- Written by Rand Sealey
In my posting of 8 July, I reported on a number of Walla Walla Valley wine news items. Here are a few more.
The Heat Wave Abates, but Weather Stays Tinder Dry
Last week and this week has seen more normal temperatures, with highs in the eighties and nineties. But the tinder dry conditions remain a concern. On Monday, a wildfire in the Blue Creek area consumed 3,000 acres, and forced the evacuation of residents on Biscuit Ridge and in Scott Canyon. Rainfall this month has been negligible. This means wine growers still have to constantly monitor the watering of the vines. The vines survived last month's heat wave, but will still need irrigation to keep them going.
Another indication of the impact of this summer's drought is the report that the quality of this year's winter wheat crop is below average. The grains have developed more protein to carbohydrate than normal, making them less suitable for milling into flour for baking.
Lagana Cellars Opens New Tasting Room
In my post of 8 July, I reported that Jason Fox's Lagana Cellars would be opening a new tasting room on East Rose Street, in the location formerly occupied by Glencorrie. The tasting room opened two weeks ago. I stopped by a few days ago and tried the 2013 Breezy Slope Pinot Noir, which was a pleasurable wine, with ripe aromas and supple, yet well defined medium bodied flavors. 18.5/20 points. A full review to be in the September issue of the Review of Washington Wines. See the June issue for reviews of previous releases.
The Woodward Canyon Reserve House now Open for Summer
Last Saturday, we had lunch at the Woodward Canyon Reserve House restaurant. It features local, natural ingredients, prepared flavorfully. Sager Small, Rick and Darcey's son is the chef. At out table, two of us had the Ditalini e Ceci, tube pasta with chickpeas, pomodoro, pimenti and rosemary, the other two, Torchiette with Local Peas, ribbon pasta in a sauce of mint, geeen onion and grana padano. I had my ditalini with a glass of 2013 Estate Dolcetto (to be reviewed in the September issue). This restaurant is highly recommended.
Walla Walla Gears Up for Gentlemen of the Road
The biggest event this summer in Walla Walla will be the two days of rock concerts produced by Gentlemen of the Road, featuring Mumford & Sons, Foo Fighters, and other ensembles. To be held Friday and Saturday, August 14 and 15, this even will being thousands into Walla Walla. Downtown businesses, restaurants and wine tasting rooms have Gentlemen of the Road posters on their windows. Tasting room staffs will be beefed up in expectaction of the crowds.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Wine Country Heat Wave Ends
The heat wave with triple digit temperatures has come to an end. Now highs are a more seasonable upper 'eighties and low 'nineties, with nightime lows in the 'fifties. This is a great relief to wine growers, as it enables the grapes to resume maturing after shutting down in the high temperatures.
The Walla Walla Community College Capstone Kitchen Reopens with Wine
The Capstone Kitchen at the Center for Enology and Viticulture has reopened for the Summer quarter with a new lunch menu and wines from the Center's College Cellars. The menu features tasty dishes created by Robin Leventhal, Dan Thiessen and the Center's culinary students. The College Cellars wines are available in red and white flights. This is the match up that we have been waiting for.
A Visit to the Yakima Valley
The August issue of the Review of Washington Wines, which goes on line July 28th, includes a report on our visit to the Yakima Valley, with reviews of wines from Owen Roe, Dineen Vineyards, Chinook and Alexandria Nicole.
While in Yakima, we had lunch at the Cowkche Canyon Kitchen on East Yakima Avenue. It features an eclectic combination of American and Vietnamese cuisines. If you want a 'burger, with all the fixings, you and have it; it you want a Bahn Minh sandwich, you can have it. The wine list is also eclectic, with local and French bottlings.
Also Coming Up: Seattle's SODO Wineries
The August issue will also report on the SOuth of DOwntown winery scene, which also includes a couple of microbreweries and craft distilleries. The wineries reviewed are Bartholomew, Scarborough, Kerloo Cellars, O S, Cloudlift, and Laurelhurst Cellars.
