Saturday, August 28, 2010

How About A Glass Of Salmon Safe Wine?

I was standing in a winery tasting room the other day and I looked down at a pamphlet on “Salmon Safe” wines. My immediate reaction was that this was a joke. First, I thought what salmon is going to drink wine? Then I thought about the fact that pairing Salmon with some wines can be unsafe for your palate.

What I didn’t think about was that vineyards, and winemaking can be hard on salmon habitat. I’m a bit of a throwback from the ‘70s when we used to throw our chemical waste into the rivers because it would wash into the sea eventually. Nobody even thought that it would affect the fish.

So, armed with a little pamphlet, I went on line and started doing some research. Of course the concept of salmon safe vineyard management came right out of Oregon and has spread throughout the western United States. The first vineyards to be deemed salmon safe were in the Willamette valley of western Oregon.

Founded by the Pacific Rivers Council, Salmon Safe is now an official 501 (c) 3 organization based in Portland. Their mission is to transform land management practices so that salmon can thrive in these Pacific Coast watersheds. The organization has grown and paired up with several other like minded organizations throughout the United States and Canada.

Let’s just say I’m a vineyard owner and I want to make my little piece of paradise Salmon Safe. What would I do? The answer appears to actually be quite easy. There are several organizations who are offering support in becoming Salmon Safe. In Oregon and Washington the organization to reach out to is called LIVE, or Low Impact Viticulture and Enology. Their website address is .

The next question I have as a consumer is how do I know if I’m drinking a Salmon Safe wine? The best way to find out is by going to and finding out for yourself.

Several of my favorite vintners from the Willamette Valley to Walla Walla, and everywhere in between are becoming Salmon Safe. Some are almost completely Salmon Safe because of their vineyard management practices, and many are on their way. Over 200 vintners from the region currently participate in the program.

A great example of a winery that produces almost exclusively Salmon Safe Wines is L’Ecole in Walla Walla. All of their estate vintages are listed with this designation. On the other hand, wineries such as Chateau Ste. Michelle have a harder time due to the number of wines they produce. Currently Ste. Michelle offers only their Cold Creek and Canoe Ridge labels with the designation.

My opinion on this whole concept remains pretty simple. I’m not much of an environmentalist. I’m not very good at recycling and I don’t see myself ever driving a Toyota Prius. However, if I know that I’m pulling the cork on a bottle of wine that didn’t impact the salmon habitat I figure that will be one more salmon I get to eat later.

For those who are environmentalists in this region I still wouldn’t admit it openly. However, if you can help make a really good bottle of wine that saves the habitat I’m all for it.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Finally Telling The Truth About Flavors In Wines

Blame it on the heat. Blame it on the people that only materialize at the county fair, or the WalMart lingerie department. For some reason I got to giggling as I sat down to write this column. My friend Barry Featherstone and I were visiting the other day and he said that I just haven’t been honest with you about where the flavors in wines come from.

Now, I know that I’ve written columns about this before, but he says that people are still coming to him confused and wondering. Heck. I realize that I’ve just downright been deceitful. So, once and for all, I’m going to tell you the full and complete untruth about wine flavors.

Yes…Wine flavors are the work of fairy gnomes. You heard it right here for the first time ever. I know that this will probably get me permanently banned from ever writing for a high-faluten publication like Wine Spectator or Wine Press Northwest. I’ll probably even be banned from attending events like Taste Ukiah.

You see. The fairy gnomes are paid henchmen for winemakers. The better known the winemaker, the more he or she has to spend keeping the gnomes quiet. It really is a racket. The problem is that gnomes can’t really be brought up on charges. They’re too small to catch, and if you do nobody will be able to flavor the wine any more.

Call it a symbiosis. An agreement between the winemakers of the world and their “little people” as they like to call them. The fairy gnomes get a little pay and all the beer they can drink for their nightly work. We all get to benefit from wonderfully flavored wines.

