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If You Can't Take the Heat

How Oregon Wine Country is Surviving a Record Hot Season

Building On Strong Foundations

Knudsen Vineyards

Have You Chosen Your Apocalypse Wine?

The End is Upon Us!

Art Meets Science

Jackalope Cellars

How I Survived the Craigslist Killer and Found a Killer Red Mountain Merlot

The Search for Guido

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Taking the Heat: A Look at Oregon's Hot 2015 (So Far)


It's hot man, hot. And even our cool climate Pinot producing region, the Willamette Valley is experiencing a record heat year. While you often hear about how difficult and challenging cooler vintages like 11 or 07 are, a hot, dry vintage like this year can be equally vexing. With very little rain and record temperatures how is Oregon faring? I've asked a few folks to give us a sense of how they're taking all this heat in stride.

In Southern Oregon, where things are normally warmer than they are in the Willamette, heat has been an issue even for varietals that do well in wamer climes. Herb Quady of Quady North is trying to keep his cool, and making adjustments in the vineyards in an effort to make the best wine this vintage will let him.

"One thing, is that we are actively trying to delay maturity, in the hope that temperatures will eventually fall in September, resulting in a more normal ripening curve.  To do this, I've delayed fruit dropping until post veraison.  We'll also be keeping irrigation up during veraison, (at least early)." Herb has some advantages going for him in the way his vineyard was originally laid out. "My home vineyard has an open "V" type system that helps provide some partial shading, so I've felt okay with pulling leaves on the east side.  However, in some tighter vineyards, we have reduced leaf pulling to prevent sun burn. The open V-type system has been really nice this year.  In cooler years, we have had to really aggressively hedge, leaf, and open up the centers, but this year I'm really appreciating the part shading."

Herb expects everything to come early this year, but overall he feels very prepared. The cooler weather this week has been a welcome relief as well.


fruit set in the Elton Vineyard Photo: Christine Collier
Up in the Willamette the folks at Willamette Valley Vineyards are feeling the heat across the board and what that means, is being proactive in the vineyards. Christine Collier the Winery Director at Willamette Valley Vineyards says that decisions they're making now will hopefully put them in a good position for the current hot weather or whatever Mother Nature might throw at them later.

"We experienced near perfect fruit set that is naturally very high yielding. This presents an opportunity and challenge. The sun potentially allows us to ripen more crop, however, we want to assure we are not over-stressing our vines since most of our estate vineyards do not have irrigation. we have spent days in the vineyard assessing each block for canopy vigour, water stress, cluster size, etc. We have made very aggressive decisions to crop down to 2.5-3 tons per acre in our best blocks of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to ensure concentration. This also ensures that the vine does not stall out late in the season due to stress. This will make our harvest dates early and hopefully escape any El Nino pressure of early fall rains that could create disease pressure."


The first week of August was brutal in particular. "Most growers are also experiencing sunburning from last Friday and Saturday when temperatures got above 100 degrees. Rumor has it some sites had 50% loss. We experienced up to 15% sunburning in our estate vineyards and are removing all this damage during crop thinning. In general, at our Elton Vineyard we consciously left more leaves for dappled sunlight, which provided more protection. "
crop thinning at Elton Vineyard Photo: Christine Collier
While we always hear about how stressed vines make for complex and wonderful wines, there is a such thing as too much stress as Christine explained. "Stressed Vine Syndrome creates a tequila-like smell and taste in both red and white wines. It has been most pronounced in Oregon vintages like 1992, 1999, 2012 and 2014. These were all very hot and dry years. It seems to be an Oregon-specific issue, since it isn't a major problem talked about in California (possibly due to irrigation). There isn't a known cause in red wines, but in whites it is suspected to be from an amino acid imbalance."

John Grochau at Grochau Cellars is seeing similar things and while he's never one to jump to conclusions, he knows that what he's doing now has impacts this vintage and beyond. "We are setting up to have the earliest harvest ever… But that can still change. Even though we have had another warm dry year, the plants are still healthy, the exception being the younger vines which are starting to show stress a bit."

