Arts and Crafts Were Never This Fun

Sparkle and Fade

A Cabernet Experience

Exploring Terroir with Forgeron Cellars

Oregon's French Connection

Maison Louis Jadot's Résonance

The French Connection

Rhone to Columbia Valley: The Syrah Doctrine

C'mon Get Happy

New Growth at Matthews Winery

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

Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Find May 27, 2011

Each Friday we highlight a wine from the Northwest that we think is a real "find." By find we might mean that it's a steal, as all of these wines we'll feature weekly are under $20. We might also mean "Hey, you really need to go find this" and it might be a wine that we feel not enough people know about. In any case, with the weekend pending we're hoping to help you "find" a wine to kickoff the weekend right. We'll tell you a little bit about the wine and try to help you track it down here in the Northwest.

In reverence of yesterday being the 2nd annual #ChardonnayDay in the twitterverse and beyond, this week's Friday Find is Rulo Chardonnay 2009 from Sundance Vineyard, Walla Walla, WA $19.99

This is a 100% Chardonnay wine from Sundance Vineyard in the Wahluke AVA and raised in stainless steel. The nose is bright and light with aromas of lemon, pear, mint and lot of stoniness. It is full and fleshy on the palate, ending with very crisp and focused acidity. It lingers with pretty fruit and again, great stoniness. This wine has fabulous complexity and completeness. All this for $20?! Awesome! A great showcase of the high quality of wines coming from Rulo.

Kurt & Vicki Schlicker began Rulo Winery in 2000 in Walla Walla. Kurt is the winemaker & the two of them run the show together - tasting room operations, cleaning, tasting, blending, selling, delivering, the whole gamut. They make Rosé, Viognier, Chardonnay, Syrah and Cabernet all at great prices.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

For Those About to Rock, We Salud You...

Each year as Seattle begins its tumultuous tumble into Summer (and weathermen, I assume, consult their Magic 8 Balls for the forecast), a small group of winemakers restring their guitars, turn their amps to 11, and head to Seattle to rock your socks off. June 9 marks the 4th annual return of Wine Rocks Seattle and its move to the Georgetown Ballroom to accommodate all who wish to pair their Bordeaux Blend with a driving bass line.

While music is a staple of tastings and wine events throughout the year, rarely do you have the opportunity to hear a guitar solo from the person who crafted the wine you’re enjoying. Contrary to popular belief, winemakers do more than just make wine (who knew!?), and for many music is their other passion area. For Jamie Brown of Waters Winery, (@waterswinery) the combination makes perfect sense. The predictive skills he developed making music in the Seattle rock scene have translated to a flexible and anticipatory approach to winemaking. Jamie was initially lured to Wine Rocks with whispers of big-name rockstars and Gibson guitars. The opportunity to share wine in a new way has kept him coming back, and remaining a fan favorite.

Jamie was lured to wine while living out that common artist's tale, working in restaurants by day to support his rock dreams. As he became exposed to more wine, he learned the lesson of many a young wine aficionado - sometimes you need to make a real effort to find the good stuff in your price range. As his hometown of Walla Walla came up in wine whispers more and more, Jamie decided he could do something different with it, and headed east. Jamie's philosophy in life plays out in how he approaches his music and his wine: you don't have to sell out to have success and have fun. Fitting, then, that Jamie selected the late Jeff Buckley as the musician he'd most like to have try his wine.

For Chip McLaughlin, it’s as though the event was created with him in mind. With his new label, Vinyl Wines, (@vinylwines) Chip has carefully melded his two great loves, independent music and stellar wine. Not all of us are so lucky to have our career course charted at an early age, but with a father in radio and a brother in the wine industry, Chip knew by age 11 that music and wine were in his future. When he received Cab Franc grapes for his birthday from a family friend, there was no looking back.

The influence of music on his winemaking is infused throughout the label. Each bottle of Vinyl Wines has a code on the cork. Once you’ve popped the bottle, the code unlocks a 10 song playlist of local and national unsigned musicians, including tunes from Chip himself. While Chip’s own music stylings are alternative, coupling crunchy guitars and melodic piano, the musician he’d most like to have check out Vinyl Wines is Tool’s Maynard Keenan. Adding to my Toolbelt of Trivial Knowledge, I was informed that Maynard is in fact quite the wine afficianado, contributing to Wine Spectator and owning two Arizona vineyards. Chip would like to show him a thing or two about how we do things in Washington wine country.

The appeal of Wine Rocks for these musician/winemakers is obvious, but even better is that Wine Rocks is a benefit, with this year’s proceeds going to non-profit art collective ajusticenetwork. Making philanthropy as simple as tasting Washington wines and enjoying great music is just one of the reasons Wine Rocks keeps folks coming back.

