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

Monday, October 29, 2012

Boldly Staking a Claim in Northwest Wine Fame: Seven Bridges Winery

In April of 2011 as I perused the list of participants in the Portland Indie Wine and Food Festival, my eyes stopped at the word Malbec. Isn't Portland the City of Roses and Pinot Noir? I wondered who was making Malbec in Oregon and why, secretly admiring the rebel element. As a Seattle native, I have always had a special place in my heart for Washington reds.

A follow up e-mail led me to Bob Switzer and the burgeoning, indie-no-more world of Portland's Seven Bridges Winery. One afternoon, Bob met me at the winery, located in an industrial area near the Fremont Bridge. Back then, the winery was downstairs, so we entered the side of the building and walked down a ramp to their basement space. Inside the cement room were barrels and some wine equipment, with just enough space for a few people to maneuver around it all. Bob explained that he and co-winemaker Kevin Ross, make the type of wine they both personally prefer, full bodied reds. The grapes, Cabernet, Malbec, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, are sourced entirely from Washington.

Bob crawled over barrels, gathering various samples. Our conversation became more animated and enthusiastic as we talked about Les Collines, Elerding, other top tier Washington vineyards and our affinity for these red wines. I could hardly believe my luck as I tasted these amazing wines being made right here in NE Portland. I left with a somewhat smug sense of satisfaction, feeling that I had unearthed a jewel, a secret oasis of beautiful big reds, hiding right here amongst a sea of Pinot Noirs.

Later that summer, my husband and I headed to Walla Walla for a long weekend. Before we went, Bob put us in touch with Mike and Cindy Rasch of Golden Ridge Vineyard. During our time there, we toured Golden Ridge, a primary source of Seven Bridges' Merlot. The vineyard was planted in 1998 with the technical assistance of Paul Champoux of Champoux Vineyard. We were fortunate to be there just as the grapes began to go through veraison. We sent photos back to Bob and shared our impressions about what we saw. Mike's meticulous care of the vines was seen row by row. He pointed out the variation among the different areas within the vineyard, and how those differences required row specific care; the vineyard was pristine and perfectly cared for, which was clearly not the case in other vineyards we saw nearby.

The 2009 Merlot is 95% Golden Ridge fruit, the balance coming from Union Gap Vineyard in Yakima. Seven Bridges bottles both single varietals and blends. They do not follow a set program for bottling; a blend may be made one year and not the next. As the wines develop in barrel and begin showing the range of their potential, decisions are made as to whether to bottle something as a single varietal or as a blend, based on how each barrel in that particular vintage expresses itself. One hallmark of all of the wines is a purity of fruit. Glass filling bouquets, rich, complex flavors and a clear expression of fruit is found even with the variables of vintage variation.

Last summer, Bob shared a sample of the unreleased 2009 Elerding Cabernet with me. I knew he had something special with this wine after the first sip. It made a lasting impression, even at that stage. I thought about that wine several times over the summer, anticipating its fall 2012 release. Of all the wines Bob and Kevin have made, this is Bob's favorite. Others who have tasted far and wide within the world of wine, recently had a thing or two to say as well.

Bob has a friend who has participated in a tasting group that was originally established in 1973. Last month, this friend hosted the group's monthly event, which featured a blind tasting of wines from Seven Bridges and Long Shadows Vintners. None of the members knew which types of wines were to be poured or where they were from.

Long Shadows, a premier Northwest winery with a proven history of excellence, is a common name in the Washington wine scene and beyond. Long Shadows is Allen Shoup's joint venture featuring "highly acclaimed winemakers from different regions of the world...bring(ing) their expertise to Washington to create some of the most special wines ever crafted from the region's top vineyards; wines that would stand shoulder to shoulder with the world's best."

