view from the Yaquina River

Thursday, December 1, 2011

WOWED IN WALLA WALLA!

Wow, Bob and I just returned from a ten day trip to the Walla Walla Washington Wine Country, and what a treat it was! Our son has started his own wine brokerage and found that he could combine a business trip with some pleasure by inviting his parents to make the trip they had intended to make since about 2004 to Walla Walla (W²). I must say it was worth the wait because the boy surely did deliver on the fun factor by getting us appointments with some of W²’s top wine makers.



But let me start at the beginning. Not only was this our first trip to W², it was also our first trip through the gorge, our first time to see the gorgeous Columbia River and all the wonderful small towns on its banks. It was our first glimpse at Washington’s fields of windmills and the acres and acres of trees growing on that enigmatic tree farm right in the middle of nowhere. We left in the late morning in true Trusty fashion which put us in W² just at closing time for most of the tasting rooms, but we managed to sneak in one visit before heading out to downtown W². We arrived in time to watch the late afternoon sun sinking over the rolling hills just outside the Amavi tasting room. The simple but well appointed room boasted a wall of windows to showcase the main attraction—the grape vines. Jean-François Pellet is the winemaker. His friends in the biz call him J.F. The young man hosting the tasting room poured the lovely and toothsome wines for us—a 2008 Cabernet, a 2009 Syrah, a 2010 Semillon, and a 2010 Rosé. (Oh my, can we already be drinking 2010’s?) The cabernet was delightful in the way only a cabernet can be and is truly the product of the winemaker with a blend of 76% Cab, 16% Merlot, 5% Syrah, and 3% Cab Franc from four different vineyards that sees three different types of oak. Ever since Jon’s Seguin Moreau days, I always get curious about the oak. The Syrah was also delightful; it had rested in 100% French oak, as did the Semillon. The Rosé wowed; it was 100% Cab Franc, a perfect marriage of fruit and mineral.
We tried a few more tasting rooms that evening, but all had closed for the day, so we went to a wine bar called Vintage Cellars. There, I embarrassed myself by “recognizing” someone I have never actually met, but he was gracious like everyone else on the trip and brushed away my error with an enthusiastic handshake as if to say I was just sitting waiting for you to come in anyway. After some more treats and making friends with everyone in the small but well-appointed wine bar, Jon suggested we walk over to check out the wine selections at the Marcus Whitman. This beautiful and historic old hotel hosts a grand happy hour. Here is a link to the happy hour menu

http://www.marcuswhitmanhotel.com/images/pdfs/happy_hour.pdf

If you go to W², don’t miss it.

So, the next day we accompanied Jon out to the old Airport where so many of the wineries are located. If I hadn’t seen this, I wouldn’t have believed it. The city very wisely took the acres of the old military air base and made it available to the business people, especially the wineries. They turned it into the Port of Walla Walla Winery Incubators. So there, laid out on a military grid, in one building after another was winery after winery. Some of the buildings look very much as they did years ago and some are extravagantly restored. This is wine-tasting made EZ.

Jon had an appointment to meet Joe Forest the winemaker at Patit Cellars. But we arrived early just to check the whole place out and happened upon a little jewel before the appointment. This jewel is CAVU Cellars. This turned out to be a Mom (Karen) and Pop (Jim) and Son (Joel) operation, so you know we had to spend some time there. Karen and Joel were on duty and graciously shared nine of their wines with us. A line from their website reads: CAVU is an old aviation weather acronym that means ‘Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited’. Pilots always like seeing that acronym on their weather forecast as it means a good flying day. It is an apt description for their wines as well. Expect to hear much more about these wines. We had to have at least one of everything we tasted which included: 2010 Barbera, 2009 Horizon Red, 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 (tank and barrel fermentation) and 2010 (Tank fermentation only) Sauvignon Blanc, 2008 Malbec, 2010 Barbera Rose', and 2010 Petit Syrah. The Horizon Red is a wonderful red blend of cab, merlot, and males, easy drinking and full of flavor. The varietals are true with lots of Walla Walla terroir showing. The wines have been winning awards including a Double Gold for the Horizon in the 2009 Tri-Cities competition and for the Cab in the 2010 Seattle Wine Awards. Of the 2008 Barbera, Steve Tanzer says, "I can't think of too many other West Coast barberas that actually taste like barbera." 88 Pts. Here is the link to their web site. Again, don’t miss these guys. http://www.cavucellars.com/index.html

