Saturday, March 27, 2010

Garage Sized Wineries Helping or Hurting The Wine Industry?

The wine industry is a funny thing. Two parts agriculture and one part science, mixed with a dash of artistry just for finesse. Any winery you walk into will pretty much fall into this recipe, within normal limits.

This past weekend I took some good friends, my wife, and my son out on a wine tour to Red Mountain and Prosser. We visited everything from a sprawling 200,000 case winery down to a 500 case winery, and everything in between.

I can tell you that some of the wineries were wonderful, and some were lacking. But, I don’t talk about that. What I can tell you is that the topic did come up about “garage” wineries destroying the wine industry.

It does make sense. Hundreds of people in our region have gotten into the wine business seemingly overnight. Some have done it through their background in Chemistry, Biology, Geology, or Bacteriology. A few I know have come at the industry from a restaurant past. Some have come at it as a grape growing farmer.

As a new business owner, stepping out on the entrepreneurial cliff, we all have to start somewhere. It only makes sense that we need to start within our means, which sometimes includes the kitchen table or the garage. In other words, we can’t all just go out and buy multi-million dollar winemaking facilities.

The real problem is “Cult” wineries in my opinion. When I can buy a bottle of wine from a world class winemaker for $15 or turn around and buy a pretty substandard bottle for $45 just because it is from some “special” 500 case winery I think that’s a con job.

The truth is sub 500 case wineries have higher expenses per bottle. They are also under trained, and under experienced. They may have a mystique about them. Heck, some I know are absolutely fabulous! Dumas Station, Garrison Creek, Hightower, and Kontos Cellars are some that come to mind immediately. But, these guys all learned the craft over the years, or hired consultants to teach them.

Core to the issue is that it takes experience and talent to produce good wine. It takes practice, which requires volume and years. If you only make 10 barrels of wine each year, your level of practice isn’t nearly the same as a wine maker that makes thousands of barrels. 500 case wineries are rarely good from bottle to bottle because of this. They also don’t have the knowledge or experience.

In parting, I want to give a little story. A famous artist was asked to paint a swan by a rich lady. The artist charged 10 million dollars. After several years the lady returned and asked the artist for her swan. The artist took out a piece of paper and quickly drew the most gorgeous swan she’d ever seen in three minutes. The lady said, “I paid you millions for this and it took you 3 minutes?” The artist replied “It took me 30 years. You only saw the last 3 minutes.”

The moral of the story is that big or small, the artistry and skill that go into making wine isn’t quick and easy. Those who would like you to believe it is aren’t telling the truth. An expensive wine from just any small vintner isn’t to be trusted. However, some of the greatest wines of all time are made in small garages.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Canyon’s Edge Tasting Room Opens In South Kennewick

Every day the world gets a little smaller. At least it is in the world of wine. Lately there have been a number of wineries that I haven’t heard from in a long time suddenly coming back into my life again. I guess it goes to show that you should never burn bridges. Your next glass of wine might be coming across that bridge tomorrow.

One such winery that I hadn’t herd from in a while was Canyon’s Edge Winery located out on Aldercreek Canyon in the Horse Heaven Hills. Owned by the Groth family, Canyon’s Edge was known for years mostly for its amazing grapes. The Alder Ridge site is source of thousands of barrels of local wine from the region. Many acclaimed winemakers either mix or use Alder Ridge juice in the making of their wines.

In 2003 the Groths decided to make their own wine, creating a limited bottling of Cab, Syrah, and Merlot as well as a Red Blend and a Rose. Their tasting room in Prosser was always a mandatory stop for me when I was in town. Little did I know that Canyon’s Edge had come to meet me in the Tri Cities until I arrived at the new tasting room yesterday and recognized the name.

I was greeted warmly at the door by tasting room manager Lee Carew, who gave me a tour of the facility and tasted me through their portfolio. The tasting room is a beautiful two level suite with a bar made out of barrel staves, big fluffy chairs, and a fantastic patio.

Canyon’s Edge has added several new wines to their list this year. Their portfolio is extensive, but I want to share some of my favorites.

First, I was impressed with their newly released 2008 Sauvignon Blanc. This one hits the spot. Just enough lemongrass and citrus to cleanse the palate with seafood or cream sauces, but enough creaminess to make it good for just enjoying on a warm evening.

The 2005 Rose’ of Syrah was very pleasant. A bit sweet to the taste, but very low in sugar. Most of the sweetness just comes from the bold fruit flavors of blackberry, cherry, and a hint of herbs that makes the wine jump from the glass. Definitely a porch wine for this spring.

One of the Canyon’s Edge wines that turned my head years ago was the Sagebrush Red. The 2006 vintage lives up to my expectations. Very well priced for what it offers, Sagebrush is a wonderful blend of Cab, Merlot, Syrah, and Cab Franc. A nose and flavors of dark stone fruits, with lots of pepper and baking spices.

Another new wine for Canyon’s Edge is their newly released 2005 Sangiovese. Bright cherry and spices jumped right out of the glass. I took a bottle home and enjoyed it with my spaghetti and spicy meat sauce.

Canyon’s Edge also offers a line up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve Cabernet, Merlot, Reserve Merlot, and Syrah. Each was delightful to taste. I would highly recommend picking some up.

Last, the day would never be complete without Jeremiah’s Chocolate. A rich dark port-style wine that opens up and ends with dark rich cocoa finish. Mmmmmm!

