- Written by Rand Sealey
How I Became a Wine Writer
It was in 1969 that I became a professional wine writer. In December of that year Esquin Wine Merchants of Seattle was opened. From the beginning, it published and mailed monthly newsletters modeled after those of the San Francisco store of the same name. They were mostly about French and German wines. Washington wine was still in its infancy. I would write detailed descriptions of each wine being offered so customers would know just what they were getting. That was the marketing cornerstone.
In those early years, Esquin was basically a mail order business. A typical newsletter would describe about a dozen wines together with an order form. From the late 'seventies on, I would take trips to France and Germany and report on my wine discoveries upon my return. In the 'eighties the business grew steadily. As the wine selection expanded, the newsletter became a four page tabloid with over a hundred wines. But the original concept remained the same. In 1997, though, I finally decided to let Esquin go into the future with a new owner.
Settling my parents' estate kept me busy for a year afterwards until one day when Esquin's owner, Chuck Lefevre, asked me if I was interested in returning as a consultant to do the newsletter. So I agreed. Then, in March of 2007, my wife and I happened to stop in Walla Walla on the way home from Sun Valley. We fell in love with the town and its wines. In January of 2008, we bought a second home there. I subsequently proposed adding a "Washington Wine Review" to Esquin's monthly on-line newsletters. The experiment, however, somehow got lost among Esquin's myriad marketing activities and was abandoned by year's end. It was then that my independent Review of Washington Wines was born, with the launch issue going on-line in December.
I have not had any formal training in wine tasting and writing. My first wine event was as an undergraduate at Columbia University where I attended a tasting conducted by the California Wine Institute. My learning since has come from decades of experience. My approach has always been the same: to evaluate wines objectively and write descriptions as accurately as possible. After nearly forty years, I am still doing the same thing.
Check out the Washington Wine Commission's Website
This is a website any serious follower of Washington wines should bookmark. It has all kinds of information about Washington wines, news and tips for wine country visiting. For instance, there is a link to Budget Travel's article "Wine Country Contenders," which lists Walla Walla as one of those places where "Perhaps they're not the first place you think of when it comes to wineries, but these four regions offer character and great wine without the hoopla." Go to www.washingtonwine.org.
Wine Tip of the Week
Woodinville Wine Cellars has turned out a very nice "combination of select barrels" consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah, aged in 40% new oak.
2006 Woodinville Wine Cellars Little Bear Creek Red, Columbia Valley ($20)
This offers a ripe raspberry, plum and spice nose with generous, yet focused red (berry and cherry) and dark (plum, blueberry) flavors that are accented by licorice, cocoa, bramble, nutmeg and clove notes. Overall, it delivers considerable flavor depth and interest for under $20.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Bottling at Robison Ranch Cellars
One evening, while having dinner at Brasserie Four on Main Street in Walla Walla, we met an interesting older couple, Jim and Jane Robison. He is a third generation wheat rancher in the Valley and they have been married sixty years. He told us he had started a winery a few years ago and would have us over to have a look. A few weeks later, we got a call from Jane Robison to invite us over for the bottling of their Viognier and Rose.
So, on Tuesday, August 11, Lynn and I drove up the Lower Waitsburg Road to the Robison Ranch. There, inside a shed we found an improvised bottling line set up, manned by several friends. The winemakers, Brad Riordan and his wife, Ruth, were directing the process. First, shots of nitrogen were injected into the bottles to prevent spoilage, then the bottles were filled on a six-bottle nozzle machine. Following that, the bottles were corked, and then I (who upon arrival was put to work) put them into cases, taped them and stacked them on pallets. Occasionally there would be a spill, and Lynn would help with the cleanup. First, 40-plus cases of 2008 Viognier were bottled, then 30-plus cases of Rose. We finished about noon, and then had deli sandwiches along with Robison Ranch Viognier and Rose. All had a great time. I spent some time talking with Brad Riordan and learned that he had studied at the Walla Walla Community College's Center for Enology and Viticulture under the late Stan Clarke, and then teamed up with the Robisons to start Robison Ranch Cellars. The first two vintages, 2006 and 2007 were experimental, developing styles, testing oaks and nutrients, before its first bonded crush as a licensed winery in 2008.
After lunch, the Robisons invited us to view their property and the incredible view of the Blues wherever you looked. They were gracious hosts, and sent us hone with some bottles from Robison Ranch Cellars.
