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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Spanish Inquisition: Can Washington Do Right By Spain's 'Noble Grape'?


The rolling hills of Eastern Washington are renowned for their hospitable agricultural conditions; everything from lentils to sweet onions to the ubiquitous Washington apple thrives in its soil. It’s no surprise, then, that Washington can be a tough state to nail down to one hallmark wine. We love it all, and we do many of them damn well. The latest contender for the new “it” Washington wine has old-school flair, and Wine World will be showcasing it alongside native bites at next week’s “Tempranillo and Tapas” event.

Tempranillo originally comes to us from the high-altitude areas of Spain, the key contributor to their famed Rioja. For those of you whose high school Spanish kicked in just enough to note that sounds familiar, the name comes from the Spanish temprano, meaning “early,” a result of its tendency to ripen several weeks prior to its Spanish red grape peers. With a touch of altitude and summers that provide the heat needed for Tempranillo’s deep color, several Washington wineries have been trying to see if they can spark some Old World magic in a New World locale. By this year's account, there are 94 planted acres of Tempranillo vineyards in Washington.

Timid about Tempranillo? Wine World’s event provides an opportunity to try an array of Washington expressions of this varietal, and speak with the winemakers who bet you’ll fall in love. The evening begins with a winemakers' panel led by Doug McCrea of Vina Salida, who has been playing with Tempranillo since Fall 2006 after looking for a new, adventurous and challenging grape. Along with Salida’s version, Wine World will be pouring Tempranillos from Brian Carter Cellars, Camaraderie, Cave B, Pomum and Stottle. Of course, what’s an evening in Spanish Washington without Tapas? Tango Restaurant & Lounge will be moving their bites North to Wallingford to add to the ambiance and showcase the wines alongside the food they’re meant to be enjoyed with.

In this economy, a Spanish vacation is probably going to elude most of us. So practice your flamenco and join me in Wallingford where for an evening, Spain can come to you. Part of the Twittersphere? Use the hashtag #WATempranillo to share your thoughts with the masses.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Decade Forging Excellence: Marie-Eve Gilla & Forgeron Cellars


The world of Washington wine certainly fits the "it takes all kinds" cliche with its brash personalities, humble legends, overnight success stories and wanna-be "rock-stars." Among the most consistent, experienced and talented of this group is one of the nicest people in Washington wine, Marie-Eve Gilla. As Walla Walla's Forgeron Cellars prepares to celebrate their 10th crush when the 2011 fruit is harvested, I got a chance to visit with Marie-Eve on her thoughts about what makes Washington a special place for wine, and how women winemakers have made their mark on Washington wine.

In her 10th crush at Forgeron Cellars, and with experience at Covey Run, Hogue, and Gordon Brothers, Marie-Eve has spent nearly 20 years learning about the Washington wine industry from the inside. From barrel washer to winemaker at Covey Run to one of the owners and head winemaker at Forgeron, Marie-Eve has watched this state's wine industry evolve. "Washington's young at 30 years (she's from France, remember) and so it doesn't face a lot of constraints. Free enterprise and experimentation are the ethos." This enterprising wine culture is complimented by a perfect set of conditions. Marie-Eve describes Eastern Washington as a winemaker's paradise, with dry, hot summers that get the fruit ripe and keep the pests and disease away.

Marie-Eve notes that there are seemingly endless possibilities when it comes to wine that can be grown in Eastern Washington. While Forgeron planned its beginnings around traditional, and somewhat safe Bordeaux varietals, the variance and high quality that Washington climate allows provided Marie-Eve with creative opportunity to experiment. It took the leverage of her Burgundian background and a bit of pleading to have Chardonnay added to the Forgeron portfolio. Ironically if you created a shortlist of quality Washington Chardonnay, Forgeron Cellars would be high up on that list (top five, in my opinion). "I think white wines do not see the attention and love they deserve in Eastern Washington." A trip to the Rhone in 2004 and an appreciation for Roussanne had her wondering if she could make it back in Washington. "I came back and decided to give it a shot and voila! I made Roussanne for many years, as well as Marsanne." Forgeron Cellars now makes a unique Southern Rhone style white blend called Ambiance, with Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier.