"We had a heavy crop load that we are having to cut back pretty far to insure that we don’t stress the plants too much.  Normally in a warm year we will look to carry a slightly heavier crop load to lengthen the ripening a bit.  But with two warm dry years in a row, we are having to keep our crop levels tight so that we don’t stress the plants.  If we stress them too much you can get this stressed agave like character in the wine, you can also set yourself up for problems in the 2016 growing season.

So we hope for some rain and no more heat spikes, or at the very least, the cool weather we have been enjoying this week."

At Stoller Family Estate, vineyard manager Rob Schultz is worried less about young vines, and more about just keeping up as well as getting the work done that's needed in what can be tough conditions on vineyard workers as well.

"We’re holding up well in the heat, but it can be a challenge, both to the vines and ourselves.

For the vines at Stoller, we’re pretty deep-rooted, and without irrigating, our older vines weathered the heat this summer well.  Too well in some cases, as the heat propelled to vines to grow more rapidly than I’d ever seen, so the big challenge of the season became one of keeping up with the pace set by the vines. 

That extreme heat that can come in the late afternoon can cause fruit that’s been recently exposed to the sunlight to burn up or shrivel away.  The key to avoiding that is to expose the fruit as early in the season as possible.  That way, our thin-skinned grapes will have built up something like a “suntan” and won’t burn up later.  We were able to do that this year, and didn’t have any issues even when the heat rose to 107. 

For those of us who work in the vineyard, there aren’t any secret tricks; you do what any farmer does and get to work before the sun rises.  On those hottest of days, those early morning hours are pretty pleasant, and they’re always the most productive of the day."

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Knudsen Vineyards: Knowing Your Roots

When listing off the names of the Willamette Valley's wine pioneers one of the names that many consumers don't necessarily recognize is the name Cal Knudsen.

Cal, along with Dick Erath went on to found the Knudsen-Erath wine label, but that particular partnership stopped producing wines in 1987. Erath, a name we all know, took the winery and Knudsen took the vineyards. After parting ways amicably, Cal Knudsen went on to become a founding partner of the Argyle Winery operation when the company was started in 1987, and his Knudsen Vineyards became the source for nearly all of Argyle's wines, from their Pinot Noirs to their sparkling program.

Cal Knudsen though was one of those most important pioneers whether your average Northwest wine fan knows it or not. Cal was a Weyehauser executive who took seriously the "go big or go home" adage when he bought into vineyard land in the Willamette back in 1971, only a few years behind David Lett. He bought in at around 200 acres (it's closer to 230 these days) and planted in large plots of 20 to 30 acres, in 1975 the Knudsen vineyard was the largest in the state at 60 planted acres at the time. Today it's grown to 130 planted acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, all of which had become an important part of Argyle's sparkling program.

Cal Knudsen (courtesy Knudsen Vineyards)
Cal passed away in 2009 at the age of 85. He was a very accomplished man, both within the wine industry as well as beyond. He came from very humble means and left his mark on both his family and the growing Oregon wine industry. Cal's children have decided to revive the Knudsen name as a wine label with a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay bottling that is just recently hitting the market.

The wines are being made by Nate Klosterman who took the reigns at Argyle after Rollin Soles departed. The folks at Argyle, including the vineyard management team, are well versed in what the Knudsen vineyards are capable of as they've been working with them for years. For Cal's children, though this is more than just a vanity project and so they're working with Nate and other's at Argyle, tasting the wines and ultimately playing a role in the final wines that go into the bottles that bear their name.

I was fortunate enough to taste through the wines with Colin Knudsen and Page Knudsen Cowles. They have a sense of the importance that their father has played in the growth of Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley and the treasure that they have inherited in their father's legacy and the vineyard that their father planted. They've decided to build on their father's legacy and sort of revive their involvement as a family (there are four siblings total) in what their father created. While they live all over the country, the travel to Dundee a few times a year to taste through the wines, and  make decisions about what to do about the aging blocks of the vineyard.


