Washington Wine Report is an independent publication focused on bringing Washington wine to you and bringing you to Washington wine. Our goal is:
  • To help you select Pacific Northwest wines at a variety of price levels
  • To keep you up-to-date about the Northwest’s wineries, vineyards, and individuals
  • To help you plan trips to wine country
  • To connect you to the larger wine community

Sean P. Sullivan

2019 Tour Guide

Reviewed Wineries

A round-up of stories on Washington wine from March 15th to 21st.

From around the country…

The Contra Costa Times writes about Milbrandt Vineyards.

From the blogosphere…

Wine Library TV
talks about #WAMerlot.

Another Passion
writes about Full Pull Wines’ Paul Zitarelli.

Paul Gregutt
writes about Pacific Rim. He also writes about Buty and Betz and some top Washington wineries.

Yak Yak Wine
writes about Olsen Estates. He also writes about Columbia Winery’s 2004 Otis Vineyard Cabernet and Tunnel Hill’s 2007 Riesling.

Drink Nectar
writes about ways to maximize #WAMerlot. Josh also writes about Swirl, Smell, Slurp and celebrates his 100th post.

Write for Wine
writes about Taste Washington.

WINO Magazine
writes about Spring Valley’s 2004 Frederick. They also write about the threat from spotted wing Drosophila, the Ghost of 413 Riesling, and talk with Jamie Brown of Waters Winery.

United Slurps of America
writes about Washington wine with callouts to Seven Hills and Charles Smith.

Boozing It
writes about Novelty Hill’s Royal Slope Red. They also write about Kyra’s Chenin Blanc.

Wine Peeps
writes about single vineyard red blends. The also write about Trio Vintners.

Wine Predator
writes about #WAMerlot.

RJ’s Wine Blog
writes about Dusted Valley’s 2007 Stained Tooth Syrah.

Wine Foot
writes about Woodinville Spring Release.
writes about Washington Merlot.

writes about Columbia Crest’s 2006 Reserve Merlot.

Woodinville Wine Update
writes about Village Wines moving. Shona also writes about the Otis Kenyon tasting room opening in April, the Bob Betz pizza recipe, and the closing of Twisted Cork.

Northwest Cork and Fork
writes about K Vintners Syrah.

Washington Wine
writes about the Red Diamond 2007 Merlot. Lisa also writes about Sagelands.

The Oregon Wine Blog
writes about #WAMerlot. They also write about Taste Washington.

Ken’s Wine Guide
writes about the 2006 Pepper Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wine and Beer of Washington State
gives a review of Seattle Uncorked’s 4th annual Bags and Bottles event. They also write about a wine 102 class at William Church.

Through the Walla Walla Grapevine
writes about misperceptions about wineries.
looks at Columbia Crest’s 2007 Horse Heaven Hills Merlot.

From the locals…

The Spokesman-Review writes about #WAMerlot.

King 5
talks about Taste Washington.

From the Tri-City Herald, Woehler writes about top Northwest Riesling

The Yakima Herald writes an editorial about wine tourism.

writes about the potential effects of El Nino on Washington winemakers.

talks with Ted Baseler about the growth of the Washington wine industry.

That's all folks!

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Corliss Estates (WWFR 2009)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010 0 comments

This is part of a report on 2009 Walla Walla Fall Release Weekend. Download a complete .pdf copy of the report here.

This Fall Release marked almost one year since Corliss Estates first opened its doors to the public. Michael Corliss and Lauri Darneille founded the winery, located in a hundred year-old brick building off Highway 12 in Walla Walla. Winemaker Kendall Mix joined the team in 2004.

Unlike many wineries that lack either the space or money (or both) to cellar their wines for extended periods prior to release, Corliss holds their wines for as many as five years. Corliss and Darneille, who prefer to drink aged wines, like to hold the Corliss Estates wines until they are ready to be consumed. This is not to say the wines are anywhere near their peak upon release. Far from it. While Corliss currently lacks the track record to see how these wines will taste in, say, twenty years, these are age-worthy wines that will only benefit from additional time in the cellar. However, unlike many new releases, one can enjoy the Corliss wines when they are first released without extended decanting. While the winery’s deep pockets make this decision easier, it no doubt is appreciated by consumers. Many a wine lover has opened a high-end bottle of wine upon release only to be disappointed, as the wine is not ready for consumption. Experiences like this can create a lasting impression.

Corliss Estates’ initial releases, a 2003 Cabernet, Red Wine, and Syrah, were all sensational. This event weekend the winery released its 2004 Red Wine and 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon (see previous review here), both of which stand tall with the finest wines the state. Corliss also poured samples of two other wines, both new for the winery – a 2003 Cabernet Franc and a 2004 Malbec. These wines, both of which are noteworthy, are only available at the winery and select restaurants. Rounding out the evening, the winery poured a 2007 Red Blend barrel sample. This wine is something to look forward to.

Since opening their doors in 2008, Corliss, Darneille, and Mix have gone on to launch another winery, Tranche Cellars. This winery, located in the former Nicolas Cole building east of downtown Walla Walla, focuses predominantly on white wines and Rhone varieties. A third winery, Red Mountain Vineyards, will be launched later this year.

All wines sampled at 70 degrees.

Corliss Estates Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley 2003 $55

Rating: * (Excellent)
A peppery, earthy nose that shows some aged fruit. An intensely flavorful, rich wine with syrupy fruit. Throwing a lot of sediment. Almost overwhelms the plate with powerful fruit flavors. 83% Cabernet Franc, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec, and 5% Syrah. Stillwater, Bacchus, Sagemoor, and Northridge vineyards. Aged in 100% French Oak (50% new) for 32 months. 15.5% alcohol 105 cases produced.

Corliss Estates Malbec Columbia Valley 2004 $55

Rating: * (Excellent)
Fairly quiet on the nose with spicy red fruit. Rich and opulent on the taste. Coats the palate with cranberry and red fruit flavors. An extended finish. 76% Malbec, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc. Northridge, Stonetree, and Weinbau vineyards. Aged in 100% French Oak (neutral) for 32 months. 14.4% alcohol. 133 cases produced.

Corliss Estates Red Blend Columbia Valley 2007 Barrel Sample $NA

Rating: ** (Exceptional)
Light coffee bean and herbal aromas surround rich black cherries on the nose. Simultaneously bold and lithe on the palate. A rich, multiple swallow wine with chewy tannins. 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 19% Petit Verdot, 9% Malbec, and 5% Cabernet Franc. Dionysus, Weinbau, Swiftwater, Stonetree, and Northridge vineyards. Aged in 100% French Oak (95% new). 14.9% alcohol. Approximately 750 cases produced. To be released in 2012.

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

McKinley Springs is located in the southern section of the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. The winery is one of a number of Washington wineries with a multi-generational history of farming in the state. Louise and Bob Andrews moved to the Yakima Valley and began farming shortly after World War II. In 1980, they planted grapes. Since then they have provided fruit to numerous wineries throughout the state, including Andrew Rich, Northstar, Syncline, Hogue, and Columbia Crest. The Andrews’ son Rob now serves as grower for more than 2,000 acres of vineyards. McKinley Springs Winery was established in 2002 to provide wines from estate fruit at value price points. Doug Rowell serves as winemaker.