Robison Ranch Cellars' First Commercial Release
A few days later, I got an email from Brad Riordan asking me what I though of the wines. I responded that they were very well done and a fine first effort. He was particularly interested to know about the Rose, as they were about to market it. So here's my review:
2008 Robison Ranch Cellars Rose, Walla Walla Valley ($20)
Composed of Syrah, Viognier, Merlot and Sangiovese, this Rose displays a brilliant reddish color, with a smoky, flowery nose of crushed raspberries, orange peel and spice scents. Fairly dry on the palate with considerable extract for a Rose, it is infused with vivid fruits and notes of sage and coriander along with touches of minerals and loamy earth. The finish is long and fairly dry, yet finely fruited, like squeezed berry and pomegranate juice with a twist of orange peel reemerging in the aftertaste. 18+/20 points.
Glencorrie Cellars has an Open House
On August 18, we attended an Open House for the wine industry at Glencorrie Cellars, one of the Walla Walla Valley's newest wineries (I will be reporting on it in the September issue of the Review). Ronn Coldiron, the owner-winemaker, his wife, Michelle and the tasting room manager, Heidi Humbert, hosted the event, complete with a beautifully-catered spread and live music. Many winemakers were on hand to celebrate. From nearby wineries on Highway 12 were Chuck Reininger of Reininger and David Hansen of Cougar Crest. From further out, were Tanya Woodley and Elaine Jomwe of SuLei (another new winery that will be reviewed next month), Norm McKibben of Pepper Bridge, Muriel Kenyon of Otis Kenyon and others. It was a grand event, complete with a blazing sunset.
- Written by Rand Sealey
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- Written by Rand Sealey
The Bonneville Hot Springs Resort
As I mentioned in my August Review of Washington Wines, we spent two nights at the Bonneville Hot Springs Resort and Spa. What a treat it was. The rooms are luxurious and spacious, the food outstanding (one dinner consisted of fresh Salmon caught from the Columbia River, perfectly grilled). The first morning, we met with Gary Sorrels, the General Manager, in the Resort’s Grand Room. There, Gary explained that the Resort has the only authentic hot mineral springs spa along the Columbia River, one where the mineral waters are drawn directly from the nearby hot springs. At the Spa, one can swim in a mineral water pool, take a mineral bath, and get a mineral water massage. Lynn and I didn’t try these, but will next time. And the service and amenities are first-rate. As Gary put it, “hospitality is everything here.”
Of special interest to the visitor to the Columbia Gorge wine country is the Pacific Crest Dining Room’s extensive wine list. There is a first section devoted to wineries in the Gorge (Syncline, Maryhill and others on the Washington side of the River, and others around Hood River on the Oregon side). An additional section encompasses fine wines from other areas of Washington and Oregon. Finally, there is a third section comprising an eclectic selection of California and international wines. It is an impressive list of wines, all reasonably priced.
There are plenty of other things to do in the area besides the spa and wineries: golfing, hiking, fishing, wind surfing, and more. Watching the wind surfers around Hood River is a must. All in all, the Bonneville Hot Springs Resort is highly recommended. To learn more, go to: www.bonnevilleresort.com.
The Latest Wine Deals
My weekly Blog will also include tips on wine specials as they come up at various retailers. Here are the latest buys.
Esquin has two great buys from the Sandhill Winery on Red Mountain, both at $9.99 per bottle (regular $25) / $113.89 per case. The 2003 Merlot, Red Mountain has a rich nose of raspberry, plum, sage and tobacco with deep, chewy flavors that are underlain with minerals and loam, and finishes with slightly dusty tannins. The 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain has an equivalent flavor profile for that variety: a deep, smoky blackberry, huckleberry and cigar box nose with authentic varietal flavors, marked by Red Mountain terroir and tones of licorice, mocha and espresso. Stylistically, both are well put together and correct. It is the added flavor interest from the Red Mountain terroir that makes these wines great buys. I rate both 18+/20 points. Note: both of these wines have purple tartrate deposits, so pull the cork gently and then pull the deposits out of the inside of the neck with your finger. www.esquin.com
- Washington Winery Licenses Keep Growing
In March, Spokane’s Bridge Press winery’s application was approved, bringing the number of registered wineries in the state to 600. At the Andrew Will 20th Anniversary celebration (see below), I talked with Robin Pollard, the Director of the Washington Wine Commission, who told me the count then stood at 650!
- Lake Chelan AVA Approved
On April 28, the ATF approved the application for the Lake Chelan American Viticulture Area. This comes on the heels of the Snipes Mountain AVA in the Yakima Valley on February 20.
- Andrew Will Winery Celebrates its 20th Anniversary
On August 1, Chris Camarda celebrated his winery’s 20th Anniversary with a pig roast at his Vashon Island facility. Lynn and I were there along with his family and a host of other friends. Many delicious wines were poured, including new and upcoming releases, as well as some older Barolos and a gorgeous 1997 Musigny, Domaine Comte de Vogue. The new releases will be reviewed in an upcoming Review issue. See my report in the January issue for the 2006 and to be released 2007’s. Congratulations to Chris for 20 great years, with more to come.