While we were in Georgetown, we heard talk about the new Charles Smith Winery that is to be opened July 25th. so we decided to have a look. It is located on South Albro Place, across from the north boundary of Boeing Field. The winery is in a big black building and it will feature a restaurant and a rooftop deck. The Logo atop the building will say "Charles Smith Wines Jet City." See the Charles Smith website for more.
- Written by Rand Sealey
As summertime gets under way, here are a few news items about the Walla Walla Valley wine scene.
The Valley Heat Wave Continues
Last week, I reported on the effects of the triple digit temperatures in the wine country. Since then, the high tempratures have continued, with temperatures around 100. June turned out to be the hottest on record, with a high of 113 on June 28. Rainfall was a scant .07 inches, way below the normat of 1.28 inches. Some abating of the high temperatures is ahead, with a much more normal 89 degrees predicted for Saturday.
G. Cuneo and Salida Join in the "Latin Corner"
One of the latest developments in the Downtown Walla Walla winery scene is the formation of Gino Cuneo Cellars' and Doug McCrea's Salida Wine's Latin Corner tasting room at the corner of 2nd Street and Rose Street. It now offers an elegant setting for sampling Washington wines produced from Italian and Spanish varieties such as Nebbiolo and Tempranillo. It is a shared facility, with both wineries sharing the costs. And it brings together the winemaking experience of Gino Cuneo a 25 year veteran of Italian-style winemaking, and Doug McCrea, a pioneer of Rhone and Spanish varieties, both using fruit from unique Washington vineyards.
The Latin Corner is a truly unique tasting room, unlike any other in town. Doug McCrea states, "We take pride in the fact that we've created for wine lovers an unprecedented 'one of a kind' experience. So essentially, that's the driving factor regarding the location and we want to be certain that the folks who visit Walla Walla know of our very special location and of our efforts to promote grape varietals outside of the plethora of wines primarily of French origins."
The Latin Corner is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday. The current releases from Salida are reviewed in the July issue of the Review of Washington Wines. The G. Cuneo wines will be in the August issue.
It's a Wrap for Trio Vintners
On Friday July 3rd, Karen LaBonte held an "It's a Wrap" party for Trio Vintners which will be closing in August. Karen and Darwin will be moving to the Oregon Coast, necessitated by the Walla Walla Valley environment which has agravated her hearing loss. It was a big event where much Trio Vintners wine was poured, and a live rock band - with Karen's beau, Darwin, playing the bass guitar - performed. It was held at the Main Street Studio and the place rocked. Our best to Karen and Darwin for their future!
Lagana Cellars to Open Tasting Room Downtown
Jason Fox plans to open a tasting room on East Rose Street, where Glencorrie was formerly located (that winery's tasting room has moved to Old Highway 12). The Lagana tasting room is expected to open late summer.
Tertulia Cellars now Features a Petanque Terrain
In May, the Walla Walla Petanque Club inaugurated a boules terrain behind Tertulia Cellars, and held its first tournament there on June 21st. On Sundays, many members congregate there to play and to sip Tertulia Cellars wine. Kudos to Tertulia's Ryan Raber and to the WWPC's Philippe Michel and Ted Cox for putting this together.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Last Saturday, we drove out to the Yakima Valley to visit a few wineries (to be reviewed in the August issue of the Review of Washington Wines). When we left Walla Walla at 8 a.m., the temperature gauge on our car registered 79 degreees. When we reached Yakima, it was 94. We packed a cooler in to trunk to put our wine purchases into. Interestingly enough, most of the wineries had surprisingly good turnouts despite the 100 plus degree temperatures. The next day, Walla Walla hit a high of 113 degrees, the likes of which hasn't been seen in years.
The heat wave is now into its third week. Wildfires have been spreading around eastern Washington, with thousands of acres scorched.
What does all this mean for the vineyards? It's not good. When temperatures reach about 95 degrees, wine grape vines start to shut down in order to protect themselves. This means the plants' energy is going into the vines rather than the grapes, shutting down their maturation. Grapes can also become sunburned. In this situation, watering is critical and requires constant vigilance. Young vines with less leaf canopy are particularly vulnerable. Certain grapes react differently. Syrah shuts down and leaves will turn yellow and fall off. Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese handle heat better. (For a more complete report see Andy Perdue's posting of June 30 in greatnorthwestwine.com).