After this delightful visit, we wandered back over to Patit Creek to find Joe Forest. Joe is now producing his own label called Tempus. What great fortune that Joe has agreed to have Jon broker his wines in Oregon! First of all, let me say that Joe is the quintessential gracious wine maker. He let us taste from the tanks, showed us the whole operation, and allowed Bob unlimited access for pictures (I’ve included some here.) He was BUSY, but took time to make us feel at home. There is a certain wonderful civil agreement that takes place when a winemaker turns his baby over to the wine broker. The wine broker must learn all about the wine and understand what makes it unique so that he can inform his customers—he has to fall a little bit in love. In the same way the winemaker must trust that the broker will know where best to place his wines and not allow them to become “lost” among the other offerings. Later, we followed Joe out to the old bunkers where he stores his wine (how appropriate is that?) to load the truck with Tempus for resale in Oregon. We made it a group effort with Jon, Bob, me, and Joe carefully loading the back of the Tahoe. Joe thoughtfully tried to stop me from helping with the heavy lifting. But I waved him away with, “In for a penny; in for a pound. This family supports your wine.”


Bet you haven't seen wine poured like this before!
 Joe Forest moved to Walla Walla in the fall of 2004. In the spring of 2005, he became the Assistant Winemaker at Dunham Cellars and is currently the Winemaker at Patit Creek Cellars. Joe's interest in wine and food is deep rooted. His father, Keith, instilled an appreciation of European culture in his family and was himself a "home winemaker." The name Tempus is a Latin word meaning time, and the label features the slow but sure tortoise. Tempus has a handy collection of awards for its wines as well, and was featured in Seattle Magazine as on of the Top 10 New Washington Wineries.

Currently, Tempus is offering a 2008 Columbia Valley Cabernet comprised of Old Vine Sagemoor, Artz Vineyard on Red Mt, and Seven Hills Merlot. The oak is 100% French, mostly new, and a 2008 Walla Walla Valley Syrah that is meaty and floral, yes that is what I said, meaty and floral on more French oak. They also have a lovely 2008 Malbec with enough structure to demand breathing time. Ever a lover of Rhone style wines, I was excited to find the 2007 Syrah-Grenache Blend. As Joe describes it, “The 20% Grenache provides flavors of garrique (a French term for dried lavender) and raspberry freezer jam. I’m getting weak in the knees. Finally, they offer a 2010 Evergreen Vineyard Riesling which is YUMMY! The fermentation was carried out in a jacketed stainless steel tank and locked in at 53 degrees Fahrenheit for a duration of 81 days. Absolute perfection!

Joe’s wife Molly came out to bring him his lunch and we got to meet her too. What a delightful couple they are! I have pasted the Tempus website and Jon’s brokerage Legacy Wine Selections website below. YOU are not going to want to be left out of any of this. And remember, the case production is low. I saw it all in one smallish bunker!

 http://www.tempuscellars.com/

http://legacywineselections.net/Home_Page.html   Jon is still working on his website, but the get info page is up!

