celebrate walla walla valley wine – the wrap

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

This past week saw the return of what was once a rather modest wine tasting event called Vintage after an absence of two years. Vintage had reached its apex some years before it vanished entirely, which was too bad, because I always thought it was the perfect event at the perfect time of the year.

Re-invigorated this year as Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine, it was more ambitious, far-reaching, entertaining and flat out fun than ever before. Though down with a nasty head cold, I managed to attend my fair share of the major wine events, and moderated the headliner – a winemaker panel and tasting of three Napa Valley and three Walla Walla Valley Cabernets, all from the 2009 vintage.

Prior to that there was a Vintage Wine Tasting, held at Corliss Winery, featuring a marvelous assortment of wines from bygone vintages. Among the many highlights: both the 1984 (first vintage) and 1987 Merlots from Waterbrook, the valley’s fourth winery; a 1997 Cabernet from Woodward Canyon; a 1999 Sagemoor Cabernet from Tamarack; both the 2000 and 2003 Seven Hills Cabernets from Seven Hills Winery; a 2003 Reininger Desiderata with all six! Bordeaux grapes; Dunham’s 2004 Lewis Vineyard Merlot; the 2004 Cabernet from Corliss, a strikingly good 2005 Merlot/Cabernet Franc from Buty; both the 2002 and 2003 Cabernets from Beresan; the 2006 Sayulita from Balboa, and the 2006 Tsutakawa Artist Series red from àMaurice.

There were many more to savor, but I had to hurry over to Olive where Waitsburg Cellars was being poured, and my band – Hat No Hat – was due to play. Lacking even a shred of a voice (laryngitis in full bloom at that point) I was thinking it was going to be all instrumentals. But the night was saved by my partner Joe Patrick who jumped in as lead vocalist, and my former musical better half Pete Crawford, who joined me onstage for a cameo appearance of Where’s Mary.

On Friday morning Dr. Kevin Pogue and journalist Patrick Comiskey did a matched pair of presentations comparing the terroirs of Napa and Walla Walla. Rarely if ever have I heard a better set of entertaining, informative, and highly enjoyable talks. And I’ve been to a lot of wine seminars over the years. My panel followed later in the day, and it was a doozy.

Being poured were 2009 Cabernets from Chappellet (the awesome Pritchard Hill designate), Rudius (the Panek Vineyard pure Cabernet offering), and Spottswoode. Following that came three from Walla Walla: 2009 Leonetti, 2009 Woodward Canyon, and 2009 Pepper Bridge. As planned, the theme of this year’s Celebrate programming was Cabernet Sauvignon, and the intention was to match and compare (not compete!) our Walla Walla wines with exemplary bottles from another world-class region. Next year it will be Syrah with Shiraz from Australia; and in 2015 Merlot with some Right Bank Bordeaux making a guest appearance.

The wines were all in top form, and the regional strengths were easily spotted. The cost of the seminar was a laughably low $35, and my only disappointment was that there were some empty seats. EVERY Walla Walla Cabernet producer should have been there! How better to gauge your own efforts against some of the best in the country? As a consumer event, this whole week was on a par with IPNC, and my sincere hope is that support will grow and it will become as well attended, and as notable, as that wonderful event.

Winemaker dinners were the highlight on Saturday, and happily, the weather gods smiled and provided a picture perfect evening. Mrs. G and I were out at Tero, tasting wines from the Windrow vineyard (notably a totally yummy Old Block Cabernet), Spofford Station (an amazing 2004 Syrah was the highlight), and Bunchgrass, whose Founders’ Reserve was a delight.

All in all, it was a terrific week of tastings and wine-related hospitality. I strongly urge you to put in on your calendar for next June, when Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine will focus on the World of Syrah, June 19-21, 2014.


Unknown said...

How did the Walla Walla 2009s show compared to the Californias? I'm dying to know what your impressions of the Leonetti, Woodward, and Pepper Bridge were...

PaulG said...

Brandon - here are my original reviews of the Walla Walla wines:

97 Leonetti Cellar 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
Walla Walla Valley; $88
2760 cases, 14.6%
The estate-owned Loess, Mill Creek Upland and Seven Hills vineyards contributed the fruit, and again in 2009 this is the best of a very fine lineup from Leonetti. Dense, textural, and complex, it showcases exceptional blending of flavors from the addition of just 7% Merlot, 4% Carmenère and 1% Malbec. Plum, cassis, coffee grounds, dark chocolate and a hint of herb run through a complete and engaging finish, retaining both elegance and power. Cellar Selection.

93 Woodward Canyon 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
Walla Walla Valley; $44
588 cases, 14.5%
It’s labeled Cabernet Sauvignon (Clones 4, 6 & 8), but includes both Syrah and Mourvèdre in the blend, along with Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. Unusual, but it works, crafting a jammy wine with voluptuous black cherry and cassis fruit. The aging in French oak contribute bourbon barrel highlights, and the tannins are ripe and nicely proportioned. Cellar Selection.

93 Pepper Bridge 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
Walla Walla Valley; $55
2050 cases; 14.1%
A rich mix of red, blue and black fruits opens into a sappy, spicy mid-palate. The lush fruits are highlighted with a wash of milk chocolate. At first tightly wound, the wine seems to show more oak flavors with air, hinting at licorice and bourbon barrel. Cellar Selection.

All showed quite well now that they've had another year in bottle. Unfortunately, the way the speakers' podium was set up, there was no way I could taste through all 6 wines and compare and contrast. I did some quick sips during each winemaker's presentation, but it was far from optimal. Among the California wines – all very good – I especially liked the purity of the Rudius and the clonal uniqueness of the Spottswoode.

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