Thursday, May 31, 2012

Winery Of My Youth Comes Back to Northwest Ownership

I was born and raised in the potato and corn fields of Caldwell, Idaho. As a kid I fondly remember going out to Symms fruit ranches along Sunnyslope to pick up boxes of apples and cherries during harvests.

One summer when we were going out to pick up some cherries there was a new structure on the slopes. Where there had once been a forest of fruit trees there was now a really odd shaped Chateau. Around it, and stretching for long distances in either direction was gray-white soil and little twigs suspended by long strands of wires.

As a teenage boy that was my first experience of a winery and a vineyard. The winery was Ste. Chapelle. Under the ownership of the Symms family, and the winemaking expertise of Bill Broiche, the winery became one of the most successful wineries in the Western United States.

I fondly remember that the winery made several different varietals. The one that made them famous though, was their Johannisburg Riesling. Back in the late 70s and early 80s there were relatively few laws concerning ownership of regional names. You didn’t have to be from Johannisburg to make a wine by that name. You could make it above the backwaters of the Snake River and all was cool.

I distinctly remember that a visit to Ste. Chapelle on or after your 19th birthday was a right of passage for many of us. I also remember taking my wife and her roommates there long before we were married to get the girls looped on free samples in the tasting room.

Now, fast forward all these years. The winery, after a rather ugly split between Symms and Broiche nearly died. The 80s and 90s took their toll on the wine industry as well. People got tired of the same old sweet wines.

Ste. Chapelle was sold off to Constellation wines back in the early 2000s. Constellation’s huge portfolio and marketing expertise helped breathe some new life back into the winery. Once again I remember looking on the shelves of grocery wine isles and seeing growing space and sales being given to Ste. Chapelle. WalMart in Hermiston had a huge section of their shelves dedicated to the winery, and we always needed backstock of their wines for weekends.

Ascentia purchased the winery from Constellation in 2008. This giant conglomerate company, that also owns Covey Run and Woodinville Winery in Washington owns hundreds of labels worldwide. They continued to grow the brand successfully since then.

This month the winery was purchased by Precept Brands out of Washington State. A resounding victory for Northwest vintners. Precept, owned and operated by Andrew Browne and the Baty family, has been successful in growing many super successful labels here in the northwest. Apex, Pine and Post, Sagelands, Canoe Ridge, and Alder Brook and many other regional labels are Precept wines.

The reason for my excitement is that once again one of my foundations in the wine industry is under what I consider “local” ownership. It is a sort of homecoming for all of us Idaho wine slobs.
Ste. Chappelle has grown exponentially since my younger years. They now create over 130,000 cases of wine annually. Their specialty still is riesling, however they, like me, have grown up a little. They now offer some pretty decent off dry and dry reds as well.
The next time you’re driving through southern Idaho I hope you’ll take a quick detour and stop at the tasting room between Caldwell and Marsing, Idaho.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Greener On The Other Side of The Fence

I’m a lucky guy. I live right on an imaginary fence-line that puts me right on the edge of not only two, but three states. Those states are Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Oregon is only 15 minutes from my house. Idaho is about an hour and a half.

Really, my life is good. So, when I complain about something you should know that I’m one of the lucky ones who can jump over the “fence”.

The barred and empty shelves in my neighborh store
all prepared to receive booze in the next few days.
What I’m preparing for is the Y2K of Washington State liquor sales. Washington State voters passed Initiative 1183 last fall resoundingly! WoooHooo!! Now they have to live with it. On June 1st the state run liquor stores that have been in business in this state for longer than I’ve been alive will be closed immediately. Taking their place will be.... Well, we’re not sure yet who that will be.

We do know for sure that Costco, who put millions into the campaign, and several other large grocery and drug stores will be able to sell because they are over the square footage limit. Other stores that will also qualify to sell are small outlets in underpopulated areas, and state liquor stores that have been auctioned off to private individuals.

Doesn’t seem to be a problem. You’d think? Well, the problem is that the state will control liquor sales until the 1st of June. Then close their doors. On that date, the new establishments will be put in lock stock charge of sales. This shouldn’t be a problem except that there is no real solid plan for transition, transportation, or distribution to the new stores.

Many of the large stores are just now drawing up plan-o-grams and buying shelving. The state run stores are running out of stock. And, the state employees that we dropped on their heads are either dreaming of retirement or looking to get a job at one of the new stores.

I went shopping this morning for a big event we’re having next weekend. One of the things on the menu was Margaritas. Yum! Well, it almost wasn’t. The selection of alcohol is nearly nonexistent in the state run stores, with no plan to update stock. They’re selling out.

