Arts and Crafts Were Never This Fun

Sparkle and Fade

A Cabernet Experience

Exploring Terroir with Forgeron Cellars

Oregon's French Connection

Maison Louis Jadot's Résonance

The French Connection

Rhone to Columbia Valley: The Syrah Doctrine

C'mon Get Happy

New Growth at Matthews Winery

Who We Are

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

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Celebrating the Generations at L'Ecole 41

From Marty Sparks

L’Ecole 41 held their annual release party Monday March 17th at the Space Needle, St. Paddy's Day. But also a great day to celebrate one of the newest releases from this Walla Walla Valley pioneer.  Nine new releases were available to test drive along with the inaugural release of the Ferguson Estate red wine which was the highlight of the event.  The sun even made an appearance to add to the festivities.
photo from L'Ecole 41
The Ferguson Vineyard is the newest estate vineyard in the L’Ecole 41 family.  It is named to honor Jean and Baker Ferguson, the founders of the L’Ecole 41 winery.  The vineyard is located near the Seven Hills estate vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley AVA.  This vineyard is situated at an elevation of 1,300 feet with soils sitting on top of ancient lava flows and fractured basalt and is certified sustainable and salmon safe.  The vineyard is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Syrah on roughly 18 acres.

Marty Clubb, the L’Ecole 41 Managing Winemaker and co-owner, shared some of his thoughts on the new Ferguson estate blend and the 2011 vintage.  Marty explained the original 2004 Ferguson Reserve was a Bordeaux style blend to honor his wife’s parents Jean and Baker Ferguson.  The original wine was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot sourced from the Klipsun, Bacchus, Dionysus Weinbau and Stone Tree Vineyards.  The 2011 Ferguson is 100% estate grown fruit from the Ferguson vineyard.  The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon dominant with a healthy dose of Merlot and some Cabernet Franc blended in for structure and balance.

The 2011 Ferguson shows notes of dark cherry, cocoa, sawdust and earthy spices on the nose.  The palate features dried cherries and abundant tannins.  The tannin characteristic was consistent with most of the 2011 reds just released by L’Ecole 41.  Marty noted this in his description of the vintage.  The structure, the tannins are certainly a good indicator that these wines have a long life ahead of them. 

From the L'Ecole 41 website about the Ferguson Vineyard: This 42 acre prime piece of ground was strategically selected with an appreciation for the property’s natural strengths. At an elevation of 1,300 to 1,450 feet, the cold air drainage around the site is excellent. Above the ice-age flood silts, the soil is a thin mantle of wind-blown loess overlying fractured basalt. At the highest elevation, the soil depth is only 2 to 3 feet, such that the vine roots penetrate deep into the basalt, providing a complex array of rich minerals. This rock formation is partially exposed, revealing a quarry of fractured basalt which we refer to as The Wall. Mixed layers of multiple lava flows are woven together in a puzzle-like pattern, intersected with deep veins of calcium carbonate leaching deep into the basalt."

Be sure to stop by the L’Ecole 41 table at Taste WA for a sample of the estate Ferguson.  You are sure to be greeted by friendly people and enjoy some fine Washington state wines from one of the pioneering Walla Walla Valley wine families.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Heart Attack & Vine: Kramer Vineyards' Cardiac Hill Pinot Noir

At Kramer Vineyards in Gaston, Oregon, young second-generation wine maker Kim Kramer is just beginning to get her bearings on the family's small estate. Her first vintage flying solo as the winemaker was 2010. At only twenty acres, it's not that Kim is in danger of getting lost, but the diversity of the family's site can certainly make it challenging as she tries to get a handle on what's happening in the vineyard. "We have a hilly site, with vines of different ages, clones, root stock, etc. This results in a surprising level of variability in terms of ripeness and varietal expression. It’s kind of amazing to me the differences that you can taste from block to block in the field, but it makes sense."

photo courtesy of Kramer Vineyards
One particular parcel of the family's vineyard is Cardiac Hill, a steep site, originally planted to Gewurztraminer back in the 1980s. "Cardiac Hill has earned that name for multiple reasons. While the hillside is indeed quite steep, it has challenged us in other ways that only contributes to the name." The vines never really took, the fruit set was never quite right and so they were ripped out and eventually replaced with Pinot Noir vines in 1995. The site, however, continued to give the Kramers heartburn (Ha, get it?).  

