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

Who We Are

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

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Grapes & Skates: Pairing Roller Girls with Wine

It’s not every day that your local wine store is filled with women with names like Foxxy Throwdown, Seditious Heart, Sara Problem or Sheeza Brickhouse (alright, maybe yours…certainly not mine). Rarer still to have such bad-ass ladies in your wine store on skates. Wine World threw caution to the wind for their “Pairing Roller Girls with Wine” event featuring UW alumnus and former Rat City Roller Girl Angela Jacobs (aka Killer Bee-otch) and her line of My Derby Wife wines. I’m happy to report that contrary to the laws of sitcom physics, not one derby girl took out a wine display.

For the uninitiated, a little derby 101: derby is a full contact sport in which women with fabulous, punny, intimidating and occasionally vulgar nicknames score points by getting their scoring player (the Jammer) around the track and past the opposing team’s pack. They do all of this on skates, travelling at high speeds. It’s tough. It takes a special sort of fearlessness to don tights, short-shorts, and skate your heart out for a crowd while other women are attempting to hip-check and otherwise level you. Roller Derby has enjoyed a resurgence in the Pacific Northwest, with the Rat City Roller Girls now skating for packed crowds in a Sonics-less Key Arena and stoking a healthy rivalry with Portland’s Rose City Rollers. These women are PhD’s, lawyers, medical professionals by day, and they pour their free time, sweat and bruises into making the Rat City experience happen. (Derby exists on the work of these women – the skaters and volunteers secure marketing, sponsorship, effects for bouts - the whole shebang.)

In her former life, before moving to the East side of the mountains to dedicate herself to WineGirl Wines, Angela Jacobs was donning fuzzy antennae and striking fear into the hearts of fellow derby girls as Killer Bee-otch for Rat City’s Grave Danger. Angela’s experience in derby inspired her to launch the My Derby Wife line. A Derby Wife, as Angela describes it, is your Best Derby Friend. This is the woman who is your kindred Derby spirit, who inspires you, who pushes you, probably kicks your ass a little, and when you see her out on the track you just know. You might not even get along out in the real world, but in the Derby world, this is the person who is going to have your back, and vice versa. As Angela produced the newest vintage of the My Derby Wife collection, she looked to the Rat City Roller Girls for inspiration, pairing each skater with a wine befitting their unique personalities.


The inspirations turned out in full force, with many other Roller Girls and their admirers packing out the Wine World tasting area. The crowd spilled out into the Oregon and Washington aisles. Wine World is no small venue, and this was no small turnout. With their skates, the girls easily towered over many of the patrons, and there were plenty of star-struck derby fans excited to meet the girls off the track. Tickets in hand, we braved the crowd to check out the 6 derby-inspired wines being poured by the friendly Wine World staff.:
2008 Scarlet Leather Merlot
2008 Sheeza Brickhouse Cabernet Franc
2008 Cosmic Rains Cabernet Sauvignon
2008 Sara Problem Malbec
2008 Deadly Aim Red Wine Blend
2009 Foxy Throwdown Gewurtzraminer
2009 Selma Soul Chardonnay
Angela’s original Derby wife is current Grave Danger Coach Sheeza Brickhouse, and the inspiration for the 2008 Cabernet Franc. Her Cab Franc is a nice, medium-bodied wine with a hint of that nice spice. Having seen Sheeza on the track and as a coach, the feisty spice seems a perfect fit. I asked Angela to do that thing winemaker’s sometimes hate to do, and pick their favorite wine being poured. For her, it’s the Deadly Aim Red Blend, the first wine we tried that evening. This Bordeaux style blend had some bite, but a beautiful finish. Fun fact: Deadly Aim gave Angela a deviated septum back when they were skating together. I told you, it’s rough and tumble out there!

Of the whites, Foxxy Throwdown Gewurtztraminer was my favorite, with a nice but not cloying sweetness and hints of peach on the nose. Though I hate the word, this definitely has a moist feel, almost melting onto the palette. I will admit, I’m a tough sell on Chardonnay, but the Selma Soul was a pleasant surprise, with light oakiness and a slight apple taste that lingers on the palette.

The Cosmic Rains Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from the Columbia Valley, and brought a light, fruity nose that opened up into a nice, full but balanced wine with a medium finish. My favorite of the night, and not just because the namesake told me it would be, was the Sara Problem Malbec. Washington is putting out some fantastic Malbecs, and this was no exception. Spicy and full-bodied with a long finish and great tannin structure, Sara Problem would be great to sip after work or to pair with a nice piece of steak on a summer evening.