We made one other stop before we left the “Air Field” to Dunham Cellars to taste the offerings of one of Washington State’s top wine talents. We caught sight of a late model Jag outside the winery and wondered if it might be actor Kyle MacLachlan at work since he has joined forces with Dunham to make his Cabernet blend, Pursued by Bear. Didn’t see MacLachlan, but did taste some fine wines including 2007 Shirley Mays Chardonnay a lightly-oaked chard with a label that pays tribute to the winemaker’s grandmother. We also tasted Three Legged Red a red table wine of their finest Cabernets, Merlots, and Syrahs. The wine is named after Port, Eric Dunham’s rescued puppy. The love that would rescue a mauled puppy is evident in the wine…yummy. We also tasted his lovely 2008 Cabernet XIV, again outstanding. Find them at http://www.dunhamcellars.com/

O.K. by now, I am getting a little foggy about the order of events, but I haven’t forgotten any of the locations. We visited Basel Cellars where “our youngest” Andy Minor is the national sales director. The Basel Cellars Chateau is worth the trip alone, but of course the wines are excellent. Jon has actually visited this Estate a number of times including special winemaker dinners at which he was the chef. We sold Basel for years through both the Village Market and Deli and the Blue Cork Wine Bar. Their Claret is my choice for top value. Find them at http://www.baselcellars.com/ . Katy was hosting the tasting room when we were there and she did a wonderful job. She was very knowledgeable about the wines and made us feel at home. We enjoyed their luscious Syrahs and Cabs, including their Earth Series. These folks do Bordeaux beautifully.

Leaving the French influence behind, we taste traveled to Italy with the next treat Jon arranged for us at Va Piano Vineyards where he knows winemaker Justin Wylie. Wylie has built a heavenly Tuscan Estate right there in the hills of Walla Walla. As their website says, “Chi va piano, va sano e va lontano. He who goes slowly, goes safely and goes far. This old Italian saying sums up Va Piano Vineyards approach to winemaking, and to life.” On the day we visited, Justin was accompanied by his wonderful little daughter Sienna who was celebrating her birthday that day. She joined us on our tour of the facility often asking to be raised up into her father’s arms to peek over the side of a barrel to inspect the readiness of the grapes…a budding winemaker to be sure. The tasting room manager Derri Reid shared Justin’s wine history with us as she poured us his wonderful wines. The inspiration for a Tuscan-themed winery and tasting room came about after he spent his senior year at Gonzaga University studying in Florence, Italy. He fell in love with the art, rustic architecture, culture, history, and warm hospitality he encountered there. Upon his return to the Walla Walla Valley (Justin is a fourth-generation native), his passion for wine making (and wine!) soon matched his passion for Tuscany and the seeds for Va Piano Vineyards were planted.

We tasted his luscious 2007 Cab and outstanding 2008 Syrah, plus one red and one white (Sauvignon Blanc) blend named Bruno’s Blend after Father Bruno Segatta a professor whom Justin met while attending Gonzaga University in Florence, Italy. Father Segatta, regular visitor at the Estate, taught Justin the value of “giving back” to the people and places that surround him. Justin certainly practices this philosophy in a number of ways including giving a portion of the proceeds of Bruno’s Blend to charity every year. He was also very generous that day to open two library wines for the Trusty family to taste and then gifted us with the remainder of the bottles. Here is another young winemaker to believe in…his products are superb with lots of love and thought in good measure. http://www.vapianovineyards.com/

When we were enjoying the wine shop and wine bar, one of our sales people came in one day with something quite mysterious and beautiful. Gramercy and Waters Wineries had collaborated on a wine making project. Here is their story.

21 Grams is an artistic collaboration between Waters Winery, Gramercy Cellars and artist Makoto Fujimura that reflects the inspiration of the soul in creating fine wine and fine art.

This exclusive, 100-case bottling is made from the finest lots of Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon from the cellars of Waters and Gramercy. The final blend from each vintage renders exquisite balance, intensity, layered complexity and a long finish. The label changes with each vintage, and showcases Fujimura’s modern abstract art using the ancient Japanese technique of Nihonga.

