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Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesdays

Date: Wed, Nov 14, 2012 Wine Tasting Wine Business

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies is: Variety vs. Varietal

Beware! It's these two little V-words that can make many a old-timer wine blogger act like an English professor and start throwing erasers at the class. Wine newbies have thrown temper-tamtrums and claimed being picked on. Tiny high-heeled feet have stamped in protest and walked away in a hissy-fit in many of online wine groups over the proper and improper usage of these two words.

Variety is a noun. Varietal is an adjective. Got it?

The word variety refers to the grape variety that is grown, plucked from the vine and used to make the wine such as: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah grapes. Think of apples like: Delicious, Pippin, Winesap, and McIntosh.

The word varietal refers to the actual wine in the bottle or glass, such as a Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon ... well you get the picture. Or do you? The adjective, varietal describes a wine that is made from a single or dominant grape variety - - and for a wine to be varietally labeled it must be a minimum of 75% made from the stated grape variety.

Still confused? No worries. Just relax and enjoy a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon (varietal) produced from the vines of Cabernet Sauvignon (variety).

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Beyond Walla Walla: Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noir - 2009

Date: Tue, Nov 13, 2012 Wine Tasting Wine Business

Once again, this is my attempt to blog about another wine that is not produced in the Walla Walla Valley. I taste many wines, from all over the world, almost every day and many I think are fine to okay to ehhh. However, every so often a wine will grab my attention.

I kept reading that Pinot Noir from the Carneros region is some of the finest Pinot Noir around, especially some of the finest in California. So I decided to discover for myself and helped myself to a sip of Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noir - 2009.

Saintsbury was established in 1981 by David Graves and Richard Ward. They were both UC Davis grads and met each other during a brewing class. Their goal was to define terroir from the Carneros region, focusing on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Today, Saintsbury remains at the forefront of Pinot Noir in California.

At first note of the glass I noticed that this was not going to be any wimpy strawberry-colored Kool-aid looking wine. At first sniff in the bowl of the glass I noticed that this was not going to be the usual strawberry and herbal nose. At first sip, well -- that told the story about this Pinot Noir.

The rich and dark red color was pleasing to the eye and gives you some insight that there will be some tannins coming along shortly. Dark fruit of black cherry, plum and even a hint of black tea on the nose. I was right about the tannins as with the first sip and to the finish, there was the right balance of tannins and acid. Flavors of dark cherry and plums came through and with a hint of spice - a little nutmeg.

Saintsbury Pinot Noir is a very elegant wine and a wine to enjoy with foods that go beyond the traditional and canonical Thanksgiving turkey. I would pair it with wild mushrooms, ham, brisket and even Boeuf Bourguignon - - or just slowly sip on it. Enjoy!

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Near Perfect! Walla Walla Valley 2012 Vintage

Date: Sat, Nov 3, 2012 Wine Tasting Wine Business

Yesterday, Duane Wollmuth, Executive Director of the Walla Walla Wine Alliance reported that the 2012 growing conditions for the Walla Walla Valley will be a vintage to be remembered.

According to Wollmuth, “... nearly every winemaker I have talked to has said the temperatures and extended lack of rainfall have created near perfect conditions for producing wine grapes. We had three months without rain and plenty of warm temperatures. These late spring and summertime conditions, along with a normal cool down in September and October has produced small berry size, well ripened fruit, and excellent acidity.”

Seven Hills Vineyard - photo from L'Ecole No 41 - Walla Walla AVA
Growing Degree Days (GDD), a measure of average daily temperatures over 50 degrees Fahrenheit, were at 2,805 in the Walla Walla Valley as of October 21. Normal GDDs in the valley through October 31 are usually 2,844. The 2012 GDDs figure is up several hundred from those in 2010 and 2011.

It was reported that not only the 2012 growing conditions produced exceptional quality of grapes, but the quantities were up as well. A survey concluded that the local wineries produced as much as two to three times more than they had in 2011.In fact, early estimates put the Washington State grape harvest up 30% from 2011’s smaller crop.

This comes at an excellent time for Washington wineries as they face rapidly increasing global demand for their wines. There have also been rumblings of a world-wide wine shortage and also a local shortage due to the winter damage the Walla Walla Valley suffered in vintages 2o1o and 2o11.

“This will create a rare opportunity for our wineries to meet more of the ever increasing demand for the high quality wines our valley has become known for. Of course, we all know that the 2012 vintage wines are still dependent upon what our winemakers in the valley do with these great grapes," Wollmuth said.

Wollmuth concluded that he was confident, given the valley's record for producing exceptional wines, the local winemakers will make the most of the high quality grapes grown throughout Washington State this year.