The wines are outstanding, and they're certainly priced at a premium level, but the production is tiny and so they don't stick around for long. The inaugural release, the 2012 Pinot Noir is already gone, almost exclusively snatched up by list members. The first release was done on the strength of a gathering of friends, those friends snatched up every last bottle of the Pinot before it reached beyond the friends and family list.

2013 Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay $45
This is a beautiful wine and demonstrates that by transitioning a winemaker, Klosterman who's familiar with the site and it's fruit there are zero growing pains from this new label. The Chardonnay would certainly stake its claim among those in the top tier of the Willamette Valley. Aromas of nutmeg, baking spice and poached pear hint at the time in new French oak (35%). It's rounded but the oak is very well integrated with a palate of honey, lemon creme and almond. The acid accents what is a very pretty wine, with weight and lift. (Only 100 cases were produced.)

2013 Knudsen Vineyards Pinot Noir $55 (Not yet released)
Classically Oregon, the acids are great, light to medium bodied, and loaded with those fresh bramble-berry aromas we all love and a dash of wet stone. The Pinot is a blend of a few different blocks, block 3, 6 and 8. The first two are 777 clones and block 8 is Pommard. The north facing block 6 imparts a lot of dark notes to the wine's aromas and palate. There is great minerality, it's a mix of 15-8 year old vines, the acid and finish with lots of fresh wintergreen, lasts what feels like a lifetime.

1985 Knudsen Erath Oregon Pinot Noir, Yamhill County
A thirty year old wine shows, for any fool who is still skeptical that this place is world class. This is a holy shit wine as far as I'm concerned. Aromas of peat moss, mushrooms and earth. Dollops of black fruit and acid that just goes on and on and on. For the record the wine is unbelievably pretty. The wine was liquefied brick in color and while the aromatics were completely muted upon opening it was a remarkable wine that even continued to develop as opposed to deteriorate over the course of a meal.

1983 Knudsen Erath Oregon Pinot Noir, Yamhill County
Some how even more aromatically lively than the 85. What I've learned over my somewhat limited experiences with older wines are that it's not always prudent to expect much in terms of aromatics but the 83 opens up with loads of red fruit aromas. It's insane how alive is wine still is while the palate doesn't pop as much  as the wine two years its junior, it's still showing lively red fruit, and berries for days, or in this case 32 years.

The Knudsen's have history on their side, and the prudence of their father's vision is apparent in these older wines. The site is just right ;and right there in the Dundee Hills. The wines make a case for this new venture of the next generation of Knudsen. Far from a fool's errand these two wines make a compelling case for what they hope to accomplish and the staying power of both the Willamette Valley and the vineyards Cal Knudsen laid down.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Wine for the End of the World: Northwest Rosé



Have you been paying attention? The outlook is grim. Half of the West Coast is burning, even Canada, and word is there's a giant earthquake coming to shake us off into the Puget Sound. Doom and destruction await. Drought, fire, mishandled fireworks, maybe bedbugs or something too. Robert Frost wondered aloud, how would the world end? Fire or ice. I got news for you Bobby, it's fire, just turn on the news.

Fire & Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.



What I would suggest is that we all should at least be grateful it's not death by some ridiculous zombie meme. Then not only would we all be dying but I'd be highly annoyed by the sorta smugness all of those annoying zombie survival t-shirt idiots would undoubtedly have on their faces. They'd of course be dying some sort of painful zombie death too, so I imagine their sense of over-self-satisfaction would be really short lived. But, none the less.

