- Written by Rand Sealey
Harvest 2010: Endgame
As of this writing (Sunday, November 7th) the wine grape harvest is just about over except for some isolated blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot (a notoriously slow ripener). It was one of the longest and slowest harvests on record, having begun about September 21 and ending the first (or second) week of November. Winemakers are very happy with the grapes they got. The crush progressed evenly as the grape picks were continuously spread out, unlike last year when an October 12 freeze necessitated harvesting the remaining grapes. Here are some reports from winemakers I talked with last week.
On Tuesday, the 2nd, I met with Trey Busch, co-owner and winemaker of Sleight of Hand, at Saviah Cellars where he makes his wines. There, I tasted some of the newly pressed 2010's from the barrels. First, was a French Creek Vineyard Chardonnay whose fermentation was finished and about to go malolactic. It was pleasingly ripe and applely, but even after malolactic fermentation, it will still be a fairly high acid wine. Two barrels of Funk Vineyard Syrah were sampled. The first picking was intense and saturated; the second, picked a week later, was even more concentrated. A Va Piano Merlot had an amazingly deep color and terrific fragrance for a wine that had just gone into the barrel. The 2010 vintage looks to be a stellar one for Merlot and Syrah.
On Wednesday, the 3rd, I helped Brad Riordan press Robison Ranch Cellars' 2010 Syrah. Fermentation was done and the wine ready to press and go into barrels. Brad was very happy with the outcome, especially for the Dwelley Jones Merlot and Spofford Station Syrah, both from south of Walla Walla.
On Thursday, I was at Va Piano Cellars where Ryan Crane, the assistant winemaker, was crushing the last picking of the harvest: Bacchus Vineyard Block 10 Cabernet Sauvignon (see the Review Facebook Wall for pictures of this). The grapes tasted sweet, with superb fruit-acids. The bunches were healthy and hardly any needed to be tossed out. Ryan described 2010 as a winemaker's vintage in that it called for skillful winemaking.
During the first weekend of December, I will have opportunities to taste 2010's and 2009's during Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend in Walla Walla. Watch for my report in mid-December.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Why American Viticultural Areas Matter
While getting my copy for the November issue of the Review proofed by wineries, I got an email from Karen Wade, the Fielding Hills Winery winemaker Mike Wade's wife, suggesting I refer to their Riverbend Vineyard as being in the Wahluke Slope AVA. I replied that "I agree there needs to be more consumer awareness that geographical designations for wines are not just areas, but ones that are designated and delimited as specific American Viticultural Areas." Karen then replied, "I'm glad you feel that way about the Wahluke Slope and AVAs. I think Red Mountain is more widely known because there is actually a population that lives there and a significant number of wineries so people stand on the dirt and taste the wine. The poor Wahluke Slope AVA suffers geographically from 'no reason to go there.' Twenty percent of the wine grapes grown in the state are grown in the Wahluke Slope yet very few people know where it is. Wahluke means 'watering place" in the native language which is also interesting since we would not be growing the large amount of agricultural crops there without irrigation."
American Viticultural Areas are designated by the Federal Alcohol, Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The requirements for AVA approval consist of "Evidence that the name of the proposed new AVA is locally or nationally known as referring to the area." This needs to be supported by historical evidence and evidence of distinctive growing conditions. This does not mean that there are standards for grape use and production, or any quality standards. They are simply geographical designations. California has hundreds of AVAs and sub AVAs. And there are AVAs over much of the continental U.S. For instance, there is a "Mississippi Delta" AVA which consists of a few vineyards planted with the native Muscadine grape and an experimental station run by the Mississippi State University.
My point here about why American Viticultural Areas matter, especially in regard to Washington Wines, is that they are areas with distinct characteristics and not just places. Many visitors to the Lake Chelan AVA think of it as a place where one can go to wineries and marvel at the views of a beautiful lake while sipping wine. Likewise, the Walla Walla Valley has become a destination place to go taste wines rather than an AVA where grapes are grown.
Another important thing about AVAs is that they enable wineries to label their wines as coming from noteworthy areas and the vineyards that are located in them. This is not only a valuable marketing tool, but also gives consumers information about the wines' sources. Many wineries source their grapes from several AVAs and vineyards. For instance, the Buty Winery (see this month's Review issue) produces some of its wines from the Phinny Hill vineyard on the Horse Heaven Hills.