"It continued to under-perform for years, due to a combination of factors--poor fruit set, vine stress, and that the south end of the block is on a tree line, making it vulnerable to pest damage. The deer especially loved the new shoot growth in the spring, and it wasn't until we finished our deer fence in time for the 2005 vintage that we finally had a large enough yield to justify a single bottling from there. So yes, Cardiac Hill is named for the steepness of the hillside, but it’s also a nod to the stress experienced by the vines, and by us."

The site developed, and its unique character has lent itself to a single vineyard bottling at Kramer Vineyards (about 100 cases per vintage). A vertical tasting of any single vineyard wine hopefully shows both a site's signature and vintage variation, which means the winemaker isn't overdoing anything. A formulaic wine means that too much manipulation has likely drowned out both the vineyard, and the vintage, and what's the point of that?
A vertical (plus one) of the Cardiac Hill wines shows a range of vintage variation. The wines in the vertical included the very cool 2007 vintage on through 11, skipping 2008.  Overall, these were cooler vintages, but the warm 2009 was also in the mix. There were some constants as well, including minerality over fruit and an overall elegance to the wines in terms of their structure and texture. The site's signature is attributed to two factors by the folks at Kramer Vineyards: the soil of Cardiac Hill, which is dense and high in clay, and the fact that the block sits on a tree line, both of which create substantial stress for the vines. "Even without the soil maps, we figured out pretty quickly that this soil was very, very different from what was in the rest of the vineyard. One story that I hear over and over again is how difficult it was to pound the posts into Cardiac Hill—how it took forever, because the soil was so compact." 

2007 Kramer Vineyards Cardiac Hill Pinot Noir
The 2007 is lightly hued and began the tasting fairly muted aromatically. It is displayed very little in the way of fruit, instead exhibiting almost exclusively minerality. The wine was really gaining steam several hours after opening and on day two it had opened up aromatically, showing more bramble berries and spice. Kim was working harvest at St. Innocent in 2007 and so her first hand experience with the fruit then was somewhat limited. At Kramer they picked after the rains, "Those wines were shut down from release up until the last couple of years. They’re really only just beginning to open up, and that has been a beautiful thing to witness."

2009 Kramer Vineyards Cardiac Hill Pinot Noir

The ripest of the wines in the vertical, with a fruit forward character to the wine while it retained an elegance and minerality. Full aromatics, with dusty blackberry and cloves, on the palate a candied cherry note and much fuller and round in mouth-feel than the other wines in the flight. The lone warm vintage from the vertical, the wine was showy without being over the top in terms of ripeness.  Kim is happy with the wine but wonders if with a few different choices it may have turned out quite differently. 

"It was a model vintage, in that everything happened more or less on time, with good fruit set, and plenty of heat. Yet, I wonder what the wines would have been like if we would have harvested earlier. The fruit came in warm, so fermentation kicked off after just a couple of days. I’m trying to look at that as part of the vintage, but now I’d probably try to extend the cold soak. I also should have experimented with whole cluster fermentation, given the abundant crop. The wines, while quite approachable, lack the acidity and structure that is typical of our Pinots, yet entirely appropriate for the vintage. The silver lining here is that if we have another similar vintage, I know exactly what I’d like to do." 

2010 Kramer Vineyards Cardiac Hill Pinot Noir

My favorite of the bunch the 2010 is a very pretty bottle of Pinot Noir. Consistent with the vintage's reputation, the wine is approachable and elegant. Perhaps in contrast to the wonderful 07s, which really grew into their elegance, the 10s were that way almost from the jump. In the Cardiac bottling there's great aromatics; lots of dried violets, complex spicy aromatics and pretty notes of cola. The palate offers up round blue fruits and is really well balanced, the acidity is so pretty. For Kim 2010 was an important stage in her development as a winemaker. 

"In 2010, I worked harvest in Burgundy, for AF Gros/Parent. This was the most significant wine-making learning experience of my life. I learned both the how and the why of Pinot Noir production from a 13th generation producer. Furthermore, the harvest conditions in Burgundy that year were remarkably similar to ours here—cool, damp, and late. I came home, rested for a day or two, and we started picking. There was a great deal of trepidation that harvest, but I felt pretty confident given all I’d just learned, and was very clear on what we needed to do. 2010 is one of my favorite vintages for Willamette Valley Pinot Noir in the last decade. When I think about what Oregon Pinot Noir is, and I’m not sure I can articulate it clearly, but the balance, structure, acidity, and the unique Oregon-ness of the varietal expression, is all there."