The thing is, if we've gotta go, and we all do, we should at least choose appropriate wine for the occasion. If we're all gonna burn into a sorta fiery ash covered hell, and it's going to be hot, we should be drinking ro

Fortunately for this unfortunate occasion the Northwest continues to deliver on rosé vintage after vintage. Seemingly, you could almost drink a half dozen or so new pink wines each year and never repeat producers such is the growth of rosé in this here doomed corner of the country.  


Oregon
I think across the board Oregon is blessed with better rosé conditions than Washington. I do think there are some spectacular Washington examples of the pink stuff, but if I had to generalize, and sometimes we do I think Oregon sets up better. The growing conditions, particularly in warmer vintages, like 2014 allow Oregon and the Willamette Valley in particular to retain acidity where in some Washington examples the finish can fall a little flat. Both of our Oregon examples are skin contact wines, and so they bring an added dimension to our apocalypse party drink. 

2014 Fossil & Fawn Pinot Gris $17
So, our first rosé isn't technically a rosé from a production point of view, but in my view, pink wine is pink wine, and it'll go good with our impeding doom. Those flaming zombies aren't going to split hairs on a technicality.

Salmon hued and you'll catch a bit of sediment as well as this wine sat with it's skins while it fermented for eight glorious days. (Pinot Gris turns a light reddish color when it ripens believe it or not.) The wine then even spend a fair bit of time in oak before it's release. While so many folks tend towards steel fermenters and lip-smacking acid the folks at Fossil & Fawn, Jim and Jenny went for texture and they succeeded. The wine is balance of angularity and texture, with plenty of acid to deal with the sort of creaminess that the time sur lie has imparted. Aromas of rhubarb, stone and grapefruit followed on by a wild mouthfeel, and flavors of citrus, ripe nectarine and apricot, maybe. 

2014 Kramer Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Gris $24
Okay, so technically both of our Oregon rosés aren't rosés in the most technical sense of the term. We're all gonna die, we're just trying to get you the right wines for the occasion, stop being such a contrarian. Another cool pink wine with character out of Oregon. Where rosés often hit the spot because of their sheer simplicity, these Oregon offering actually turn up the dial on complexity. This wine, like the Fossil & Fawn sees extended skin contact, four weeks in this case, as well as time with the lees. The result is an outstanding mouthfeel, and deep aromatics of cut strawberry, stone and fresh mint. The acid remains outstanding, and the complexity puts the lie to rosé's reputation as "summer water."

Washington
Washington has seen the same rising tide of pink wine that Oregon has for the past 7 or so years and over that time it's produced some really outstanding examples. This year my favorite rosé came from Seven Hills Winery in Walla Walla.  The warmer weather sometimes proves a bit challenging though in some cases and the 2014 rosés from Washington saw some superstars but across the board could have had higher acid and better balance. The wines are solid though and they may prove an excellent way to convert your "red wines only" friends to rosé.

2014 Tamarack Cellars Rosé of Mourvedre $14
The Mourvedre rosés are wildly popular  and incredibly made in Bandol and frankly, if you're going to select a variety for your rosé you could do way worse. The Tamarack Cellars rosé comes from Wahluke Slope one of the state's growing regions, outside of perhaps Red Mountain and this wine come directly from the highly regarded Weinbau Vineyard. Aromatics are all red fruit and flowers, the wine is a bit fleshy and round and doesn't deliver any zest or zing on the finish but it does have a dash of spritz to it. (I couldn't find the wine available online but it is or was, at Ballard Market.) 

2014 Amavi Cellars Rosé  of Cabernet Franc $24
The rosé from Amavi comes from their estate vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley. It's aromas are reminiscent of watermelon, ripe peach and late season strawberry. The palate is fairly full, and rounder for a rosé with ripe raspberry, and watermelon flavors.  The finish is one of depth but there's not zesty acidity to carry the wine out. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Efeste and the Game of Rhones


There is plenty of wine in Westeros. The continent (or perhaps island, frankly I'm not sure) and its inhabitants do plenty of drinking. Particularly Tyrion Lannister, that guy can put it away.