As Marie-Eve watched the success of varietals across the state, she was on hand at Gordon Brothers in 1996 when Syrah was considered a daring varietal and she has continued to pursue the varietal with success at Forgeron Cellars. It was in that first crush in 2001 that Marie-Eve also decided to make Zinfandel...from Washington. Expert advice from a California wine making friend though was especially helpful: "add the yeast and pray." That Zinfandel has become a Washington favorite with a loyal following.

With all her experience in the evolution of Washington wine, Marie-Eve is excited about what's still to be learned. "Washington is still in its infancy...still defining its style. There are plantings on North and Eastern oriented slopes, and limited air draining sites." Marie-Eve is confident though that history will determine who got it right, saying, "It's not simply enough to plant a vineyard and assert it's superiority." Some truths have become evident for her and the style of fruit she's interested in. She's found Horse Heaven Hills and Wahluke Slope provide a great setting for Zinfandel and Cabernet, lending a consistency from vintage to vintage regarding heat and the necessary ripeness. In the Yakima Valley she finds a beautiful set of conditions for white varietals as well as for Merlot and Syrah since the latter two require a little more hang time that won't cook the fruit. Finally, she's found that the uniquely bold characteristics the Walla Walla Valley imparts to Cabernet and Syrah have also proven part of her formula for success. In addition to sites, growers have also risen to the top and she relies consistently on the skill of the likes of Dick Boushey, Ted Wildman (Stonetree Vineyard) as well as the Sagemoor group and the Olsen Family Vineyards.

As one of the matriarchs of the women making wine in Washington, Marie-Eve believes that she and her counterparts have a few things in common. As the scene has become more competitive as more and more women have become successful, there is a definite tendency to be supportive of one another and stick together. As for generalities regarding what kind of wine she feels women tend to make? "As a general statement, I think women look more for balance when drinking wine and this applies to women as winemakers making their wines, down to earth, solid wines, easy to enjoy and able to age. These wines might not show as well in a large grouping of wines where palate fatigue sometimes lead tasters to select bigger, bolder wines and that is probably why women do not always seem to fare as well as men in wine publications."

The Forgeron Cellars Upcoming and New Releases:

The 2006 Zinfandel (last year's release) was a real favorite of mine among all of the wines I tasted in 2010. The 2007 rendition is a lot more dark and brooding right now and big. Darkest of fruit elements including plums and raisins and some herbal notes on a long lasting finish. Lots of complexity but it doesn't hit the spice and clove notes of last year's release. (Not yet released.)


The 2009 Chardonnay demonstrates the consistency and the quality of this varietal in the hands of Marie-Eve. An example of balancing the acidity and the full bodied elements of a Burgundian style. Aromatics take off right away with apricots and peaches, the bright fruit elements continue through the palate with tropical fruits and zesty acidity balanced by a full roundness on the wine. ($25)

The 2008 Les Collines Syrah is a stunner. This wine is a beautiful example of what one of the state's best vineyards can do. A thinking man or woman's Syrah with aromatics of smoke and earth, the palate is graced by a meatiness and herbaceaous quality that I find in many of the better Walla Walla Syrahs. Blackberries linger on a finish that can be measured in minutes not seconds. This wine is really dynamite and highly recommended. ($46)
These wines were provided as samples.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Find, August 26th

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.


There are now in the neighborhood of 700 wineries in Washington, and in the past few years we've seen a sharp increase in urban wineries in the Seattle metropolitan area. Joining long time stalwarts like McCrea Cellars and OS Winery are loads of newer wineries. No one though has really tried to brand themselves or their wine with Seattle in mind until last year, when 509 Wines, released their Cotes du Fremont Rose and they nailed it with a brilliant branding idea. (Not to mention the slick design has shown up on design blogs all over the place.) 509 is reshuffling their wine deck and will be changing it up on their current and former varietals and we'll have more on that later.


