Mike Dunham, R.I.P.

Washington state’s wine industry lost a great man last week — Mike Dunham, 69, co-owner of Dunham Cellars, passed away May 18 after a four-year battle with kidney cancer.

In 1995, Mike and his son Eric created one of the most respected wineries in Walla Walla and in the state. Mike was the general manager, a businessman and loved by many people.

He will be remembered fondly and deeply by so many, including Trey Busch, one of the first employees at Dunham Cellars, and now owner and winemaker of Sleight of Hand Cellars in Walla Walla.

Trey posted this photo of Mike on Facebook, and kindly agreed to let me repost it here. Thank you, Trey.

We were fortunate to share a table with Mike and his wife, Joanne a couple of years ago at the Washington Wines Festival at Waterfront Seafood Grill in Seattle. As I wrote then:

We also talked about their winery in the remodeled World War II-era airplane hangar in Walla Walla, and we shared many, many tales of all of our dogs. The two of them had us laughing throughout the delicious dinner and prestigious auction. We had met Mike and Joanne briefly at their winery and at several wine events in the last 10 years or so. But we never had the luxury of time to talk to them at length, particularly over good food and delicious wine …

… We’ve always said that Washington wine is about so much more than the juice itself – it’s about the people, the stories and the spirit. Mike and Joanne Dunham, and their award-winning wines, exemplify the passion of the wine industry in this state.

We experienced great sadness to learn of Mike’s passing last weekend. He will be remembered for his graciousness, his humor, his smarts and his love for his family. He will be missed by so many who were fortunate enough to know him.

Mike is survived by his loving wife, Joanne, his son, Eric, and daughters Katy Dunham in Colorado and Michelle Sikma in Alaska.

R.I.P. Mike. We lift a glass of Dunham Cellars wine in your honor.

Cheers!

 

March is Washington Wine Month

In our family, every month is Washington Wine Month, but the official celebration occurs in this state every March.

That’s when you will find great deals at wineries, wine shops, big grocery stores and many restaurants. For example, some promotions include discounts on full or half cases of Washington state wine, purchase discounts off any bottle or Washington wine or in-store free wine tastings.

For specifics, have a look at the Washington Wine Month Calendar.

One that caught our eye is a 20%-off promotion for Northwest Totem Cellars at Wine World on March 16th. And thanks Wine World, for quoting this blog in your promotion!

As for us, we celebrate by telling anyone who will listen about the great juice Washington state wineries produce.

Whether you like big, bold reds (like us), crispy Sauvignon Blanc, rich Viognier or buttery Chardonnay, you can find the best right in your own backyard, so to speak, from Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Tri-Cities, Walla Walla, Cascade Valley, Woodinville and many more.

We recently tasted these Washington wine gems:

Do you see a trend here? We heart Cabs!

And these are just some of the amazing wines you can find from Washington state. We encourage you to do so!

Happy Washington Wine Month!

Cheers!

 

Nothing says the holidays like Chester Kidder!

What better way to bring in the holiday week than with a glass (or two) of 2008 Chester Kidder Red from Long Shadows?

This beauty, created by winemaker Gilles Nicault, paired beautifully with spiced flank steak, as Dave and I toasted some rare time off together at the same time.

Released in September, we found ’08 Chester Kidder Red to be inky in color, balanced, silky and a rich blend of 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Syrah, 6% Petit Verdot and 4% Cabernet Franc.

Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar gave 92 points to Chester Kidder Red with this description:

“Bright, deep ruby-red. Expressive nose offers currant, cherry cola, graphite and dark chocolate. Silky, sexy and intense, with firm, vibrant cabernet fruit complicated by licorice and spices. Finishes lively and very long, with sweet tannins and solid structure from the cabernet, some of which spent up to 40 days on its skins.”

Long Shadows is a collection of small production wineries, which brings together internationally acclaimed winemakers to showcase the superb grapes grown in Washington State’s Columbia Valley.

Gilles represents France; specifically, he made wine in the regions of Cote Du Rhone, Provence and Champagne, before moving to Washington state.

Prior to joining Allan Shoup’s state-of-the-art winemaking team, he was head of enology and production at Woodward Canyon.

We first met Gilles after he joined Long Shadows, when he and his wife, Marie-Eve Gilla — an excellent winemaker in her own right at Forgeron Cellarsheld a joint winemakers dinner at the Space Needle a few years back. They’ve both since become good friends – and we wish them, and you, a happy holiday season.

And thank you, Long Shadows, for sending us samples of your most-excellent Washington state wines.

