A Unique Tasting Experience at Northwest Totem Cellars

If you’re trying to find a unique wine-tasting experience in the Seattle area, look no further. Simply find a Saturday to stop by the Woodinville/Redmond location of Northwest Totem Cellars, where winemaker Mike Sheridan and his wife/co-owner Kate pour some tasty wines in the beautiful kitchen of their absolutely amazing home.

Yes, that’s a lot of superlatives, but you have to see their home to believe it – big, bright and airy, high ceilings, lots of windows and cedar, plus fireplaces tucked into incredible stone walls. If you’re lucky, Kate will also be serving delicious pizza or brownies, making the kitchen even more inviting with its tempting aromas. 

And then there are the wines! As mentioned in my previous post, Mike won gold for ’06 NW Totem Cellars Elerding Syrah. Obviously, this is a good wine. But my palate prefers his unusual and bold Syrah-Tempranillo blend, 2006 Potlach. Here are Mike’s Potlach tasting notes:

A unique blend of all Elerding vineyard fruit comprised of Syrah (52%), Tempranillo (47%) and Petit Verdot (1%), the wine was aged for 18 months with 15% new French oak. This wine opens with bold aromas of blackberry, blueberry, vanilla and a hint of cherry that dominate the palate. Soft tannins with a lingering finish to allow you to enjoy this wine now.

Another big red is Northwest Totem Cellars Cabernet Franc – one of our favorites. We’ve been big fans of Cab Franc since 1999, and this one was right up there on our “best of” list.

And, not surprisingly to regular readers of this blog, we really enjoyed Low Man Red, a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet (70%), Merlot (21.3%), Cab Franc (4.7%) and Petit Verdot (4%).

I’m not fond of dessert wines, but my friend Shona at Woodinville Wine Update raves about Northwest Totem Cellars Late Harvest Viognier.

On our to-do list is their recently released Qo-né, which blends Cab Franc (64.4%), Cabernet Sauvignon (26.2%), Syrah (8.4%) and Petit Verdot (1%). We’re looking forward to tasting it too.

Last but not least, Mike and Kate are friendly and knowledgeable with interesting stories to share, including many about Native Americans and First Nations in Canada. So be sure to spend some time chatting with them at their tasting room – you can also read their story on their website.


Congratulations Winners @ Sexy Syrah!

The annual Washington wine event Sexy Syrah was a sold-out success at Salty’s on Alki Beach in Seattle last night – and I had the honor and great fun of being a judge! With 44 wineries pouring 1-3 Syrahs, it was a challenge to taste them all. Luckily, that wasn’t an expectation, because there were 20 judges to share the “duties.”

Once again, my strong belief was affirmed – Washington state makes some fabulous wines! Here are both the judges’ results and the people’s choice for the best Syrahs (100%) and the best Syrah blends that were poured at Sexy Syrah at Salty’s.

Judges’ Results:

100% Syrah

  • Gold: Tie! ’04 Forgeron Cellars Boushey Vineyard Syrah and ’06 NW Totem Cellars Elderling Syrah
  • Silver: ’07 Kerloo Cellars Walla Walla Syrah
  • Bronze: Tie! ’07 Lantz Cellars Rattlesnake Hills Syrah and ’07 Bunnell Boushey-McPherson Syrah

 Syrah Blends

  • Gold: ’08 Rotie Cellars Northern Blend
  • Silver: ’07 William Church 2 Spires Blend
  • Bronze: ’07 Bunnell Vif Blend

People’s Choice

  • Gold: Kerloo Cellars
  • Silver: Tie! Bunnell and Rotie
  • Bronze: Tie! Tefft Cellars, Wilridge Winery and Smasne Cellars

Congratulations to all the winners! And thanks to Sommelier David LeClaire, who organized Sexy Syrah, which also benefitted Fare Start.

Any event by David LeClaire is bound to be fun, so keep your eye on the his website for more activities in the months ahead. Next up – perfect for summer – Rose’ Revival and Other Cool Whites at Ray’s Boathouse on June 2.