Wines of Substance was founded by Waters Winery winemaker Jamie Brown and Gramercy Cellars winemaker Greg Harrington. The winery focuses on providing quality varietal bottlings at pocketbook friendly prices. The labels are eye-catching black and white with Periodic Table-style letters representing the variety. The winery’s website shows the complete table which you can rotate and spin to your heart’s delight (or get yourself a t-shirt). Click on one of the symbols on the table and it flies at you and provides a description of the wine as well as a link to .pdf tasting notes with extra space to write notes. Substance was recently named one of the top ten 'Hot Small Brands' by Wine Business Monthly (They define 'small brands' as less than 150,000 cases. Yikes!).

Randy Leitman started the Randall Harris label more than ten years ago. Leitman is a negociant with no bricks and mortar facility – or even website. Randall Harris produces approximately 4,000 cases annually.

Renegade Wine Co.’s wines are made by Trey Bush at Sleight of Hand Cellars. The back of the label irreverently reads, “Glasses? We don’t need no stinkin’ glasses.” While this wine won't blow your doors off, it doesn't need to at this price point. It is a well put together pizza wine (Plates? We don't need no stinkin' plates!) that provides a lot of bang for the buck.

McKinley Spring Syrah Horse Heaven Hills 2005 $15
Rating: + (Good) Nose is somewhat muted with chocolate, coffee, and floral notes along with blue and black fruit. Taste delivers with a dollop of fruit and a persistent intensity straight through the finish. Drinks like a considerably more expensive bottle. Syrah co-fermented with 3.5% Viognier. Aged 18 months in French and American oak (20% new). 14.2% alcohol. 374 cases produced. Recommended. Purchased from Full Pull Wines for $13.49

McKinley Springs Viognier Horse Heaven Hills 2008 $15
Rating: + (Good) Almost completely clear in color. A lightly aromatic nose with floral and mineral notes along with white peaches. Crisp and clean on the palate with an acidic finish. Alcohol seems a bit heavy on the palate at times. Needs food to fully express itself. Aged in stainless steel sur lies. 14.6% alcohol. 225 cases produced. Purchased from Whole Foods for $150 (just kidding, $15)

Wines of Substance Syrah Washington State 2008 $15
Rating: . (Decent) An quiet but intriguing nose with blueberry, blackberry bush, and touches of carob. A fruit-filled, clean palate with a citric uptick on the finish. 13.7% alcohol. Purchased from Pete's Seattle for $14

Randall Harris Merlot Columbia Valley 2007 $10
Rating: . (Decent) Fairly light in color. A pleasing, aromatic nose with a bowl of red currant, raspberry compote, and wild blueberries with a dusting of chocolate. On the palate, dry and tart with a lot of fresh fruit flavors. A hint of sweetness at the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Purchased from Pete's Seattle for $9.39

Renegade Wine Co. Red Wine Columbia Valley 2008 $8

Rating: . (Decent) Nose is marked by raspberry Newtons, berry, and a touch of earth. On the taste, strawberry and raspberry flavors mark a solid but not particularly complex wine. Has a pleasing zing of acidity that would breathe some extra life into pizza or pasta. A bit under-ripe at times on the nose and taste. Doesn’t quite stand on its own but doesn’t need to at this price. 67% Syrah, 14% Grenache, 14% Sangiovese, and 5% Merlot. 14.1% alcohol. Purchased from Esquin for $8

See other Five Under Fifteen wines here.

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Taste Washington Videos

Monday, March 29, 2010 2 comments

The day after Taste Washington is always a bittersweet one. On the one hand, there is the exhilaration of trying so many good wines and talking with winemakers and growers from all around the state. On the other hand, there is the sad realization that it is over and that the next Taste Washington Seattle is a year away (there is the Taste Washington Spokane for those who can't wait a full year). Personally, I petition the Washington Wine Commission to advance the date of the event several weeks each year to help ease the pain. I would also petition Washington State to make the Monday after Taste Washington a state holiday to help ease pain of a different sort for many attendees. Let's be honest. Nothing gets done today anyway.

This year, for the first time, Taste Washington featured a series of streaming videos during the event. The videos were organized and recorded by Yashar Shayan (@YasharSeattle on Twitter) who serves as sommelier at Seastar Restaurant. These included recordings of two of the Saturday educational seminars as well as a series of winemaker interviews during the Grand Tasting on Sunday. The complete list of videos is below (Note: Sound quality variable at times due to background noise).

The first video listed is one of the Saturday educational seminars titled "Mighty Malbec." Malbec is an emerging variety in Washington State. I had the pleasure of participating in the panel discussion with Jake Kosseff (Seattle Magazine and Wild Ginger Restaurants), Anna Schafer (aMaurice Cellars), Christopher Miller (Spago, Beverly Hills) and Thomas Henick-Kling (Director, Viticulture & Enology, Washington State University). The second video listed is my interview with Don and Judy Phelps of Chelan's Hard Row to Hoe. Hear Don tell the story of the name for the winery and Judy talk about some of the varieties they work with.

Hopefully for those who attended and those who were not able to, these videos will ease the pain of the next Taste Washington being fifty-two weeks away. Enjoy!

Mighty Malbec Seminar interviews Hard Row to Hoe

Tom Douglas Food & Wine Pairing Seminar (see other parts here)

Josh Wade of interviews Alexandria Nicole Cellars

Cheri Walters of interviews Rasa Vineyards

Jamie Peha of Peha Promotions interviews Milbrant Vineyards

Cheri Walters interviews NW Totem Cellars

Jake Kosseff of Wild Ginger interviews Corliss Estates

Cheri Walters interviews Betz Family Winery

Cheryl Cardwell of interviews O Wines

Doug Haugen of WINO Magazine interviews Gramercy Cellars

Cheri Walters interviews Efeste

Erin Thomas of WINO Magazine interviews Kiona Vineyards and Winery

Josh Wade interviews Pepper Bridge Winery

Vivian Bliss of Wine and Beer of Washington State interviews Walter Dacon Wines

Doug Haugen interviews Des Voigne Cellars

Doug Haugen interviews Smasne Cellars

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Cayuse Vineyards (WWFR 2009)

Friday, March 26, 2010 7 comments

This is part of a report on 2009 Walla Walla Fall Release Weekend. Download a complete .pdf copy of the report here.

Who could have known that this would be the last Fall Release event at Cayuse Vineyards? Fall Release Weekend originally formed around the release of the Cayuse wines at this time. The winery, which was celebrating its 13th birthday on this weekend, subsequently announced in January that their release event would be moved to Spring (the next one is April, 2011 with the wines still released in November).