My Derby Wife is a small lot, so get to Wine World soon to check it out. You have a bit more time to check out the Rat City Roller Girls. On July 10, you can watch undefeated Grave Danger take on the Throttle Rockets for the Championship while the Sockit Wenches battle it out with Derby Liberation Front at Key Arena. As Angela says, the only true pairing for a My Derby Wife wine is a killer roller derby bout. Take it from a season-ticket holder, you won't regret it!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Zin...In Perfect Balance

By Corey McTaggart

Clouds and fog disappeared from sight in the rear view mirror as I rounded curves of highway into the Applegate Valley. Blue skies are typical in this hidden, yet wide-open microclimate of southern Oregon. Thirty-nine year-old Zinfandel vines are illuminated by sunlight which glows more than 300 days every vintage here.

Dick Troon pulled out a 1980 Zinfandel, dust thick on the bottle, from one of his vineyard’s first harvests. Thirty years later, the wine has continued to age beautifully. Troon, a true pioneer of Oregon wines, has believed in great Zinfandel grown in the Applegate Valley of Southern Oregon for decades. He began planting his vineyard in 1972; the original Troon Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon are now among the oldest vines in the state.

Troon’s history with Zinfandel began on a business trip to the Healdsburg area of California in the late 1960's. A private tour given by the proprietors of Simi Winery revealed how much vineyard selection, attention to detail, and a lot of TLC can do for the grape, and ultimately, the wine. Setting down roots in the Applegate, Troon noted the similarities in vegetation and “a better daylight factor” (sun on the vines an hour longer each day than regions further south), and decided, "if they can do it, we can do it better". Sourcing vines from UC Davis by way of Oregon State University, Troon's methods included dropping enough fruit, including the shoulders of each grape cluster, so that the berries would not so much as touch each other. He explained that this is absolutely essential to avoiding bunch rot. He also noted that the grapes in this region are harvested 30-45 days later than California vineyards. Between the sun, and selective harvest -sometimes three different picking seasons per acre - the fruit ripened to the height of its potential.

The world began to take notice.

At a trade and press tasting in London, 1997, Troon's Zinfandel was the most talked about wine among bottles from some 26 wineries. The participants of a Chicago Tribune tasting of Zinfandels and Primitivos from around the world laughed when they heard of a Zin from Oregon… until they tasted it. Without exception they loved the wine and wanted to know how they might obtain more. Troon, now in his 80s, sold the winery to a friend a few vintages ago and these Zinfandels have continued striking gold (medals), and the highest acclaim, on a global level.

On the expansive patio at Schmidt Family Vineyard, notes of sweet cranberry, tangerine zest, chocolate pudding and clove jumped from a glass of "Zinphony". This 50/50 Zin-Cab Sauvignon blend could be likened to liquid chocolate cake with a drizzle of balsamic and raspberry reduction and finished with just a hint of white pepper. Four generations of the Schmidt family serve guests in a glorious garden and hand-built tasting room of world class beauty.

Schmidt's Zinfandel cuttings were taken from Rex and Sandy Garoutte's vineyard next door, which were planted in 2001, obtained from Joe and Susie Ginet’s Zin, which in turn originated from Dick Troon’s stock. Four doors down from Troon, Dave and Elaine Trump planted a Zinfandel vineyard with cuttings from Troon’s front Zin, and Jacksonville Vineyards sourced their Zin from Trump’s. Shasta View Vineyard in Northern California grows and bottles Zinfandel which stemmed from Troon’s Zin plantings as well.

Up the hill at tiny Wooldridge Creek Winery, club members relaxed and sipped as if part of the extended family. In fact, members purchase most of the Wooldridge Zinfandel as futures before its release each vintage. Ted Warrick, one of the four (all local) owners, planted Zin from Dick Troon’s cuttings in the early 1990's.

As Warrick emphasized, dropping fruit is their recipe for success with Zinfandel as well. The vines will set eight tons to the acre; however, for quality, Wooldridge drops clusters and cultivates only two tons to the acre. Warrick mentioned the vast differences in terroir; the diurnal variation in temperature - hot days and cool nights result in a wine of lower alcohol - 13 to 14 percent. He compared this style, which he mentioned pairs better with food, to wines of 16 percent or more alcohol and jammy, low acid qualities that can develop in hot climates. The enzymes which are necessary to metabolize acids are heat dependent, and when temperatures remain in the 70's at night, the grapes never stop ripening during the wee hours as pH soars and acid continues to plummet.

When the natural acid drops out of the grape before harvest, it must be chemically added in the laboratory. Sometimes this artificial acidulation causes negative physical effects on the consumer.

In contrast, the Applegate Valley Zinfandels retain their own perfect balance, naturally. Troon smiled, with a sparkle in his eye. "My wine will never give you a headache."

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Find; June 24

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.

