Saturday, March 26, 2011

Columbia Gorge Passport Week Coming Up

Last weekend I attended a conference down in Portland. Rather than rushing back home late on Sunday night and making it home at 2 a.m., my wife and I decided to stay over until Monday and take in a little rest and relaxation. What a great idea that was! Not only did we get to do some needed shopping, but we got to visit a few wineries along the Gorge that I hadn’t visited before.

I’ll be sharing with you my winery notes over the next couple of weeks, but this week I want to talk about an important upcoming wine event literally just down the street from your home.

The Columbia Gorge became an official AVA (American Viticultural Area) in 2004. Until then this beautiful region along the Columbia River was part of the gargantuan region called Columbia Valley. Just like many of the other AVAs in the Northwest, the Columbia Gorge winemakers have formed a great association, where they pool their efforts, bringing people into the region to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

One of the greatest aspects of the Columbia Gorge region is that it offers an unprecedented number of micro-climates not seen anywhere else in the Northwest. I don’t know if you realize this, but there is approximately 10 inches of rain per year average difference between Hood River and the Dalles.

Along with moisture, there are huge differences in soils, elevations, and average temperatures. All of these differences make it possible to grow everything from the heartiest to the finickiest grapes possible in a relatively small area. You can find estate Pinot Noir, Spanish Varietals, delicate Alsace varietals, and hearty Zinfandels in just a few minutes drive of each other.

Because of that ability to grow and make such a wine range of wines, the Columbia Gorge annual event is called “Passport Week, A World of Wines in 40 Miles”.

The week kicks off on Monday, March 28th from 1p.m. to 4p.m. for a private tasting for people in the wine trade such as myself. Wine writers and industry bloggers, distributors, store and restaurant staff will converge on the Urban Studio at 935 NW Davis Street in Portland. This event is not open to the public, but if you are in the industry I suggest emailing to get in the door.

The event will then open up to the public from 5p.m. to 8p.m. with hors d’ oeuvres, a complimentary wine glass, tastings, and a “passport” to the wineries. The cost for this event will be $25 and well worth it. If you are in the Portland Pearl District area I would highly recommend getting there. What a great way to start the week.

“Passport Weekend” starts on April 1st and runs through the 3rd. 25 Columbia Gorge region wineries will be participating in the event. You can get your passport by going to or search “Gorge Wine” on your iPhone for the passport app. The cost is $15 each, and saves you hundreds of dollars in tasting fees, lodging, and dining for the weekend. You can also pick up a passport at the wineries, but why wait until you’re there to jump in.

As always, enjoy, and be safe when tasting. I encourage eating, drinking water, and assigning a designated driver. 25 wineries in under 40 miles is a lot of wine!

What Drives Your Desire?

I was meeting with my friends Sara, Kevin, and Theresa at Sara Nelson Design yesterday when a great question came up having to do with people purchasing wine off of the internet.

Sara Nelson Design is one of the most cutting edge wine industry designers in the Northwest. They do work for several area vintners, as well as vintners from as far away as New York. Their work on branding, logo and label design, websites, and your social networking persona is fantastic. I’ve had the pleasure to be able to do some really fun work with them over the past few years.

So, getting back to a global version of yesterday’s question: What makes you want to taste and buy a bottle of anyone’s wine?

I’ve found that wine is both a commodity as well as a piece of art. Because of this it is actually a very tricky product. There are reams of paper written on this, and entire courses and degrees available on it from prestigious universities both in the U.S. and abroad.

The first thing that makes you want to drink any vintner’s wine is the winemaker, or the owner’s, personality. A perfect example of this is Charles Smith of K Vintners Fame. Charles’ personality is huge and luckily enough his wines follow that level of persona. Other winemakers such Mike at Coyote Canyon Wines in the Horse Heaven Hills are just so personable and kind. When you drink these wines you feel like you’re part of the family.

The key ingredient to personality driven wine choices are tasting events, tasting room visits, and winemaker dinners. This can carry over into twitter and facebook, but that is just an extension.

Second, the wine gives you a good memory. I have very fond memories of my younger years surrounding Ste. Chapelle winery. I’d buy the Riesling just for that alone.

