- Written by Rand Sealey
Officially, the first grapes to be picked for the 2016 grape harvest were Sauvignon Blanc from the Artz Vineyard on Red Mountain for the Auclair Winery on August 13th, with Pinot Gris for the Westport Winery not far behind. On August 19, Chardonnay was picked at 18-19 Brix for Karma Winery's sparkling wine. On the 31st, Syrah was picked at the Ziggy Stardust Block at the Elevation Vineyard in the southeast corner of the Walla Walla Valley for Sleight of Hand Cellars and co-fermented with 5% Marsanne.
Historically, white grapes are the first to be harvested each vintage - Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay. Chardonnay was picked on the French Creek Vineyard north of Prosser for Sleight of Hand at the end of August. Of the reds, Syrah is usually the first to be picked. The Red Heaven Vineyard on Red Mountain started picking yesterday. Then comes Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Rhone varietals. The slow ripening Cabernet Sauvignon is usually the last to get picked.
After one of the warmest Augusts on record, temperatures have abated to normal levels with highs in the 70's and forecast for the next ten days. Hardly any rainfall is predicted as well. This will allow grapes to ripen gradually and evenly, ideal conditions for a successful harvest which will be in progress through September and October.
Updates will be posted on this blog during the coming weeks.
- Written by Rand Sealey
The September issue of the Review of Washington Wines which is now on line includes eleven 2025 whites and eight 2014 reds. More will be in the October issue and then more in the following months. This is the beginning of another vintage cycle as the new releases of 2014 whites and 2013 reds taper off. Here's how the new vintages are shaping up.
The 2015 harvest for whites was a tricky one. Timing was everything. A hot summer led to an early harvest in late August and early September. The white grapes ripened quickly, with sugar levels rising and acid levels dropping. So it was essential to get the grapes to the crush pad at just the right times. Getting them in too late resulted in high alcohol, low acid wines. That said, I have found most 2015 whites to be rich and fruity, yet well balanced. A case in point is Rotie Cellars Rhone-style whites. Owner-winemaker Sean Boyd purposely picked for fruit acid levels rather than sugars. The Northern White Marsanne and Grenache Blanc (in the September issue) were fermented dry to 11.2% alcohol, lower than usual. But the results were balanced wines with just the right fruit acid levels.
Most of the 2015 whites released so far have been the Rhone varietals (Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc), Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Riesling. In my reviews, most scores have been in the 18+ to 18.5/20 points range. The most outstanding wines so far are the Mark Ryan Viognier (19 points) and the Rotie Cellars whites (19 points). Until now, I have not been a big fan of Sauvignon Blancs (oftentimes pleasant but uncomplex) but there have been some impressive 2015's, especially Savage Grace's Sancerre-like one from the Celilo Vineyard (reviewed August), Seven Hills, Ch. Ste.. Michelle's Horse Heaven and Browne Family (these three to be in the October issue).
It's still to early for the 2015 Chardonnays to be released (although a nicely balanced one from College Cellars is in the August issue). But I have tasted several promising ones from the barrels at The Walls (see the blog of 24 May) with Ali Mayfield, and a striking one from the Rosekamp Vineyard with Co Dinn. These will be reviewed when they are released.
For the 2014 reds, the harvest was another early, warm one with much of the picking completed by the end of September. The 2014's seem to be a bit more structured than the 2013's (also from a warm year) with more phenolics, which result in more complex aromatics (perfumes, tobacco, incense, etc.). The 2014 Syrahs and other Rhone red varietals are especially impressive. See the Rotie Cellars reviews in the August and October issues and watch for Ardor Cellars' 2014's in the October issue. Also noteworthy are Mark Ryan's Mourvedre and Syrah (September) and L'Ecole No. 41's Stone Tree Grenache (September). Some very nice Malbecs and Cab Francs were made in 2014. For the "BDX" reds, the Mark Ryan Dissident shows promise for the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon based blends. More later!
Next Week: A First Look at the 2016 Harvest
- Written by Rand Sealey
During the summer, there are plenty of opportunties to participate in wine and food events. The Walla Walla Valley is a true wine and food lover's paradise. Here are some of the things we did in July and August.
On July 22nd, Lynn and I went to Kontos Cellar's winemaker's dinner. The dinner was prepared by Rich and Cynthia Koby's Plow and Vine catering business, and was accompanied, of course, by Cameron and Chris Kontos' wines. (See the June issue for the delicious 2015 Gossamer White). The Plow and Vine is great addition to the Kobys' periodic Fat Duck Inn winemakers' dinners.