This week we're highlighting the 2009 Charles & Charles Red Wine a perfect wine to pair with your barbecued red meats like burgers, sausage but our pick would be ribs. The wine is a 50/50 blend of Cabernet and Syrah. The Cabernet spends time in 1 to 3 year old French oak while the Syrah is fermented in stainless steel. The resulting wine is a good time in the glass, loads of fruit and toasted oak on the nose, with blackberries and cherries backed by toasted nuts and vanilla. The wine lingers long enough with a pleasing finish gives you something to chew on and at the price will make you look like a genius to your friends. This wine is widely available as the Charles Smith wines have great distribution. You'll find it full price at around $12 or $13 dollars and can see it on sale at around $8 or $9. The fruit is all Wahluke Slope and it provides a signature Washington wine experience for a bargain.

The Charles & Charles wines are a collaboration is a partnership between Charles Smith and Charles Beiler. Two masters of marketing and purveyors nice wines at prices everyone can afford. This is their second such wine they also have a hugely popular Rose.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

When it Rains, It Pours Pinot Noir... The Barrel Tour Recap

By Kelsey Ivey

The weather is never a sure thing in the South Willamette wine country, but the wine always is.

With soggy fog hanging over the valley, for the start of the Saturday, June 18 Barrel Tour, I worried people would be damper from the drear. But while the weather threatened to rain, nothing threatened to ruin the spirits of the attendees. Arriving at the Valley River Center parking lot at 9:30 a.m. in floods, the tour guest vanquished puffy eyes with venti Starbucks coffee and the true weather warriors paired shorts and sandals with swishy rain-jackets and excited smiles.

Splitting the group between four buses, each bound for different wine rotations, we were ready to roll.From couples of all ages to girlfriend get-togethers and one grandmother and grandson duo, my bus was drunk with excitement even before the first taste.

Dressed in a black, pinstriped shirt and barely able to stand up fully in the bus – later in the day standing became a little more challenging for other reasons – our tall, young tour guide, Derrick from King Estate, set the tone for the day as the bus weaved out of town.

“This is the party bus” Derrick rallied. Just remember two important tips: Drink lots of water and “pace yourself or you will be hammered by the fourth winery.”

With an outbreak of laughter and applause, the bus responded with a unified “WHOO-HOOO!”

Further pumping up the group’s energy before the first stop, Derrick jokingly tested the group’s wine knowledge with trivia.

“You know why it’s called Sweet Cheeks?” he asked as the bus passed the first set of
vineyards. “Because it’s two hills – like a butt.”

While still early Sweet Cheeks started the day off strong, introducing our group to the elegant and lightly sweet Riesling paired with Riesling macerated strawberries and the winery’s robust, minerally Reserve Pinot Gris with crème frâiche stuffed potatoes topped with caviar. Surrounded by the stainless steel vats in their production room, the Australian winemaker, Mark Nicholl, personally welcomed the group.

After enjoying the whites, I wandered through the small, dark barrel room, where Nicholl with his stylish sideburns and beautiful accent served up a delicious, earthy 2009 Syrah from the barrel paired with house smoked pork sliders.

With an hour to taste and enjoy the food, the informal setting allowed guests to sample, relax and chat with the winemaker who shared with willing listeners his passion and knowledge of the vineyards.

While Sweet Cheeks is not a certified organic winery, according to Nicholl, the vineyards easily could be. They do not use herbicides and are environmentally conscious. “There are frogs in the vineyard” he added, “You know it’s healthy…and you can taste it in the wine.”

The barrel tasting of the Syrah exemplified the health of his vines and quality of his craft because before the bus pulled away a list of pre-orders waited for the unbottled wine.

Between kind bickering of couples and the occasional bad joke by the tour guide, we made our way to the second stop of the day. Nestled in a cozy corner of the valley, especially with the fog hovering in the air, Sarver Winery received the buses at its small tasting room surrounded by hillsides of green vines.

With French folk music playing in the background, the three wine samples danced their way across the palate. The 2009 Estate Pinot Gris offered notes of crisp pear and apple and paired deliciously with a spiral-wrapped pancetta asparagus. The intimate tasting room then settled in with a tasting of the 2010 Estate Pinot Noir Rosé, which had a subtle sweetness reminiscent of Guava. If you close your eyes and smell this wine, you can almost feel the sun come out, it’s so tropical. The Rosé was served with a Phyllo Gruyère Cup. The final tasting, a peppery Pinot Noir made in a burgundy style, showed layers of cherry with a nice drinkable medium body. Plated with an equally irresistible chocolate pot de crème, the wine shined with the traditional delicate qualities of the varietal that makes it famous in Oregon.

Even with the cold weather, the wine quickly warmed up the visitors. I was even adopted by a kind couple from Eugene and their friends visiting from Klamath who noticed I was wandering around stag.

