Review of Washington Wines Blog
Visiting Walla Walla Valley Icons
Written by Rand Sealey   
Monday, 01 August 2011 14:18

The Pepper Bridge, Spring Valley Vineyard and Long Shadows wineries, whose wines are reviewed in the August issue of the Review of Washington Wines, are among the iconic must-visit wineries in the Walla Walla Valley. Here's a guide on how best to visit them.


Pepper Bridge - Owned by the McKibben family, this winery has a tasting room, amid the Pepper Bridge Vineyard off J.B. George Road in the South Valley, which is open seven days a week (an appointment is necessary to visit the nearby production facility). The tasting room has a sweeping view of the Blue Mountains, and has a balcony where one can take in the view while sipping. The staff is knowlegable and helpful. Lisa Schmidt, a gracious host, is often on hand. There is a $10 tasting fee which is applicable toward a purchase.


Spring Valley Vineyard - Managed by the Derby family, the winery has a tasting room downtown at 18 North Second Avenue, which is open Thursday through Monday (there is a tasting fee, applicable toward purchase). But the best way to visit is during Special Event Weekends (Spring Release, Autumn Release) when the winery at the Spring Valley Ranch (well worth the ten mile drive up Middle Waitsburg Road) is opened up to the public. On these occasions, Dean and Shari Derby are on hand to greet guests. Visits there at other times are by appointment only.


Long Shadows - A working winery, this facility, high up the hill on Frenchtown Road above Highway 12, is open for Special Events only. On Spring Release, Autumn Release and Holiday Barrel Tasting, the barrel room is opened up to make room for tasting the winery's portfolio of its world-renown winemakers' wines. Plenty of tasty cheeses, antipasta and breads are served. There is a twenty dollar tasting fee which is applicable toward purchases, including large formats, vintage verticals and portfolio collections.


For information on Special Event Weekends, go to www.wallawallawine.com.


Last Updated on Monday, 01 August 2011 16:33
How the Vines are Shaping Up
Written by Rand Sealey   
Monday, 25 July 2011 20:25

After my last blog of July 18, I received the following email from Erica Blue, co-owner (with Tim Blue) of Adams Bench in Woodinville:


"It's sure been interesting to see the variation in the fruit set in our various vineyards across the State. Some are boisterously full of shoots and clusters, others are just poking along. We've made a couple of trips now trying to assess the likely load for barrel purchases. Always interesting!"


I was thereby inspired to inspect some of the vineyards around Walla Walla. Here's what I found:


At Les Collines, south of Walla Walla, just below the foothills of the Blue Mountain, I found fewer than usual and smaller grape clusters, but well spaced and distributed. Further north, however, Pepper Bridge (which was hit hard by the November freeze) showed few clusters, mostly at the bases of the cordons. At the nearby Va Piano Vineyard, the vines were nearly bereft of clusters and much growth had been cut back to prepare for the next growing season.


On Saturday, I drove up and around the Blue Mountain Vineyard (Corliss/Tranche) just southeast of Walla Walla. Most vines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot) appeared to be healthy with moderately sized bunches hanging under moderate canopy. There, stripping of leaf growth under the canopies was under way to allow optimal maturing of the grapes. Only the lower section of the Sangiovese block showed sparsity of grape growth. A visit to aMaurice, off Mill Creek Road, east of Walla Walla showed small, loose grape clusters.


Other sources reported promising outlooks, providing the warm weather holds up through the summer. Brian Rudin (Cadaretta/Buried Cane) told me he saw smaller than normal clusters on looser canopy on Red Mountain, which holds out hope for a smaller, but more concentrated grape harvest. Tero Estates posted pictures on Facebook of beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon vines at the Windrow Vineyard, adjacent to Seven Hills on the Oregon side of the border. So, as I indicated in last week's blog, there is hope for a concentrated, high quality 2011 harvest, except for those areas that were hard hit by freeze.

The Outlook for the 2011 Vintage
Written by Rand Sealey   
Monday, 18 July 2011 14:12

As most of you know, Eastern as well as Western Washington experienced a cold, wet spring which put the grape vine growing cycle at least three weeks behind. But things are looking better now. There has been mostly fair weather with highs in the 80's, and flower bloom has already occurred in most areas. Doug Roskelley (Tero Estates in the south Walla Walla Valley) pointed out that if afternoons in the 80's continues through the summer, the development of the vines would continue to catch up.


Another factor in the outlook for this year's vintage is the deep freeze in the third week of November. Since this occurred shortly after the end of last year's protracted harvest, many vines had not yet gone into dormancy, causing much damage. In the Walla Walla Valley, the Pepper Bridge Vineyard, with its open air exposure was hard hit, as was the wind-blown Horse Heaven Hills. Damage varies from 10-20% in some areas to 80-90% in some vineyards. This means lower 2011 crop yields.


The two above factors hold hope for the outcome of the 2011 grape harvest. Grape bunch set has revealed smaller than normal clusters. If fair weather continues through the summer, followed by an "Indian Summer," there could be a low yielding harvest of concentrated fruit with deep colors and flavors. As Brian Rudin (Cadaretta, Buried Cane) put it, it's like a bases loaded situation. If the vines make it through the fall, there could be a grand slam of high quality wines. Of course, that's a big if. Let's keep our fingers crossed. More later!

Last Updated on Monday, 18 July 2011 14:31
What Others Say about my Wine Descriptions
Written by Rand Sealey   
Saturday, 09 July 2011 17:20

A few days ago, I received the following message from one of my Walla Walla wine tasting friends who had been to an informal tasting (I was in Seattle at the time):

"Were your ears burning last night? At our impromptu gathering, we were just talking about your tasting notes & how right on target they are."


