Each year for the past four, Myles Anderson and Gordy Venneri have hosted a vertical tasting of one of their Walla Walla Vintners wines. Past events have focused on Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; yesterday it was Sangiovese in the spotlight. Both men confessed to being a bit nervous about showing ten vintages of Sangiovese to the group of friends, winemakers and press that they’d invited. They had never done a 10-year Sangiovese vertical before – I don’t know of anyone in this state who has. They need not have worried. The wines were absolutely thrilling.
Thousands of dedicated wine writing professionals are heading to NBC – the National Blogger Convention – which is taking place this coming weekend here in the far reaches of the sub-Yukon. They’ll be congregating in the quaint college town of Walla Walla (native American for “I told you we should have taken that left fork six moons ago”). Since I am a “local” I thought I’d offer a few words of advice.
You’ll find that most residents of the town are friendly toward strangers, but certain courtesies should be observed. Newcomers are known as Wallabies, while old timers should be addressed as Wallruses.
I want to give you a heads up on some wines that I’ve tasted pre-release that are so good you may want to pre-order. I’m not talking “futures” here – don’t get me started on that scam – I’m going to point out wines that are expected out this fall, and that will be in very short supply.
I have been a practicing (as in paid) journalist for more than three decades, and I am well-used to the ceaseless noise of debate that constitutes most of what we kindly refer to as “news.” Despite my own deeply-held political convictions, I am resisting any impulse to turn my blog or Facebook pages into a forum for such discussion, as my colleague Steve Heimoff has done. I welcome friends from all stripes of the political flag, with only this caveat: I expect – make that require – civility and mutual respect.
I must, however, comment on the role of the media, especially as it impacts the coverage of wine business news.
New wineries keep appearing, and sadly, many of them make the same old mistakes. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of learning from the past going on, particularly among those who are setting up shop in a region that is off the beaten path (as far as global wine commerce is concerned), and who have not been working in the industry previously.
Nothing about either of those conditions should prevent these entrepreneurs from doing their homework, but whether it’s ignorance, apathy, or plain hubris, a lot of them clearly do not. So here you go, young wineries, from my lips to your bottom line. PaulG’s Top 10 New Winery Mistakes.
This occasional series (see May 18 entry on Abacela albariño) profiles a single Northwest wine that is especially deserving of your attention. As I wrote in yesterday’s Seattle Times column, “The decades-long exploration of new (to this state) varietals has been turbocharged by the dozens and dozens of mini-wineries making their debuts, all seeking to carve out a niche. They want to offer consumers something other than the usual red wines, so they turn to barbera, primitivo, sangiovese, tempranillo and zinfandel in search of distinction. By and large, distinction eludes them. Rare among them is the bottle that displays any semblance of varietal character. Worse yet, so many of these $25-to-$30 bottles are popping up that they don't even separate themselves from the rest of the pack.”
There are also unusual white wine varietals and blends being offered, generally in very small quantities, often available only direct from the producer. These I find more successful and interesting, as a group, than the reds. The latest to catch my interest is this excellent grüner veltliner from winemaker Rich Cushman.
Yesterday, from 5:30 to 7:00, at a houseboat house party with bloggers, somms, winemakers, PR folks, and the lovely and talented Mrs. G, I took a walk through the past with the tools of the future. Back in the day, I worked for a number of years in radio, then television – long before they were backwater competitors to digital media in all its splendor.
For a time I produced a daily morning talk show on Seattle’s ABC affiliate, with the mandatory sofa, chipper and chatty host and hostess, and a revolving door of guests. I was becoming fascinated with wine at the time, and on several occasions I even managed to include a brief wine tasting segment with Seattle Times columnist Tom Stockley.
That was some 25 years ago, and wine-related television has not come very far since then. You can still turn on Good Morning America and see some wine “celebrity” standing in front of a lineup of cheap and cheerful chardonnays and blathering on about mangoes and malolactic fermentation. But yesterday,
Last night I attended the world premiere of a documentary feature film entitled “Ginny Ruffner – A Not So Still Life”. It debuted at SIFF – the Seattle International Film Festival – which, I am told, is the largest in the country. Ruffner has enjoyed a long and exceptionally fruitful career as a painter, sculptor, and artist who works in painted glass. Her work was among the first chosen for the Ste. Michelle Artist Series wines (back in 1993) and has also been featured in an Absolut campaign (Absolut Ruffner).
But what is most remarkable about Ruffner, and what is captured so movingly in the film, is her absolute dedication to her art.
In my upcoming book, an end-to-end update and total revision of the first edition, I again pay particular attention to the ageability of Washington wines, and highlight a number of vertical tastings done in the past couple of years – different from those in the original book. But what I did not have notes on, and was not able to predict, was the ageability of Washington syrahs.
That is just now starting to come into focus, as the vast majority of wineries producing syrah in Washington (and their numbers are legion) began a decade or less ago. An invitation from Zach Brettler at SYZYGY in Walla Walla provided the opportunity to taste through every syrah from that winery, whose first vintage was 2002.
As a recovering golfer (five years hole-free!) I still recall the endless struggle to shave strokes off my blimpish handicap. A trip to the local golf emporium might fill the better part of an afternoon. The usual quest was something simple – some new golf balls, or perhaps a pack of tees – but a few steps inside and all hell broke loose. The putter section of any well-stocked golf shop is enough to bring a grown man to his knees. But I rarely got there. Even something as simple as choosing tees turned into a mission impossible. I'd start reading labels – a lifelong debilitation – for everything in sight. Gloves, hats, balls, clubs, bags, carts, special pencils, umbrellas – everything in the shop promised to help your golf game. I once calculated that if I bought carefully, and really stocked up, I could shave about 42 strokes off my handicap.
Why am I telling you this? Because IT'S THE SAME WITH WINE!
The bloggers are coming, the bloggers are coming! OK, and so is everyone else. Walla Walla is Washington's must-see destination if you are interested in wine touring. But the town offers a wealth of non-wine and wine-related activities as well, and summer is when the calendar is fully loaded.
There is a terrific Farmers Market downtown every Saturday. There is live music in many of the tasting rooms most nights of the week. There are parades, rodeos, demolition derbys, vintage car shows, college reunions and more. And there are the nearby towns of Milton-Freewater, Waitsburg and Dayton, each with festivals, fairs and attractions of their own.
As I live in Waitsburg, I'm pretty familiar with a lot of this, and still making many new discoveries every time I visit. So for the next few weeks I'll post up a sort of unofficial insider's guide to the region, with call-outs to especially interesting places to visit and events to attend.
Today, a quick look at one of the town's newest wineries – Sinclair Estate Vineyards.