With the ring of a big, brass bell hanging outside of the tasting room, the owners, Chris and Erin Sarver wished us farewell.

Without a formal tasting room for visitors, Capitello Winery poured at their neighbor’s place – good thing that neighbor is another award-winning winery with lots of space, Domaine Meriweather. As the bus filtered into the room, our glasses filled with Capitello’s 2010 Walnut Ridge Sauvignon Blanc, a crisp white aromatic wine paired with an Asian spring roll.

With the encouragement of two wineries behind us, the room said hello to our second winemaker from down under, Ray Walsh, with a group sheepish “baaa” as instructed by the Sweet Cheeks winemaker. The New Zealand background also influenced Walsh with two lines of wine, one grown in each region.

Next served was a 2009 Pinot Noir Barrel sample paired with smoked salmon mousse en croute with
herb garnish followed by the day’s only dessert wine, a 2009 Dolcino Oregon Gewurztraminer plated with assorted cheese that balanced the sweetness of the wine.

Conversation flourished in the wide open tasting room as the winemaker walked around and chatted
with couples before our bus set off for the fourth and final winery of the day.

While a handful of the party bus may have been past their peak by the fourth winery – the quality of the wine never decreased. From their 138 acres of estate grown grapes to screw cap selection, Benton-Lane Winery signed, sealed and stamped with excellence.

One of the few wineries in the area to switch to 100 percent screw cap, the decision was swayed also by the consistency it offered. We spend so much time harvesting and caring for the grapes, said Benton-Lane Vice President Lorne Mews. But then we “slap a piece of tree bark in there and hope for the best.”

Way more than hope could be tasted in their Pinot Noir, which makes up 80 percent of the vineyards’ total varietal production each year. The wine featured an aromatic expression of fruit with complex layers and notes of deep cherry. Benton-Lane’s small batch of Pinot Gris also stood out with soft flavors of citrus.

To the hungry wine connoisseurs, Benton-Lane paired their wines with gourmet vegetarian bruschetta,alder smoked salmon with sauce, and vegetarian pizza cooked in their outdoor patio oven.


While the weather never caused any problems with the buzzed tasters, the sogginess of this spring was a steady topic among the winemakers. Currently two to three weeks behind in the growing season, according to Mews, this year’s vintage is welcome with a shrug of uncertainty by all the wineries. But as Mews says, “It always works out – somehow”

And the Barrel Tour definitely helped things work out for all the wineries. As the bus drove back to Eugene, in its under-belly swished the boxes and more boxes of purchased bottles – just as fully a-glow with wonderful wine as the passengers above.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Metric System be Damned, Exploring Canadian Wine...

Until relatively recently, if you had asked me what pairs best with Canadian Pinot Noir, I would have said, "crow."

Allow me to explain.

I had more or less dismissed Canadian wine based on one bad experience, a Bordeaux varietal that escapes me now. A fool's conclusion, to be sure. My foolishness and a trip to McMinnville, Oregon, for IPNC led to a conversation with Cole Danehower in which I shared with him my assumptions about Canadian wine. While we talked, he mentioned some of the British Columbia wines that he favored. Later that afternoon, I found myself tracking down Cole, tail between my legs, after I had tried Pinot Noir made by Tantalus and Tawse. In the shade of the McMinnville oak trees alongside some of the best Pinot Noir in the world - from France, Oregon, California and New Zealand - Canadian Pinot Noir stood up to be counted, and I had to pay attention.

In large part, that experience is what led me to formally include BC wines, particularly those from the Okanogan in the Northwest Wine Anthem. For those of us in the States, part of the mystery surrounding Okanogan wines stems from the reality of tariffs and customs limitations. The Canadian wine industry in the Okanogan Valley is booming with nearly 130 wineries as of 2011. Despite the proximity to the rest of the Northwest wine regions, national borders tend to keep Canadian wines in and Washington and Oregon wines out or vice versa depending upon which side of the border you sit (BC imposes a 135% tax on wine imported from the US; there's a great read here on the Washington Wine Report). Given this international dynamic, most of us down here aren't as knowledgeable about the Okanogan, the varietals produced there, or the growing conditions. Further muddying the waters is the whole metric system thing that they have going on up there. Yeah, I don't get it either. Rest assured, however, that there's plenty of wine being made in the Okanogan and you'll find nearly every varietal being produced there.

