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Washington Wine Report is an independent publication focused on bringing Northwest wine to you and bringing you to Northwest wine. Our goal is:
  • To help you select Pacific Northwest wines at a variety of price levels
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'14 Tour Guide

Reviewed Wineries

What follows is an excerpt from the 2009 Walla Walla Spring Release Weekend Report. Download the full report here (Note: Opens .pdf).


Tasting Summary
3 days, 21 wineries, over 110 wines sampled.

Spring Release is one of the most exciting times in Washington wine country. Throughout Walla Walla Valley, vines are starting new growth and wineries are releasing their latest vintages. New wineries are opening their doors for the first time and are busy preparing for one of Walla Walla’s busiest weekends.

As usual, we tried to divide up the weekend between wineries we had visited a number of times and wineries we had never visited before. In terms of the former, Walla Walla stalwarts Long Shadows, Spring Valley, and K Vintners continued to impress. However, two wineries in particular stood up and demanded attention on this visit. These wineries were Trust Cellars and Forgeron Cellars.

Trust Cellars was started five years ago by Steve Brooks and his wife Lori. After working for twenty years at CNN in Atlanta, Brooks decided it was time for something different. An article in the New York Times about eastern Washington led Brooks to decide it was time for a leap of faith – Trust. In the ensuing years, Brooks learned the wine trade the old fashioned way, taking classes at the Center for Enology and Viticulture in Walla Walla and assisting a number of area wineries. Now releasing his fourth vintage, Brooks is showing why a little faith is not such a bad thing. Trust currently produces a Rosé, a Riesling, a Cabernet, and two Syrahs, one from Columbia Valley and one from Walla Walla Valley. Brooks’ wines are expressive and are distinguished both by diversity and exceptional quality across the lineup. While all are noteworthy, some, such as the 2007 Walla Walla Valley Syrah, are sublime. This wine is composed of Syrah from Les Collines and Va Piano vineyards, two of the finest in the valley. Brook’s addition of 11% Cabernet from Prosser’s Lewis Vineyard gives the wine additional structure and complexity that makes it shine.

Forgeron Cellars was founded in 2001. Marie-Eve Gilla serves as part-owner and winemaker. Forgeron sources grapes from excellent vineyard sources, including Stillwater Creek, Les Collines, Pepper Bridge, Klipsun, and Boushey. While Forgeron uses this fruit to produce a number of standard varietal wines, the winery also produces several less common varietal wines, including an excellent Roussanne and perhaps the best Zinfandel being made in the state. Gilla’s wines are simultaneously bold and understated - a compelling combination of the Old World and New. Of these wines, the 2004 Champoux Vineyard Cabernet was simply transcendent, a wine so good that it literally brought all conversation to a stop.

Wineries we visited for the first time included Le Chateau, Morrison Lane, Garrison Creek Cellars, Grande Ronde Cellars, and Rotie Cellars. Rotie Cellars was celebrating its first release Spring Release weekend. Winemaker Sean Boyd is currently assistant winemaker at Waters Winery. For his inaugural release, Boyd produced three Rhone-style wines. There are two reds - a 2007 Northern Blend that is Syrah co-fermented with Viognier and a 2007 Southern Blend that is composed of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. These are exciting, dynamic wines that offer restrained alcohol levels and terrific fruit. This is wine to seek out – and seek out quickly I might add. As of this writing Rotie Cellars had about a quarter of these wines remaining just two months after release.

In addition to wineries opening their doors for the first time, long established Waterbrook was also celebrating on Spring Release weekend. Here the occasion was the unofficial opening of their new facility west of Walla Walla. The production facility and tasting room were still under construction, so much so that the doors to the production center had just been installed that afternoon. Waterbrook’s new buildings are part of a trend over the last several years of creating large facilities west of Walla Walla. This list now includes Reininger (who is expanding), Three Rivers, Long Shadows, and Cougar Crest. However, in terms of scale, all of these facilities pale in comparison to Waterbrook’s 300,000 case production capacity. The majority of that production will serve Precept Wine Brands other labels, which include Magnificent Wine Company, Apex Cellars, Pine & Post, Pavin & Riley, and Washington Hills among many others.

Another trend that was apparent on this visit was for Walla Walla wineries to open tasting rooms west of the Cascades in Woodinville. In the coming months, look for west side tasting rooms from Dusted Valley Vintners, Tertulia Cellars, Sleight of Hand Cellars, Trust Cellars, and Gifford Hirlinger. I would expect more wineries to do the same in the future. While Walla Walla wineries are heading west, this is no reason not to head east as Walla Walla wine country gets more exciting with each passing year.

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Back in April Seattle-based CellarTracker celebrated its five year anniversary. Over that time what started as a personal project has blossomed into the premier tool for tracking cellar information and posting user-written tasting notes.

The story goes that in March of 2003 while on sabbatical from his job at Microsoft, Eric LeVine wrote a small software application to manage his wine cellar. His goal was simple – get out of Excel and get on to a web-based tool for personal use. After showing the application to a couple of friends, they convinced him to let them upload information about their cellars. Over the next several months the group perused each others’ on-line collections and tasting notes. Eric quickly realized that doing so was not just useful, it was a whole lot of fun. LeVine spent the next series of months creating an application for wider use. On April 24th 2004, CellarTracker was born. The rest, as they say, is history.

As of this writing, CellarTracker boasts over 80,000 members, thirteen million bottles catalogued or consumed, and, perhaps most strikingly, almost 950,000 user written tasting notes. CellarTracker is rich with functionality. As you would expect, the application allows users to track their cellar on-line as well as slice and dice their collection by producer, vintage, varietal, and a large number of other fields. It allows users to enter personal tasting notes as well as rate wines. The application even supports barcode functionality where users can label their wines and accurately track what is in the cellar. LeVine has set up a system for himself whereby when he removes a wine from his cellar, the barcode gets scanned and the information gets sent to Twitter. His friends know what wine he is going to drink before he has the first sip.

