- Written by Rand Sealey
On January 19, Steve Warner, president of the Washington State Wine Commission and Josh McDonald, executive director of the Washington Wine Commission, briefed the State Senate Commerce, Labor and Sports Committee in Olympia about the impact of the state's wine industry. At one point, the committee chairman, Senator Michael Baumgartner (R - Spokane) asked, "You're telling me that wine is gonna be bigger than wheat?" Steve Warner replied, "It's gonna be big bigger."
Warner and McDonald told the committee that Washington has approximately 900 wineries, with about four new ones each month. The state has about 350 grape growers with approximately 53,000 acres. In 1915, 222,000 tons of grapes were produced, with a revenue of $254.2 million. The 2016 wheat harvest from 2.2 million acres reaped $600 million in sales. The 2016 grape harvest has been estimated to be 20% higher than the previous year. It's not going to be very long before Washington Wine becomes "bigger than wheat."
There are quite a few good reasons why Washington Wine is becoming bigger than wheat:
High quality-price ratios - Washington wines offer higher quality for their prices than any other wine producing state. The ratings in the Review of Washington Wines and other publications are evidence of that.
Plenty of available acreage and water access - There are hundreds of thousands of acres of land that are suitable for grape growing and there is good access to water, unlike drought plagued California. No wonder out of state investors are buying vineyard land here.
Reasonable farming costs and profit margins - Well managed vineyards and wineries have good chances of success in this state.
Growing awareness of Washington Wines - National and international press has created more awareness of Washington State as a producer of quality wines.
Education for developing talent and research - Viticulture and enology programs such as those of the Walla Walla Community College and Washington State University are training students to be skilled workers in the wine industry. Research at the WSU Prosser Extension and other institutions helps maintain the industry's progress.
- Written by Rand Sealey
In my last Review of Washington Wine Blog posting of 12 January, I wrote, "It is no secret that white wine grapes command lower price than red wine grapes. Red wines get more respect than white ones." While they cost more than white wines, there are still some reds that are great values. Most of them come in at the $25 price point. I rarely come across a red scoring 18.5/20 points for under $20. Also, there are few varietal wines in this category with the exception of Syrah, a less fashionable grape than Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties. Most will be blends. Also, these wines generally are "stretched" with some press juice. The trick, though, is not to put in too much press wine in the blend. Too much results in an astringent wine. I have rejected many reds for this. All this said, here are some recently reviewed wines that offer fine value for $25 or less.
2013 Cavatappi "San Pietro" Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($25) 18.5/20 points - October 2016
2014 Wind Rose Cellars Primitivo, Columbia Valley, Stone Tree Vineyard ($25) 18.5/20 points - November
2015 Eight Bells Marquette, Yakima Valley, Red Willow Vineyard ($25) - 18.5/20 points - November
2012 Eight Bells Merlot, Yakima Valley, Red Willow Vineyard ($25) - 18.5/20 points - November
2014 Les Trouvées Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($25) - 18.5/20 points - November
2015 Vital "The Gifted" Red Wine Blend, Walla Walla Valley ($25) - 18.5/20 points - December
2012 Tranche Cellars Sangiovese, Walla Walla Valley, Blue Mountain Vineyard ($25) - 18.5/20 points - January
2012 Tranche Cellars Tempranillo, Yakima Valley, Blackrock Vineyard ($25) - 18.5/20 points - January
2014 College Cellars Petit Verdot, Walla Walla Valley, Clarke Vineyard ($24) - 18.5/20 points - January
2014 Kerloo Cellars "Majestic" Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($25) - 18.5/20 points - January
2013 L'Ecole No. 41 Syrah, Columbia Valley ($24) - 18.5/20 points - February
2014 L'Ecole No. 41 Syrah, Columbia Valley ($24) - 18.5/20 points - To be reviewed March
2014 Structure Cellars "Newel" Red Blend, Columbia Valley ($24) - 18.5/20 points - March
2014 Structure Cellars "Bauhaus" Syrah, Columbia Valley ($25) - 18.5/20 points - March
2014 Nine Hats Merlot, Columbia Valley ($25) - 18.5/20 points - March
2014 Nine Hats Syrah, Columbia Valley ($25) - 18.5/20 points - March
2014 Nine Hats Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) - 18.5/20 points - March
2014 Nine Hats Malbec, Columbia Valley ($25) - 18.5/20 points - March
- Written by Rand Sealey
It is no secret that white wine grapes command lower prices than red wine grapes. It is simply a matter of supply and demand. Red wines get more respect than white ones. But there are "noble" white varieties that can offer as much complexity as red ones. These can be terrific values as well. Here's a selection of such white wines that have been recently reviewed.
