featured winery – àMaurice

Thursday, May 30, 2013

I’ve always felt that àMaurice was a really awkward name for a winery. Sorta French, sorta not, really confusing. But there is nothing awkward about the wines that Anna Schafer has crafted since the 2005 vintage.

Situated across the road from Walla Walla Vintners, and sharing a hillside with Leonetti’s Mill Creek Upland vineyard and a new and very interesting vineyard called Yellow Bird, àMaurice has the terroir and the talent to be a major player in Walla Walla.

I don’t think there is anywhere in Washington more prone to trendy, flavor-of-the-month hipness than Wallyworld. I get asked constantly by friends, friends of friends, and complete strangers, the same question. “I’m coming to Walla Walla for the weekend. What are the hot new wineries I should see?”

may update on waitsburg cellars wines

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My Waitsburg Cellars wine project has passed some important milestones recently. Most importantly, the wines are out. Four whites, one red, as profiled here on the blog last March.

I’ve sampled them repeatedly, and worked the market in Walla Walla, Waitsburg and Dayton, with excellent results. What is especially gratifying is that every one of the wines is somebody’s favorite. There is no single clear winner.

That said, I’ve had some good feedback from consumers, retailers, and reviewers. The wines are now being shown to the trade in western Washington, and trickling into wine shops, wine departments and restaurants there. Soon I hope to be able to point you to an e-commerce site, so the wines may be ordered online.

Reviews from the Hosemaster, Rand Sealey, the Pour Fool and others have been terrifically positive. The wines will be profiled in an upcoming issue of Seattle magazine, and other national reviews are in the works.

As I have written before, this is a huge learning process for me, and very exciting at that. I’ve pulled a few arrows out of my back, but I guess that goes with the territory.

My personal take on the five wines is this:

what i’m drinking this memorial day

Monday, May 27, 2013

I’m taking a busman’s holiday today, but thought I’d post up a thought or two on what I’m drinking (for starters!).

As I continue to re-organize and revisit my wine cellar, following the move from Seattle to Waitsburg a year ago, I have found, to my delight, that the 2006 reds from Washington have really turned out to be a top notch group. Upon release about four years ago, these wines were a tough, somewhat surly bunch. Tannins were thick and hard, aromatics bottled up tight, and the fruit compact and difficult to untangle. Nonetheless, there were some standouts.

My Wine Enthusiast review of the Betz 2006 Père de Famille Cabernet Sauvignon garnered 96 points, and generous praise. “This is supple, toasty, young and tight. The tannins are hard, with earth and stem, but the fruit is concentrated, pure and evocative, with earthy flavors that add notes of soil, spice and mineral. Already drinking beautifully, this is a supple, fruity, grapey and vinous wine, balanced and graceful. It’s difficult to find any rough edges at this point in time; it’s delicious, though quite young. The most complex of all the Betz blends, the fruits unfold in a rich panoply of reds and blues; the tannins are rich and chewy, but polished and complex.”

featured winery – l’ecole no. 41

Thursday, May 23, 2013

One of the pioneering wineries of Walla Walla is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Just for fun, I revisited the entry on L’Ecole No. 41 in my pocket guide, “Northwest Wines”, published in 1993. Here’s how it reads:

“L’Ecole No. 41, named for the old schoolhouse in which it is quartered, was one of the very first wineries in Washington to explore the state’s potential for making blockbuster Merlot. That first wine (a spectacularly rich, chocolatey ’83) was no fluke; a decade later, Merlot remains the star of the show. In addition to a sweet, chocolatey, well-oaked ‘Columbia Valley’ bottling, owner/winemaker Marty Clubb now makes a ‘Seven Hills Vineyard’ Merlot, which shows more precise, focused fruit and higher acids; and a Meritage blend called Apogee that is 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes for Apogee come from the Pepperbridge Vineyard, whose lush, jammy fruit is also a prime component of Leonetti, Andrew Will and Woodward Canyon wines – nice company to keep. It’s got a fine, spicy nose and the structure (from the Cabernet Sauvignon) for long term cellaring. Red wines account for about two thirds of the 9000 cases made annually by L’Ecole. Though prices continue to climb, they still represent relative bargains among this crowd. Clubb also makes a rich, apple/butterscotch Chardonnay, a popular (though oaky) Semillon, and a few hundred cases of an off-dry, fruity Chenin Blanc that is sold mostly at the tasting room.”

do’s and dont’s – an update

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Back when this blog was young, I ran a piece called do’s and dont’s. The impetus was that I’d been reading other blogs which, at the time, were loaded with lists of things that needed to go away, things that should be encouraged, things they thought you should own and do, and so on. Is there any field of interest in the universe more loaded with know-it-alls than wine? I think not.