The first flight of four wines included: 

  • Seven Bridges Winery 2008 Malbec Reserve 
100% Malbec 
  •  Long Shadows 2006 "Chester Kidder"
45% Cabernet, 36% Syrah, Petit Verdot, Cab Franc
  •  Seven Bridges Winery 2009 "Resolution" 
75% Cabernet, 25% Merlot
  • Long Shadows 2007 "Pirouette"
56% Cabernet, 25% Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec
The results were tallied. (Bob's friend did not vote.) The $30 bottle of Seven Bridges "Resolution" received 1st place votes from six of the eight members and 2nd place votes from the other two. Overall, it took 1st place in the flight, with the highest average score of 93.

2nd place overall went to the $50 Long Shadows "Pirouette" with an average score of 91. For comparison, in published reviews the "Pirouette" received a 93+ from Wine Advocate and a 93 from Steven Tanzer.

Bob Switzer at Seven Bridges Winery
The second flight of four included:
  • Seven Bridges Winery 2009 "Prima Nata"
52% Merlot, 41% Cabernet, 7% Malbec
  • Long Shadows 2007 "Pedestal"
75% Merlot, 15% Cabernet, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot
  • Seven Bridges Winery 2009 Cabernet Elerding Vineyard
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Long Shadows 2007 "Feather"
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
The Seven Bridges $40 Elerding Cabernet received four 1st place and two 2nd place votes, scoring the highest overall with an average of 94.

Their $36 "Prima Nata" averaged 93, tying for second place alongside the $60 Long Shadows "Feather". Again, for reference, both Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast gave "Feather" this same score of 93.

The tasting group was not only surprised by the results, but also by the fact they had never heard of Seven Bridges. That evening, some group members made plans to buy cases of the wines. When the day arrived to pick up at the winery, they had the opportunity to revisit the wines and were equally impressed the second time around.

I also revisited the Elerding Cabernet after its recent release and wrote the following description on Day 1, although it continued to evolve fantastically through Day 3 until the last drop was gone.
"burst of savory combined with juicy raspberry/blackberry pie, baked with a hint of cinnamon and other baking spices. It has an earthy element, and a touch of juice from a perfect, summer garden tomato. Savory, clarity, pure, refined and elegant, not overbearing."
With only 72 cases made, this $40 stunner won't be around for long. The 2009 "Prima Nata" had a case production of only 61. The 2010 rosé sold out the day it was released. Contact the winery soon if you want to get your hands on these wines and their other equally notable releases. Joining the wine club is a great way to make sure to have access to these wines in the future.

In the fall of 2011, the winery expanded and is now upstairs encompassing a large part of the building's open and spacious main level. There is now a tasting bar and seating area where guests can watch the rest of the goings-on within the winery. Open Saturdays 1-5 and by appointment, Bob, Kevin or Jill will be there to greet you, answer questions and show you around the place when possible. A mid-winter event is in the works, and perhaps another "Passport" event with the other PDX Urban Wineries will take place in the future.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Find, October 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 at or 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 pumpkin craze has gotten out of hand.  Pumpkin is good for bread, and pie, oh, and for pumpkins.  There are probably some other satisfactory uses of pumpkins, I know for example that people use them in catapults. These people are probably unemployed and so they've found this relatively harmless way to occupy their free time, to them I say, VOLUNTEER!

I have been accused of being curmudgeonly before, and frankly, I believe that I'm probably too handsome to be a curmudgeon but I do not care for the pumpkin beverage craze.  By that I mean the coffees and the beers. Pumpkin beer was a novelty ten or so years ago. At the time I lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan and there were three small craft breweries in the vicinity, Kraftbrau, of course Bells Brewing and New Holland Brewing. Only one of them, New Holland, made a pumpkin beer. These days if you were in a town with three microbreweries, you'd likely have 12 pumpkin beers between them. It's not funny anymore folks, it's not cute and the fact is there's so damn much pumpkin beer being made that you can drink it in April.

Pumpkin coffee? Sick. I love coffee, you know what I like my coffee to taste like? Coffee.  When I go off on one of these rants people say, "But Clive, you love pumpkin, and you love coffee." Yeah, you know what else I love? Mushrooms.