Riesling - This is the "noble" grape of Germany and Alsace. There are sone very fine Washington versions for around $20 or less. Here are a few examples.
2015 Long Shadows "Poet' Leap" Riesling, Columbia Valley ($20) - 19/20 points - October 2016
2014 Chateau Ste. Michelle-Dr. Loosen "Eroica" Riesling, Columbia Valley ($22) - 19/20 points - October
2015 Nine Hats Riesling, Columbia Valley ($12) - 18.5/20 points - To be reviewed March
Pinot Gris - Most Washington Pinot Gris is made more in an Alsatian than an Italian style, dry and crisp, yet ripe.
2015 Nine Hats Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley ($14) 18.5/20 points - To be reviewed March
Semillon - This Bordeaux variety is highly undervalued, some offering much complexity at ridiculously low prices.
2015 L'Ecole No. 41 Semillon, Columbia Valley ($14) - Not yet reviewed, but offers fresh, ripe aromatics and a typical varietal creaminess. 18+/20 points.
Sauvignon Blanc - This is the other white grape originating in Bordeaux. There are two styles, "BDX" and the crisp Sancerre-like version.
2015 Browne Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley ($18) - 18.5/20 points - October - Sancerre-like.
2015 Seven Hills Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley ($19) - 18.5/20 points - October - Blended with 18% Semillon.
2015 Barrister SauvignonBlanc, Red Mountain ($19) 18.5/20 points - December - From vine planted in 1982.
Chenin Blanc - Originating from the Loire Valley, this grape produces wonderfully fragrant wines. Many of the vines in Washington State were planted in the 1980's.
2015 L'Ecole No. 41 Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley ($14) - 18.5/20 points - June
Waitsburg Cellars also makes a couple of fine Chenin Blancs. The 2015s will be reviewed in March.
Rhone White Varietals - Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc offer full flavored wines that can be excellent values.
2015 Nefarious Cellars Viognier, Lake Chelan, Defiance Vineyard ($20) - 18.5/20 points - September
2015 Bunnell Family Cellar Viognier ($24) - 18.5/20 points - To be in the February 2017 issue.
2015 Zerba Cellars Roussanne, Walla Walla Valley, Cockburn Vineyard ($24) - 18.5/20 points - February 2017
2015 Cairdeas Grenache Blanc, Yakima Valley, Boushey Vineyard ($24) - 18.5/20 points - September
2015 Bunnell Family Cellar Grenache Blanc, Yakima Valley ($24) -19/20 points - February 2017 - This is a steal.
Chardonnay - In the consumers' minds, at least, this is the Washington white varietal that has the greatest claim to being "noble."
2015 Eight Bells Chardonnay, Yakima Valley, Boushey Vineyard ($25) 18.5/20 points - November
2015 Westport "Shorebird" Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Conner-Lee Vineyard ($26) - 18.5/20 points - November - From a premier vineyard for Chardonnay.
2015 L'Ecole No. 41 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley ($24) - 18.5/20 points - November
No Review Blog Next Week
On Saturday, we will be leaving Walla Walla for the warmer climes of San Diego and Pasadena, returning January 23rd. The next blog will be on Wednesday, January 25, along with the February issue of the Review of Washington Wines.
- Written by Rand Sealey
For the new year, there have been new developments in the wine industry that are significant. Here are some of them. More developments will be reported in the future, as they become public knowledge.