This weeks' Friday Find is the 2010 Cotes du Fremont Rose (of Mouvedre) $18 in the tasting room. A departure from last year's release, which I reviewed on The Oregon Wine Blog,(it was comprised of Syrah). This year's release is a prettier, paler old world salmon hue. This wine is not as fruit forward as it's predecessor either, instead exhibiting more subdued aromatics ( a little time with the bottle open helps here), hints of strawberry and plum blossom. The palate is lots of stoney minerality, straw and a hint of citrus. The wine has a nice crisp acidity and will be great compliment to summer fare. You can find this wine at their Fremont tasting room every Friday from 5-8 and you'll find their wine at Wine World Seattle and Esquin. There's not a ton of this wine to begin with and it's the coolest Seattle souvenir you could give a guest from out of town. (Wine provided as a sample by the winery.)





Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fighting the Good Fight... #PinotSmackdown




For the second rendition of Pinot Smackdown, the gauntlet was thrown by fellow wine twitterers. Oregon was the champion last year and was out to duplicate that victory. We did our darnedest, but #OR (Oregon) Pinot Noir did not come out on top this year. The newly crowned champion New Zealand finally has a feather to add to their cap besides the cult-like following of their rugby team the All Blacks, the movie Once Were Warriors and the on-site filming location of all of those fantasy films.

Nonetheless, a good fight was put up by Oregon Pinot, the most terroir-driven Pinot on the planet. At least two locations offered young wine drinkers (many more savvy with social media than deep, rich terroir) the opportunity to learn about this grandest of wines. And really that was the point, besides winning of course, to show folks what Oregon Pinot Noir can be.



At the event I hosted in Seattle at 6th Ave Wine Sellers, we saw somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 to 200 people throughout the course of three hours. Many of these people were there because of the event invites on Facebook and Twitter. Some of them were very wine savvy and saw it as an opportunity to taste newly released 2009 wines and some were there because they just saw the crowds.



I think it's perfectly fair to ask whether or not this kind of twitter event is a sales driving mechanism. My answer would be that with proper marketing it can be a sales opportunity for host sites. The proper use of social media is not hand over fist sales but rather the ability to build broader relationships than you could in person and to potentially cultivate those relationships to a place where they do sell wine for you. Wine sales aside, Pinot Smackdown was a complete success in that it was a fun event, bringing together a host of wine lovers and offering them a superb sampling of Pinot.


I'd like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who participated and for those who make Pinot Noir; Oregon or otherwise. Additional thanks go to the two southern boys, Ed Thralls aka @winetonite and Joe Herrig aka @suburbanwino. Pinot Smackdown was their idea and in two years has grown to be something that social media wine folk are marking on their calendars.

And, of course, my begrudging congratulations to the Kiwis on this years' victory.

19 tweets! It was 19 tweets that separated Oregon from New Zealand. What that means for those Down Under is that you better not relax. You hear that sound, NZ Pinot fans? That's me breathing down your neck, and I got a whole truck load of #OR Pinot with me. There will be no hobbits, and no wizards to help you next time. The next WBC is in the Willamette Valley and that means the writing is on the wall, folks. Like Jake the Muss, you'll get yours.

Hey, at least we didn't lose to California.

Monday, August 22, 2011

You Belong to the City...Pinot In the City


From our new PDX correspondent Megan Graves

The old "I don’t get out of the city much" excuse just won’t cut it when the Willamette Valley Wineries Association brings the Valley to us city slickers for the Pinot in the City event in Portland, Oregon. (Taking up a full city block!)

What better place is there to spend a gorgeous summer weekend enjoying simultaneously the urban bustle of Portland’s Pearl District, local food vendors, and all the Pinot you could ask for? Over 100 Willamette Valley wineries will come together to bring you both new and current releases of a variety of wines, Pinot Noir being, of course, most prominently featured. Other attractions include book signings with local authors, meet and greets with winemakers, raffles and other related wine exhibits.

Pinot in the City will take place September 10th and 11th from 2pm – 6pm at NW 9th & Marshall. Tickets are available online in advance of the event and include an event wine glass, a tasting booklet, touring map, unlimited pours from all wineries as well as samplings from local purveyors - $60 for a one-day ticket and $90 for two days of urban-Pinot bliss.