The Game of Thrones, unless you've been living under a rock for the last five years, has captivated many of us, myself included, and I don't even own a television. The story of the Seven Kingdoms and the struggle for the Iron Throne is riveting, and ruthless. Leading characters are never sacred. Sunday nights without football are way more interesting, although the finale for Season 5 is nearly upon us.

Washington winery, Efeste has taken their Game of Rhones to an epic level as well. The winery has long been a stalwart of fine wine production in Washington since their founding in Woodinville nearly 10 years ago. Like the watchers on the wall they have stood guard over Woodinville's warehouse district protecting the state's reputation for quality wine with a focus on site specificity and broad shouldered, powerful wines. Winemaker Peter Devison can perhaps be likened to the young John Snow. Having come from the wilds of a place called Canada, to take his place at The Wall, continuing the tradition laid down by Brennan Leighton and Chris Upchurch before him.


In an effort to celebrate the Game of Thrones and their own commitment to the Game of Rhones Efeste invites you to celebrate the finale with your own Game of Rhones tasting party. They've done all the leg work for you. The kit comes with four great wines, two of them are highly limited and only available to wine club members, royal blood red velvet bags, that allow for a blind tasting and outstanding Game of Rhones wine tags. You can buy the kit here and guarantee that when it comes to the Iron Throne of party hosts, you reign supreme.



Instead of a struggle between the Seven Kingdoms for the Iron Throne, this is a pitched battle between four Rhone style wines expressing a specific sites and the outstanding potential for Rhone varietals in Washington. While the battle is sure to be long, in the end, we stand to be the winners.

2011Efeste Emmy Mourvèdre Blend
From the Kingdom Wahluke and the family Stonetree comes a wine that makes a case of the Iron Throne given it's iron, garrigue and stone aromatics.  The palate is full, weighty and forceful; driven by minerality, White pepper, iron and black fruits lead into a wine with a full, full finish. A powerful wine that proves the importance of terroir and the exquisite site that is Stonetree Vineyard. A balance between mineral focused terroir and ample oak influence. $wine club only

2012 Efeste Eleni, Syrah
The castle (chapel) of the Kingdom Red Willow stands before the great Mount Adams on the wine-growing edge of the Yakima Valley. It is here that Syrah was first forged in this kingdom of man. Brought from other lands by the family Sauer and the great and legendary Lake. Red Willow fruit is highly sought after in Washington and the Eleni makes it clear why. Aromas of pencil lead, blueberry and dried violets. The palate is substantive, layered and loaded with red fruits and ample acidity. $54 wine club only

2011 Efeste Ceidleigh, Syrah
A wine that blends three vineyards from the hallowed Kingdoms of Red Mountain. The Kingdom of Red Mountain might be Washington's most famous, as the home to the land's most famed wines. This Syrah is bold, full and boisterous. Aromas of crushed stone, fennel and blood. The palate fills up your mouth with iron, ripe bramble-berries and licorice. $39

2011 Efeste Jolie Bouche, Syrah 
From the a name that rings with Washington wine royalty and the Kingdom Boushey comes some of the most elegant and aromatic Syrah you'll find in Washington. Aromatics are funky, and signature Boushey, blue fruit, smoke, black licorice and olive. The funky aromas that Boushey Syrah has come to be known for are also accompanied by a savory elegance on the palate, Fruit, minerality and pretty acids make this a wine fit for a queen, even like a Dragon Queen. $39
These wines were provided as samples.

The battle for the Seven Kingdoms will go on past this season but the battle for your palate will likely be won over by one of these Rhone beauties. I'm partial to the Jolie Bouche but no matter your leanings the Game of Rhones is one worth playing. Pick up the kit and invite your friends over, and let the games begin.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Old School; Literally


There are few icons in the Washington wine industry as recognizable is that old schoolhouse that you pass on your way into Walla Walla. The list of easily recognizable visual icons of Washington wine is short and I count them at two. Perhaps only the stone chapel at Red Willow vineyard is as synonymous with Washington's wine as the schoolhouse that plays home to L'Ecole 41. This year, that icon turns 100, making it by far the oldest winery in the state, while it didn't start out that way, (technically if you built a schoolhouse to be a winery, it would be a winery that looks like a schoolhouse) it has become synonymous with Walla Walla, Washington wine and of course L'Ecole 41.



