look for posts on the airport, the stateline area and others. Look for Back To The Future - Paso Robles, Foxen Road etc., in coming posts.
Thank you so much for a wonderful dinner at Bistro Four. It was so good to see you. As usual, the conversation was great, the food was delish, and the wine interesting. Better to be at a simple bistro, than a pretentious wannabe like 26 Brix. You seemed to love your Croque Madame and although I craved the Duck pizza, it was not to be. The salad Nicoise was excellent although with my carb fears, there were too many potatoes. The Spanish Barbadillo was such an excellent dry white, and so inexpensive. At first I thought I was hallucinating, back at the old Nick's in McMinnville where wines were marked up only $8. Imagine - an $8 corkage fee. Well, Bistro Four actually seems to have reasonable prices and if you purchase to take home, you get ten per cent off, so , in effect, a ten percent corkage or markup in the restaurant - very reasonable! The service by Nathaniel was great, and while the menu is somewhat limited, this is a great place to eat at reasonable prices, don't you think? Christophe tells me that the owner is a single mom. She bought the place from the owner of Grapefields which was the previous incarnation of this venue where she had been chef. Great to see such entrepreneurship and guts, yes?
So, despite the good wine and food, the most interesting thing was our discussion of the next venue for the third annual Wine Bloggers Conference. This year is a repeat of Sonoma. Much as I would like to see my wine blogger friends, a return to the same old venue seems boring and why would I want to leave Seattle at the end of July which is the perfect time to be here. So you told me that there seems to be some sort of contest between Walla Walla and Woodinville for next years conference. I have to say, that, while there are excellent wineries in Woodinville , this would be a very limited sampling of Washington State wines and I don't actually know of a venue that can support a conference of 200 some odd participants in Woodinville, other than the Willows Lodge, but I don't believe they have the accommodations for 200 participants. Limiting the tastings to Woodinville would be a shame since that would exclude Quilceda, the South Seattle Artisan group, Yakima, Red Mountain and Walla Walla to say nothing of Snipes, Horse Heaven Hills, the Gorge, and Lake Chelan.
My first intro to Walla Walla was a Society of Wine Educators conference held at the Hilton in Bellevue, but there was a pre-conference trip to Tri-Cities and Walla Walla that was great. I think the best plan would be similar. A Bellevue or Seattle conference venue, but with extensive pre-conference side trips to SSAW, Yakima, Red Mountain, and Walla Walla. The Marcus Whitman in Walla Walla would be a great venue for a conference and there are more than enough motels for overflow. Maybe Christophe would volunteer to knock their socks off! There are so many great Walla Walla wineries, and besides, no one would get to see our fabulous Eastern Washington vineyards. After all, while there are close to a hundred excellent wineries in the Puget Sound area, all the the grapes come from eastern Washington. Holding the event in Woodinville would be like holding an event in Paris or a Bordeaux suburb without visiting the Medoc, St. Emilion, or Pomerol, for example. I look forward to a Wine Bloggers conference in Washington, but I do hope it won't be limited to one narrow corner of the state. Have fun at the second annual Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma and say hi to Joel for me.
The king of pop may be dead, but the king of the stones lives. In fact, Christophe Baron rules both in his domain at Cayuse and in the surrounding cailloux ( French for stones). I must admit to a certain amount of skepticism about all the apparent hype and spin around Cayuse. Commenters on the Seattle Wine Blog argued that Les Cailloux and other Cayuse vineyards should be included in The Top Ten Washington State Vineyards at the same time complaining that Seven Hills is in Oregon. As Bob Tovey would say, common folks, which is it? All the Cayuse vineyards and the studio/atelier/winery are in Oregon even though Cayuse maintains a downtown Walla Walla presence and Christophe lives in Walla Walla, Washington.
Christophe very graciously received us at the studio, and finished regaling us with the official story already started by his able assistant, Trevor. Christophe comes from an old winemaking family in Champagne. Unfortunately, this Champagne is not available in the States. Christophe earned his stripes in Burgundy and came to the U.S. planning to make Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley. He visited a friend in Walla Walla and "on his way" to the Willamette Valley, " just happened upon" the stony soil in the southwest quadrant of the Walla Walla AVA.