Tickets are available here.

The dream of the 90s lives.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Find, August 19th

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.

There are a multitude of styles of Sauvignon Blanc being made here in Washington. Two of the best known efforts come from Delille Cellars and Efeste, and they're a study in contrasts. Delille's Chaleur Estate Blanc is a toasty barrel fermented Bordeaux styled Sauv Blanc. The Feral from Efeste, while also barrel fermented (all neutral) never went through malolactic fermentation and so it is a roaringly acidic wine. Sauvignon Blanc also marries quite well with Semillon (as in the Chaleur Estate Blanc) and so you will see several fine blends throughout the state.




This week's Friday Find is a a 2010 Sauvignon Blanc from Wines of Substance. Eschewing the Bordeaux or New Zealand styles of Sauv Blanc, Substance comes correct with a tip of the cap to the Loire region with a Sancerre style Sauvignon Blanc. Loads of acidity and boisterous aromatics leap out at you from this wine with lemon zest and apricot fuzz. The wine is ultra crisp on the palate, citrus fruits dominate and a hint of minerality is also there. You don't noitce the grassy style of New Zealand and the clean, crisp fresh taste is free of any Sauv Blanc cat piss notes, thank you Substance. For $15 this wine is a steal, and with great distribution you should be able to find it relatively easy throughout the major Northwest markets. I will say that 2010 is the wine we're talking about and is stylistically quite different from the 09, and there might still be some of that out there. Besides your ability to read numbers; one way to differentiate the two, Substance who already kills it from a labeling and website standpoint has gone to smaller square labels and I think they look pretty sharp.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Lett It Be: The Continued Story of Oregon Pinot Noir




by Jenny Mosbacher

Every time you open an Oregon Pinot Noir you should whisper (or loudly cheer) a toast to David Lett.

Don't know the guy? Oh, he's just someone that many have come to call Papa Pinot. See, David was the first to plant Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley, and the first to give anyone a reason to consider Oregon as anything more than that place that happened to be at the end of some old wagon trail, or the land of Christ
mas tree farms and the state between California and Washington.


The story of David Lett and Oregon Pinot Noir unfolds like the tale of a reluctant hero. With a freshly printed degree from the venerable UC Davis, against all conventional viticultural wisdom gained from college, David embarked northward with "3000 cuttings and a theory." Lo, first Pinot Noir vines in the Willamette Valley were put in the earth in 1965 and the legend really begins to get interesting.

Of the site that he cultivated in the Dundee Hills, he found magic in a small corner of the vineyard now referred to as the South Block. Unlike the rest of the hills that are slopes of pure red clay loam known as Jory, the South Block is a bizarre confluence of four different soil types: the volcanic Jory and Nekia, and the sedimentary Amity and Woodburn; interwoven amongst the roots of just ten rows of Wädenswil 1A clone Pinot Noir that were part of the original 1965 plantings. Sensing the uniqueness of this block, David began to vinify these rows separately and the South Block Reserves were born. The only issue, from a consumer standpoint, was that the more David liked a certain wine he made the less likely it would ever be released to the public.

Friends are a different story. David gave some of his 1975 South Block Reserve Pinot Noir to his friend, famed Burgundy import maven Becky Wasserman. Without his knowledge, as any good friend with connections would do, she submitted the wine to the Gault/Millau Wine Olympics in 1979. As the Napa wineries had shaken the continental confidence of French winemakers a few years earlier the '75 South Block performed shockingly well, to the effect that Robert Drouhin, patriarch of the Burgundian powerhouse Maison Joseph Drouhin, called for a rematch the next year. Unlike the Judgment of Paris, the '75 South Block fell short of the win, but by a mere two-tenths of a point to the Drouhin crown jewel '59 Chambolle-Musigny and suddenly the world knew where Oregon could be located on a map. It was enough of a kick in the ego to bring Drouhins to the Dundee Hills to establish Domaine Drouhin Oregon later that decade, and though the industry had been growing for almost 25 years, this was the beginning of something bigger.



