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

Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday Find, December 30, 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.

As Washington wines go, there are few names more recognizable than Chateau Ste. Michelle. So featuring them as a "Friday Find" probably sounds a little like saying "You like music? Have you heard of this little band called U2?" But while you're likely familiar with their greatest hits - their many Rieslings, for instance - there's a lot more to their catalogue. Today, we bring you a deep-album cut (kids...there used to be these things called "albums". They had a lot of songs on them, painstakingly chosen. It was wild.) from their Horse Heaven vineyard in the much-loved Horse Heaven Hills AVA. Because sometimes you want the viticultural equivalent of "With or Without You," but that's only because you haven't even discovered the awesomeness of "Bullet the Blue Sky."

The Horse Heaven Vineyard has been in Paterson, Washington since the 1970's, and provides some of the most consistent quality fruit. Usually, the HHV lends itself to warmer temperatures, but 2010 produced one of the coolest vintages and much to the winemaker's chagrin, a late harvest. All that work was worth it, though - the result is a bright, crisp and clean white with great acidity. It's sweet, but not syrupy, and will hold its own nicely next to those shrimp cocktails at any holiday party. If you're more the "stay in and order take-out" type, this will also pair nicely with your favorite curry dish. And since it is Chateau Ste. Michelle, you can snap this up for $11-15. So try something new on your wine playlist, and add the Horse Heaven Vineyards to your white wine must-tries.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday Find, December 23rd

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.

Negociant is a french term. It refers to someone who buys up fruit or wine from other producers or growers and sells it under their own label. Renegade Wine Co. is just such a negociant. However, they're renegade-ish. Reminds me of another renegade negotiator played by Samuel L. Jackson in the 1998 hit "The Negotiator" it's extremely possible that in France this movie was called "Le Negociant" I cannot confirm this however because I am not French and I was not in France in 1998. In that blockbuster action flick Samuel L. Jackson is framed by some crooked cops. Clearly these guys never watched Pulp Fiction. This man is not to be toyed with. Similarly Trey Busch the winemaker at Sleight of Hand Cellars was set up by some crooked cops, actually, that's not true. Trey though is the winemaker doing the blending and barrel selection behind the Renegade Wines. The goal here is to bring some nice wine to the people for a nice price instead of getting hostages released.

I have to admit I was shocked to see the Renegade Wine Co. doing a Walla Walla Valley Mouvedre. The varietal is certainly gaining steam here in Washington and it's been showing up in a lot of the great Rhone style blends that is part of this state's wheelhouse. You're only seeing a few single varietals however. It's scarcity makes it cool, especially cool for $13. The 12.7% alcohol is a renegade statement to be sure given the rising ABVs in the state. The wine itself? The aromatics are reminiscent of Pinot Noir, bright red raspberry and cranberries. The wine is medium bodied and loaded with spice, if you're looking for a change of pace this certainly brings that with a kiss of cocoa powder on the finish. You're going to find other Renegade Wines much easier than this one but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. I know Esquin's got it because I picked mine up there.

The song Renegade by Styx may have been the inspiration for this wine label as we know Trey's into the whole music thing. So I leave you with the greatest Styx video ever created.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Doctor of Dirt; Alan Busacca and Alma Terra Wines

Alan Busacca got into wine through the dirt in which it's grown and Washington he carries as much weight as some of the state's most renowned growers and winemakers and for good reason: Alan is one of the original American Terroirists. The guy is not just a wine geek, he's a real deal geologist. While an academic at Washington State University, Alan, whose PhD is from U.C. Davis, began consulting with winegrowers and wineries on vineyard sites character and selection. Alan has also played a vital role in the AVA designations that Washington has been granted, his work has been used as part of the backing argument for those seeking AVA designation, and he's been part of the formal petitioning process in some cases.

Through this work, Alan made a connection with the people making the wines. Alan found the winemaking and growing community to be "a heartfelt and wonderful group; one that was welcoming and really open to partnering." He decided to go in "whole hog" with the wine adventure and bought and planted the Volcano Ridge vineyard in the Columbia Gorge with long time Northwest wine grower Lonnie Wright. His other project, for which he's partnered with Robert Smasne to produce a higher end boutique wine, is the single vineyard Alma Terra Syrahs.