The end of the heat wave is nowhere in sight. The current weather forecast is for temperatures hovering around 100 degrees for the next two weeks. More later!
- Written by Rand Sealey
On June 18-20, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance presented The World of Merlot for its annual Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine. Here is my report.
The Vintage Pour
On Thursday the 18th, a tasting of older vintages from numerous wineries was presented at Dunham Cellars near the Walla Walla airport. This was a great opportunity to sample wines and see how well that have aged. Out of the dozens of wines, there were some particularly noteworthy ones.
2008 àMaurice Cellars "The Tobey" Red Wine, Columbia Valley - This Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc blend showed a deep garnet color and intoxicating aromas of dried fruits, tobacco, cedar and incense, with deep, complex sweet-dry fruits and a long finish. 19+/20 points.
2007 Avigionesi "Capanella" Rosso Toscana - This 50/50 Merlot and Sangiovese combination offered a rich nose of semi dried fruits, herbs and incense, with elegantly styled complex flavors that showed great depth and structure, and a long finish. 19+/20 points.
2008 Duckhorn "Three Palms" Merlot, Napa Valley - Poured out of magnums, this was a knock-out. Ruby-garnet colored, it showed rich aromas of semi-dried fruits, roses, tobacco and incense, with mouth-encompassing, supple, multi-layered flavors, with notes of chocolate, graphite and smooth tannins, followed by a long, long finish. 19.5/20 points.
2005 Chateau Gaudet Saint-Emiion Grand Cru - Composed of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, this Right Bank Bordeaux exhibited a brilliant ruby color and intriguing aromas of wild fruits, crushed roses, tobacco and cedar with distinct gravelly minerality and a lingering finish. 19/20 points.
2006 Seven Hills Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Seven Hills Vineyard - This was a fine example of maturing Merlot. Brilliant garnet colored, it showed a rich nose of ripe fruits, burnt leaves, incense and spice with ripe medium bodied flavors that unwound into a long, complex finish. 19/20 points.
2000 Woodward Canyon Merlot, Walla Walla Valley - This combination of Seven Hills and Pepper Bridge vineyards showed a mature profile, yet one with substantial fruit remaining, along with shadings of roasted nuts, grilled meats and toasty oak, followed by a long, silky finish. 19+/20 points.
2008 Tero Estates Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Windrow Vineyard - This wine was maturing beautifully. It showed a sensuous, smoky nose of ripe fruits, tobacco and cedar, and supple flavors with notes of chocolate crust and roasted nuts, and a long finish. 19+/20 points.
2009 Spring Valley Vineyard "Muleskinner" Merlot, Walla Walla Valley - This was a fine rendition of the ripe 2009 vintage. It possessed sultry aromas of oriental perfumes and incense, along with supple, minerally, high-toned varietal flavors. 19/20 points.
2005 Long Shadows "Pirouette" Red Wine, Columbia Valley - This magnificent blend of 57% Caberent Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 14% Syrah, 5% Malbec and 4% Cabernet Franc showed a deep ruby color and intense aromas of black fruits, tobacco, cedar and exotic perfumes, along with deep-cored, superbly balanced flavors with a sixty second finish. 19.5/20 points.
The Winemaker Panel and Merlot Tasting
On Friday afternoon, from 3:30 to 5:30, a panel discussion was held with Sean Sullivan (Wine Enthusiast and Washington Wine Report) as moderator. Here are the panelists and the wines they made, in the order in which each was presented.
Vincent Lignac, Chateau Gaudet, Saint Emilion
Monsieur Lignac started off by saying that typically Saint Emilion goes through a warm summer, and then cools off in the fall, resulting in intense wines with considerable minerality, as revealed in this wine.
2010 Chateau Gaudet, Saint Emilion, Grand Cru - This showed a semi opaque ruby color and aromas of rich, dark fruits, attar of rose, cigar box and incense. The flavors mirrored the aromatics with full-bore, dark, minerally fruit flavors, and notes of chocolate and French roast. The back picked up roasted berries and nuts, followed by a long, authoritative finish. 19/20 points.