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Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesdays

Date: Wed, Oct 31, 2012 Wine Tasting Wine Business

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies is: Chaptalization

Also known as "Brix Adjustment," this age-old winemaking practice is named after its
"inventor" Jean-Antoine-Claude Chaptal who suggested that by adding sugar to under-ripe grapes during fermentation, more alcohol could be produced.
Jean-Antoine-Claude Chaptal

This age-old technique predates the 19th century and even traced back to Roman times. Early vintners recognized the virtues of adding honey to their grape must. They may not have understood the science behind fermentation (yeast + sugar = ethyl alcohol), but definitely understood a good thing once they took a sip. Today, the most common type of sugar added is derived from cane.

However, this practice has some legalities and chaptalization varies on country, region and even some types of wine. Chaptalization is prohibited in Argentina, Australia, Austria, California, Italy, and South Africa. It is generally permitted in regions where grapes tend to have low sugar content, including regions in France, Germany (not including the production of German Prädikatswein aka high quality wines), and the United States.

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Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesdays

Date: Wed, Oct 24, 2012 Wine Tasting Wine Business

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies is: Stickies

Chances are you probably won't hear the word much in the Walla Walla Valley for two reasons, the term is from the UK and also there aren't a lot of "stickies" being made in the Valley.
"Sticky" Rieslings from Dunham Cellars
and Long Shadows Poet's Leap
in Walla Walla.
So what are "stickies?" A sticky wine is simply a dessert wine. In Australia and in the UK, dessert sweet wines are referred to as "stickies." A sticky can be a wine that is produced from wine grapes that are late harvest, Botrytis (Noble Rot), French Sauternes,Eisweins,German Beerenauslese, Hungarian Tokay ... well you get the picture.

Also stickies includefortified wines likePorts and Pedro Ximénez Sherry.The obvious is stickies are wines that are sweet and well - - sticky to the touch.

How sweet is that?

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Sleight of Hand Cellars: The Illusionist Vertical

Date: Fri, Oct 19, 2012 Wine Tasting Wine Business

What do you do when you have a three year vertical of very special wines in front of you? Well, after you sip them slowly and ponder them for awhile, you eventually start writing notes. And that is exactly what I did when winemaker Trey Busch of Sleight of Hand Cellars asked if I wanted to have the three bottle vertical he had just opened. Here they were opened, breathing and primed and ready for the taking. I mean you would have to be a tea-teetotaler to say, "No."

Now the corny side of me wants to use words and phrases as I write my notes, like, "Now you see it. Now you don't." "Let me pull a rabbit out of my ..." I will try my best to refrain.

Sleight of Hand Cellars is a Walla Walla winery that opened in 2007 with winemaker, Trey Busch and partners, Jerry and Sandy Solomon. Many accolades later, it's become a winery that if you want their new releases, you better not stop and think about. You have no time, as they disappear like - - "poof" - - magic (sorry).

"The Illusionist" is a cabernet sauvignon-based blend built to hang out in the cellar for at least 10-years or more. Trey said the 2007 for the Illusionist was the winery's first vintage. The 2008 was labeled as a Cabernet Sauvignon, but in 2009 they decided to bring the Illusionist back to a blend. Trey says he strives for balance every year, so by not restricting the labeling to solely a Cabernet, it allows him to use Syrah, as an example, to bring some acid back to the wine if necessary.

The Illusionist 2007 - This was not only a vintage when Mother Nature was very kind, but again, the first vintage of Sleight of Hand Cellars. All wines should smell this great after six years. A little spice and a little espresso coming through. And when it comes to the palate, a thicket of blackberries coming through. 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petit Verdot, 16% Malbec, 16% Cabernet Franc, 8% Syrah, and 5% Merlot. The Wine Advocate suggests that this dark red blend has a bright window of opportunity to sip from 2013 to 2022.

The Illusionist 2008 - This wine caught my attention. I kept going back to it. I was really drawn. Sip after sip. It starts with a floral nose, dark rich soil and autumn leaves, but to the palate it brings dark Bing cherries, milk chocolate, figs and spice. 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Syrah. The Wine Advocate suggests this wine will give pleasure to 2020. I don't know about letting it hang around from now to eight years - - I doubt if I could wait that long. Truly, it was my favorite of the three - beautiful.

The Illusionist 2009 - 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Syrah, and 8% Cabernet Franc. In comparison to the other two vintages, this wine seemed actually "young." However, without the comparisons of the other vintages it was still a stunner. As a fan of Cabernet Franc, it came through for me with just a hint of herbal character. Bramble berries, cigar box and currant jelly. While I couldn't find any quotes on cellar life, in my opinion this wine still has a lot of livin' to do!

When The Illusionist 2010 is finally released, my recommendation? Don't wait. "Poof!"

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Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesdays

Date: Wed, Oct 17, 2012 Wine Tasting Wine Business

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies is: Worm

No, it isn't that squiggly little critter that hangs out in the dirt, but it does have rather a squiggly shape.