Vigneron Christophe Baron makes a series of vineyard-designated Syrah from what is now referred to as “The Rocks” area of the Walla Walla Valley AVA. These vineyards are named Cailloux, En Cerise (French for cherry), En Chamberlin, and Armada. Bionic Frog is the name of the winery’s top of the line Syrah. Cayuse also makes a Cabernet Franc-dominant Bordeaux blend (Flying Pig), a Cabernet-dominant Bordeaux blend (Camaspelo); a Cabernet (The Widowmaker); a Tempranillo (Impulsivo); a Grenache (God Only Knows); and a Rosé.

The wines sampled here – all barrel and bottle samples that will be released in November 2010 - are all beyond reproach, and fans of Cayuse’s unique style will not be disappointed. While many I spoke with favored the 2007 Armada, which had the advantage of an additional year of age, for me the standout was the 2008 En Chamberlain. There are some wines that make me feel almost frightened when I taste them. This was such a wine. When I think of this wine, the image of Michelangelo’s ‘The Creation of Adam’ appears in my head. Despite its youth, the nose is lively and marked by earth, blood, violets, mineral, and smoked meat. The palate is about as close to perfect as I can conceive. This wine was so appealing that I instinctively gave it a rating of three stars in my notes – something I cannot recall having done previously. All wines sampled at 63 degrees.

Cayuse Vineyards Edith
Rosé Walla Walla Valley 2008 Barrel Sample $35
* (Excellent) Pale pink and yellow. Fresh and fruity on the nose. A light-bodied, refreshing wine with abundant mineral aromas and flavors. 100% Grenache. 12.6% alcohol. Sampled at 63 degrees. To be released in 2010.

Cayuse Vineyards Camaspelo Walla Walla Valley 2008 Barrel Sample $50

* (Excellent) A deep, rich color. Nose is not settled at the moment, showing a fair amount of funky, sulfurous, and nut aromas. After vigorous swirling it begins to come alive with earth aromas. The taste, on the other hand, is delicious. Beautifully balanced with fruit. Lingers effortlessly and endlessly. 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot. 14.4% alcohol. To be released in 2010.

Cayuse Vineyards Flying Pig Walla Walla Valley 2008 Barrel Sample $65

* (Excellent) Rich and intense. Seemingly lower alcohol and higher acidity than recent vintages. Doesn’t quite have the weight on the palate at present but should fill out. A lot of earth aromas and flavors with a laser-like intensity of fruit. 60% Cabernet Franc, 40% Merlot. 14.2% alcohol. To be released in 2010.

Cayuse Vineyards Cailloux Vineyard Syrah WWV 2008 Barrel Sample $50

** (Exceptional) Nose is not there at present, although it is starting to develop earth, berry, bacon, and a touch of violets. Big and intense on the palate. Streaky fruit on a wine that is nothing short of exceptional. Seemingly less alcohol than recent vintages. 100% Syrah. 14.1% alcohol. To be released in 2010.

Cayuse Vineyards
En Cerise Vineyard Syrah WWV 2008 Barrel Sample $50
*/** (Excellent/Exceptional) An aromatic powerhouse with a cornucopia of red berries, smoke, violets, and game. One of the meatiest wines I have had from Cayuse. A slight let down in intensity on the very back end of the palate but should fill out with time. 100% Syrah. 14.1% alcohol. To be released in 2010.

Cayuse Vineyards En Chamberlain Vineyard Syrah WWV 2008 Barrel Sample $50
Rating: ** (Exceptional) Wow! Earth, blood, and smoked meat on a nose that is already alive and rising out of the glass. The palate is about as close to perfect as I can imagine. I marked this as three stars in my notes, something I can’t remember having done previously. 100% Syrah. 14.6% alcohol. To be released in 2010.

Cayuse Vineyards Armada Vineyard Syrah WWV 2007 Bottle Sample $65

** (Exceptional) Holy smokes! Full on black pepper along with violets and game on a nose that is significantly more evolved due to the extra year of bottle age. A persistent intensity on the palate with crazy game tastes. Rich without being fruity. 100% Syrah. 14.2% alcohol. To be released in 2010.

Cayuse Vineyards Bionic Frog Syrah WWV 2008 Barrel Sample $70

** (Exceptional) A classic Cayuse nose with funk, game, mineral, and flowers. A meaty taste on an intensely flavored wine. Seems to show a fair amount of alcohol at times. 100% Syrah. Coccinelle Vineyard. 14.4% alcohol. To be released in 2010.

Cayuse Vineyards God Only Knows Grenache Armada Vineyard WWV 2007 Bottle Sample $60

** (Exceptional) Nose marked by floral notes along with lots and lots of mineral aromas and streaky fruit. Richly textured across the palate with flavors of bloody roast beef and umami. 100% Grenache. 15.2% alcohol. To be released in 2010.

Cayuse Vineyards The Widowmaker En Chamberlin Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2008 Barrel Sample $65

* (Excellent) A completely different nose than the other wines sampled with ground licorice and earth. Reminds me a bit at times of the Gramercy Cabernet. An interesting bit of flatness on the palate. A lighter bodied, approachable effort that is less tannin driven on the taste than most Cabernets. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. To be released in 2010.

Cayuse Vineyards Impulsivo En Chamberlin Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2008 Barrel Sample $65

* (Excellent) Dark to the point of being opaque. An intriguing nose with pepper, licorice, and ripe berries. Richly flavored with mineral and light game. Considerably more tannic structure than the other wines sampled here. 100% Tempranillo. 14.7% alcohol. To be released in 2010. Note: Case production not available until wines bottled this Spring.

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#WAMerlot Twitter Tasting

Thursday, March 25, 2010 14 comments

It is upon us.

We have a very special edition of our monthly Virtual Tasting tonight. Rather than our usual theme of picking a specific bottle to discuss, tonight from 5-7pm Pacific Time we will be participating in a national Washington Merlot Twitter tasting. During this event, people from all around the country will be opening bottles of Washington Merlot and talking about it on Twitter. The event was created by Josh Wade at and is co-sponsored by a number of social media folks in the state (see list here).

Participation is simple. All you need to do is find a bottle of Washington Merlot and tweet about it between 5-7pm using the hashtag #WAMerlot. Make sure to check to see if the winery whose wine you are drinking has a handle on Twitter so you can use it (I will be posting a link to a list later today. Look for an update).

For those of you not on Twitter and who don't feel like signing up, feel free to leave comments on this post, and I will post links on Twitter. You can, however, still follow the discussion using

There are numerous events going on all over as well as wine discounts being offered by wineries and retailers. See a list of known events and discounts here. If you are in the Seattle area and want to join me, I will be at Seattle's The Local Vine along with the folks from Wine and Beer of Washington State. The lineup of Washington Merlots there will include Fielding Hills, Northstar, Five Star Cellars, Hestia, Substance, and Dusted Valley. Even better, the folks from Dusted Valley will be there pouring their lineup of wines from 6-8pm as well.

I will update this post as the evening progresses with thoughts on the event and the wines.

Tonight, Merlot Strikes Back! Join us!