Waters and Gramercy donate proceeds from the sale of each bottle of 21 Grams to the International Arts Movement, a non-profit organization created by Fujimura to gather artists and creative catalysts from around the world to address the deep questions of art, faith and humanity.

In the early 1900’s, Dr. Duncan MacDougall hypothesized that 21 grams was the weight lost by a human body upon death. While not scientifically proven, this figure has become synonymous with the weight of the human soul.

When I tasted this wine, it was otherworldly. So naturally, I was anxious to visit the place of its origin. So, to Waters Winery we went and spent a delightful few hours with Robbi Ebel the sales director. She was gracious and kind and tasted us through Waters current selections with knowledge and style. First we tasted their 2010 Prelude which contains 60% Roussanne from Alder Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills and 40% Estate-grown Viognier from Old Stones, in the Walla Walla Valley’s esteemed ‘Rocks’ growing region. Now, I’ve always been as at home with whites as reds, but the day I learned about the roussane grape, the heavens opened and poured fourth sunshine, so to say I loved this wine is an understatement. We also tried their 2010 Rosé, which is made from estate grown viognier and syrah. This is what they say on the website and it is 100% true. A deep strawberry red with copper glints, aromatics follow with more suggestions of strawberry, hibiscus, and an earthy spice. With alcohol well in check at 12.5%, a pleasant, creamy texture reveals intoxicatingly tart, bracing flavors with a citrus like twist. (As I write this, Bob is preparing roasted red pepper soup and chicken ceaser salad…think that Rose would match perfectly!)

We went on to taste the excellent reds. Alas, at $120 a bottle 21 grams was not available for tasting. My favorite was 2009 Interlude which is born in the most popular vineyards in Washington State including Cold Creek, Canoe Ridge and Seven Hills. The cooler growing season prompted the addition of Petit Verdot to add a final layer of weight and depth, resulting in a blend of 55% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Petit Verdot. The nose is poignant – focused and ripe with spice covered red fruits. Later that weekend at the Taste of Tulalip a wine tasting attended by 2400 people, we met the winemaker Jamie Brown. Jamie is a rock star, literally, turned winemaker. I for one am glad he made a change of career…his work is delicious!    http://waterswinery.com/

I have saved my best expereince for last. That was our visit to Long Shadows. (Alas, Bob left his camera in the car.) We were introduced to Long Shadows way back when they first began. Theirs is quite a story. But first, let me set the scene for you. Imagine the yellow-gold rolling hills of Walla Walla with nothing else in sight but the blue, blue sky. As you approach, suddenly from this simple setting rises a large modern structure of concrete and glass colored vivid red. As you enter, the first thing you see is an exquisite Chihuly glass chandelier; windows open on to the monochrome landscape framed by pedestals topped with large Chihuly baskets. You know you’ve entered something quite apart. The round table in the center of the room held the circle of wines…all the wonderful collaborations in a bottle…but that leads us back to the Long Shadows story. In their words…

After twenty years at the helm of the Stimson Lane wine group (Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest and other wineries), Allen Shoup retired to pursue a personal dream. For years he had envisioned a joint venture with highly acclaimed winemakers from different regions of the world. His goal was to bring 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.

Encouraged by his associates, including long time friend and mentor, Robert G. Mondavi, Allen invited several of the world’s most talented and celebrated vintners to the sunny slopes of the Columbia Valley. Peering over steep cliffs into the valley where the Snake and Yakima Rivers flow into the mighty Columbia, each vintner embraced Allen's dream and agreed to lend their talents to create this tribute to the worldwide celebration of wine.

With their enthusiastic support and advice, Allen drew up plans to establish individual wineries that would reflect the reputation of each winemaker. He named the venture Long Shadows Vintners in tribute to this select group of individuals who have shaped the industry with their benchmark wines and wineries.

His vision is now unfolding. Long Shadows winemaker-partners are designing world-class wines comparable in stature to those they crafted in their native wine regions. They are touring the land, running the soil through their fingers, and surveying with practiced eye the leafy trellises that spill down the hillsides of the Columbia Valley.  This is the list of winemaker-partners.