But that was almost where the South Block story ended. Only the '76 South Block thereafter saw the light of day. And while Eyrie wines became to be well known among wine enthusiasts and the Willamette Valley grew to be a wine country destination, David continued to make his South Block Reserves without ever releasing them. It was not until July 28th of this year that the public would have access to the other 27 vintages of this wine.


I count myself among the 150 orso crazy-lucky people to have tasted these wines at a pre-IPNC event last month, held in McMinnville, Oregon, the home of the Eyrie winery. The 29 wines were poured in four flights of seven (with the last being eight wines), each roughly spanning a decade. The plan was to progress through from most recent to oldest, with the exception of the 2007. Even though David had stepped down from the principal winemaking duties at Eyrie in 2004, he continued to make South Block Reserves until 2007 (and probably would've for the 2008 as well, had he not passed away before the late October harvest that year).


It was a semi-blind tasting in which we tried each flight knowing what years they were but without knowing the order. At the first pouring of the samples into the wall of glassware in front of me,taken aback as to how translucent brown-to-beige the wines were, knowing they spanned only from 2006-2000. As we delved further into the decades, common tasting adjectives failed and I was left with only the ability to scrawl the most esoteric and cracked out descriptors such as "wet terracotta," "moldy golden delicious peel," cherry-flavored absinthe," "English garden with boxwoods, damp soil and roses;" "grape bubble tape wrapped honey-baked ham." I swear to God I was spitting every round.


The last flight was one wine longer than the rest, as the 1980s-1970s also had the 2007 included within. Just on color alone, with the slightest flush of pink, was the 2007 recognizable amongst the very first of the South Blocks. Even though the 1975 and 2007 were quite different in their taste, they were more striking in their similarity of character. Proof that even after 32 years of making the South Block, Lett stayed true to showcasing the singular expression of terroir from the site and never once compromised his own artistic vision of how Oregon Pinot Noir should be made.


So while you may not be popping a South Block Reserve this Thursday for #PinotSmackdown, as you sip and share your Oregon Pinot Noir on the way to a #wv #orwine win, be sure to raise your first glass to David Lett because without him there would be nothing in your glass to toast with at all.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday Find, August 12

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.


I don't want to say too much about this next winery here because we're working on a feature on them upcoming on the Anthem. What I will say is that there is a Northwest producer of an excellent string of sparkling wines that are flying way under the radar. Way, way under. Treveri Cellars of Yakima is making several different sparkling wines, using all traditional methods and right now, all of their available wines are priced under $20. They are working on some extended tirage wines that will likely command a higher price point. Like I said, with out giving away our next post what I will do is relay to you an exchange I had with the clerk at Wine World when I was picking up a bottle of their wine. Clerk: "Have you had this wine?" Me:" Yeah, I got to taste their wines at Taste Washington. I was impressed." Clerk: "I know, fact is, I'm having a hard time believing how well this wine is drinking at this pricepoint from Washington." Me: "You know, for a sparkler, you're right maybe this is the Matrix?"

My friends this Friday Find is one I'm still shaking my head about. The attention to quality and character of these wines comes through in the glass, there are certainly some mass produced American made sparkling wines at a lower pricepoint, but they don't scream individually bottle fermented like the wines from Treveri Cellars. The Sparkling Riesling is this week's Friday Find. This Riesling brings a lot to the table and at the $16-17 price point, it's silly how good it is. Aromatics of cut tropical fruit and melons are mixed with floral notes. The palate of the wine reveals a a beautiful sweetness at 3.4% residual sugar but the acidity and yeasty elements of a well made sparkler make this an excellent combination. You can find this wine in Seattle at Wine World and 106 Pine. For our other Northwest readers I'd recommend you chat with your wine shop or steward and say, get me some Treveri Mr. Anderson! (Poorly placed Matrix joke.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Lions and Tigers and Wine...Oh My!