Of its many features, it is the user tasting notes and its extensive database that distinguishes CellarTracker from its peers. The tasting notes provide a cornucopia of information. CellarTracker members (Note: CellarTracker use is free of charge, relying on voluntary payments from its members) may post notes on wines they have sampled. On any given day, more than 1,100 wine notes are posted. A search for a randomly selected wine – Long Shadows 2005 Pirouette – reveals 15 tasting notes with an average user rating of 91.9 points. The notes were written between February, 2008 and May, 2009. CellarTracker members have 531 bottles of this wine in their cellars.

What does this information mean to you? First it means that you can join a community of wine lovers, see what they are drinking and how they are enjoying the wine. Secondly you can use this information to inform purchasing and drinking decisions. Is it a wine good? What is the style? Is it at its peak? Is it past its peak? All this and more can be found within the CellarTracker notes.

The user tasting notes on CellarTracker are not intended to be a substitute for professional reviews. Indeed the site provides the ability to link to reviews from Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar as a premium feature. However, there are advantages that CellarTracker tasting notes offer that professional reviews cannot. The main one is that CellarTracker reviews are much more dynamic. Whereas most of the major publications can only take a look at a wine once, give it a score, and move on, CellarTracker users can see reviews from when a wine is first released to years down the road, sometimes by the same person. Additionally, the user reviews can cover much more ground than most publications can ever hope to given that there is a world full of consumers instead of a single person dedicated to an area. While the reviews are not generally from professionals, the abundance of reviews and the ability to key in on particular users whose tastes are similar to your own helps to compensate for this.

Given that LeVine is a Seattle resident and that Washington is wine country, CellarTracker’s users include a significant number of Washingtonians and people who consume Washington wine. More than 285,000 bottles of Washington wine have been catalogued or consumed in the CellarTracker database, representing more than 17,000 individual wines. There are over 31,000 Washington wine tasting notes that have been written in the last five years. To emphasize how dynamic these tasting notes are compared to professional reviews, in the thirty plus years Wine Spectator has been reviewing Washington wine, they have a total of 5,907 wine reviews. While CellarTracker has an abundance of Washington wine in the database, LeVine’s personal collection is more focused on the wines of Bordeaux and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. He states that Betz Family Winery and Cadence are among his favorites from Washington.

In the next several months, CellarTracker will be undergoing two major changes. The first is a user interface overhaul. Since its inception, CellarTracker has been focused mainly on functionality – LeVine envisioned the software as a “productivity tool” – rather than looks and usability. By LeVine’s own admission, the application looks dated by today’s standards and can be somewhat intimidating to use.

For the UI design, LeVine has partnered with Seattle-based Fellswoop. The redesign has been a major undertaking, done at considerable expense, and has included user experience testing. The redesigned UI will allow users to more easily access current functionality as well as provide a wealth of new functionality, such as expanded social networking capabilities.

The second major change coming this summer is CellarTracker’s partnership with Vinfolio Marketplace, an on-line marketplace for buying and selling privately owned wines. Collectively CellarTracker and Vinfolio have 12 million bottles in user’s cellars worth over $2 billion, including many rare and hard to find wines. This partnership will allow CellarTracker members to anonymously list bottles they wish to sell and look at community member’s available bottles. Once a deal is struck, the seller ships the bottle to Vinfolio who verifies it and sends it along to the purchaser. This capability will mark a radical expansion of CellarTracker’s functionality.

Last month I sat down for coffee with LeVine and talked about CellarTracker’s history and the upcoming changes. This included a look at the new design which currently includes both working software and screenshot mockups (LeVine is coding the application as you read this).

The redesigned application is nothing short of breathtaking. Tasks that have previously been somewhat onerous will become easy, such as adding multiple new items to a cellar. Search capabilities are expanded. Users will be able to more easily see and interact with other users, such as the ability to comment on other user’s comments. The redesigned application also includes a sexy feature where users can select from a list of descriptors to compose tasting notes on the fly. For those intimidated by providing numerical scores to a wine, there is a simple thumbs up/thumbs down type of functionality. In short, the redesigned CellarTracker will be much easier to use and even more feature rich for their two main types of users – those who use it to track their cellars and those who use it to review tasting notes.

LeVine is understandably excited about the upcoming changes, and he has ambitious plans for growing the CellarTracker community in the coming years. Indeed, the changes are cause for excitement. I came away from the demonstration of the redesigned UI nothing short of exhilarated. As with any major software change, some long time users of CellarTracker may find the adjustment difficult. LeVine plans to have both the new and existing applications pointed toward the CellarTracker database for the first few months to help ease the transition

As CellarTracker rolls out its new user interface and marketplace functionality over the coming months, the community of users will no doubt continue to expand and morph. While it is always difficult to say what direction any internet application will take, one thing is clear. CellarTracker will continue to have an enormous impact on the wine industry for many years to come.


Note: Levine will be speaking in Georgetown, WA today on entrepreneurship. Read more about this event here.

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Chaleur Estate is one of the flagship wines of Delille Cellars, a Woodinville, Washington winery. This wine is a cabernet-focused Bordeaux blend with the majority of its fruit coming from Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain. The winery’s website lists the 2001 vintage of this wine as a “Drink” wine, and I would concur. While the 2001 Chaleur Estate is drinking well and appears to have some time left, I do not see it getting any better than it is at present.

Wines:

Score

Name

Notes

$

*

Delille Cellars Chaleur Estate 2001

Light in color and very cloudy. Lots of pencil lead on the nose along with wet stone, and black licorice. Richly textured, coating the palate with dark fruit and abundant pencil lead. 63% Cabernet; 26% Merlot; 9% Cab Franc; 2% Petit Verdot. Predominantly Ciel du Cheval and Klipsun vineyards. 1,150 cases produced.