Cheers!

A Wonderful Week of Wine

What a week it’s been. A very busy time. But a wonderful week of wine, at that.

Those who follow Write for Wine on Facebook might have noticed near-daily updates on what’s been in our glass this week.

In case you missed it, here is the list.

We recommend some of these wines for special occasions and some, well, just because.

Hopefully next week, I’ll have more time to write a longer post about some new wines we’ve tasted recently.

In the meantime, if you’re on Facebook, please stop by the Write for Wine page and say hi. Or like it, if you wish!

Cheers!

Avennia-Look for These Wines

We stopped by the fall release party at one of Woodinville’s newest wineries, Avennia, and became immediate fans of the wines and the owners. We highly recommend you see for yourself what talented winemaker Chris Peterson has created featuring Washington state grapes in the “old-world style” of French wines.

The words and phrases that came to mind while tasting all five Avennia wines were classic, complex, balanced, structured, true to varietal, and a showcase of the beauty of Washington grapes.

One white, Oliane Sauvignon Blanc, and two Syrahs – 2010 Arnaut and 2010 Parapine – are now available.

They will be followed by the February 2013 release of two 2010 Bordeaux blends, Sestina and Gravura – both are showing such potential now, we know they will have that WOW factor for a number of years.

 

1. 2011 Oliane Sauvignon Blanc, Avennia’s only white wine,  is true to the classic, crisp and elegant Sauvignon Blanc and perfect on a warm Seattle afternoon. Oliane is bursting with grapefruit aromas and citrus notes, along with that minerality we’ve come to love in good Sauv Blancs.

2. 2010 Arnaut is 100% Syrah from the fabulous Boushey Vineyard. This  flagship Syrah ranked 16 in Seattle Met’s recently released 100 Best Washington Wines.

3. 2010 Parapine Syrah features grapes from Boushey and from Force Majeure’s (formerly Grand Reve) new vineyard on Red Mountain. But this Syrah will be replaced in the 2011 vintage with a Southern Rhone-style wine.

4. 2010 Sestina, the flagship Bordeaux blend, is my favorite: Cabernet Sauvignon (73%), Merlot (18%) and Cab Franc (9%). As mentioned, this complex wine tastes full of potential already, and we can’t wait to try it again in February. I hope we’ll have the patience to cellar some bottles for a few years too!

5. 2010 Gravura offers a closer split of the classic Bordeaux blend: Cabernet Sauvignon (54%) and Merlot (40%), rounding off the edges with 6% Cab Franc.

Interestingly, the $35 Parapine Syrah and the $35 Gravura blend have Seattle restaurants lined up to include on their tasting menus.

Regular readers of this blog know that the people behind the wine are also important to us. Winemaker/partner Chris Peterson and managing partner Marty Taucher are right up there with the finest in Washington’s wine industry.

Chris passionately talked to us about his wines and his wine-making style for about 30 minutes. He was the first graduate of Walla Walla Community College’s Enology and Viticulture program; he spent quality time in all of the major wine regions of France and Italy; and more recently, as assistant winemaker at DeLille Cellars, he helped create some of the state’s finest wines.

During the 2009 harvest at DeLille, Chris met  Marty Taucher, a retired PR and Marketing leader at Microsoft, who has collected wine for 25 years. They shared similar interests and clicked – a close friendship that was obvious the minute we met them.

The following year, they founded Avennia, inspired by the Roman name for the city of Avignon, which signifies the heart of Old World winemaking to both of them. All the names of their wines have significance to Marty and Chris – we encourage you to read about it on the Avennia website.

Cheers!

 

Looking for a robust red for July 4th?

If you’re thinking about a juicy BBQ steak to celebrate the Fourth of July holiday (or July 1 for my family and friends in Canada), L’Ecole 41 has a multitude of choices of robust reds to pair with it.

We’ve been fans of L’Ecole for a long time – have a look at this 2010 blog post that references our L’Ecole tastings, starting in 2007. Every year since then, L’Ecole’s wines have either matched or superseded the previous vintage with character, complexity, flavors and balance.

 

My personal favorite is L’Ecole 41 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley. I had the opportunity to taste the 2001 library wine; the 2009 vintage continues the excellence – a blend of Cabernet from five prestigious vineyards that is sophisticated, structured and velvety rich.

According to winemaker and owner Marty Clubb, “Its old-world structure, dense dark fruit flavors and elegant tannins exemplify the best of Walla Walla.”