Vintner Partners

Randy Dunn

John Duval

Gilles Nicault

Agustin Huneeus, Sr

Philippe Melka

Michel Rolland

Armin Diel

Ambrogio & Giovanni Folonari

Yeah, we’re not in Kansas anymore Toto. I don’t have the words to do these wines justice, please visit their website to get a hint of the grand project at http://www.longshadows.com/ .

Shoup’s vision is now a reality and yes, these really are world class wines. I don’t know what else to say.

But oh yes, our visit. Just as we were working our way around the table of incredible wines, in walked Gilles Nicault. I was totally and unabashedly star struck. This is his bio from the website.

Gilles Nicault - Chester kidder
Gilles Nicault left the University of Avignon with a four year degree in Viticulture and Enology. He honed his craft in the fabled hillside vineyards and wineries of Cote Du Rhone, Provence and Champagne. Then, already a vintner of rising fame, Gilles traveled to America. He wanted to see for himself if reports of outstanding noble grapes from the eastern slopes of Washington state were indeed true.

His tour took him to the Staton Hills Winery of Yakima Valley in 1994, to Woodward Canyon in 1996, and included a stint at the Hogue Winery. He soon became part of the prestigious community of Washington enologists and winemakers.

Gilles discovered that he and Rick Small, owner of Woodward Canyon, shared the same philosophy and passion in producing world class wines, and in 1999 he was appointed as the head of Enology and Production of Woodward Canyon.

But it was in the vineyards of southern France where Gilles developed his deep convictions regarding the science of grape growing, and the profound role it plays in winemaking.

“Wines are made in the vineyard and only an excellent relationship between grower and winemaker allows the crafting of outstanding wines that reflect their terroir,” he explains.

Gilles has a passion for knowledge, and has shaped his career path to achieve maximum growth through exposure to new ideas. "Rick (Small) brought so much originality and creativity to wine making - and he was so open and generous with his knowledge – I will always pay homage to him. His willingness to support my decision to join Long Shadows is evident of the generous and gracious style of this man."

It was only natural that Gilles would want to join Allen Shoup’s state-of-the-art Long Shadows team. It is here where he will complete his search for the secrets of the world's most exceptional wines as he works alongside some of the world’s greatest winemakers. His exposure to their craftsmanship, with specific grape varieties and classic wine styles, allows him to perfect his own signature work with the Chester-Kidder winery.

Gilles is married to Winemaker Marie-Eve Gilla of Forgeron Cellars, a highly accredited winemaker in her own right.
_________________

Gilles was friendly and generous with his time. He took us through the entire complex, tasted us from the tanks and barrels, and walked us up the stairs to peer into the amazing elixir. A winery assistant was “pumping over” which means he was holding a large hose that was pumping gallons of wine at a time from the bottom of the tank into the top pushing through the cap to mix all the tastes. Gilles casually turned to me and said, “Would you like to try?” As I nodded eagerly, he explained the gist of the simple procedure and what my efforts were intended to do. Can you say “Blown away?” That was me…not much will ever top that. Several days later I could be found murmuring, “I did pump over with Gilles Nicault.” There is no living with me now. Following the tour, Gilles graciously agreed to sign a bottle of Chester-Kidder for me; I will let you look at it if you come to my house. Wow, let me say it backwards Wow.

Well, you get the idea…from the impressive winery facility to the amazing vineyards growing on the slopes of the Columbia, Long Shadows is a wine lover’s dream. http://www.longshadows.com/

But go see Walla Walla for yourself. The folks are friendly and the wines amazing.

While we were there, we also got to tour the studio of master sculptor Nano Lopez. That will be my next entry.

Carpe Diem Baby!

1 comment:

  1. It sounds amazing. And the photo at the end says it all!

    ReplyDelete