To further complicate this tirade I've got to get into a bit of full disclosure. I love pumpkin pie, but actually, just the cheap frozen kind.  I know what you're thinking. "Okay mister pumpkin beverage hater, what gives?"  I'll tell you, first, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," but to further explain, I came from a small blue collar neighborhood in Pittsburgh. Meat and potatoes, and at Thanksgiving, that meant frozen pumpkin pie. To me, that's what pumpkin pie is, and that's what it tastes like and that's how I like it.

To that point, it's pumpkin season, we know not because of the awesome jack o' lanterns we're all carving but because Big Box Coffee and every micro and macro brewery in America has unleashed their damned pumpkin beverages upon us. But, I'm here to save the day with an actual wine that pairs perfectly with pumpkin pie. Today's Friday Find is the 2010 Riesling from Antolin Cellars. From their estate vineyard, Glacier located in Zillah (Rattlesnake Hills), Washington.

The wine is very pretty with lots of stone fruit aromatics, think early season peaches and apricots. It's got nice acidity, but it's far from over the top and it's a touch of sweetness with about 2% residual sugar. It's the perfect wine to pair with your pumpkin pie. It's a bit tough to come by, and while it's fairly available over on the Eastern side of Washington, mainly around Yakima and Ellensburg, Seattle's Wine World carries it in the $13 neighborhood. Take my word for it, the only pumpkin beverage that makes any sense is a Riesling. And this one fits the bill perfectly.

You could instead continue down this road to ruin of pumpkin flavored beverages, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Think Pink: Women Winemakers team up for Northwest Hope & Healing Foundation fundraiser

Northwest Hope & Healing is hosting a wine event on November 1st from 6:00-8:00 pm, celebrating Women Winemakers of the Pacific Northwest. This special event will be held at the Columbia City Art Gallery in Seattle. All proceeds and donations at the event will go towards grants to assist women in the Northwest as they battle breast cancer.

Shari Sewell, Director of the Northwest Hope & Healing Foundation, said that the event has room for 100 attendees, and there were still a number of tickets available. This will be a great opportunity for guests to meet established, award-winning women winemakers as well as some who are just starting to make their mark in the wine world - all in an intimate gallery setting in Seattle’s historic Columbia City neighborhood.

Women winemakers from five Northwest wineries will be pouring wines that evening: Kelly Hightower of Hightower Cellars on Red Mountain, Kay Simon of Chinook Wines in Prosser, Athena Pappas from Boedecker Cellars in Portland, Sheila Nicholas from Anam Cara Cellars in Newberg, and Hillary Sjolund of Sonoris Wines. Each winery will be pouring at least two wines, and light appetizers will be served. 

Northwest Hope & Healing is a non-profit foundation that provides financial assistance for day to day expenses like child care, groceries, gasoline, utilities and emergency rent to women in need who are receiving breast and gynecologic cancer treatment at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. The Foundation has raised over $2,000,000 since inception in 2000.  More than 1,600 patients have received financial assistance for everyday basics.

“We are working with a local wine shop, Bin 41, and they are the ones who coordinated the wineries for us,” said Sewell. Bin 41, located in West Seattle’s Junction neighborhood, is creating a tasting booklet for the event and will be taking orders for wine to be picked up at their shop the next day.

When asked why she was participating, Hillary Sjolund of Sonoris Wines had this to say: “Northwest Hope and Healing is a vital support program for women in our communities. Sharing and caring is the best of what we have to offer each other as human beings. I am honored and pleased to share Sonoris Wines in a gesture of camaraderie and courage to those who need it most.”

Tickets are $40 and can be purchased online, or call Shari Sewell at 206-215-2888. You can also learn more about them on their Facebook page. Columbia City Gallery is located at 4864 Rainier Avenue South, in Seattle.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Find, October 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 at or 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.

Man, things sure have gotten complicated. Even down to the "basic" elements of life. They're not so basic these days. There are 118 elements, some of them with no stable isotopes. Seriously. What's elemental about that?