The next day, Saturday, July 23rd, we visited one of Walla Walla's newest wineries, Aluvé, on Mill Creek Road, just past Walla Walla Vintners and àMaurice, and adjacent to the Figgins vineyard. It is owned by JJ and Kelly Menozzi, former Air Force pilots, who launched a new career as winemakers. Their inaugural releases, a Chardonnay, a BDX lend and a Cabernet Sauvignon comprise a promising début. The wines will be reviewed in the September issue of the Review of Washington Wines which goes on line a week from today.
On Sunday, the 24th, the Walla Walla community bade farewell to Jeff Popick who retired as viticulture instructor at the Walla Walla Community College. His last day was July 31. He and Michelle Hunt are on their way to Tennessee to care for her aging mother. A potluck supper and plenty of wine was served at this event. Jeff came to the Institute for Enology and Viticulture at the Community College in 2010 and has been a valuable asset to the program.
On August 12th I attended the PAWS (Perfectly Aged Wine Sippers) get together, hosted by Al and Jane Roberts. There was a blind tasting of four whites, and guests were to guess which variety each wine was and, if possible, the winery. I got two out of four right. I guessed correctly that the first wine was a Semillon from L'Ecole No. 41 and another as a Riesling (2014 Poet's Leap). But I, and a couple of other tasters, were thrown off by the other two wines. I guessed one was a Chardonnay, for the oak, and the other a Viognier for its tropicality. But I got it backwards. What I thought was Chardonnay was K Vintners Viognier which had been barrel fermented. The other which I thought was Viognier turned out to be Tamarack Cellars Chardonnay, made in a fruity style in stainless steel. This is an indication of how winemaking styles can influence how wines are perceived.
On Saturday, August 13 Jan and Doug Roskelley's Tero Estates held its Annual Wine Club Appreciation Block Party at the Windrow Vineyard. The guests assembled at the crush pad for crostini and Gruet bubbly, and then went on a tour of the various vineyard blocks. At each block, a small dish was served with a wine pairing. The dishes were prepared by Emery and Sandy Kleck and Jeff Davis of The Q Wood-Fired Grill catering operation. At the Cabernet Franc Block, sliced pork tenderloin was paired with the Tero 2012 Cabernet Franc. At the Plateau Block, Elk Bites on tomato salad was served with the 2012 Windrow Field Blend. At three other blocks, wine and food pairings were served as well. Thanks to Doug and Jan and to Q Wood Fired Grill, and to the volunteers who helped for this great event!
On a couple of occasions, we had lunch at the Community College's Wine Country Culinary Institute, run by chefs Robin Leventhal and Dan Thiessen. The Capstone Kitchen offers an enticing menu of dishes prepared and served by the College's culinary students. Red and white wine flights from College Cellars are also available. The Kitchen is open for lunch Tuesdays through Thursdays, and is a culinary experience that is not to be missed.
- Written by Rand Sealey
As of this writing, I am wrapping up the September issue of the Review of Washington Wines which will go on line August 26th. This issue has been in the works for over a month, including planning the issue and its content, tasting wines at wineries and then retasting and so on.
Each issue starts with planned articles (you will see the next month's articles at the end of each issue). Some of them are ones that recur from year to year, such as reports on Taste Washington, Spring Release in Walla Walla and Fall Release. I make periodic visits around the state - Red Mountain, Prosser, the Columbia Gorge, Woodinville and elsewhere. Some places get reported the next month, others may take two months to be written up. We will go to the Olympic Peninsula in mid September, by which time the October issue will have been wrapped up, so that visit will be in the November issue.
Once each issue is written up from tasting notes and checking websites and winery tasting sheets, copy is emailed to each winery to check the accuracy of the information given in the reviews, pricing, percentages of varieties in blends, vinification, barrel programs and so on. Once that is done, I recheck copy for diction, typographical errors and omissions. Then the copy goes to our website manager, Amy Kinney at Advantagecom Networks in Walla Walla, who has done a great job for nearly eight years, ever since the first issue in December 2008. She gets a lot of credit for what the Review of Washington Wines stands for.
During the production process, I take breaks to write the weekly Review Blogs (such as this one). The blogs are usually topical with special tasting reports, wine industry news, accounts of trips and more.
Once an issue has been put together for on line publication, I receive by email a proof of that issue for final checking. Then it goes "live" for subscribers to see. Emails are sent out to Full Subscribers announcing the publication of that issue. In the meantime, the next month's issue will already have gone into production. Right now, the October issue is under way. Such is the life of on line wine journalism.
Credit also goes to our subscribers, without whom this would not be possible. Many are subscribers from the beginning, and the renewal rate of subscriptions has been about 90 percent. And to the wineries and winemakers, and others in the industry, who have been so helpful in hosting tastings and providing valuable information. And, finally, to my wife, Lynn, who has been with me on many winery excursions, and has been extremely supportive.