To be honest, I have done my share of these lists over the years. When the Seattle Times was running a Wednesday Food & Wine section, I was actually afforded the opportunity to write a wine column that often approached 1500 words, and occasionally I’d indulge in a rant. Those rants might cover any range of subjects.

I ranted in favor of the elimination of non-recyclable Styrofoam and “popcorn” packaging; I railed about the stupidity of faux “wax” capsules (which still come my way, which still look ridiculous, and are still a pain in the ass to remove); I predicated the demise of impossible-to-remove plastic corks (which has pretty much happened); I pleaded for a winnowing down of single vineyard wines especially pinots (not likely). I expressed my appreciation for wines that have well-modulated herbal components (especially cabernets and syrahs); less reliance (by the trade) on critic’s scores to sell wines; fewer wine books promising to “take the snobbery out of wine”; better coverage of Washington (and Oregon) in the big name annual wine guides; and an end to the sorry-ass trend to give wines seemingly-obscene names (like Fat Bastard) just because some people will buy them for shock value.

when everything wrong is right

Monday, May 20, 2013

Luther Ingram probably wasn’t sipping a bottle of Blue Moon Riesling when he sang this country classic:

“If loving you is wrong, I don’t wanna be right;
If being right means being without you...”

But if ever a wine was wrong in all the right ways, it’s this one.

There are actually three different Blue Moon Rieslings, and a passel of other Blue Moon offerings, including Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. All come in blue bottles. The bottles, with their simple, emblematic labels, certainly stand out on a grocery shelf. But that doesn’t make them any less unattractive.

I have not tasted the entire lineup recently, just the Rieslings. But they go against the grain of what is “right” in just about every way. Blue bottles? Check. Ugly labels? Check. Sweet, sweeter and sweetest styles? Check check check.

kevin white – doin' it right!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

There’s a sea change in the way new, tiny, boutique wineries are being prepped and presented, at least among some of the more compelling examples that have appeared here in the Pacific Northwest in the recent past.

Credit better education, mentoring, global experience, youthful energy, a bit of history to draw upon, the challenging economy, changing tastes and lifestyles – any or all of the above come into play.

But in more than a few instances, I’m seeing wineries debut with limited releases of well-crafted, well-designed, affordable wines that showcase fruit and vintage and variety, while eschewing high alcohol, heavy-handed oak, and over-ripe, jammy excess.

The poster child for this renaissance may well be the Kevin White Winery, whose second vintage, released a few weeks ago, is already causing a big buzz around Seattle. White is a 30-something Microsoft engineer, an east coast transplant, whose interest in wine went from zero to pedal-to-the-medal in just the past decade.

nose in the nooze

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Some odd tidbits from the digital flotsam and jetsam arriving on the tide this morning...

From the Drinks Business online comes word that Swedish and Spanish engineers have invented an electronic nose that works better than a human organ. There are still a few hiccups to be worked out, however. As the article reveals, the nose, which resembles a deconstructed vacuum cleaner, only works with chopped apples and pears. Its main claim to fame is that it can detect methane and butane. Nonetheless, its creators are convinced that eventually it will replace wine critics. Not that anyone would really mind. As long as the thing was programmed to spit out 90+ point scores along with its tasting notes. Here's a sample:

the stu sutcliffe and pete best of bordeaux grapes

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Students of Beatles trivia know that Sutcliffe and Best were both Beatles (playing bass and drums respectively) before the group solidified as a quartet, with McCartney on bass and Ringo on drums. I’ve often felt that among the six red Bordeaux grapes, Sutcliffe and Best must be the Malbec and Carmenère. John Lennon’s the Cabernet Sauvignon, Paul’s the Merlot, George the Cab Franc and Ringo the Petit Verdot (obviously). But Stu and Pete are destined to remain footnotes to greatness, as were Malbec and Carmenère in Bordeaux.

At least until South America got hold of them. Somehow, Malbec has become the superstar of Argentine reds, and Carmenère (also seen misspelled as Carménère, Carmenére, Carmeneré and other convolutions) has been claimed by Chile. This seems like a huge mistake. While Argentine Malbecs have proven to be both popular and capable of making very good, though not great wines, at all price levels, it is difficult to say the same about Carmenère. In fact, I find it hard to say anything positive about Carmenère.

friday wrap - while i was at the beach

Friday, May 10, 2013

I am catching up after a week on the road. Of course, everything important seems to happen when you’re gone. Spring not only came to our Waitsburg gardens, it exploded into full-blown glory. This barely a week after temps had dipped into the upper 20s at night. Grapevines are fine, but some of the roses and early-budding trees took a hit.