"It's elementary dear Watson." Simple, basic, like elementary school. But at it's root the word derives from the Latin elementum which refers to the basic components of life, you know like, prior to that complicated periodical chart, when there were only four elements. Earth, air, fire and water for the ancient Greeks, for the Chinese it was wood, metal, water, fire and earth (that's five)

Why do we have to over-complicate everything? Element, elementum, basic.  What's basic about 118 elements? What's basic about Mendelevium with a half-life of 258? I'll tell you what's basic about that, basically nothing.

What we need is a return to the old days, the Aristotelian model of four elements, and for those whom are adventurous I recommend throwing in a Fifth Element, otherwise known as Leeloo. Which is obviously an attractive Eastern European model dressed in gauze, who knows Kung Fu.

Today's Friday Find is a return to those days from Elemental Cellars. The personal label of Steven Westby, the winemaker for Witness Tree located in the Eola-Amity Hills region of the Willamette Valley. The wines are not necessarily the most typical of the region, and they're all very well priced. Steven is making cool climate Syrah, Melon (the New World version of Muscadet), some Viognier, and among others, today's find, the Auxerrois.  Rare in the world, outside of Alsace that is, but even rarer in Oregon with only three vineyards known to grow the grape, Ribbon Springs of Adelsheim, where David Adelsheim pioneered Auxerrois in Oregon, Zenith Vineyard, where today's find is grown and Sunnyside vineyards.

The 2010 Elemental Cellars Auxerrois is a wonderful change up to Pinot Blanc, or other crisp whites. It'll also make you seem a bit cooler as likely most of your non-wine geek friends will never even have heard of it. Aromatics of stone and citrus, flavors hint at earlier season stone fruit and crisp zingy acidity, make this wine a killer food pairing option. It's only in the $15 neighborhood and the Elemental wines are fairly well available, although this one may be tougher to find. I tracked it down at Wine World in Seattle. (You can also order it from the Zenith Vineyards website linked to above.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Breaking Biodynamic Ground in Southern Oregon: Cowhorn Wines

Some of the principles upon which Biodynamics are founded can be a bit distracting, the more esoteric and oddball sounding elements taking away from the overall approach. At it's core it's a holistic approach to the care and cultivation of both crops and the surrounding vineyards, farm and beyond. As an agricultural practice it is the essence of sustainability, stewardship of the vineyards, the soils, water and the surroundings.  Taking great care not to manipulate, poison or harm both the crop, in this case the wine grapes, the land, and the workers. Sustainability as a popular movement is fairly modern, but Biodynamics is certainly a precursor, with it's origins in Rudolf Steiner's Anthroposophy dating from the early 1900s.

There are countless ecological benefits to biodynamic farming practices, in terms of impacts on ground water, vineyard workers, soil, and a greater general bio-diversity. The downsides are small, overall lower crop yields, and you may very well be thought of as eccentric.

In Southern Oregon there is currently one biodynamic farm and vineyard, and one only. Cowhorn Wines of Jacksonville, Oregon. Producing Rhone style wines, with a real emphasis on Syrah Bill and Barbara Steele set about meticulously measuring and analyzing the property they purchased in 2002 after both leaving careers in business and finance. That analysis led them to believe that the property, with two distinctly different soil types was perfect for general agriculture and farming in one area, and for viticulture in the other.

For Bill Steele Cowhorn's contribution to the Southern Oregon wine identity is not necessarily a formula for what everyone should be doing, but rather a result of the land and place that their vineyard occupies. "The beauty of Southern Oregon is the diversity of micro-climates.  So, while our Cowhorn site is definitely a Rhone site, the other vineyards may experience significantly different weather patterns and soil structures." That site diversity has led to a great diversity in the kinds of varietals the Rogue and Applegate Valleys are producing and Bill thinks that other winemakers and wine growers are doing well selecting appropriate sites for appropriate grapes.