The selection of Syrah and the single vineyards they honed in on was an academic one. Alan wanted his wine exploration to be an extension of what he'd learned in working with Washington's AVAs and vineyard sites. He ultimately sees wine as an extension of his educational and academic background, with wine as a vehicle to help people experience and understand how unique and special wine can truly be and the role that soils, sites, and other factors play in crafting what shows up in your glass. "We chose Syrah because, through his experience, Robert [Smasne] felt that this varietal was the most expressive when it came to its origins and vineyard sites." If Alan's goal was to really demonstrate the role that vineyard site had in crafting a wine, this was the varietal to choose, saying, 'While Syrah is having a tough go in the marketplace, I'm comitted to it."

photo from

When it came to selecting vineyards to source their fruit, both Alan and Robert started a list of sites based on their own individual knowledge and experiences. Robert leaned on his many years of winemaking experience, thinking about the wines he's been able to make and the vineyards and growers he's worked with. For Alan, the list was about his expertise: site, soils, elevation and climate. When they cross-referenced their lists it became clear where they ought to look to make the wines they wanted: Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, and Horse Heaven Hills. Their combined knowledge confirmed that these were the right choices.

Alma Terra is sourcing their Syrah from three vineyards in three different AVAs: Red Mountain's revered Ciel du Cheval, Yakima Valley's Minick Vineyard and the Coyote Canyon Vineyard within the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. These three sites provide incredible variety, from the hot Red Mountain to the cooler Yakima Valley. Vines are trained differently, the clones vary and most importantly, the soils, elevation and climate are different.

The Alma Terra wines are serious and they're serious expressions of the sites. You can visit with Alan in his tasting room in Bingen, Washington in the Columbia River Gorge, located near the Volcano Ridge Vineyard project. Though it'll be a little while before we see those wines, if you were the betting sort, you could bet they'll be interesting.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Find, December 16

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.

The song Is There a Ghost? by Band of Horses is nearly 3 minutes long.  You know how many words make up the song lyrics?  14.  Seriously, 14, I counted them.  Pay attention to those number 3 and 14.  Acutally mix them up, you get 413.  Sure, there are other patterns, but I don't care about those.  The Ghost of 413 is a wine created by the Giant Wine Co.  Winemakers, Chris Gorman and Mark McNeilly have teamed up on this Washington value blend.  I've been next to both of these men and neither of them are giants, though Mark is tall.  So, maybe the name is an inside joke?   The song Is There a Ghost? is about an attractive young woman who breaks into homes and steals people's pillows ultimately resulting in domestic violence, infidelity and a street brawl.  I've provided the video above so see for yourself.

The Ghost of 413 is the kind of wine at $15 that makes you wonder why you ever paid $40 for that red blend.  It is dark, rich, full bodied.  It's like somebody came into your house and instead of stealing your pillows they covered you and the whole place in dark red velvet tapestries. This wine coats the inside of your soul... er mouth, with blackberries and smoke.  According to the website it's 90% Cabernet and 10% Merlot and Syrah.  That's 110%.  That's what coach always asked for.  There's only 5,000 cases, so don't dilly-dally.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In the Pines, In the Pines Where the Sun Actually Shines; Swiftwater Cellars

In his cover of the Vaselines' song, Kurt Cobain asks his girl, "Where did you sleep last night?" Her retort is something that all of us "Wetsiders" can identify with: "In the pines, in the pines, where the sun never shines, I shivered the whole night through."

This is the life of those of us living on the side of the Washington Cascades where it's wet somewhere between 9 to 10 months out of the year. There's a definite draw to this verdant oasis and after eight years of living here I can truly say I love it. That does not mean that from time to time there's not a longing to escape this second coming of Kevin Costner's Waterworld. I mean, is dry land a myth? Sometimes it feels that way. There are ample options for outdoor enjoyment once we crest over that pass; from skiing and snow sports in the winter to outdoor exploration and recreation in the spring.

It's time to add to that list of escape options. Swiftwater Cellars, which opened in September of 2010, is a destination winery at one of Washington's swankiest resorts: Suncadia, located just outside Cle Elum. Perched atop the one of Suncadia's golf courses, The Rope Rider, the views from Swiftwater are appealing even to someone like me who grew up caddying and hates golf. What's impressive about Swiftwater is not the location but rather then intent and serious approach they take in focusing on the wine. Too often, the downside to a destination winery is that the wine is not the focus. The emphasis is on the views, the B&B options, the restaurant menu or the souvenir stands, not the wine. Swiftwater Cellars goes off script here and for that Washington and Oregon wine fans should be thankful. (Though they do have nice souvenirs and the restaurant is incredible.)