A quick perusal of Okanogan winery websites lets you know it's a region that sees a lot of variance in what's being grown there, but what kind of wine region is the Okanogan? It's certainly further north than any other Northwest growing region, and while it has ample viticultural history there is still much to be learned by growers, vintners and enthusiasts. Some of the realities that face the growers and viticulturalists there include a season that is short, shorter even than the cool climate seasons seen in the Willamette Valley. As the world's northernmost serious wine region, the Okanogan benefits from intense sun late in the summer and early in the fall but that brilliance ends almost immediately with winter hot on its tail. The wines that set up really well are those that benefit from brilliant acidity; aromatic white wines are right at home in the Okanogan. Creating complex, multi-layered red varietals is a challenge but can be pulled off. For Canadian red wine drinkers, when it comes to the Okanogan, Pinot Noir is the sweet spot. Particularly exciting about the wine being made in the Okanogan is that those who are doing it really well are handling a growing region and season that is unique to the Northwest and really the winemaking world. To explore these wines is an opportunity to sample skilled winemakers' willingness to take on and in many cases demonstrate a mastery of these conditions.

I'm excited about what they're doing up north in the Okanogan, but there are a few hang ups, particularly with tariffs resulting in price points that are a bit tougher for us to swallow on this side of the border. I was recently tasting through some aromatic white wines from Joie Farm that I would put at the top of a list of Northwest wines in a heartbeat, particularly the Noble Blend and the Riesling. However, they're being sold at retail price points that would give many stateside Northwesterners pause, firmly in the low $20 range. This is a product of the Canadian government's penchant for taxing the fun out of alcohol.

As part of our mission here, the Northwest Wine Anthem will explore not only the wines coming out of the Okanogan, but some of the other wines being made throughout British Columbia and the wine scene in and around Vancouver, as well. Stay tuned.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Find June 17

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.

Lovely weather, or even rumors of lovely weather, has got me reaching for wine that is bright, cool and refreshing. Wines with pleasing acidity like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling or Chablis all get the job done, but above all else, the feeling in the air suggests rosé. There are rosés of many styles and varietals from all over the world; you can get sweet, tart, off-dry, bone-dry, rich, and more - whatever your palate desires. The other fantastic thing about rosé? It pairs beautifully with a number of dishes, is relatively low in alcohol and seems to hold up longer in the fridge than most wines. We are in the midst of rosé season here, folks - don't miss out. One beautiful bottle that just screams summer is the 2010 Trust Cellars Rosé from Walla Walla.

This wine is made from Cabernet Franc and offers up a plethora of pleasing aromas and a simply summery mouth-feel that will leave you feeling cooled and satisfied. There’s fruit like pineapple and cantaloupe, floral freshness of white flowers, sunny liveliness of fresh cut grass and herbs. Sip on it alongside sushi, bbq ribs, gazpacho, tacos or anything really. You’d be simply silly to pass it up. It retails for $17.99.  The Trust Rose can be found at many wine shops in the Seattle and Portland areas.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Portland, Where All the Hot Girls Drink From Wine Glasses

By Jenny Mosbacher 

Oh, Portland. Isn't it bad enough that you have a pay-cable television show dedicated to mocking your self-indulgent hipster proclivities? Do you really have to justify it by turning a tasting event for upstart winemakers making their way and their wine within city limits a rock-concert-like atmosphere? Apparently so.

Welcome to the PDX Urban Wineries Premiere, a mix-up tasting of smaller operations collaborating to present themselves as a much closer, much more alternative alternative to the established "Oregon wine country" just 45 minutes southwest of Portland proper. A perfect draw on a warm-ish Sunday afternoon for the lazy hipster looking for a one-stop happy hour within biking distance. The $20 cover proved a good valued use of one's barista tips, and within minutes of the start time, "The Slate" industrial event space at NW 19th & Vaughn was flooded with thirsty locals lapping up limited-production offerings.

As I crowd-surfed my way to each tasting station amidst a cacophony of discussions over grape-sourcing and fermentation technique, with a backdrop of train yards and dilapidated warehouses set to a Death Cab for Cutie soundtrack, I found more good wines than one can put a bird on.

Eight different exhibiting wineries were spaced out in the industrial garage space, ranging from the tried-and-true Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs to heavy reds sourced further afield in Washington.  Here are the highlights:

2010 West Coast Rosé Saignee, Enso Winery ($20)
Keep your eye out for Enso Winery as they expand their operations, right now they're dealing in super tiny quantities but the wines themselves are big personalities. All of their wines expressed a strange aggressive character that were also bizarrely balanced and pleasant. Their rosé is the standout, a mix of Zinfandel, Malbec, and Mourvédre. The nose is redolent of a PB & strawberry jelly sammy and a banana from last week's neglected lunch smooshed in the bottom of your work bag. That said, the actual taste was surprisingly delicate, bright and structured. Super huge on the palate but with enough acid to keep it lively. My co-taster said it best, "this is elegant, on 11."

