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‘Metal Impressions’ photo exhibit by Richard Duval opens Friday in Spokane

Posted in Events, Magazines, Marketing, Vineyards

If you like breathtaking imagery of wine country – and who doesn’t? – then this one’s for you.

Richard Duval, the dean of Washington wine country photographers, unveils a new fine art series, “Metal Impressions,” Friday in the Nectar Tasting Room in Spokane.

The series features Duval’s focus on capturing enlargements of stunning vineyard and travel images on metal media. The process for creating these presentations sounds fascinating, even for a lay person like me who chugs along with a semi-primitive point-and-shoot camera.

Duval first prints the images on metallic-coated photo paper. The images are then fused to a thin plate of aluminum and affixed with a novel hanging system that enables the prints to be nearly flush with the surface yet display in a contemporary manner without a visible mat or frame.

Duval sometimes enhances the images with sophisticated digital editing tools to subtly alter colors and textures in order to emphasize the artistic characteristics of each image. As a result, the pieces in the show, shot in Washington, Oregon and Italy, look more like works on fine art than mere photographs.

One example: his “Harvest Moon” image, posted below. It’s actually a composite of three different exposures captured at dawn when the moon was setting over Sagemoor Vineyard near the Tri-Cities.

“So much of my imagery – particularly my wine subjects – is defined by vivid color and strong contrasts between shadow and light,” said Duval, who also shoots and markets images in other industries. “Printing on metal media dramatically underscores these features and allows me to offer a finished print that is much more contemporary in its presentation than a traditional matted and framed print.  I’m aiming to capture a bit of the magic of the wine world for lovers of both wine and fine art photography.”

If you follow Washington wine, you’re probably familiar with Duval’s work. His pictures are seen in Washington Tasting Room magazine; Northwest Travel magazine; The Washington Wine Guide
(his image of the barrel room in Col Solare graces the cover); Scenic Washington
; Wine Spectator; Sip Northwest; Wine Enthusiast, Alaska Airlines magazine and a regular photo feature in Washington Wine Report.

The show in Spokane will run for a month. If you want to meet the man behind the lens, you’ll have your chance Friday at the opening night artist reception. Click here for info.

Harvest moon over Sagemoor Vineyard

FYI in the news: HHH vineyard land up for auction, proposed ‘Rocks’ AVA moves to comment period

Posted in Wineries

A couple of developing news stories involving Washington wine caught my eye recently.

First, the upcoming land auction of nearly 700 acres in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA will be fun to follow to see if it generates the same level of interest among out-of-state buyers (read: California) as the recent auction of prime vineyard property on Red Mountain.

The properties in question include Aldercreek and Windy Ridge vineyards. Nearly 340 acres are planted in different varietals and some of the grapes are under contract with Ste. Michelle until 2017. The property went into receivership in 2012 and has undergone some improvements since then, according to the auction listing.

While this area may not have the sex appeal of Red Mountain, it ain’t no ghetto when it comes to prime WaWine growing areas. Nearby vineyards include Champoux, Destiny Ridge, McKinley Springs and Canoe Ridge, just to name a few. The HHH appellation is gaining prestige by delivering grapes for heavyweights such as Quilceda Creek and rising-star boutiques such as Avennia and Alexandria Nicole. It also benefits greatly from the marketing efforts behind Columbia Crest’s lovely and affordable H3 wines, which stakes its brand directly with the AVA.

The auction is scheduled for April 4 – I look forward to seeing how this develops.

And speaking of AVAs, the comments period opened today for the proposed “Rocks District of Milton-Freewater” viticultural area in the Walla Walla Valley. The comment period runs through April 28.

There’s little mystery about this proposed appellation. (Sean Sullivan wrote a detailed focus report on the proposed AVA in Washington Wine Report and you can find plenty of additional articles via Google.) Some of the region’s hottest wineries, such as Cayuse and Reynvaan, rely heavily on the rocks and plenty of others – Sleight of Hand, Balboa and Watermill, to name a few – are delivering great juice from the Rocks.

Taste Washington reccs: Overlooked gems, fun brands & wines that cause a stampede

Posted in Events, Tourism, Wineries

Taste Washington, the annual two-day, all-you-can-consume wine/food fest, is upon us. If you’re attending and need guidance on how to enjoy and navigate the show, look here and here. Need reminders on how to behave yourself, click here. (Pay close attention to No. 6 – you don’t want to be that guy.)

And if you’re looking for some recommendations, read on.

The doors open at Taste Washington and thirsty patrons head for their favorite booths.

TasteWA stampede

Certain wineries attract a crowd as soon as the doors swing open and if you aren’t moving with the herd, you’re gonna get trampled. Giddy up, partner, if you want a taste from one of these guys.

Avennia: Probably the state’s hottest winery right now. Avennia blends an Old World winemaking focus with fruit from some of Washington’s oldest, most prestigious vineyards.  One taste, and it’s easy to see why Great Northwest Wine anointed them the “2014 Washington Winery to Watch.” The reds are seductive, but don’t miss the brilliant Sav Blanc, the only white in the portfolio.