A worm is the pointed metallic spiral helix that is attached to the handle of a corkscrew. The user grips the handle of the corkscrew and screws the metal point into the cork until the spiral is firmly embedded. Then with a vertical pull on the corkscrew the cork will be extracted from the bottle.

Worms are always made of metal and recently, many corkscrews have a Teflon ® coated worm for smooth and easier extractions.

The corkscrew itself can be of any style such as a sommelier/waiters, traditional wing, or the basic corkscrew with the simple wooden, hard plastic or metal handle.

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An Afternoon with Figgins Family Wine

Date: Tue, Oct 16, 2012 Wine Tasting Wine Business

If an early October afternoon spent on the Figgins Estate Vineyard, located at the foothills of the Blue Mountains, doesn't get you in the mood for autumn and good wine, then I do not know what will.

The winding roads led us through the pristine vineyards where the first pick of merlot from the 2012 season had begun just two days before. The 32 acres, originally home to amber waves of grain, are now planted in cabernet, merlot, and petit verdot. Lime stone posts and lavender plants mark the beginning of the rows of these Old World-style clones. As we reached the top of the almost 1,700 feet elevation destination, we could see the foothills were still dominant with shades of gold colors from the earlier harvested wheat.

What was this sound we heard from the background? The welcoming sounds of the country - Bluegrass tunes. What was the smoky air and smells all about? The smells of grilled beef (Lostine Cattle Co., of course from the Figgins Family) and onions and even bales of hay.

We were met with a glass of white wine - a glass of Figgins Family Riesling - 2011. A rare sight is a glass of white from the Figgins/Leonetti Family, or at least a rare sight in this century. Gary Figgins, founder and winemaker of Leonetti Cellar released his very first wine back in 1978 and in fact, it was a riesling. Later the focus for the Figgins family would be their world-class Leonetti Cellar cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and a sighting of Sangiovese, here and there. Over thirty years later, son Chris Figgins would bring this grape back with the first vintage in 2010. Tucked amongst his Bordeaux vines is a small half-acre dedicated to riesling vines.

The sun was out with a bit of coolness from the autumnal mountain air; so the dry yet, fruit forward wine was pleasing on the palate. Floral and orchard nose. Crisp and clean with a little of the exotic fruit on the finish. I took the opportunity to pair this wine with a cup of creamy butternut squash and sage soup that was being offered.Indeed a wine that has come full circle for the family.

The next wine was a surprise - a pinot noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. We were told that Chris is experimenting with this grape and the wine is not for sale at this time. Since I had just came back from a visit to the Willamette, I was anxious to give it a sip. Dark lovely fruit and what I think was made in traditional Walla Walla fashion, as this was no wimpy light strawberry-colored wine. There were some serious lip-smacking tannins at the end. A wine that could rest for a while and with that rest will show off with an elegant future. Excited to see where this grape will lead the Figgins Family.

Finally, what I had been waiting for - - the 2009 Figgins Estate Family Red. I had sipped on it when it was first released, but anxious to see how it had aged just in the last six months. Can I just say, "Wow!" without having to give lots of flowery notes?

First of all, the Figgins label needs some recognition as it was painted by Walla Walla artist, Todd Tealander. Todd is known in the valley for his still life and nature-themed paintings. The fig on the side of the label stands for "The Son of Fig," a British surname for Figgins and how appropriate since Chris is the son of Gary Figgins, who is known for his world class wines.

Okay, so back to my "Wow!" Figgins - 2009 is the second release for this red blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot. A garden of roses and rich soil shows off on the nose, and with just a touch of sweet bran. Perhaps from the many years of wheat that was grown nearby? Dark stone fruit of plums and cherries on the palate. I saved my generous sandwich of grilled and sliced Lostine beef and caramelized onions for this wine pairing. Truly a beautiful red wine.

So with the high elevation, sun, fresh air, beautiful wines, excellent food and wonderful hospitality, it was time to go back to town. It was all of the makings for a Saturday afternoon nap while day dreaming of that beautiful glass of red "Wow!"

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The Care, Feeding, and Responsibility of Wine Bloggers

Date: Wed, Oct 10, 2012 Wine Tasting Wine Business

The care and feeding of a wine blogger is easy: give wine bloggers samplings of wine, some food and water to balance out or enhance the wine, and just as important; overwhelm the wine blogger with good information.

Now the responsibility of the wine blogger is another story. (Hang on folks, this is going to be a long one ...)

The responsibilities of the wine blogger are many. After attending the Fifth Annual Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland, Oregon in August; I left with a lot on my mind and many questions. The most important question was, "How can I grow and improve? How can we all grow together as wine bloggers?"

How do we grow together? Like many groups, wine bloggers are of one. The actions of one wine blogger can categorize us all - - unfortunately the good is rarely mentioned, while the bad is always mentioned. We have been called names by the best wine writers in the industry: from boogers, blobbers, and my personal fave, "bitter carping gadflies." We have even been called names ironically by the tedious and acrimonious wine bloggers.