2009 Syrah, Columbia Valley, Helioterra ($20)
The wines of Ann Hubatch were easily some of the best wines sampled during the event. Her Pinot Blanc blew most other whites served straight out, and her Syrah topped all other Washington-sourced wines without second thought. A powerful showing of intense fruit and floral character, the mix of 95% syrah and 5% viognier from Coyote Canyon Vineyard within the Horse Heaven Hills AVA is pure marionberry jam smeared across wet asphalt with smoky spice. This could totally stand a few more years in the bottle, but for now is dandy with some serious red meat. Which is murder, but, whatever. Delicious.

2009 Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills AVA, Vincent Wine Company ($24)

One of the nicest Pinot Noirs we tried was from Vincent Wine Company, the eponymous project of garagiste-turned-real-deal Vincent Fritzsche. I have been lucky enough to try this wine a few times before and it never fails to keep it real, or something. Front-loaded with sappy notes of cassis and blackberries might deceive you into thinking this isn't a really solid, elegant Pinot but the mouth is all inflections of minerals and dried herbs. There's still some chocolately heft from the barrel showing up, but for a hot vintage in Oregon this is acid-driven to the core and comes out lithe and energetic. This dude is living the dream.

At the time of this report, all of the above wineries and others repping at the PDX Urban Wineries premiere have started to show up in articles written locally and online, so do yourself a favor and get a hold of some of these now so you can tell people later that you were so into these even before they were cool.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Explore the South Willamette Valley During June's Barrel Tours

By Kelsey Ivey
photo courtesy of Rachel Coe

What's in the mix for a great wine tasting event this summer? The perfect pairing: awe-inspiring wines and not having to drive; and that's what the South Willamette Wineries are serving with three all day Barrel Tours this June.

Attendees will board a deluxe charter bus and venture into the wine country near Eugene for tantalizing tastes, food pairings and wine education. After a day in the vineyards, you will return to town a-buzz with love for the Pinot Noirs, transfixed with the Gris and craving more of the region's ever-flowing wine hospitality.

In its ninth season, the South Willamette Wineries Association hosts Barrel Tours to the local vineyards to showcase the wines to new guests and old friends. Stopping at four wineries, the winemakers and owners greet the bus loads with three wines paired with gourmet appetizers. You don't have to be a wine know-it-all either to attend because treasured tidbits of wine education are also provided along the way. By the end of the tour you are sure to even hold your glass like a pro.

“With a unique mix of grandeur and quaintness, the wineries and terroir of the South Willamette Valley, introduce you to a truly unforgettable wine experience,” says Lorrie Normann, the General Manager for Sweet Cheeks Winery. “All the members of the South Willamette Winery Association are passionate about what we do. This shows in our care and treatment of our wines and agriculture as well as the customers who are realizing that this area is a gem that is just beginning to shine.”

This year the area plays chauffer to hundreds of awaiting, hungry wine connoisseurs at three barrel tours (June 4, 18, & 25).

photo courtesy of Natalie Inouye

Saturday, June 18th

Benton-Lane Winery
A family owned winery and vineyard focused on sustainability, Benton-Lane Winery produces Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and small amounts of Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay. The vineyard located in the foothills of the coast range on an old sheep ranch stretches for 138 acres. Sealed with a stamp on the label, you'll know when you’re drinking a Benton-Lane wine.

Capitello Winery
A father and son duo of adventure, Ray and Desmond are harvesting more than grapes for Capitello
wines, but also creating a generational reputation of excellence in the craft. The former winemaker for King Estate, Ray cultivates quality, handcrafted Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer.

Sweet Cheeks
Beyond just their simply sweet Rosy Cheeks and rich, full-bodied Pinot noir, Sweet Cheeks Vineyard knows how to show off. Perched on top of a rolling hill of vines, the winery dazzles with breathtaking views of Briggs Hill Valley and the sprawling 65 acre estate vineyards.

One of the newest additions to the region, Sarver Winery is the brain child of a husband and wife team from Michigan. With small production wines that highlight the vineyards fertile Jory and Willakenzie soils, the winery grows White Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Early Muscat and Gewurztraminer.

Saturday, June 25

Domaine Meriwether
Little sparking bubbles tickle the nose at Domaine Meriwether where traditional Methode
Champenoise, honed with the skilled winemaker’s expertise, blows corks. With harvest and Oregon’s cool climate, brings Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier to this vineyard just west of Fern Ridge Reservoir co-run by owner Ed "Buzz" Kawders and winemaker Raymond Walsh.

Pfeiffer Winery
With a Pinot Noir to please the President, Pfeiffer Winery is a exquisite family based winery nestled off a country road. A must-see tasting room welcomes visitors with surprise, but the high quality Pinot noirs and white flight are what keep people coming back. The solar operated tasting room also mimics the winery’s reach for sustainability and quality.