We have several bottles of this beauty – we had one last week, we’ll open another on July 4 and the rest remain in our cellar for what is sure to be years of good drinking.

 

In May, we reveled in L’Ecole 41 2008 Perigee, celebrated when the moon was in its perigee – a “super moon” when it passes closest to Earth.

The Perigee, L’Ecole’s estate Bordeaux blend, combines Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cab Franc with a dash of Petit Verdot and Malbec, sourced from the winery’s oldest and best blocks from Seven Hills Vineyard.

2008 Perigee is elegant, expressive and earthy – a delicious wine to enjoy over the holidays – or anytime.

Other robust reds from L’Ecole: 2008 Apogee Pepper Bridge, another of my favorites; 2008 Estate Merlot; and 2009 Estate Syrah, in addition to several from Columbia Valley.

Cheers!

Washington in Washington

A day of double-takes comprised what I like to call our experience of “Washington in Washington.”

Dave and I were in Washington, D.C. at the same time as this state’s Washington Wine Commission held a trade and media tasting there.

Ryan Pennington, the Commission’s social-media-savvy PR director, saw my Facebook update that we were headed to D.C., so he kindly invited us to stop by the tasting event at the Rooftop Terrace at The John F. Kennedy Center.

Of course we went! The tasting area was packed, and we listened with pride as many D.C.-area wine experts, restaurant owners, media and wine enthusiasts extolled the virtues of Washington state wine.

And we laughed at the looks on the faces of several winemakers and winery owners when they saw us, out of context, in “the other Washington!”

“What are you doing here?” exclaimed Charlie Hoppes of Fidelitas, Mike White of Barrister, Lisa Baer of Baer, John Abbott of Abeja, Darcey Fugman-Small of Woodward Canyon, Jerry Riener of Guardian Cellars and Doug Long of Obelisco.

“We just happened to be in the neighborhood and heard some excellent Washington state wine was being poured here,” we replied.

We also had an opportunity to taste wine and talk to Daniel Wampfler of Dunham Cellars, Kristi and Lou Facelli of Facelli, Kim Bolander of L’Ecole 41, Debbie Hansen of Cougar Crest, and Mark McNeilly of Mark Ryan.

These were the wines we tasted and recommend (in alphabetical order):

  • Abeja 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla ($52)
  • Baer 2009 Ursa Red Bordeaux Blend, Columbia Valley ($39)
  • Cougar Crest 2007 Estate Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla ($38)
  • Dunham Cellars 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon XIV, Columbia Valley ($45)
  • Facelli 2008 Barbera, Columbia Valley ($25)
  • Fidelitas 2008 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain ($55)
  • Guardian Cellars 2009 Gun Metal Red Bordeaux Blend, Columbia Valley ($37)
  • L’Ecole 41 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla ($37)
  • Long Shadows 2007 Feather Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley ($55)
  • Mark Ryan 2009 Dead Horse Red Bordeaux Blend, Red Mountain ($52)
  • Obelisco 2009 Electrum Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain ($65)
  • Woodward Canyon 2009 Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington State ($54)

Frankly, I couldn’t say it any better than the Washington Wine Commission’s brochure:

“Washington State’s exceptional grapes reach their potential in the hands of extraordinary winemakers, who create bright and balanced expressions of our region with world-class wines.”

Cheers to Washington state winemakers!

Wonderful Walla Walla Wine

Regular readers of this blog know we are major fans of Walla Walla wine. We don’t get to visit Walla Walla nearly as often as we would like, so when Walla Walla comes to Seattle, it’s a must-go-to event.

So I dashed out to SoDo during my lunch break to visit friends and have a few (very small) tastes at “Walla Walla Wine @SoDo Park” last week.

I could only visit a few booths, and I know I missed out on lots of wineries. I wish I could have stayed longer, but work beckoned me back.

Here are the wines I tasted and would definitely purchase:

  • Abeja 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon – This fine Cab is blended with 4% Merlot, in John Abbot’s fashion of being true to the varietal and to the state.
  • L’Ecole 41 2009 Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon – I’ve been a major fan of this wine since the 2001 vintage.
  • Otis Kenyon 2008 Syrah – It has that “In the Rocks” funk – yum!
  • Watermill 2008 Cabernet Franc – if you love Cab Franc like I do, this is a must-buy.
  • Woodward Canyon 2009 Estate Reserve – It won’t be released until summer but the potential is already magnificent.

There are many, many more excellent Walla Walla wineries – and we highly recommend you visit them in Walla Walla. Some of them have tasting rooms in Woodinville too.

Cheers!