To learn more about Washington AVAs, I strongly encourage you to read Chapter 2 of Paul Gregutt's Second Edition of his "Washington Wines & Wineries: The Essential Guide." This is an even more comprehensive edition than the first, with profiles on hundreds of wineries. I do, however, find that there are at least several wineries that have been omitted. Most may be too new or too small to appear on the radar screen. But there are at least a couple that I think should have been mentioned as "Rising Stars." One is Adams Bench in Woodinville. I find Tim and Erica Blue's wines to be admirable. Their 2007 Red Willow Cabernet Sauvignon was my first wine to score 20/20 points. Adams Bench wines have also gotten high scores elsewhere. In the Wine Advocate, Dr. Jay Miller mentions Adams Bench as being one of "the names worthy of consideration in Washington Wines." Also, dozens of Walla Walla wineries are included, but no mention of Chris and Cameron Kontos and their Kontos Cellars whose wines I consider quite estimable. Curiously, their father, Cliff Kontos, is mentioned as co-owner of Fort Walla Walla Cellars, a three star winery. These omissions aside, I consider Paul's book to be outstanding and highly recommended. I have a signed copy inscribed "For Rand - you got me started down this tasty path! Thank You."
- Written by Rand Sealey
Harvest 2010 Crush Update
Since my Crush 2010 reports on September 23 and October 1, this year's wine grape harvest has progressed very well, with a lot of beautiful fruit, especially Merlot, coming in. On October 18, Trey Busch (Sleight of Hand) commented:
"Harvest is progressing nicely. I have my Red Mtn. Merlot, Cab Sauv and Cab Franc in the door, as well as my Blackrock Merlot and Va Piano Merlot. I have also brought in both of my picks from the Funk Vineyard on the rocks (I picked the same block, 1 week apart to see the difference in ripening). We went native yeast again, and the first lot is already in barrel and mighty tasty. If you are interested, you should come and barrel taste this week or next to get a jump on writing about the great quality of the 2010 vintage. I plan on picking Les Collines Syrah this Thursday, and that will leave me with Lewis Syrah (probably next week), Chelle de Millie Cab Franc (10 days out) and my Phinny Hill Cab which will pick off in 1-2 weeks if the weather holds. It tastes great now but love getting site super ripe!"
(I will be back in Walla Walla next Wednesday, and will make a visit and report on it in an upcoming blog.)
With rain forecast for this weekend (Oct. 22-24) the 2010 harvest is winding down. Undoubtedly, some winemakers and growers will give some blocks more hang time. But the end is near. Ashley Trout wrote (October 21) in the Flying Trout/Tero Estates blog:
"This is it. This is the dead center of harvest. And as with the eye of any storm, there is tranquility in the chaos. One finds moments of sleep in wakefulness, of delusion in stress, of zen nothingness in physical exhaustion - there is a beauty in understanding that nature has a way of convincing us to repeat this annually no matter how dirty or sleepy or sore we may finish.
Yesterday, today and tomorrow we will have: finished our first 2010 Windrow Merlot fermentation, pressed it, inoculated it with malolactic bacteria...crushed about 7 tons (for us, a lot) cabernet, malbec, cabernet franc and I think merlot, although at this point I can't think straight, inoculated everything with yeast, soaked our new oak tank, and maintained everything else that goes on here daily.
Harvest for almost all of us may be over by Sunday when it is forecasted to rain a whole lot. This, on top of the sprinkle of frosts we've had throughout the state over the past week may mean...game over."
Yes, harvest 2010 is at the endgame stage.
The next blog, "Why American Viticultural Areas Matter," will be posted Monday, November 1, the same day that month's Review issue goes on line.
- Written by Rand Sealey
More Wineries Go into Red Blends
Lately, I have been seeing more red wine blends from more wineries. There are wineries that up until now have produced only varietal wines or "premium" blend that are venturing into producing wines for $20 or less. The reason is obvious: the economy which has driven more consumers to seek quality wines at more affordable prices.
Some of these blends have off-beat presentations. Corvus Cellars, which produces one principal wine, a Red Mountain Cabernet, has a "Ruckus Red." Sparkman Cellars has come out with a "Kindred Red," a tribute to family ancestors. Sometimes the blend is identified, sometimes not. More often than not, the blended wine is not mentioned in a winery's website. With the popularity of blends already being turned out by L'Ecole No. 41 (Recess Red) Saviah Cellars (The Jack) and Tamarack Cellars (Firehouse Red) and others, it seems more wineries are wanting to get a piece of the action. Here are some examples I've tried lately:
N/V Porzione Washington Red Wine by Distefano ($12)
Put together for Esquin Wine Merchants, this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot offers smoky aromas of raspberries, blackberries and plums. The flavors are supple and chewy, with undertones of chocolate, licorice and mocha, followed by a well- textured back that shows moderate tannins and a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg. Excellent value. 17.5/20 points.
