are we killing the golden goose?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

As we say goodbye to August (and in these parts, apparently, what little summer there has been), I’m wondering what else we are saying goodbye to these days?

In our daily lives, we constantly feed upon information that is delivered to us for free. It has become so ubiquitous and ordinary, that it barely deserves comment – unless, like me, you are old enough to remember how things used to be.

cheap wine rules

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I am a founding member of a wine tasting group that has been meeting every month since 1989 (hey – we all started this in the sixth grade). The format is simple and never varies. The host for the month provides a location, stemware, and food. The group decides on a tasting theme, and everyone brings a bottle that fits. The host usually puts in a ringer, and without fail a few other members do the same. We taste the wines blind, one at a time, argue and discuss, make guesses about what they might be, cast votes on which is the ringer, and generally have a good time. Then a quick second round of tasting takes place, during which the bags are pulled and the wines revealed.

new washington wine book

Monday, August 23, 2010

This weekend I received the hardcover copy of my new book. It's the second edition – extensively revised and completely updated – of “Washington Wines & Wineries: the Essential Guide.” It has arrived at the publisher’s warehouse and will begin shipping this week.

Though it has only been three years since the previous edition, it seems more like a decade. Despite all the doom and gloomers, growth in the Washington wine industry has continued at a record pace. Yes, there are some wineries for sale, some cancelled vineyard contracts, and some projects on hold. That is nothing new. I recently reviewed a manuscript that delved into the history of California grape growing and winemaking in the mid-to-late 1800s, and there were the same boom and bust cycles then, some caused by financial meltdowns, some by disease, some by accidents of nature. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

pet peeves

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Everyone has them. The thing that grates, annoys, rankles, sticks in your craw, is a burr under your saddle. Mine is terrior. There’s no such thing as terrior! There are terriers – smart little dogs. And there is terroir – sometimes – an inconveniently French term that is supposed to represent “the murmuring of the earth” or some such notion.

But if you start reading back labels and websites and press releases, you’ll find that in the wine world, it’s terrior that rules. As in this tech sheet for a perfectly fine, inexpensive California pinot noir. I quote:

is washington pinot noir an oxymoron?

Monday, August 16, 2010


Anyone with an interest in the history and development of the American wine industry should have a copy or two of Leon Adams “The Wines of America.” The book went through many printings and several revised editions in the 1970s and early 1980s, and its author exhaustively chronicled the who, what, when and where of American winemaking from Prohibition onward. Though Washington and Oregon get few pages, the timing of Adams’ research was spot on – he was an eyewitness to the birth of the modern era of wine grape growing and wine production in both states.

I quote liberally from the revised second edition of the book, which came out in 1978. Bear with me a moment and you’ll see where this is going.

a northstar vertical – part two

Friday, August 13, 2010

Yesterday I posted notes from the first half of a vertical tasting of Northstar Columbia Valley Merlots, done at the winery with winemaker David ‘Merf’ Merfeld. I made tasting notes as I would for new releases, and just for fun, I scored the wines, based upon how they are presently showing. Later, I went back to my original reviews and scores and compared them. In the notes below, you’ll see two numbers; the first is the score from this recent tasting, and the second is the original score from my initial review. Why the discrepancies? I think it has a lot to do with the way the wines have evolved. Scores for the more recent vintages line up pretty well, but the wines from 2001 – 2003 show a big variation.

a northstar vertical – part one

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Earlier this week, I sat down with Northstar winemaker David ‘Merf’ Merfeld, and together we tasted through a vertical of Northstar Columbia Valley Merlots. The vintages tasted were 1995 – 2007, missing only the initial (1994) bottling. One wine – the 1998 – was very slightly tainted with TCA; otherwise all were quite sound. The wines were poured from 750’s, and tasted one at a time from oldest to youngest.

I made tasting notes as I would for new releases, and just for fun, I scored the wines, based upon how they are showing presently. Later, I went back to my original reviews and scores and compared them. In some of the notes below, you’ll see two numbers; the first is the score from this tasting, and the second is the original score from my initial review. (I did not review vintages prior to 1998, and seem to have missed 2000). Obviously, many wines seem to have benefited significantly from additional bottle age.

celebrity wines

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Just for grins, I popped this question up on my Facebook page over the weekend. “Celebrity wine projects – for ‘em, or agin’ ‘em?” Comments were generally not favorable. “Mostly silly” wrote a fellow wine scribe. “If they actually made their wine it would be worth interest,” another friend opined. And this, perhaps the most telling of all: “Who cares whether it is a celebrity project or not, and why on earth would anyone who is serious about wine care? It is about the grapes and the art of the élévage into wine from the grapes, not the celebrity who maybe attached to the project. Celebrity status does nothing for the quality of the grapes…”

I share these sentiments, and perhaps, unfairly, tend to look askance at any wine with a celebrity attached.

the not-so-great divide

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


In an e-mail to bloggers, the organizers of the recently-concluded Walla Walla conference posted this wrap, headlined “How Did Sponsors View WBC10?” The post describes an “official survey” that drew responses from 16 sponsors. In summarizing, they issue a couple of disclaimers:

art in a bottle

Monday, August 02, 2010

There are many winemakers who are artists, who make wine from the gut more than the lab, and who display a refined sensibility akin to a fine painter. But there are very few visual artists who are winemakers. In the Northwest I can think of only James Frey at Trisaetum winery in Oregon, and Tim Stevens at Stevens winery in Woodinville.