In recognition of that centennial L'Ecole is releasing a wine in commemoration. The first settlement in the Walla Walla Valley was a place called Frenchtown, established by French Canadian settlers was founded in the early 1800s. By the 1860s it was a vibrant community and one that even set down roots for what was to become the future of the area, viticulture and winemaking. The Frenchtown Schoolhouse itself was built in 1915 and was actually in use as a school until 1974. In 1977 the Ferguson family took ownership of the building with designs on opening a winery there, which they did in fact do in 1983.

These days a visit to the old schoolhouse gives you a sense of the original building's charm from a lot of the original finishes to re-purposed classrooms now used for tasting wine complete with chalkboards.

The wine the 2013 Frenchtown Red Wine is an evolution of what we're seeing more and more of Cabernet and Syrah blends. For winemaker and owner Marty Clubb it's about delivering a wine that's unique enough to stand on it's own. "There have been more and more wineries exploring blends of Bordeaux and Rhone varieties, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  We did some early trials ourselves in earlier vintages of what evolved from Schoolhouse Red.  Over time we felt that the mix of 70 to 80% Bordeaux with 20 to 30% Rhone added fruit complexity that made the wine richer, with vibrant fruit yet underlying earth and mineral tones.  This "style" then set this wine apart from the other Columbia Valley varietal focused wines, and also uniquely different from the more traditional Bordeaux blends of our single-vineyard Walla Walla Valley terroir driven wines.  Maybe another way of saying it is that Frenchtown is meant to display a broader array of fruit, whereas the other Columbia Valley wines are more laser focused on each variety."

                              2013 L'Ecole Frenchtown Red Wine
This wine is a blend of blends if you will, a complete Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet, Malbec and Cabernet Franc, then blended with a traditional Rhone blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. It's Bordeaux heavy though at 75%. What strikes me about this wine is the emphasis on bright red fruits, and the surprising influence of the Grenache given that it only makes up 7% of the wine. Lots of great structure on the palate as you'd expect from a Bordeaux style blend, great tannin and weight to the wine but the Rhone varieites bring an earthiness as well as the prominent fruit character. A great value at $22. 


Monday, April 13, 2015

Coloring Outside the Lines: Portland's Jackalope Cellars

As a civil engineer Corey Schuster designed roads; but it was a winding road, and certainly not one of his design that landed him at a Willamette Valley tasting room and ultimately opened his eyes to the possibility and joys of making wine.


Corey was in the midst a successful career in civil engineering, growing up outside of Chicago it seemed like the right direction, and frankly he really didn't have much else in mind. From there he landed in Colorado and eventually in a bit of a rut, to hear him tell it. Corey retired early, in some sense and from there he traveled throughout Southeast Asia and eventually he'd come to find himself at an engineering firm in Portland. 

When the economy went bad Corey along with a lot of folks with good jobs were out on the streets and he bounced around a bit before he landed in that aforementioned tasting room. From there his wine interest led to working harvest at Owen Roe, and it was soon after that he started making his first wine. In the 2012 vintage Corey launched his label Jackalope Wine Cellars. For Corey the draw has always been the community as much as the wine, and that hasn't changed in the five or so years that he's been involved. In fact, now producing his wines at Portland's SE Wine Collective, that community is a bit of an incubator and think-tank for Corey and its other burgeoning wine-making talents. (He worked there managing the bar for awhile too.)

"We're all relatively new, and we are going through a lot of the same things, it's great to feel like you've got that in common, and it's nice to be a part of something like that. We're all having the same issue, like How am I going to pay for bottling? I don't know."