$60

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It is uncommon for me to bring attention to individual winery events. However, in this case, I am making an exception. Steve Brooks, owner and winemaker at Walla Walla's Trust Cellars, will be pouring tonight at Fine Wine & Cigars in Redmond. You may recall that Trust was my "winery of the weekend" during this year's Walla Walla Spring Release. Brooks' current releases are all standouts and include:

  • 2008 Rose of Cabernet Franc
  • 2008 Columbia Valley Riesling
  • 2007 Columbia Valley Syrah
  • 2007 Walla Walla Valley Syrah
  • 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon

If you have the time, check them out. If you don't have the time, make it. These wines are not to be missed. Brooks will be pouring from 4-8pm.

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The good news. The 2005 Chateau Ste. Michelle-Dr. Loosen Riesling Columbia Valley Eroica Single Berry Select has received a 98 point rating from Wine Spectator. This score was published in the June 24th edition of Wine Spectator Insider. The 98 point score matches the highest Wine Spectator score received for a Washington wine. A 98 point score was previously given to the 2000 vintage of this same wine. It is also matches the highest score received in Wine Spectator for an American Riesling.

The bad news. A 375ml bottle of this dessert wine will run you $200.

Read more about this wine here.

Your consolation prize? For 1/4 the price, the 2005 Poet's Leap Botrytis Riesling. Check it out here.

I know. You are thinking you are supposed to feel better about that 1/4 price for that 1/2 bottle. Truly though, it's like saving money.

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This month's Virtual Tasting is tonight and is the 2006 Waterbrook Melange Noir. As usual, I will be opening the wine about 7pm and updating this post with my notes along the way. Please join us in trying this wine and posting your notes. New for this month, you can check at the bottom of the post whether you liked the wine or not. I have also included a downloadable tasting note sheet in case you are getting friends together for the tasting. The "Taste" section of the sheet contains a profile template that Sagelands Vineyard uses for their wines. See an example from their site with this filled out here.

Waterbrook is the flagship winery of Precept Wine Brands. The winery was founded in 1984 and produces approximately 70,000 cases annually.

Note: The 2006 vintage is a fairly new release so some outside the state may find the 2005 on the shelves.

7:15 Update: Okay folks the bottle is cracked. Composite cork, very lightly colored. Wine is at 66 degrees.

7:30 Update: Fairly light in color. On the nose, initially some milk chocolate which quickly fades. A whiff of anise, black currant, and light herbal notes.

7:45 Update: As the wine opens cedar starts to show through on the nose and the anise becomes more predominant. Temperature of the wine has gone way up (it's about 110 degrees in the place I'm drinking the wine) so waiting for it to cool back down to comment on the taste.

8:00 Update: Okay, the wine has cooled down a bit. Overall I was fairly surprised by the taste. Initially it seemed quite sharp and at the same time flat which I attributed to the temperature. However, this has persisted as the wine has cooled down. The sharpness is particularly on the back and the sides of the palate. Also seems to be lacking in the middle, as if there is a bit of a hole. I say that I was surprised because I really liked the nose quite a bit. Taste seems quite disconnected from it.

8:15pm Update: Some background information about the wine. An interesting blend of varietals: 28% Cabernet Franc, 21% Syrah, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Sangiovese, 14% Merlot, 1% Tempranillo. 13.7% alcohol. 11,930 cases produced.

Wine Spectator says: 89 points. Crisp in texture and beautifully focused to show its rose petal-accented blackberry and cherry flavors, finishing firm and persistent. Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and others. Best from 2009 through 2013. 11,930 cases made. –HS

Can't say that I really get many of the points in there.

Final Update 9:00pm: Overall, as you might suspect, I'm going to give this wine a ".", or dot in my system. I enjoyed the nose but found the taste surprisingly flat. Disappointing as previous vintages have been a go-to value wine. BTW, I bought the wine for $12 at Pete's.

From Wine Enthusiast:
Not as forward and lush as the appealing 2005, this all-purpose red, tasted a few months prior to its official release, is still knitting the components together. What is in place is plenty of tart, ripe raspberry fruit, precise and clean, and a soft backdrop of lightly chocolaty tannins. - P.G. (8/1/2008) - 87 points

From CellarTracker, average rating 84.6points, median 88 points from 5 tasting notes.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the tasting. Feel free to keep the comments coming and I will respond, but for now, I am moving on to another bottle.

11:00pm Final Final Update (see clarification from 6/25): Some final final thoughts. Comparing this wine to the 2005 Meritage...The 2005 blend was a Bordeaux blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Petit Verdot, 16% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot, and 10% Malbec. 13.7% alcohol. 999 cases produced. So all around, a completely different wine. The 2006 Melange Noir is more of a kitchen sink blend compared to the 2005 Meritage. The branding is also different. My assumption was that Waterbrook was simply rebranding this wine. However, given the differences in composition, it makes me wonder if there will be some different incarnation of the Meritage with the same or different name at the same or different price point. I will let you know if I find out more about Waterbrook's plans around this. Also, remember that you can check at the bottom of the post whether you liked this wine or not.

If you have suggestions for the July Virtual Tasting, please send them along.

6/25 Update: Okay, this is a fairly twisted web I have woven. I received confirmation from folks at Waterbrook that they will have both a 2006 Melange Noir AND a 2006 Meritage. My mistake in thinking this a was rebranding of the Meritage. Part of the issue is that they changed the label this year and added "Noir" to the Melange. The Melange has always been the name of the value priced wine. The Meritage is a higher end wine at a $28 price point. Apologies for the confusion. So disregard my note from 11 last night regarding the composition of the 2005 Melange as that was for the Meritage. The 2005 Melange was composed of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. Don't have information on the percent composition but will add it if I find it. 16,522 cases were produced (more than for the 2006).

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A summary of articles from June 15th to June 21st on Washington wine.

From around the world…

London’s Legal Week writes about Wilridge Winery.


From around the country…


The San Francisco Chronicle recommends some picnic wines with a callout to Black Box Wines 2008 Columbia Valley Riesling.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer writes about Charles and Charles Rose 2008, a joint venture between Charles Bieler and Charles Smith.


From the blogosphere…


WINO magazine
writes about Betz Family Wines’ 2006 La Côte Rousse Syrah. They also write about tweeting at the Seattle Wine Awards.