"Cailloux!", he exclaimed excitedly upon seeing the stony soil of the apple orchids along Sunneyside Road (Actually there were already plantings of grapes in the stones when Christophe arrived. The old Seven Hills vineyard, now called Wildrow was there along with some others). That was the beginning of the end for Christophe - no more Willamette Pinot for him. Roughly thirteen years ago he set down roots among the stones of Walla Walla AVA and has never looked back. I asked him if regretted not going on to the Willamette. His answer - not at all. I would have been just one of many Frenchmen making Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley and here I am unique." Kathy Tovey remembered Christophe as a somewhat scrawny young man peddling his wine at a country fair in Oregon in the mid-90s. Christophe has come a long way since then.
Now, Christophe has a domain consisting of many vineyards, and has recently discovered "biodynamique." This suits him perfectly, since in its purest form, biodynamique is about an ecological microcosm, a self-sufficient domain. Christophe took us on a tour of his home base,
Armida Vineyard. He told us that he has 25 full-time permanent employees to maintain the vineyards and in the winery. Most of them probably work in the vineyards and in keeping with the sustainability ethos of Oregon they have health insurance. My guess is that, as usual, they are Hispanic , and to produce my own stereotype, hard-working. conscientious and productive. Walking on "cobblestones" trodden by others, one still has a wondrous sense of something "sauvage" and yet "pastorale." As we walked among the stones, Christophe regaled us with tales of his conquests in Walla Walla. Christophe told us that others had said he would break his machinery on such rocks, but the "Bionic Frog" persevered. Finally, we arrived at a plot of Grenache planted 3ft.X3ft. Rows with spaces not wide enough for most overweight Americans, let alone a motorized cultivator. Horses! Christophe will cultivate this plot with the help of several Belgian horses. Beyond this plot, piles of manure, excuse me, organic fertilizer.
And then, the producers of this fertile pile - les vaches (the cows). To the south, an organic cherry orchid rejected by commercial buyers because the cherries didn't conform to grade. Perhaps this is the best description of Christophe. He doesn't conform to grade. This non-conformist thinks and lives outside the box.
Back to the studio/atelier/winery. As we entered the "studio" we had a lively discussion of order and disorder. This was triggered by the incredible flying pig hanging from the ceiling of the winery. Starting with a pinata purchased by Christophe, his artist friend painted it over, adding two jet engines and other paraphernalia. Christophe insists they are Boeing engines and not Airbus. My guess is that Airbus represents the uptight, buttoned up, stultifying cadre of France with their inhibiting rule-bound society as opposed to the fresh air of America for a French person. Disorder is "necessaire" for creativity, originality and limnality. On the other hand, order is a necessary foil for disorder and it is necessary to define "a thing." So we enter the inner sanctum - a frigid place of order! Rows of barrels, "eggs," cement fermenters, neatly laid out. But many of the barrels are turned with their provenance and stats unavailable to the naked eye. Christophe is both ebullient and charismatic, on the one hand, and private and secretive, on the other.
As he explained early on, "terroir" is everything. He described himself as primarily a "vigneron," a grapegrower, but the implication was of an artist united with the soil (see my D.H. Lawrence quote on the masthead). Christophe, the artist, reminded me of Picasso and Gauguin. I asked him if he was a guardian of the vineyards. "Not at all! Maybe in a hundred years, in a thousand years." Now he is a pioneer, a discoverer, an explorer, an experimenter, an adventurer. Christophe has the personality of Lewis Hyde's "Trickster." Hermes, he is! Egoist, narcissist, yes, but his charisma is real, not some put-on persona. I once heard a French teacher describe her job as "seduire." To seduce, is to teach. Christophe is very seductive, very charismatic. A seller of Gentiane at a market in southwest France, once told us that his product would make anyone "drop his pants" or was it "her pants." That's Christophe!
You were wondering about the wine? Exceptional! These wines are giants. Bigger than most California wines, yet not jammy. Bigger than most Australian wines, yet not linear. Bigger than most French wine, yet not classic. Bigger than most Washington wines, yet not soft. These are big wines in big bottles, but really they are amazingly over the top, really nothing like them in intensity. Huge expansive wines, just like Christophe! How does Christophe do it? Apparently he has many secrets, but the most obvious trick is in the vineyard - keeping the yields low, dropping clusters down to five or six per vine, or in the case of the 3x3 Grenache maybe three per vine resulting in yields of significantly less than two tons per acre, like 1.2 or 1.5 tons per acre. This is amazing when you consider that three tons per acre is considered low by the mere mortals growing grapes in other vineyards.