Washington Wineries on Twitter

Our friends at Wine Beer Washington have compiled an extensive list of Washington wineries on Twitter. Better yet, it’s on Listorious, which provides a direct link to quickly and easily follow each winery. And you can see at a glance how many people are already following a winery.

Not only that, but the list also includes individual Twitter handles for some winemakers and winery owners.

So thank you, Bean @WineBeerWA – your comprehensive list just saved me a lot of work to compile one of my own!


William Church Wins Again

If you’re looking for good wine at a decent price point, look no further than William Church Winery. Their recent releases, 2007 Bishop’s Blend ($19), 2007 Sur La Mer Bordeaux blend ($28), 2007 “2 Spires” ($32) and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($32), are all winners.

We paired a bottle of William Church 2007 Cab last night with juicy barbequed steaks and wow!  With 10% Petit Verdot added to 90% Cab, this wine is both silky and big at the same time, structured and full of richness and spice. Major props to winemaker Rod Balsley and assistant winemaker Marcus Rafanelli. 

And then there’s William Church 2007 Sur La Mer. As regular readers of this blog know, Bordeaux blends are high on my list of favorite wines, and 2007 Sur La Mer is no exception. 2007 is the first vintage of this classic blend of 40% Cabernet, 20% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec and 10% Petit Verdot – and we hope William Church continues to make it every year. Sur La Mer is French for “on the sea,” named after the seaport city of La Rochelle in western France where co-owner Leslie Balsley was born — a special name for a special wine.

We also enjoy 2007 Bishop’s Blend (63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot & 5% Syrah), which is a bargain at $19. Rod deliberately crafted Bishop’s Blend to be paired with a variety of foods – although we can attest that it’s very drinkable on its own too. And we predict it will be as popular as the 2006 vintage. The tasting notes are perfect: With flavor and complexity found in much more expensive wines, it displays deep wild raspberry and cherry flavors along with smokey oak and mild tannins.

Another recent addition to the William Church releases, 2007 “2 Spires” has already won a gold medal at the 2009 Northwest Wine Summit and a silver medal at the 2009 Seattle Wine Awards. The name “2 Spires” represents the two grapes that are blended into this powerful wine – 62% Syrah from Stillwater Creek and 38% Cabernet Sauvignon from Conner Lee and Dineen Vineyard. Try this wine and you’ll understand why it’s award-winning.


What’s Goin’ On

I love the song “What’s Goin’ On” so it seemed fitting to name this blog post after something positive. Because unfortunately, the news lately has not been that great – but it’s getting better all the time. (Can you name that tune?)

First, I had knee surgery recently and while I’m recuperating nicely, it’s still hard to sit at a computer to blog in the evening after being at a computer all day at my PR job. Second, this blog was hacked last week, and it took a few days to get it fixed. And last but definitely not least, we lost our beloved dog, Shadow. So for a number of reasons, it’s been extremely difficult to update this blog recently.

The good news is that my knee is getting stronger every day and this blog has been fixed – so when the weekend rolls around, I will be able to blog about some great wines we’ve had recently – from William Church Winery, Efeste, Alexandria Nicole Cellars, Forgeron Cellars, Matthews Estate, L’Ecole 41, JM Cellars, Northwest Totem Cellars, DiStefano Winery and more.

So thank you for your patience and understanding about the recent slow pace of this blog. Things will be getting better soon,  I promise!  And look at the bright side – these excuses (er, reasons) are so much more realistic than “the dog ate my homework.” Although in my case, it would be hard to say which of our other three dogs would be to blame!IMG_0132


Merlot Gone Mad

Hot on the heels of #WAMerlot on Twitter comes a cool event called Merlot Gone Mad on May 2 at Tulalip Casino. So far, about 50 wineries will be pouring, and there also are seminars with vintners and growers that will focus on Merlot from different Washington state AVAs. So this is both a fun and educational event that promises a great time.

Unfortunately, Merlot Gone Mad is being held on the same date as Walla Walla Spring Barrel weekend, so a few key Washington wineries will not be at Tulalip.