5:40 Update: Okay folks we're in full swing here. I'm down at The Local Vine in Belltown in Seattle. Thus far I've tried the Five Star 2006 Merlot and Fielding Hills 2007 Merlot. Both excellent examples of the high quality Merlot being made in this state. Five Star is a small producer located in Walla Walla in the airport region. Fielding Hills is also a small winery located in East Wenatchee.

8:30 Update: Back on after surrendering my computer for projection to the big screen. Currently drinking Ward Johnson 2005 Merlot. Ward Johnson is a small producer based in Seattle on Queen Anne.

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Washington's Mighty Malbec

Wednesday, March 24, 2010 16 comments

Part of the fun of living in Washington State at this point in time is the near continuous joy of discovery. While grapes such as Riesling, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon have a relatively long history in the state, new varieties are being continually being planted. Part of this is due to a desire to experiment on the part of growers and winemakers. Part of it is the search for Washington's "signature grape" - the variety that grows both uniquely well and distinctively here.

One of Washington's boons and banes as a wine growing region is that so many varieties grow so well here - The Perfect Climate for Wine as the Washington Wine Commission's moniker says. With the seeming exception of Pinot Noir, almost all of the varieties that have been planted in Washington have thrived. A number of winemakers, perhaps most notably Doug McCrea at McCrea Cellars, have continually pushed the boundaries introducing new varieties to the state (most recently in McCrea's case Picpoul and Grenache Blanc). There has been a profusion of varieties recently in Washington vineyards, with many having twenty to twenty-five different grape varieties planted.

One of the varieties that has garnered the most attention in Washington of late is Malbec. Malbec is one of the original Bordeaux varieties. While now uncommon in Bordeaux, it has developed a stronghold in Argentina. Washington's experience with the grape is relatively short, about twenty years. However, in the last five years winemakers and growers have become increasingly excited about the grape. Seattle Magazine named Malbec as "best emerging varietal" in its 2009 Washington Wine Awards. At the beginning of this year, Paul Gregutt, writing for the Seattle Times, said his bet is on Malbec as Washington's next big grape.

Indeed, Malbec seems to grow both well and distinctively in Washington. The number of bottlings is still relatively limited and production is small. However, there are a many exciting examples, such as wines from aMaurice, William Church, Saviah Cellars, and Walla Walla Vintners to name just a small handful of a growing list. Unfortunately, many of these wines don't make it out of the tasting room due to limited production. Many local wine stores stock only two or three examples from the state (Seattle's Esquin is a notable exception with a section devoted to Washington Malbec that contains almost twenty wines).

This Saturday at the Taste Washington educational day, a seminar titled Mighty Malbec will focus on the recent excitement about this grape. I will be one of the panelists where we will taste Malbec from France, Argentina, and Washington. There are many reasons why I am excited about this grape, but I would be interested to hear your thoughts. For growers, have you seen any increased demand for the grape or have you increased your plantings? For wineries who are currently producing Malbec, what has been your experience both in terms of the resulting wine and the consumer response? For wineries not currently producing Malbec, have you been considering it? For consumers, what is your perception of this variety and how the wines here compare to other regions around the world?

Where will Malbec go in Washington? Only time will tell and other grapes are already vying for to be Washington's next emerging variety. Part of what makes living here so much fun.

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What follows is a Focus report on Betz Family Winery. Read a .pdf version of this report here. See previous Focus reports here.

Betz Family Winery was founded by Bob and Cathy Betz in 1997. The winery is a family-run business with Cathy serving as the winery’s president, Bob as its winemaker, and their daughter Carmen as the head of sales.

Bob Betz spent twenty-eight years at Stimson Lane - now Ste. Michelle Wine Estates - before retiring in 2003 to focus on the winery full-time. During his time at Stimson Lane, Betz held a variety of positions, including Vice President of Winemaking Research at the time of his retirement. While Betz never served as winemaker, he was fully integrated into the winemaking and vineyard operations of the business. Of the decision to start making wine Betz says, “It was inevitable… (Wine) has been part of our lives since we spent a year in the vineyards of Europe in the early 70s.”

While Ste. Michelle Wine Estates encompasses some of Washington’s largest wineries, including Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest, Betz Family Winery is small operation with an annual production of about 3,500 cases. Although being small might seem to be preferable, Betz believes there are very few benefits of being a small winery, saying, “You pay more for your barrels, your grapes, and your glass.” Despite this, he says there is one advantage to being a small winery and that is “the ability to focus and to be precise in your decision making.” It is in this focus and precision where Betz Family Winery excels.

Attention to Detail

Bob Betz, who holds a Master of Wine degree, gives meticulous attention to detail from grape to glass. Throughout the entire process, everything is done systematically. Everything is recorded, and everything is followed. Betz brings to the winery a strong background in science. He is a firm believer in “database decision making” although he believes in the artistry of winemaking as well saying, “Trust your tongue and nose but use the data too.”

Fruit for the Betz wines comes from some of Washington’s best vineyards including Boushey, Ciel du Cheval, Kiona, and Red Willow. Betz has long-standing relationships with most of the growers he sources from, using the same blocks for his wines each year. He visits the vineyards frequently during the growing season to talk to the growers and to check on the fruit. At harvest, grapes are hand picked and brought from eastern Washington to the winery in Woodinville, Washington.

Once at the winery, Betz believes gentle handling of the fruit results in better wine. Grapes are hand sorted and moved through a gravity driven system. To convert the juice to alcohol, Betz seeks a “vigorous, vibrant fermentation.” He says, “I would rather build character out of the quality of the site we choose for grapes, out of the grapes themselves, and how we handle and mature them” than deal with the potential contamination issues and reductive aromas that can be a consequence of a slower fermentation.

Several pieces of equipment used during the fermentation process were custom designed for the winery. For punch downs – the process of mixing the mass of grape skins or ‘cap’ that floats to the top of the fermentation container – Betz uses both a manual process as well as a mechanical system with a hydraulic-driven platen. Betz says the hydraulic system does a better job than he can manually as “the old guy of the group.” Betz also uses a device called the “magic wand” for pump overs, the process of moving the juice from the bottom of the fermentation tank back to the top. The device has a sieve to prevent skins and seeds from going through a pump where they might be damaged and cause bitterness in the wine. Betz believes aerating and mixing the juice via this device gives increased color saturation compared to punch downs alone.

A Winery Rooted in Experimentation

Betz is constantly experimenting, looking at variables such as cooperage, yeast strain, vineyard sources, and other components that comprise the winemaking process. Last fall he fermented a small amount of fruit in oak barrels, looking to see if there was a difference in integration and aeration compared to plastic fermenters. Such experiments are always going on at the winery. A true scientist, every experiment always has an accompanying control. Among the many results of these experiments, Betz says he racks his wine – the process of removing the wine from the barrel and cleaning out the lees – less frequently now than he did in the past. He believes this results in a more vibrant wine.

Betz’ attention to detail was something that immediately impressed new assistant winemaker Tyson Schiffner. Schiffner joined the Betz Family Winery team in December of 2009. He had previously served as cellarmaster at Chateau Ste. Michelle and brewmaster at Red Hook Brewery. Schiffner says he was also struck by the difference in focusing on several hundred barrels instead of thinking about tens of thousands. He describes working at Betz Family Winery as a “dream job.”