2007 Ruckus Red by Corvus Cellars, Columbia Valley ($18)
This 50/50 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon offers rich aromas of blackberries, cherries and plums with scents of lavender and sage. The medium full-bodied flavors are pleasant and generous, with touches of earth, licorice and cocoa powder. The back is well-textured with a pleasant ripeness that hold on through the chewy finish. 17.5+/20 points.
2008 Kindred Red by Sparkman Cellars, Columbia Valley ($20)
Deep ruby colored, this wine shows a smoky, spicy raspberry, blackberry and cherry nose with lavender scents. The flavors are generous and chewy, with a savory character that continues on the back, with fleshy fruits that are intermixed with notes of licorice, chocolate, mocha and earth. The ripe chewiness continues on the moderate tannin finish. Quite a bit of flavor interest for $20. 18/20 points. Purchased at Esquin Wine Merchants.
2008 Board Track Racer, "The Vincent," by Mark Ryan, Columbia Valley ($20)
This Cabernet Sauvignon / Syrah blend displays a ripe, spicy raspberry, blackberry and plum nose with scents of incense and sage. The flavors are ripe and fleshy, like berry preserves, with touches of licorice and cocoa powder, and persist on the back. The moderate acid and tannin finish shows touches of spice and vanilla. The back label says "Cellared and bottled by Board Track Racer Cellars, Benton City." 18/20 points. Purchased at Esquin.
2008 Matthews "Blackboard" Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($20)
This wine exhibits rich aromas of raspberry, cherry, blueberry, anise and a hint of mint, with direct, penetrating red and blue fruit flavors that show notes of licorice and chocolate. On the back, sensations of macerated currants and cherry liqueur emerge, followed a juicy ripe tannin finish. Proceeds benefit the Ackerley Partnership for resources at the University of Washington School of Education to improve student learning and train new K-12 teachers. 18/20 points. Purchased at Esquin.
Other Red Blends recently reviewed:
2007 McKinley Springs Bombing Range Red, Columbia Valley ($12) 17.5/20 points (October issue)
2008 Gifford Hirlinger Stateline Red, Walla Walla Valley ($16) 18/20 points (August)
N/V Va Piano Bruno's Blend VI, Columbia Valley ($20) 18/20 points (August)
2007 Bergevin Lane Calico Red, Columbia Valley ($16) 17.5/20 points (July)
- Written by Rand Sealey
CreekTown Cafe Reopens as South Fork Grill
The CreekTown Cafe in Walla Walla was for years a favorite of many locals and visitors. But the owners decided it was time for them to hang it up, so they sold the restaurant to Jodi Worden, a longtime employee, and her husband Chris who reopened it as the South Fork Grill. Many of the previous staff members have continued, including Chef Nimal Amarasinghe.
We have eaten twice at South Fork, both times for lunch. The sandwiches are thick and the salads plentiful. The desserts (a carryover from CreekTown) are sumptuous and are available for take out. The dinner menu is much like before, with some changes. The wine list consists mostly of local wineries, with generous glass pours at $6-10. All in all, it's a great place to stop for lunch. Sometime, I'll give you a report on dinner there.
The restaurant is located at 1129 S Second Ave., about a mile south of downtown, and is open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner.
Mackey Cellars Opens a Tasting Room Downtown
We visited brothers Philip and Roger Mackey's new tasting room (next door to Sleight of Hand on Second) the day it opened. Philip is the winemaker and Roger is the marketing guy. The wines are now being made at Rasa / Hence (see below). New releases are a 2008 Syrah and a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Trio Vintners Moves Downtown
Trio Vintners (now a duo, husband and wife Steve Michener and Denise Slattery) has moved its tasting room to 102 South Second Ave. One of the original "Incubators" near the Airport, Trio has graduated to its new location. The wines are now being made at Forgeron Cellars, a few blocks away.
Rasa Vineyards Moves to Hence Cellars
Previously located at Artifex, Billo and Pinto Naravane's Rasa Vineyards has relocated to Hence Cellars on Powerline Road, south of Walla Walla. I visited there a few days ago, and saw new barrels and three gleaming new Letona fermentation tanks, Mackey Cellars also makes its wines there (see above). Because of contractual obligations the '08 and '09 vintages will be kept at Artifex for the time being. The Naravane brothers are thrilled to be making the 2010 vintage at their new facility. While there, I tasted their new "pb" wines, a 2008 Syrah and a 2008 Red Mountain Blend, at $29 price points, which will be reviewed in the November Issue of the Review.