Swordfern Wines
writes about Pomum’s 2006 Tinto.

Paul Gregutt
writes about Chelan wines on the north shore and the south. He also writes about AlmaTerra.

Washington Wine
writes about Columba Crest’s Vineyard 10 wines.

Wine Peeps
does a Spotlight piece on Townshend Cellar.

Through the Walla Walla Grapevine
writes about Sweet Valley Wines.

Woodinville Wine Update
writes about Alder Ridge opening a tasting room in Woodinville.

NW Wine and Real Estate
writes about Carmenere.

Wine Foot
writes about the Auction for Washington Wine.

Shona
at WineCHATr writes about the Seattle Wine Awards.

Brazenly Lucid Wines
writes about some west side wines.


From the locals…


The Tacoma News Tribune writes about Dusted Valley opening a tasting room in Woodinville. See my post on other wineries planning to do the same here.

The News Tribune also writes about a possible reconsideration on discontinuing Stimson Estate Cellars.

The Yakima Herald writes about the annual Sunshine and Wine event.

The Everett Herald writes about the Evergreen State Fair’s first wine competition.

The Bellingham Herald (I’m starting to sense a them here) writes about Zillah area wineries.

The Examiner.com writes about Washington wine.

That’s all folks!

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Five Under Fifteen - June

Monday, June 22, 2009 0 comments

Reminder that this month's Virtual Tasting will take on Wednesday. Read more about it here.

In tough times, we continue the search for good, inexpensive wines.

Sleight of Hand Cellars is located in Walla Walla, Washington. Trey Busch, who co-owns the winery with Sandy and Jerry Solomon, serves as winemaker. Busch previously worked in this capacity at Basel Cellars. Sleight of Hand, which gets its name from a Pearl Jam song, was launched in 2007. Each of SOH’s wines have a magic-name theme. An audiophile, Busch spins discs at the winery’s downtown Walla Walla tasting room. Sleight of Hand will be opening a tasting room in Woodinville in the near future.

Barnard Griffin was founded in 1983 by Rob Griffin and Deborah Barnard. Winemaker Rob Griffin came to Washington in 1977, against the advice of his UC Davis professors who considered Washington’s climate too cool for wine grapes, and began making wine at Preston Winery. He got off to a quick start, winning a Best of Show award for his 1977 Chardonnay. After starting Barnard Griffin, he also served as winemaker for Hogue Cellars from 1984 to 1991. Barnard Griffin has two tiers of wine, their Tulip Series which represents their value wines, and their reserve series. The winery currently produces 75,000 cases annually, reasonably large by Washington’s standards. Barnard Griffin’s tasting room is located in Richland, Washington.

Skylite Cellars is a Walla Walla Valley venture. The winery is located west of town. Skylite Cellars also has a downtown tasting room. Tom and Cheryl Hodgins are the owners. Robert Smasne of Smasne Cellars serves as winemaker with Greg Matiko assisting.

Thurston Wolfe Winery makes a number of wines from varietals uncommon in Washington, including Primitivo (a predecessor to Zinfandel), Tempranillo, Petit Syrah, and Zinfandel. Winemaker Wade Wolfe sources his grapes from vineyards located throughout the state, believing that this allows for the best pairing of varietal to terroir. The winery’s Red Table Wine is fascinating kitchen sink blend of Syrah, Primitivo, Lemberger, Petit Syrah, and Zinfandel. The 2007 vintage of this wine is due to be released on July 1st and is predominantly Primitivo.

Columbia Crest is one of Washington’s largest wine producers. I was intrigued to see that their current Two Vines (the winery’s entry level tier) Shiraz was from 2005.

If you have favorite Washington wines under $15, send them along and I will check them out.

Wines:

Score

Name

Notes

$

+

Sleight of Hand ‘The Curtain Call’ Late Harvest Gewurztraminer 2008

Lots of honeydew, sugared lemon, and mineral on the nose. Clean on the taste and pulls off being sweet without being heavy. Biscuit Ridge Vineyard.

Purchased from the winery for $15.



$15

+

Barnard Griffin Syrah Columbia Valley 2007

Dark in color. Brambly fruit mixes with clove, vanilla and bright berries. The fruit and the oak duke it out a bit on the nose. Packs a fruit-weighted punch on the palate. If you like fruit bombs and don’t mind a decent amount of barrel influence, this is a wine for you. 14.2% alcohol.

Purchased at Trader Joes for $13



$13

+

Skylite Cellars Big Red Hiney Columbia Valley 2005

Lightly colored. Lots of tobacco and bright cherry on the nose and taste. A bit tart on the palate but overall a good value.

Purchased from the winery for $15.



$15

.

Thurston Wolfe Doctor Wolf’s Family Red Table Wine Washington State 2006

Lots of smoke, dark, rich cherry, and bright fruit along with a touch of dust on an engaging nose. Dry, very tart and puckering on the palate with bracing acidity. 39% Syrah; 20% Primitivo; 19% Lemberger; 12% Petite Syrah (that “e” is not from me); 10% Zinfandel.15% alcohol.

Purchased at Pete’s Bellevue for $13



$15

.

Columbia Crest Two Vines Shiraz Washington State 2005

Nose is a bit off-putting with sulfur aromas along with candied fruit and a touch of earth. Taste delivers with lots of fruit and spice and a fair amount of weight. Straightforward but would be a good wine for the money except for the nose. Perhaps a bottle issue.13.5% alcohol. 135,000 cases produced.

Purchased at Pete’s Bellevue for $7

$8

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Focus: Glencorrie

Friday, June 19, 2009 2 comments

What follows is a Focus report on Glencorrie. Read a .pdf version of this report here. See other Focus reports here.


Since the late 1990s, the Washington wine industry has seen extraordinary growth. At that time, the state’s wineries numbered one hundred and sixty. Earlier this year, Washington licensed its 600th winery (Bridge Press Cellars in Spokane), marking a three hundred percent increase. Of Washington’s eleven American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), perhaps no area has seen as great a growth as the Walla Walla Valley.