From the cask - '06 Grenache - Armida, '06 Syrah -Armida, '06 Syrah -Cailloux, '08 Bionic Frog. The 2006 Armida Grenache is big, dark and inky, smelling of spices and tar, tasting of rhubarb and strawberry. A huge, smooth, seamless wine -plus d' agreable. 2008 Armida Syrah - incredibly dark, perfection in a bottle, deepest, darkest Walla Walla. The flagship Cailloux vineyard was founded in 1997 - super-intense, liquid tar, somewhat like the tar and roses of a traditional Barolo, but so much more intense. This is not your average aperatif, maybe an acquired taste. For me, incredible! The 2008 Bionic Frog blend is from the Coccinelle vineyard and has a pretty nose - complex, spicy and herbal, in the mouth - round, soft, seductive and approachable - closest to the gout Americain, thus very popular. BTW, Coccinelle means ladybug in French, but also is the name of a pioneering transsexual and a line of handbags.
From the bottle - 2007 Widowmaker, 2007 Bionic Frog, 2007 Impulsivo. The 2007 Widowmaker is a killer Cabernet Sauvignon from the En Chambertin vineyard. Once your man drinks this liquid cassis and blueberry pie that tastes like a spice rack, it won't be long 'til you get to finih the bottle in peace and quiet by yourself. The 2007 Bionic Frog is big, spicy and complex. The 2007 Impulsivo is 100% Tempranillo from the En Chambertin vineyard. Deep, black, incredibly intense, without being jammy. The beautiful image on the label says it all - the last tango, to die for, or from! Truly a tour de force.
Are the wines representative of the terroir. Without a doubt! They are so different from each other.. This was especially illustrated by four different Syrahs from four different vineyards. Are they only terroir? I don't think so. As usual, the winemaker has left his stamp, his signature, on the wine. Christophe is both a terroiriste and an artiste - a "vigneron!" Christophe's wines are gigantic like Christophe who is un geant de la terre. I was forced to read Giants In The Earth in high school and hated it. Now the name has served me well in describing this amazing French winemaker who has spread his seed in the fertile soil of Walla Walla. The "Rock" Star exceeded my expectations and his reputation. Stones R Us, or rather, Stones R Him.
Christophe tells me he has 4500 people on the waiting list, but I have a feeling people are dropping off the mailing list like flies due to the horrendous economy. Sign up, you never know, you might get to the head of the list faster than you think, and by that time maybe your finances may have recovered enough to be able to pay the price for a bottle paradise (or is it hell?) in a bottle. Trust me, it's worth it. Spend your last red cent on an impulse and die happy. Despite my reticence I was totally seduced by Christophe and his incredible wines. Cayuse rocks!
Okay, so this isn't so real-time, but it's still the latest poop on Walla Walla West. Graduates from the Walla Walla Airport incubator, tend to end up on Highway 12. Reininger and Cougar Crest are classic examples. In fact, it has seemed to me that Reininger went downhill when they moved, but recent evidence suggests a recovery. Cougar Crest seems to have made the move without ill effects. Waterbrook was never in the incubator and came up with some wonderful surprises - great values.
In the recent past, Reininger seemed to me to have lost its way. Apparently, highway 12 is disorienting. You can get wound up and twisted into a double helix. The Helix wines used to be great values, but at $30 a throw, that is no longer an accurate description. Nevertheless, many of Chuck's regular bottlings are quite interesting and delicious. The 2003 Cima, tasting a little old (or had it been open too long), was quite beautiful. The 2005 Merlot, despite the grapes from Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills vineyards, was light - enough to confirm "Miles" opinion of Merlot. The 2005 Cab Sauv had great fruit and tasted a little like what a Merlot should taste like. The 2008 Ash Hollow Syrah had nice tobacco and pepper notes. The 2006 Carmenere was probably the most interesting wine. As I read over this paragraph, it appears that I had a negative impression of Reininger wines. This is not true. Most of these wines had character and interest. Reininger survived the jinx of route 12 and Codi ably poured all these wines with a great running commentary on each. It was obvious that she is really into wine. She is a student at the enology program at the community college and I predict she will become a great winemaker in her own right in just a few years.
