Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Northwest Malbec; A Taste of Terroir


Malbec has experienced a resurgence in popularity here in the Northwest and in Washington in particular. The wine has grown into quite the darling with those inside the wine industry, and it was featured in a 2010 Taste Washington seminar session that discussed the growing presence of this bold varietal. While it's certainly growing in popularity there is still a small number of acres planted: I found a 2008 Seattle Times article that quoted 700 acres, but the Washington Wine Commission notes 247 acres in an email the sent me when I asked the question. In either case, its a varietal that is relatively uncommon in the Northwest right now.

I wanted to explore a few of the Malbecs available in the northwest, and invited some friends over to suss out the subtleties that exist in four different wines from four AVAs, all from 2007. The Malbecs came from Walla Walla Valley (on the Oregon side), the Wahluke Slope, Horse Heaven Hills, and Yakima Valley.

The wines we tasted were kindly provided by Gilbert Cellars, Watermill Winery, Vin Du Lac and McKinley Springs. In so doing we will cover the Walla Walla Valley (Watermill Winery) and Wahluke slope (Gilbert Cellars)as well as the Yakima Valley (Vin du Lac) and Horse Heaven Hills (McKinley Springs) wines.

Walla Walla Valley is the Eastern most of Washington's AVAs, and it goes into Milton-Freewater, Oregon (yes, Oregon). Surprised? I was. Milton-Freewater is home to Watermill Winery, located in the historic Watermill building just 10 miles from downtown Walla Walla (they’re in good company in Milton-Freewater; Cayuse Cellars also calls it home). Watermill makes a great variety of wines from their estate vineyards. When people think of wine and Northern Oregon, they tend to think Pinot and Chardonnay, but Watermill has a range that mirrors the wineries in Eastern Washington. Watermill Winery was opened in 2005 by the Brown family and they've enlisted the winemaking skills of Rich Funk of Saviah Cellars.

Walla Walla Valley is home to hot days and cool nights, and is generally cooler than the surrounding Columbia Valley AVA. The soil is predominantly loess, or wind deposited silt, which provides great drainage. Combined with the minimum rainfall that Walla Walla receives annually, this produces concentrated flavors in the wines that are grown there.

The Watermill 100% Malbec was dark and the oak was definitely present in the wine. Hints of cigar smoke, and toasted vanilla are evidence of the French and Hungarian oak barrels being used; 50% of which is new wood. The structure of this wine is superb. The integration of alcohol and the tannins produced a very nicely balanced, well-rounded wine. This Malbec was fruit forward and pleasantly jammy.

Our next Malbec was from Wahluke Slope, designated an AVA in 2006. Wahluke Slope has 5,200 planted acres and accounts for 20% of Washington's total wine grape harvest. The soil is very rocky with the surface consisting of windblown silt. Wahluke Slope is the state's warmest AVA and has become a darling with winemakers.

The wine from Wahluke Slope was the Gilbert Cellars Malbec, which is blended with 8% Cabernet. I'm just going to start out by saying that this wine was the favorite of the evening. Plain and simple, it’s a beautiful wine. The hot site of Wahluke produced a round wine with earthy accents and the scent of over-ripe blackberries on the nose. The structure was probably the most substantial of all four we tasted. With 14.8% alcohol the wine has well integrated tannins, and while the oak was noticeable it was a nice accent on the wine but not over bearing.

Our third wine comes from McKinley Springs Vineyards in Horse Heaven Hills, a small family owned winery with an enormous vineyard, over 2,000 vineyard acres. (To give you a sense of the size, Wahluke Slope has a total of 5,200 planted acres, and Red Mountain has 600 planted acres.) McKinley Springs grows wine for some of Washington's largest and best known wineries like Hogue Cellars, Northstar, Syncline and Columbia Crest. They have an excellent reputation for Quality to Price wines on their own label. Horse Heaven Hills is comprised of south facing slopes along the Columbia River and is Washington’s windiest AVA. The winds from the Columbia come in and cool the vineyards providing the fruit with concentrated flavors. The soil type is silt loam with basalt deep below that actually absorbs some of the excess water.

The McKinley Springs Malbec was definitely more fruit forward than the other two we'd had, with plums and sour cherries on the palate. The nose was of earth, moss and spice. Less oak was evident on this wine and it was aged for slightly less time in wood than the other wines.

The Vin du Lac Barrel Select Malbec was our last wine and it comes from the Yakima Valley AVA, and the Snipes Canyon Vineyard. Snipes Canyon Ranch is not far from Red Mountain and has a reputation for being one of the cooler sites in the state of Washington and certainly within the hot Yakima Valley AVA. This cool site allows for a bit longer hang time and very ripe fruit.

This Yakima Valley Malbec is an interesting wine. We noticed a lot of pepper notes that are reminiscent of some of Washington’s hotter sites, this particular vineyard however has a cooler reputation, and the wine had lots of cinnamon and spice on the palate. The most unexpected note of the night cited fresh cut acorn squash on the nose.

These Northwest Malbecs are all drinking really well right now. Sampling wines with 100% single AVA/vineyard fruit allowed us to really appreciate the character of the varying terroirs of these Northwest AVAs. The variety and subtlety of the sources of the grapes allowed us experience how soils and climate can show up in the wine, through the nose and on the palate. Most premium wines are made in a similar manner, though there are variances in oak and time spent in the bottle. What we taste in well-crafted wine is the ability of the winemaker to highlight the fruit and terroir that makes it special.

Monday, September 27, 2010

When's the last time you Indulged?

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Thursday night is the last time I indulged. Billed as Portland’s premiere Eastside dining And spirits festival, Indulge at the Jupiter Hotel exceeded all expectations in all five (or six) of my senses.

