Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Local Vintners Getting Serious About Making Fun Wines

This has been an interesting week, spent catching up with old friends, and trying to figure out what is going on in the wine industry right now. With the national economy so unstable, and yet a fairly stable local economy, the local wine industry is doing some pretty crazy flip-flops trying to find their way through this summer.

It is pretty clear that people aren’t visiting Walla Walla like they were a year ago at this time. My predictions a few months ago seem to be coming true. Vintners from Walla Walla are working extra hard to reach out and find more sellable pricing and products. A little over a year ago I was hard pressed to find a true Walla Walla wine for under $15. Now, I am finding several, and even a few at under $10.

This week I ran into an old friend, Lynn Chamberlain, the winemaker and owner of James Leigh Cellars in Walla Walla. She is best known for two things…her “Pallate” which is an award winning Bordeaux blend, and her famous Cabernet Cows. (The cows are fattened on the skins from the wines after fermentation.)

Lynn has taken an increasingly popular approach to handling the slowing economy. She has put her wines on deep post-offs (discounts) to her distributors, making them very affordable to retail and restaurants alike. This translates immediately to affordability to you, the consumer. When you can purchase a high-quality wine at a discount price, you’d have to be crazy to turn it down.

Another method for stimulating the local wine economy has been diversification in winery portfolio. Producers are making more wines with fun labels, at price points that attract the customer. These are great wines produced by great winemakers, but not with the stodgy old label and pricing.

I ran into Marie Eve Gilla from Forgeron at a wedding last week for her Assistant Cameron Kontos. Forgeron introduced their Waldeaux Smithie about two years ago. Now it has grown to be an incredibly popular red blend with availability throughout the United States. The winery is producing several thousand cases of the product. It is inexpensive, with a fun label and story, and the wine is very tasty indeed.

Christa Whitelatch, the owner of Claar Cellars in Zillah visited with me this week and introduced their new label, called “Kelso”. Kelso is once again, a fantastically beautiful and fun brand that comes in both a red or white Bordeaux blend. The wine is priced to retail at $12 and is worth far more than that.

To round out the week, I visited with Peter Jaynes at Hedges Estate on Red Mountain. Their new product, also a combination of red and white Bordeaux blends is called “La Beourgeoisie”. It takes a fun stab at the wine establishment by clearly stating on the label that the wine is not intended to be rated by critics or taken seriously. At $10 price per bottle at retail it really should be taken seriously by anyone wanting a great every day wine at a great price.

Have a great week, and please remember to be safe and responsible this independence holiday!

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