2011 Kramer Vineyards Cardiac Hill Pinot Noir 

A story about potential, the 2011 is still a little tightly wound, and its acid is serious, real serious. Intense bright fruits, cranberry and red currant and a soaring acidity, I found the 11 to even be a bit astringent.  I have little doubt though that it will likely become a pretty wine. For Kim it was a vintage that, while challenging, she felt equipped to deal with given how much she'd learned in 2010. "Our harvest was over a month late for the Pinot Noir, with very low sugars and high acids. We let the fruit hang as long as possible, but when the frosts started in early November, we were forced to pick. Then, we had the opposite problem from what we experienced in 2009, in that the cold soaks were long because it was so cold outside. I think this contributed to the beautiful color and nice primary fruit in the wines, and helped to keep fermentation temperatures low, limiting extraction of harsh tannin. I share your opinion that the ‘11s need time."
Kim hoping to establish herself as "Queen of the (Cardiac) Hill"
As the vintages go by and Kim develops her voice as a winemaker, the individual blocks of her family's vineyard may provide a measuring stick for her to mark her progress.  "I used to question the logic of a winery of our size producing four different Pinot Noirs, but after working a harvest in Burgundy in 2010, and seeing how small some of those appellations are, I was more determined than ever to continue the work my parents had started. Each block is harvested and made separately. This allows us to learn the nuances of each site from year to year from a production standpoint, and in the cellar. The fact that this is entirely site-driven, and not by our work in the cellar, is what makes it interesting and exciting for us." If these first few years are any indication, Kim is developing into one of the Willamette Valley's young talents to watch out for.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Exploring Northwest Pinot Noir Beyond the Willamette Valley

Here in the Northwest, Washington is often held in contrast to Oregon. Oregon, and most specifically the Willamette Valley is seen as a region that grows a specific varietal wine, the state's signature Pinot Noir. And as other varieties begin to take hold in the Willamette they tend towards cooler, higher acid varieties like Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling.

Washington on the other hand is known for it's Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot, Riesling and the list of varieties that do well in the state goes on and on. Hell, even varieties that are difficult to ripen, like Grenache have found a home in Washington. This diversity is often seen as Washington's blessing and curse. Oregon has a reputation for it's Pinot Noir, California's reputation rests largely on its Cabernet. Washington? We make everything in Washington.

Underwood Mountain Vineyards in the Columbia Gorge
One wine that you don't find much of is Pinot Noir but you're beginning to see the state produce a few more bottlings. The Washington Pinot Noir that has developed the most consistent reputation is one produced by Syncline in the Columbia Gorge. Two vineyard sites that have developed a reputation for growing classically cool climate varieties are Celilo Vineyard and the nearby Underwood Mountain. The Celilo vines are much older than the relatively young Underwood Mountain site, and both vineyards sit in a climatic zone that is even cooler than the Willamette Valley. Michael Savage at Savage Grace Wines is making a Pinot Noir from Underwood Mountain Vineyard and he feels like the vineyard site and Pinot Noir are a nearly perfect match.

"I don't think I would be making a Pinot Noir from Washington if it wasn't for the Underwood Mountain Vineyards site. It has so many of the right elements for Pinot Noir - soil with good water retention and ample rainfall to allow for dry-farming, a cool climate moderated by the Columbia River, the vast amount of sunlight due to to it's slope and southeastern exposure and the right trellising, and breezy conditions which lessen disease pressure at important times. The site just barely ripens the grape, which I think is important and leads to more work from the vine and a more interesting wine at the end."

Michael also credits the vineyard management practices that Jack Brady, the vineyard owner employs. Cropping at only about one ton per acre and careful clone selection has allowed him to make wines that display an elegance, texture and minerality that he's looking for. The 2012 Savage Grace Pinot Noir, Underwood Mountain Vineyards is all about bright fruit, brambleberries, strawberry and a great acidity. For Michael it reminds him of a Cote de Nuits Villages wine. He's very excited about the wine he's made and as someone who is still very new to making Washington wines I look forward to what he does with this vineyard and fruit as his familiarity with it grows.  The wine is a classical example of the elegance of Pinot Noir and shows how diverse Washington's wine growing regions really are.

