Sunday, August 28, 2011

Goodbye To Roger Kelley, Ed Scapplehorn, and Bob Woehler

They say that the greats all go in threes. I am coming to believe that for sure after this week. Three great men who helped me, and shaped me in the wine business are gone this week. I want to spend just a few moments talking about each of them and the way that they touched my life and the lives of those in our region.

First, I want to mention Roger Kelley, the draft manager for Graybeal Distributing. I met Roger right away on my first day of work at Graybeal in Pendleton. Rough talking and full of vigor, Roger could flat out get the work done.

Roger worked more with beer than he did with wine, but we did spend a considerable amount of quality time in the wine isles of the stores a few times each year during reset season.

All of the big chain stores are organized by actual schematics as to what goes on each shelf. There was one thing that both Roger and I detested doing, and that was resets. We would spend hours pulling bottles of wine off of the shelves, cleaning the shelves, and then putting them back on in order. Truly a horrible job.

Roger had a method that worked. He would stand there and read the schematics and yell out to me what needed to go on the shelf next, one bottle at a time. During those times, as well as all the work we did together at the fair and Roundup each year preparing the beer gardens the things I appreciated Roger most for was his honest, straight forward talk, and his ability to get the work done.

Roger, I hope you’re enjoying an ice cold Coors Banquet up there in heaven!

At the same time I heard about Roger’s death, I also heard about another wine industry great in our area who passed away last week. Ed Scapplehorn, who represented Terra Blanca Winery for many years passed away in Richland, Washington.

If you saw a bottle of Terra Blanca wine on the shelf in your favorite wine shop or restaurant anywhere in America it was because Ed had worked to get it in there. Like Roger, Ed was a straight talking and hard working man. Having years of grocery and distribution experience, he could work and drink with the best of them. I just know that Ed is kicking back a glass of Cabernet or a Miller Lite right now. Save one for me Ed!

As I was writing this article tonight I found out that I had to add one more name to this article. Bob Woehler, one of the region’s most prolific and celebrated wine writers passed away this week as well.

Writing a weekly column for the Tri City Herald, as well as regular columns and articles in Wine Press Northwest made Bob a well known name in this region for wine. It’s pretty much known that having Bob taste wines with you, it was going to be entertaining and educational.

The thing I most appreciate about Bob, and I’ve chosen to follow his path in writing this column each week, is that “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say it”. Bob was very loyal to the industry by never talking bad about a wine, winemaker, or the industry. His articles were always fun and informative. Many times I would wish I had written so well about the same wines. I wish you only the best wines in heaven Bob.

Until next week, enjoy!

Some Of The Best Wines Start In A Garage

About a year ago I was talking with an employee at one of the area grocery stores about wine. She asked for my card and whether her friend could call me about his wines. She said it was a hobby of his and he was looking for an opinion about his wines. Out of curiosity I agreed to have him contact me.

My thoughts were that I’d meet this hippie who was fermenting a few gallons of juice each year and creating nastiness to give friends at the holidays.

When Sam Regev called me I became even more curious. First, his very thick Israeli accent hit me like a brick. Next, through the accent I realized that this highly trained chemist has been growing a few acres of grapes outside Richland for a few years. Not your normal Merlot and Cabernet varietals either. We’re talking Primitivo, Dolcetto, Amarone, and several other strains you don’t normally hear of from this region.

Meeting Sam at his house I realized that this truly was going to be an experience. His house is filled with beautiful racks of wine bottles lying on their sides, aging wines to perfection.

Regev’s story goes like this. He moved to this country to attend school at UC Davis for Chemistry back in the 1970s. He has worked at inventing additives for the petroleum industry and as a nuclear chemist his whole professional career. But, having studied at Davis brought him in contact with the wine bug that was emanating from that school back in those days.

Regev caught the bug and made it his hobby for many years. His wife calls herself a “wine widow” for all the time he spends out in the vineyards, and buried in his wine barrels.

As I mentioned, a year ago was when I met Sam. His problem, quite frankly, wasn’t his wine. His problem was that he couldn’t get rid of it. He was a hobbyist. Not able to sell all the wines he has been making.

With that, I directed the Regevs to get a bonded winery license, and to start working their way to a marketing plan. I put Sam in touch with a few people along the way and was pleasantly surprised when he contacted me a few weeks ago telling me that he was now licensed and ready to sell his label “Chateau Le Garage”.

I met Sam again this past week, and tasted through some of his newest vintages. Currently his wines are only available at Albertsons in South Richland, however he is in discussion with several wine shops in the region. My hopes are that he will be selling at Bellingers and Great Pacific soon.

Here are a few notes I gathered from last weekend’s tasting. If these wines interest you I suggest contacting Sam at

Chateau Le Garage 2008 Primitivo - Fresh squeezed prune juice right out of the field, mixed with tobacco, cardamom, and a nice tannin to acid balance makes a wonderful finish. This is what Primitivo is supposed to taste like.

Chateau Le Garage 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon - Rich, dark plum and berries, with a soft tanned leather in the background. This wine is perfect for a T-bone steak on the grill, or just sitting on the deck.

Chateau Le Garage 2008 Shir Raz - Dark berries and fruit on the nose and palate, with dark cocoa overtones.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Italian Wines Are Great For Summer Grilling

This is the time of year that I personally really love to grill. It keeps the house cool, and the food just tastes so good. When it’s really hot you really can’t beat an ice cold beer with your meat, but when it starts to cool off a little there is nothing better than a bottle of dark red wine to go with a rib steak.