I get a lot of feedback from winemakers about my descriptions of their wines. Before wrapping up an issue of my Review of Washington Wines, I email copy to the winemakers, to check for factual accuracy. I generally get thanked for my write-ups. The usual comment is "looks great." But I do get some interesting comments. Here is a sampling:


"Your descriptive language is very precise, while maintaining a poetic cadence."

"Excellent work."

"Your review is lovely..."

"Sounds fantastic to me. I'm going to pour myself a glass."

"We appreciate your insight and thoughts."

"Nice descriptions..."

"These are beautiful reviews...'pain grille' is so accurate."

"I think these are very gracious reviews."

"They are accurate descriptions of the wines, as well as complimentary."

"I love the 'dried roses' note...we were just discussing descriptions for the floral notes in this blend."

"Your write-up, I think captures the distinctiveness of the varietal, the growing site and the vintage..."

"I would LOVE to be able to peel off descriptions like you do, Rand. Amazing."

"It's beautiful, Rand. It's like reading poetry, we are honored."


When I write reviews of wines, I try to be as precise as I can. My descriptions are always complimentary, because I only review wines that are interesting and complex enough to be recommended. If a wine doesn't meet my standards (generally scoring 18/20 or more points, unless it's a "value" wine), I don't write about it. Also, in order to be a "complete" wine, it needs to have a beginning (nose/aromas), middle (palate/mouthfeel), back (inner aromas/flavors), and finish (acids/tannins). My descriptions encompass these sensory characteristics. If a wine is like poetry, I try to convey that sense.


A Couple of Great Values from Hestia Cellars


Back in June, when visiting wineries in Woodinville, I stopped in the Hestia Cellars tasting room and sampled Shannon Jones' new 2010 Chenin Blanc. I have just learned that it is sold out at the tasting room, but there is some still available in retail shops, including Esquin. At Esquin, I also picked up a tasty 2008 Red blend. Here are my reviews:


2010 Hestia Cellars Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley ($15)

Shannon Jones makes a top notch Chenin, a highly under-rated variety. This version offers a brilliant gold color, an enticing nose of pear, nectarine, melon, lilac and honeysuckle. The white fruit compote flavors are rich and generous, with tones of stony minerals, grape extracts, and a touch of lees, followed by a lingering citrus-tinged finish. 18/20 points.


2008 Hestia Cellars Red, Columbia Valley ($18)

This is a thick, savory blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Syrah. Dark purplish colored, it shows a smoky, sultry nose of blackberry, black cherry, plum, tobacco, oriental spices and dried roses. The palate is loaded with ripe dark fruit flavors that are intermixed with licorice, chocolate and scorched earth. The back picks up macerated berries, cherry liqueur and mocha on the way to a warm, sweetish tannin finish. Packs a lot of flavor for the price. 18/20 points.






A Meeting with Christophe Hedges
Written by Rand Sealey   
Friday, 01 July 2011 14:06

Christophe Hedges is the son of Tom and Anne-Marie Hedges and Director of National Sales and Marketing of the Hedges Family Estate on Red Mountain. I first met him at one of the Taste Washington Seminars, "What's the Points(s): Rating Washington Wines." At it, he made a passionate case for making terroir-driven wines for consumers, rather than for ratings. He is also an advocate of the scoreREVuTion movement, with aims to eliminate wine scores without lessening the importance of wine writers. I again met Christophe at the winery on my visit to Red Mountain on April 29.


When I arrived, I found Christophe cutting rock tiles for the exterior facade of a new kitchen expansion to the Hedges Chateau. We then went into the tasting room and he pulled out some bottles. As we tasted, we discussed wine writing and winemaking style. The approach (as taken by winemaker Pete Hedges, Christophe's uncle) is to keep alcohol and ph levels moderate so the character can come out. Doing so promotes the production of terroir-driven wines, rather than ones made for numbers. He does agree that wine writers should play an important role in consumer education. I pointed out that many consumers seek guidance in wine selection through ratings, but we completely agreed that wines should not be made just for ratings. I stated that ratings should be guidelines and must only be used in conjunction with descriptions of a wine's flavor and profile. In line with this, I pointed out what I called the "tyranny of the 100 point system," whereby the focus becomes numerical rather than qualitative.


As a representation of the Hedges style, we discussed the "House of Independent Producers," a Christophe Hedges project showcasing single vinifera varieties. The "HIP" 2010 Dionysus Vineyard Chardonnay is made in a "Chablis" style, crisp, yet well balanced, with a refreshing edge to it. Christophe's aim is to make "timeless, not fad-driven wines." For an example of the importance of terroir, we sampled a Syrah from the "Descendants Liegois Dupont," a tribute to Anne-Marie Hedges' grandfather, Marcel Dupont, a Chevaliers du Tastevin member and a lover of good food and fine wine. With the 2009 "DLD" Syrah, the emphasis is on the AVA: RED MOUNTAIN (Tom Hedges played a major role in obtaining American Viticultural Area status for it) and the vineyard, "Les Gosses." Syrah appears only on the back label, although it is 100% varietal. A young wine, it had considerable tannin structure, but a lot of fruit and depth lurked underneath. See the July issue of the the Review of Washington Wines for the complete reviews of the above wines, and other Hedges wines.


In winding up our conversation, Christophe talked a bit about how Europe has had four centuries of wine history, while Washington state had just decades. Great strides have been made, but it will be for the generations to come to fully realize the great potential of Washington wines. I added my recollections of Tom and Anne-Marie at the time the launched their first Cabernet-Merlot blend in 1987. We also spoke of "French Connections." We then bade our farewells and looked forward to meeting again soon.


Last Updated on Friday, 01 July 2011 22:13

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