I have been wine blogging since 2005 and certainly seen and felt the growing pains. Blogging was a new tool at the time and established writers were feeling a slight pinch due to this new writing platform. In my opinion the open-minded writer, no matter if they were 100% for this new platform, still embraced it and started their own blogs. The old saying applied, "If we can't beat them, we might as well join them."

Why are you blogging or why do you even want to start a wine blog? If you think it's because you dig a glass of Arbor Mist Peppermint Chardonnay with the girls during happy hour at Applebees, you love cute pink wine labels with Eiffel Towers, and visiting a winery is so romantic, then you may want to rethink it. And if you don't believe me, go ask the vineyard workers and the winemaker tomorrow morning at 4:00, with a touch of frost in the air, exactly how romantic wine making is.

If you want some credibility in wine blogging, you will want to gather as much wine education as possible and even some hands-on experience would be to your credit. The fascinating thing about wine, there is always something to learn. Recently a young wine blogger dismissed me. Could it have been my gray hair and sensible shoes? How dare I talk to her, let alone sit next to her and she took opportunity to let me know how much she knew about wine, been blogging for about a year, and she was in control of our blind tasting. Yeah, so I played along. When trying to agree on the red wine variety in our glasses, I reached to feel the covered bottle. I mentioned, with a humorous note, that we could eliminate syrah since the bottle had a short neck and high shoulders like in a Bordeaux-style bottle.

She rolled her eyes, hissed, flipped back her hair, and with a twitch of the head, snapped at me in disgust with her Kardashian voice, "Liiike - - bottle shape like doesn't mean like any-thinggg."

Bitch. More than often, bottles shape does mean something. Historically and traditionally, different regions adopted their own bottle shapes: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Germany, and even Champagne. Today, many wineries in the New World still follow Old World tradition - if the bottle shape ain't broken, then why fix it?

Please note, it isn't that I want to be an old curmudgeon like the "grumpy old man" character on Saturday Night Live, "I'm old and I'm not happy. Everything today is improved and I don't like it. I hate it! In my day we didn't have computers, we had quills and stone tablets and I liked it that way!"

My feelings are quite the opposite from the grumpy old man. I love youthful ideas, new technology, tools and platforms. The youth of America are tomorrow's wine lovers, so this boomer doesn't need to just concentrate on other Dead-Head boomers. However, I do think that "old curmudgeons" can give out some sage advice. It isn't always about being edgy and a "hipstah," but the responsibilities of a wine blogger are many and certainly easy to endure - - and actually proven if you look at wine bloggers who are successful.

First of all, know what you are getting into when you are pondering starting a wine blog and no, you are not going to get rich overnight. No, you are not going to build up your wine cellar without some responsibility (be honest about your intentions and upfront about your consideration of reviews) and once again, you will not be the exception of getting rich overnight. Oh and did I mention you are not going to get rich overnight or even in several years? No, you will not get rich in a year, let alone strip away Marvin Shanken's title or even get to sit in his chair, smoke his cigars and drink his brandy. (If you do not know who Marvin Shanken is, you should find out before you start a wine blog.)

The obvious responsibility is to your readers: Find a voice and start building your brand - - you. You are the brand. When blogging give thoughtful and good information. Turn on the spell check a few times while you are typing pontifications and even do some proof-reading the next day. I am guilty of this one, but I recognize my weakness and keep on trying. Be consistent in your publishing so that your audience will know when to return to your blog. Also guilty, but I keep on trying.

After the wine bloggers conference, it dawned on me or more like a confirmation, that if you want to be a successful wine blogger, you have to act upon and treat it as if you are working or even on a job interview. Remember what I said about "building your brand." I think the responsibilities can start right at the wine bloggers conference, itself - -

Last night on the radio I heard a simple tip about going on a job interview and what many employers will base a first impression on - - the candidate's shoes. It mentioned that if a job candidate shows up wearing a pair flip-flops, the employer finds it a negative and the flip-flopping candidate gets a flip to the back of the file labeled, "flop." So what does all of this mean when it comes to wine blogging?

Being mindful of our first impression, especially when building or maintaining our "brand." Okay, so an adorable pair of flip-flops with a little cluster of grapes or "Hello Kitty" medallions could pass with the right outfit. However, wearing gym shorts or tight-butt-cheeked-exposing shredded Daisy Dukes to visit a winery or even at a wine bloggers conference just ain't a good look for ya, honey. Now obviously you don't have to wear a suit, tie, dress, petticoats and heels, but be mindful and at least dress, "wine country casual."