At the beginning of 1995, the Walla Walla Valley had a total of seven bonded wineries. Almost fifteen years later that number stands at over ninety with many more in the works. Every trip to the valley it seems a new winery is opening its doors. A new sign stands by the side of the road that reads ‘Open’ – a realization of someone’s dream and the start of something new and exciting.

On June 5th that winery was Glencorrie which timed its opening with the annual Vintage Walla Walla weekend. Glencorrie is named after the corries or cirques that formed as a result of the Missoula floods that shaped modern day eastern Washington. The winery is owned by brothers Ronn and Dean Coldiron. Ronn’s interest in wine dates back almost fifteen years. However, the roots that would lead to Glencorrie were planted – literally and figuratively - in 2002 when Ronn put in 150 vines of Cabernet, Merlot, and Zinfandel (50 each) on family property in California. Believing that wine is made in the vineyard, Ronn worked to learn viticulture, irrigating, pruning, and bud grafting his vines and making wine from the resulting fruit.

Ronn knew as soon as he planted his test vines that he wanted to establish a vineyard and a winery. Having spent most of his life in California, he had been inspired by reading the histories of the Inglenook and BV wineries in Rutherford. One day while reading a passage in a book in Pike Place Market where California’s Julio Gallo referred to Washington as ‘acid country’, the idea of starting a vineyard in Washington took shape. After further research revealed that Washington had warmer days and cooler nights than Rutherford, the decision was made.

The Coldirons’ parents had grown up on Gray’s Harbor in Hoquiam and Aberdeen, so establishing a family vineyard on the other end of Route 12 in the Walla Walla Valley seemed a natural choice. Finding the right spot however was not so easy. The brothers spent three years searching the valley for the proper location to grow Bordeaux varietals. With a doctorate in geology, Ronn knew that selecting the right site was critical to the winery’s future. Ronn and Dean wanted an area with warm daytime temperatures and cool nighttime temperatures to help preserve the grapes’ natural acidity. Ronn states “The acid was essential to my search because I wanted to make wines that would complement a good meal, not smother it.” They also wanted a site with moderate clay content so the soil would dry slowly and they would be able to adjust the late season water stress to maximize fruit quality. In October of 2006, the Coldirons found a small, nine acre site west of a Walla Walla. This site is not only about three percent warmer than Ronn’s beloved Rutherford it also has slightly warmer days and cooler nights than the Walla Walla Valley average. In April of this year they planted a test vineyard to determine which varietals will be best suited to the location.

For their inaugural releases, the Coldirons commissioned Charlie Hoppes, owner and winemaker at Fidelitas, to make their wines. Hoppes, who in May of this year planted an estate vineyard of his own on Red Mountain, brings twenty years of winemaking experience to the venture. Hoppes had been recommended to the Coldirons by Norm McKibben, co-owner of famed Walla Walla vineyards Pepper Bridge, Seven Hills, and Les Collines. Ronn was impressed by Hoppes’ hands off approach to winemaking. Hoppes will continue to make the Columbia Valley wines in the future. Ronn will assume winemaking responsibilities for the Walla Walla cabernets once he is confident he can create the style he and his brother have commissioned Hoppes to produce. Ronn says “The wine style can be summed up by stating that wine is a food and should be made to compliment a good meal. If I can accomplish this I’ll be a happy guy.” Ronn’s long-term goal is to establish at the Walla Walla site the same type of identity and quality the fabled Rutherford wineries have.

The Glencorrie wines are composed of fruit from a number of excellent vineyard sources from the Columbia and Walla Walla valleys, including Stillwater Creek, Gamache, Weinbau, and Dwelley. In choosing fruit sources, the Coldirons sought vineyards that mirrored what they were looking for in their Walla Walla site. They also focused on vineyards that were family-owned with long-tenured vineyard managers, believing that knowledge of the land is paramount. The Coldirons hope to transition to using their estate vineyard for the Walla Walla wines as the vineyard bears fruit.

Glencorrie currently offers three red wines, all from the 2006 vintage. The first is a Columbia Valley Cabernet which is 100% Cabernet sourced from Stillwater Creek (75%) and Gamache (25%) vineyards. The second is a Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon composed of 60% cabernet from Windrow Vineyard and 40% from Dwelley Vineyard. The third is a red blend called Cuvee “Marquis”, the maiden name of the Coldiron’s mother. This wine is 70% Cabernet (Weinbau, Stillwater Creek, and Gamache Vineyards); 20% Merlot (Stillwater Creek); and 10% Malbec (Goose Ridge Vineyard). Each of Glencorrie’s wines is elegantly made, expresses the area it comes from, and expertly straddles the line between fruit expression and barrel influence. While noticeably distinct, fans of Hoppes’ Fidelitas wines will recognize his deft touch.

While the number of Washington wineries is increasing and many existing wineries are growing in size, the Coldirons are looking to stay small. Glencorrie produced 645 cases for the 2006 vintage, and the Coldirons look to remain at this level. The winery’s website even gives an up to the moment count of the number of remaining cases, reading “642 of 645 cases from the 2006 vintage remain.” With the new winery open and a strong first vintage, that number seems sure to quickly dwindle.

See a post on Glencorrie at Through the Walla Walla Grapevine here.


Wines:

Score

Name

Notes

$

+

Glencorrie Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2006


A pretty nose with a touch of earth, pepper, and some light oak notes. Up front on the palate. The wine accelerates and pours around the edges leaving a slight gap in the middle. Lots of fruit on a very enjoyable wine. 100% Cabernet (75% Stillwater Creek, 25% Gamache Vineyards). 14.7% alcohol. 208 cases produced.

$35

*

Glencorrie Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2006

Light in color. An engaging nose with cocoa powder, chocolate, oak notes, and light herbal notes. An elegant wine that lightly dances on the palate. Opens up nicely. 100% Cabernet (60% Windrow; 40% Dwelley). 14.2% alcohol. 240 cases produced.