For a fun adventure I recommend taking the first Tri Cities exit and visiting the Canyon’s Edge tasting room. While you’re here you can visit Anelare and AVA wine rooms next door as well.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Terra Blanca Is The Place Where Everybody Knows Your Name

You know the sitcom Cheers, with Norm and all the gang. I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those people who have a total appreciation for being welcomed when I walk through the door. There just is something to be said for a place, where you might not be a daily or even monthly regular, but when you walk through the door you are met with a warm greeting and a glass of something good to drink.

I hear people all of the time telling me that they visited this or that winery and were snubbed or treated poorly. The tasting room staff were rude and unknowledgeable, or the glasses were dirty. Inevitably, not a week goes by that I don’t hear some horror story coming from either Washington or Oregon.

But, Terra Blanca is one winery I have never heard that about. Quite the contrary, there is a good chance that during your visit you will be approached by a very nice dark haired man, dressed in jeans and a button-down shirt, who will make sure and go out of his way to welcome you. Don’t be fooled…this is no other than Keith Pilgrim, the owner. His beautiful wife Rene is just as quick to jump to serve you if your glass runs dry for too long.

Keith and Rene have created this experience all of the way through their entire staff. From sales and marketing, to the tasting room, down to the people who work in the cellar. There is an air of “welcoming” about the entire place.

Further, I’ve come to the solid conclusion that this “hearth-like” experience makes the wine just that much better. For the average person, not knowing the Pilgrims or their staff, the average wine consumer would say that the wine is good, but not absolutely mind blowing. On the other hand, when you experience the winery and its staff you fall deeply and completely in love. So much so, that I know people who travel to Red Mountain from all over the world for the winery’s famed annual Onyx release.

All of Terra Blanca’s wines are very food friendly. The balance of acid, sugar, and tannin make the wines almost cry for a meal. Some of my favorite wines from Terra Blanca are the Sauvignon Blanc, the Viognier, and several of Keith’s sweet white varietals. Of the reds, I love his new Arch Terrace label Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, and his Onyx Bordeaux Blend.

My all-time favorite wine produced by Terra Blanca is Keith’s Malbec. The 2005, which I had today, is dark, rich and fruity on the nose, with spices and dark blueberry notes jumping out of the glass. The flavors are rich with blueberry and rich baking spices. A nice velvety mouthfeel leaves you craving more. It is like having a glass of the richest blueberry cobbler you’ve ever had.

I asked Keith what he has up his sleeve for this year and he became almost giddy with excitement. The winery is going to be producing several rare varietals this year in limited production. Some of them sound so good, I actually did get giddy myself as he was talking about them.

Along with the new flavors, the winery is producing a whole new label design. The new look is very elegant, clean, and attractive.

I do hope that the next time you are near Red Mountain that you stop in Terra Blanca for a visit at the friendliest winery on the planet. Tell them that I sent you!


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Social Media Is Changing The Way We Drink Wine

Last night I went to a great wine tasting event. I met a lot of new people and had a great time laughing and comparing notes with the 100 or so other people in the room. I wore my workout shorts and t-shirt, and when it was all over I went upstairs and went to bed.

So, now you’re probably wondering what wine bar I live above? I don’t, unless you want to call my dusty basement closet a wine bar. No. Last night I went to a wine “tweet up”.

After dragging my feet on Twitter ,Facebook, blogging and every other type of social media out there, I have slowly been coming around to the whole concept. I started tweeting officially sometime around Christmas and now have just under 400 wine drinking friends.

The amazing thing with Facebook and Twitter is that I can read articles, opinions, and reviews not only once a week, but all day and night every day of the week. The discussion is open ended. I can read someone else’s opinion, and then turn right around and give my own. Input is usually relegated to short sentences, so I’m not forced to listen to someone’s long, boring diatribe.

With Facebook and Twitter, both have extensive lists of vintners and their employees. You’re not always getting the public PR scoop from the marketing department. You are able to talk directly to the cellar rat or the tasting room employee who has their feet on the ground every day.

In several cases here locally you can reach out and have a personal conversation with the actual winemakers regularly. I have daily conversations with Charlie Hoppes, Neil Cooper, Rich Funk, Marie Eve Gilla, and Cameron Kontos. I know when Robert Smasne is in town, or at his tasting room in Woodinville. I know when the new release of Bookwalter Cabernet Sauvignon comes out immediately, and where the release party is going to be.

Over the next few weeks there are going to be several wine tweeting events. Some are being held at wineries such as Desert Wind Winery in Prosser. Taste Washington in Seattle the last weekend of this month will be a huge “tweet up”. I’ll be there, and would love to see you at the event.

These events are options for people to physically get together, meet, and establish friendships over a glass of wine. Afterwards, you can keep that relationship going by tweeting with those friends on an ongoing basis.

Another option is to attend a tweet discussion. I will be the guest “specialist” in a tweet discussion happening between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. on March 10th. The way to join the discussion is go to go to and signing up for an account. You can follow me by searching @onerichwineguy. Once you’ve found me click in the “follow” box. I’ll then follow you in return!

On the 10th at about 6 p.m., once you’ve got your account, type in #socialwine in the search window on the right side of the screen. Grab a glass of wine and join the conversation. If you want to add in your own thoughts just type #socialwine in the body of the status sentence and it will be listed for the group to see. Cool huh?

This event is in an interview format. I encourage you to send me questions through my blog at or you can direct message me on Twitter before the event.

See you there!!