Since gnomes can basically live on beer, and they make their own clothes and furniture, they don’t need much else. I only know this because every time I go to a winery for a visit to one of my friends I must bring a 30 pack of Coors Light. When I don’t have a case under my arm the winery staff get a wild, scared animal look in their eyes. I don’t blame them. Those gnome wives can be vicious!

Ok. So here are some of the particulars. When I say that a Merlot has berry jam flavors I really mean it. Those little guys work all night slathering the inside of wine barrels with jam. It takes them hours for each barrel. The mis-truth that we’ve been telling all these years is that jammy flavors come from the reaction of malolactic fermentation and the oaking process mixing with the flavors in the fruit.

When I say that a Pinot Gris has a mineral finish, I’m saying that those little suckers really got even by rolling in the dirt and then swimming in the juice. It has nothing to do with the balance of low residual sugar and terrior.

It is the leather flavors that you really have to watch out for. Don’t worry though, racking and filtering usually catches the shoes before bottling.

If you don’t believe me on these new revelations I don’t blame you. I just want you to know some of these secrets so when the fairy gnomes flavor your wine badly you’ll know who to blame. And, you can always make a winery staff happy by bringing a 6 pack to share. It might get you a private tour of the gnome’s homes.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Woodward Canyon Winery A Great Place to Start

If you follow my little train wreck of a column you'd know that I've been writing a series of articles over the past few weeks concerning a recent day trip I took to Walla Walla. I thought it would be fitting to end this series with the first winery that I visited.

From my house to Walla Walla is approximately an hour, depending on which state patrol officer I'm visiting with. At about 30 minutes into my ride I have the opportunity to stop at Woodward Canyon winery.

Woodward Canyon reminds me so much of the farmhouses from where I grew up. Large shady trees cover the picket fence and pretty lawn around a quaint farm house that looks like it could tell stories. Winemaker and owner Rick Small spent years building other successful wineries in this region, and when he had the opportunity to make his own he went for the keep it simple and fun. He lets his wines do the performing rather than fancy facilities.

I started with the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. It was exactly what I was looking for on a 100 degree day. The nose was bright with minerality, lime, and grass. The taste was both citrus and creamy from the malolactic fermentation. A delightful acidic finish left the mouth feeling crisp.

Next, the staff poured the 2008 Chardonnay. The wine opens on the nose and the palate with ripe apples and pear. The wine crosses the mid-palate with a slight creaminess which turns into vanilla and hazelnut on the finish. A light acidity cleanses the palate. Rick makes his Chardonnays for long term cellaring and I would suspect that you could lay this one down for up to 10 years.

I had not tasted the Nelms Road 2008 Merlot, so I thought I'd give it a try. If you aren't aware, the Nelms label is Small's everyday brand. It is meant to be affordable, however not to be understated at all. The juice is still from top vineyards in the region and still made by a masterful winemaker. The 2008 is no exception, favoring towards the jammy side with flavors and odors of dark tree fruits and vanilla, this wine is among some of my favorites from the region.

Following the Merlot, I tried the 2008 Nelms Cabernet Sauvignon. Leading the way on the nose was notes of cherries and dried dark fruit. The berry flavors mingle and lead the way to notes of cassis, leather, and tobacco. This is a highly complex wine for the low price.

I've had the 2007 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon before, but when the staff asked I just couldn't resist. This wine offers up a nose of dark berries, cassis, and smoke. The flavors are deep and complex with notes of cherry, cassis, leather, spice box, vanilla, and smoke all swirling around on your tongue. It is an adventure in your mouth with each sip.

Last, I had to have the 2008 Estate Barberra. The nose offers up dark, rich fruits, with the spiciness and tannin that I love so much in Barberras. This wine would be perfect served with a chorizo and chevre pizza, or a nice venison pepper steak.