$40

*

Glencorrie Cuvee Marquis Columbia Valley 2006

Light cocoa powder, pepper, black cherry, and very, very light herbal qualities. Opens up, expands, and lingers. A finish that holds on and evolves with fruit, spice, and light herbal notes. An elegant, beautifully done wine. 70% Cabernet (Weinbau, Stillwater Creek, Gamache vineyards); 20% Merlot (Stillwater Creek); 10% Malbec (Goose Ridge Vineyard). 14.7% alcohol. 192 cases produced.

$45

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On June 3rd David LeClaire of Seattle Uncorked hosted the 7th annual “Rosé Revival and Other Cool Whites” event. Uncorked hosts a variety of wine events and classes in the Seattle area (see my post on Uncorked’s recent syrah event here). LeClaire likes to pair his events with good causes. This event was a benefit for the Ryther Child Center.

“Rosé Revival and Other Cool Whites” took place at Ray’s Boathouse and featured more than 60 wines from over 25 wineries, the vast majority from Washington state. The event was listed as a dry rosé event to make sure people didn’t show up looking for the white zin – wrong wine, wrong crowd. The date was smack in the middle of our record breaking dry spell, and the temperature was a sultry 88 degrees – perfect weather for rosé and white wine.

Let me say a few things up front about rosé and white wine. In terms of rosé, I like crisp, clean, refreshing wines. Residual sugar (RS) is generally a disqualifier for me, although my favorite rosé (Jones of Washington) did have a trace of RS at 0.7%. Personally I thought it worked for this wine. In terms of white wine, I am fairly sensitive to oak influence and generally prefer white wines that have been produced in stainless steel or (very) neutral oak barrels. To wit, the wines that came in first and second in the judging (see below, AlmaTerra Coeo Viognier 2007 and Brian Carter Cellars Oriana 2006 respectively) had a bit more oak influence than I care for. I thought the Oriana pulled it off; I didn’t think the Coeo quite did but it was also a bit warm when I sampled it.

Some thoughts on Washington rosé based on this event and other recent tastings. I enjoy rosé on hot a summer day. That said, it is not generally a knock-out wine – nor is it intended to be. It is meant to be light and refreshing on a hot day. If you were raised on cabernet and chardonnay and are looking for something that packs a punch, rosé might not be the wine for you. A recent Walla Street Journal article stated that many American rosés seem like throwaways, lacking real passion and care. While Washington surely has its share of these, a number of winemakers in Washington have put a considerable amount of effort into their rosés, with some even having vineyard blocks designated for rosé production.

Rosés tend to be inexpensive, as less overall cost goes in to the production due to limited barrel exposure, limited aging, etc. Rosés at this event ranged from $9 to $18 and averaged $13. Many of the rosés that I have been sampling or seeing on the shelves from Washington are at the high end of this range. Personally I think this is a bit of a mistake. Although many of these are excellent wines, once a wine pushes toward $20 I start to think about a good white wine or an inexpensive red. More importantly, I start to expect a bit more from the wine in terms of complexity and depth, so there can be an expectation mismatch at this price point. An additional concern is that there are abundant French rosés at $10 that are every bit as good or better. Indeed, Hand Picked Selections – a national wine merchant - was pouring several French rosés at this event for $10 that were excellent.

There is a lot of variation in the varietals being used for rosé in Washington, from sangiovese and cabernet franc to cabernet, Dolcetto, syrah and other varietals. There is also a lot of variation stylistically, both in terms of how they are made (see a previous post for more on this) and how they taste. I tried a rosé recently that was bright red in color and had 2% residual sugar. While some might enjoy this style, it is not what I am looking for. For the consumer, a few sugary rosés can make you a bit gun shy about picking up another bottle. This variation no doubt leads to some consumer confusion. To me, this is all the more reason to attend events like this one to try before you buy (Note: wine was also being sold at this event).

Listed below are my top rosé and white wines from this event. I have listed my top three wines as well as other wines that stood out. Also listed are the judges’ top wines as well as the people’s choice from balloting. A complete list of wine poured at the event is at the bottom of this post.

As with other Uncorked events I have attended, at “Rosé Revival and Summer Whites” the location was superb, the atmosphere excellent, there was abundant quality wine, and the food matched the occasion – all for about the cost of a bottle of wine. Uncorked’s next event is the 7th Annual “Debuts and Discoveries” which focuses on wineries in the first 3-4 years of releasing wine, on Thursday June 25th. See a list of participating wineries here.

My Top Rosés


1. Jones of Washington Rosé of Syrah 2008 $11

This was my first time trying Jones of Washington’s wines, and I must say that I came away quite impressed. Jones of WA is a family owned winery. Jack Jones is the owner and his son Greg does the winemaking and oversees the operation. The family’s estate vineyards were planted in 1997. The 2008 Rosé of Syrah is pale pink, loaded with earth and mineral, and has just a suggestion of sweetness that gives the wine a little extra body.


2. Skylite Cellars Sangiovese Rosé 2008 $17

Skylite Cellars is located in the Walla Walla Valley. The 2008 Sangiovese rosé is lightly colored and redolent with fresh melon, strawberry, and mineral. Crisp and clean on the palate and refreshingly tart.


3. Smasne Rosé 2008

Smasne Cellars is located in Woodinville. Robert Smasne is owner and winemaker. The 2008 Rosé is composed of 66% Sangiovese and 34% Muscat. The wine is lightly colored and full of fruit and earth. A light zing at the end pulls it all together. At the time of this tasting the 2008 was not released. I thought the 2007 was a bit past its prime. See a recent post on Smasne from WINO magazine here.


Other Recommended Washington Rosé (in alphabetical order)

Tefft Cellars Dolcetto Rosé 2007
Trust Cellars Rosé of Cabernet Franc 2008 $15
Yellow Hawk Rosato 2008


Recommended French Rosé (in alphabetical order):
Bargemone Ctx d’Aix en Provence Rosé 2008 $16 (Hand Picked Selections)
Chateau de Donjon Minervois Rosé 2008 $14 (Hand Picked Selections)

Cuve de Pena Rosé 2008 $10 (Hand Picked Selections)
Massamier Cuvee de Oliviers Rosé 2008 $10 (Hand Picked Selections)

My Top White Wines

1. Trust Cellars Riesling 2008 $15

I first tried this wine at Walla Walla Spring Release weekend (full report out later this month God willing) where it was one of my top wines. This is an off-dry Riesling with 2% RS. The wine has a beautiful nose with sugared grapefruit and pineapple. Exceptionally well balanced on the palate with mineral and a light sweetness.

