8 million stories... so little time

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Naked City was an early sixties cop drama, based on the 1948 movie of the same name. Just as certain commercial taglines get stuck in the brain, the tagline of this show occasionally pops up out of nowhere. “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This… (dramatic pause) has been one of them.”

We’re a ways off from eight million stories in the Naked Wine Cellar, but here are two of them.

While hosting a couple of close friends at my Waitsburg home last weekend, we set out on an afternoon of wine tasting. Now that my book is bundled off to the publisher, I can breathe a little easier and make these visits a bit more casual. So we headed to the airport, with its constantly-evolving cluster of newbies, wannabe’s, and proven successes. The airport in Walla Walla has been a favorite for start-ups since the late 1990s, and where once was a surplus of unused, World War II barracks and military storage facilities, there is now a dearth.

Driving out to the far end of Road ‘C’ – past all signs of civilization – you come to a chain link fence. If the gate is open, you can drive through to the other side, where you will see a squat, butt-ugly concrete building. A World War II ammunition bunker.

Waiting for us (we had made an appointment here) was Joe Forest, a transplanted Seattleite who majored in English lit at the UW and then decided to move into an even less profitable occupation – winemaker. Joe welcomed us to his bunker, a small, cave-like space behind a massive concrete door. It’s his tasting and case storage room – not a winery – and he has decorated it with a sign detailing the various types of ammo that once were stored there. Joe interned at Seven Hills and Dunham, and is now the winemaker at Patit Creek, where his Tempus Cellars wines are also being made. He poured us samples of his 2006 Red – a Bordeaux blend which is more than half old vine cabernet from Sagemoor. The rest is Alder Ridge merlot and Pleasant vineyard cab franc. A classic blend, nicely bottle aged.

The second wine is a 2006 Syrah, which includes 10 percent cabernet in the blend, and carries a Walla Walla Valley appellation. If asked to choose a favorite between the two wines, I’d go with this one, which opened up nicely over the course of many hours, and carried sharp, spicy, varietal flavors. Joe explained that it’s been quite an interesting time for him and his wife Mollie – they got married, moved, bought a dog, had a child, and started a winery all in an 18-month period. At least, he explained while casting his eyes around his bunker, I don’t have to worry about an atomic bomb attack.


Our next stop was completely serendipitous. As we threaded our way back to civilization, we passed the modest headquarters of Eleganté Cellars, just across from Five Star. Owner/winemaker Doug Simmons was engaged in punching down a bin of syrah, and graciously toured us around the facility, which he designed himself and opened two years ago.

A retired chemistry teacher, he calls the winery his “retirement adventure.” But two things in his background distinguish his operation. As a chemist, he explained when prodded, he understands how temperature plays an important role in fermentation. “To slow the chemical reactions, you reduce the temperatures; to make them go faster you raise the temperatures. It helps also with such things as aromatics – how to build and hold them.”

Aromatics were among the highlights of the Eleganté lineup, which we sampled quickly, as Doug had to get back to work. But as we tasted, he talked of having worked summers strawberry-picking for Klickers, a local institution, and brought out a bottle of his strawberry wine. A good fruit wine can be an absolute joy, and this was one of the best I’ve ever tasted. “Wouldn’t it be possible to make a sparkling strawberry wine?” my friend Richard inquired. Doug rather sheepishly informed us that it was not only possible; he had done it, albeit unintentionally. An early batch had re-fermented in bottle, a dangerous situation if not properly sealed. But he had a few cases and sent us on our way with a bottle, which we opened the next morning with our Sunday brunch. It was slightly oxidized, frizzante rather than full-on sparkling, and thoroughly delicious. I wished I could have snuck it into a blind tasting of sparkling rosé – we opened a bottle of an expensive California sparkling rosé for comparison, and I’m not sure that I didn’t prefer the strawbubbly.

No website yet for Eleganté


Keith Webb said...

Paul, the strawberry wine illustrates the difference between trying to make wine to fit the market, and making wine for yourself. And then, stumbling on a discovery such as strawberry sparkling wine. Sounds great. I hope Doug Simmons can find some time to give it some attention. I most likely won't be a commercial success, but I know it would cause me to drive out of my way to get some.

Congratulations on getting your book revision off to the publisher. I'm looking forward to buying it! By the way, how did you decide to treat your unique 100 point scale and the winery categories? We exchanged emails on that topic a year or so ago.

All the best,
Keith Webb

J Allen said...

It's been interesting to follow the aging of the two Tempus wines. The red blend was quickly - what it should have been - a nice blend ready even last fall, shortly after bottling.

I've been lucky enough to have tried four bottles of the Syrah over the past year. The first two did not have enough age and I was wondering if they ever would. This summer I tried a third and it was developing a nice bouquet and the flavor was there as a typical Syrah, but still a bit of an edge. The last bottle was a few weeks ago and it is a complete Syrah and ready for the table. I believe it's just going to get better over the next couple of years.

PaulG said...

Keith, I remember your comments on the "revised" 100 point system, and I took all my readers' comments to heart. The new edition, due out next year, uses a much simplified, non-numerical system, for reasons I explain in the book. It's still a critical evaluation, with the same criteria, but a less confusing rating system.

J, thanks for the insight. This was my first chance to taste these wines. would agree that the red blend is drinking well right out of the bottle, but does not have the length or detail of the syrah, which opened up over many hours, suggesting a very ageworthy, complex wine.

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