Have You Chosen Your Apocalypse Wine?

The End is Upon Us!

Efeste's Game of Rhones

You Will WIn

Art Meets Science

Jackalope Cellars

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

The Search for Guido

The Oregon Chardonnay Symposium

Clone Wars...March 14th

Who We Are

The staff of the Northwest Wine Anthem, we're good

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.  

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 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.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Taste Washington 2015 Strategery (Which by the way is not a word.)

Taste Washington is a wine tasting extravaganza and it's not for the faint of heart. (In that spirit I have reprized a post from a few years ago to hopefully provide some advice on how to navigate the event.) With 250ish Washington wineries in attendance, this is serious tasting business. Multiply the number of wineries (250) by the average number of wines each table will pour (2 or 3) and the numbers start to get serious. What's clear is that this is perhaps the greatest wine tasting event in the free world and given that the un-free world probably doesn't have any wine tastings, maybe just the world. I already mentioned the 250 wineries, but there's also an oyster bar, a desert bar, beer, coffee, an incredible array of some of Washington's finest chefs and restaurants. Along with chef demonstrations. 

What all of this means, however, is that you would be ill-advised to show up at Taste Washington without a plan; you would be eaten alive. Didn't you read the previous paragraph? It's serious. Here's the thing, it's a week out and you need a game plan if you're going to do this right. Luckily for you, we're here to help.

The best way to approach Taste Washington is to have a strategy. I would hazard a guess and say that you're not very strategic. I mean, maybe you do okay, but you're not as strategic as, say, a General. My point being there's a lot of military history, you're busy, let's just borrow what's worked well for them. You're far from Sun Tzu and General Patton; you're more a General Tso's than anything. So, ladies and germs we bring you the Anthem Military Strategy Guide to Taste Washington:

-Blitzkrieg: German for "Lightning war" is the use of speed, maneuvering and the shock of sudden attack at an enemies fortifications. It was often thought of as a mechanized war maneuver. Since tanks are frowned upon in the CenturyLink Event Center (if not outright illegal), we've pared it down considerably. Basically, the Taste Washington Blitzkrieg has you just drinking Germanic varietals. I count 33 of them from just the website. Largely these are Rieslings with a handful of Gewurztraminers throw in the one Gruner I counted too. Some notable producers include a Riesling from Cote BonnevilleFiggins Family. and Cooper Wine Company as well as the always fantastic Riesling from O-S. I'm happy to see there are more Rieslings than there were just a few years ago including a lot of newcomers.

-Scorched Earth: typically the military strategy by which a force goes about destroying anything that might be of use to the enemy, including roads, bridges, food sources etc. Because this is a wine tasting and not an actual attack on anyone, we're going to change it up. Go after the high alcohol wines or "hot" wines, (get it? 'scorched'). Approach each table and ask, "I'd like to try your highest ABV wines." Or you could simply say "if it's below 15% then I ain't drinking it." You will absolutely get strange looks and will likely be drinking a lot of Zinfandels and Primitivos but with alcohol percentages creeping up you'll also likely be drinking several of the Bourdeaux varietals and sadly some Syrah as well. The thing is, there are some really well made wines with higher alcohol percentages where the high alcohol is so well integrated that it's damn near imperceptible. While on its face this seems like a bit crazy, it'll give you a sense of how Washington is dealing with its rising alcohol issue. I highly recommend that you spit.

The Flying V: a strategy developed by perhaps one of the greatest minds of warfare, Alexander the Great. When times were simpler and people fought hand-to-hand, this tactic was used to push into enemy lines. People would form into the shape of a V or wedge and force their way through enemy fortifications. In our version, again, no violence: you're only drinking Viognier. Lucky for you Washington produces some pretty beautiful examples of Viognier. In this strategy we're also allowing White Rhone blends that include Viognier. My count includes 8 such wines being poured.

Tactical Positioningfrom Sun Tzu's timeless classic The Art of War comes the concept of defending existing positions until one is capable of advancing. The Taste Washington version of this is to stick to the varietals that you know you love. If you love Merlot, Miles be damned, then try as many Merlots as you can get your hands on. If you're a big fan of Washington Syrah 
(and why wouldn't you be?), then go ahead and stick to Syrah. While staying comfortable is nice don't forget the "advancing" component. If you love Syrah, try some Grenache and Mouvedre as well, stretch your legs a little. If you love non-vintage rhubarb wine, there's only one of those, so probably pick something else to base  your strategy off.

Shock & Awe: is the last and least recommended approach. One may go about this approach by drinking as much wine as possible, exhibiting boorish behavior until everyone around is thoroughly shocked. Don't be that guy.

At the end of the day, Taste Washington is great opportunity to sample some of the best wines in Washington State. Many of the people pouring at the event made those wines they're pouring you. Talking to the winemakers, the winery staff and the many guests and you might be talking to Bob Betz or Dick Boushey. Learn what makes Washington special and certainly, don't miss out on the oyster bar.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Clone Wars: The Oregon Chardonnay Symposium

In 2012 Paul Durant of Durant Vineyards and Erica Landon, of Walter Scott Wines collaborated on the first of what has become an important and successful annual event, The Oregon Chardonnay Symposium. The event has sold out every year (maybe go buy your tickets before you finishing reading this.) This year the technical panel and tasting is being moderated by Rajat Parr, and will include some of the Willamette Valley's most vocal champions of the clone debate. Jason Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards and John Paul of Cameron. (More on this later.)