Doubleback: Where else can you have former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe pour a glass of wine for you?

Figgins: Chris Figgins makes two wines for this gorgeous label – a crisp, bright Riesling and a blockbuster estate red blend. Act quickly – they’ll pour out in a heartbeat.

Gramercy: Supple, sleek, sublime – all great descriptors for Gramercy’s wines. Worth noting: Greg Harrington usually keeps something special under the table. Stems rule!

Spring Valley: All red, all estate, all the time. There’s a good reason that Wine Spectator listed SVV’s 2010 Uriah, a merlot-dominant blend, No. 27 on its list of the world’s top 100 wines. The Muleskinner merlot and Derby cab top my list.

And a few others: Andrew Will, Betz, Buty, Col Solare, Long Shadows, Northstar, Woodward Canyon

Fun factor goes to 11

These two days are more than just eating good food and drinking great wine. TasteWA is about fun, and these guys know how to bring it. Hang around their booths long enough and something wacky is likely to happen.

Alexandria Nicole: I swear, few people in Washington wine have more yuks than the ANC crew. Not sure what’s they’re pouring from a very broad portfolio, but keep your fingers crossed that it’s Mr. Big or their jammy Grenache.

Boudreaux: Winemaker Rob Newsom is hard to miss – white linen suit, no shoes and pouring his massive Reserve cab. A good time will be had by all.

Naches Heights Vineyards: Phil Cline isn’t bashful about promoting his NHV brand, which generally means he’s cooked up something lively for the big show. The wines, sourced from one of the state’s highest vineyards, reflect a playful spirit.

Sleight of Hand: Ask winemaker Trey Busch for a selfie with you. It just may get photo-bombed by Neil Patrick Harris or the bass player from Pearl Jam.

And a few others: Balboa, Guardian, Mark Ryan, Reininger, Va Piano, Skylite

Gems that you may have overlooked

Okay, suggesting that these wineries are ‘hidden gems’ is a little misleading. They have tons of disciples among the state’s wine crowd. It’s just that they may not be as well-known as some of their brethren, and that’s a shame.

Obelisco: Wines fit for Pharoah

Bunnell Family Cellars: Year after year, Ron Bunnell cranks out some of Washington’s best Rhones. For something special, check out Lia, a blend of Mourvedre, Grenache, Counoise and Syrah, or just go single varietal with the powerful, peppery Mourvedre.

Cote Bonneville: Hugh and Kathy Shiels are the good folks behind DuBrul Vineyard and they set aside some of their best grapes for the house brand, Cote Bonneville. Daughter / winemaker Kerry delivers big muscular reds, but don’t overlook the Cab Franc Rose.

Double Canyon: I swear these guys poured one of the best wines I tasted at Taste WA 2013. Can’t wait to see what they uncork this year.

Obelisco: Doug Long has taken his family’s Napa pedigree (David Arthur, Montagna) and applied it to Washington. Obelisco’s big reds, resourced primarily from its estate vineyard on Red Mountain, are balanced, juicy and delicious. The winery recently closed its mailing list due to demand.

Swiftwater: Linda Trotta spent 20 years as Director of Winemaking and Wine Growing at Gundlach Bundschu before taking over winemaking responsibilities at Swiftwater in 2010, and her recent efforts have been nothing short of stunning. At the 2014 SF Chronicle Wine Competition in January, Swiftwater’s 2010 Malbec won best of class and its 2012 No. 9 Riesling was named best in class and top overall dry Riesling.  (Worth nothing: Swiftwater is unique at Taste Washington, as its wines will be paired with particular food bites from the Hoist House, the winery’s award-winning restaurant. The booths will be side-by-side.)

W.T. Vintners: Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen recently was named Seattle’s top somm. He also knows something about winemaking. Get a heavy pour of his mineral-driven Grüner-Veltliner and head directly to the oyster bar.

And a few others: Cadaretta, Five Star, Sheridan, Soos Creek, Syncline

Tried, true & terrific

Certain wineries just don’t miss, which make them a joy to visit at large tasting events.

Ste. Michelle: They may be the 800-pound gorilla of Washington wine, but do you really care? CSM delivers excellent juice across the board, and their Eroica Riesling goes toe-to-toe with any on the planet.

Seven Hills: One of Walla Walla’s pioneers that helped kick off the region’s wine industry 30 years ago. If Casey and Vicky McClellan are pouring Pentad, their exquisite Bordeaux blend, I won’t be moving far from their booth.

And a few others: Maryhill, Pepper Bridge, Walla Walla Vintners

Taste Washington, the nation’s largest single-region wine and food event, will be held March 29-30 at the Century Link Field Event Center in Seattle. Tickets are still available. I’ll be reporting from the event both days via @Bob_Silver.

Wine commission shops for video vendors to help market Washington’s wine industry

Posted in Marketing, Social Media

Will 2014 be the year of the video for Washington wine? It certainly seems so.