Living 90 miles from "the big city" makes it difficult for to attend some of the bigger food and wine events, particularly on a weeknight. While Clive can party it up in Seattle until the wee hours of the morning and be up 2 hours later in the office, add an hour and a half drive on to that between Portland and Corvallis and it isn't usually in the cards for me. When I got the invitation to Indulge at the Jupiter and saw it was on a Thursday, I was disappointed until I realized that I had already scheduled the next day off of work -- it would be the perfect end to a long few weeks. Add the opportunity to stay at the Jupiter Hotel after the event and I was sold.
I arrived at The Jupiter about two hours before Indulge was scheduled to begin and I found myself standing in the lobby of a super-funky retro style hotel, immediately next to the hopping Doug Fir nightclub. A large tent, where the event was held, was set up outside and I was struck by the incredible politeness of the staff at the front desk. They are top-notch and went out of their way to make sure I had a room right next to the action. Upon making my way to my room for the evening, I was really digging the modern-retro feel to the space. Then I saw it. A custom embossed condom, in the wrapper of course, sitting on the night stand in between the beds. That was courteous...and optimistic! The Jupiter probably isn't the best place to stop the family truckster on the a road trip, however, it perfectly meets it's niche of a place to "get a room" after an awesome night out in Portland. And...100 feet from the party tent? I was in heaven.
Unfortunately Rick was unable to join for this event in his hometown [grrr, work], but TOWB Special Correspondent Andrea was happy to attend and partake in the festivities. As we walked into the DreamTENT, I was bombarded with a cacophony of sights, sounds, and smells that all screamed "awesome, awesome, awesome." Around the perimeter of the tent, 12 of Portland's finest chefs had stations set up where they were doling out simply orgasmic fare. Scottish eggs, spam sushi, pork belly burgers, and peanut butter and jelly rice crispy treats...oh my. Our game plan was simple. Start at the first table and proceed counter-clockwise. It was the only way we could be sure to hit all of the amazingness.
According to Andrea:

It was overwhelming but extremely exciting. I felt like we weren't going to be able to try it all in the three hours of the event, but we were going to make a valiant effort.

Well friends, a valiant effort was made, and emerge successfully we did. After hitting half of the food stations and stopping by the Twitter Lounge, my throat was getting a bit parched from talking to all of the amazing chefs. That's right, this was a food and spirits event...where were the spirits? We quickly found out. Outside of the DreamTENT, approximately 8 distilleries and 4 breweries had each taken over a hotel room and set up shop serving guests. Our first stop was Deschutes; we sauntered in expecting your traditional 3 ounce sample pour. There are no sample pours at Indulge. A full beer in hand and a big smile on our face, we headed back to the other half of the food vendors. Three more mini-meals and we were ready for some more refreshment; to the Organic Nation room! Yep, pouring full cocktails. Yep, all included in the entry fee to the event.

Typically when I go to an event with a large number of people, I cruise through and am ready to take my leave to a quieter locale. The awesome thing about Indulge, while very well-attended, is that it didn't feel packed. The combination of the tent and all of the individual rooms spread guests out and we rarely needed to wait for food, drink or otherwise. I discovered some restaurants that I definitely want to hit up in Portland such as Tabla, Meat Cheese Bread, and Olympic Provisions. We didn't stumble into the wine room until a few minutes before the event closed, and the proprietors were more than happy to give us a generous taste while packing up.
All in all, a simply amazing evening as we Indulged more than I had anticipated. I left with a full belly and a satisfied palate, and was definitely appreciative of the short commute to my hotel room. The event was great, the hotel fit the bill perfectly, and I found the East Burnside neighborhood of Portland to be up and coming as a perfect eclectic getaway. Indulge encapsulated the spirit of culinary excellence in the Pacific Northwest. This is one of those events to add to your "must attend" list next year...if you can get a ticket!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Indulge at the Jupiter Hotel

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A mere 0.4 miles from the second location of the legendary Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland, Oregon, a la Bacon Maple Bar and Meditrina wine pairing fame, you'll find the Jupiter Hotel: the site of Indulge @ the Jupiter tomorrow night.

to yield to an inclination or desire; allow oneself to follow one's will

That, my friends, is what I will be doing tomorrow  at Portland's Premiere Eastside Dining and Spirits Festival, Indulge @ the Jupiter. An opportunity to savor, sip and nibble on the Eastside’s finest foods, it's not too late to join me at the second annual neighborhood festival of culinary arts taking over the Jupiter from 6 to 9 PM.

The food and spirit lineup has even the most grizzled foodie cuddled up with a warm fuzzy blanket screaming for more:
  • Alma Chocolates – Bakery Bar – Beaker & Flask
  • Bunk Sandwiches - Doug Fir
  • Genoa/ Accanto – Laurelhurst Market
  • Meat Cheese Bread - Navarre
  • Olympic Provisions – Spints
  • Steve’s Cheese Bar – Tabla
  • Xocolatl de David Chocolates
  • Clive Coffee – Deco Distilling
  • Gnostalgic Spirits – House Spirits
  • Integrity Spirits – New Deal Distillery
  • Organic Nation
This is one you definitely won't want to miss. Tickets are $40, available online, and I suggest you go to the site now and sign up. Right now. What are you waiting for? Why are you still reading this? A chance to hang out with Josh Gana from The Oregon Wine Blog, have some awesome food and drink? Who wouldn't pay $40 for that.

If you're a fool and don't come, never fear, I'll bring you breaking news coverage days after the event, and you can be sure I'm walking to Voodoo at some point and getting some donuts.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sake One: Definitely Not a Sakery

rice, yeast, water, mold
it is neither beer nor wine
sake is sake

While sake may share little with wine, Sake One's facility is technically a licensed winery. It's also a brewery, well, traditionally it's referred to as a "kura" (sake brewery). One thing for sure is that it is definitely not a "sakery." That's just a silly made up word (that Sake One made up and then erased).