Further east into the Walla Walla Valley (and frankly back into Oregon) and we find another example of Northwest Pinot Noir grown outside of the Willamette Valley. At Saviah Cellars, Rich Funk is making a riper style Pinot Noir from a vineyard site that is becoming one of his favorites. Couse Creek Vineyard sits at 1900 feet of elevation and in Rich's estimation it's the vineyards positioning that allows the Pinot to retain it's acidity and develop physiological ripeness without alcohol levels that can mask the wine's fruit.

"This is a pretty old vineyard by Walla Walla Valley standards planted in the early 1980's by Chris Banks. He planted a few different clones but the one I have been using is a Pommard clone. The site is situated at 1900 feet on the east side of a north/south ridge on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley AVA. A stunning site, this has quickly become one of my favorite sites to visit. A warmer site than most in the state of Oregon for certain, but the aspect and elevation do help mitigate the detrimental aspects of the hot summer weather. As the angle of the sun decreases in the Fall along with the diurnal shift in temperature this site is able to achieve the hang time necessary for physiological ripeness."

Rich embraces the ripe style of Pinot that the vineyard is producing, and the Saviah Couse Creek Vineyard even in the cool vintage of 2011 is certainly that. There's plenty of new oak influence on the wines aromatics, it's smoky, with aromatics of black plums and barrel spice.  The wine is fuller bodied, with dark ripe fruit and spice, it tails off at the finish and doesn't carry the acidity that's commonly associated with cooler site Oregon Pinot Noir.

Both wines give us a sense of the range that Pinot Noir exists within the Northwest beyond Willamette Valley. That range is vast. (There are certainly Pinot Noirs made in the Umpqua as well as Applegate and Rogue Valleys as well.)

Friday, March 07, 2014

Friday Find, Celebrate Washington Wine

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.

It's party time folks.

It's Washington Wine Month (handy calendar at the link), in case you've been living under the proverbial rock here in the Northwest. And the Washington State Wine commission is doing a variety of things in conjunction with various retailers and restaurants in Seattle and across the state. The big party of course is at the end of the month with Taste Washington

But in between now and then there's a whole lot going on. This has been a special couple years for Washington wine, with the Yakima Valley the state's original AVA turning thirty in 2013, and Chateau Ste. Michelle's Cold Creek Vineyard turning 40 at the same time. The state is getting older, and the wine is getting better. We should celebrate that. Have a party or something.

One of the great things about celebrating is sharing that enthusiasm you have with friends or other loved ones, we'll call them lovers. One way you might do that this month is by sending them a "Washington Wine Celebration in a box." To coin a phrase. Maybe.

Maryhill offers amazing views and great value wines
This month the Gorge's Maryhill Winery is featuring a Washington State gift pack, and frankly it's a great way to kick-start someone's appreciation of Washington wine. We're looking for converts here after all, both to wine and to Washington. The Maryhill pack features three wines that you'll find often in Washington, the recently crowned King of Washington, in terms of acres planted, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, a grape on which Washington built it's stellar reputation and Syrah, perhaps what the state does best and is being recognized internationally for.

The Maryhill gift pack also delivers on value. Three wines, typically priced at $22 for the Cabernet and Syrah and $19 for the Merlot come in the three pack for $49. That's a nice discount and we're not even good at math over here at Anthem HQ. Seriously, we're bad at it. 

The wines offer a great chance to slyly tell someone you love them, and you love Washington wine and you couldn't choose a gift that you didn't love yourself. If your friends are California wine aficionados and they live somewhere outside of the NW, you can have this gift pack shipped to them. None the less, it's like a party, or an educational effort, educational party effort in a can, except, in a box.

The wines are from the 2009 and 2010 vintage and so you're also serving these uninitiated folks 5 year old wines, the average American drinks a wine within like 40 seconds or something of buying it. Which is dangerous and probably illegal because you're likely still in the grocery store parking lot. These wines deliver enormous value, I think the Syrah is the star, but the good thing is, you don't have to pick just one.

2009 Maryhill Syrah The wine is meaty, and smoky and delivers on black fruit and spice. Aromatics of barrel spice, smoke and dried figs and on the palate Montmorency cherries, grilled meats and earth. This wine even has great acid and was still going strong on day two, not always the case with young vine Washington wines. I really am impressed with this Syrah offering.