That said, there's a special signature to the wines that the Steele's are producing at Cowhorn. "We think Biodynamics lends to a unique expression of place in our wine. Given that we can’t add chemicals in the fields or in the wine and that we use native yeast to ferment, our wines should have some unique properties as there is no native yeast like Cowhorn anywhere else." I should note that the cowhorn holds a special place in biodynamic farming, particularly in what are referred to as "preparations."  From the Sustainable Table: "Otherwise known as Preparation 500 to Biodynamic farmers worldwide, manure–filled cows' horns are buried on the autumnal equinox and carefully unearthed exactly six months later on the spring equinox, the first day of spring. The manure is removed and stirred with water in a process called "dynamization", which creates a vortex that cosmic energy can be funneled into. The homemade brew is then sprayed upon the fields to stimulate the soil, promote root activity and contribute to good bacteria growth." See what I mean by eccentric?

In addition to their wines, Cowhorn's farming operation produces 10,000 lbs of food annually, mostly asparagus, as well as cherries, artichokes, pears and apples. The Syrahs they produce though are top notch, beautiful, with a strong Northern Rhone influence, native yeasts and whole cluster pressing lead to real and authentic tasting wines.

The 2008 Cowhorn Syrah 74 is loaded with dark opulence, flavors of black berries dark cherries and espresso.   Earth, smoke, meaty flavors and dollops of that dark fruit, that matches the dark hue of the wine.  This Syrah is superbly balanced, with great structure, a touch of wood spice and the right amount of acidity to carry us through to the finish. The "74" apparently refers to the seventy four days of frost that the vineyards were exposed to. $30

The 2008 Cowhorn Reserve Syrah is a joy to behold. Elegant blue fruit aromatics, mingle with lots of earthen character and minerality. Stylistically Rhone, bacon fat, black cherry and a general mouthfeel that highlights minerality and depth.  If you're at all skeptical about the ability of Southern Oregon to produce world class Syrah, this wine is your answer, a no holds barred sensory experience. This is a serious Syrah lover's Syrah and one that if you've not tried you should attempt to track down. $45

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Find, October 12th

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 at or 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.

Today is my birthday, and birthdays are good times to talk about beginnings. (That picture is not me by the way, I merely found it on the internet.)

A lot of people ask me "How'd you get into wine?" I moved here (Seattle) from Pittsburgh almost a decade ago. My boss, at my paying job, was and is very into the Northwest wine scene and he asked me if I was interested in wine. I reminded him that I was from Pittsburgh, where we drank beer, not wine. On some occasion he bought me a bottle of Washington wine, it was from Sagelands, and it was a fine bottle, a perfect entry into Washington wine. I opened it one night with dinner and remember thinking, "Okay, this is actually pretty good."

At some point, I don't remember the specifics in about February of 2004, my wife (who was my girlfriend at the time) and I decided to rent a car and drive to Yakima to go wine tasting. I remember that first time driving over the Manastash Ridge on State Route 82 and thinking it was absolutely beautiful, I still do. A kid from the East Coast who never saw the high desert before, I thought it was fantastic. As we got closer to the Yakima River the banks of the river and every tree within 50 yards was completely coated in ice, it was gorgeous.

We stopped at the first place that was open. Claar Cellars. We walked into the very simple tasting room, and a tiny blonde woman with prominent eye make-up came into the room from the back. What happened next was magical to me. We spent the next 90 minutes talking about wine, or more to the point, she talked and we listened. No one else came in and we had the place to ourselves. She talked about different varieties and years and how they impacted the wines we were tasting and going to taste. She had 3 different vintages of Merlot opened and that more or less sealed the deal for me. I was fascinated at the similarities and differences, the changes that wine went through. I owe that and really all of my subsequent interest and love for wine to that little winery in Zillah.

 A couple years later we were celebrating a friend's bachelor party, so we went rock climbing out at Vantage in the Columbia Gorge and camped out in the 20 degree weather (in March). The next day we decided to climb a bit in the morning and then drive over to Yakima to taste some wine and stay in a (cheap) motel so that we might not die of exposure (only slightly exaggerated). I of course suggested we stop at Claar Cellars as I had such a great experience there. When we walked in, the small blonde woman was gone. The son of the family that owned the winery was working the counter and he tasted us through the wines, and made small talk. At some point he asked what brought us out there and I explained that my friend was getting married soon. We bought a couple bottles of wine and on our way out the door he stopped my friend and handed him a brown bag. "Congratulations man" he said. It was a bottle of their most expensive wine, on him.