I couldn't help but become fascinated with this Japanese beverage that just happens to be brewed only minutes from my house. The number of kuras in the US can be counted on one hand and I wasn't about to miss this opportunity. While my knowledge of sake was minimal at best, Josh was more or less a clean slate. Off to Sake One we went!

if one wants sake
follow your spirit westward
its in Forest Grove

Upon entering the tasting room of Sake One, you immediately get familiar feelings of a traditional winery. That immediately changes when you belly up to the tasting bar. Josh and I were confronted with three different tasting flights and since we knew almost nothing about sake, we went for the one with the most options. I have a feeling we were a pretty typical customer for Sake One as everybody from their staff was incredibly nice about explaining what we were drinking. What Josh and I had originally perceived as sake, however, was quickly shattered as we entered our flight.

to know your sake
one must sample what you can
commence the pouring

Up first we tried the same sake twice (Momokawa Silver), although one filtered and one unfiltered. Our initial pour was their unfiltered offering that is actually served from a keg in their tasting room. You can even take home growlers of it! Josh and I unanimously agreed that this was our favorite. As you can tell from the photo, this stuff is pretty dang cloudy. In terms of wine profiles, think of this as a a dry riesling with a thicker mouthfeel and more of a booze kick. That doesn't at all do this brew justice, but I'm doing my best here. The filtered version, while the same brew, tasted drastically different. This one was much sharper, less complex in flavor profile, and is much more aligned with what one would typically think a sake tastes like. Awesome introduction into the world of sake so far.

sake is like snow
every flake is unique
some taste like soda

Once we thought we had a grasp on the flavor profiles of sake, things just got ridiculous. We tried a pretty damn sweet Organic Momokawa Nigori, their Moonstone Coconut Lemongrass infused sake (that tastes like a pina colada), and then something that would fool even the most expert of beverage connoisseurs. Follow me on this one, so first you start with sake. Then, towards the end of the brewing process, infuse it with plum. At this point you pretty much have their Moonstone Plum sake, but oh no, Sake One doesn't stop there. Sake One wants to completely destroy any preconceived notions you had of sake just to mess with your head. From here we take that plum sake, put it in a keg, and hook it up to some CO2! The end product? What I can only describe as a plum sake soda that kind of tastes like a popcicle. This stuff is delicious, goes down like water, is the perfect beverage for a hot day at one of their outdoor events, and is only available on tap in their tasting room.

So what did Josh and I learn? Not only did we know little about sake going into this endeavor, but we knew even less than we thought. Sake is very similar to beer in regards to the fact that the flexibility granted with its ingredients lends itself to some ridiculous flavor profiles. This isn't to say that wine doesn't have a wide flavor profile, but I don't see anybody hooking it up to CO2 tanks or infusing it with lemongrass.

At this point we know what sake tastes like, but how is it made? For this, we decided to take a tour of the facility.

thousands of years old
the tradition lives on here
blue shoe covers too

As you walk towards the kura, one can't help but notice this giant mural on the outside of the building

Upon entering, one must don the traditional blue shoe cover. I actually have no clue if the blue shoe cover is traditional, but it's the first time I've ever worn them and it's harder than you think after pounding sake for an hour. As you can see from the following photo, I'm an idiot and put mine on backwards.

Because I'm sure everybody asks how sake is made right up front, Sake One was smart enough to put up the following diagram.

You probably can't read every detail on that, so let me break it down for you. In short, brown rice is milled to a specific consistency and then cooked in a giant rice cooker. From there, yest and koji (mold) are gradually added to the steamed rice until you have the consistency of sake you desire. The facility looks almost identical to many beer breweries, except for one instrument that I have definitely never seen at a beer brewery:

If I remember correctly, this is an incredibly humid room where steamed rice is laid out and given the opportunity to ferment more rapidly. The entire room is made of cedar and is essentially a more technologically advanced version of what would be used in traditional sake brewing. The rice is hand raked as prescribed by the brewer and then transferred to another container when deemed ready.

I wrote six haikus
I am out of ideas
this post must now end

All in all, our trip to Sake One was absolutely incredible. Not only did we gain exponentially more knowledge about sake, but the people are incredibly warm and inviting. If you're ever out in Forest Grove, do yourself a favor and stop by. I guarantee there will be something you'll like and you'll learn way more than you ever thought possible about sake.

Monday, September 20, 2010

10 Barrel's S1nist0r Black Ale

Brewery: 10 Barrel Brewing Company
Style: Black Ale Rating: B (Community) Rating: 3.51 (92nd percentile)
Serving: 22oz Bottle

10 Barrels Brewing Company is a relatively small brewing operation with quite a mission; the desire to reshape the craft beer landscape of Bend, Oregon. Those are fightin' words considering Bend is also home of Deschutes Brewing, which from top to bottom is one of my absolute favorite breweries. While their distribution outside of Central Oregon is relatively small, I received a 22oz bottle of their S1nist0r Black Ale as a gift from a local store in Portland. More about it from the brewers themselves:

We craft our S1NIST0R BLACK ALE using a special German dehusked black malt that is free of astringency, giving the beer a rich black color without the traditional dark beer characteristics. You will notice subtle hints of chocolate with an easy drinking balance on the back end. In the glass the dark color may look intimidating to some, but don't let this beer fool you. Our unique combination of malts creates a very light body and smooth finish.

Before I get to the beer itself, let's take a moment to observe the bottle. I don't think I've ever taken a moment to do this, but let me point out that this bottle is edgy. I mean it's almost Mountain Dew X-Treme. Let's analyze the necessary elements:
1. The name. Not only is it edgy, but it contains both letters and numbers meant to represent letters.
2. A sticker across the bottle cap. Anything preventing me from opening a beer faster is hardcore.
3. No description of what I'm about to drink. It's drinking on the edge.
4. Silhouette of a chick in a short skirt. I hear the more you drink, the more she takes off.

Ok, I digress. At this point I'm kind of just being a dick, so let's move onto the beer itself and see if it makes up for their marketing strategy.

Appearance: What immediately strikes me about this black ale is that it is not black, but, in fact, brown. Albeit it a very dark brown, but a decent amount of light gets through this one. Only about half a finger's worth of head on the pour that quickly dissipates.

Smell: Lots of malt with hues of burnt coffee and a bit of caramel. Kind of reminds me of a mix between a brown ale and a porter (of which Block 15 Brewing made an awesome one).

Taste: Interesting. The taste is very much like a darker brown ale with a bit of a traditional stout flair. Lots of malt and caramel with a tad of coffee. The mouthfeel was also much thinner than I initially expected. That's not bad at all though as it makes this brew very drinkable.