The state’s wine commission recently wrapped up an RFP to engage a photographer and videographer who will provide the commission with high-quality imagery and video content to help market the state’s wine industry. The goal, according to the formal request for proposals issued in early January, is simple:

“… develop a collection of photographs and video content that effectively tells the story of Washington State Wine. A high percentage of people in the target audience have never visited Washington State wine country in person, and one of our biggest challenges is a pervasive misperception of what Washington wine county [sic] looks like. A high quality collection of images and videos that capture the year-round story, style, and personality of the industry … will allow the WSWC to tell the story of our industry far more effectively.

“The scope of material should include all four seasons and effectively capture the year-round cycle of winemaking and grape growing.”

The commission is set to award the contract, worth $100,000, in early February and work would begin in March. No word on how many proposals were submitted or who won the bake-off, but I have to assume those announcements are forthcoming from the public agency.

Video content isn’t new to the marketing toolbox for wine regions or for individual wineries.

For wine regions, the leader in the clubhouse is Paso Robles with more than 20 fun videos featuring PasoWineMan. The guy in the white linen suit (actor Casey Biggs) brings Paso’s personality to life while entertaining and educating at the same time. The cream of Paso’s video crop introduces viewers to various wine varietals produced by Paso winemakers and has received nearly 130,000 views on YouTube.

The Idaho Wine Commission recently released a terrific, tongue-in-cheek video using Idaho’s famous potatoes to promote the state’s growing wine industry. Posted on YouTube in mid-January, the video already has nearly 9,000 views.

When it comes to individual wineries, Jordan Winery in Sonoma County has set a high bar for years. Led by communications director Lisa Mattson, Jordan’s video team regularly cranks out clever, high-quality videos that use original content or repurpose existing video from other sources.

Prior to Super Bowl, Jordan dropped an entertaining NFL send-up to subtly market Jordan as a beverage of choice for the big game. (Seahawk fans will love the shot of 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh at the :29 second mark. Talk about winey… I mean, whiny.) When Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ was all the radio rage last summer, Jordan came out with its own version, ‘Blurred Vines,’ starring company CEO John Jordan.

Several Washington wineries have dabbled in video – the Big Dipper Chronicles from Northstar come to mind, and L’Ecole No. 41 and Alexandria Nicole have notable YouTube channels. But my favorite WaWine videos come from Gramercy Cellars. Owner/ winemaker Greg Harrington puts his achingly dry wit on display he uses Hitler as a pitchman for Gramercy’s booth at Taste Washington. Harrington followed that up with a crisply edited video to announce Gramercy’s selection by Food & Wine as the Best New Winery in 2010.

I want my John Lewis syrah now!

Interesting aside about Harrington’s Hitler video: After wine critic Janis Robinson mentioned in a tweet, hundreds of people started clicking on the video and Gramercy picked up 500 new subscribers to its mailing list.

The most effective videos share some commonality. The content is fun, engaging, timely and most importantly, imminently shareable via social channels. Many of them focus squarely on consumers, but it seems unlikely that the wine commission’s upcoming video efforts will follow suit.

The commission’s strategic marketing plan for Washington’s wine industry targets the wine trade and the wine media, and the request for proposal clearly prioritized the targets for this work as trade, media and consumers, in that order.

It remains to be seen whether a harried, over-worked somm or a cranky underpaid editor will recommend more Washington wine after watching YouTube videos about Walla Walla or the Yakima Valley. Regardless of where this leads, it’s good to see the wine commission joining the video party and it will be fun to see the work that the selected vendors turn out.

Do you have some favorite videos from wineries? If so, please share – I’d love to see them.


Planning the 2014 itinerary for Washington wine: Around our house, it’s a labor of love

Posted in Events, Tourism, Wineries

Now that this and this are behind us, I’m starting to fill our 2014 calendar with other activities beyond family stuff, work and recreation. One thing that keeps me going during the long wet darkness of the Pacific Northwest winter is planning the annual wine itinerary. Here’s what’s on my mind for Q1 2014, and beyond:

Avennia Release Weekend, Feb. 8-9 – Avennia has become one of Washington’s hottest wine brands and with good reason: The wines are stunning – Old World sensibilities that pay homage to the gorgeous fruit from some of Washington’s best vineyards. Avennia doesn’t have a tasting room so the best opportunity to taste the wines is to attend one of their release weekends at the winery in Woodinville’s warehouse district.

These are low-key affairs – lots of focus on the wines, and a chance to chat up partners Marty Taucher and Chris Peterson. You’ll need an invite, but that’s easy peasy – just ping Marty via the Avennia web site or on Facebook, and sign up for the Avennia mailing list. You’ll want to do that anyway – the Avennia list likely will close sooner than later and you won’t want to be left out.

Walla Walla Wine @ McCaw Hall, Feb. 10Walla Walla wine is making its annual marketing visit to Seattle and with 50+ wineries pouring, it’s an excellent opportunity to get a heavy dose of W2 wines without making the four-hour drive to the valley. Tickets are still available and are terrific bargains at $50 per. Organizers are offering a nifty discount with six tickets or more.