So you may be saying, "But Catie, why can't I wear my plastic K-Tarjay flip-flops and my tight polyester short-shorts to the break-out sessions?" Well first of all, you never know when you want a reference, interview or one-on-one advice from one of the speakers. Duh - - this is an opportunity to network, right? Take a cue from your break-out session speakers. How are they dressed? Would you take them serious if they looked like they just got out of bed or out of the gym?

Going to be trekking through the vines on a hot day? Think ahead about what your host will be wearing and try to dress similar - meaning short and shredded Daisy Dukes and bikini top? Probably not. Wife-beater tank and spandex shorts? Nope, don't think so. Walking shorts and t-shirt. Yes, getting closer.

To sum up a "dress code" ask yourself, "Would Marv, Bob or Jancis show up at a winery to conduct an interview or for a winery luncheon wearing tight short-shorts and flip-flops?" Well, at least Bob would wear a tailored elbow-patch L L Bean cardigan with his short-shorts and leather tassels on his flip-flops. If you have to ask who Marv, Bob or Jancis are, then you are probably not ready to start a wine blog.

There is a fine line to walk in the wine industry, because alcohol is involved. Part of our job is to taste wine and especially at a wine bloggers conference the wine is endless. Absolutely, we need to enjoy the wine and the benefits. Sometimes that second sip can even help us break away from our shyness and give us the courage to approach or be spontaneous when necessary, but we should also understand our individual tolerance, especially when wine is served from the first thing in the morning until ... I mean, do you really need to drink all of it? I understand wine is produced every fall in the calendar year and currently there is no shortage.

Nothing worse is to visit a winery or wine and dine with winery representatives, on behalf of wine blogging, and a wine blogger has passed the point of having fun and now obnoxious and obviously drunk. Congratulations, you have just given fodder to the critics of wine bloggers.

Enjoy the wine, but remember your threshold, hydrate-hydrate-hydrate, and even spit and dump. That's what private after-parties are for - - to relax and have fun, but I would still use whatever brain cells you have left when visiting an after-party hosted by a winery or wine alliance/distributor.

Remember, the wineries want to read a wine blog about their wine and hospitality, not about how you partied and butt chugged their wine. Okay, so maybe nobody butt chugged during WBC#12, but the subject seemed so damn timely (Hello, University of Tennessee frat boys).

So after a night of drinking lots of wine, you feel like dog feces in the morning, don't you? Well buck-up my little wine blogger. Get yo' sweet ass out of bed, shower, and show up to the sessions, receptions, and functions; especially if you are a recipient of a scholarship.

I am remembering a blogger who kept missing the morning sessions of a conference. The story was the live-in significant other came with and they needed the mornings to "cuddle and catch-up." They would show up late to the afternoon sessions (and the live-in had not signed up for the conference, but managed to eat for free). One event in particular, they disrupted the group that was already in session by needing their lunch because the partner was hungry and of course, after the rest of the group had just ate. All of a sudden, the group time became all about the thoughtless culprits as they asked questions that had already been answered and wanted information that had already been given. It was rude to our gracious host winery, but to the other bloggers, as well. Frankly they should have just stayed home and done their "cuddling and catching up." Would you bring your cuddle-bum, spouse and kiddies to an employee business luncheon?

You may be thinking, "Listen up Catie, I paid for my conference fees and I will do what I damn will feel like it." Well and if we all take on that mind set, chances are that we could start seeing higher conference fees and get less for our dollars. Why does a sponsor want to continue to wine and dine us when their events are not well attended?

We have to remember that sponsors do expect a little something back for their dollars. Wineries and wine distributors are not non-profit orgs. Is requesting a filled room of listening ears and bright shining faces too much to ask? Sponsors and hosts have spent a lot of time and money setting up and sometimes even prepping food. Remember, an empty chair is an empty chair and the speaker/host doesn't know if the chair is empty due to a hangover, shopping trip to Nordies, or attending a private party gathering instead - - or having special moments with your special needs cuddle partner. "gag"

I recently read on a wine blog how the author chose not to attend one of the functions and felt rather proud he didn't, as a few other bloggers "congratulated him" for missing it. Boo-hiss. Do you not see a movie because a critic said it sucked or see it anyway and decide for yourself? Ironically, the same author expressed how bloggers should be spontaneous ...

And speaking of being spontaneous, I was so happy that I chose to be spontaneous during one of the WBC#12 break-out sessions. During the last session, I had no idea which panel I wanted to visit, so I quickly walked into the first open door. There was a panel of speakers, who a few I had heard before and about the same subject. At the end of the session, I was inspired. I felt some affirmation for following some good advice from the previous years, but gathered some new information I actually had been seeking and wasn't sure where to find it. Can I share with you that I am still thrilled for taking a chance and can hardly wait to use my new information? My point? Don't miss these opportunities as they are priceless and especially if you paid for them.