All in all I'd say this is a good (not great) beer that tries way too hard to grab your attention with stupid marketing tactics. Is 10 Barrels anywhere near dethroning Deschutes as the king of Bend? Absolutely not. Are they potentially onto something with a decently unique brewing style? Yes. I commend the beer itself and hope to try more of 10 Barrels' offerings, but they really need to make a decent website and sack their marketing department.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

An Evening with Quivira Vineyards - SWCW 2010

Remember the old Head & Shoulders commercials that said “you never get a second chance to make a first impression?” Apparently the people at Quivira Vineyards also remember those commercials because the evening Katie and I spent at Quivira for Sonoma Wine Country Weekend made an unforgettable first impression. The entire evening felt very intentional. From the moment we parked and set foot on property to the last sip of the Petite Sirah Port, Quivira put thought into creating an unforgettable experience for each of its guests.

We got to Quivira around 6:00pm as the sun was just about to set behind the mountains. Immediately greeted by Meghan who serves as the Tasting Room Manager, she poured us a glass of their 2009 Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. There was still time before dinner began and we were encouraged to walk the property, explore the barrel room, or stroll through the bio-dynamically farmed gardens. Shortly before dinner, new Quivira winemaker, Hugh Chappelle led us through the 2006, 2007, and 2008 Anderson Ranch Zinfandel. Only joining the Quivira team in June, we enjoyed talking with Hugh and were very impressed with his knowledge of Quivira wines and the passion he holds for the process of winemaking at Quivira. Hugh brings with him over 20 years of winemaking experience in California and we will be anxiously awaiting his first vintage.

Dinner was outside and consisted of two long tables, seating approximately 20 people each, situated in between the gardens, animal pen, and the chicken coop. The ambiance was set by the warm air, glowing sunset, and a solo guitarist providing the musical entertainment for the evening. Our fellow guests were a mix of locals and tourists, those in the wine industry and those who just enjoy drinking wine. Seated next to us was Nancy Bailey, General Manager of Quivira Vineyards. We found Nancy to be pleasantly down to earth and personable. Nancy did an excellent job of balancing multiple conversations and made our end of the table a gret place to be.This was exemplified by the informal lesson on the proper technique to saber a bottle of sparkling wine and the invitation to return to Quivira to show her.

Prepared by chefs from The Green Grocer using food grown right at Quivira, each of the five courses was paired with a Quivira wine. Normally not a big fan of beets, I was apprehensive diving into the first course of beet and goat cheese ravioli’s with candied walnuts. The pairing with the Sauvignon Blanc we were greeted with was very refreshing. The sweetness and crunch of the walnuts and the creaminess of the ravioli was complemented by a crisp fruitiness of the wine. The food and wine pairing in our second course was hands down my favorite of the evening. Paired with a crispy organic duck confit, the 2008 Grenache added just the right amount of spice with a perfectly prepared meal. The remaining courses included a tuna nicoise salad, apple BBQ pork shoulder, rounded out with a honey-lavender crème brulee, each paired with a different wine. The explanations for the pairings given by Hugh and the chefs made it easy to see how much thought and preparation went into this meal and the whole evening.

When we were given the opportunity to attend one of these winemaker dinners, I chose Quivira Vineyards quite arbitrarily. I didn’t know much about them except they were into sustainability and organic farming and I passed by them once on a bike ride. As the evening went on and Farm Manager Andrew Beedy explained more about their beliefs and practices, I became increasingly fascinated by their biodynamic vineyard-farm. As described to us by the Quivira staff, biodynamics is a philosophy and guide on farming practices. Different from organic, which tells you what you can’t do (use pesticides, etc), biodynamics prescribes actions that must be done to create a self-sustaining system that recycles back into the earth. Quivira is doing things that no one else is doing in the area and the planning that must go into biodynamics requires each person at Quivira to be involved in many aspects of the process. It requires each person to have true buy-in to the winery and the Quivira philosophy and that passion is apparent when you talk to anyone at the winery.

A visit to Quivira is a must, not only for the great wines, but also to learn about a place that is an innovator in the wine industry. Because of my interest in their practices and the explanation I gave in this post does not do biodynamics justice, I am already planning a second visit in the near future where I can sit down with the staff and learn much more about the winery. Plus, their wines are just that good and worth a second visit. Keep checking back to The Oregon Wine Blog for a more focused entry about Quivira Vineyards.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Spend Quality Time with R. Stuart & Co. Winery

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If you're reading this blog you obviously have great taste, and chances are good that you've visited a tasting room before. Some of them are sparse and warehouse-y, and some are very beautiful and welcoming. The goal of any tasting room is to get you to taste their wine, you can usually tell this from the name, tasting room. However, if you've been to a lot of tasting rooms, as I have (don't judge), you have probably seen some patrons walk into a tasting room with preconceived notions. These patrons might begin and end with one type of wine; they either love or hate red or white and so don't taste through the whole flight. They throw back their "tastes" much like one might throw back shots of vodka and then in the words of Jay Z, "On to the next one." Wine is purchased (or not) and you may hear a well informed question now and again.

Most people will tell you, though, and I completely agree, that wine is about relationships. It's a drink to be shared among friends over dinner, to accompany a conversation or for a special occasion. Many of us tend to buy wine we’ve had good experiences with, or wine that a friend has recommended. The wine bar at R. Stuart & Co. Winery is all about relationships. It’s more a bar or cafe setting, and feels cozier than what you'll typically find in a tasting room. For us, it was the setting for the beginning of another great wine relationship.

Gwynne and I were cooling our jets after a bicycle ride through the beautiful rolling hills of Willamette Valley. Between lunch and the IPNC Passport to Pinot, we were checking out bucolic downtown McMinnville. A chance communication over Twitter and lucky wandering found us outside the doors of R. Stuart Wine.

When we introduced ourselves and had a seat at the bar to taste their wine, Maria Stuart (one of the owners and wife of winemaker Rob, who is the R in R. Stuart) recommended we join a group sitting at a nearby table instead. At the table were Rob, Christina Collado from Cubanisimo Vineyards and her husband. Maria Stuart, of course, and Kathy Joseph from Fiddlehead Cellars in California.