I can tell you that whenever I drive on Route 82 and I go past that tiny tasting room just off the highway in Zillah, I stop in and buy a bottle (or more) of wine. I will do this as long as they are in business. While the Claar Cellars wines may not be the finest produced in the state, they're honest, genuine wines, well priced and made by nice people and frankly the Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc are quite to my liking.

Today's Friday Find was a pleasure for me to come across in Seattle's Wine World. The Claar Cellars Sauvignon Blanc for $9.99.  From the White Bluffs of Columbia Valley it's a fantastic bargain. Aromatics of citrus and stone and a racy acidity make this Washington Sauvignon Blanc a perfect food wine but a wine that will stand on it's own and provide enough depth to give some time and thought to it as well.  If you happen to be driving by Zillah stop in and say hello to them.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Savoring the Experience - The Wines of Luminous Hills and Seven of Hearts

It is time for true confessions, Oregon style. We have a tendency to be spoiled in the midst of our foodie utopia and wine sanctuary. All that is so readily available around us can be taken for granted. Daily we pass by restaurants and gourmet food shops that garner national acclaim for the food and wine they serve.  Reminding ourselves to stop and smell the roses can be a brilliant lesson in appreciating what we have in our own backyard.

One of these lessons in appreciation transpired during a pre-IPNC  dinner last July, a few days before the main International Pinot Noir Celebration festivities began. The dinner was hosted by Byron and Dana Dooley, and featured Byron's Luminous Hills and Seven of Hearts wines. Wines were paired with an eight course tasting menu at Noisette, a French restaurant in Northwest Portland. Noisette’s Chef Anthony Demes spent eight years at the helm of Couvron, a jewel in Portland’s restaurant scene, before its closing in 2003. He pursued other opportunities around the country, including his hometown of New York, before returning in 2010 to open Noisette. Demes’ modern French cuisine was a magnificent match with Byron’s elegant wines.

The first course featured the Seven of Hearts 2011 Pinot Gris paired with Oregon Line Caught Albacore Tuna. The fruity aromas on the nose were wonderfully expressive and intense, the palate a bit creamier than many Oregon Pinot Gris. Next up, was the Mahonia Vineyard 2010 Chardonnay served with Maine Day Boat Lobster.  Non-Chardonnay drinkers were asking for more of this Chardonnay. Many will be watching the Seven of Hearts website next spring for the release of the 2011 Chardonnay, which will be sourced from Gran Moraine Vineyard. (The 2011 Pinots will be released next month.)

The rosé of the evening was the Luminous Hills Aura 2011 Rosé of Pinot Noir. The Luminous Hills wines are all estate fruit from Yamhill-Carlton’s Luminous Hills Vineyard; the Seven of Hearts fruit is sourced from various other vineyards. Paired with an Oregon Spring Onion and Cauliflower Soup, the rosé held up well to the savory flavors. This versatile rosé was also sipped earlier in the evening by arriving guests, wonderfully crisp and light on its own.

The first of three Pinot Noirs (fourth, fifth and seventh courses) was the Seven of Hearts 2010 Armstrong Vineyard. Ancient Grain and Morel flavors and textures were ideal with the bolder structure of this Pinot. The Armstrong Vineyard is located in the Ribbon Ridge AVA. The soil in this AVA often produces more tannic Pinots, yet this wine is still easily approachable in its youth. The second Pinot Noir was the Luminous Hills 2010 Estate Pinot, coupled with a B.C. Diver Scallop and Braised Short Ribs. Byron describes this wine as “…the broadest and clearest expression yet of the big picture story that Luminous Hills has to say.” Finally, Luminous Hills 2010 Lux Pinot Noir accompanied by Moulard Duck Breast and Veal Sweetbread with Port Wine Sauce. Rich complex flavors, spice and berry came together perfectly.