Okay, so I am ready to leave my soap box. Got a ladder? Wine blogging is one of my passions and I love sharing it with my readers and of course, other wine bloggers. From the first wine blogging conference I attended in 2009, I indeed felt a camaraderie and felt it from the best and passionate in their field. Looking back we were also a smaller group. At the recent wine bloggers conference I noticed more new faces than I did familiar ones. I am a gemini, so the generous side of me is thrilled that we are growing in numbers giving credence to what we do. The suspicious side of me is wondering, which one in the herd is not in it for honorable motives and when will they eventually thin out?

The notion of a getting rich scheme, image of a self-appointed "cool" wine critic, receiving free wine and adoration has to be removed or you will be disappointed and others will be disappointed in you. For me, trekking to wineries have become a job, but who could ask for such great employment? We are blessed to be a part of a wonderful industry where we have the best food, wine, fresh air, people and one in a life-time experiences.

I believe that if you are honest, open to learning, and truly passionate about what you are doing, you will be rewarded. While the responsibilities are many, the journey of wine blogging will be filled with great surprises and your life will be enhanced.

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Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesdays

Date: Wed, Oct 10, 2012 Wine Tasting Wine Business

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies is: Ah-So

This twin prong cork puller called an Ah-So or Butler's Friend can extract a cork without damaging it. It is especially useful in opening old bottles with fragile corks and because it does not puncture the cork, it limits the likelihood of a brittle cork crumbling into the wine.

The two metal prongs, one shorter than the other, are spread open and then wiggled into the space between the cork and the bottle on either side. Once fully in place, a turn and pull of the handle causes friction to turn the cork and pull it out of the bottle. However, if not careful the Ah-So can inadvertently push the cork further into the bottle instead of extracting it.

So how did it get it's quirky name? No, it isn't the same as "I see" in Japanese. "Ah-so" is a translation of the German title, "Ach so!", an expression meaning roughly "Ah, I see." It's named because its appearance often baffles people, but when demonstrated, they often exclaim "Ah! So that's how it works!"

Check out how this enthusiast uses the Ah-So.

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Royalty: Bergevin Lane The Princess Syrah - 2009

Date: Tue, Oct 9, 2012 Wine Tasting Wine Business

We're told it starts in the vineyard and with some wines, they indeed tell the story of the vines ...

The Princess Syrah - 2009 produced by Bergevin Lane tells a story. It is a classic Washington State 100% syrah produced with fruit sourced from Francisca’s Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley. Located south of town, Francisca's Vineyard is over six acres and planted in Rhone varietals - over 4 acres planted in syrah and over 2 acres in viognier.

Vineyard owners, Francisca van Heezik and Tim Rogan have a love of syrah and by acknowledging what they "like to drink" was their first step in deciding what vines to plant. And that is exactly what they did - in 2001 they planted Francisca's Vineyard all by themselves from tilling the soil to planting the vines. Their hands-on approach has continued as the couple manually give all 4400 syrah vines their special touch from pruning to harvest. In other words, these vines are treated like a princess - the royal treatment.

Bergevin Lane Vineyards is the exclusive recipient of Francisca's syrah and the wine is a limited production and a sought after wine that has received many accolades since its first vintage in 2006.

One cannot help notice the inky royal purple color of The Princess Syrah as it flows in the glass. This classic has a nose of blueberries, Nutella chocolate-Hazelnut spread, smoked bacon and violets. Kind of like a extravagant breakfast in bed that is fit for a princess: from the bowl of blueberries to the violets in the flower vase on the breakfast tray.

A sip on the palate expresses notes of cocoa, dark stone fruit, a touch of mineral, rich earth and ends with spice. Concentrated. Elegant. The right touch of tannins to make one smack their lips, while still giving assurance that this wine has an ability to rest and will awake smooth and just as elegant as ever.

No doubt this wine is to be celebrated with food. Roasted meats, grilled caramelized vegetables, French onion soup, and even a bacon cheeseburger and a piece of dark chocolate cake.

I think The Princess Syrah should come with a tiara.

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Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesdays

Date: Wed, Oct 3, 2012 Wine Tasting Wine Business

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies is: Horizontal

Just like last week's wine word, "Vertical," a horizontal of wine is often conducted at a private or public wine tasting event. However, this time they are arranged to highlight one vintage, instead of two or more. And instead of wines from only one producer, a horizontal's focus is on two or more producers - - and again of the same vintage. There are many variables on a horizontal tasting.

For example, here in the Walla Walla Valley a horizontal could be done using a merlot from the year 2007. Some fine examples of a 2007 Merlot would be that of: Leonetti Cellar, L'Ecole No. 41, Northstar Winery, and Pepper Bridge Winery.

Or you can be adventurous and compare Washington State 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon's with 2005 Cabernet's from Napa Valley. Like white wine? Go Walla Walla or Columbia Valley 2010 Rieslings with those from New York's Finger Lake Region.