Quality and Character

The question for wine consumers, of course, is whether all of this attention to detail results in better wine. Betz says, “You hope that it contributes to quality, but it certainly contributes to character.” Most who have sampled Betz’ wines would unequivocally say that it contributes to both. The Betz wines show both depth and complexity. They delicately straddle the Old World and the New and are among the best wines being produced in Washington State.

The results of Bob Betz’ attention to detail are never more apparent than in the 2007 vintage. The 2007 Rhone-style reds, reviewed previously, are among the best the winery has ever produced. The 2007 Merlot-dominant Clos de Betz is an exemplary showing of what Merlot-based wines can achieve in Washington State. The 2007 Pere de Famille is, quite simply, a wine apart.

The impressive quality of the recent releases is not just due to Betz’ continuous focus on details. It also reflects the exceptional 2007 growing season in Washington State. Betz says that in his thirty odd years in the industry, the 2007 vintage is among the best he has seen. Of the 2007 wines he says, “They are pure, penetrating examples of type, with a plumpness yet elegance that puts them alongside my top vintages.”

While Betz continues to hold some wine back for retailers, the winery moved to selling predominantly through a mailing list in 2008. The list has since closed.

Betz Family Winery Pere de Famille Columbia Valley 2007 $55
Rating: ** (Exceptional) Dark and brilliant in color. An alluring nose with high-toned toasty oak, sweet spices, and dark, penetrating fruit. On the palate, a tight core of black fruit along with silky oak wrapped around elegantly structured tannins. A perfect mixture of power and elegance. A long, evolving finish. 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot. Fruit is 74% Red Mountain, 17% Horse Heaven Hills, and 9% Yakima Valley (Ciel du Cheval, Kiona, Klipsun, Alder Ridge, and Red Willow vineyards). Aged 17 months in French barriques (70% new). 14.7% alcohol. Give 3-4 years.

Betz Family Winery Clos de Betz Columbia Valley 2007 $44
Rating: ** (Exceptional) Brilliantly colored. Aromatic with toast, smoke, and oak spices along with an underlayer of black fruit. Shows a little bit of heat at times on the nose. On the taste, pure, rich black cherry fruit along with silky tannins. 62% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot. Fruit is 39% Red Mountain, 33% Horse Heaven Hills, and 28% Yakima Valley (Ciel du Cheval, Kiona vineyards, Alder Ridge, and Red Willow vineyards). Aged 17 months in French barriques (65% new). 14.7% alcohol. Give 2-3 years.

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Over the years, the more I have learned about wine, the more questions I ask. I do this not just because I find it educational but also because I find it fun. While the list of questions keeps growing, there are several I always think about when evaluating a wine. For example, how similar or dissimilar are the wines from one region compared to the wines from another? Does the specific area the wine comes from express itself or not? Does the variety express itself? For example, if I try a Syrah from the Rhone Valley, how does it compare to a Syrah from, say, Sonoma? What about the effects of the winemaker? Is there a ‘house style’ that comes through on each of the wines? Do any of these variables dominate or is it a delicate dance between them?

These are often difficult questions to answer, especially in isolation. Sometimes I find myself thinking, “This wine tastes like another wine I had several months ago,” but often wonder, “Does it really?” And if the wines are in fact similar, how are they different?

The best - and most fun - way to answer these questions is by comparative tasting, evaluating wines side-by-side. If one wants to make it even more interesting and educational, the way to do it is to taste the wines blind, withholding full knowledge of the origins of the wine. Unfortunately for most of us, it is prohibitively expensive to open two or more wines on any given night let alone to deal with blinding the wines. This is why I find tasting events and like the series recently conducted at Seattle’s The Local Vine so enjoyable. For the cost of a (potentially mediocre) bottle of wine, one can try several different wines side by side, some of which might be transcendent.

The recent series was titled “Washington vs. The World.” For the series, sommelier Cole Sisson added an intriguing twist to the questions above. What if you take a winemaker from one area – for example Australia’s Barossa Valley – and have them make wines in another area such as Washington’s Columbia Valley? Can you distinguish the area? What about the winemaker? Better yet, can you do it blind?

Sisson chose winemakers who had become famous making wines in regions around the world and subsequently began making wines in Washington State. Each tasting began with an introduction to the wineries and regions being tasted followed by time to individually sample through the wines and a discussion. For the series, attendees were able to compare a high-end series of wines including:

* Randy Dunn’s Dunn Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon compared to his Long Shadows ‘Feather’ from the Columbia Valley.

* John Duval’s Entity Barossa Valley Shiraz compared to his Sequel from the Columbia Valley

* Claude Gros’ La Fleur Morange St-Emilion Grand Cru compared to his Bookwalter Merlot

For people new to wine – let alone people who have been tasting wine for many years – approaching such questions can often be intimidating. Sisson, who approaches wine tasting with aplomb and enthusiasm, solved this by providing background about the regions being sampled as well as his take on the wines. The tastings were far from formal. Rather, the environment allowed people to learn and draw their own conclusions. Printouts about the wine regions and the specific wines being tasted were provided as well.

So what did I find out at these tastings? Was it the region? The winemaker? The variety? As always, the answers to these questions were complex and intriguing, part of what makes wine so fun. For example, on the La Fleur Morange, Bordeaux leapt from the glass as it so frequently does. Some differences in region, however, were less immediately obvious. For example, the Folonari's Italian Tenute del Cabreo ‘Il Borgo’ and their Long Shadows Columbia Valley ‘Saggi’ showed some intriguing similarities. But was this because of the winemaker expressing himself? Was it because of the varieties used in the blend? Or was it something more nefarious like the ‘Parkerization’ of wines around the world?

The only way to ferret out the answers is to keep traveling down the wine trail. Hats off to The Local Vine for helping us along in the journey.

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K Vintners (WWFR 2009)

Sunday, March 21, 2010 2 comments

This is part of a report on 2009 Walla Walla Fall Release Weekend. Download a complete .pdf copy of the report here.

This Fall Release there was a great deal of buzz surrounding K Vintners. Winemaker Charles Smith had recently been named Wine & Spirits magazine’s ‘Winemaker of the Year.’ Additionally, Fall Release Weekend marked the release of the 2006 Royal City Syrah – an effort Wine Enthusiast awarded a 100-point rating earlier in the year. This is a significant accomplishment with Quilceda Creek the only other Washington winery to ever receive a 100-point rating from any of the major publications.

Not surprisingly, the celebration in Walla Walla was in full swing. Highway 12 featured a billboard of Charles Smith’s face with the title ‘Winemaker of the Year.’ Many in town commented about the Rolls Royce Smith had been driving around town since receiving the award.

As usual, K Vintners was releasing a dazzling number of new, small production wines. Unfortunately the winery was only pouring wines in the small front room of the winery (presumably the barrel room was still being used to ferment juice from the 2009 harvest). As a result, even with a small number of people, it was nearly impossible to get to the pouring tables. I decided to soldier on hoping to come back at a less crowded time but was unable to. My apologies to all.