Deborah and Dave Hansen survived for the longest time in a "Quonset Hut" at the airport. So far, their move to route 12 seems to be liberating. Sooo much more space! Both have deep roots in Walla Walla and, in fact own several vineyards. They tore up apple orchids and own vineyards in the stones just over the border in Oregon to the west of highway 125. They sold a vineyard to finance their beautiful new winery on highway 12. Dave is a farmer, a vineyardist who is happiest on a tractor or a forklift. Deborah is an outstanding winemaker. Cougar Crest is one of the most consistent labels around. This is a great help in a restaurant when you are unsure what to order from the wine list. The 2006 Walla Walla Viognier is an outrageously good wine. Viognier at its best - dry, stony, with good subdued fruit - to my gout. The Grenache Rose is pleasant, a cut above most American Roses. Dedication is a delicious wine dedicated to the hospital that saved the life of Dave and Deborah's daughter after near fatal injuries. The 2006 Walla Walla Valley Anniversary Cuvee is fairly light , but totally great for chocoloholics. The 2006 Walla Walla Valley Cab Sauv is a delicious blend and the 2005 Walla Walla Syrah is an outstanding wine. Virtually all Cougar Crest wines are made from estate grown grapes. Since moving into their new digs on highway 12, Dave and Deborah couldn't quite let go of their original hut at the airport, so they've started producing a new line to sell there - Walla Walla River Winery. This is their opportunity to explore various varietals from grapes sourced from all around the Columbia Valley. I didn't get to taste these wines, but I'll bet they are good.
Waterbrook just opened a new winery on highway 12. This high tech building is spectacular and is home to Precept Brands in all of its manifestations. I must admit to not expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised by the Melange Noir and White, to say nothing of the Sangiovese Rose and a perfectly typical, classic Riesling all at very reasonable prices. I found the higher priced wines to be somewhat disappointing for the price, but Waterbrook is producing some fabulous value with great price points.
So the western entrance to Walla Walla is a good introduction to Walla Walla wines, but the best is yet to come south of town and at the airport.
Amazing! This is almost real time blogging from Walla Walla. Today we checked out wineries West of Walla Walla on Highway 12 as you come into town from Seattle. One could imagine a game of hopscotch among wineries trying to be the first to greet wine tourists on the road into Walla Walla. Such a game of musical chairs would be so 1990s, so California, but I can hardly imagine the down-to-earth folks of Walla Walla playing such a game. As it turns out Woodward Canyon is first and they have been there for quite a while, founded in 1981 by Rick Small.
Next up is L'Ecole #41, founded in 1983 by Marty Clubb. I got to talk with Marty about his newest interest - Ferguson vineyard, 18 acres above Pepper Bridge or was it Seven Hills. Like so many other winemakers he has been bitten by the "sustainability" bug.
As I tasted through L'Ecole wines, they all seemed lighter and friendlier(too friendly?) than they used to be, but it seems to me they used to have more character. The Semillons are less intense, the reds less deep. The Fries Vineyard Semillon goes with tuna. The 2008 "Walla Voila" Chenin Blanc shows lots of interest with a floral spicy nose, round and fruity body, and a hint of spice and citrus in the finish. Much more enjoyable than 99% of Chenin Blanc based Vouvray from the Loire Valley. The 2006 Walla Walla Cab has great fruit in the nose an is an altogether satisfying wine. The 2006 "Apogee" is the apogee of the the L'Ecole line up. Fortunately, the Perigee is not the perigee but not as wonderful as the Apogee. The 2006 Columbia Valley Syrah was pretty good, too.
Moving right along, we come to the new kid on the block - Glencorrie, owned by Ronn Coldiron and ably managed by Heidi Harrison. Wow! Awesome! Ronn is a geologist who runs a consulting firn in California. With the help of Charlie Hoppes, Glencorrie has fashioned it's first wines from Stillwater and Gamache grapes. The 2006 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a medium bodied wine with very appealing fruit and lots of character. It gets your attention. It stands out from so many ever so pleasant wines. As usual the Walla Walla version of Cab ( Widrow & Dwelley) is more upright, more serious - a good food wine. The 2006 Cuvee Marquis is the gem in the show - round, soft, but exciting! Sourced from multiple vineyards around the Columbia Valley. This is an up-and-comer. A winery to watch! The next new thing! Get on their mailing list. BTW, they are having an Open house June 29th in the evening. Call 509-525-2585.