An official announcement from Walla Walla Community College welcomed Dr. Alan Busacca to the position of Director of Enology and Viticulture at the College. Dr. Busacca has an extensive background in both education and the wine industry – he is a Professor Emeritus of Soil Science and Geology at WSU where he did groundbreaking [pun intended] research into the terroirs of the Walla Walla Valley. His consulting company, Vinitas Vineyard Consultants, has served the wine industry in the Northwest, Colorado, South America, and beyond. He also founded and co-owns Volcano Ridge Vineyard near The Dalles, Oregon in the Columbia Valley AVA, and co-owns AlmaTerra wines, a terroir-centered boutique.

The staff and Advisory Board (of which I am a member) could not be happier with this appointment. Myles Anderson, who has served admirably for the past couple of years following his aborted retirement, deserves our most effusive thanks. He is passing the baton into capable hands.

the hunt for oregon’s iconic white wine

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Much of the discussion among winemakers and those in the audience at last Saturday’s Oregon Chardonnay Symposium centered around the idea of defining an ‘Oregon’ style of Chardonnay. Winemakers noted that they sensed a lot of enthusiasm for the grape among their tasting room visitors, but the question of how (or if) to describe a specific Oregon style seemed to be a bit of a head-scratcher.

My take – there is no such thing as an Oregon style, nor need there be. Now, I am the same guy who has spent much of the last two Oregon Pinot Gris Symposiums preaching just the opposite. Stop talking about how your Pinot Gris is Alsatian or Italian in style, I have said, over and over. Talk about the style of Oregon Pinot Gris. So, why should Chardonnay be any different?

It’s different because the market opportunities are different. In Pinot Gris, Oregon vintners have a grape that is clearly theirs to own, at least domestically. David Lett planted the first Pinot Gris vines anywhere in the country more than four decades ago. I’d be hard-pressed to name any significant producer of Pinot Gris in California. It’s a rising star in Washington, but likely to remain a minor player for a long while in a state super-saturated with great white wines. So Oregon has a real chance to claim that niche.

Chardonnay, on the other hand, is the grape that everyone takes to the Prom.

hot times for cool climate chardonnay

Sunday, May 05, 2013

I spent the weekend at Durant Vineyards, in the heart of the Red Hills of Dundee. The occasion was the second annual Oregon Chardonnay Symposium, and I was a guest panelist, along with blogger W. Blake Gray and moderator Katherine Cole, the wine columnist for The Oregonian. The event was organized by Paul Durant and Meaghan Burns (Broussard Communications), and the glorious, sunny weather had everyone in a festive mood.

What had initially piqued my interest was the opportunity to meet the “new wave of artisan producers” promised by the organizers. And there was no doubt, after an engaging two hour tasting and discussion, that the eight participating winemakers were the real stars of the show.

Of the group present, I’d met one or two, corresponded with another, and heard about – though had not tasted – roughly half the wines. It really wasn’t that surprising that they were unknown to me, as the biggest production among the eight wines presented was a whopping 150 cases.

b-griff turns 30!

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Congratulations are in order for Rob Griffin and Deborah Barnard, whose Barnard Griffin winery is celebrating its 30th anniversary. In terms of Old World winery lifespans this is just the blink of an eye, but here on the Frontier it’s a wizened, grizzled veteran, a veritable pioneer.

Rob Griffin’s experience in Washington goes back even further, to the spring of 1977, when the newly-minted UC Davis graduate was hired to make wines for Bill Preston. Those early, Griffin-made Preston wines upped the ante for the winery and indeed the entire state. His 1977 Preston Chardonnay was awarded Best of Show at the Seattle Enological Society's Northwest Wine Festival – at the time, the most prestigious judging event for the region’s wines.

Shortly after Barnard Griffin was founded, in 1983, Rob was hired by the Hogue brothers to be the winemaker and General Manager at their start-up winery. That lasted until 1991, when he and Deborah turned their energies fulltime toward their own winery.

we get letters!

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

True confession – after what? 5 or 6 years of buh-logging (albeit off and on, but more on than off) – I’m finding that like every other form of written communi- cations, it’s evolving. Of course, it’s still a jungle out here in the blogosphere. Part Oklahoma Land Grab, part Alaskan gold rush, and liberally strewn with mangled bodies. But having just waded through 142 posts from dozens of bloggers, many completely unfamiliar to me, I can assure you the form is alive and well and morphing in many interesting directions.

Here on the home front, I’m finding that many of the topics that previously would have gone into a newspaper column fit comfortably into the blog. In fact, much more comfortably than they ever did elsewhere. The timing of blog “publication” is right now, instead of weeks down the road. There is immediate feedback. Dialogue. Discussion. Disagreement, to be sure, but that’s all part of the process. So now, I’m going to introduce a We Get Letters feature (we listened to a lot of Perry Como when I was a kid). Shoot me your questions (paulgwine@me.com) and I’ll bundle them up occasionally, or just riff on one really interesting topic, right here on the blog. And I will send you an email answer right back so you don’t have to wait.

Here’s what came in over the digital transom this morning: