Sunday, August 30, 2009

Canyon Del Sol 10 Year Anniversary

Friday night the 28th was a fantastic night out at Canyon Del Sol Winery located just outside Benton City, Washington. The weather was perfect. A little windy, but that's normal for the Tri-cities, right? Victor and Kim Cruz, the owners of Canyon Del Sol Winery are holding their 10 year anniversary celebration, and I was there for the big kick-off.

The evening, catered by my friends Andy and Kathy Craig of Castle Catering, was a wonderful fiesta, filled with library wines, great food, games, and entertainment. One of the most entertaining portions of the evening was a trivia contest held by the Cruz's adult children. Market Vineyards, Victor's source for grapes over these past years, presented him with a Champagne Sabre, a bottle of Veuve, and a bottle of Dom. Cruz got a little instruction and then successfully sabred both bottles for the crowd.

The night ended in the barrel room with library wines and a plethora of different perfectly paired deserts by Chef Andy. A short bit of information for those who are Canyon del Sol fans, Victor has produced a short run of beautiful 3 liter etched magnums. His first, and according to him, his last for at least another 10 years. I suggest if you want to get one of these you might want to get in touch with the winery soon.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Roundup A Great Time For Happy Canyon Wine

The days are hot, and the nights are brisk. The wasps in the trees are nesting like crazy, and the squirrels are running around my yard picking up this year’s crop of walnuts. It’s Mother Nature’s way of letting us know that it is Roundup time again.

In just a few short days the town of Pendleton will become a haven for cowboys, cowgirls, and those who want to play like they are. The usual drink of choice is whiskey, beer, or soda. But, for those wanting something a little more “high-faluten” there are a couple of good wine choices that offer a lot of fun, and are only available in the Pendleton area.

A few years ago, I was approached to produce a label for a “Happy Canyon Wine”. With the help of the Happy Canyon directors, Maryl Featherstone of Graybeal Distributing, and Tom Huggins the Founder of Eola Hills Winery, we were able to come up with a couple of wines that are fun, refreshing, and provide great souvenirs to take back home and enjoy with friends later. My contribution was the actual label for the wine, which I had a great time creating.

Eola Hills winery, located in Rickreall, Oregon is a 100,000 case winery that produces about 50,000 cases for their own label and the rest under contracts with other wineries. Huggins, who has family in Pendleton, was very happy to work with the directors and Graybeal to come up with a couple of wines that would be very drinkable and fun for just about anyone. Their choices were a Merlot for the red wine, and a Pinot Gris for the white wine.

The Eola Pinot Gris is one of Eola Hill’s flagship varietals, winning several top scores in contests throughout the United States. Fresh Bartlett Pears come to mind when you first inhale the delicious aroma. At first taste, it is light, refreshing, and a little fruity with a light finish. The thing a lot of people enjoy is the spritzy finish caused by just the right amount of sugar and acid when the wine hits the front of the tongue.

The Eola Pinot Gris is great with fish or poultry. It works well with buttery dishes as well, like twice baked potatoes or cream sauces. I especially like it with a nice creamy seafood fettuccini.

The Eola Hills Merlot is produced mostly from Columbia Valley grapes, which tend to yield bright cherry and plum on the nose and flavors of the wine. The Merlot is not a big bold red. It is really more of a soft, drinkable wine that most people will find a good fit with anything from burgers, steak, or even just sitting on the patio as the sun goes down.

You can pick up Happy Canyon wine throughout Umatilla County and annually there are displays at Dave’s, Great Pacific, and Albertson’s downtown. If you want to try a glass before you buy the whole bottle just ask at one of the many restaurants in town. Most offer them as special glass pours throughout these next few weeks.

Enjoy, be safe, and Let ‘er Buck!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

San Juan Vineyards Offers Beautiful Grounds and Refreshing Wines

Sometimes I just have to pinch myself. “Ouch!” Ok, I’m not dreaming. I really do live in the greatest country, in the greatest region, and get to do for a living what I love every day. This week is one of those weeks where I really am pinching myself over an over again.

I just returned from a one week school for professional photographers on San Juan Island. My favorite part of the whole week, was on Tuesday evening when we took some time to visit San Juan Vineyards to photograph the vineyards and the staff, eat dinner, and drink wine.

San Juan Vineyards is located on the North Eastern side of the island near Roche Harbor. It is just a few miles from the ferry dock, and easily accessible by bicycle or moped if you decide to leave your car on the mainland. 60 acres of beautiful landscaping and vineyards, with a little church, covered events area, and plenty of room to roam make the vineyard a great event center to host parties or a beautiful wedding.

Owner, Yvonne Swanberg, warmly met us at the tasting room. The vineyard, started by her late husband, and friend Tim Judkins, has been producing wines since 1999. Cutting-edge winemaker Chris Primus joined the winery in 2006. His background as assistant for vintners in Willamete Valley prepared him to create food friendly wines in even cool climates. His whites are bone dry, and his reds are dark and structured.

I had the opportunity to sample through several of Chris’ wines, and thoroughly enjoyed every one. The first that I found to be exceptional was the ‘07 Siegerrebe. Siegerrebe is a cool weather grape varietal that has a lot of characteristics of a Pinot Grigio. It is cool and crisp, with flavors of pear and citrus. With a residual sugar of .06% it is a great wine to pair with fish, or sip on the deck on a summer evening.

The second wine that I found exceptional was the ’07 Madeline Angevine. This is also a fairly rare varietal that is suited to grow well in cool, wet climates. Chris has done an exceptional job in creating a dry wine with flavors of melon and citrus. It tasted to me like I was eating cold honeydew right off the vine. Crisp, yet flavorful, this wine would pair very well with Alfredo or other cream sauces.

The ’07 “Afterglow” is a fantastic Rose’. The wine is a blend of several red grapes from the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, mixed with San Juan Vineyard’s own Madeline grapes. Nicely balanced with good acidity, fruit, and depth.

How does a winemaker in a cold climate create an award winning Merlot? He sources his grapes. Chris created his 2005 Merlot from Alder Ridge and Kestrel Vineyard fruit. This wine has great color, depth, and textures. I especially loved the flavors of cocoa and chipotle mixed into the deep rich stone-fruit of cherries and plum. This wine has won several awards, including a recent double gold.

Next time you are planning a trip to San Juan Island, take the time to visit the vineyards. Tell my friends there that I sent you!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fall Is A Time Of Renewal In Wine Country

Ah! Can you feel it? Fall is in the air. It is that ever so subtle feeling that you get. So hard to explain, yet so palpable. Just like every year since I can remember the change happens during fair week. Sometimes, the change is so small and imperceptible that you don’t notice it. Other times it roars in with a huge storm that rips all of the Coors banners off the fences at the rodeo grounds. Nevertheless, it has happened again, and boy am I excited!

My excitement is for more than one reason. First, I’m not a hot weather fan, and the 105 degree temperatures that we had this year were not what I’d call refreshing. Second, within just a few weeks crush will be upon us, signaling a whole bunch of new red wines to hit the market as vintages change and the wineries make room for new juice. As far as I’m concerned, Fall is the new Spring in wine country.

I was out on Red Mountain and in the Columbia Valley this week photographing vines and vineyards. This year’s harvest is looking to be fantastic. The clusters are heavy, with beautiful berries that are going to be rich from the cool spring and the substantial heat units that we received this July.

As I mentioned, there is a plethora of new wines getting ready to hit the market. New wines usually mean a celebration is in order. This week I’ve compiled some of the celebrations I’ve been invited to just this week. I’ll be at most, however it gets hard to keep up when you’re young, good looking, charming, talented…well you get the picture.

First, my friends Terrence and Evelyn Atkins, owners of Waving Tree Winery will be hosting a Labor Day Weekend Celebration September 5th through the 7th. They’ll be pouring their newest Gold Medal winners from the World Wine Championships, along with several of their other fantastic wines. For more information contact them at 509-250-1412.

The same weekend, my friends at Anelare will be hosting their 3rd annual New Release Event. Their new releases of the 2007 Ciel du Cheval Syrah, 2007 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 “Nonna Viola”, and 2007 “Saint Helena” Syrah will be available for tasting. They are planning quite the celebration, with food, entertainment, and art from local artists on the weekend of September 5th and 6th. Contact them at (509) 588-6171 for more information.

Catch The Crush, the annual Columbia Valley AVA wine celebration will be happening on the weekend of September 26th and 27th. Wineries throughout the Columbia Valley will be opening for this celebration to offer winery tours, stomping contests, food, entertainment, and tastings of their newest releases.

But wait…there’s more! My last event is not exactly a new release party, but a fantastic evening of fun, friends, food, and wine. Picazo Seven Seventeen Restaurant in downtown Prosser is hosting a meet the artist night on Thursday, August 20th from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.. The featured artist is yours truly, as my wine photography graces the walls of Picazo’s for the next few months. If you can make the event I would love to have you there as my honored guests. For more information you can contact me at (509) 586-6695 or at my blog .


Friday, August 14, 2009

Famed Vineyard Owner Sick With West Nile

I awoke this morning to find out through my local paper, the Tri-City Herald, that Paul Champoux has fallen ill to the West Nile Virus. Champoux, known all over the world for his amazing Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the heart of the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, was sickened a few days ago by what he and his family thought was the flu. After several tests, it was confirmed that he is suffering from the West Nile Virus.

My thoughts and prayers are with Paul, Judy, and everyone at Chateau Champoux as he recovers.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Some Of My Best Friends Are Thirsty Pagans

There are some times in life where you just have to put your religion aside and enjoy life for what it is. One of those times is when it comes to drinking wine.