As the scene unfolded, we found that we were in for a real treat; in addition to their standard tasting flight, Rob ran us through the paces. We started with one of the most unique wines I've ever had in the Northwest: R. Stuart's Vin Tardive. The Vin Tardive is made from Pinot Gris and this wine runs totally counter to your expectations. Reminiscent of the Vendage Tardive of France's Alsace region, this late harvest fruit and skinny little bottle have you expecting sweetness on the palate. Au contraire, mon frère (ha!). The acidity on this wine makes it a wonder to behold and wonderful to drink, perfect paired with cheese or the sformato recipe Rob and Maria included on their website. Rob is still working to perfect this little number but I recommend it highly. It’s a delightfully unique example of a very balanced late harvest wine.

As we tasted through the Pinots, the conversation wandered mightily; from wine to area rugs, from transporting wine to California in a refrigerated truck to commerce. One of the highlights was the opportunity to taste two single vineyard Pinots that are planted right next to each other. The Ana Vineyard Pinot butts up against Weber Vineyard, no more than a "tractor's width" from one another but planted nearly 10 years apart. These wines are a fascinating study in the difference that older vines can make. Ana, planted in the mid 70s, and Weber, planted in the mid 80s, show some similarities - both had an element of spice. Gwynne and I both found the younger vines to be a bit rounder and exhibiting darker fruit elements. If you ask me for a good reason why it's easy to become a bit of a geek about the nuances in wine, I would hold these two bottles up as an example.

Rob tasted us through the Temperance Hill next and we were just over the moon about it. With amazing acidity, owing to its 750 to 800 feet of elevation, this wine hints at a smokiness and darker bold fruit. This is (yet another) example of why I can't really get too much Oregon Pinot, and we took a couple bottles of this home with us.

R. Stuart makes such a wide range of Pinots at a variety of price points and they're all worthy of your consideration. Given the diversity and Rob's philosophy of showcasing the fruit and hence the site, you're very likely to find something that speaks to you. If you're lucky you'll have the opportunity to speak to Rob and Maria about what makes Pinot - and the wine community here in the Willamette - special to them. What it kept coming back to were the people and the relationships. As we left R. Stuart for IPNC, we felt just a little bit closer to the wine community here in McMinnville and we understood just a little bit more what makes it such a unique place.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Vino Veritas and Harris Bridge - A Magical Combination

There are plenty of obsessions in the world: sports, money, sex, politics and religion. But few endeavors attract as much devotion as wine. Aficionados will shell out hundreds of dollars for a single bottle and travel the world over to taste new vintages.

But some are called to wine on another level. They have that peculiar American quality that convinces them that they can leave everything behind and redefine themselves. They risk it all, giving up careers, families, friends…everything they’ve ever known…to reinvent their lives in wine.

With a decanter full of inspiration, passion, and technical capability, the production team at Three Crows Productions has embarked on an epic mission: produce a feature-length film documenting the story of ordinary people with an extraordinary passion. It’s the story of the moment they fell in love with wine. How on earth can you encapsulate the spirit of the American wine industry on film? Start with a cadre of Oregon winemakers, capture their story, and let the script write itself...that's how.
Last weekend, Micheal, Zac, and I had the opportunity to spend some time with the Three Crows team at one of our favorite local wineries, Harris Bridge Vineyard. Winemaker-owners Nathan and Amanda had contacted us with a tantalizing offer: come out to the winery on a Saturday afternoon, drink some wine, and see the release of the trailer for Vino Veritas, an American wine movie. Awesome wine, a wine movie, and an afternoon wine geeking out with filmmakers and winemakers? If I must.

It was a gorgous afternoon as we arrived at the winery outside of Philomath, Oregon. Amanda met us with the full lineup of Harris Bridge wine, some awesome dessert wine that we've written about before.
Before long, we had a nice buzz going on and Truen Pence of Three Crows gave an introduction to the trailer for Vino Veritas. In speaking to the philosophy of the film, he quickly hit a chord with me as the congruence with the vision behind The Oregon Wine Blog became quickly apparent. Wine as an experience, a journey, a passion. An approachable venture, with the spirit of the wine industry evident throughout wine regions nationwide. I was sold, then he fired up the trailer.

I was double sold. Early in the filming process they are already featuring some of our favorite wineries, Harris Bridge and Airlie, with more to come as funding becomes available. A sidenote regarding funding, you know that we don't ask for much here at The Oregon Wine Blog. Some decent wine, a bacon maple bar every now and then, and some nice-fitting spandex for Le Tour de Pinot...well, friends, I'm going to ask you for something now. [Steps on soapbox] As an independent, self-funded film, Vino Veritas requires all of our support to get off the ground. Three Crows has set a goal of raising $5000 by November 6 for production to move forward. Visit their kickstarter website, donate a dollar...donate a hundred...whatever you can give. I promise, this film will be worth it and it won't happen without you. [off soapbox]

As if an afternoon at the winery wasn't enough, we were invited to join the Harris Bridge and Three Crows crew for dinner after the event in downtown Corvallis. Micheal's perspective on dinner was spot on:

"It is the kind of opportunity you don't pass up." That is what Josh said as we drove away from Harris Bridge Winery and back to his place to kill time before dinner plans for the evening. Not one hour earlier we had been invited to dinner with Nathan and Amanda from Harris Bride where we had spent part of the afternoon. Reservations were at Cloud 9 in Corvallis. I had not been there before, and while I am always up for trying new things, I wasn't sure I completely wanted to go. This was because I am a natural introvert. I am a quiet guy who likes to be in the company of a couple of people. I don't overly like large crowds, and not that this was going to be a large crowd, I was nervous. Josh is much better and more comfortable at these things then I tend to be. But I didn't have any real excuse to not go aside of that.

This is one of situations where I was glad I did not let my trepidation dictate what I should do. It was so much fun! Not only was Cloud 9 amazing, but the conversations had due to the company that was there was incredible. I had the chance to sit next to Dennis on my right, who works at the Corvallis Gazette Times. To my right was Patrick, the boyfriend of Sarah from Sarah's Stories, a line on wine by Harris Bridge. Across the table from me was Kegen, one of the the producers of the movies. Next to Kegen was Nathan of Harris Bridge. To clarify, I was sitting in close proximity to one of the winemakers and one of the filmmakers.