Nobody is talking about this, but Washington State has pretty much created it’s own short-term prohibition. Good luck buying alcohol for the next few weeks while the companies, state, and distributors figure all this out. You simply won’t be able to buy booze in this state very soon. We voted for cheap booze, and are going to get no booze!

I know that booze is on its way to stores soon. All the greedy masses are lining up to sell it to you at higher...yes, I said higher prices than you’ve seen before. Distributors that I’ve talked to have said that they are dealing with corporate greed like never before. Asking for deeper discounts and taking larger profit cuts than the state ever did. Why? Because we also voted major changes in price posting which controlled corporate greed.

My recommendation is go go out and buy everything you plan on drinking this summer right now. Don’t hold back! Personally, I’m planning on surrounding myself in my compound with booze, limes, and tomato juice and not coming out until this apocalypse is over! Or, I’ll just drive to Hermiston and buy a bottle.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Rose’s Are In Full Bloom This Year

 As I look at the weather bug on my phone this week I keep getting freeze warnings for the next few days. At the same time, over the past few days and weeks it has been a burgeoning summer already, with a few days last week over 90 degrees. Welcome to spring in the Northwest!
Maison Bleue and Longshadows Rose's
The crazy thing about these springtime days and evenings around here, is that you don’t know what you’re going to get. You don’t know if you’re going to be in your bikini, or in a sweater from moment to moment.
My recommendation during these few crazy weather weeks of the year is to dress in layers, and drink Rose’.
Why Rose’? The reason is simple, yet the wine is complex. Rose’s are truly a wine made from red grapes, with all the complexity of red wine. Yet, at the same time, the wine is not as heavy and tannic as you would normally find those grapes producing. It is a highly complicated wine to produce. Yet, at the same time, the wines are usually less expensive than their dark-red partners.
One thing that is kind of wild about Rose’s is that the wine is very hand-crafted, and can change dramatically from vintage to vintage. It is usually bottled in early spring, and sells out of the wineries and shops by early summer.
Definitely something you need to know if you buy a bottle now, and decide to go back for more later. You don’t want to wait too long. The good stuff flies off the shelves early and doesn’t come back till next year.
I did a little survey among a few wine shop staff, and my wino peeps out there these past few weeks. I also did a little taste testing of my own. These are the must drinks that I’ve been hearing about in the market this year:
The Rose’ that went over huge at Taste Washington this year was Maison Bleue’s Rose of Mourvedre. It was explained to me by a couple of my serious wino friends as being “OMG Good!”. I went and bought some at my neighborhood wine shop and was a little freaked at the $20 price tag, but when I tasted it I have to say I agreed with the reviews. Jon, the winemaker makes his Rose’ in a Bandol style which is bone dry.
Another one that is getting raves this season is Juliette’s Dazzle. This one, made by Dolan & Weiss (Long Shadows) from Walla Walla, is selling off the shelves well. I bought some but haven’t tasted it yet. The bottle is cool though!
A couple that have been produced beautifully season after season for years are Barnard Griffin and Maryhill’s Rose’s of Sangiovese. Both are off the shelf for around $10 and are never fail favorites every year. I’ve had a bottle of each this year and love the balance of fruit and acidity in these wines.
Several of my Facebook friends voted Martinez and Martinez as their Rose’ of the season. I personally loved it last year, and look forward to trying their Rose’ again this year.
Along with that, a few of my friends voted Kestrel has having an amazing Rose’ this season. My friend Scott Abernathy hosted a brown bag event recently and said that Kestrel, Martinez & Martinez, and Jones of Washington won the votes amongst some pretty experienced palates.
Another friend, Kace Allen, from Southern Oregon said that his wife loves Sweet Cheeks Winery’s Rose this year. Next time I’m in the Willamette Valley I’m going to check that one out!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wine To Your Mother

My adorable mother, who has endured everything, including
being the subject of my blog!
As much as I hate to admit it, I’m pretty much your typical guy.

I like to think of myself as some special hybrid product of the 1970s and 80s, with a lifetime of daytime talk show hosts and self help books to make men more fragile, sympathetic, and empathetic with the plight of the common female. Somehow, I’m more sensitive than the other men around me.

Truth is, when it comes to special events like anniversaries, birthdays, and especially Mother’s Day I become pretty much the typical blithering male who doesn’t go and buy a card or gift until midnight the night before the big event.

Honestly, it wasn’t until I read an article from a female wine blogger this week that I realized that it is mother’s day next weekend. At least I’m a week ahead of the other dweebs with XY chromosomes out there!

So, I know most of us will be out there looking to buy mom a gift this week. I know that I need to myself. But, as you know, I won’t be purchasing anything until next Saturday night. If you’re challenged in that way, just cut out this article and tape it to your dashboard until next week.