Picture your last visit to the zoo. Odds are good that memory includes the squeal of small children running about, babies being toted around well past naptime, peering over the crowd to try to sneak a glimpse of the meerkats, and noting the alarmingly high number of high school couples there for an afternoon date. It’s boisterous and lively, but definitely requires a high tolerance for little ones. Now imagine a zoo visit sans children, with the addition of Washington wines, live music and gourmet chocolate. It’s not a pipe dream – that’s the Tasting Flight event at the Woodland Park Zoo.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m a bit biased here; as a card-carrying zoo member, I clearly harbor a deep and undying love and affection for the zoo and its conservation efforts. Conveniently located at the nexus of some of my favorite Seattle neighborhoods – Phinney Ridge, Fremont and Greenlake – I’m apt to visit the zoo on a whim because the day ends in “y”. But for those with a desire in your hearts to frolic the grounds without the presence of children (yours or others'), the Tasting Flight event is made for you. From 6:00pm – 9:00pm, the North Meadow becomes a playground for those 21 and over, including access to the critters. Through their “Get Real Close” animal encounters, the staff at Woodland Park Zoo offer the opportunity to interact with some of the animals and their handlers right out in the Meadow. As we made our way to the wine, we were greeted by an impressive falcon perched atop the well-gloved hand of its raptor handler.

Over two dozen wineries are represented at the event, and with 10 tasting tickets there is opportunity to savor old favorites and discover new ones. We began with Smasne Cellars, who were pouring their Farm Girl White and the ½ Ass Red. The Farm Girl White does not disappoint. With a nose that’s more than little reminiscent of DKNY Green Apple perfume, and a palette that's sweet but not cloying and a little crisp, it's perfect for sprawling out on the zoo lawn while taking in the tunes of Coco Loco. The Palouse Winery '08 Dynamique Cab Franc, with its nice acidity and smooth finish, was a great complement to the black bean burger I devoured, but if the catering doesn't excite you this event allows you to bring in your own picnic dinner as well. We spotted many blankets and elaborate food set-ups throughout the grass. Over at Knight Hill Winery we were treated to a rare bird in the Washington wine world, an 09 Mourvedre. This was my first exposure to the varietal, but certainly won't be my last. With a lightly peppery nose and a big,dark-fruit body, the Mourvedre had me craving a steak.



The Seia Wine Cellars 07 Clifton Hill Syrah was our drink of choice as we made our way through the Northwest Territory exhibit. With a feisty Pinot-esque funk on the nose and smooth finish on the palette, this was one of my most memorable of the night. I'm sad to say that Seia will be closing its doors. Rob and Kim's Syrahs are still available until they're gone, and at $15 a bottle for the Clifton Hill they are an incredible deal. I think that the Grizzly Bears in the Northern Territory must know a good wine when they smell it, because they were out in full force and putting on a show when we arrived at their exhibit.

If you've ever made an afternoon zoo visit only to be disappointed that the animals a) were napping or b) weren't even in the exterior enclosures at all, the night time is the right time to visit. The bears, wolves and penguins were active and zoo staff were on hand to answer questions about the critters and conservation efforts. Species Survival Plans, and partners with federal and state agencies, as well as other accredited zoos, on a variety of Species Recovery Projects for wildlife in the Pacific Northwest. Through its Tasting Flight event, tickets, food sales, additional tastings and bottles purchased at the event all raise money for the zoo and its conservation efforts. So you can feel even better every time you sip from that knowing that you've helped support a clouded leopard, or maybe an Egyptian tortoise.

The Woodland Park Zoo seeks to "inspire people to learn, care, and act." If you've been looking for an excuse to check out what the zoo has to offer, there's no better time than over great Washington wine and a side of delicious Theo Chocolates. Seattle Uncorked is bringing the second Tasting Flight at Woodland Park Zoo Thursday, August 11. In keeping with the zoo's conservation mission, the event is Bring Your Own Glass, so be sure to come prepared! And as much as they may seem like they want it, please don't share that wine with the animals.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Idaho's Indian Creek Winery



Bill Stowe, the founder of Indian Creek Winery, was bitten by the wine bug while stationed in Germany, where he worked part time work at a German Riesling producer. When he returned to his native Idaho in 1982, he planted Stowe Vineyard in the Snake River Valley. Bill worked to gather as much climate and geology data as he could to make the most informed decisions in what has proven to be a vastly varied growing region. The Snake River Valley is a high desert growing region with a fair bit of elevation; anywhere between 2,500 and3,000 feet. This inland region relies on the elevation to give it the cooling effect that the Pacific Ocean air cannot. It's a region with drastic diurnal temperature variation, meaning the temperature changes hugely from day to night; in the Snake River Valley it's not uncommon to see a 40 degree swing. And it's that special combination of conditions that make the Snake River Valley a Northwest wine region.