So, what do the winemakers hope you’ll get out of the evening? Just have fun with it! The music focus makes this a great event for those just starting to learn about wine, and the winemakers appreciate a new vibe to the tasting experience. With 30 wineries and breweries, great food and winemakers unleashed at the mic, it’s a great way to support a good cause and enjoy Washington wine in a new way…with more reverb. Tickets are available now – hope to see you there!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Match Made in Pinot, Soil meets Clone in Luminous Hills

Byron Dooley came to Oregon's Willamette Valley in 2004 because it's become pretty clear that it's one of the greatest places in the world to grow Pinot Noir. As he established himself, he had designs on two labels. One became Seven of Hearts, a label that gave Byron an opportunity to lean on his experience producing a range of wines in California while allowing him to explore both the varietals and AVAs of Oregon and Washington state. The second label, Luminous Hills, allows Byron to hone his focus on why he originally came to Oregon; the Pinot.

The thinking behind Luminous Hills is a Pinot Noir geek's dream. It kind of went like this: select a cool site in a proven Pinot producing area, find a potential vineyard site that has soil variation, elevation difference, and varying slopes and aspects all in within a single parcel. Byron and his wife hit the jackpot and planted their vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA. With half of the equation in place, they went about planting a variety of clones in distinct blocks that would be defined by their soil type along with clone and elevation pairing.

When it came to selecting his clone and soil type, Byron was looking for specific flavor profiles and structure out of his fruit and site pairing. He laid down Pommard on the sedimentary Willakenzie soil as the vineyard's foundation. Byron wanted dark fruit and rounded mouthfeel from his Pommard/Willakenzie combination. He sought high tone character, red fruit and minerality in planting Dijon clones on the higher elevation, volcanic Jory soils. Byron's aim for all of this is to produce Pinot Noir wines that reflect an Old World attention to clone selection, blending and soil. He wants to make it less about fruit and more about the minerality, texture and spice that is a true reflection of the vineyard.

The result of all his hard work in the vineyard and in blending are three different Pinot Noirs in bottle. Byron's approach has been to blend various clones as well as integrating whole cluster fermentation at varying amounts in his three Pinots: the standard bottling, the Lux and the Astra.

What you'll experience with the Luminous Hills Pinots and what Byron is after in his wines is nuance and subtlety. These are not big boisterous Pinots - there's enough of them out there already. He's attained that by toning down the fruit elements and shifting the focus to the minerality and spice elements of Pinot Noir. Byron is looking to perform artistry by moving the minerality and the spice to the fore to highlight these elements of Pinot Noir that often find themselves in the background. This shifts the focus on fruit characters to the periphery. In a recent post I did on the Oregon Wine Blog I sampled one of Byron's 2008 Pinots and likened its nose to a classical Burgundy I had just days before, a 2004 Chambolle-Musigny.

The 2009 releases saw alcohol levels soar from the '08 releases up to 15%. The vineyards are dry-farmed and Byron is unwavering in his committment to make the wine that the vineyard gives him. The ripeness and high sugars which produce the higher alcohol were accompanied by great phenolic characteristics as well. This gives the wine great balance and integration. He's done a masterful job integrating the alcohol in the wines and they retain that Burgundian elegance in their aromatics that I noted in the last vintage. All of the '09 Luminous Hills display a freshness to the fruit character with a paler brick red color, which Byron tells me is due to the whole cluster fermentation. While I often expect a lighter Pinot to be light bodied, these Luminous Hills Pinots buck that trend with full body and rounded structure.

The standard bottling Pinot Noir (priced at $28 with 357 cases made) displays dried floral notes, hints of rose petal and violet, brighter fruit elements (raspberry in particular) and a touch of spice in the aromatics. The palate brings that spice out further in the finish, while the front palate continues that fresh fruit theme with loads of minerality throughout.
The Lux (priced at $35 with 147 cases made) continues with the floral nose and brings fresh bright cherries into the aromatics. The palate displays a hint more complexity with the whole cluster fermentation turned up on this wine. Plums appear with dried fig and a dusty earthen quality. We once again experience the spice on the back palate and into the wine's finish.
The Astra (priced at $35 with 98 cases made) exhibits similar aromatics as found in the standard bottling with additional hints of lavender and nutmeg. The palate offers up some of the brighter fresh fruit of the standard bottling, (the two wines share a lot of similarities in clone selection), as raspberries make an appearance alongside cherries and toasted almonds, the spice from now 60% whole cluster fermentation finishes out the wine.

The wines that are being made at Luminous Hills are clearly the subject of much consideration on the part of the grower and vintner, Byron Dooley. What he's done in his painstaking preparation is help Oregon Pinot Noir drinkers find some of the range that this varietal and growing region can offer. While Oregon offers a bit more complexity and nuance across the board when compared to the ripe warm Pinots of California, there tends to be a style that the wines trend towards. Byron has left that trail behind a bit and in so doing, allows Oregon Pinot Noir fans an exploratory opportunity in the Yamhill Carlton District, (given all the effort that Byron has gone through to craft these wines, these are beyond reasonable price points). The 09 Luminous Hills wines are drinking lovely young, but given their tannic structure, it will be interesting to see them in a few years.

All of these wines were provided as samples. Bottleshot by A. Tsukimura, vineyard photo courtesy of Byron Dooley