K Vintners Viognier Columbia Valley 2008 $20

Rating: * (Excellent)
Pale yellow. Mineral, peaches, and honeysuckle on an aromatic nose. Very evenly balanced on the taste. 100% Viognier. Archie den Hoed Vineyard Block 13 (Yakima Valley). Barrel fermented in neutral French oak. 14.1% alcohol. Approximately 1,000 cases produced. Sampled at 55 degrees.

K Vintners Syrah Milbrandt Wahluke Slope 2007 $25

Rating: + (Good)
An exciting nose marked by olive, meat, red fruit, and herbal aromas. Taste doesn’t quite live up to all that the nose promises but a very enjoyable wine for the money. 100% Syrah. Sundance and Pheasant vineyards (Wahluke Slope). Aged in French Burgundy barrels. 13.9% alcohol. 1,396 cases produced.

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This is part of a report on 2009 Walla Walla Fall Release Weekend. Download a complete .pdf copy of the report here.

I have sung the praises of Trust Cellars previously. While I had sampled most these wines on prior occasions, with the exception of the knockout ice wine, each continues to impress. The 2007 Walla Walla Valley Syrah is a beautiful expression of the fruit from Les Collines, Va Piano, and Lewis vineyards; the Riesling is my favorite in the Washington state; and the ice wine is a fitting end to any meal. In addition to producing high quality wine, Trust Cellars also consistently offers high Quality-to-Price Ratios (QPRs).

Trust Cellars produces approximately 1,500 cases annually.

Trust Cellars Syrah Columbia Valley 2007 $28

Rating: * (Excellent)
An appealing nose with chocolate, flowers, game, and blueberry. A rich palate with a finish that lingers. Syrah from Lewis, Portteus, and Sundance vineyards. Aged in French oak (25% new). 14.5% alcohol. 320 cases produced.

Trust Cellars Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2007 $28

Rating: ** (Exceptional)
A nose that draws you into the glass with violets, game, and earth. Rich on the palate with gamey fruit and a touch of chocolate. 89% Syrah (Les Collines and Va Piano vineyards), 11% Cabernet Sauvignon (Lewis Vineyard). Aged in French oak (22% new). 14.4% alcohol. 214 cases produced.

Trust Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2006 $36

Rating: * (Excellent)
Nose is marked by menthol, licorice, and tobacco. Thick and opulent on a palate that is beautifully speckled with oak flavors. 80% Cabernet Sauvignon from Phinny Hills, Champoux (Horse Heaven Hills), Bacchus (Columbia Valley), and Kelly (Walla Walla Valley) vineyards. 20% Merlot (Conner Lee Vineyard, Wahluke Slope). 13.8% alcohol. 235 cases produced.

Trust Cellars Riesling Columbia Valley 2008 $16

Rating: ** (Exceptional)
Abundant pink grapefruit and honey aromas mark the nose. A mineral-laden palate with a pleasing touch of sweetness that carries the wine across the palate without being overwhelming. 2% Residual Sugar. 12% alcohol. 224 cases produced.

Trust Cellars Ice Wine Columbia Valley 2008 $40

Rating: ** (Exceptional)
Golden colored. A gorgeous nose with honey, candied lemons, and light brown sugar. Thick and rich on the palate. 100% Sémillon (Rosebud and Prosser vineyards). 12.9% alcohol. 41 cases produced.

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Chateau Rollat (WWFR 2009)

Saturday, March 20, 2010 2 comments

This is part of a report on 2009 Walla Walla Fall Release Weekend. Download a complete .pdf copy of the report here.

Chateau Rollat made quite a splash with their first releases in 2007. Two years later, the winery has their second red and white wine releases. Could these wines match the dazzle of their initial wines?

Yes. Bowin Lindgren teams with esteemed Bordeaux winemaker Christian LeSommer to craft wines that stand with some of the valley’s finest. While the 2006 Rollat and Edouard are less initially exuberant than their predecessors at present, the wines are every bit as good. The new white releases under the Ardenvoir label are equally as compelling.

Unfortunately considering the excellence of these wines, the winery has been hampered on the business side. Chateau Rollat’s website is woefully inadequate and contains little information about the winery. None of the current vintages are listed although they have long been released. The Ardenvoir wines which are bottled under their own label do not have a website. Additionally, I have heard more than a few stories from (in some cases former) wine club members who have had issues with shipments. While the wines of Chateau Rollat are inspired, this spells trouble for the winery, particularly in the current economic climate.

Ardenvoir Rosé Columbia Valley 2008 $16

Rating: + (Good)
Orange with a tinge of yellow in color. Very light on nose. The taste is clean and crisp. Sampled at 57 degrees.

Ardenvoir Sémillon Sauvignon Blanc Columbia Valley 2008 $22

Rating: * (Excellent)
An alluring nose with lemon, yeast, wheat, and spice. Crisp and fresh on the palate. 92% Sémillon, 8% Sauvignon Blanc.

Ardenvoir Sauvignon Blanc Columbia Valley 2008 $19

Rating: * (Excellent)
Pale yellow. A gorgeous nose with light spices and lemon zest aromas. Very clean on the palate with a very French-styled feel.

Chateau Rollat Rollat Walla Walla Valley 2006 $38

Rating: * (Excellent)
A berry-filled nose with red and blue fruit along with exotic spices. Well balanced across the palate with red fruit and a tannin profile that will allow the wine to age well. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, and 6% Cabernet Franc. 13.9% alcohol. Sampled at 68 degrees.

Chateau Rollat Edouard Walla Walla Valley 2006 $62

Rating: **(Exceptional)
An alluring nose with ground spices and red fruit along with tobacco and pencil lead accents. Fleshy and full on the palate with soft tannins. An expressive taste that glides to the finish. A bit locked up at the moment. Give 1-2 years. 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, and 8% Cabernet Franc. 14.4% alcohol.

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Lodmell Cellars

Friday, March 19, 2010 0 comments

In the late 1800s, brothers William and George Struthers set out from St. Louis along the Lewis and Clark Trail. Their travels, part of the U.S. Army’s construction efforts, led them as far west as Walla Walla where the Struthers worked on building the local fort. Once there, the brothers decided to make the Walla Walla Valley home, and, like many in the area, took up wheat farming, a tradition that continues four generations later.

William Struthers’ great grandson Andrew Lodmell took over the family farm in 1989. With Washington emerging as a wine region, in 1995 Lodmell decided to plant a fifteen-acre vineyard in a picturesque setting by the lower Snake River (see a video from Lodmell with shots of the area here). Lodmell says of the vineyard, “My philosophy of growing grapes is to allow the plants to grow and adapt to the site in as natural a way as they can and still survive.” Lodmell says that the shallow soil and fractured basalt make the vines struggle to produce fruit. The vineyard was recently expanded to a total of thirty acres and is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Semillon.

For several years Lodmell focused on providing grapes to wineries throughout the state. In 2002, Lodmell decided to make a Merlot to showcase the vineyard’s fruit. Encouraged by the response he received, he made his first commercial vintage for Lodmell Cellars in 2005.