LaVelle Vineyards
The oldest winery in the South Willamette Valley, LaVelle Vineyards serves a wide variety of wines from classic Oregon Pinot Noirs and a Dry Riesling and two big, bold reds from the warmer AVAs of the Columbia Valley. All in the family, the vineyard was founded by Doug LaVelle and his son Matthew LaVelle in 2008 took on the grapes as winemaker.

High Pass Winery
With an all-hands-on-deck winemaker, High Pass Winery pours lovely, light whites to savory Pinot Noirs and dessert wine varietals to tingle the sweet tooth. From the planting to pruning, harvest to aging, Dieter Boehm, cultivates with care and passion the vineyards to create choice, quality wines.

Barrel Tour tickets cost $60 and can be purchased here. The buses leave from the parking lot between Macy’s and the Valley River Inn in Eugene at 10 a.m.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Find June 10, 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.

Jezebel Blanc 2009, Oregon $14.99. A beautiful & easy drinking blend of Pinot Gris, Riesling & Gewürztraminer with pleasing acidity, a touch of white flower & mineral & a plethora of ripe fruit. Drink this now on its own or pair it with something that's got some spice. This is a great wine that is available all over the Northwest at grocers and smaller retailers.

Jezebel is s second label of Daedalus Cellars and winemaker Aron Hess. The wines are made in a "negociant style" which indicates that they may buy fruit or wine from various other sources, that said Aron remarks on the Daedalus website that 30 to 100% of the Jezebel wines are sourced in house.

From the Daedalus website:

"Our goal is to blend wines that are highly approachable and full of character. Our approach to making Jezebel is completely different. We pick the grapes earlier and cold-soak them less. We use a dizzying array of cultured yeasts on these fermentations. This lends an interesting array of fruit expression, at the affordable cost of some loss in complexity. The fermentations are, of course, much shorter. While we still avoid the homogenizing effects of enzymes, nutrients and other “enhancements,” we certainly are less dogmatic about Jezebel. She aims to please, after all, and who are we to question her methods."

Oh, Jezebel is another word for "floozy" by the way, so be careful if you do a google image search for this wine.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Sonoris Wines

I had the recent pleasure of getting to know winemaker, educator and researcher, Hillary Sjolund. We basked in the sun over lunch at Emmer & Rye and I got the whole scoop on her story and Sonoris Wines.

The word sonorous is defined as something “giving out or capable of giving out a sound, especially a deep, resonant sound, as a thing or place”. Play on the spelling, and there ya’ have it. This seems to be a perfect pairing with the bold style of wine Hillary seeks to make. In creating a Sonoris style, she looks to the type of wine that she likes to drink and what exactly is that? “When I drink wine, I want a mouth full of wine, that’s just me.” She is after wines with concentration, age-ability & a complete, round mouth-feel. The name has even more meaning, however. The word makes Hillary think of the voices of those who have inspired her in her life and brought her to be the winemaker that she is today. She expresses her appreciation for the important people in her life through her winemaking, hence the name of the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, “Burney’s Blend,” named for her grandfather (whose photo is on the label, too).

Before I talk about what we can expect from Sonoris Wines, I want to tell you about how Hillary ended up a winemaker. Always a bright and promising student, Hillary travelled from her home in Northern California to Texas to attend summer internships at Baylor U Medical school while still a high school gal. Before graduating she had been admitted to several well regarded medical schools including UC Davis. Oblivious to the fact and history that UCD has with wine, it came down to the wire and Hillary said, “Uh, I’ll go there!” While selecting the courses for her first quarter she needed to fulfill an agricultural requirement and after inspecting her options, the intro to winemaking stuck out to her. So it began. Except for that whole approval and support of the parents thing... kinda crucial when you’re attending a school such as UCD. Hillary gave it all she got and started a cellar hand position at Pine Ridge Winery in Napa. Upon starting work there, she was taken on a tour of the expansive barrel caves. Just imagine: an underground, 7/10 of a mile long cavernous, still & quiet interior in the side of a mountain that is filled with oak, old and young, and ageing wine. She walked through and I quote, “I just breathed” and then there was no turning back. She worked hard in both school and work and won her parents’ support. After graduating Hil worked at Pine Ridge, then here in WA at DiStefano Winery and has now struck out on her own.

To be released this spring, we can look forward to a bold and rich Petit Verdot from Blue Mountain Vineyard that is softened by a splash of Merlot from Red Mountain Vineyard, a Cabernet based blend, a Merlot based blend and a Sauvignon Blanc.