Seattle Wine & Food Experience, Feb. 23 – Few wine events in the Pacific Northwest rival Taste Washington and this is one of them. In fact, in some ways, SWFE surpasses TW. While TW focuses solely on Washington wines (see below), SWFE represents wineries from California, Oregon, Idaho and a handful of international offerings (Portuguese port, anyone?), plus sections of the room dedicated to artisan ciders and spirits. Toss in a spectacular food line-up and you have the ingredients for a memorable bacchanalian afternoon. VIP tix are sold out, but GA tickets are available and a steal at $55. My only regret – I’m out of town this weekend.

Grape Killers’ Gala, Feb. 23 – When the SWFE party ends, why not jump into a cab and head over to Spazzo in Redmond for a nightcap at the Grape Killers’ Gala. The Grape Killers are a band of Woodinville winemakers with excellent wines to back up the swagger that the name suggests. Sorry that I’ll be missing this one, too. Knowing many of these guys, I’m guessing that this one has the potential to go way over the top.

Quilceda Creek Release Weekend, March 15 – I’m not the QC list and have always been interested in visiting the winery on the one weekend it’s actually open. So when a friend extended an invite, I jumped. Can you blame me?

Balboa wine dinner, Doc’s Marina Grill, March – Gotta plug the home team here on Bainbridge Island. The island is developing a rep as a dining destination and while Doc’s isn’t always mentioned in the same breath as Hitchcock, Marche or Four Swallows, it turns out some excellent fare in a lovely waterfront setting. It’s also been offering a fine lineup of wine dinners – something that other island restaurants aren’t yet doing.

Doc’s offers a five-course dinner paired with excellent wines at a waterfront spot within walking distance of the ferry. These dinners are a bargain at $65, about half of the going price for something similar in Seattle, Portland or Walla Walla. The dinners are offered at both Doc’s locations – Bainbridge Island and Port Townsend.

Swiftwater Cellars stopped by in January and Forgeron Cellars is on tap for February. But I have my sights set on March, when Balboa comes to town. I enjoy the wines from owner / winemaker Tom Glase and that fact that he’s a Bainbridge High grad is an added bonus.

Taste Washington, March 29-30 – This is the granddaddy of them all – the Rose Bowl of Washington wine events. It’s the nation’s largest single-region wine and food event and while it’s a bit pricy, it’s still a great way to sample a vast cross-section of the state’s wineries and some of the region’s best restaurants.

To be honest, TW was starting to feel a little tired several years ago, but Visit Seattle partnered with the Wine Commission in late 2011 to help produce the event and it seemed to have more life and energy in the past two years. I’m looking forward to seeing how this year’s event comes off.

Cayuse Weekend, April 4-6 – Several years ago, I received an email congratulating me on getting onto the Cayuse allocation list and to this day, I’m convinced that Christophe and Trevor confused me with someone else. But who’s complaining? We love heading over to Walla Walla in early April – the weather usually is warm enough for a bike ride or two, we load up the back of the Denali with some gorgeous wines and we get to spend a couple of days (and nights) catching up with good friends.

Keep in mind that this is by no means all inclusive of upcoming wine events in Washington – only a small, personal sampling. Nearly every region has an event in February focused on red wine and chocolate and spring release events are on tap for Walla Walla, Woodinville, Yakima Valley and Lake Chelan, among others. Additionally, nearly every winery has special events – releases, dinners and other fun stuff – scheduled throughout the year.

So that’s what our calendar looks like so far, and we already have some things penciled in for later in the year. I’d love to hear what’s on your wine itinerary in 2014.

Woodinville by the numbers: Are there really nearly 200 wineries in the ‘hood?

Posted in Wineries

After I finished a couple of media interviews with a winery client in Woodinville this past weekend, I spent some time visiting a few other wineries in the warehouse and Hollywood schoolhouse districts. This eye-popping statistic came up during a conversation with a TR manager:

“Did you know that from where we’re standing,” he said, looking out at the schoolhouse roundabout, “that there are more than one hundred wineries within a three-mile radius?” His colleague overheard the comment and amended it. “Actually, I heard there is more than that – like 170 or so.”

The lower number is realistic. The membership roster on the Woodinville Wine Country website lists about 80 members and as in any wine region, not all of the wineries are members of the local regional association. Off the top of my head, I can think of five or so wineries that are missing from the WWC list, so another 15 or 20 doesn’t seem out of the question. But 170?

I’ve long thought that Woodinville offers the most diverse and interesting urban wine experience in the United States and the idea of 100+ wineries about six miles or less apart reinforces that. If the number goes way north from there, it would absolutely seal the deal.

Are there nearly 200 wineries operating in Woodinville? What do you think? And is that a good or bad thing for the area and community?

Billions and billions: Shot from International Space Station shows Woodinville wineries lit up on a recent weekend.


