Saturday, November 27, 2010


My oldest son’s girlfriend’s dad has a very interesting hobby. He keeps bees. Living up on a grassy hill outside of Moscow, Idaho, John has the perfect environment for his hives. The little buggers seem to love it out there because they make some of the most delicious honey I’ve ever eaten in my life. Nearly white in color, the first-run honey from his hives is so pure and sweet that it tastes like sweet cream.

The only problem is that not all honey is super high quality. As the seasons change, and as the hive gets more mature, the honey darkens and becomes much more amber. It also picks up flavors from the wildflowers that the bees are also trying to pollinate from the area.

This is where it becomes my problem. My son, knowing that I’m the expert on all things alcoholic, delivered a bunch of amber honey to me a few weeks ago. His expectation was that I was going to brew up some Mead in my basement.

Now, I may be a great writer, and certainly a pleasant drunk. I may even know the general processes around making beer and wine. However, I don’t make alcoholic beverages. I just drink them.

Being the adventurous guy that I am, and never wanting to let my admiring son down, I have gotten to work on making my first batch of Mead. (Have you noticed it gets harder to impress kids in their 20s than it was when they were four or five?)

Luckily, there are hundreds of resources out there on making Mead. The internet is full of recipes. I also have a friend who lives close to me that is into the Medieval thing. (He is a king or something.) He teaches classes on how to make Mead which I fully intend on attending.

Did you know that Mead is possibly the oldest known alcoholic beverage? Its quaffing history goes back centuries to ancient Greece. It is mentioned in Hindu writings as far back as 1700 BC. Mead has been given credit in ancient times for making warriors fearless and strong in battle.

Mead also was given credit for what we now call a young couple’s “honeymoon”. Apparently a newlywed couple drank Mead for the first 30 days of their marriage so they could increase stamina and fertility in the bedroom. Liquid Viagra!

Part of my research has included a little Mead tasting as well. Commercially made Mead is available in Europe, and there are distributors who import through different wine and beer distributors worldwide. However, the only Mead that I know to be of commercial supply in this region is made by Honeywood Winery in Salem, Oregon.

Opened in 1933, Honeywood is Oregon’s oldest winery. Their specialty in the beginning was to produce brandies and liqueurs, however they have been producing wines for many years. Their fruit wines are super popular in the region for being super sweet and flavorful.

Honeywood offers two types of Mead. The traditional style, which has won many awards over the years, and a new Blackberry Mead, which I have not yet had. The traditional style Mead from Honeywood is made from clover honey. It has aromas of summer flowers. The flavors are super-sweet with a floral sense and a mouthfeel that is full and creamy.

You can get Honeywood Mead at several places in the region. Bellinger’s in Hermiston has the largest selection of Honeywood flavors. I suggest you slide in and try them.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Wines I’m Thankful For

So, as I was looking through my past Thanksgiving articles I realized that they’ve all been about pairing wine with turkey. If you don’t know what to pair the turkey with, just buy the most expensive white wine you can find. Buy a bunch of it. If your guests don’t like your choice in wine hit them over the head with the bottle or a turkey leg. Whichever is handiest. That should pretty well cover the turkey pairing issue.

Now, on to what I want to talk about. After all, this article really is about me. Isn’t it?

I was thinking that in honor of Thanksgiving I would write this week on all the great wines that we have right here in our region. Wines that are top rated, and readily available for our consumption. Wines made right here in the Northwest, for Northwesterners. These are wines that you can walk right into the local stores and wine shops to purchase.

I’m not the only one to think that these wines are great. I’m going to reference scores posted by Wine Spectator that are 90 points or above. If you don’t agree with Wine Spectator I think they take your birthday away or something.

The first vintner that I want to recognize is our own home-grown giant Columbia Crest, and their sister Chateau Ste Michelle. The 2005 Columbia Crest Valley Reserve Merlot and the 2008 Ste. Michelle Indian Valley Cabernet Sauvignon have scores of 90. Their cousin wineries of Northstar, Erath, Spring Valley, and Col Solare also have fantastic ratings. Northstar’s 2006 Merlot earned a score of 91. The Erath 2006 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir earned a 91. Spring Valley had a score of 92 for their 2007 Uriah, and a 93 went to the Col Solare 2005 vintage.

Cougar Crest, from Walla Walla has earned a 90 or better score on three of their current vintages. Their 2006 Cabernet Franc and Aniversary Cuvee, as well as their 2005 Merlot all did very well in judging.

Amavi also has three current vintages scoring at 90 points each. Their 2006 Walla Walla Syrah, their 2007 Walla Walla Syrah, and their 2007 Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon.

Another Walla Walla vintner that consistently offers up great wines is John Abbott at Abeja. His 2007 vintages of Chardonnay and Merlot offer up absolutely fantastic flavors worthy of great accolades.

L’Ecole No 41 continues to take the wine industry to school year after year with their wines. Currently they have five vintages on the market that have Wine Specator scores above 90. Their 2007 Apogee and Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon both scored 92s this year. Their Seven Hills Merlot and Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon both scored 91, and their 2006 Seven Hills Vineyard Syrah holds its own with a score of 90.

My friend Rich Funk at Saviah earned a very respectable 93 with his 2006 vintage of Une Vallee. This wine is truly amazing, and priced very, very well for the quality. Also, Chuck at Reininger proved his winemaking talents when he scored a respectable 92 on his 2007 Walla Walla Syrah.