Being the good Catholic boy that I am, I’m always careful to keep myself away from associating with or getting messed up with the occasion of sin. I say my prayers before meals and at bed time every evening like I was taught. And, I enjoy a good glass of libation, as long as it’s in moderation.

So, what’s a good boy like me to do when I’m met by a stunningly beautiful woman offering me a glass of ruby red wine. I drink it. I smile. I ask for the whole bottle!

Such was the case last week when I ran into my friend Jeannie Inglis-Chowaneitz. She and her winemaker husband Rob Chowaneitz have released their first bottling from their new winery called…(parents cover your children’s eyes)…”Thirsty Pagans”.

The Chowaneitzs, with good friend Crandall Kyle, started Thirsty Pagans in the harvest of the 2005 vintage. Using their combined skills and love of wines, they have created a fantastic micro-winery that they intend will create no more than 250 cases of wine each year. Their location at Alder Ridge, the heart of the Horse Heaven Hills puts them in a prime location to source the regions best grapes year after year.

Rob Chawaneitz is one of the rising stars in the winemaking business. Working as a cellar rat under John Abbott during the Canoe Ridge days, followed by a stint as the cellar master at Woodward Canyon, Rob now is the head winemaker for Corus Estates where he has worked since 2004. His specialties are bone-dry whites and deeply complex reds.

Jeannie Inglis-Chowaneitz is an equally talented wine marketer. She began her career working as Waterbrook’s club manager, and went on to be the PR and Marketing Director for Cayuse. In 2004 Jeannie started her own wine marketing firm, of which she has several very noteworthy Northwest wineries under her watch.

The first vintage created by Thirsty Pagans is their 2005 “Communion” red wine. A blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 5% Malbec, and 5% Petit Verdot is thick and rich with the flavors indicative of the Alder Ridge Vineyard that the grapes are sourced from. In 100% French oak for 22 months, and an additional 12 months of bottle aging tells you that they are in it for quality and not quantity. As extra insurance from cork taint, the Thirsty Pagans chose screw-caps to preserve their wine.

Communion features a nose of cassis, sage, blueberries, and plum. It is dark and rich in the glass. Layered flavors of dark cherry, blueberry, pepper, and baking spices fill your mouth. The tannins are long and silky, leaving you wanting more. At $26 at the winery this is a very good price for an excellent wine.

If you want to try Communion I suggest going to, or by friends requesting them on Facebook. There are several outlets for the wine in the greater region. If you don’t see it, ask for it.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

I Taste Dirt…Discerning Terroir In Wine

You know, when people talk about Terroir affecting the flavor of their wines, I tend to chuckle a little. It isn’t that I don’t believe wines taste different based on the place the grapes are from. It is just, well, my childishness comes out. When people start talking terroir I get visions of them drinking mud. Weird, I know. But, I just have a hard time believing that the dirt that a wine is grown in really has that big of an effect on flavor. Call me a skeptic.

I will admit that wines grown in different regions and climates have a distinctive flavor profile. However, I think that difference comes from the winemaker, the cooperage, and the style or process that the wine was made with. The conclusion I’ve come to over the years is that wine is like any other art form. Regionally, people have a standard that they like to see in their wine, and they train themselves to be just like everyone else on the block.

Now I’m being challenged in my thinking. Dr. Allan Busacca, a geologist and agricultural soils expert, has paired up with Robert Smasne, wine giant and owner of Smasne Cellars. They are releasing their Alma Terra Label together as a true experiment in terroir.

This experiment is not for them. They have already done their painstaking research and packaged it neatly for you to take home and experiment with your friends and family. The real purpose is to allow childish skeptics like me to see once and for all that dirt does make a difference.

The first version of this experiment was chosen to be Syrah. Busacca and Smasne chose three distinctly famous vineyards throughout Eastern Washington to do their project. After picking the lots they painstakingly made sure that the grapes were grown the same, picked at the same brix, pressed, fermented, aged, and bottled in the same way from the same year.

The sources of these grapes were Ciel du Cheval from Red Mountain, Coyote Canyon from Horse Heaven Hills, and Minick from the Yakima Valley. Knowing these were the vineyards will automatically make any wine fanatic realize that these are the top Syrah vineyards in the state, and possibly in the Northern Hemisphere.

A fourth bottle was also produced that mixes generous amounts of each of these vineyards to create a gorgeous blend of the best of the best. The name of this wine is Coéo, which is a Latin term for “coming together”.

As I mentioned earlier, the experiment has been painstakingly prepared for you to try. A beautiful four bottle gift box complete with beautifully designed cards explaining each of the vineyards and wines is available at the winery.

If you are visiting Woodinville, near Seattle, I suggest stopping by their tasting room. Their address is 19495 144th Ave. NE. Suite B240. The website is You can also follow them on Facebook.

By the way, yours truly was the photographer who brought over 100 lbs of rocks and dirt into my studio to create the style image and bottle shots for this label. Believe me, after hours of shooting bottles in dirt you do taste terroir!