We had conversations ranging from what should be done with free-time, to politics and finances, to wine and movies, to almost everything. I recall when I looked at the menu, I saw one of the wines from Harris Bridge. I turned to Nathan and asked him, "How does it make you feel when you see your wine on a menu?" To my surprise, Nathan mentioned that he was sure they were on the menu. When Patrick confirmed that it was, Nathan took some time to think about it. His response was not what I expected. Nathan stated, "It's not so much when I see my wine on a menu. What really gets me is when someone comes to the winery from far away after having either read about it, that's what I find really exciting." That was far from the answer I was expecting. I guess I thought that the having your wine in a restaurant was the pinnacle of being a wine maker, but how wrong could I be.

For as many wineries and tasting rooms I have been to, I think I should have noticed that. So many times we have written about not just the wines we have had, but the experiences we had while we there. I never thought about what it must be like for a winemaker to have people come into their space and have the experience that we have frequently had and appreciate. But that is like the natural habitat of the winemaker and what better way to "observe" them then in that natural setting. Okay, so maybe using an animal analogy was not the best, but seriously, think about it. We all have our natural settings, and for a winemaker, their winery and tasting room.

Throughout dinner, our conversations would continue. We would laugh, and think about things, and laugh some more. It was a great evening, and I was grateful to Nathan and Amanda for the invitation, and to Josh for suggesting we attend.

Dinner was the perfect end to a great afternoon, and I left feeling inspired and excited to have found some kindred spirit in the world of wine. I can't wait until the project is completed and we can enjoy an awesome film while sipping a glass of wine. It won't happen without your support, though, so consider supporting the project today!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Taste of Sonoma - SWCW 2010

This past weekend Katie and I had the pleasure of being invited to cover Sonoma Wine Country Weekend. Our adventures took us to three separate events, Taste of Sonoma, a winemaker dinner at Quivira Vineyards, and finally the 18th annual Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction. We begin our story on Saturday afternoon at Taste of Sonoma, hosted by MacMurray Ranch in Healdsburg, CA.
A collection of over 150 wineries and 60 local chefs, Taste of Sonoma was a bit overwhelming and intimidating to start. Not because we don’t think we belong there, because we can schmooze with the best of them. It was intimidating because as we approached Taste of Sonoma and entered the boundaries of the ranch, there were at least 10 distinct stations or areas that were calling our names. Like a previous event I covered, Wine and Song Around the Plaza, the Taste of Sonoma provided the opportunity to experience some of the best wines in Sonoma County all in one location. Organized by different appellations, there were 4 tented areas on the primary grounds. Sonoma Valley, Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Alexander Valley were all represented with both wine and seasonal food pairings.

Prior to the event I had connected with Robert Larsen from Rodney Strong Vineyards who recommended we check out Davis Bynum in the Russian River Valley. Having no other preference as to where we began our adventure, we made our way over and started the day with a crisp 2007 Chardonnay. While the Russian River Valley tends to be cooler, this Chardonnay came from the eastern part of the valley thus giving it a bit more of a tropical crispness. Expertly paired with a chilled corn soup from Syrah Bistro, this was a perfect way to start the day. Knowing there was a long day of sipping and socializing ahead, we moved along and made our next stop at J Vineyards. A maker of both still and sparkling wines, J was pouring one of each and paired it with a specialty BLT. Look for more information to come on J Vineyards, as I just received some sample bottles that will be reviewed soon. It should also be noted that the food offerings were quite substantial, especially given that the event occurred over the lunch hour and there was no doubt that mass quantities of wine were being consumed.

As the day progressed we made our way through each of the other appellation specific tents, stopping at some of our favorites, such as B.R. Cohn, Clos du Bois, and Chateau St. Jean (they were pouring Cinq Cepages), but really focusing on trying some new and unfamiliar wineries. Some of our new found favorites included Haywood Estates, Kokomo Winery, and Spann Vineyards, who we got to spend the entire day with at Harvest Auction. If you attend this event, I really recommend stopping by places you don’t know much about. I made it a point to stop at the wineries that didn’t have anyone around them. It is enticing to stay in your comfort zone and only go to those you know, but I found that some of the wines and conversation I enjoyed most came from places I’d never heard of. Overall we found the table hosts to be friendly and willing to converse, even with the sea of people trying to make their way to the front. Perhaps the most pleasing experience was that there was no expectations/opportunity to purchase wine at this event. You were expected to visit many wineries and try several wines so there was no awkward feeling as you left one winery and moved to the table just next to them.

While we spent most of our time sipping and socializing at the winery tables, there was much more to this event that we didn’t fully experience. We happened upon the chef demonstration going on in the middle of the grounds but did not stay long enough to see the Sonoma Steel Chef competition. Other opportunities not fully realized included a variety of educational wine talks, guided tastings with nationally acclaimed sommeliers, and a demonstration of an old fashioned wine crush. There was so much going on all at once that there is no way to experience it all in one day...I guess we will just have to go back next year.

Shortly before we left we stopped by Gloria Ferrer Bubble Lounge, where we found some of the youngest patrons to the event. However, given that it was nearing the end of the day the offerings were slim so we made our way to the Visa Signature Lounge to explore the several cheese stations from local, um...what do you call a cheesemaker? Their offerings were delicious although it would have been a nice compliment to have wines to pair with the cheese. But ending with sparkling wine and cheese was a nice way to finish the day, much like in those fancy-schmancy restaurants.
A mix of both young and old oenophiles and a mix of large and small wineries made for one incredible day at MacMurray Ranch. The beauty of any Sonoma event is the casual, laid back approach to wine making and wine drinking. The winemakers love what they do and even more, they love sharing it with you.

Check back later this week for my next post about our exquisite winemaker dinner at Quivira Vineyards. Cheers!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Evesham Wood; Changing of the Guard

Not too long ago, I found myself down in the Salem area for a wedding. While I was in town I wanted see if I could visit one of the wineries in the Eola-Amity Hills that I hadn't previously experienced: Evesham Wood. When I got in touch with the folks over that way and inquired about a visit to the vineyards and a possible tasting there, I received a response from Russ Raney, the owner and winemaker for 24 years. Russ is hanging up his spurs to fulfill his dream of moving to France, but was kind enough to put me in touch with the new owner, Erin. (Yes, that's spelled correctly.) Erin said that he'd love to have Gwynne and I come by and he could tell us the story of Evesham Wood.