The evening’s selections also included two sweet wines, courses six and eight. Seven of Hearts 2011 Ice Princess Viognier was interestingly, yet successfully presented with Moulard Duck Liver, Brioche, Hazelnut and Medjool Date Puree with Sauternes Sauce. Quite a mouthful to say, but a complex balance between the sweet and the rich savory flavors. The final course presented a Cherry and Chocolate Brioche Pudding served with Seven of Hearts Coupe’s Cuvee, 2011 Pinot Noir.  Very port-like in flavor, the deep fruit flavors and smooth finish brought the incredible event to a close.

This was an occasion to be savored. During Byron’s initial words of welcome, he graciously thanked friends and supporters of the winery for being part of Dana's and his community. Throughout the evening, he moved from table to table, speaking with wine club members, friends and industry associates, mutual respect clearly expressed. An energetic round of applause was given for Chef Demes and the excellent staff at Noisette. That evening, nothing was taken for granted as we all stopped to smell the roses.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Sonoris Wines - A Family Portrait

Working in the design industry, I just can’t help it: sometimes I pick out wine based on its label. I know, it seems shallow and ignorant, but it’s true: A good wine package makes me want to pick it up, read about the wine, learn the winery’s story, and then take it to the cash register.

My husband is the more pragmatic one in our drinking relationship: He rarely buys wine because of the label. He compares prices, reads pairing notes, and comes home with some of the ugliest wine bottles out there - and usually the wines are great and compliment his meals perfectly.

But then there was Karen Sjolund - Pure Grace on the label of Sonoris Wines’ 2011 Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc - and she changed everything. 

There she is, off center, looking to her right, caught in an open smile that looks like she was about to say something. She’s young - late teens - and has big brown eyes and auburn waves that fall on her shoulders. She’s wearing a blue dress covered in little white hearts and she’s standing in front of what appears to be a bear skin rug.

“She is a little blossom,” said my husband, and he insisted we take the wine home with us from Sonoris Wines release party. (We also took home some Sonoris 2009 Merlot, The Source, which features a youthful picture of her future husband Alan, so she wouldn’t be lonely).

Hillary Sjolund’s Sonoris Wines are an exploration of deep and resonating truths - the importance of family, the language of love, the strength of a passion for your work, and the way 

that wine can be all of those things at once.

Sjolund’s family roots are deep in California, where her paternal grandfather, Burney, opened his first grocery store in 1945. As he built his business over the next few decades his only child, Hillary’s father Alan, joined the business with his wife. In the 1980s and 1990’s Sjolund’s expanded three times.

“He started with nothing and built everything,” Sjolund said of her grandfather. When it came time to take a leap of faith and abandon her long-time plan to go to medical school and instead learn winemaking, Sjolund reminded herself of her grandfather’s own leap of faith: “He did it, so there’s no reason that I can’t do it too.”

On September 8, 2012, at Russell’s in Bothell, Hillary Sjolund released four splendid wines, each featuring a personally meaningful photo of her ancestors: The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon called Burney’s Blend, named for her paternal grandfather; 2009 Merlot called The Source, honoring her father Alan; 2011 Sauvignon Blanc called Pure Grace, the meaning of her mother Karen’s name; and the 2011 Viognier named Verna Mae, honoring her maternal grandmother. While it was Sjolund’s paternal grandmother Dorothy who helped build the family business with her husband Burney, she passed away when Hillary was 14. When the time came to name her wines, Sjolund chose her living grandmother as a namesake.

Sjolund said that growing up watching her grandparents, and then her parents, grow their business while staying close to one another and holding true to their ideals provides her with a wealth of inspiration and hope from which to draw.

After training in the cellars at Pine Ridge Vineyards in Napa, then at DiStefano in Woodinville, Sjolund was ready to strike out on her own, and when she did she drew once more from that deep well of family encouragement and support.

“Most kids want to separate from their parents,” when they get older, she said, but not so for the Sjolund siblings. 
Sjolund said that her parents had her and her two brothers when they were fairly young, so they still have a lot of youthful energy and participate in her and her siblings’ lives more than some of her peers’ parents do. 