Swiftwater Cellars is owned by Don Watts who is one of the most un-assuming rich people I've ever met. Don is like really rich, not fake rich. He made his money through hard work and potatoes; potatoes grew into more potatoes which grew into more agricultural land, some 30,000 acres which grew into food processing, which grew into one of the biggest agricultural businesses in the world buying it all from him. Along the way Don became friends with the Hogue family and he even dabbled in some vinifera vineyards predominantly used for large production wines like those made by Hogue Cellars and Chateau Ste. Michelle. That vineyard, Zephyr Ridge, will become the focal point for the Swiftwater Cellars Washington wines. (More on that later.)

Winemaking duties are handled by consultant winemaker Tony Rynders, formerly of Domaine Serene, and Linda Trotta, the in-house winemaker who came from California's Gundlach Bundschu. Both bring a wealth of experience in winemaking and Tony has a vast working knowledge of the Northwest, particularly regarding varietals and site. Tony's experience and reputation at Domaine Serene make him an enormous asset for Swiftwater Cellars as they establish themselves and Linda brings considerable experience from Gun Bun where they were known for producing a great variety of wines in the Sonoma Valley including California signatures Zinfandel and Pinot Noir. The team will work together, and has been since 2007, building a catalog of varietals, blends and sourcing the fruit they want to make the wines they're aspiring to make. Their current releases are numerous, tiered, and varied and they demonstrate a true comprehension of what Northwest fruit is really capable of.

The Vineyard
The Zephyr Ridge vineyard is a holdover from Don's days of working with Hogue and Chateau Ste. Michelle. The Zephyr Ridge site is becoming more established and that excites Tony and Linda. While never intended to be a boutique production site, the age of the vines and the potential coupled with the right vineyard management could blossom into the red fruit and good acidity that they're looking for. As it stands the Zephyr Ridge site produces big tannins, evident in a 2010 Merlot Barrel sample that came on with loads of blueberry and spice. They're excited about an estate plot that will really show itself over time and has such historical significance for the Watts family.

The Wines
The current releases from Swiftwater Cellars show a focus on two tiers: the No. 9 wine and the Swiftwater label. The No. 9 wines were named for the No. 9 mine that Swiftwater Cellars sits atop. These wines are more fruit forward and ready to drink now. The Swiftwater label is the winery's higher tiered wine, aimed at "complexity and ageability, a wine with some longevity." (There are no whites among the Swiftwater label.) For Don the wines are the centerpiece but they allow him to tie the entire operation together. "Wine was intended to be enjoyed with food and so we're making food friendly wines intentionally." This is evident in the Pinot Noir from Oregon's Willamette and some of the brightly acidic but well balanced whites. It's also apparent in the Hoist House restaurant, located in the winery, where they are producing serious cuisine to be paired with the Swiftwater wines. Tony believes that you'll continue to see Washington wineries producing more Oregon Pinot Noir given its natural food pairing superiority for a red wine. (Of the Swiftwater Pinots, I favored the No. 9 as the best and most true (characteristically) "Oregon Pinot" I've had that was made in Washington.)

2010 No. 9 Riesling ($18) is made from three rows of Olsen Estate fruit. It is made in an off-dry style and the touch of residual sugar adds a sweetness to the acidity for a very nice example of Washington Riesling. The wine has aromatics of apricot, melon rind and lemon peel. Across the palate there's a fair bit of minerality, and loads of Granny Smith apple.

The 2009 No. 9 Chardonnay ($20) is of the oaky variety, which is not a style that I prefer. Having said that, it's well done if you like that kind of Chardonnay and plenty of folks do. Super rounded and with loads of body this Chardonnay coats the mouth with toasted hazelnuts and vanilla yet not much in the way of fruit character.

The 2009 No. 9 Pinot Noir ($30) is sourced from 9 Willamette Valley vineyards and it's a classic example of the varietal from what I believe to be the world's greatest place to grow it. The hot vintage of 09 is evident in the 14.7% alcohol but the wine is so well balanced that all you get are the classically Oregon aromatics presented in an incredibly vibrant wine.

The Swiftwater Proprietary Red 2007 ($50), demonstrates impressiveCabernet aromatics, red fruits and spices. The blend of Cabernet, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Syrah carries its 68% new oak really well. Touches of spice, cedar and vanilla mingle really well with the red currants, cherries and raspberry character.