I highly suggest you start at Woodward Canyon on your Walla Walla adventures. It will help you in forming a great barometer for what the region has to offer in flavor and quality.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Watermill Winery A Good Reason To Visit Milton Freewater

Over the last few weeks I have been sharing on a recent day trip that I took to Walla Walla Valley. These articles are being punctuated by other articles as they arise.

It had been quite a while since I had been to Milton Freewater. As much as I enjoy the little town, it is not exactly a straight shot from my home in Kennewick. But, I was on a mission with my friends Phyllis and Becky Fergueson who run the annual Savor The Flavor event in the Tri-Cities.

After a quick visit to Petit Noir on the main drag through town to quench everyone’s need for the region’s most delicious handmade truffles, we headed back into the older section of town to visit Watermill Winery and its twin sister company Blue Mountain Cider.

It had been at least two years, if not closer to three, since I had been to the old Watermill building, and the now beautifully renovated tasting room that sits on the front of the property.

The Brown family established Watermill Winery in 2005 in conjunction with Rich Funk of Saviah Cellars fame. Rich and Andrew Brown set forth to produce wines together with the understanding that as Andrew’s skills honed, Rich would take more of a back-seat consulting role. That has happened, and now Brown is taking on the lion’s share of the winemaking tasks with Funk offering support. I was excited to see what Andrew has done with the reigns he’s been given.

I had to try the 2008 Viognier. I think I can openly say “scrumptious”. This is a really good Viognier. An English flower garden on the nose, with floral, apricot, and peach flavors. It finishes with creamed honey and minerals on the finish. I took a bottle home, and now I wish I had taken a case.

Next, I jumped to the Chances R Red Blend. A few vintages ago this was one of my favorite red blends from the region. Very affordable and rich. The 2007 has more of a grown up taste than the label suggests. After some air this wine offered up dark jammy nose and flavors, mixed with hints of leather, pepper, and spice box. At $15 it is definitely worth it.

The 2007 Midnight Red is an Estate Blend from the McClellan Estate. It offers 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, mixed with equal parts of Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. This wine is quite complex and elegant with bright cherry up front, leading to tobacco, leather, and berry pie as the wine slips across your palate.

I’m a sucker for a good Cabernet Franc, so I had to try Watermill’s 2007 vintage. This wine offers cloves and pepper on the nose. The flavors are rich with black cherry cola, pepper, and wonderfully silky tannins on the finish.

The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from several acclaimed vineyards reaching from Walla Walla to Kiona on Red Mountain. With a balance of 25% merlot, this wine hits all the corners of your palate. Dark fruit on the front, leading to dark cocoa, figs, walnut, and finishing with vanilla and a light smokiness this wine is one to have with a nice grilled rib steak.

One of the best parts about Watermill is once you’ve tasted through the wines, which I’ve only given a short list of, you can walk across the room to the Blue Mountain Cider tasting counter. I’ll leave that for a later article though.


Friday, August 6, 2010

Goodbye Jack. You'll Be Missed

The wine industry in Northeast Oregon lost a very important person this week. No, he wasn't some haughty taughty winemaker, or some vineyard owner with thousands of acres. But, I can tell you that if you purchased a bottle of wine from any location in Northeastern Oregon in the last 10 years, the bottle had been carefully handled at some time by my friend Jack Huth.

The industry isn't all fancy winemaker's dinners and $100 bottles of wine pouring over the counters of artsy tasting rooms. For the most part, the wine industry is dirty hard work. It is stacking and unstacking dusty boxes and bottles of wines thousands of times each day.

This truth was taught to me 7 years ago when I took a job as the Marketing Director with Graybeal Distributing in Pendleton. One of the best teachers I had in this was Jack.

One of the things that I did to familiarize myself with the thousands of products we offered was to work on the warehouse floor at least a little every day. Quickly I found the best way to learn the wine products was to follow Jack around. He knew everything we carried, and exactly where it was at any moment.