Heather Unwin now New Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance Director
January 3rd was Heather Unwin's first day as the new Director of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, an organization representing most of the wineries in the valley. She was picked after a search which took nearly six months after the death of the previous Director, Duane Wollmuth, from a heart attack on July 11. Heather's previous experience has been Executive Director of the Red Mountain AVA Alliance for three and a half years. She also has taught wine marketing at the Walla Walla Community College's Institute for Viticulture and Enology. The selection of Heather Unwin as Director will be a great fit. A few years ago, I participated in a wine evaluation group with her and found her to be astute and knowledgable about wine.
Co Dinn Winery Building a New Facility in Sunnyside
Coman - "Co" - Dinn started work on his new winemaking facility at a historic building in Sunnyside. His winery has been producing wine at the Yakima Valley Community College's Enology School in Grandview. The new winery will be opened this Spring. See the July 2016 issue of the Review of Washington Wines for reviews of the Co Dinn wines.
Bouchon Park Development Taking Shape in Walla Walla
Last Fall, at an open house, Michael Corliss (Corliss and Tranche Wineries) previewed Bouchon Park, his new pair of wine warehouses and production spaces, comprising 84,000 and 140,000 square feet, on Middle Waitsburg Road, north of Walla Walla. There will be spaces for wine storage, shipping docks, barrel storage, and winemaking. One lead tenant is the Mark Ryan Winery which will lease warehouse space. Other tenants are being lined up and will announced as time goes on. The facilities are state of the art, with rigid insulation to combat moisture, an enemy of winemaking cleanliness.
Neil Johnston New Winemaker at Dumas Station
Late last summer, Neil Johnston, a graduate of the Walla Walla Community College's Institute for Viticulture and Enology, found a new job at the Dumas Station Winery, a few miles south of Dayton. After a job search as far away as Wenatchee, he found the perfect place right near his home in Dayton. He is working with winery owners, Jay DeWitt and Doug Harvey. Current releases will be reviewed in the March issue of the Review of Washington Wines.
Marcus Rafanelli Now Teaching at the Walla Walla Community College
Another Institute for Viticulture and Enology, Marcus Rafanelli, has come back to Walla Walla as an enology instructor at WWCC. After winemaking and exploration stints around the world - Woodinville (at William Church) California, Australia, Germany, Italy - Marcus has gone full circle. Asked by the Enology department director, Tim Donahue, to take on the teaching position, Marcus called it his "dream job." We are sure it will be.
- Written by Rand Sealey
After a record 2016 grape harvest, what's ahead for the Washington wine industry for 2017? Some changes have already taken place, some will be announced in the new year. These will be the topic of next week's blog.
Now, here are my predictions for 2017:
More Consolidation and Ownership Changes
The buyout of the McClellans' Seven Hills Winery by the Crimson Wine Group of California signaled a growing interest by outside investors in Washington wineries. There will be more investments and mergers ahead in the future.
More Small Wineries
This year saw the launching of new wineries such as The Walls and Aluvé in Walla Walla, Tetrahedron in the Columbia Gorge, Co Dinn in the Yakima Valley and others. More will be on the way.
More New AVAs
In the past couple of years, we've seen new American Viticultural Areas come into being - The Rocks of Milton-Freewater, Ancient Lakes and the Lewis-Clark Valley. Candidates for new AVAs include the Frenchman Hills near Othello, The Royal Slope near Royal City, and the South Ridge of the Walla Walla Valley, from the Ferguson Vineyard (L'Ecole No. 41) to Southwind (Cadaretta) to McQueen (Doubleback) whose basaltic wind blown terroir is highly distinctive.
More Growth in Seattle Wineries
South Seattle has become a Mecca for wineries and tasting rooms, a boom that has been propelled by Charles Smith's large new facility in Georgetown. There will be more to come as wineries explore new opportunities.
More Respect for Washington Wines
Last, but not least, of these predictions is more press and interest in Washington wines. Articles such as the Wine Spectator write-up on Cayuse is evidence of this. Watch for increasing interest in Washington state wines and ones from the contiguous cross border AVAs.
More Later! Happy New Year!