The first wines in 2012 were Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, and his second vintage, and current releases are the same varietals from some different sources. "I got into Cabernet Franc while working at Owen Roe, I talked with David O'Reilly about what fruit he might have available and he sold me some Pinot Noir from Eola-Amity and Cab Franc from Six Prong Vineyard in Washington's Horse Heaven Hills." 

Corey's first three vintages (through 2012, 13 and14) have been "warm" years but he's learned a little bit from all of them. "That first year I decided to make the jump late in the year, so I really didn't even have time to think about the vintage. While 2012s are not my preferred style I couldn't have done any better, the fruit was perfect, the wines made themselves and the wines sold really easily. In my first vintage it was important that I sold everything." 

"As an engineer I never had something I could hold in my hand and say, I made this. I've definitely had the scientific background but I've never tapped into my artistic side. I mean, as a civil engineer you're making roads. I chose this though, versus engineering which was more or less chosen for me." Corey's been getting great reception from the wines, and has found it's a great feeling when for example friends asked to have his wines at their wedding. 

The 2013s were a bit more challenging for Corey and while it was a warmer vintage compared to recent years like 2010 and 2011 the wines are lean and elegant. Both wines are absolutely outstanding and unique, Corey has found that artistic side, and it suits him.

At the risk of using too much hyperbole his Cabernet Franc is the most interesting I've had from the Northwest. There are some stellar examples in both Washington, at Chinook and Oregon's Quady North. Corey walks between both styles with a definitive wildness but really, it's a sort of wild elegance. The parcels are tiny so normally I would recommend you go online and pick some up for yourself here but they're sold out. Call one of these places and tell them to hold it for you. Seriously.


2013 Jackalope Cellars Cabernet Franc, Quady North Vineyard Applegate Valley 
This is an out of sight wine. Aromatics are wild lavender, smoke, earth and savory herbs. This wine takes the peppery elements that can be so much of the signature of a great Cab Franc and balances them with bright red fruit and earth notes. This wine is alive, the alcohol is low, the acid is beautiful. This wine is pretty, intellectual and a little bit crazy. Do what you gotta do to find this wine it'll change your opinion of the variety. $27 (Sold Out)

2013 Jackalope Cellars Pinot Noir, Sojourner Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills
Pretty, pretty Pinot Noir. I've had very few examples of 2013 at this juncture and I'm aware of the mini-controversy but I think this vintage will pan out for folks like myself who like a cooler more elegant wine, despite the overall warm growing season that was 2013. Aromatics of dried violets, clove, and early season blackberry, with a lively palate that gives balance, fruit and minerality. For $25 this is ridiculously good. $25 (Sold Out)

These wines were provided as samples. 



Monday, April 06, 2015

The Search for Guido: From Craigslist to Red Mountain to Vashon Island

It is perhaps one of the most unusual wine purchases I'd ever made.

The guy's Craigslist post said that he had accumulated some interesting and older wines over the last few months and the prices were unbeatable, in my opinion. Late 90s Washington wines, some 05 Amavi in a magnum and a few other odds and ends. I arranged to meet him, like any smart Craigslist shopper in a public area, the Southcenter Mall parking lot. In hindsight not necessarily a safety move.

The prices on a lot of these wines were in the $5-10 neighborhood though and if this was someone trying to rob me, they were looking to get like $40, which didn't seem like such a risk. So I wasn't worried. I bought about 8-10 bottles of wine. Given the prices of the 98 Columbia Crest Two Vines, at $5, I had taken a wine glass and a cork screw with me, I bought one and opened it. It was pretty darn good for a value wine going on 15 years old. I bought more or less everything the guy had. (His brother was a contractor who would often buy homes from estates and he wasn't into wine at all. They ended up in this guy's hands and he'd sell them to make a few extra bucks on Craigslist.) No attempt was made on my life.