This involvement meant, of course, that when Sjolund wanted to switch majors from premed to enology at UC Davis, her parents had their concerns. So Hillary took her parents took a tour at Pine Ridge Vineyards and for the first time her parents learned about the science behind wine. After taking the ‘romance’ out of winemaking, the Sjolunds could see it for what it was: art, science, and a business. And that they could relate to.

                                                       photo from Sonoris Wines Facebook page
Today Sjolund produces her wines at Charlie Hoppes’ Wine Boss facility in Richland, where several small production wineries work in a sort of custom crush facility. Sjolund leases space there both for her winemaking and for her independent quality control lab, where she puts her studious scientific strengths to good use. She’s always enjoyed the science behind wine, and is constantly reading and researching about the reasons things happen to wine - yeast, fermentation, oak, weather, etc.

When it came time to name and bottle her wines, Sjolund said she let each of her parents and grandparents select the photo that would grace their wines from a handful of her favorites. Burney’s photo features him as a hardworking young man in overalls, just before he’d struck out on his own with his grocery business. Verna Mae’s elegant black and white photo is her senior portrait. Alan Sjolund’s photo was taken in front of his family’s store in 1965 - he laughed when he saw the photo and he still remembers when it was snapped. Hillary particularly likes that photo of her dad because of its similarities to the photo of her grandfather.

However, when it came to her mother’s photo, the self-selection stopped: “She didn’t have a lot of say in that one. It’s my dad’s favorite picture of her.”

Karen Sjolund - Pure Grace - is standing with that adorable smile in front of the hide of a moose she shot herself while hunting with her father in the Northwest Territory of Canada. That’s right, folks: her mom went moose hunting as a teenager. It’s only fitting that her brave, headstrong daughter should be blazing trails in Northwest winemaking.

Hillary Sjolund will be pouring four Sonoris Wines at the Northwest Hope and Healing event at the Columbia City Gallery on November 1, 2012. Visit the Northwest Hope and Healing website to learn more about the event and the cause.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Friday Find, October 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 at or under $20. We might also mean, "Hey, you really need to go find this", and it might be a wine that we feel not enough people know about. In any case, with the weekend pending we're hoping to help you "find" a wine to kickoff the weekend right. We'll tell you a little bit about the wine and try to help you track it down here in the Northwest.

In spite of a late start, summer in the Northwest exceeded the wildest of expectations. Bright, cloudless days of sunshine with temperatures in the 80s and 90s made for picture perfect rosé and white wine sipping weather. What we need now is a smooth transition into golden, coppery autumn. Those burly red wines will have to wait awhile longer before making their way into our wine glasses.

The beautiful grounds of Johan Vineyards
The Farmlands wine label is a special project under the umbrella of Johan Vineyards. These biodynamic wines are made from Johan Vineyards’ own estate fruit, created with a specific purpose in mind. 

“Farmlands is a concept geared towards wine savvy, socially conscious consumers who care about sustainability, the environment, knowing where their food comes from, and how it is produced or sourced. For us, Farmlands is an attempt to promote biodynamic farming practices and winemaking to a broader range of consumers by crafting natural wines at more affordable price points."

This week's Friday Find is Farmlands 2011 White Table Wine. Yes, a white wine, but a wonderfully unusual blend that can hold our hand as we say goodbye, for now, to summer.  The blend is 65% Chardonnay, 25% Grüner Veltliner, and 5% each of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.  2/3 of the grapes were fermented in stainless steel, 1/3 in neutral French oak. There is great acidity here, but also a bit more weight, creaminess, due to the partial malolactic fermentation. The Grüner Veltliner adds some warm spice and uniqueness to the blend. Grüner Veltliner fans should watch for Johan to release their 2011 bottling around Thanksgiving.

Part of the proceeds from Farmlands sales will be donated to Friends of Family Farmers, a non-profit organization that supports Oregon's small family farms. This wine is worth seeking out not only for the $15 price point, but also to benefit a great cause. Contact the winery for a bottle or two. It is also readily available at many wine shops in the Portland area.