A third reason to drink a wine is that it looks like something you want to drink. I get at least one or two bottles each week in my studio that I wouldn’t try if I didn’t do this article, and then I get many more that I really want to crack open.

A great example of this was a bottle that I tried this week of a wine with a bright blue stopper and label. The whole bottle was frankly, ugly. Unfortunately/fortunately the wine inside was quite approachable, but I wouldn’t have purchased it otherwise.

Taken to the next step, attractiveness is especially important on the website or store shelf. I can’t tell you the number of really good winemakers who make the mistake of not getting GOOD bottle images. If the wine looks crappy then you will assume that it probably is and not buy it. A website and point of sale materials such as tasting notes that are attractive makes you the consumer really want that $30 bottle over the Three Buck Chuck.

Last, and pretty much the least is the actual taste of the wine. Believe it or not, most people don’t know what a good wine is. I can’t tell you the number of people that tell me wines that I know are hideous are their favorites. One winemaker I know must purposefully intend on making vinegar, but he has a huge following of admiring fans because he does everything else above pretty well.

So, the next time you purchase a bottle of wine, think about what makes you want to make that purchase.


Wine Drinking Is Great If You Are Over 21

The world is a different place than the one I grew up in. Back in my day you could get a little alcohol if you were under-aged and nobody really cared. In my home town we had a fire pit outside of town where us kids would all buy a Dixie cup and get all the beer that cup could fill in a night. The only rule was that you needed to stay there, and no fighting. The cops would show up occasionally if things got rough, but otherwise it was just a bunch of kids doing what kids do.

My first experiences of wine were before I was of age. I may be wrong, but the thought of the time was that wine was a drink that you enjoyed when you were a little more mature. If you were ready to drink wine responsibly, then you were old enough.

Fast forward to the world of today. Nowadays if you are a minor in possession, a minor who has consumed, or a business that sells to minors, then you are going to be in a lot of trouble. Such is the case of a few wineries from Walla Walla who got caught last week.

I’m not going to mention any names. Other news sources have, and I don’t want to continue the berating. The wineries will pay their fines, and in one case that I’m aware of, will lose an entire weeks revenues by having their doors closed.

I don’t want to get into a deep debate on whether alcohol and minors mix. I also don’t want to point fingers to where this became a problem during the past generation. I can only speak from my own experiences, and what I think is important to the development of a young individual’s ability to act responsibly in society.

When my generation was reaching the magical age of drinking, most of us had a few choices to make: Join the military, go to college, or get married and get a job. I took the college choice, but many of my friends went off to give their service to our country. Many others went right out and took the responsibilities of work and family right away.

This generation has a lot more choices and a lot less freedom to make those choices. Frankly, I think that personal responsibility is something that we’ve taken away from today’s late teen and early 20’s person. They are burdened with financial debt like no other generation, but can’t enjoy a beer after a hard day’s work. That is, if they can even find a job.

I understand that the insurance industry, lobby interests, and our own legislative ignorance and willingness to give our civil liberties away has played a big part in raising the bar on this issue. The long and short of it is that we need to accept that underage drinking is wrong, and take responsibility for stopping it.

What I think needs to happen is that we need the wine industry to step up to the plate. Self regulate between vintner associations. Do more education of winery staff on how to effectively card people, and the ramifications of not checking IDs. What’s more, if you as a customer are in an establishment and see people drinking that you know are underage say something. Don’t wait for the state officials to close your favorite winery down.


Drinking Alone Isn’t Near As Much Fun

One of my favorite songs from my college years still is George Thorohgood’s “I Drink Alone”. I can’t name the number of times I’ve driven down Interstate 84 with that song cranked up on my Sirius receiver. I think it is one of the best party tunes of all times.

The problem with drinking alone is that it isn’t as romantic or fun as old George makes it sound. As a wine writer there are a lot of nights that I have to open a bottle alone, take a few sips, and pour the half-finished bottle down the drain.

Honestly, with all of the wine that I smell, sip, and sample all over this region, my real preference is when I’m at a function or tasting room filled with other people doing the same thing as me. Truth is, drinking wine with others makes the wine tasting experience so much more fun and exciting.