This is not a complete list of amazing local wines. I really encourage you to go to our local wine shops and ask for the complete list.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sno Road Winery Is Echo’s Little Secret

I’ve been all over this country. And when I say “all over” I mean lots and lots of places. But, one of my very favorite places to be is in the little, quiet town of Echo.

Most of the folks I talk with in my day to day life don’t even know the town exists. They drive right by it heading to Boise or Portland or Seattle. Usually they’re going way to fast to even notice the exit signs pointing toward the town. I guess that’s what makes Echo special. If you’re going fast you’re probably not a good fit anyway.

In the center of town is a little building next to a beautiful garden. In that building are the offices of Echo West Vineyard and Sno Road Winery. Lloyd and Lois Piercy have owned the building for a number of years. It has served them well. Decorated with artifacts from travels that they’ve had around the globe, and punctuated by old doors and furniture that serve to catch the eye and the imagination, the offices are both rustic and beautiful.

The Piercys are brilliant, hard-working folks. Part of their hard work over these past 40 years has been Echo West Vineyard. Overlooking the Umatilla River not far from downtown Echo, the vineyard has become increasingly famous for producing amazing wines. The grapes are sourced out to many award winning wineries in the region including Bergevin-Lane and Maryhill.

Over the past five or so years I’ve been in contact with Lloyd Piercy about a few barrels of juice that he was aging for his own winery. When he called me a few weeks ago, I was so excited to hear that he was officially open for business.

The winery boasts several amazing labels of wines. All of them very short run. All of them very exquisite. All of them very reasonably priced for the quality of juice in the bottle.

The three bottles that were open for me to taste were the 2008 Orange Muscat, the 2006 Sno Road Amity Pinot Noir, and the 2007 2B Cabernet Sauvignon.

Don’t let the words Orange Muscat fool you. This wine is bone dry, with less than 1% residual sugar. The nose is explosively floral and fragrant. Orange blossoms literally jump out of the glass. The flavors are crisp and brilliant, with light citrus and floral overtones.

The 2007 Amity Pinot Noir is a beautiful ruby color. It’s aromas and flavors are multi-layered with cherry, pomegranate, mint, sage, and cola flavors. The finish is long and supple. This wine would pair well with salmon or venison, but I think I’ll just drink it alone so I can enjoy all of its qualities.

2B Cabernet Sauvignon is named after the block of grapes from the Echo West Vineyard that they came from. The ground is rich with volcanic ash and sediment there, which intensifies the grapes greatly. A nose of black cherries, cinnamon, and baking spices. Layers of dark cherry, cinnamon, cocoa, and cassis. This is a Cabernet drinker’s Cabernet. Yum!

If you want to experience Sno Road, I suggest you get there. The winery is open Friday evenings for tasting from 4:00 until 7:00, or until the last guest leaves. They are also available by appointment by calling 541-376-0421. You can also order wines by going to .


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wine Events Abound Region Wide This Month

It must be November. Finally, after all the warm summer months, and the crazy months of harvest, we wine drinkers get to fill our social calendars again. Yes, in November there are literally dozens of wine tasting events to attend throughout the region. Some of them are profoundly large, and some simple and intimate.

To start the month off with a bang, the region’s largest event happens in the Tri Cities. The Tri Cities Wine Festival occurs November 5th and 6th at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick. For 32 years the Tri-Cities Wine Society has been hosting this now very large event which includes a judged wine competition of the regions top wineries. There are seminars on wines, grape growing, and wine industry forecasting. The gala event, which occurs on Saturday the 6th, offers the opportunity to taste over 400 different wines and sample foods from different regional caterers and restaurants. Cost at the door is $65 per person. You can find out more about the event at

If you aren’t exactly into wine, but beer is your thing I suggest you slide on down to the Great Pacific in downtown Pendleton on the 11th. Deschutes Brewery will be offering a beer tasting that evening. The regional representative from Deschutes will be sampling the brews, and you can purchase a bottle or glass as you sit and visit with friends.

Next weekend, the 13th and 14th of November, will be another enormous wine event in the Tri Cities. Savor the Flavor, developed by my friends Becky and Phyllis Ferguson has been a growing event for the past several years. Being into food as much as wine, this is one of my favorite annual events. If you are into watching Bravo’s Top Chef, or Iron Chef competitions you will love this event. There are different stages where both professional, as well as amateur chefs from the region compete for bragging rights in timed cooking trials.

At the Savor event I am now fully involved this year as the “Liquid Libations” coordinator. This is a classroom offering classes on how to do everything from tasting wines, to pairing wines with foods. Jeff Hammond from Wildhorse Resort will even be doing classes on infusing Vodkas at home. I’ll be teaching a few classes on tasting methods, wine and cheese pairings, and sensory training along with other educators and wine writers from the region.

For those who are into cooking there is a second set of classes going on in another area. Even the kids have a “Kids Cook Too” area where they can get their cheffing skills on. Booths will offer foods, libations, and shopping. Top Chef Dave Martin will prepare a banquet on the evening of the 13th . To find out more or to get tickets go to or call 509-366-5306.

If that all isn’t enough, there are two more events going on in the Pendleton and Hermiston areas on the 18th and 19th. Jones of Washington Winery, from Quincy Washington is now being fully distributed in Northeast Oregon. These wines are very nice, and their prices are approachable. You can catch them at Bellinger Farms in Hermiston on the 18th, and at Great Pacific in Pendleton on the 19th.

See you there!