one happy failla

Sunday, January 31, 2010

I’m still on my odyssey through California wine country. Found myself off the grid for a few days, but will be posting daily again, with notes on visits to some outstanding small wineries. A visit to Failla last Wednesday included not only the chance to taste through some thoroughly outstanding wines, but a fascinating conversation with owner/vigneron Ehren Jordan about his somewhat schizophrenic winemaking life.

let there be fruit!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

No sooner had I written yesterday’s post on what might seem to some as over-oaked wines than I had the pleasure of meeting a winemaker who deftly stated exactly what I was getting at. First and foremost, I should make it crystal clear that I’m as susceptible to the olfactory and gustatory pleasures of new barrels as anyone. I have to stop and think sometimes, when tasting young wines that have been given the full barrel monte treatment, what is the fruit actually doing?

over a barrel

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

There is no doubt that I have developed a Northwest palate over the years. But I also make it a point to taste wines from as many other regions as possible, and to note and to appreciate what distinguishes each of them. For the past couple of days I’ve been visiting Sonoma and Napa wineries, including some very fine, small, family-owned producers – Rocca, Pfendler, Ridgeway, Wind Gap – and one that’s a bit larger – Frank Family.

meet the press

Monday, January 25, 2010

What is the most effective way for an importer or distributor to present a portfolio of wines to the press? Or perhaps the better question would be, what are the pros and cons of the many different ways to show wine writers your new releases?

moving past pinot

Friday, January 22, 2010

There is general agreement that Oregon is known around the country and even outside our borders as the pinot noir state. This dates back as far as the late 1970s, when an Eyrie pinot showed well in a prestigious competition. A few years later Robert Parker lavished praise on the landmark 1983 vintage, just as many new wineries were being opened. By the end of that decade, with Robert Drouhin’s DDO project established, the reputation for Oregon pinot noir was on a strong upward trajectory.

Is this a curse or a blessing? Look at what has happened in the subsequent two decades.

wines for lupe

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I have never met Julio Hernandez, the cellarmaster at the Eyrie Vineyards, but during my visit to the winery yesterday, Jason Lett poured me samples of two new wines crafted on his behalf. The La Luz Chardonnay of Oregon, and the La Luz Pinot Noir of Oregon, are non-vintage, one-time-only wines that offer you the chance to do good while drinking well.

the return of elegance

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tuesday was another lovely day spent exploring Oregon wine country, this time centered on the town of Carlton. A small agricultural enclave, it was all but dying after the main employer, a seed company, went out of business some years ago. Then winemaker Ken Wright moved in, purchased some abandoned buildings, set up a winery, and opened the doors to Carlton becoming the most wine-centric town in the state.

Barely scraping the surface of what is happening in town and nearby, I visited with winemakers Eric Hamacher (Carlton Winemakers Studio), Robert Brittan (Winderlea and Brittan Vineyards), Anthony King (Lemelson) and Kelley Fox (Scott Paul and Kelley Fox Wines). What emerged from my conversations with all of these talented people was a sense that elegance and terroir are blossoming in Oregon wines.

pinot country

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

James Frey’s stunning closeup of pinot noir grapes, seen here, was one of the many highlights of a day jammed with visits to wineries in Yamhill county. It was a favorite among the dozens of photographs and paintings on display and on sale at his art gallery/winery, Trisaetum.

Located a few miles outside of Newberg on Ribbon Ridge Road, Trisaetum opened to the public just a little over a year ago.

on the road again

Monday, January 18, 2010

For the next month, this blog will become a road journal, chronicling my trip through the Willamette valley, southern Oregon, Napa, Sonoma and points south. Much of this will be a running description of the wines, wineries, people, conversations, meals and events of interest along the way. Given the somewhat unpredictable and transient nature of the trip, I may not always be able to post up first thing in the morning. But I'll have fun trying. The last time I set out on a road trip (no planes!) of this magnitude, I drove completely around the country, Seattle to Houston to Nashville to New England to New York to Cleveland and back. That was a long time ago.