Celebrate Walla Walla: An opportunity to make a new vintage of wine memories in the valley

Posted in Events, Interviews, Wineries

Vintage memories of Vintage Walla Walla:

Chuck Reininger cracking wise with Rick Small during the Vintage tasting of old WW juice, looking at the legendary winemaker from Woodward Canyon over the edge of a glass of Woody’s Old Vines cab and asking with a wry smile, “Who made this swill?”


A walking tour of Mill Creek Upland Vineyard guided by Chris Figgins, then participating in a squirt gun fight over a vineyard lunch in 95-degree heat of late spring in the valley.


Sitting around a roaring bonfire, bundled against the evening chill on a windy, starry June evening and wondering if it was possible to see all the way to Japan from the wheat-covered hilltops north of Walla Walla.

Or …

Following winemaker Dave Merfeld through the Northstar barrel room and into the winery lab for a comparative tasting of samples that would become Northstar mainstays in a few years.


Enjoying music, wine and the company of friends on a warm evening at a couple of small tables after midnight in the Marcus Whitman parking lot and wondering if Kyle Mussman was going to break up the party, only to have him join in when he walked up.


Well, you get the picture. Vintage Walla Walla was one of those annual events that helped generate lifelong memories about Washington wines. (The accompanying photos illustrate some of our memories from Vintage WW 2010.)

So my heart cracked a little a couple of years ago when the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance announced that it was replacing VWW with an event called Celebrate Walla Walla Wine. Because Celebrate is a new event, I won’t speculate on what’s ahead this weekend, other than to say the itinerary looks terrific. Here’s what wine alliance boss Duane Wollmuth had to say recently in a brief email interview.

WAWinePR: What is it that makes Celebrate WW special? Other events have great wines, great winemakers, and a great setting – what’s makes this one something that a wine lover shouldn’t miss?

Duane Wollmuth: Well, several things.  Of course, the key is a special focus on Cab this year and the Walla Walla-Napa Valley comparison.  The Cab focus will only be on Friday, however, so attendees will have plenty of opportunities to take and enjoy all other WW wines. Of the six activities taking place over the three days, the feature is the Winemaker Panel, chaired by Paul Gregutt and consisting of three of WW’s premier winemakers/wineries.  The comparison will be between 2009 cabs made specifically from Walla Walla and Napa grapes.  No Columbia Valley grapes, so the winemaker panel is a unique opportunity to taste a head-to-head comparison.

Another attraction is the participation of two of IntoWine.com’s top 100 most influential people in the U.S. wine industry, Patrick Comiskey and Paul Gregutt.

The Vintage pour on Thursday afternoon at Corliss will be wines from the 2006 vintage or earlier.  For the first time, a number of these wineries will be making a small quantity of these wines available for purchase over the weekend for those attending the vintage pour. The Thursday Vintage Pour and Meet the Winemakers wine reception and dinner will take place at Corliss Estates Winery.  This will be a special opportunity to see and experience the Corliss winery and property, as they are not normally open to the public.

WWPR: I’m coming in for the weekend and plan to attend some of the Celebrate WW events – what else do you recommend besides wine tasting?

DW: There are a handful of other activities going on in the community. Here are a few suggestions: Lunch at the Reserve House at Woodward Canyon Winery. (Friday – Sunday, 11:30 – 3 p.m.); A special Riedel wine glass tasting with Georg Riedel Saturday at Pepper Bridge Winery with Georg Riedel; the Walla Walla Farmer’s Market Saturday and Sunday at 4th & Main; the Downtown Summer Concert Series on Saturday and Sunday on the corner of 1st & Main; the living history performance Saturday and Sunday at the Fort Walla Walla Museum.

And many of our wineries are doing special tastings and events – Dusted Valley is having a 10-year anniversary celebration, Forgeron Cellars is doing a vertical tasting of vintage cabs, and SYZYGY is tasting through some of their library wines.

WWPR: This event is all about Cabernet, but if I love white wine, what’s in it for me?

DW: As I mentioned, the focus on Cab is only on Friday.  The vintage tasting on Thursday will include some other varieties as well as will the Meet the Winemakers and Dinner in the Corliss Estates courtyard.  About 60 wineries will be pouring current releases of all varieties so there will be plenty of white and rose wines available.  There also will be ample time over the weekend to visit the Valley’s wineries and taste their wines of any variety.

WWPR: Washington vs. California – what, in your opinion, are the things I should look for when I taste these wines? What makes WA cabernet stand out vs. California Cab, and vice versa?

(Duane deferred this answer to Pepper Bridge winemaker Jean-Francois Pellet. Here’s what JF had to say): The goal here is not to say that one is better than the other. The whole idea behind Celebrate is to expose consumers to different varietals every year. Next year, it will be Syrah. You may notice some differences due to growing regions and the style of the winemaker. But it’s not a tasting to show how good we are. We want to show that cabernets made in different parts of the world are different, but they are all good.

WWPR: If I want to get an autograph for a WA or CA rock star winemaker, who should I look for? And what is the one question I should / or shouldn’t ask them?