Virginie Saverys, Avigonesi, Tuscany
Originally from Belgium, Virginie purchased the Avignoesi property in 2006. Her Disidero came from the area of Cortona which is especially suited for Merlot.
2010 Avigonoesi "Desidero" Rosso Toscana - Blended with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, this Merlot exhibited a deep purplish color and seductive, smoky aromas of roasted fruits and nuts, tobacco, cedar and crushed roses. The flavors were deep and fleshy, with distinct Tuscan character, with a back palate of roasted berries and nuts, calcareous minerals and bittersweet tannins. 19+/20 points.
David "Merf" Merfeld, Northstar Winery, Walla Walla Valley
Merf stated that Northstar's signature Merlot, is carefully crafted to bring out ripe fruits and soft tannins, along with the vineyards' loess and gravel soils of the Anna Marie and Estate vineyards.
2010 Northstar Merlot, Walla Walla Valley - Composed of 81% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot, this wine showed a deep ruby color and sultry aromas of blackberry, cherry, plum, tobacco and earth, with rich, fleshy dark fruit flavors, redolent of licorice, bittersweet chocolate, French roast and minerals. On the back, the wine turned ripe and creamy textured, lifted by ripe fruit acids on the long, warm finish. 19/20 points.
Casey McClellan, Seven Hills Winery, Walla Walla Valley
Casey pointed out that Merlot is more prone to the "insults of nature" than other varieties, requiring judicious vine management and wine making. Seven Hills has been making Merlot since 1982.
2012 Seven Hills Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Seven Hills Vineyard - From old blocks, this 100% Merlot displayed a deep crimson color and seductive aromas of blackberry, cherry, plum, cassis, rose petals, sweet tobacco and incense. On the palate, the flavors were deep and supple, with bnotes of licorice, Swiss chocolate, and loess and gravel minerals. The back picked up pressed fruits and bright fruit acids on the way to a long, lightly herbed and oaked finish. 19+/20 points.
Marty Clubb, L'Ecole No. 41, Walla Walla Valley
Marty stated that the winery's use of Seven Hills and Ferguson vineyards adds up to a distinctive profile for L'Ecole's Estate Merlot. Special attention is given to site managment, with careful canopy and irrigation control.
2012 L'Ecole No. 41 Estate Merlot, Walla Walla Valley - This 80% Merlot, with 10% each of Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, showed a deep ruby color and smoky aromas of raspberry, cherry, plum, crushed roses, mulberry, tobacco and cedar. The flavors were rich and plush, yet deep and structured, imbued with licorice, Swiss chocolate, French roast and minerally earth. The back picked up macerated berries, roasted nuts, framboise and cassis, followed by ripe tannins and acids. 19/20 points.
Renée Ary, Duckhorn Vineyards, Napa Valley
Ms Ary stated that the winery's focus is on classic Bordeaux varietals, hence Merlot is an important part of the portfolio. The Napa Valley's Mediterranean-like climate is especially suited for Merlot as well.
2012 Duckhorn Merlot, Napa Valley - Composed of 88% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc and 1% Malbec, this wine offered a deep ruby color and smoky aromas of raspberry, cherry, plum, black roses, tobacco, cedar and mint. The flavors showed distict varietal character, with deep, supple, yet focused forward fruits. The back revealed a fleshy texture, with bright, berried fruits and kirsch and cassis liqueurs, followed by a ripe tannin finish. A very pleasing, but not highly complex wine. 18.5+/20 points.
Qualitatively, all six wines were nearly equal, with only fractions of a point differences in scores. The Chateau Gaudet and Avignonesi Desidero were definitely "old world" in character, yet modern in style. The three Walla Walla Valley Merlots showed the distinctive characteristics of its AVA. The Duckhorn, being a blend from various Napa Valley and Carneros vineyards, showed less distinct terroir than the other wines. My conclusion from this illuminating tasting is that the Walla Walla Valley produces world class Merlots that merit any serious wine buff's attention.