There are two types of mothers out there. Those who drink, and those who don’t . You can usually tell the ones who do. They have an extra lilt in their step even when everything else seems to go wrong. It’s as if they are oblivious from all the yelling in the backseat, puke on their shoulder, and their bra being used as a slingshot for Barbie and Ken. They’ve achieved a special zen from living better through chemistry.

If your mom is a wine drinker you’ll usually already know what kind of wine she likes to drink. I’m always amazed at how opinionated people can be about drinking only “red” or “white” wines. However, if you don’t pay that close of attention to your mom I have some suggestions as well.

First, if your mom is a hard core wine drinker you won’t want to go to Rite Aid and just pick up any old bottle from the bottom shelf. Put down the Barefoot Moscato there Bubba and step away slowly.

Your mom is probably a little more defined in her tastes than that if she’s drinking wine on a regular basis. I highly recommend that you go to a wine shop or a local winery tasting room and purchase her something a little more special. The nice thing is that Spring Release just happened these past few weeks and most of the wineries in the region have just popped out several brand new labels that will likely make a discerning mom squeal with joy.

If your mom is like mine. An old, cigarette smoking, bar hugging, tavern frau (just kidding you!) you might want to consider buying her wine in a box. Otherwise, I wouldn’t recommend any form of bulk wine purchase for the woman who changed your pee pants.

If mom is a red wine drinker, I suggest getting her a nice bottle of red wine such as a Merlot or Red Blend wine. I've picked up a huge number of under $15 bottles from the Northwest red blends recently, and with a few exceptions I've been pretty darned impressed. 

If your mom only likes sweet wine I suggest picking her up a nice Moscato or Late Harvest Riesling. There are several great wines from this region that are sweet. They range from $7 to over $400.  The amount you spend depends on your level of guilt left over from your evil teen years.

I wouldn’t personally use Mother’s day as a time to “enhance” momma’s drinking experience by purchasing her a 50 year old bottle of Chateau Expensive. Just get her a nice bottle of wine that says I love you in liquid form.

Happy Mother's Day!

Honesty, Ethics, and Wine Writing

Bad Blogger!!  No Wine For You!!
I don’t normally spend my words, or your precious time writing about other wine writers. But, what the heck, I’m feeling a little spunky today!

If you are looking to be REALLY informed on the wine industry from all angles you should be reading a blog called Palate Press. This blog is respectfully one of the best information sources for the entire industry. Someday, maybe when I grow up, I’ll be good enough to have my articles post there. Then I’ll know I’ve arrived.

Anyway, this week there was a fantastic op. ed. piece by Evan Dawson, an ABC news anchor from Rochester New York, and wine writer. I’ll let you read Evan’s column yourself, however, in a nutshell he talks about a storm brewing around the famed Robert Parker and James Suckling. Both are world renowned wine writers that everyone bows to.

At issue is something that goes on all over the wine writing world. That is, you give me a bottle of wine, and chances are higher that I’ll drink it. Take me to a nice dinner with your wines and the chances are even greater. Fly me to your winery, take me to your vineyard, and feed me a specially prepared 5 star meal paired with your wines and it’s pretty much a slam dunk!

Not only will us wine writers write you up, but chances are we’re going to be strongly favorable to your wares. Combine that with mine, and many other’s policies of “do no harm” and the worst thing that could happen is that we just don’t do an article, or skip on the wines we didn’t like.

I think that the worst I ever heard happen was a story told by Marvin Shackman from Wine Spectator when he said that the Gallo Brothers found him on the beach on family vacation and wanted to know why their wine only scored in the 80s. Marvin, who has impeccable integrity, told them that if they wanted 90s they should turn in better wine.

Well, Parker and Suckling, were found to be doing this kind of behavior, and even collecting fees for favorable write ups, which goes beyond accepting a free tasting. Suckling had one incidence of accepting a $24,000 bribe.

The worst comes in the denial. Both Parker and Suckling are suing an threatening suits because other journalists found them out. If you don’t think that will make their write ups and scores worth a dung heap I don’t know what will.

I am not a big writer like those guys. I only really do it as a hobby for the most part. If I were to buy the thousands of dollars in wine that I drink each year for my Eastern Oregonian wages ($0 to date) I would have to be destitute or a millionaire.

This is my promise to you. I will be honest with you at all times. If someone gives me a bottle to write up I’ll always let you know it. If they buy me dinner I’ll be sure and mention it. If they fly me to their private estate and serve me on golden platters I’ll rave about it. That is my promise to you as a wine writer with a few shreds of integrity left.

Until, next week...Enjoy!