In addition to crafting wine she spends time teaching an online winemaking program run through Missouri State University as well as teaching enology and winemaking theory for Lake Washington Tech. She also spends time (does she have more hours in her days than the rest of us??) in her laboratory at Charlie Hoppes' Fidelitas facilities performing research and analysis of grapes, must and beyond.

Meet Hillary just once and it’s apparent that this is a woman who knows what she’s doing, loves it but refreshingly, does not take it too seriously. From someone who could’ve gone on to become a thoracic surgeon but opted for the wine biz, “We’re not curing cancer or saving babies here people, we’re making wine.” We’ll let you know as soon as you can get your hands on some Sonoris wine.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Friday Find June 3, 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.

This week's Friday Find is not so much a specific wine, and in many ways it's a bittersweet bargain. As has been reported widely and has become common knowledge for those who follow Washington wine closely, Olsen Estates decided to close their winemaking doors this winter. This is a terrible loss to wine consumers in many ways as there will not be vintages beyond 2009 from this Yakima Valley winery. That's the bitter part. The Olsen Estate label was churning out some phenomenal wines and several excellent varietals. The wines from Olsen Estate have been absolutely fantastic. The sweet part, is in the short term, consumers can stockpile amazing wines that they have no business getting hold of for very modest price points.

Many of the Olsen Estates wines are showing up under $20 and all of them are excellent. I was able to find the Cote de Rougeaux for $19 and the Cote de Blanc for $11. The fantastic Syrah that they make, named one of the best by Seattle magazine was already priced at under $20 before the close out deals.

Olsen Estates has long been growing some of the most sought after fruit being used in Washington wine. Icons of Washington wine Dick and Larry Olsen were looking to retire and some of their children saw wine production as a way to grow the family's business. With the economic recession the timing could not have been worse and the label and beautiful facility in Prosser failed to be financially viable. There's a great article about it here on Wine Press Northwest.

The wines will be available for sometime through Seattle area Vinum distribution so if you don't see them in your favorite wine retailer, inquire about them. You might find some amazing bargains.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Old School is New School at the Old Schoolhouse... L'ecole 41

They say a zebra can't change its stripes. Almost as fundamental as stripes to a Zebra is the iconic L'ecole 41 schoolhouse label to the Walla Walla Valley original. And yet the unthinkable has indeed happened: the zebra's stripes have been changed and the transformation that we're seeing at L'ecole 41 is, at first blush, nearly as unsettling. One of Washington's most established and trusted wineries and labels is changing gears and they're doing so for reasons that are both practical and symbolic.

That child-like watercolor schoolhouse image that has long become the symbol of Walla Walla's L'ecole 41 was a product of a 1984 art contest won by a third grader. Laid over top one of the chalkboards located in the school house, that image has adorned the bottles of L'ecole 41 for nearly 30 years. At the time L'ecole was looking for something to make them stand out, to get them noticed on shelves or pique the interests of new wine drinkers. Owner and winemaker Marty Clubb frames the transition as a "where we were and where we are" dynamic. "Thirty years ago we were initially a mom and pop operation. That early label became an icon adopted by the Northwest." As L'ecole has become one of the most established names in Northwest wine, they became known more for the quality wines they make and less for their "cute" label. L'ecole 41 wines can be found in all 50 states and in 20 countries.

"We already made good wine with very young vines, as our vineyards age and become more established we're making incredible wines and some of the most visible in Washington state. We need a sophisticated look that attracts those who don't know us. This is a transformative time for L'ecole." Marty also pointed to the generational step that L'ecole 41 is going through, as his children are now taking a major role in the production of the wines at L'ecole 41. The new label has become a old tyme, sepia image of the schoolhouse centered on a white or black label, more on that in a moment.

In addition to the recognition of their rightful place among Washington's most established fine wine producers, L'ecole had a practical reason to make that label change. The most common example that staff at L'ecole pointed to is their Syrah. Like many of the varietals they produce, they make two of them, a Seven Hills Estate Vineyard Walla Walla Syrah and a Columbia Valley Syrah. When people said, "Well, we'll take the Syrah; we love your Syrah," they didn't know which one they wanted - or that the winery made two Syrahs. The labels were identical aside from the tiny AVA designation. The new labels will allow people to more easily identify the wine they want. The sepia photos of the schoolhouse are framed by white labels for the Walla Walla Valley wines, and black labels for the Columbia Valley productions.

When L'ecole 41 started making wines in Washington, there were fewer than 20 wineries in the state. Today, as the state surpasses 700 wineries, L'ecole's remains one of the state's finest and most consistent producers. Their iconic label has served them well for nearly 30 years, but as the industry has grown so too has L'ecole and their new label is a reflection of their maturation. Long-time fans can rest assured that the quality in the bottle remains the same.