The diversity of the Snake River Valley is embodied in the differences between the Sunny Slope, a very hot site, and the area of Kuna Butte, which is nearly akin to a cool climate region. This variance throughout the AVA allows a variety of wines to be made in Idaho's wine country, from Cabernet to Viognier and from Malbec to Pinot Noir. Bill ended up positioning his vineyard near Kuna, where the vineyard, planted on shallow soils atop a caliche limestone and basalt bedrock, has come to produce a reliable Pinot Noir crop that has become the signature wine of his small family winery.


That Pinot Noir and the Stowe Vineyard itself represent the backbone of Indian Creek Winery. Bill and his wife Mui established a winery in what has become a small but very supportive wine community that their daugther Tammy and son-in-law (as well as winemaker) Mike have since taken on.

For Mike, the reasons winemaking in the Snake River Valley is both exciting and worthwhile are those community connections and the intimate knowledge of the vineyards and fruit he has been able to develop because of the size of the community. While there are a few larger wineries in the area, most of the wineries and vineyards seen in the Snake River Valley are what might be described as "mom and pop" sized. This has created an ease in relationship building while also allowing Mike as the winemaker to really become acquainted with the vineyards and the fruit they produce. "Our Malbec comes from a one acre vineyard... and our Tempranillo from another small family vineyard. The fruit from these small vineyards is always the highest quality because it is given the vine by vine attention that it deserves. It isn't grown as a 15 acre block, each vine treated the same."


As a developing winemaking region, the intimacy that the winemakers can establish with sites, varietal selection and growing practices will serve to represent the Snake River Valley and Idaho wines in general with the best possible wines they can craft. At Indian Creek the winemaker (Mike) is touching each vine three times each year. In addition to moderating the oak influence and letting the vineyard's true nature come through in the wine that's been made, Mike is also a part of primary decision making in canopy, trellising and picking of the fruit.

The region is still young and by and large, distribution means showing up on the wine lists at local restaurants or at local boutique shops. While the area has seen rapid growth in the last few years, it hasn't changed the tight-knit nature of the wine community. The support from the local and Boise community has been substantial.



For Mike and his wife Tammy they're carrying on the hard work and mission of Tammy's folks Bill and Mui. The result is a casual feel without the slightest hint of pretension. Mike points out that they understand that this is wine, it's not life or death. The small production and close family feel they and many in this wine community have generated often leads to them selling through all of their production via wine clubs or pre-releases - often while it's still in the barrel. What does make it to the shelves is often sold quickly to both locals and tourists visiting the tasting rooms. The approach at Indian Creek seems apropos for a region and market still seeking to define itself. An approachability coupled with a care and genuine desire to make the best wine that their region will give them. And how about the wine?


Mike sent me three samples, their Viognier, Pinot Noir and White Pinot Noir, the latter made in a sweet style likened to a White Zinfandel. The Viognier displayed great aromatics, both fruit and floral notes made the scene. The front palate on the wine was prominent with lemon zest and lychee, and the wine trailed off quickly into a mineral rich finish. The White Pinot Noir was stylistically not a personal favorite (perhaps that's wine snobiness creeping in) yet it was not overly sweet at 2.5% residual sugar. It had notes of fresh cut strawberries and honesuckle, the palate was all rhubarb and those strawberries again. Mike noted that this is a very popular wine in the tasting room and they sell through it quickly. The final wine was clearly the star of the show and had the most character and substance of the three. The Pinot Noir displayed nice acidity and fresh red fruit character in a medium bodied wine. Aromatics of dust, sage and cherries gave it a nice earthy character to compliment the ever present fruit. It's clear that in Idaho they're making solid Northwest wines, and that it's a different region that has something unique to offer to the conversation.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Friday Find, August 5th

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.