- Written by Rand Sealey
A week ago (July 27th) Lynn and I drove up to Lake Chelan to catch up on the wine scene there. That afternoon, our first visit was Hard Row to Hoe (which takes its name from the boat to Port Lovely's brothel) on the North Shore. There, owner-winemaker Judy Phelps took us through ten new releases including attractive 2015 whites and tasty 2014 reds, along with a delightful Pinot Noir Rosé and terrific Vermouth (see below). After Hard Row, we stopped at Cairdeas (pronounced Cardis) to taste with owner-winemaker Charlie Lybecker some nice Rhone-style wines, a Grenache Blanc, Consult an "Tri," a GSM blend, to be in the September issue. We spent the night at the Mountain View Inn on Wapato Point and dinner at the North Shore Café in Manson.
The next day, we drove to the South Shore of Lake Chelan. We first went to Nefarious Cellars where we went through the full range of whites and reds and a rosé with co-owner/co-winemaker Dean Neff. All were excellent, and the two Estate Syrahs, one from the South Slope Defiance Vineyard and the other from the Rocky Mother Vineyard in the Methow Valley, were knockouts. Look for them in the September issue. We had lunch at Karma Vineyards down Lakeshore Road. There, we had sparkling wines (to be reviewed in November) and a Grenache and Mourvèdre (September). Then we went back over to Fielding Hills to taste with tasting room manager, Don Elsing (former sommelier at Sun Mountain Resort). Sourced from the RiverBend Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope, the wines were impressive (reviews in September and October). Our last stop was at Tunnel Hill whose buildings were built with rock blasted from the Knapps Hill Tunnel in 1933. The 2015 Pinot Noir Rosé (below) and 2014 Pinot Noir and Syrah (September) were very nicely done. We then drove down Highway 97 to Wenatchee for the night.
The next morning, we drove west on Highway 2 to Leavenworth to visit Rob Newsom's Boudreaux Cellars tasting room. There, Keely Newsom, Rob's daughter, poured us a number of wines, includiung a 2012 Syrah, a 2010 Cabernet and a 2010 Reserve Cabernet, all to be in the Highly Recommended section of the September issue. We then left Leavenworth and drove south on Highway 97 over Blewett Pass and down to Ellensburg and on to Walla Walla.
Four Rosés and a Vermouth from Lake Chelan
Among the wines we tasted, there were some delightful rosés that are especially recommended. At Hard Row to Hoe, we also tasted a Vermouth-style wine that is not to be missed if you like an exceptional aperitif wine.
2015 Hard Row to Hoe Pinot Noir Rosé, Lake Chelan ($18) - From the Clos Chevalle Vineyard on the South Shore, this offers a light salmon color and enticing aromas of fraises de bois, Rainier cherry and tangerine with lightly extracted, yet well delineated fresh fruit flavors, that pick up fraise and kirsch liqueurs on the way to a dry finish. This is reminiscent of a Bourgogne Rosé from Marsannay in the north end of the Cotes de Nuits. 18+/20 points.
2015 Tunnel Hill Pinot Noir Rosé, Lake Chelan ($20) - Brilliant light cherry colored, this possesses attractive aromas of strawberry, cherry, red currant, rosebuds and orange peel. The flavors are nicely extracted, with notes of fraise liqueur, recurring orange peel and minerals. A squeeze of cherry juice enlivens the finish. 18+/20 points.
2015 Nefarious Cellars Pinot Noir Rosé, Lake Chelan, Evans Vineyard ($22) - Sourced from across Lakeshore Road, this rosé shows a copper color (from overnight skin contact) and intriguing aromas of strawberry, Rainier cherry, rosebuds, tobacco leaf and a whiff of smoke. The flavors are deftly extracted, with notes of grape skin, kirsch and minerals. On the back, gently pressed strawberries preface a dry finish. 18.5/20 points.
2015 Fielding Hills Estate Cabernet Franc Rosé, Wahluke Slope, RiverBend Vineyard ($24) - Brilliant copper colored, this rosé possesses intriguing aromas of raspberry, Rainier cherry, rhubarb, tangerine, rose petals and whiffs of spiced incense. The flavors are fresh and slightly puckery (fermented dry) with notes of grape skin, herbal tea and minerals. Touches of dried orange peel and spiced cherries preface the dry, balanced finish. 18.5/20 points.
Hard Row to Hoe "Lucerne" Vermouth ($28) - Produced from Pinot Gris, infused with 16 botanticals, and fortified to 18% alcohol, this shows a deep amber color and intense aromas of ripe fruits - pear, peach, papaya and lemon - with scents of spiced orange peel, fennel, and oriental incense. The penetrating flavors are comprised of dried fruits that are infused with dried anise, bitterroots, cardamom, clove and other spices and botanicals. The dry finish lingers on and on. Drink chilled or on the rocks with a twist of lemon or orange. 19/20 points.