The Swiftwater Pinot Noir 2008 ($55) is much denser and broad shouldered than its No. 9 cousin. The aromatics are certainly from the Willamette Valley with their fresh fruit and earthen characteristics but the palate is a bit more influenced by the new oak. Big thick and fleshy cherries and huckleberries along with a hint of tobacco and spice.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Friday Find, Friday December 9

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.

If you're into Northwest wines and you're not familar with the name Ron Bunnell of Bunnell Family Cellars, really you should be ashamed of yourself.  Ron is one of the gems of the Washington wine industry and after a stellar career at some huge names like Beringer, Kendall-Jackson and Chateau Ste. Michelle, Ron settled into Eastern Washington and started cranking out some serious small lot Rhone style varietals and blends under his Bunnell Family label. (As an aside the 2006 Bunnell Family Boushey-McPherson Syrah is on my all time wines list.)  The second label, made with some of the same vineyard sources, a real focus of Ron's winemaking ethic, is River Aerie.

The River Aerie label is named after Ron and his wife Susan's farm beside the Yakima River.  The term should not be confused with the term Irie, and or IRIE from the Rastafarian slang.  While aerie, or eyrie can refer to a large raptor's nest, Irie is all about having no worries, feeling at ease, I Respect I Eternally.  If Irie is the state of mind you're looking for, you really need look no further than the Rivier Aerie label.  You're getting a crack at Ron Bunnell's very well made wines at the sub $20 price point and if that doesn't have you thanking Jah, I don't know what will.

The 2008 Sangiovese is sourced from three Ron Bunnell approved Washington vineyards including two Wahluke Slope sites and the ever revered Boushey Vineyard in the Yakima Valley.  The varietally true wine is lighter in body than many Washington's red wines, exhibiting fruit and spice aromatics.  The lighter body and brighter acidity make it an easier drinker and great pairing with foods (thank you Italy).  I find that Sangiovese can be a gateway wine for bringing novice wine friends over to the "Keep it Real Side."  The varietal tends to exhibit fruit and spice in a way that makes it fun and with the lighter body it's never too austere.  At $16 and very well distributed pick up this or any of the label's wines and you can't go wrong.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Scarborough Winery: Rebel With A Cause

from Tiffany Stevens

Scarborough Winery (originally founded in 2005 as O’Shea Scarborough as evidenced by the website) has been on my radar for a couple of years. The 2007 “The Rebel” Cabernet was my first bottle. That bottle embodied three of my greatest interests: Cabernet Sauvignon, Graphic Design, and discovering something with a high cool factor. Outside, the parchment colored label was adorned with a vintage motorcycle rider from the 1920’s. Inside was a great Washington Cabernet from the Wahluke Slope, selling for under $20. Several months later, I savored the black fruits of “The Black Cask”, a meaty, dense Syrah also showcasing a beautifully unique label. Curious about several other wines, I finally arranged a time to visit Travis Scarborough in Tukwila, Washington, where his winery maintains a low profile in an industrial park.

A dark and rainy autumn day rolled in with wind gusts that caused umbrellas everywhere to flip inside out. Ignoring the elements, I set out for 808 Industry Drive with fellow wine lover, my sister Carmen. We wound our way through homogenous business park buildings looking to meet up with Travis. Gladly escaping the soggy weather, we went inside and found cases of wine stacked high to the left, an unoccupied office to the right, and rockin’ tunes emanating throughout the space. Continuing past various sizes of glass beakers and wine lab gear, we spotted Travis standing on the edge of a large fermenting bin, punching down the grapes inside. He greeted us and said he was nearly finished. He joined us a few minutes later, and we began the grand tour. Surrounded by bins of fermenting grapes made me keenly aware how fortunate we were to be at the winery deep in the midst of harvest and crush. As we peered into a bin packed with whole clusters of deep purple, fermenting Syrah, Travis described the grapes in the various bins, detailing their uniqueness and specific qualities by vineyard. His winemaking philosophy is to allow the wines to express the terroir of the vineyard, unfettered by heavy influence from the winemaker. Vineyard selection is vital. Fruit is mainly sourced from the vineyards of Dineen, Boushey, Meek, Lewis, Champoux, Klipsun and Wallula (The Benches). Old World Style is his preference, steering away from big, tannic, brawny wines. A line from the winery’s website describes his aim perfectly: “If you want wines with character, terroir and concentration, not overly extracted, then you’ve found the right place.”