At the risk of being accused of playing favorites we're going back to the well with today's Friday Find to a Walla Walla winery that we've already talked about in our short existence here at the Anthem. Washington wine stalwarts L'ecole 41 have been producing wine for as long as anyone in Washington. Among their catalog of wines are two stunningly beautiful Cabernet heavy Bourdeaux style blends in the Perigee and Apogee. Their estate Walla Walla Valley Syrah from Seven Hills Vineyard is one of my favorites in the state. The lineup across the board at L'ecole is quality. Given this quality you might be a bit surprised at just how much you're drawn to a $14 white wine in their Chenin Blanc.


This Chenin Blanc is a well balanced wine with a fruit forward palate that's just begging for warm weather. Formerly known as the Walla Voila the 2010 rendition retains that pedigree. From two Yakima Valley vineyards (Willard Family and Phil Church)planted in 1979, and a L'ecole 41 release since 1987. The 2010 vintage found a bit of botrytis in the fruit. What we're left with is a wine with excellent acidity but a touch of sweetness, loads of fruit flavor that included pear, melon and crisp green apple finish with a minerality that makes it a wine that is just a joy to drink. Lucky for all of us you can find this L'ecole wine distributed widely and it's crazy good right now, don't hold on to it, drink it this weekend.

Monday, August 01, 2011

As a Result of #PinotSmackdown California to Stop Making Pinot Noir

(NW Wine Anthem: Fake News Edition)

August 18th is #PinotSmackDown but the fight might already be over...

The Winegrowers Association of California announced this afternoon that all vineyard managers under the strictest of orders from the Emperor Robert Mondavi, will be pulling out their Pinot Noir vines after the 2011 harvest. In fact, most of them have decided to quit while they're ahead and pull them this summer. "What's the point?" said California wine magnate Charles Shaw. "I only make plonk, and if you're not interested, you're not interested; fine by me." "What do they expect, this isn't Oregon." Kenneth Wood responded.

And so with that, the three wine giants who control all of the wine holdings in America's largest wine producing state have pulled the plug on what was a "good run" by California Pinot. "Its time has come," said Bob Auclimat "I mean, really, who wants to drink Pinot Noir that is consistently 17% alcohol?" Sure some folks, I'm not saying who, have thrown some Syrah in there, but then you're kissing 19% alcohol." And that proclamation seems to sum up what folks are thinking about California versus Oregon Pinot Noir. And with three weeks until the 2nd Annual Pinot Smackdown, things look grim for the Botox State.

Adding insult to injury, pretty much the only thing California Pinot had going for it (the movie Sideways) has decided to make its sequel in Oregon, at IPNC, which is also... in Oregon. Actor Paul Giamatti remarked, "Well, as an actor I get tons of free stuff, I have like 39 cases of California Pinot at my house, I won't touch it, I'm in the wine clubs at Anam Cara, Luminous Hills and Colene Clemens. Oregon Pinot is where it's at. If you know anyone who might come get this other stuff outta my garage, have your people call my people; we'll arrange something."

Oregon Pinot Noir has never been hotter. "Hell, we just rolled off the release of the 2008s, and the 09s may look a bit hot but 2010; bling bling. We've got those big wigs at the major magazines eating outta our hands. We're straight balling," said Joe Argyle of Argyle Winery. Tory Morr couldn't agree morr saying, "You wanna talk domestic terroirism, you're talking Oregon. California? They make wine there? If they do, it won't be for long."

(Real news from now on...)
Want to help raise the flag for Oregon Pinot Noir, and help bang that final nail in the coffin of California Pinot Noir? Get registered for #PinotSmackdown, which you can do here. Get yourself some Oregon Pinot and come August 18th, get your twitter machine warmed up, invite some friends over and drink and tweet about #OR Pinot, make sure you use the hash tags #OR and #PinotSmackdown in each tweet. Those hashtags, once tallied, will serve to bring the title back to Oregon Pinot for a second year running.

If you're in Seattle be sure to join me, and some of the city's twitterati, at Sixth Avenue Wine Seller in Pacific Place downtown.