Setting out from Seattle yesterday morning, I headed to Portland with a good friend in tow.

remembering bear

Friday, January 15, 2010

My good friend, tasting buddy and fellow musician Mark ‘Bear’ Silverstein passed away yesterday. He was 53 – too soon – and had been suffering from a series of strokes that began a little more than three years ago. Bear had a lot of talents, which he shared most generously.

wright and wrong

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I’ve done my share of ranting about the vast number of single vineyard pinots coming out of Oregon (see PG blog). I’ve also had a word or two to say about the rush to delineate new and confusing AVAs down in the Willamette valley.

But things are improving. A look through the just-released 2008s from Ken Wright – a long time leader in soil analysis, AVA creation, and single vineyard exploration – shows that Wright was right about a lot of things. Just early.

speed kills

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Writing about a just-completed wine judging, sponsored by a Seattle restaurant, one of the judges boasted that “You think you like to taste wine? How about 90 wines in two hours two days in a row like we did this week! Yikes!”

A much bigger event, held in Cloverdale each January, tried to make PR hay out of the fact that almost 5000 wines were sampled and scored in the space of four days. Let’s crunch some numbers.

my favorite things

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Seattle Wine Gal (Barbara Evans) asks on Facebook “What is your favorite thing about wine?” My all-too-brief reply: “Its complexity – social, historical, sensual, intellectual.” I could have continued... I love the artistic, challenging, inspiring, emotional aspects of wine. In truth, I have no one, single favorite "thing" about wine. It pushes past so many boundaries. It relies upon each one of us to make of it what we will.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Carmenère? Carménère? Or Carmenere? Most of the sources in print that I’ve checked use the first spelling. Wikipedia has the second. Then again today’s story Carmenere about the rising popularity of the grape leaves out all accent marks. Which is correct? I posted the question on my Facebook page – the ultimate arbiter of all disputes. Here’s what came back:

p.v. i love you?

Friday, January 08, 2010

Jo Diaz has a very successful marketing organization called P.S. I love you. It’s dedicated to the promotion of petite sirah – the mission statement reads “to promote, educate, and legitimize petite sirah as a noble varietal, with a special emphasis on its terroir uniqueness.” And the organization has moved this writer’s chess piece a long way down the road toward appreciating the grape as a stand-alone varietal.

Now I’m thinking it may be time to consider a similar advocate organization for petit verdot.

why can’t we all just get along?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A short post on Greg Harrington’s (Gramercy Cellars) Facebook page has ignited a fascinating discussion regarding the buy/sell relationships among wineries, distributors, and retailers. Harrington’s initial post, which clearly arose out of frustration, read: “Distributors/Reps - if a winery sends you $500 of samples for consideration, please have the decency to at least email if you aren't interested. Amazingly rude and frustrating.....”

I thought his point was well taken.

palate analysis

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Much discussion among bloggers centers upon wine ratings – the validity/stupidity/cupidity of various systems. The pros and cons of blind tasting. The advantages of a single taster versus a panel.

But what any critique always comes back to is individual palate preferences. If any reviewer’s opinions are to be of value to others, he or she must show some sort of consistency. Whether or not you agree, you should be able to dial them in, like getting a GPS fix.

dear reader...

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

My column in this week's Seattle Times takes a look at two value priced California wine companies: Oak Grove and Wily Jack. The newspaper reader (and God bless 'em all!) is a very different type of consumer from those who troll the wine blogs.

the dreaded 89

Monday, January 04, 2010

It would be convenient – and certainly logical – to assume that within the 100-point scale of wine ratings, each number in a continuous series had roughly the same bandwidth. By that I mean that the breadth of say, an 84, would be the same as the breadth of an 85. Yes, the 85 is higher, hence a bit more valuable. But the jump from one to the next is more of a gentle stair-step than a high hurdle.