Red Willow Vineyard: Part IV

When we visited Red Willow Vineyard in early September, Mike Sauer talked passionately about the history of the land in the Yakima Valley and how it was affected by the repeated Lake Missoula floods at the end of the ice age. The area that became his peninsula vineyard, with its high elevation, was above the water level and not affected by the water-deposited silt and sand like much of the valley floor. By the time the first wine grapes were planted in 1973 at Red Willow Vineyard, the lasting lesson learned was wine grapes do best on poor soil and vines love the hillsides. The success of Red Willow Vineyard, where those 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon vines are still in production, demonstrates that.

Mike told the amazing story of Red Willow Vineyard to us that day. Rather than paraphrasing it here, I will point you to it on the Red Willow Vineyard Web site. However, I will share this, which is quoted on the Web site from An Illustrated Guide to Wine:

Four things go into the making of wine, whether it be good, bad or indifferent. First of all, the soil from which the vine grows; second, the climate, particularly the sun or the amount of sunshine which shines upon the vine in any given year; third, the type of grape used in the making of the wine; and last, but by no means least, the hand of the vigneron who makes the wine. The first is immovable and permanent, the second variable, the third important, and the last human. When these four come into alignment, the result can be a near miracle, and by the grace of God this sometimes happens.


“Outstanding” in The Wine Advocate

This is the first year that Brian Carter Cellars submitted wine to The Wine Advocate and the results are superlative! Mike Stevens, BCC’s business manager, proudly showed us The Wine Advocate August 2007 ratings when we recently stopped by the Woodinville tasting room.

And Mike has every reason to be proud — four wines by winemaker Brian Carter were described as “outstanding” by Robert Parker: the 2005 Oriana, 2003 Tuttorosso, 2003 L’Etalon and the winery’s flagship 2001 Solesce.

Our favorite is the 2001 Solesce–we are keeping several bottles in our cellar based on Mike’s recommendation that this wine demands 3-5 years of further bottle age. The 1999 Solece was a blend of more Merlot than the 2001 Solece, which has 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 12% Cab Franc and 3% Malbec. We have a bottle or two of the 1999 in our cellar too.

We’re also looking forward to a vertical that will soon be sold by the winery: a package of signed bottles of three vintages of Solece — 1999, 2000 and 2001. See which one you like best — let them age and you’re in for a fabulous experience with any of them.


Time to tour Walla Walla

It’s official — it’s Crush! And that’s hot off the presses from Walla Walla News. “It’s Crush throughout the valley — the best time to tour Walla Walla wine country. The weather is sunny with moderate temperatures, and there is activity at every winery so that visitors can feel the excitement of the harvest firsthand.”

Of course, the same goes for the Yakima Valley and other parts of Washington wine country. So in honor of Crush, here are some links for you:

 And for everything wine in the Northwest, visit my friends at Wines Northwest, too!


The Cellar Club Rocks

We can’t say enough good things about the Columbia Winery Cellar Club. The people who work for the club and in the tasting room are friendly and helpful; the wine is consistently good; the discounts are big (30% off reorders of each release); and there’s a host of events to attend throughout the year. (Shout out to Michele, Diana and Suzanne!)

In addition, our club releases are accompanied by an interesting and informative newsletter. (No, I don’t write it, although–shameless plug–my company, Write for Wine, does exactly that–creates newsletters, e-newsletters and Web content for wineries and others in the wine industry.)

For example, next to Columbia Winery’s tasting notes and technical data about each bottle in the August release is a pairing recipe. So our newsletter tells us about 2002 Covey Run Reserve Merlot–“a powerful wine packed with classic cherry, raspberry and dark fruit flavors overlain with leather and dusty notes. Its intensely dark, red-purple color and youthful structure show great potential for cellaring.” (Oops, we already drank our bottle!) And it also gives us a mouth-watering recipe for fresh figs with manchego cheese, balsemic vinegar and pine nuts. And if the recipe alone didn’t get the taste buds’ attention, we are treated to these words of wisdom from Andrea Immer, author of Everyday Dining with Wine: “The cheese softens the tannins of the Merlot, the fig flavor mirrors their fruit, and the toasted nuts echo their oakiness.” Yum!

The Columbia Winery newsletter also tells us that the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon from Otis Vineyard has “aromatics of cedar, toasty oak and earth on the nose. Supple tannins deliver a clean finish.” This time the food pairing is linguine with walnuts, arugula and olives. “This vegetarian dish echoes the earthy, slightly herbaceious notes that Washington Cabs are known for. The toasted walnuts highlight the toastiness of oak in the wine, while the olives and arugula pick up on the cedar notes.”

Now if only Andrea Immer could do the cooking while we drink!


Forget the critics

Catie, the self-described “Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman,” really knows her wine, and I’m a regular reader of her blog, Through The Walla Walla Grapevine. A few weeks ago, one of her posts caught my attention, and I finally have time to write about it. 

Back on Aug. 1, Catie’s blog post focused on the favorite Washington state wines of Gary Vaynerchuk in Episode 177 of Wine Library TV. Catie noted that Gary’s trademark, “Changing the Wine World,” has been featured in TIME Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and on Conin O’Brien’s NBC Late Night Show.

Today on Episode 307, Gary focused on our state’s wine again, including one of my favorites, 2004 Pepper Bridge Merlot. But what really caught my attention was this statement by Gary, which underlines how he is indeed changing the world of wine: “Get everyone to know wine is about personal taste and not what a critic says …”

I couldn’t agree more. I prefer red blends or big Cabs. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t good whites or roses. Some people prefers whites and even dessert wines, which I cannot fathom. But the bottom line is there is no right or wrong when it comes to taste.

Some people have a good nose and a refined palate and therefore can distinguish the multi-layered combination of aromas or flavors of a wine. (Sometimes I can. Other times I can’t.) Others are baffled by tasting notes and wonder how wine can taste flinty or earthy. Other people can’t distinguish bouquets or aromas, but they know what they like. As Gary so wisely said: Wine is about personal taste and not what a critic says.

So what are your favorites?