Shake it up and feature a syrah from Washington, California, France (Côte-Rôtie AOC or a Cornas AOC) and Australian Shiraz from 2005. If you are lucky enough to obtain several 1961 Bordeaux wines for a horizontal tasting (see photo above) - - please send me an invite.

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Inspirations and Memories: Stoller Family Estate & Vineyards - WBC#12

Date: Tue, Oct 2, 2012 Wine Tasting Wine Business

When Miles, from the movie Sideways, was convincing wine consumers to forsake merlot for pinot noir, I was doing just the opposite. Forsaking pinot noir for merlot - especially merlot produced in Washington State. There was barely a bottle of pinot noir in my wine collection - barely? I should say, "none."

Oh wait, there were a few bottles of pinot noir hanging around from Lazy Creek Vineyards in theAlexander Valley, California and also a bottle of Williamette Valley's Erath - - both exceptional wines, yet both given to me as gifts. While I appreciated the thoughtfulness and appreciated the masters and the craftsmanship of these wines - - ehh. They just didn't speak to me - they didn't say, "Catie, run away with me! I am the Pinot Noir you've been searching for."

I really didn't take notice of pinot noir until one day when a certain bottle entered my home. The bottle was opened, glasses were poured and I just cannot explain it - - but it was this bottle of pinot noir from Stoller Family Estate and Vineyards that truly inspired me - - it made me want to take another look at this blackish-purple persnickety little grape. It also inspired me to visit the Stoller Family Estate & Vineyards in August of 2008 - - and of course, after my visit I left - well, inspired! Inspired to taste more pinot noir, but still not enough to make me divorce my beloved Washington State Merlot - - but close.

You can only imagine how I felt when I received an invite to attend a pre-function at Stoller in the Willamette Valley before the August2012 Wine Bloggers Conferenceheld in Portland, Oregon. I immediately responded ASAP with my RSVP!

About thirteen of us enthusiastic wine bloggers boarded a yellow school bus in front of our hotel that Thursday before the weekend conference. We were warmly greeted by Sebastien Telford-Rake,Stoller's representative of Event Logistics and Sales. Sebastien was our host-with-the-most as he gave us an introduction and a tour on our way through the Willamette to Dayton, OR. We were told there was some history behind hauling wine lovers in a school bus, as these bright yellow machines are used every summer at Pinot Wine Camp. Okay - so this was going to be an educational tour, right? The best kind of education, I say.
Stoller Pinot Noir rosé

We arrived at Stoller and was immediately greeted with a glass of their beautiful and thirst quenching pinot noirrosé - 2011. I had remembered thisrosé from my first visit in 2008. And like four years ago in August and also during the same weekend, it was hot - record number temps. Therosé was cool and crisp. My parched throat could not get enough of this pink liquid with notes of ruby red grapefruit and a nose of strawberries and rose petals. It brought back memories of how four years earlier I sipped a bottle of Stollerrosé paired with a wedge of Tillamook cheese, local smoked salmon, local Oregon berries and a view of the beautiful Pacific Ocean at Lincoln City. Isn't that what wine is suppose to do - invoke memories? I think that is the beauty of wine.

We sipped on our wine as Sebastien led us down the path to the vineyards. Once again I remembered my past visit while I sipped on wine and walked through the rows of lush vines. Oh sure, a few things have changed at Stoller since my visit - in fact, they were almost near the completion of their new tasting room. And being true to the Stoller standards of theirLEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, the new building is constructed of reclaimed scorched wood from one of Oregon's largest forest fires, as well as a 236 solar panel roof (see video).

Our haven to relax was a cool and grassy park-like area with many old shade trees across from the vineyard where Robert Schultz, vineyard manager shared with our group about the Stoller vines, soil, climate and even about the Dijon/Burgundy clones. Stoller is the largest vineyard site in the Dundee Hills of Oregon with 373 acres and with around 180 of it in vines. The vineyard is divided into 83 sections. While Stoller is known for their pinot noir, 30% of the vines are chardonnay, 5% is pinot gris and with riesling, tempranillo, syrah, and pinot blanc at about 1 percent each.

The area where we rested was part of the former turkey farm that was owned by the Stoller Family, which gives us some idea behind the turkey on much of their labeling. What started out as pets, the Stollerfarm grew to be the largest turkey facility in Oregon. In 1993 when the turkey farmed closed, Bill and Cathy Stoller planted the world-class vineyard.

