Saturday, February 26, 2011

Castillo de Feliciana Is A Trip To Spain In Walla Walla

This week I met my friend Rich Funk at Saviah and talked about some amazing plans that he has to share later this spring. I picked up some of his newest releases, and then, rather than heading straight home decided to take a different fork in the road.

Past Waters Winery and VaPiano, and after taking a right at the fork, I came to Castillo de Feliciana Vineyard and Winery. A cute little Spanish hacienda, located down a short gravel drive with views of the Blue Mountains, Seven Hills Vineyards, and most of the Walla Walla valley.

As I entered the winery I was met by the youthful and entrancingly blue eyed tasting room manager Katie Regnier. It was cold outside, but her excitement to open a few bottles for me, and the great wines had me thinking of warmer climates.

Castillo de Feliciana is one of Walla Walla’s newest wineries. Owned by Sam and Deborah Castillo, the winery is located on a 66 acre estate that is surrounded by fantastic vineyards of world renown. The tasting room itself offers a nice Spanish theme, with beautiful art that Deborah herself has hand-picked.

The Castillos opened their winery with the hopes of offering fine wines in the Spanish varietals. This being the northwest, there has been some issues with reaching those offerings, but the Sueno (dream) will become a reality with time and patience. They planted true Spanish Albarino vines this past year, and at this point they are looking good in the ground.

I caught Katie on a quiet day, where we could talk and taste through the wines. I highly recommend that you take the opportunity to visit wineries during this time of year when the tourist season is off. It is so much fun, and you feel like you own the whole region.

Anyway, Katie poured the 2008 Viognier for me to start. Mixed with 19% Roussanne, the wine has wonderful floral aromatics to start. Melon and baked bread open up to a nice mouthful of peach and other stone fruit, with a lightly acidic finish. I picked this one up to share with my wife before bed.

Katie then poured me the flagship 2008 Temperanillo. This wine is made from 100% Rosebud Vineyard Temperanillo grapes. The wine opens on the nose with a bouquet of violets and desert sage. The flavors are deep and rich, with red currants, and espresso. The finish is long, with soft acidity and supple tannins.

Next I tasted the 2008 Miercoles. This wine is made up of 55% Syrah, 27% Malbec, 9% Temperanillo, and 9% Merlot, with the juice being sourced from Pepper Bridge, Rosebud, Airport Ranch, and Les Collines. The flavors and nose are black cherry, plum, coffee, and cocoa. There are further layers of baking spices on the long finish.

Last, Katie poured me the 2008 Adentro. This wine is a Bordeaux blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Malbec, and 5% Cab Franc. It offers up a nose and flavors of herbs and spices on the front, with vanilla, tea, and tobacco on the mid palate. The wine finishes very nice with a distinct minerality from the perfectly blended Cab Franc. Very nice.

I hope you’ll take the time to venture to the southern reaches of Walla Walla. When you do, I suggest you stop in and taste the Spanish influence offered by Castillo de Feliciana.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Tenacity Pays Off For Region’s Newest Winery

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try, and try again! That is the lesson taught by the region’s newest winery, Hamilton Cellars. Their Grand Opening, held this week at their new tasting room in Richland, Washington is proof that pushing through obstacles will bring you to a win.

Last fall I met owner Stacy Hamilton while I was teaching a wine tasting class at the Savor the Flavor event in the Tri Cities. When I asked if anyone in the room was in the industry she quietly held up her hand. Later, after class we introduced ourselves and I found out that she and her husband Russ were planning on opening their tasting room soon.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when my wife and I attended a birthday party for one of my wine industry friends. We all brought a bottle or two of our favorite vintages while we feasted on the most amazing Tennessee ribs I’ve ever eaten. One of the other guests that evening works in the tasting room of Hamilton Cellars and brought a few bottles of their wine.

I’ll just say that I was impressed. I knew that the wine was too good to be made by an inexperienced winemaker. That’s when I found out that the guy producing the juice is none other than winemaking superman Charlie Hoppes.

Now that I’ve teased you, I need to tell you the rest of the story. Russ and Stacy began work on their dream of owning a successful winery in 2006. They knew that they liked good wine and that is what they wanted to produce. The Hamiltons knew also that they wanted Hoppes to be the winemaker, and that they wanted their wines to be from good vineyards and made from sound processes.

