- Written by Rand Sealey
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.
- Written by Rand Sealey
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!
- Written by Rand Sealey
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."
"Your review is lovely..."
"Sounds fantastic to me. I'm going to pour myself a glass."
"We appreciate your insight and thoughts."
"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.
- Written by Rand Sealey
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.
- Written by Rand Sealey
I am posting this week's blog a couple of days early (Wednesday instead of Friday) because of the urgency generated by the extremely limited supply of some of these wines. They are not to be missed.
A Stellar Garnacha (Grenache) from Kerloo Cellars
2009 Kerloo Cellars Garnacha, Walla Walla Valley, Cockburn Ranch Vineyard ($35)
This is a sumptuous, savory Grenache. It exhibits a deep garnet color and aromas of raspberry, mulberry and orange peel, with ethereal scents of jasmine, dried roses and exotic perfumes. On the palate, there is a finely woven tapestry of red fruits, laced with cocoa, red licorice and loess minerals. On the back, there are sensations of kirsch liqueur, recurring dried orange peel and dried cherries, cinnamon bark and roasted almonds, supported by fine fruit acids on a lingering sweet-dry tannin finish. 19/20 points.
Pre-Release Offerings from Tero Estates
2008 Tero Estates Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley, Windrow Vineyard (Pre-release - $39)
Deep ruby-garnet colored, this wine offers sultry aromas of roasted raspberries and cherry, anise, cigar box, roast coffee, dried roses and smoldering incense. The flavors are thick and sensuously chewy, underlain with mocha, licorice, French roast and basaltic minerals. The back picks up tones of dried cherries, orange peel, toffee, pain grille and roasted nuts, followed by a rich ripe tannin finish that is laced with spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, clove). 19/20 points.
2008 Tero Estates Windrow Red Blend, Walla Walla Valley (Pre-release - $45)
This is a field blend, reflecting the percentages of varietals planted in the vineyard: 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 6% Malbec. It displays a deep purplish color and terrific aromatics of blackberry, cherry and cassis, with scents of rose petals, violets and rubbed sage. The flavors are gratifyingly thick and generous, intermixed with dark chocolate, licorice and silty minerals. On the back, notes of squeezed blueberry juice, roasted nuts and dried cherries emerge, followed by a lingering spice-dusted chewy tannin finish. 19+/20 points.
Flying Trout Holds a Library Wine Sale
2008 Flying Trout Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, Phinny Hill Vineyard ($27) - June 2010 issue
Here, Ashley Trout has turned out a delicious Malbec, with a rich, smoky blackberry nose that emits scents of lavender and burning incense. The flavors are deep and thick, like macerated blueberries and cherries, deepened by chocolate, licorice and scorched earth on the back, and then followed by a gush of ripe cranberry juice, along with an extract of orange peel mixed with spices on the chewy tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.
2008 Flying Trout Deep River Red, Columbia Valley ($27) - December 2010 issue
Composed of 57% Phinny Hill Malbec and 43% Windrow Cabernet Franc, this wine exhibits a brilliant ruby color and a sultry, smoky nose of raspberry, cherry and cassis with scents of violets and oriental incense. The flavors are ripe and sexy, imbued with semi-dried berries, Swiss chocolate, licorice and minerals. The vivid fruits persist on the back, with a squeeze of blueberry juice that lingers on the sweet-dry tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.
2008 Flying Trout The Brook Blend, Horse Heaven Hills ($33) - December 2010 issue
Since the time it was reviewed in June, this blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot has evolved further, advancing from 18.5+ points. It shows lovely aromatics of wild berries, perfumes and incense, and savory, exquisitely juiced, complex flavors that show notes of licorice and chocolate, French roast and dried berries. All this is laid upon a lingering fine grained tannin finish. 19/20 points.
2006 Flying Trout Deep River Red, Columbia Valley ($27) - November 2009 issue
Composed of 90% Stillwater Creek Sangiovese and 10% Phinny Hill Malbec, this wine exhibits a rich nose of roasted berries and cherries with scents of wildflowers and a hint of caramel. On the palate, the generous fruits are evident, with a touch of leather and earth, and then given a bit of oomph from the Malbec. 18.5/20 points.
2007 Flying Trout Cutthroat Red, Columbia Valley ($35) - November 2009 issue
This combination of two-thirds Phinny Hill Syrah and one-third Konnowack Vineyard Malbec is an unusual wine. True blue, it displays a bluish color and blackberry/plum aromas with scents of lavender and oriental incense. The blue fruits are saturated through the middle; with dried fruit confit notes on the back and ends up with a tart blueberry tone on the finish that is marked by black pepper and spices. 18.5+/20 points.
2007 Flying Trout Old Vines Malbec, Rattlesnake Hills, Konnowack Vineyard ($39) - November 2009 issue
Here, Ashley Trout has turned out an impressive 100% Malbec from the oldest Malbec vineyard (21 years) in Washington. Deep ruby color. Intense aromas of blackberries, huckleberries and forest carpet, with scents of violets. The dark fruits are saturated and mouthwatering, with tones of powdered cocoa and anise. The back palate turns to a chewy texture with a dark fruit underlay, followed by vivid fruit acids and silky tannins. It possesses remarkable elegance. 19/20 points.
2007 Flying Trout Old Vine Malbec, "Barrel Select #250," Rattlesnake Hills, Konnowack Vineyard ($39) - new review
This is the same as the above wine, but from a selected barrel. It is even more sensuous and super saturated, with a beautiful melding of fruit acids and ripe tannins. 19+/20 points.