The "Vintners Lunch" from the popular Red Hill Market, located in an old historic building at Dundee, was served. The brown bag was a welcome sight and the contents were oh-so delicious! We sipped on the Stoller JV Estate Chardonnay - 2011, Riesling - 2011, and of course what we came to taste; a pinot noir - Stoller JV Estate from 2009. I didn't think I was that hungry until I bit into a delicious sandwich and tucked in between the bread was Italian salami, provolone, arugula, whole grain mustard, olive oil, and a skoosh of salt & pepper. Later, the thick large cookie I pulled out of the bag came as a surprise as I bit into a chewiness of nuts - - and bacon! I ended up nibbling on it clear up to the early evening.
Our picnic area at Stoller Vineyards

After lunch we headed back to the winery and such a relief to escape the high temps. Who knew that Oregon could get so hot! We went to the fermenting area and sipped on more chardonnay. What made this tasting, unlike others, is that our host Sebastien poured for us a horizontal of wines sourced from the Stoller Vineyards, but produced by other wineries including: Adelsheim Vineyard, Chehalem Wines and Stoller. Of course there were similarities, but I was reminded by the old song from Sesame Street sung by the Muppets, "One of These Things (is Not Like the Others)." In my mind, the Stoller won hands down and I think that was the group's conclusion, as well.

Our group trekked down to the coolness of the cellar. Stoller SV Pinot Noir - 2008 was poured. I pondered this glass from their finest vineyard block. Violets, Bing cherries, and dark earth on the nose. Heavy dark stone fruit on the palate along with licorice and more dark cherries. Indeed - 2008 was a good year for this wine and a year of memories for me as I lapsed back through my visit of 2008 and my walk through these same vineyards while looking at the promised fruit that would soon be picked.

It was there in the cellar we were privileged to taste a special bottling of pinot noir. All three of these wines were named after the women in Bill Stoller's family. Starting with Helen's Reserve, Nancy's Reserve and for Bill's late wife, Cathy's Reserve who recently died last December. All three of these 2008 vintages were dark red, bold, rich and elegant wines. I imagined these wines were very much like the women they were named after.

Melissa and Sebastien
Towards the end our visit with the Stoller Estate, we met with their winemaker, Melissa Burr. Melissa told us her journey about winemaking in the area and how she finally landed at Stoller in 2003. After working harvest for more than three years at several other local wineries, and being raised in the Willamette Valley, her background of being with the fruit first hand and being familiar with the unique terroir definitely shows with the first sip of her wines - perhaps with a feminine and nurturing touch that understands this finicky and elusive grape.

Our blogging tour group left very happy after a great day and especially to be given by Melissa a signed bottle of the Stoller SV Estate Pinot Noir - 2008. Speaking for myself, I was not only thrilled but that particular 2008 vintage created some lovely memories for me and how I finally learned to love a great glass of Pinot Noir. We also got to keep the Riedel Willamette Pinot Noir glass with Stoller's name etched on it. Believe it or not, I held that glass on my lap during my plane jaunt home.

Later on our bus ride back to the hotel, Sebastien gifted me a limited bottle of Stoller Tempranillo to be shared with the group - - and I did. It was presented at the WBC#12 "Night of Many Bottles" Friday evening reception. Such a treat!

Many thanks to Sebastien and everyone at Stoller for their wonderful and generous hospitality - the day was truly a highlight of my visit to the area. Perhaps after a few more visits I may divorce merlot after all and take up with a glass of Stoller Pinot Noir, instead.

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Rock Star, Wine Star: Charles Smith

Date: Thu, Sep 27, 2012 Wine Tasting Wine Business

This morning it was announced that the editors of the Wine Enthusiast Magazine released their yearly nominations for "Wine Star Awards." Walla Walla's Charles Smith, owner and winemaker of K Vintners and Charles Smith Wines, was honored as the only Washington State winemaker nominated for "Winemaker of the Year."

The accolades of "Winemaker of the Year" is nothing new for Charles. In 2009, he received the same title from Food & Wine Magazine and Seattle Magazine for 2010. Charles is joined with other talented winemakers of the world for this category: Jorge Riccitelli (Bodgea Norton), Marcos Eguren (Sierra Cantabria and San Vicente), Philippe Melka (Melka Wines, and Dana Estates) and Vanya Cullen (Cullen Wines). The 2012 winners will be announced in New York on January 28, 2013.

Charles was quoted, “I’m thrilled to death with this nomination,” Smith explains, “It is not only a great honor as a winemaker, but also a symbol of the quality of wines that are coming out of Washington State.”

Charles released his first vintage, 1999 K Syrah, in the Walla Walla Valley in 2001. In 2004, he started his second brand, Charles Smith Wines. The recognizable edgy and modern black and white labels, with hand drawn letters and graphics, have become iconic around the state and beyond.

Certainly a man of vision in marketing, Charles has extended his wine projects with "Charles & Charles," a wine label collaborated with another wine innovator and hipster, Charles Biehler. Also, "Secco Italian Bubbles" and most recently Charles announced a new collaboration of an all chardonnay winery in Walla Walla with Washington winemaker, Brennan Leighton, former winemaker for Efeste. Congratulations Charles and many thanks for helping us to keep Walla Walla on the wine map!

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