DW: I’ll leave this one up to you.  There will be about 70 wineries involved in the weekend.  Who the “rock” stars or can’t miss winemakers are is up to the beholder.  Like my kids, I don’t have any favorites.  Nice political answer, huh?

Celebrate Walla Walla Wine runs Thursday through Sunday. Although many of the winemaker dinners are sold out, Wollmuth said tickets remain for the other events. Why not take a quick impromptu trip over to the Walla Walla Valley this weekend and make some memories of your own.



This weekend’s Revelry on Red Mountain: Sun, scenery and great WA wine, all for a terrific cause

Posted in Events, Non-profits, Wineries

Looking out at this morning’s November-like weather got me to thinking: Where could I go this long Memorial Day weekend for a quick stay-cation that offers sunshine, warm temperatures and of course, some excellent Washington wines?

The answer is simple: Revelry on Red Mountain, one of the signature events for the Auction of Washington Wines. This is one of my favorite wine-related events each year in the Pacific Northwest.

Yakima Valley sunset from the Col Solare patio

For us wine geeks who are passionate about Washington wines, Revelry pretty much has it all.

Setting? Check! It’s on the patio at Col Solare, overlooking the Red Mountain AVA and the gorgeous Yakima River valley. It has breathtaking scenery in spades.

Weather? Check! The weekend forecast looks perfect, with temps in the mid-70s and zero percent chance of rain. That’s right, z-e-r-o percent.

Food? Check! Culinary operations this year are being handled by Olive Catering. If you’re a fan of Jake Crenshaw’s Olive Marketplace in downtown Walla Walla, you’re gonna love this spread.

Wine? Double-check! The winery lineup this year is killer and if experience tells us anything, it’s that the winemakers usually have some extra special tucked under the table.

This year Sherri Swingle and her staff at the Auction have kicked it up a notch by adding a fun event on Sunday: A walking tour through the Kiona vineyards on Red Mountain, followed by a farm-to-table lunch hosted by Charlie Hoppes at Fidelitas and capped with a comparative tasting of older vintages of Red Mountain wines. Sigh!

As with all Auction-related events, the added bonus of Revelry is the support you provide to Seattle Children’s Hospital and also to the state’s wine industry through WSU’s burgeoning viticulture and enology program. You get to enjoy great wines in a great setting and benefit great organizations at the same time? How can you say no?

The main event on Saturday night is a steal at less than $100 per person, and there are some great packages including accommodations and transportation. Click here for tickets.

Remains of the Day: Wine-drenched observations gathered from the floor at Taste Washington 2013

Posted in Events, Wineries

In no particular order, a handful of notes and observations swept up from the floor of the 2013 version of Taste Washington.

Taste Washington is a great opportunity for wineries to show off something new. Here’s one that stuck with me – the sleek, elegant new labels from the Brothers Rawn at Two Mountain.

Not Rick Small

Talk about sartorial splendor: Rick Small, Woodward Canyon’s fearless leader, rocked a hip, back-facing cap atop his clean-shaven head while working Woody’s booth. Gotta love a bald man with style! Honorable mention in the wardrobe department went to Serge Laville from Spring Valley, who was smartly dressed in a plaid shirt and plaid sport coat. It takes a Frenchman to pull that off, n’est pas?

The sublime spicy fried pickles from Relish Burger Bistro. Who knew?

Favorite wine that I met for the first time at 2013 Taste Washington? Easy pick – 2010 Cab Sauv from Double Canyon. Big honkin’ fruit from Horse Heaven Hills, wonderful structure and balance. A sister property to Oregon’s stellar Archery Summit, Double Canyon is destined to become a very big deal among us lovers of Big Reds.

Did someone say Big Reds? Obelisco delivers plenty of them from its estate vineyard on Red Mountain. But I was smitten by Doug Long’s chardonnay. It was one of several excellent whites that rose to the occasion on Sunday.

Did someone say rose? No, someone said rosé, rosé, rosé! Ross Andrew, Cote Bonneville, L’Ecole and a host of others poured their new Rosés. Just another sign that spring has arrived in Washington.

I didn’t catch the seminar that celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Yakima Valley AVA, but I loved the major-league props for Avennia from star industry blogger W. Blake Gray. (Aren’t familiar with Blake Gray? You should be – here’s a Q&A I did with him earlier this year.)

Rock-star somm Rajat Parr from Mina Wine Group (aka RN74 in Seattle) recently emphasized the importance of storytelling within a wine’s brand. The best story I heard all weekend is attached to Obelisco’s high-end red blend. Nefer III. It involves Egyptian beauty on the inside and out, clay pots marked for vineyards and vintages, and so on. Talk about a great way to make a brand memorable.

Speaking of RN74, general manager Eric Perlin worked the restaurant’s booth Sunday on the show floor. It was a bit of a swan song – Perlin moves this week to San Francisco, where he’ll be opening a new restaurant for the Mina Group. Under Perlin’s guidance and aided by the steady hand of lead somm Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen, RN74 has quickly become the epicenter of the wine/food scene in Seattle.