Normally, most people in this region go for a big Cab or a nice Merlot. If you’ve got some knowledge of your wines you might even reach for a bottle of Zinfandel to go with your saucy ribs. Those are great choices, but I’m all about stretching out and trying different things.

Looking to the other side of the world, I know that there are other parts of the world that deal with hot summers just like they do. Italy is one country that offers some amazing food friendly wines worth having with your grilled beef.

This week I tried a few different red wines from around the country. Here are some of my favorite samplings from this week.

From the Abruzzo region I found a bottle of Caldora Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2009. Abruzzo is located along the Adriatic coast where mostly Trebbiano and Montepulciano grapes are grown. I love Multepulciano personally because of it’s dark jammy qualities.

The Caldora is a dark ruby to purple in the bottle with a strong scent of prune orchard and vanilla. The finish is nicely balanced between tannin and acid. I love to grill spicy Italian sausages with onions and peppers. I load them on a big hoagie roll with Provelone cheese. The Caldora was a fantastic pairing! I would also try it with pulled pork or ribs.

Earlier I mentioned one of my favorite wines, Zinfandel. In the Italian countryside you can often find its Great Grandfather, Primitivo. The Primitivo grape is indigenous to many areas in the country, however one of the regions that has a strong holding on the vines is in Puglia. In the “heel of the boot”, is the Puglia region. Known for intense heat, it is a great region for this grape to produce it’s best juice.

Feudi Di San Marzano 2010 Primitivo is a wine that you can find fairly readily at wine shops. It has a relatively low cost at around $12 per bottle.

The story behind Feudi is that it was a government owned winery for many decades. In 2003 the winery was purchased by the Sciotti company. They have turned a wreck of a facility into one of the highest producing wineries in the country.

The Feudi Primitivo is deep, dark reddish purple. Both bright red fruits, some dark fruit, and baking spices make this wine one of my grilling favorites. Enjoy with saucy ribs or a spicy steak off the grill.

Last, you can enjoy a nice Chianti Classico. The one I opened this week was from San Leonino, a winery located deep in the heart of Tuscany. The San Leonino 2007 is made from 90% Sangiovese, 5% Syrah, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Like most Chiantis it is bright ruby in the glass, with a bright red cherry and raspberry flavor and nose. Nice and spicy on the mouth with a brightly tannic finish. Great with red sauces for sure. It went well with my burgers this week.

I hope you enjoy these wines with your end of summer meals this year!


Monday, August 8, 2011

Thomas O’Neil Cellars Open In Northern Richland

I’m strange. I admit it. It comes from my childhood when my very “artistic” mother used to say “If all your friends were jumping off a cliff, it doesn’t mean you should do it”.

So, a few months ago when all my friends were going to the newest winery in the Tri-Cities I was a bit standoffish. I wanted the hubbub and craziness to wane a little before I went rushing in. After all, by the end of the first day of business most every wine writer in town already had at least a tweet up about the new place in town.

This week I finally decided it was time to make my way to the Thomas O’Neil Cellars in Richland, near the Horn Rapids golf course. The tasting room is visible on the north side of Highway 240. You really can’t miss it.

We were greeted warmly at the door by Tricia O’Neil and a couple of their fantastic staff. Their French intern Clémence, who is with them for just a few more weeks, poured wines and Tricia ran to the tank room to pull Thomas from his task of racking wines. Within moments my quiet and unannounced visit became a grand scale tasting and interview.

Thomas and Tricia have a very interesting story. Living most of their lives in Michigan, Tom worked many years in business administration, with wine being a serious hobby for the couple. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago, when Michigan State University’s Enology center opened that Tricia urged Tom to go back to school and follow his dream.

Tom interned at Ste. Michelle in Patterson, and then went on to take the assistant winemaker position at Milbrandt Vineyards. A few years ago he decided it was time to stop making mass amounts of juice for others and focus on making smaller lots of wine for himself. That was the birth of Thomas O’Neil Cellars.

Tom, having been trained in white wine country, and a lover of red wines, is well versed in all varieties. The wines all show a considerable amount of fresh acidity which compliments Tom’s desire to make wines ready for food and focus away from “cocktail wines”.

Clémence started me off with the 2009 Chardonnay. It is primarily American neutral oaked, Chardonnay grapes sourced from the Walluke slope, with a little Pinot Gris for the balance. The wine is full of fresh apples, pears, and pineapple, with a gentle acidity on the finish. Some oaky vanilla, but overall very crisp.

The 2009 Riesling offers a light residual sugar of 1.6% making it a delicious off-dry wine. I loved the florality of the wine, with a nose of white flowers and orange water. I picked some up to enjoy with ceviche this weekend.

The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon offered up a light fruit forwardness of cherries, raspberry, and cocoa. Very enjoyable.

I loved the 2009 Merlot. A combination of jammy fruit forwardness. Black cherry, vanilla, and cocoa, with a light tanned leather finish.

Tom’s 2009 “Fusion” is his flagship wine. It is a red blend of Syrah, Petite Syrah, and Grenache. Dark blueish purple in the glass with a rich nose of prune orchard. The wine has a hint of toasted oak that mixes with the dark fruits to fill the palate. Nicely balanced on the finish. This wine was a must have for my cellar.