2. Jones of Washington Viognier 2008 $14

Unfortunately the winery ran out of this wine reasonably early in the event – I got the last pour from the bottle – which is a shame as it is an excellent wine. The fruit is from Jones of Washington’s estate vineyard on the Wahluke Slope. The wine is almost completely clear in color and chock full of white peaches. On the palate it is round and generous while remaining clear and crisp. Exceptionally well done.

3. Cedergreen Cellars Old Vine Chenin Blanc Columbia Valley 2008 $16

Who knew there was good Chenin Blanc coming out of Washington? I have to admit that I didn’t. Cedergreen Cellars is the work of Kevin Cedergreen. The winery is located in Kirkland. The 2008 Old Vine Chenin Blanc is from Williams Farm and Snipes Road vineyards. The wine was fermented in 500 liter Hungarian oak puncheon. 100% Chenin Blanc. 13.0% alcohol. 194 cases produced.



Other recommended Summer Whites (in alphabetical order):

Brian Carter Oriana 2006 $22
DiStefano Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2008 $16

Gilbert Cellars Riesling 2007

Jones of Washington Estate Riesling 2007 $11

KANA Katie Mae 2007 $13

Palouse Winery Cloud 9 Riesling 2008 $17

Thurston Wolfe PGV 2007 $13

The Judges

Kelly Barry - Seattle Cellars
Shannon Borg - Seattle Magazine Wine Writer
Rob Ord - Wild Ginger Sommelier
Cole Sisson - Seastar Sommelier
Sean Sullivan - Washington Wine Report
Jeff Thorsen - Cave Vivant Sommelier

The Judge’s Winners


White Winners

1st Place – Alma Terra
Coeo Viognier 2007 - $23
2nd Place – Brian Carter Cellars
Oriana 2006 $22
3rd Place – Cedergreen Cellars
Chenin Blanc 2008 $16

Rosé Winners

1st Place – Wilridge Winery
2008 Rosé (Syrah) $18

2nd Place – Tefft Cellars
Dolcetto Rosé 2007 - $9
3rd Place – Skylite Cellars
Rosé (Sangiovese) 2008 - $17
3rd Place – DiStefano
Rosé Amare2008 - $17

3rd Place – Jones of Washington
Rosé (Syrah) 2008 - $11


The People’s Choice Awards

White Winners


1st Place – Skylite Cellars
Viognier 2007 - $17

2nd Place – Thurston Wolfe Winery
PGV 2007 - $13
3rd Place – Brian Carter Cellars
Oriana 2006 $22

Rosé Winners

1st Place – Tefft Cellars
Dolcetto Rosé 2007 - $9

1st Place – PengWine
Fairy Cab/Malbec Rosé 2006 - $11
2nd Place – Wilridge Winery
2008 Rosé (Syrah) $18
3rd Place – Kestrel Vintners
Rosé 2008 - $12
3rd Place – Trust Cellars
Rosé of Cabernet Franc 2008 - $15

Wines Poured at the Event
Airfield Estates Unoaked Chardonnay 2008 $11
Airfield Estates Foot-stomped Syrah Rosé 2008 $13
Alma Terra Coeo Viognier 2007 $23
Brian Carter Cellars Oriana 2006 $22
Cedergreen Cellars Viola Rosé 2008 $13
Cedergreen Cellars Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2008 $16
DiStefano Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2008 $16
DiStefano Cellars Rosé Amare 2008 $17
Eaton Hill Winery Orange Musact NV $12
Eaton Hill Winery Sun Glow NV $14
Gamache Estate Viognier 2007 $17
Gamache Estate Riesling 2007 $17
Gilbert Cellars Riesling 2007 $14
Gilbert Cellars Estate Chardonnay 2007 $18
Boniface Apremont Vin de Savoie 2007 $16 (Hand Picked Selections)
Ninet de Pena Viognier 2007 $11(Hand Picked Selections)
Massamier Cuvee de Oliviers Rosé 2008 $10 (Hand Picked Selections)
Cuve de Pena Rosé 2008 $10 (Hand Picked Selections)
Bargemone Ctx d’Aix en Provence Rosé 2008 $16 (Hand Picked Selections)
Chateau de Donjon Minervois Rosé 2008 $14 (Hand Picked Selections)
Chateau de Lancyre Pic St. Loup Rosé 2008 $16 (Hand Picked Selections)
Jones of WA Viognier 2008 $14
Jones of WA Estate Riesling 2007 $11
Jones of WA Syrah Rosé $11
KANA Winery Masterpiece 2007 $18
KANA Winery Katie-Mae $13
Kestrel Vintners Rosé 2008 $12
Kestrel Vintners Viognier 2008 $18
Lost River Winery Pinot Gris 2008 $14
Lost River Winery Rainshadow 2008 $14
Masset Winery Le Petite Blanc 2008 $13
Masset Winery Rosato 2008 $16
Naches Heights Vineyards Rose Rosé 2008 $15
Naches Heights Vineyards Pinot Gris 2007 $11
Naches Heights Vineyards Riesling 2008
Palouse Winery Golden Pearl Viognier 2008 $20
Palouse Winery Cloud 9 Riesling 2008 $17
Parejas Cellars Riesling 2007 $9
Parejas Cellars Rosé 2007 $8
Passion Vineyards Pinto Grigio 2007 $14
Passion Vineyards Chardonnay 2007 $15
Patterson Cellars Rosé 2008 $13
Patterson Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2008 $13
Peng Wine Magellan Unoaked Chardonnay 2005 $11
Peng Wine Fairy Cab/Malbec Rosé 2006 $11
Samson Estates Winery Delilah Raspberry NV $10
Samson Estates Winery Riesling 2008 $14
Skylite Cellars Sangiovese Rosé 2008 $17
Skylite Cellars Viognier 2007 $17
Smasne Cellars Rosella Rosé 2007 $17
Smasne Cellars Rosella Rosé 2008 $17 (Not yet released at time of tasting)
Tefft Cellars Dolcetto Rosé 2007 $9
Tefft Cellars Rosey Outlook 2007 $9
Thurston Wolfe Winery PGV 2007 $13
Trust Cellars Rosé of Cabernet Franc 2008 $15
Trust Cellars Riesling 2008 $15
Two Mountain Dry Rosé 2008 $9
Two Mountain Riesling 2008 $13
Wedge Mountain Winery Dry Riesling 2007 $16
Whitman Cellars Viognier 2007 $18
Whitman Cellars Riesling 2008 $13
Wilridge Winery Syrah Rosé 2008 $18
Wilridge Winery Pinot Grigio 2008 $18
Wilridge Winery Semillon 2008 $16
Yellow Hawk Cellar Muscat Canelli 2007 $11
Yellow Hawk Cellar Rosato 2008 $11