But on the bright side, Tulalip chefs will be offering Merlot-friendly food, and if you visit the Taste of Tulalip booth, you will receive a voucher for up to $100 in free casino play. How cool is that?

Tickets are $45 per person, or $70 per person with round trip transportation from Seattle and Bellvue (limited seats available), if you don’t want to make the 45-minute drive each way. What a terrific idea.

For more information, including an updated list of which wineries are pouring, check out the Merlot Gone Mad website. And don’t you love the logo?

Cheers!MGM_Logo (2)

Passport Weekend is Around the Corner!

One of the biggest Washington wine events in Woodinville, Passport to Woodinville, is coming up in a couple of weeks, so mark your calendars for April 17-18 and buy your tickets soon – they’re selling out quickly.

This year, 37 of 68 wineries in Woodinville are participating in Passport, which was named one of “America’s 50 Most Amazing Wine Experiences” by Food & Wine magazine. This 9th-annual spring event provides an opportunity to try new and current releases that are bound to please every palate.

We discovered an interesting statistic when reading about Passport – 13 new tasting rooms were opened in Woodinville in 2009, and Woodinville Wine Country expects as many as ten more to open this year.

Passport tickets are $60 for the two-day event, or $40 for Sunday only.


Luxury Wine Brands on Twitter

After a fascinating conversation with some winemakers at Taste Washington last weekend, I was prompted to hold an informal poll about luxury wine brands on Twitter. I posed a simple question to wine industry tweeters and bloggers: “Should luxury wine brands use Twitter as part of their social media strategy?” 

At the time, I did not provide my opinion, but I will now: My personal belief is that luxury wine brands should use Twitter as part of an overall social media strategy. But success depends on how Twitter is used. In my opinion, Twitter is an extension of a tasting room – a way to listen to customers, share information and build relationships, brand loyalty and brand advocacy.

I think this holds true for all brands – from large corporations to small wineries. For example, a few months ago, I authored a white paper on how Fortune 100 companies use Twitter. While 73 percent of Fortune 100 companies had Twitter accounts, about three-quarters of those accounts did not post tweets very often, and 52 percent were not actively engaged. And 26 percent only used Twitter as a one-way stream to broadcast information, rather than to listen and build relationships.

In my informal Twitter poll earlier this week, almost everyone shared my opinion. Within a couple of hours, 20 people (from Washington state, California, Texas, New Jersey and Oklahoma) responded in 33 tweets. It was an almost-unanimous yes – but the reasons were diverse and a great discussion took place in 140 characters!

My favorite response came from Paul Mabray in Napa: “Twitter is a utility like the phone. Every brand should answer the phone. How u answer is the key.”

Tom Wark, also from Napa, gave this wise response: “Yes. But it’s not the vehicle for communication that counts. It’s the message and the recipients.”

Other people – whose experience ranged from winemakers to wine bloggers – believe that all brands can benefit because Twitter can help wineries:

  • increase brand awareness
  • engage with customers
  • build brand loyalty
  • connect with the younger demographic of future wine enthusiasts
  • build a social media presence for marketing purposes
  • leverage the accessibility provided by Twitter
  • reach audiences of all economic levels
  • cost-effectively reach journalists
  • expand value to current and future customers
  • shape the brand’s future with real-time feedback
  • maintain reputation
  • influence the “special occasion” bottle purchase

The results were “almost” unanimous because Tom Lee agreed that while luxury brands should generally be on Twitter, there is one exception – the luxury brands that produce small quantities of wine that will sell out by virtue of reputation and do not participate in any kind of marketing. I agree with Tom.

So thanks to all of you who participated in my informal poll – pmabray, joelvincent, NWTomLee, tomcwark, RickBakas, nectarwine, winebeerWA, WineInkByTia, vinotology, hardrow, avvwinery, hornOKplease, writerkathymcd, winebratsf, fieryonetoo, SFDoug, dreawinetrain, Shona425wino4ever and HughL.

Let’s continue the conversation!