Lodmell Cellars is located in one of the ‘winery incubator’ buildings in Walla Walla’s airport region. The buildings were funded by the Port of Walla Walla in 2006 with assistance of an economic stimulus grant from Washington State. Three buildings were initially constructed and two were added in 2008. The five wineries that currently occupy these facilities are Adamant Cellars, Cavu Cellars, Kontos Cellars, Lodmell Cellars, and Trio Vintners. The buildings are intended to help start-up wineries reduce costs by providing high quality, discounted space. Occupants go through a competitive process to receive a six-year maximum lease. After six years, the wineries must find a new home, and a new start-up winery will take their place.

Lodmell Cellars’ label features the image of a coiled snake in a callout to the vineyard’s location by the Snake River. The winery produces Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah, a red blend, and Merlot. Merlot is the winery’s flagship wine. Lodmell says of the wine, “For me it’s all about creating layers of flavor and preserving the qualities of the fruit from the vineyard.”

Sadly, Lodmell Cellars will skip the 2006 vintage for their estate wines (the winery also sources fruit from other vineyards in Washington). On May 9th of that year eighty mile per hour winds swept through the vineyard along with hail large enough to dent the ground. Lasting almost thirty minutes, the storm completely defoliated the vineyard and resulted in one hundred percent crop loss.

While such a storm might discourage some, this is a family that has been farming in the valley for many years and is sure to be doing so for generations to come.

Lodmell Cellars produces 700 cases annually.

Follow Lodmell Cellars on Facebook.

Lodmell Cellars Merlot Columbia Valley 2005 $33

Rating: * (Excellent) Dark in color. Nose is marked by pencil shavings along with spice, cherry and a touch of cola. Shows a bit of alcohol at times. On the taste, a big, brawny Merlot rich with cherries and light herbal streaks. 83% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Cabernet Franc. Lodmell Vineyards. Aged in neutral French oak. 14.4% alcohol. 200 cases produced.

Lodmell Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Columbia Valley 2006 $18

Rating: * (Excellent) An alluring nose with spice, lime, and biscuit aromas. Crisp and acidic on the palate with a lot of mineral flavors. Definitely made to have with food. Alder Ridge Vineyard. 13.4% alcohol. Library wine.

Lodmell Semillon Columbia Valley 2008 $20
Rating: * (Excellent) Light straw colored. An appealing nose with spice, lemon, and fascinating floral notes on a clean aroma profile. Crisp and acidic on a well-balanced palate. 75% Semillon, 25% Sauvignon Blanc. Spring Creek Vineyard. Aged in French oak (20% new). 14.9% alcohol. 96 cases produced. Sampled at 62 degrees.

Lodmell Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Columbia Valley 2008 $18
Rating: +/* (Good/Excellent) Pale yellow in color. Somewhat muted on the nose with apple, lime, honey, plain yogurt, and yeast aromas. Crisply acidic on the palate with a lot of lime flavors. 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Spring Creek Vineyard, Yakima Valley. Aged in neutral French oak. 14.8% alcohol. 126 cases produced.

Lodmell Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2006 $18

Rating: + (Good) Lightly colored. A light nose with pleasing spice aromas along with cut hay. A crisp, acidic style with a lot of citrus and lemon flavors. Oak seems a bit heavy on the palate at times. Aged twenty months in neutral French oak. Spring Creek Vineyards, Yakima Valley. 12.1% alcohol. 90 cases produced.

Lodmell Cellars Syrah Columbia Valley 2006 $28

Rating: + (Good) Dark and inky in color. An aromatic nose marked by berries, spice, and game. Full and nicely structured on a rich palate that shows a lot of fruit. Occasionally comes off as a bit hot. Alder Ridge Vineyards. Aged 23 months in French oak. 15.3% alcohol. 100 cases produced.

Lodmell Cellars Sublime Columbia Valley 2006 $24

Rating: + (Good) Nose is marked by pencil shavings, black fruit, and spice. An appealing wine with a lot of cherry flavors and dark fruit on a fruit-forward palate. Barrel aromas get a little intrusive at times. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot. Rock River, Alder Ridge vineyards. Aged 36 months in French oak. 14.8% alcohol. 164 cases produced.

Samples provided by winery
Photos courtesy of Lodmell Cellars

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El Corazon (WWFR 2009)

Thursday, March 18, 2010 2 comments

This is part of a report on 2009 Walla Walla Fall Release Weekend. Download a complete .pdf copy of the report here.

The story behind El Corazon Winery is a familiar one in the wine industry. Yet somehow these stories always retain their vitality. Spencer Sievers was born in Walla Walla but was living in Lawrence, Kansas when he felt the pull back home to become involved in the town’s emerging wine scene. After working harvest at Reininger Winery in 2007, he and his friend Raoul Morfin set out to make their own wines. They named the winery El Corazon because they were doing what was in their hearts.

Sievers and Morfin take a unique approach in terms of the varieties they select and how they handle these varieties. Their goal is to show that many grapes that are commonly thought of as blending varieties, such as Carmenère, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc, can stand on their own in Washington. The duo are also more interested in expressing fruit than oak, with each wine aged in mostly neutral barrels.

The results are fascinating and enjoyable varietal expressions. While at times it seemed more oak or blending would have fleshed out certain facets of these wines, the El Corazon wines provide a great opportunity to try varieties that infrequently see single bottlings in Washington at consumer-friendly price points.

El Corazon produces 350 cases annually.

Follow El Corazon on Facebook.

El Corazon Carmenère Tigers Blood Walla Walla Valley 2008 $32

Rating: * (Excellent)
Crazy white pepper and spice aromas dominate the nose. Glides along the palate with medium-bodied fruit. Opens up beautifully. Barely a trace of oak influence which, in this case, might have fleshed out some of the missing pieces but overall works on this wine. 100% Carmenère. Seven Hills Vineyard. Aged in neutral French oak. 14.1% alcohol. 75 cases produced.

El Corazon Supernova Malbec Rattlesnake Hills 2008 $21

Rating: . (Decent)
An extremely floral nose that is reminiscent of stargazer lilies along with light licorice and spice notes. Taste is dominated by spice flavors. 100% Malbec. Kolibri Vineyard (Rattlesnake Hills). Aged in neutral French oak. 13.5% alcohol. 145 cases produced.

El Corazon First Crush Columbia Valley 2007 $21

Rating: + (Good)
Nose marked by anise and chocolate along with streaks of coffee. Lots of baking chocolate and cherry on an enjoyable taste. 100% Cabernet Franc. Weinbau Vineyard. Aged in neutral French oak. 14.8% alcohol. 48 cases produced.

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A St. Patrick's Day round-up of stories on Washington wine from March 8th to 14th.

From around the world

The CBC talks with Charles Smith.

The Calgary Sun writes about Charles Smith.

From around the country

Wines & Vines writes about a new device from WSU to help wineries track cold weather threats.

Food & Wine writes about Kyle MacLachlan in Walla Walla.