One of the wines I picked up was a 1998 Andrew Will Merlot, from Ciel du Cheval vineyard on Red Mountain. I think I paid like $20 or $25 for this wine from this Craigslist guy's trunk. I bought it because probably a year or so before this weird Craigslist ad came upon my radar I had a Andrew Will Sangiovese from 1992 and it was pretty fascinating so I thought why not give this one a try.

The bottle sat for a couple more years and it was only recently that I had the occasion to open it.

So, what can you expect from a 17 year old Red Mountain Merlot? I think it's important to first point out what happens to wine over time. First off, everything changes. Some wines age better than others. Perhaps the most often thought of wines when it comes to aging are Burgundy and Bordeaux, but German Rieslings, the really nice ones, age unbelievably, and maybe better than anything.

But none of those last two or three sentences answer the question. Over time wine is exposed to oxygen via the cork enclosure, it's permeable in a very tiny sense of the word. The wine and little bit of air inside the bottle exchanges oxygen with the air outside the bottle. Over time the wines can change substantially. If you like the wines you buy and open immediately, you may not necessarily like the same wine in 10 or so years. The fruit character often fades and gives way to earthen or herbal elements. The acids typically fade, and the wine tastes old, nuanced but certainly different. Old wine though can be pretty fascinating in their own right. Most Washington wines benefit from a few years of aging, say three, but typically top out in terms of an upwards pointing trajectory around eight years in my experience.

The two most salient factors in aging wine are supposedly tannin and acid. Both of these elements of a wine's chemistry protect the wine from oxygen. I've had a lot of Washington wines which typically have good tannin that tasted over the hill after about the 12 year mark. On the contrary, I've had lots of Oregon wines, think lower tannin, higher acid that have aged unbelievably. Given that this wine was from Red Mountain, which is known for it's tannin, not for it's acidity, I really had my doubts.

The 17 year old Merlot was a wildly pleasant surprise. I don't know that I would have picked it out as Merlot blind but for 17 years, the wine showed a lot of freshness. On the first pour, it was a wild color, almost like liquefied brick, and it was seemingly lacking any fruit character whatsoever. Instead the wine showed lots of earth, dust, mushroom and peat character.  But that changed over the next hour or so. The strictly earthy wine went to tart cranberry and Montmorency cherry. The acid on this wine was truly unbelievable given its origins.

Typically older wines tend to drop off after they're opened. The sudden exposure to oxygen doesn't do them any favors and so they go into a quick fade. Not so with this Andrew Will Merlot, it got more interesting. Was this wine better now than it was then? It's highly unlikely as Chris Camarda makes some really nice wines, but it was certainly interesting and worth what little I paid for it to take a look. Another point of note was the alcohol percentage of the wines. It's often the case that red wines from Red Mountain are fairly big, this wine in particular is from perhaps the states most well known vineyard for producing structured, ripe wines, but the abv was 12. something. The acid was present, lively and it really delivered a somehow fresh 17 year old wine.

Perhaps the strangest part of this story, even more than the Craigslist car trunk acquisition was the cork. After about an hour of drinking I picked it up, parts of it has broken off when it was opened. It said "Guido" and had a 206 phone number on it. I started punching the number into my phone and was about to hit send when my friend Sean Sullivan stopped me. "Wait, let me see if that's still his number." It turns out it was Chris's home number and I had nearly dialed him up at 11pm.

I ran into Chris a couple weeks later at an event on Vashon Island. He chuckled at the idea that he still nearly got a late night phone call from one of his older wines. "I used to get a lot of phone calls like that, and they typically started around 10pm." He was excited to hear that the wine was still holding up. I asked what he remembered of the 98s, and he called it a vintage that produced exotic wines, and he'd had one recently. "The vintage didn't get great press and so it was slow to sell at first but eventually people came around to it. I had one the other night and they're still very interesting wines." Guido is his nickname and he's (smartly)gotten away from putting his home number on his wines these days.