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Over the weekend Paul Gregutt put a post on his blog (which if you are not reading you should be) about why Washington syrah doesn't sell particularly well. One of the reasons, which I agree with, is that there are not very many good Washington syrahs in the value category. There are many exceptional wines at $30 and over but not many for less than that as far as I have seen.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to prove this hypothesis wrong. So...

1. Tell me what you think are good Washington syrahs that are $15 and under. I will start the bidding with:


2. Tell me what you think are good Washington syrahs that are $30 and under. Here I will spot you (the list is obviously bigger but so is the price point):


3. Give data that Washington syrah does sell particularly well just to throw the whole thing out the window

4. Give data that there are not quality syrahs at this price point outside of Washington either

This message will self destruct in five seconds...

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A summary of articles from June 8th to June 14th on Washington wine.


From around the world…

Reuters India writes about Hong Kong making wines from frozen grapes, including those from Washington state.


From around the country…

The Providence Journal picks up a story from the Chicago Tribute about recommended summer wines, including Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling.


From the blogosphere…

Dowd’s Wine Notebook writes about Hong Kong’s first wine made from frozen Washington grapes. Indian Wine Academy also picks up on this story.

Wine Peeps writes about Vintage Walla Walla. They also do a spotlight on Spokane’s Barrister Winery.

WINO writes about the Washington wine industry trying to get a foothold in Hong Kong. They also write about Alma Terra winning at Uncorked’s Rose event, Haiku contest winners, medal winners at the Seattle Wine Awards, Seattle Swirl’s wine glass seminar,

Swordfern Wines checks out Long Shadows 2005 Sequel. They also write about Trust Cellars 2007 Cabernet Franc Rose.

Paul Gregutt writes about why Syrah doesn’t sell well and why Washington doesn’t get enough props.

Washington Wine writes about Columbia Crest’s Vineyard 10 wines.

One Rich Wine Guy writes about several upcoming Washington wine events. They also write about Bella Terrazza Vineyards.

Bricks of Wine writes about the Seattle Wine Awards, Fairwinds 2002 Cabernet,

Woodinville Wine Update writes about the end of the Washington Wine Ambassador program. WINO also picks up on this story. They also write about new tasting rooms for Mark Ryan and Ross Andrew and Lachini Vineyards.

Sprout writes about Chateau Ste. Michelle.

Forgeron Cellars writes about Vintage weekend on their blog.

Shona at WineChatr writes about Gifford Hirlinger opening a tasting room in Woodinville. See my post on other wineries from Walla Walla opening up tasting rooms in Woodinville here.

Ken’s Wine Guide looks at Chateau Ste. Michelle’s 2007 Sauvignon Blanc.


From the locals…

The Eastside Business Journal writes about the return of ZAP – Zinfandel Advocates and Producers.

Oregon Live writes about Walla Walla.

Wenatchee World writes about Washington wine.

KAPP writes about the Sunshine and Wine event.

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Two thousand and two marked the second vintage for Walla Walla’s Cougar Crest. The winery produced 4,000 cases of wine that year and began its meteoric rise. Winemaker Debbie Hansen received high Wine Spectator scores in that vintage for her Syrah (94 points), Reserve Syrah (90 points), Merlot (90 points), Cabernet Franc (90 points), and Cabernet (89 points). Those scores and subsequent ones, combined with a strong word from Gary Vaynerchuck on Wine Library TV, brought the winery to the present day where it has a new, multi-million dollar facility on the way in to Walla Walla and a second label, Walla Walla River Winery.

While the 2002 Cabernet is clearly no longer at its peak, it is drinking well and appears to have at least a couple of years left in it.

Wines:

Score

Name

Notes

$

+

Cougar Crest Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2002

Loaded with freshly ground tobacco and dried black cherries. A chewy wine that is clearly on its downward arc but is still drinking quite well. 1,040 cases produced.

$32

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SuLei Cellars (pronounced soo-lay) is a new Walla Walla winery. The word SuLei is a synonym for the Celtic Mother Goddess Sulis Minerva. The word is also intended as an indication of the partnership between the two owners.

SuLei is a joint venture between Tanya Woodley, who serves as winemaker, and Elaine Jomwe, who serves as the Operations Manager. Woodley is a graduate from Walla Walla Community College’s Enology and Viticulture program and spent three years working under Steve Lessard at Whitman Cellars.

SuLei Cellars’ initial releases include a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Rose, a 2008 Roussanne – reviewed here, and a 2007 Cabernet-Syrah blend called Beet Red.

Wines:

Score

Name

Notes

$

+

SuLei Cellars Roussanne Walla Walla Valley 2008

A light nose with mineral, hints of lemon, and a light spice. Clean and crisp on the palate. 75 cases produced.


Purchased at Vintage Cellars, Walla Walla

$18

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