We followed Travis over to the stacks of barrels. New barrels tightly bound in protective wrap shared the crowded space with stacked barrels full of wine, barely leaving room for us to squeeze by. He explained that choosing particular barrels for ageing wine is guided by which flavors and how much flavor will be imparted to the wine. Prospective choices range from previously used barrels, with mild flavor influence, to specialized new barrels using wood harvested from a particular forest, imparting more prominent oak and toasty flavors. Observing the winemaking process from vineyard to bottle clearly displays its duality: part science, part art form.

We then tasted several wines still in barrel, including the clean, crisp, fruity 2010 Den Hoed Chardonnay, sure to win over even those who shun Chardonnay. A Grenache and Mourvedre blend revealed wonderful fruit, so pure and delicious. We swirled and sniffed another blend comprised of two less commonly seen varietals, Counoise and Cinsault. The aromas elicited spontaneous comments of “Old World!” and “Barnyard!”- high praise in the world of wine. A few minutes of swirling, and this light ruby colored wine evolved into the prettiest, most beautiful, delicate expression of strawberry and sweet fruit. We glanced back and forth, collectively caught off guard. No one had anticipated Barnyard would so suddenly transform into Beauty. I am keeping my fingers crossed in hopes that Travis will bottle this just as it is, without any further blending!

The last tasting experience of the day had the most significant cool factor. Gathered near the wine lab, we watched Travis open a refrigerator and remove a gallon jug filled with amber colored, viscous liquid. He grabbed a few more wine glasses. The expression on his face caused me to wonder if this was some sort of science experiment. The thick liquid was poured into the glasses. Travis handed us both a glass with no explanation, just a sly half-smile, waiting for us to explore the mystery. I tentatively inhaled aromas from the glass - GERMAN, petrol, powerful. No one said anything. I still was unsure where this was going. He tasted it; we followed. I cannot easily put into words what I tasted – it was other worldly, sweet and delicious satisfaction. It was one of those moments that “wine people” talk about. This was something special. So special, in fact, Travis may or may not bottle it. This mystery was the 2009 “As They Lay Dying” Eiswein (Ice Wine), made from grapes picked on December 21, 2009. Even though I would willingly shell out big bucks for this, I don’t know if I could replicate the experience I had at that moment, although I’d gladly try! Travis made no promises, as he ferried his precious elixir back to the refrigerator, potentially never to be seen again by mere mortals.

As we wrapped up that afternoon, Travis told us he was expecting Grenache grapes to come in that day. I’m not sure where he put them, since there was absolutely no room left inside. He had a few ideas up his sleeve, and I’m certain it all worked out. I am looking forward to a day in the future when the other worldly wines tasted that day, make it into a bottle, and then into my wine glass.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Friday Find, December 2nd

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.

John Grochau of Portland's Grochau Cellars is the fastest winemaker in the Willamette Valley on a bicycle. You can write that down. Oddly, John and I once raced in the same race. Normally this wouldn't happen in bicycle racing because he's way faster than me. But the Rapha Gentleman's Race is unsanctioned. Ironically the race began in a vineyard in Forest Grove, Oregon and went for one hundred and twenty something miles. It was an exceedingly miserable day to race a bicycle that far, I mean it was sunny and all, but it was 102 degrees that day. I met John very briefly in the parking lot at Shaeffer Vineyards (their van/truck was parked next to ours) and never saw him again. His team passed ours somewhere on Pittsburgh Road. My team, Motofish Racing is the one mentioned in the paragraph below with one teammate who had 8 flats. The gravel of Pittsburgh road ate us alive and we never really recovered, but enjoyed the suffering, there's glory in it.

The 2010 Commuter Cuvee from Grochau Cellars is cool for a couple reasons, it has a bicycle on it, instead of a bird and it's a fruit forward Willamette Valley Pinot Noir in the $15 neighborhood. No suffering here folks. Bright red bramble berries across the nose with lots of raspberry aromatics. Like many of the Pinot Noirs that John's producing including some of the more expensive ones, (which are still very reasonable by Oregon Pinot standards) the fruit for this value priced Pinot is from identified vineyards from up and down the Valley.  The aim of the Pinot Noir produced at Grochau is to be a suitable wine for food pairing and this bargain is no different.  John shows this wine just a little barrel time and very little new oak, it's one of the first 2010 Pinots I saw out there. The resulting wine is a prime example of the "fresh fruit" signature of Willamette Valley.  Bright red cherries, and those raspberries again appear on the palate as just the slightest hint of dusty spice announces the finish.  A portion of the sale of these wines goes toward bicycle safety and awareness programs.

Though there isn't a ton of this wine it's well distributed in both the Portland and Seattle markets.