My vote for wine of the day: Cote Bonneville’s astonishing 2011 Riesling, sourced from their home turf at DuBrul Vineyard.

How fun to see Ted Baseler light up when he talks about 14Hands, Ste. Michelle runaway hit in the value-priced category. And why not – it’s perhaps the nation’s hottest wine brand.

I chuckled as one prominent winemaker tried to talk his way past security after he presented at one of the morning seminars and couldn’t find his badge amidst all of the stuff he was carrying. It was one of those ‘don’t you know who I am’ moments. I realize security is critical at any event involving alcohol, large crowds and the WSLCB. But a few of the gatekeepers were a little over the top – sort of like TSA screeners on steroids.

I stopped by the booth at Guardian Cellars to say hi to Jerry Riener. But he and his wife Jennifer had more important matters to deal with on Sunday – the birth of their first child, Josephine Isabelle.

Like any large trade event, Taste Washington swirls with bustling activity. If you stopped for a moment, what did you see?

  • Well, over there was Steve Warner moving from booth to booth to chat with the individual winemakers. More than 220 wineries attended the Big Show, and it was great to see the wine commission’s chief work the room.
  • And over there was Greg Harrington pouring through a bunch of library selections at the Gramercy booth. “I wasn’t sure what we were going to pour this weekend, so I just started grabbing stuff out of the library,” he said.
  • And over there was Rob Newsom holding court out in front of the Boudreaux table. “I just sold 28 cases of wine to a Canadian buyer,” Rob told me. “He asked me, ‘How much of your wine should I buy?’ and I said ’28 cases.’ He said ‘Fine.’ I should have said 100.”

Sunflowers & cider at Finnriver

Cider is the hot new thing in the Northwest beverage scene, and Sunday’s cider seminar, led by the irrepressible Jamie Peha, was outstanding. Memorable moments: That first, luscious sip of apricot cider from Tieton Cider Works and renewing a love affair with Finnriver’s Artisan Sparkling Cider, which I first enjoyed several years ago at the Finnriver TR in Chimacum. (Editorial aside: Looking for a great short trip on a spring Sunday? Visit the Finnriver Farm & Cidery, then hit the nearby Sunday farmer’s market in Chimacum Corner.)

My taste buds are still reeling from the mind-blowing gazpacho from Tablas Woodstone Tavernas. They claim it only has six ingredients – tomatoes, cukes, green bell pepper, salt, cumin and olive oil – but I’m sure there was some crack thrown in. Nothing else could have made it so addictive.

And of course, my vote for wine of the day: Cote Bonneville’s astonishing 2011 Riesling sourced from their home turf at DuBrul Vineyard.

Finally, I don’t even want to think about all the wineries, winemakers and industry friends that I intended to visit, but didn’t – mostly due to bad planning and poor time management on my part. Good intentions are like … well, you know, and we all have them.

However, Taste Washington’s two-day format lends itself to a much more leisurely experience and I’m definitely signing up for the full weekend in 2014.






Heading to Taste Washington? Here’s how to make the most of the experience, part 2

Posted in Events, Wineries

That’s right, fellow wine lovers. Taste Washington, the mother of Washington wine events, is just a couple of days away. The format is simple – two days of education, socializing, great food and glorious wines at the Century Link Events Center. Last week I tapped the expertise of Washington wine’s head honcho for advice on how to how to best enjoy Taste WA. Here’s what Steve Warner, president of the Washington State Wine Commission, had to say.

Today’s offering polls the masses – a sampler of advice from some of the winemakers and media that will be attending the Big Show. Hey, these guys are professionals so they have to know what they’re doing, right? I’ve sorted their advice into different buckets, the first of which, appropriately, is the spit bucket.

Bucket No. 1 – SPIT, dammit!

“SPIT,” says Zach Brettler of SYZYGY and Anne Schafer of áMaurice, making the point emphatically in capital letters. Others are a little more verbose.

“Spit. If you spit, you can taste more wine, which is the point,” says W. Blake Gray, who writes the outstanding Gray Report and will be a panelist on several seminars this weekend. “You can get drunk easily enough when you’re ready, but it’s more fun to keep fresh longer by taking a little taste, swishing it around your mouth and spitting it out. It still tastes pretty good.”

“Don’t try to see too many wineries; you will never see them all,” says Ron Bunnell of Bunnell Family Cellars. “Spit! Don’t try to drink all the wines. That can be disastrous. Eat! Taste WA has an incredible array of restaurants, more than almost any other wine event of its kind. Drink … plenty of water! Above all, have fun!”

Two Washington wine legends, Rick Small of Woodward Canyon and Gordy Venneri of Walla Walla Vintners, took this whole spitting thing a little farther.

“Hydrate, even if you spit!” Small says. “Drink water throughout the entire event, and then go enjoy dinner in one of Seattle’s many great restaurants.”