Now for the tough part. There have been planning and zoning issues with owning a winery in this region. They are being cleared up quickly, but back when the Hamiltons were starting out it wasn’t so easy.

The Hamiltons purchased a piece of land in West Richland with the intent of building a winery. Little did they know that there was a huge dispute over the land with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The title company, the attorneys, and the City of West Richland all failed to realize that the land wasn’t legal to sell because the U.S. Government owned it. The Hamiltons were sent an eviction notice.

Luckily planning and zoning issues have lifted a little, and the Hamiltons were able to convert a cute little office cottage In the Queensgate Village around the corner from Barnard Griffin and Bookwalter in Richland.

As for those promised notes on wines, I thought you might like to hear about a few I tasted. I am certainly looking forward to tasting through the rest of the portfolio soon.

2007 Bona Vita Red Blend - Dark purple in the glass, this wine has a blend of 51% Malbec, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, and 12% Cab Franc. The nose and flavors are rich with layers upon layers. Blueberries, blackberries, smoke, peppercorn, and soft tannins on the finish.

2007 Malbec –This Malbec is beautiful, bold, dark, and scrumptious. Blueberries, black cherry, dark chocolate, black pepper, and a velvety finish. This wine, and the Bona Vita both paired wonderfully with my friend Patrick’s ribs and his homemade sauce. Yummmm!


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Covey Run Quail Wines Are At Grocery Outlet

I’ve known about it for a few weeks. Dane and Jon at Grocery Outlet Kennewick tipped me off. I have to admit that my heart gave a little jump when I heard that a limited amount of Covey Run was going to be available on the shelves soon.

Covey Run, one of the wineries that I consider local to this region, is located in Prosser, Washington. The winery was started in 1982 by local families, and is still in operation today. Truly a pioneer brand for the Washington State wine industry.

Winemaker Kate Michaud, who has worked for several industry leaders such as Bonny Doon, and Canoe Ridge, came to Covey Run Winery in 2007. Since then she has become a substantial name in the Washington wine industry while making the famous Quail label wines at Covey.

As you already know, there are many reasons why wines go to Grocery Outlet. In this case, there were a couple of years where the vineyards produced more supply than there was demand. This drove prices down, and the supply remained until the next year’s crops were ready to go into the barrel and bottle. That means great deals to consumers!

The three bottles of Covey Run that I tried this week were the 2008 Fume Blanc, The 2006 Cabernet-Merlot blend, and the 2007 Merlot.

Fume Blanc is truly a beautiful wine. The 2006 is made with 100% Fume Blanc, this wine offers up a nose and palate of citrus right off the top. Lemongrass, herbs, and lemon-lime flavors mix in the glass to make a bright, crisp wine for drinking alone or with creamy dishes.

The 2006 Cabernet-Merlot shows dark ruby red in the glass. It is somewhat fruit forward, meaning that the nose and the palate show a wonderful bouquet of fresh fruit right from the start. The cherry, vanilla, and chocolate aromas and flavors make me want to just keep pouring more from the bottle. Great with a steak or all by itself!

The 2007 Merlot is also rich with fruit, but shows a great maturity in the glass. Plum and cherry meet the nose, and a rich dark ruby color lines the glass. The flavors are much more complex than expected. The fruit comes forward, followed by a rich smokey finish with long tannins.

The best part of these wines is not only their flavors, but also their price. I picked them up for $3.99 a bottle. I remember these vintages selling for up to $15 when they first came out, but at this price I might buy a case of each.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Red Wine and Chocolate A Perfect Getaway Gift

Do you have a lover that really gets excited at the sound of a popping cork? Do they get a little bit more romantic when they have a glass in their hand? Do they consider wine to be a serious libido booster? Well, have I got a perfect Valentines Day gift for you! Why not give them the gift of red wine and chocolate?

The Yakima Valley wine region is celebrating again this year with its biggest Red Wine and Chocolate event ever. This year 52 wineries throughout the region will be participating in the event, which will be occurring the 19th and 20th of February this year.

By going out to the Yakima Valley Wine Association web site you can view all of the particulars on the wineries from A through Z. If you are coming out of Oregon to this event you can start right in the Tri Cities at Goose Ridge Winery and Barnard Griffin, and work your way all the way to Yakima.