One lesson that Jack taught me happened in my first week. He watched me clumbsily grab for a bottle of Lambrusco on the warehouse shelf. Like a flash he was there at my side. Little did I know, but Lambrusco is quite dangerous. If a bottle drops the pressure will send glass shards back into your face. Jack knew this from experience, and he had the scars to prove it.

Jack was not only a good educator to us rookies in the business. He was also a generous, warm personality. You could hear his loud laugh several times echoing through the warehouse in a day. He would always welcome back drivers and salespeople from their routes. One of the first to arrive Monday mornings, and one of the last to leave Friday night.

There was one thing about Jack that I always found odd though. For all the bottles of wine he touched in his career, I don't think he ever found one that he liked. The best I could ever convince him of was to take a sniff out of a glass before he would turn up his nose and go "phsssssh!" No. Jack's drink of choice was Keystone Ice. So, in honor of you Jack, tonight I am drinking Keystone Ice and I'm going to offer the readers of this blog my tasting notes:

24 oz. Keystone Ice straight from the can (best by date - October 11). The nose is fizzy with a little mineral overtones. I can't really swirl it to bring out more, but my first taste is cold and refreshing. Afterall, it is 85 degrees out at 9 p.m. and any beer seems right tonight. The flavors are malty and sweet, with some bite from both the faint hops and the alcohol as it hits the back of my throat. A finish that is short leaves me ready for another slurp. At 5.9% alcohol I'd say not too bad for a buck fourty nine! Guess you were onto something Jack!

Thanks Jack, and my hope is that you'll be golfing, bowling, and enjoying an endless supply of Keystone Ice from now on. We'll miss you.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Taking A Trip Down Avery Lane Tastes Pretty Good

Ok. So something happened this week that I thought was totally cool. I got asked to taste some wines. I know what you're thinking: "So what? You're the wine guy and you're always tasting somebody's wine. Right?"

Well, this is sort of true, and sort of not true. Usually I dive bomb into wineries without staff knowing who I am, pay my fee, and walk out just like any other customer. That is unless somebody knows who I am. This situation is a little different though.

My relationship with the owners of Grocery Outlet in Kennewick has been growing over the past few months. This week, Dane approached me and asked if I would taste some new wines that he had just brought in. These are wines from Avery Lane, one of the Precept Wine brands from Walla Walla.

Precept is well on its way to becoming one of the largest wine producers in the United States. Using talented winemakers from throughout the state, the company uses juice from many of the state's famous vineyards, bottles it, and markets it. Frankly, some of their wine brands are simply fantastic. Not only that, but the prices are out of this world!

One of the Precept brands is Avery Lane. A beautiful label, bottle, and cork. This wine is fit to be served anywhere from weddings to dinner with friends and they'll have no idea unless they read this column how much you really spent.

The wines I tried are as follows:

2008 Riesling: Peach blossoms and honeysuckle aromas fill the nose as you inhale. The initial taste is brilliant citrus, followed by a nice creaminess on the mid-palate. The finish is crisp and sweet with just the right amount of sugar balanced with acid to cleanse the palate. Enjoy with spicy home-made ceviche for a great meal pairing.

2007 Merlot: Cherry and vanilla fill the senses both on the nose, and in the mouth. When the wine is decanted or swirled in the glass the alcohol flavors make way for a delicious layering of cherries, dark berries, and vanilla. The jammy flavors make you want to have another sip! Enjoy with pork, beef, or a grilled salmon fillet from our freezer section.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon: Dark cherries, blueberries, and currents on the nose. The flavors are dark berries, vanilla, and a hint of leather. Silky tannins on the finish. This bottle tastes like a rich, dark berry cobbler ready to be gobbled up.

Now for the kicker...this stuff hit the shelves today at $3.99 a bottle at Grocery Outlet. I don't know how much there is, but I've already picked up my case!

Grocery Outlet is located on the corner of 4th and Olympia in Kennewick. I hope you can make it down there and check out some of their great wines. When you do, let them know I sent you!