The event features a technical panel, as well as a grand tasting to follow. This year's iteration, The Attack of the Clones, yes really; takes place on March 14th.

After Paul had returned to his family's business in the Willamette; one of the things on his mind was a childhood memory; chardonnay. "I'd always had an affinity for chardonnay and I think it goes back to when I picked it as a kid. I loved the taste, it's always been a strong memory for me; it's like that smell you remember when you walk into your parents' house."

While at this point it's safe to say that Oregon's chardonnay has arrived, it is very much a comeback story. Chardonnay remains under-planted in the Willamette Valley, The Durant family who have been one of the vineyard stalwarts in the Valley since just about the beginning originally had a fair bit of chardonnay. Much of their chardonnay though was for years, going towards sparkling wines made by Rollin Soles at Argyle.  After phylloxera forced a large replanting at Durant, many former chardonnay rows gave way to pinot gris or pinot noir.

That story is retold throughout much of the Willamette Valley. While chardonnay's star has undoubtedly risen, it still has a way to go to gain the sort of respect it surely deserves. Not only in acreage planted but in the marketplace as well.

Despite Paul's fondness for the grape, the market for Oregon chardonnay has shown a real lack of appreciation. "We started making really impressive chardonnay in around 2007, they were showing some promise. But you know we weren't getting paid (that much) for chardonnay and it's growing on some of the best vineyard ground in the Valley." One of the goals of the event is to draw attention to the kinds of chardonnays the Willamette Valley is producing, and make a case for a wine that deserves a higher price-point. 

To that end the Oregon Chardonnay Symposium began as an opportunity to educate consumers and showcase what winemakers throughout the valley were doing with their chardonnay. "It can still be a hard sell in the tasting room. You'd be surprised how resistant some people are to trying it." Which is a shame, as Oregon's chardonnay has the potential to make any doubters a believer. 

The number of participating wineries have nearly doubled each year and what Paul has really found encouraging was the number of consumers who were attending the technical panel. One guy is flying out from Minnesota. 

Aside from the overt quality, there's a bit of a chardonnay counter culture movement happening right now in the Willamette Valley, which brings us back to that clone debate I mentioned earlier. The rising tide of Oregon chardonnay has coincided with the popularity of Dijon clones being planted in the Willamette Valley. Get the back story here. The fact of the matter is though, the Valley was originally planted widely with 108 and Wente clone chardonnay. Those in the Dijon camp claimed they were simply not able to get these California clones to ripen in the cool Willamette Valley. While many folks perhaps pulled their vines, either to plant more pinot noir or as they did at Durant as a result of phylloxera, there's a lot of folks who didn't want to or didn't have to. Some of them are making dynamite chardonnay from those older "heritage" clones and so all this Dijon or the highway talk is rubbing them the wrong way. 

Others just think that a lack of diversity, or a sort of hegemony of Dijon chardonnay stunts the growth of a region, in the case of Eyrie, it's hard to argue with the kind of success and longevity they've had with their original plantings. The Eyrie original chardonnay planting is made up of what is called the "Draper Selection" a collection of clones that David Lett brought north from California. 

So it'll be great to hear from both clone camps at The Oregon Chardonnay Symposium.  If you care about what's going on in the wine scene here in the Northwest, I recommend you think seriously about this event.

2012 Stoller Family Estate Reserve Chardonnay Melissa Burr reliably creates some of the most compelling Chardonnay in the Willamette Valley each vintage. Aromatics of coriander, honeysuckle, lemon zest and pineapple. Mostly neutral French oak gives this wine depth, texture and complexity and ample lemon creme, wet stone and peach skin. Mouth watering acidity and overall elegance. $35

2013 Kramer Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay Rich, rounded and redolent. Aromatics of baked apple, cinnamon and nutmeg. The wine really evolves over the course of an evening, fruit forward particularly with tropical notes and hints of spice. The combination of stainless steel and neutral French oak produces a great mouthfeel and texture, but the acidity seems to drop off a bit at the finish. $28

2013 Walter Scott Cuvee Anne, Willamette Valley A blend from vineyards in both the Eola-Amity Hills as well as the Chehalem Mountain AVA. The result is super. From Walter Scott who produces tiny quantities, this chardonnay is what I have come to think of as Oregon's wheelhouse. Bright floral and citrus aromatics give way to a substantial mouthfeel and texture. Classic lemon creme elements that have become for me a signature of these Willamette chardonnays are the signature of the palate. The mouthfeel is both rounded and vibrant with a pulsing current of lively acid. $45

2013 Durant Vineyard Chardonay "Raven" Made by Isabelle Duarte of De Ponte Cellars for $25 this is an out of sight and overtly elegant chardonnay. Can something be overtly elegant? Beautifully aromatic with chamomile, white flowers and jasmine, and early season nectarine. The palate is layered citrus, stone, fleshy and yet streaked with minerality and lively, lively acidity. This wine screams buy me and punches well above it's price-point. $25 

2012 Evening Land Vineyards, La Source Chardonnay Old vine Dijon clones from 1995 create a powerfully pretty and robustly ripe chardonnay. The floral aromatics are effusive, white flowers, jasmine and green tea. The palate continues a strong case for Dijon clones in the Valley, super balanced  lemon creme core along with a stone, chalky minerality. Fresh, vibrant yet loaded with layered fleshy fruit. $65

These wines were provided as samples.