The Calgary Herald writes about wine and the economy with a brief mention of wineries for sale with a mention of Washington (no names listed).
writes about’s efforts to change New Jersey’s wine shipping laws.

From the blogosphere

Through the Walla Walla Grapevine
writes about journalist Alice Fering. She also writes about the upcoming Washington Merlot Twitter tasting.

Wine and Beer of Washington State
writes about William Church’s release party. They also write about Walter Dacon’s use of social media and Dunham’s 2005 Trutina.

Paul Gregutt
writes about Rulo. He also writes about weather concerns for Washington wineries, and the lack of fire sales of Washignton wineries.

The Pour Fool writes about Pleasant Hill.

Second Glass
names the Kiona 2006 Lemberger their wine of the week.

Drink Nectar
writes about the rebirth of Spokane’s Caterina Winery. He also writes about overcoming Twitter and Facebook anxiety and Spokane hosting wine bloggers for the 2010 Wine Blogger’s Conference.

One Rich Wine Guy writes about Terra Blanca.

The Oregon Wine Blog
writes about Portteus. They also write about Seattle Food & Wine Experience.

Food Trips for Roadies
writes about Yakima Spring Barrel tasting.

writes about Columbia Winery’s 2008 Opal. He also writes about Arbor Crest’s 2007 Four Vineyards Merlot.

Sacre Bleu writes about Seattle Wine Gal.

Woodinville Wine Update
writes about Columbia’s Taste of White. Shona also writes about the Twitter conference wine tweetup, Woodinville wineries that tweet, and experiments with the Centellino wine decanter.

Yak Yak Wine
writes aobut Bunchgrass’s 2006 Lewis Vineyard Syrah. Chris also writes about Windy Point’s 2007 Gewurztraminer and blogging troubles.

writes about the Portteus 2007 Bistro Red.

Wine and Dine Walla Walla
writes about Dusted Valley being named winery of the year by Wine Press NW. The also write about Otis Kenyon expanding to Woodinville.

write about Alice Feiring.

Wine Peeps
gives tips for Taste Washington. They also taste two Washington Tempranillo with callouts to Pomum and Columbia Crest.

The Blog Wine Cellar
writes about Saviah Cellars’ 2006 Jack.

RJ’s Wine Blog
lists tasting notes from the last week with callouts to Giant Wine Company, Long Shadows, Charles Smith, and Quilceda Creek.

Beyond the Bottle
writes about Dunham Cellars 2007 Lewis Riesling.

Seattle Tall Poppy
gives a Taste Washington preview. writes about Desert Wind’s Greg Fries (follow a tweetchat with Greg 3/17).

Another Wine Blog writes about L’Ecole No. 41’s 2008 Luminescence.

Northwest Cork and Fork
writes about upcoming events.

Fast Forward Weekly
writes about Charles Smith in Calgary.

Wine Economist
writes about Hedges fortified wine.

From the locals

The Yakima Herald writes about expanding wine themed amenities in wine country.

Othello Outlook
write about the recent Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers.

KIRO 7 talks with Walter Dacon about social media.

The Seattle PI writes about concerns about the Asian fruit fly.

The Tri-city Herald writes about Martin-Scott Winery.


One Rich Wine Guy writes about social media changing the way we drink wine.

writes about Betz Family Winery’s 2009 Petite Rousse. He also writes about Gifford Hirlinger’s 2007 Stateline Red and Coyote Canyon’s 2008 Albarino.

That’s all folks!

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Guardian Cellars

Tuesday, March 16, 2010 4 comments

Like many Washington winemakers, Guardian Cellars’ Jerry Riener works another full-time job to help fund his passion for wine. Unlike most of them, his day job is as a police officer.

Riener was driving down the highway in the late 1990s when he saw something suspicious. Stopping for a closer inspection, Riener looked past the barrels and grapes and went straight to the object that drew his attention – the shiny new forklift. Growing up, Reiner had spent summers on his uncle’s farm in the Midwest, and machinery had always held a fascination to him. After interrogating Matthew Loso (then of Matthews Cellars) about the nature of his business, Riener was hooked. He began spending forty hours a week volunteering at the winery, working harvest, crush, and racking barrels. With a degree from the University of Washington in chemistry, it was the science of winemaking that most interested Riener. As payment for his service, Loso let him make a barrel of his own wine at the winery each year.

With Woodinville emerging as a wine area at the beginning of the last decade and wineries popping up all over town, Riener helped out where he could, assisting other wineries with winemaking or construction jobs. In 2001 he met Mark Ryan McNeilly who was starting Mark Ryan Winery. They fast became friends, and Riener began working at the winery as an “electrician, cellar rat, money manager, computer technician, janitor and assistant winemaker.” In 2003, Riener made two barrels of his own wine at Mary Ryan Winery. With these two barrels of 2003 Stillwater Creek Cabernet Sauvignon selling out within forty minutes of being offered, Guardian Cellars was born. McNeilly and Riener continued to work together until 2007 when Riener opened a facility of his own in the warehouse district in Woodinville.

Guardian Cellars uses exceptional fruit sources for its wines including Kiona, Klipsun, Stillwater Creek, Destiny Ridge, and Conner Lee vineyards. Many of the names of Guardian Cellars’ wines call out to Riener’s police work. Riener describes the Chalk Line Red, which is made up of wine from declassified barrels, as his “kitchen sink” wine. This wine is a standout at this price point. The Gun Metal Red Wine is Riener’s Bordeaux-style blend. This wine is 100% Conner Lee Vineyard. Riener not only received the contract for this fruit from mentor McNeilly, he also received the name, which had previously adorned Mark Ryan labels. Riener prefers to give the Gun Metal an extra year of age before release. The results show on this excellent effort that, while drinking extremely well now, promises to lay down well and improve for years to come. Of note, this wine contains Malbec for the first time in the 2006 vintage.

More than ten years in, Riener retains his passion for winemaking – and for driving forklifts. He adds that "making kick-ass wines is also a nice change from the day job of arresting people."

Guardian Cellars produces 2,700 cases annually.

Facebook: Guardian Cellars

Guardian Cellars Gun Metal Red Blend 2006 $35

* (Excellent) A nose that wins you over on the first sniff with earth, pencil lead, brambly fruit, and a bit of funk. Beautifully refined and impeccably balanced on the palate with soft tannins and a long, expressive finish. 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 11% Malbec. 100% Conner Lee Vineyard. Aged 22 months in 80% new French oak. 400 cases produced.

Guardian Cellars Chalk Line Red Blend 2007 $25

* (Excellent) A very pretty – although quite locked up - nose with light graphite, high-toned berries, anise, and vanilla. On the taste, an elegantly structured wine marked by red and black fruit, flowers, and a persistent finish. 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Syrah, 16% Cabernet Franc, and 19% Merlot. Aged in French oak (90% new). 425 cases produced.

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WWR TN Database

See my Washington Wine Report Tasting Note Database. Read an explanation of the fields here. FINAL UPDATE 6/13/2015. See current Wine Enthusiast reviews here.

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