Evesham Wood is situated at the top of a hill and has an exquisite view of the central Willamette Valley looking out towards the Cascade Range. At the top of the property is a Tudor style home looking out over the vineyard. Gwynne and I met Erin at the top of the drive, where we talked about the history of Les Puits Sec, the reputation that Russ had built for both the wines of Evesham Wood, and his management of the estate vineyard. Evesham Wood adheres to some of the most rigid organic and biodynamic standards in the wine industry; 13 acres of Tilth-certified vines, farmed organically for ten years.

Erin never really planned it out like this. He got his start on the East Coast as a wine retailer and importer. His gameplan was to open a wine shop until then he moved to Berkley and got to work a harvest in Napa and Sonoma. In 2007, Erin moved to Salem and started working with Russ after some back and forth. As they worked together, and got to know each other, Russ and his family approached Erin and his wife about buying Evesham Wood. While Erin had always envisioned purchasing land or a vineyard as opposed to an established winery, he couldn’t say no to the opportunity presented.

Erin took us into the caves and we barrel tasted the 2009; Erin isn’t yet sure how the lower acidity of the vintage will reflect in the bottle as the acidity was so prominent in the Eola-Amity 2008 vintage. Evesham Wood is going for acid over alcohol, and they've also been very specific about the yeast they've been using, to the point of exclusively using a yeast that Russ isolated from a bottle of Burgundy 20 years ago.

Erin wants to honor the legacy that Russ has built with Evesham Wood, and looking for ways to expand that legacy. He’s already considering a few ways to grow, like releasing a Temperance Hill single vineyard Pinot and using his own label, Haden Fig, as a testing ground. Erin is interested in working with biodynamics as well as doing some different things with closures, screw caps and glass corks. While things at Evesham Wood are changing, it's clear that with his reverence for both the terroir of the Eola-Amity Hills and his admiration for the business Russ worked so hard to build, Evesham Wood is in good hands.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Spains' Favorite Oregon Pinot; Lenne Estates

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I'm always on the lookout for new wines, new wineries, and varietals I've not tried. When one of my most trusted Willamette Valley sources, Jenny gave me the word, I had to go check out Lenne Estates.

Lenne Estates is located along 240 on the way to Yamhill from Newberg. It may not be that well known, but its vineyards lie among a number of the more revered Willamette Valley wineries such as Penner Ash, Willakenzie and Shea. The Lenne site is incredibly steep, and it provided a visual treat as we drove up the hill to the tasting room.

Lenne Estates is owned and operated by Steve Lutz and the winery is named after his father-in-law, Lenny. The label is a striking charcoal rendering of an image of Lenny in his younger days. Steve loves the sketch of Lenny but is a little less certain of the labeling that has been chosen for his second label Lenez, the sketch of a nose in a similar style to that original drawing. Its started to grow on him a bit though and he admits that he may be coming around.

Steve got his start in the wine business in the early 80s in Napa Valley, working harvests and tasting rooms and learning about the wine business as well as the business of wine. He began tinkering with Pinot Noir in 1984 making wine in Carneros. When Steve first came to Oregon he was working with Anne Amie to help develop their brand. The opportunity arose to acquire some acreage in the Willamette Valley and Steve jumped all over it.

Steve planted the Lenne estate vineyards in 2001 with some help from the winemaker from Anne Amie. Given its steep angle and his desire to dry farm the site, Lenne lost a lot of vines those first few years - 35% in the first year.

In 2005 Lenne Estates started selling fruit to Owen Roe and Steve took his winemaking to their location. Steve credits Owen Roe’s David O'Reilly for his aid in getting the results and the wine that Lenne Estates wants to make. In addition to lending production space and winemaking advice, Owen Roe also does a vineyard designate Pinot Noir with Lenne Estates fruit and uses it in their acclaimed Kilroy wine as well.

Steve makes a few Pinots, and also promotes some of the Owen Roe wines in his establishment. His 2008 Jill's 115 was our favorite, a Pinot made from the 115 clone. This is a very nicely balanced Pinot with great structure. Though it hadn't been released, Steve let us pick up a bottle with a promise not to open it for some time to come. Steve sells most of his wine, a full 90%, through his Rootstocks club. His most far-ranging sale has been to a company in Spain. This Spanish restaurant company buys 50 cases of Steve's wine for some of their exclusive eateries, and they shared with him that it's the favorite wine of the Prime Minister's wife.

Even if you're not a head of state I recommend checking out Lenne Estates. Steve is an interesting character, the views are unforgettable and you'll be tasting some Oregon Pinot that is in exclusive company.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

2010 East Valley Wine Association New Release Party

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(Please let me start off by saying this is my first post on a mac, so I apologize in advance for any obvious formatting issues I may have missed.)

There is wine in them there hills!!!

...well at least on the other side of the river.

Several months ago I received an e-mail from Jason Hanson at Hanson Vineyards. The e-mail was asking if I was interested in being a wine judge at an event that was coming up. Now I have to admit, that while I was excited about the possibility, I was nervous. I didn't want Jason or anyone who reads The Oregon Wine Blog to think that any of us were misrepresenting our selves with regards to our knowledge of wine. And I have to say that while I have probably been enjoying wine longer than any other contributor here at TOWB, I definitely feel as though I am the least qualified to judge any wine events. After

some emails back and forth with Jason confirming I am not a expert on wine, I felt better about agreeing to judge. I would also learn that pretty much all of the judges were
not experts in wine, and we may have all been bloggers as well.

The premise was very simple actually - there would be several judges and we would be sampling wines from the 11 wineries that make up the East Valley Wine Association. All of them are small family owned wineries. The wines were broken down in different categories - Pinot Noirs, Other Reds, Whites, Deserts, and Other from what I recall. The request was made that if we started judging in one category, that we continue through that entire category. We did not have judge all of the categories, either. The worst part was that we could only end up picking 3 each category, with our top choice being given 3 points, 2nd 2, and 3rd 1 point.