2009 Maryhill Merlot Aromas of chocolate, blueberry and barrel toast, and the palate delivers signature Washington Merlot blue fruits, caramel and mocha.

2010 Maryhill Cabernet Sauvignon.  A cooler vintage wine, more earth and herbal aromatics than big fruit or chocolate. Flavors of blackberry, raspberry and hints of cola. 

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

A Good Foundation...

by Corey McTaggart

Southern Oregon Wine-making Legend Sarah Powell Lives On

Teetering on the uneven grass floor in stilettos and a little black dress through a tent filled with over seventy wine tables, one caught my eye.   I had heard that name before.  I managed to walk up with some difficulty and reintroduce myself to another known figure in the Southern Oregon wine industry.  Larry Richie is a tall, distinguished looking man who has represented some of the finest brands in our local trade for years.  Now he represents one label:  His personal friend, Sarah Powell, who lives on in the wine that bears her name and in the Sarah Powell Memorial Viticulture and Enology Scholarship Endowment.

Rocking back on my heels to keep my footing while balancing purse, plate, and glass, I asked Larry to remind me of the details surrounding Sarah’s legacy.  Sarah Powell studied enology and viticulture for a year at the Lycee Agricole de Macon-Davaye in Burgundy, France.  She devoted time to making wine in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Washington State (at Hogue Cellars).  She earned her degree in Fermentation Science at the University of California, Davis.

 Sarah accepted the role of winemaker at Foris Vineyards Winery in the Illinois River Valley of Southern Oregon in 1991.  She recalled that visitors were often surprised to learn that the head winemaker was a woman.  However, Sarah stood out in a then male-dominated profession, known for her respect and appreciation for the challenges that the terroir and microclimate here have to offer.

To make the most of rocky, shallow soils and a short growing season, she dropped fruit and harvested only 2 – 4 tons to the acre.  Yields this low are uncommon in Southern Oregon, although she had observed this level of cropping more frequently in France.  Sarah believed in ripe, rich and concentrated wines.  Her extreme standards were met with varying degrees of acceptance by vineyards in contract with the winery, whose owners were often greeted by surprise visits from an adamant Sarah.  She often insisted that the fruit stay on the vines through rain, cold or hail to obtain that ultimate ripeness she was seeking.  She would start with excellent fruit and add expert blending, gentle handling, traditional methods, and patience.  It was a frustration to her that Northern Oregon had most of the press due to many more wineries in that area than the south of the state.  She tirelessly promoted the ripe, warmer-weather Southern Oregon wines as complex, lush, and able to be aged for decades.

Some of Sarah’s favorite wines were Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer.  Many vintages of her Pinots were featured at the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, Oregon.  Her ‘94 Foris Maple Ranch Pinot Noir was served in 1997 at a White House Dinner.  She was honored with the James Beard Award for winemaking in 1994.

Sarah went on to become the original winemaker for RoxyAnn Winery in 2002 and established the Sarah Powell Wines label there in 2003.  She died in 2004 of cancer at just 42 years of age.  In remembrance, her family continued her label, partnering with local vineyards and winemaker Laurent Montalieu, a close friend of Sarah’s in the Willamette Valley. The Sarah Powell Memorial Viticulture and Enology Scholarship Endowment was recently established by Sarah’s father William J Powell and her stepmother Leona Dater.  Summit Distributors of Medford, Oregon and Sarah Powell Wines are both committed to funding the endowment.  They each donate $1 of every bottle SPW 2008 Pinot Noir sold.  Harry & David, the premier local seller of pears, known worldwide, promote the product in their scopious wine shop.  The funds help Southern Oregon enology and viticulture students with expenses related to wine internships or exchange programs through Umpqua Community College’s Southern Oregon Wine Institute. The 2008 Pinot Noir is my last taste of the evening.  A beautiful crystal-clear deep ruby color is dazzling as the subtle aromas of dark chocolate, licorice and black raspberry waft from the glass.  On the palate, plum and cinnamon stick finish with a distinct lingering of cherry.  A rich and lovely wine.  A rich and beautiful story.  I shake Larry’s hand once again in gratitude and turn away with a warm heart and a smile, more inspired than ever to put away the high heels for awhile and pull on my old pair of vineyard boots.