tweet-up: 2002 spring valley vineyard muleskinner merlot

Monday, March 29, 2010

Last Thursday a massive Tweet-up focused on Washington merlot took place. It was organized by a blogger consortium headed up by Josh Wade of The idea was to taste and tweet about Washington merlots, and quite a few wineries and retailers hosted open house events and poured multiple vintages of their wines. Others chose to participate from their own homes, as I did, here in Seattle.

For my wine I chose a 2002 Spring Valley Vineyard Muleskinner Merlot. I wanted to focus on a single wine, and I thought it would be interesting to check on the aging curve of one of Washington’s best bottles. I’ve found that 8 to 10 years is often when these wines are at their peak. I also was curious to taste a wine I had rated quite highly when it was released, and not tasted again since.

And finally, I wanted to honor the winemakers – Devin and Mary Derby. This may have been one of the last wines the Devin made from start to final release before he died in an auto accident. I thought of him often as I sipped the wine.

I found it interesting to work within the 140-character Twitter framework. To set the scene, I posted up the contents of the wine’s back label. No mundane rundown of brix and pH and barrel choices here! Nope, this back label honored the man for whom the wine is named – the muleskinner.

It chronicled a “Harvest day for the mule skinner” – offering a peek inside the life of someone heading out to harvest the wheatfields that surround what is now the Spring Valley vineyard and winery. The Corkrum/Derby family has owned and farmed this land for many generations – wine is a recent addition to their livelihood – and I would guess that for at least half a century it was the muleskinner who did the hot, hard, dusty, backbreaking work. The back label memorialized a typical harvest day:

3:30 am - wake up
4 am - feed, harness, water 36 mules
5 am - eat breakfast
5:30 am - hook up mules to combine
6:30 am - begin harvesting
9:15 am - unhook, water, and rehook mules
Noon - unhook, loosen harness, water & grain mules
12:30 pm - eat lunch
1 pm - check all harnesses, tighten and rehook
2 pm - unhook, water & grain mules
7 pm - unharness, water, grain, groom mules
8:30 pm - eat dinner
9:30 pm - go to bed

Next day – get up and do it again. And again. Tough life? I guess about as tough as a farm life can be.

My original review of the 2002 Muleskinner merlot reads “A spectacular bottle of 100% merlot from one of Walla Walla’s most unique vineyard sites. Vivid and racy up front, the wine opens into layered, precise red fruits, packed with subtle herbs and spices. Streaks of mineral and cracker appear, even as this huge (almost 15%) wine explodes with fruit. Precision, elegance and power, with just a trace of heat in the finish. 94 points.”

During the tweet-up I kept detailed notes on the wine’s progress. In a nutshell, it showed quite well, opened up aromatically and kept moving in the glass for a half hour or so before beginning a slow fade. I did not decant; fresh pours from the bottle carried me through the full two hours of the tweet-up. Half a bottle remained; I put the cork back in and forgot about it until Saturday morning, when I took a final sip. It had lost some detail, but it was still drinking well and would have been just fine with a burger.

Conclusions: 1) Still a great wine, and a fine example of how Washington merlot can age. 2) Tweet-ups do change the way you think and communicate about wine. 3) I thank my lucky stars I was not born a muleskinner!!!


PR said...

No surprise here! Spring Valley's wines are terrific and WA Merlot has shown time and time again that it ages well. Of all the wines I make, it ages the most predictably consistently (edit that!).

Peter Rosback Sineann

Anonymous said...

it would be easy to fall head over heals for this part of the world and some of the people there. the large miles of green, gold, and blue sky. the small hardware store. sidewalks and people to recgonize.

wonderful post.

love the label.

i like to take part in group twitter poetry writing jams. the idea of group twitter wine tasting is intriguing.

Micah Nasarow said...


I kinda participated in the Merlot tasting.. except, I did not want to sign up for a Twitter account, so I drank with my wife. After reading this post and thinking about the "WA Age Ability" post a while back, I figured I would share my experience.

I looked over my cellar and grabbed a dusty Hogue Cellars Merlot. A 1990 Reserve Merlot 12.9% alc/vol. I have had this bottle for about 10 years and thought I better open it. Also it is fitting that 1990 is my H.S. grad date.

At first opening and decanting, I got cinnamon, clove, baking spices and tobacco type aromas. The color was a brick red with a hint of Maillard browning around the edge. The flavor tasted like dried cherries, ripe plum, and purple spice drops and finished with acidity and thin mouthfeel.

After about an hour of decanting, the aroma opened to spearmint and eucalyptus. The flavor would open to more spice and huge black pepper. The ripe plum evolved into more of a raisin flavor. When freshly poured from the decanter, a strong lactic aroma would hangout, but would volatilize off. Also, there was a faint bubblegum aroma that would quickly leave. I believe this may be due to some flux in temp during storage.

Finally, after two hours, the aroma and flavor turned to a grape soda/grape Tootsie pop. It was soo good at this point. The black pepper and grape soda make for a very fun wine at the end.

So there you have a 20 year old WA Merlot. Extremely drinkable and not heavily oxidized, stale, or flat. I wish I had another.

Anonymous said...


It was so great that you could participate with the Twitter machine. We really appreciated your posts on this wine (and others thus far).


Post a Comment

Your comment is awaiting moderation and will be posted ASAP. Thanks!