The wineries are as far reaching in this event as they are varied in their level of participation. By buying passes from the Yakima Valley Wine Association at you are not only getting $5 off of your pass, but you are also opening yourself up to a range of great deals, treats, and samples from the participating wineries.

A few of my favorite places to visit for sweets during the Red Wine and Chocolate event are the Port soaked cherries at Hinzerling, and “Mom’s Chocolate Mousse” at Two Mountains Winery.

Other wineries offer new wine releases for the event. One such winery is Terra Blanca, who celebrates their annual Onyx release party on this weekend. People travel from all over the northwest to catch this amazing gala event.

Many places are offering deep discounts on their most popular wines. A perfect example is at Goose Ridge, where they will be offering their G3, Sol Duc, and Reserve Syrah at unbelievably low prices. Other wineries are offering case and bottle discounts for pass holders only.

If nothing else, there is always the entertainment that is offered at this fabulous event. Many of the wineries will be having chefs displaying and tasting out their creations, others will have live music, and several more will be displaying the art of many talented northwest artists.

Cost for the Yakima Red Wine and Chocolate event is $35 for the entire pass. There are several hotels and bed and breakfasts offering overnight packages. Also, if you wish to take a guided tour and leave your car in a safe place that option is available too through the site.

If you are going down the Columbia toward Portland you can always stop in and say hi to my friend Terrence at Waving Tree. He and Evelyn will be putting out a big spread, music, and tasting of their entire portfolio both Valentines weekend and President’s Day weekend.

I also heard from Lloyd at Sno Road Winery. He will be hosting a red wine and chocolate event at the tasting room in Echo. Honestly, I lost his email with all of the particulars, but it sounded like a blast. I’m sure you can call the tasting room for the particulars.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Another One Bites The Dust

Last week as I was putting the finishing touches on another of my amazing articles an important piece of news was breaking in the local wine industry. Whitman Cellars of Walla Walla was taken over by the Bank of Whitman. The locks were changed, and the employees were sent home.

This broke my heart. In the past 10 years they have provided me with many fantastic bottles which I will never forget. Their Merlot was a regular favorite at my table, and a couple of years ago I bought up as much of their Narcissa as I could afford.

Now it’s all gone. Even my dear friend Sara Nelson, the super talented graphic artist who designed their label, has removed the bottle shots from her website.

From all that I read, and all I know of the situation, the bank tried everything possible to keep the popular winery from reaching this place. I know the owners, and know that they also were trying their hardest to reach a resolution up to the 11th hour.

This news follows a few recent closures that are just as devastating to our region. Last week the news was that another of my favorite wineries in the Prosser region was also closing its doors. Olsen winery, famed for its rare Trocken Ice Wine, and maker of many great wines announced that they were closing their tasting room.

Just when you think the news is bad enough, another famous winery in Walla Walla also closed its doors recently. Yellow Hawk Cellars, makers of one of the best Sangioveses that I’ve ever tasted called it quits.

It isn’t that these wineries were bad business people. No. Actually, they were good business people. It wasn’t that they made crappy wine. Actually, their wines scored high enough to bring the averages of our region up. They were pacesetters and artisans in their craft who have nothing to be ashamed of.

So, what happened? In my opinion, 2008 happened. In 2008 we were all more than happy to drink a $30 bottle of wine. It wasn’t seen as unreasonable to offer wines at $50 to $100 in a restaurant and have people shell it out.

Since those fateful days in fall of 2008 when the stock market fell, so did the people who were willing to buy those wines. What has been left is a market of new wine drinkers, who honestly don’t have an appreciation or desire to drink wines in that price bracket.

Recently I walked through a very established, high-end wine shop in Eastern Washington. This is a place that I would regularly find engraved Magnums of Cabernet Sauvignon in the $500 bottle range, and entire flights of Leonetti. Now their shelves were full of bottles under $10.

As a professional photographer I’ve seen this same phenomenon in my industry and I can fully relate to the Whitmans, the Olsens, and the Yellow Hawks. People won’t spend the money they used to on well crafted art. I’ve had several of my esteemed mentors close their doors in recent months because the phone stopped ringing two years ago.

So…What does this mean to you? Unfortunately you won’t be able to drink great local wines anymore if you don’t support the fine winemakers of our region. Personally, I’m going to drink good wines and hope you do too. On the other hand, Boones Farm tastes pretty good ice cold.