All that was to tell you about some of the great wine tasting events that are coming up in our area in the next few days and weeks. I know that I’m going to be making the extra drive to come out to some of these events, and I hope that you’ll come join me so that I won’t have to drink alone.

The next big wine event in the region rolls into Echo on March 12th. The Red to Red Mountain Bike race will be held in Echo, with over 400 racers ready to hit the trails out at Lloyd Piercy’s vineyards. This is also the release party for his newest vintage of Red to Red blend. Along with the bicycle racing and the wine tasting there will be music and dancing until midnight, and prodigal son brew available as well. Sounds like nobody will be drinking alone in Echo next weekend!

If you are wanting a little quieter experience, and happen to be down in the Baker City region I suggest dropping into Bellas, or Earth and Vine on March 10th. L’Ecole Winery out of Touchet (Walla Walla) will be on site pouring their newest releases, as well as some old favorites.

Jumping ahead a couple of weeks, I really want to encourage you to go out to Wildhorse Resort on April 6th. Col Solare will be the winery of the month at the Plateau. The chefs and restaurant manager Jeff always pair up some amazing food to go with the monthly wine choices. With Col Solare being the pour of choice I know you can’t go wrong.

April 7th and 8th brings an old friend back into town. Rich Marshall from Maryhill Winery will be at Bellinger farms on the 7th, and then pouring at the Great Pacific on the 8th. I always love catching up with Rich, and tasting the newest vintage of the best Zinfandel in the Pacific Northwest.

While Maryhill comes to Umatilla County on the 7th and 8th, further south on I-84 you will find some local heros pouring their wines down in LaGrande and Baker City. The folks from Reininger Winery, who’s Helix wines are such a hit in the Pendleton area, will be pouring at Bellas in LaGrande on April 7th. They will be back again the following week in Baker at Bellas and Earth and Vine on the 14th.

I only have one other admonishment if you are going out to any of these tastings: Please don’t drink and drive. Be safe and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

4 New Must Trys at Grocery Outlet

Just thought I'd drop a quick note in here about a few wines that just arrived at the Kennewick Grocery Outlet. My assumptions are that many of the other 95+ stores nationwide have also received some lot of these wines. These four wines are definitely worth mention, and I hope you get there to pick some up before everyone else.

The first two wines that I want to talk about are from Pacific Rim winemakers out of Santa Cruz California. Now, why are these wines so special to me? Because the grapes are litterally grown in my back yard! Yes. The grapes from these wines are sourced from my good friends the DenHoed family in Sunnyside Washington. But, even more importantly is that the grapes are actually grown just over the hill from my house in Kennewick.

Bill DenHoed has several acres of Riesling, Chenin Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc grapes overlooking the Columbia River just south of my home. He is the primary provider of juice to Pacific Rim. That makes the wine local regardless of where it is fermented and bottled.

The Pacific Rim Dry Riesling is truly one of my favorite dry Rieslings. It is crisp and lush with fruit flavors, yet not sweet. A lot of flavor without the cloying sugar. The finish is nice and crisp due to a clean acidity.

The 2007 Chenin Blanc from Pacific Rim is also crisp, with plenty of floral aromas and flavors of pear, lime, and creme brulee. This wine is great to just sit and sip in the evenings.

Other than the Pacific Rim wines I also want to talk about two other California wines.

Beaulieu Vineyard is will known as one of the main staple vintners from California. Usually on the shelves you will find their Cab, Merlot, or Chardonnay. But, when I was looking down the shelves the other day I found their 2007 Grenache from their San Benito South Hart Vineyard. I grabbed a bottle and headed for home. This wine was lush on the nose and palate with bright raspberries and cherries. A nice soft finish made it perfect with my Sunday ham dinner.

Last, I tasted the 2007 Manifesto Sauvignon Blanc. For $3.99 a bottle you can't beat this showcase of a Sauvignon Blanc. Lots of citrus on the nose, leading to a wonderfully creamy Malolactic on the mid palate, and finishing with a bright acidity. Great with seafood.