So on a clear, sunny, and warm May day, I made my to St Josef's Winery with my colleague Kate, where the event was taking place. It was Kate's last weekend in Salem, as she was moving to the Puget Sound area for a new job. And considering Kate was the first person I met when I came to Willamette for my interview, it seemed fitting she and I hang out a bit this weekend nearly 3 years later. It was also helpful for me to have a designated driver as there was another get together for Kate later in the evening, so she was committed to not drinking as much this afternoon.

True to form, the wines I decided to partake in and judge were those in the Pinot Noir category. Kate jokingly observed that I did choose the category that had the most amount of wine. Hey, what can I say :-)

The approach I took to each was trying to engage the staff member who was there from each winery asking them and about the winery - mostly due to the fact that I was completely unfamiliar with all of them, but also to be polite, rather than just going up to them and asking for a sample, and just chat with them a bit about their wines. As a result, I have some notes about the wineries as well as the notes I made about their wines.

The first pinot I had was from Piluso Vineyard located in Aumsville, Oregon. They are a small winery, only producing about 500 cases a year. I remember their 07 Estate Pinot Noir to have a bit of a stronger aftertaste.

The 08 Estate from Pudding River Wine Cellars was next. Kate had had wine from them before, and while their labels looked familiar, I don't recall having had them before. Their pinot was one that enjoyable and clean. It was light, almost sweet on the nose and was subtle on the palate. Pudding River is based out of Salem. They are known more for their whites, with the grapes coming from the East Valley. They are also getting a bite more acclaim in the white area. Their estate is located near the Oregon Gardens.

I then went to try the 07 Pinot Noir of Hanson Vineyards. In talking with Clark Hanson, he told me about the farm being in his family since the 1930s I believe it was. They started growing grapes in the early 2000s after his son, Jason Hanson returned from the East coast. Clark did say that about 50% of the land is designated for grape growing. When I asked him why only 50%, he jokingly responded "You don't go 100% in with something like wine." That statement seems to be true with almost every winemaker I have talked to - they take their time growing and developing the art of viticulture. Their pinot noir was among my favorites of all of the ones I had that day.

I went over to King's Raven next where they had two pinots. One was an 08 Reserve which I thought was very good and among my favorites. I noticed the color on it immediately and I found it to be great on the tongue. The other was an 08 Estate which I found the spices to be noticeable and enjoyable immediately.

I don't have any notes on the winery or vineyard itself, which could be
because I find myself missing a page of my notes, which may mean I will undoubtedly leave a winery or two out. My apologies to our readers and the wineries for that mishap on my part.

Another winery I don't have complete notes on is Alexli Vineyard and their 08 Pinot Noir. Alexi used to be known as Markham Hill, and through Markham Hill have around for about 30 years. They decided to take a different direction and along with that re-branded themselves as Alexli, which has been around for about 3 years. At Alexli, they do everything by hand. I also learned that their whites are aged in steel barrels.

Last, but certainly not least was Christopher Bridge based out of Oregon City. While I don't have a lot of notes about the winery, I have some on their wine. The first wine I had as a 07 Estate. This was another good wine to help round out the day. I found that it didn't linger too much on the palate, but it had a full, yet subtle, lasting aftertaste. One of the other wines I had from Christopher Bridge was their 08 Estate Muscat. This was not as sweet as other muscats, with a lighter sweetness to it.

This was such an amazing day, with great music, wine, food, and desserts. I was excited to have experienced an event like this because it was my first experience seeing the collegiality of wineries in an area. They all knew each other and complimented each other so much - these family vineyards were together like a family in the East Valley Wine Association. I look forward to visiting the wineries individually and seeing what else they have to offer.

Until next time...


Friday, September 3, 2010

There's #Cabernet in the Bin at Bin 41 Wine

The twitter machine is an enigma, wrapped in a puzzle, inside a mystery. Much like the deep sea or outer space, its frontiers are in many ways still unmapped. We know that in the deep sea, there are fish, and fish-like things. In space, there are stars and planets and such. In the twitter machine there are people in images the size of postage stamps and then lots of hashtags, and “at” signs; otherwise know as @.

Like any new frontier, this can, of course, be very perplexing, but some people are naturally talented when loosed in a new frontier. Rick Bakas is one of those people. He talks a lot about bacon, but he'll also say very insightful things about wine and social media (which is really just code for the twitter machine, and maybe facebook).

On September 2nd, Rick Bakas unleashed a twitter-based, singular yet plural ode to one particular wine: Cabernet. Cabernet is often seen as the most luxurious of wine varietals. It can be big and brawny, as is often the case in California; or it can be more nuanced and elegant here in the winederful state of Washington. In both cases it can be mindnumbingly beautiful. And so, #Cabernet was born.

People all over the world took part in this #twitter tasting of the Cabernet variety. I went to West Seattle and met up with my twitterati friends from Seattle at Bin 41. Bin 41 is a small family-owned wine shop in the heart of West Seattle, in the area known as the Junction. Junction sounds like a fancy word for Intersection, but somehow better. So, well played, West Seattle. This wasn’t the first time I’d been to Bin 41, and it’s an excellent wine shop. It’s small and personal with a very impressive selection.

Bin 41 hosted six smaller Washington winemakers and their Cabernets or Cabernet-based blends. Guardian Cellars poured their 2008 Chalk Line blend and Bart Fawbush poured his Bartholomew Wine blend Reciprocity. There were also Cabernets from Forgeron, Beresan and Balbao winery. Two other blends were poured by Stevens Winery, their 424 and Patterson Cellars Red Mountain blend.

For $5, the approximately 130 guests were given access to six pours of some of Washington's smaller boutique wineries as well as pizza from Talaricos, located just across the street. The wines were fine examples of what Washington Cabernet is capable of, both on it's own and as a blend. Two of the wines that I'd not had before were the Guardian Cellars Chalk Line and the Stevens 424. I thought both were very well done. Jerry from Guardian Cellars called the Chalk Line blend his "pizza and Doritos wine." While I agree the wine is approachable, I feel like it's a good example of Washington fruit worthy of a bit more appreciation than that.

This was the first foray into a twitter event for Jon and and his wife T, who own Bin 41, and he was very happy with how the evening turned out. From an attendee perspective, Jon and T certainly know how to bring the community together and I hope this is the first in a long line of twitter events at Bin 41.

(Check out information on Bin 41 tastings and classes here.)