“If you want to try a lot of wines ask for a small pour and don’t be afraid to spit on some of the wines,” Venneri says. “You can’t taste them all if you drink everything without spitting.”

And if this whole spitting thing worries you from a social etiquette perspective, fughggedaboutit, says veteran NW wine journalist Chris Nishiwaki.

“I know it is counter to proper table etiquette you’ve been taught,” Nish says. “At wine events spitting is actually the polite thing to do.”

Or you can dump – as in swirl, sniff, taste, spit and then dump the remainder of your glass into the spit bucket. “Dump, dump, dump,” advises Matt Rawn of Two Mountain.

Bucket No. 2: Plan in advance

Nearly all of the experts agree: Plan the work and work the plan.

“Go both days,” says Tom Glase of Balboa Winery. “There are so many wines and so much food that you really need two days. And having a plan and sticking to it is also helpful.”

Glase’s recommendation: Target 20 wineries to visit during the show. “Sure, it’s a lot, but probably doable if you have food and water,” he says. “Don’t try and do them all. Palate fatigue will keep you from the truth.”

Advance planning can make a huge difference at Taste Washington.

Ron Bunnell agrees. “Plan out a course through the hall that will get you to your favorite wineries first. Remember, the most popular and ‘cult’ wineries often pour out early. Pick maybe 15-20 wineries for this first assault. Take them in order, progressing across the hall. During this progression, make notes on wineries you would like to visit on the return journey. Hey, it’s all good exercise.”

Matt Rawn suggests a slightly different approach. “Be like Phish and ‘Bounce around the Room,'” he says. “The stupid hall typically is arranged in alphabetical order so it can be confusing. Start wherever and wander. Listen to the other attendees as to what is blowing their hair back and don’t be afraid to go try a suggestion.”

Plan ahead, recommends Yashar Shayan, superstar somm who formerly was wine director at The Willows Inn on Lummi Island and now is launching a new venture at ImpulseWine.com.

“A few days before Taste WA, go to their website and look at the list of participating wineries and other vendors you might be interested in,” Shayan says. “Make a game plan of which ones you want to go to for sure.  Ask yourself which ones are going to be most popular and get to them first before the lines build up and they run out of the good juice.”

“Check the list of participating wineries and create a schedule,” advises Ashley Bruton of Skylite Cellars. “Give yourself a plan of attack or else you may find yourself making circles or worse missing those wineries you don’t normally have a chance to taste on the West side.”

“Have a couple goals for the event, otherwise it kind of all blurs together,” says Clive Pursehouse of Northwest Wine Anthem. “Think about goals that you’d like to come away from Taste Washington with, and “buzzed” probably shouldn’t be on that list.”

Bucket No. 3: Expand your horizons

Open your eyes to new experiences at Taste WA.

“You already know your favorites, so why pay $85 to taste them again,” Matt Rawn says. “Instead, why not incorporate new (to you) wineries into your repertoire?  There are a lot of really, REALLY good wineries in the state … both well known and unknown.  Use this as a chance to educate yourself on us and where we are from, but educate us on what you like.  Basically, step out of your comfort zone; you may be surprised!!

“Don’t just go around trying all the same wineries you’ve already had and know are good,” Yashar Shayan says. “Go and try some you’ve never heard of. If you run into some friends or acquaintances, be sure and ask them if they’ve had anything they feel is a ‘must’ try.  I’ve do this all the time, and I’m surprise at how often I’ll get the same answer from a lot of different people, and I figure if multiple people are raving about it, then that’s one worth trekking to!”

“It’s impossible to try all the wines and the tendency is to go for the popular and/or expensive producers,” Chris Nishiwaki says. “Fight that urge and try wines you haven’t tried before. There will be wines at Taste WA that will not be available elsewhere. Take advantage of the opportunity.”

Bucket No. 4: The random bucket

“Ask questions and engage. Wineries are more than happy to pour, but it’s nice to know people aren’t there just to get drunk on ‘free’ wine.” (Matt Rawn)

“We stopped attending a few years back. It is a drunk-fest, in our opinion.” (Anonymous winemaker from Eastern WA)

Don’t go and start tasting on an empty stomach, especially if you’re not one for spitting.  Sample a few snacks first, before hitting up the vino.” (Yashar Shayan)

Bucket No. 5: Matt Dodson’s mom

A whole bunch of winemakers, bloggers and media folks respond to my call for advice, and perhaps my favorite responses came from Matt Dodson, the assistant winemaker at Alexandria Nicole Cellars. Well, not from Matt, technically. But from his mom.

Mother knows best when it comes to Taste WA!

“My mother asked me what I was doing on the computer before we ate dinner, and then offered some advice of her own,” Matt says. “It’s interesting since she is more on the consumer side and I was thinking of it from an industry standpoint.” So, without further ado, take it away, Mom:

“So many wines, so little time … so pace yourself.”

“It’s like taking a wine tour without needing to drive your car and spend money on gas.”

“There’s no way you can try everything and still have taste buds left at the end of the day.  So focus on wines you’ve never heard of or never had before.”

“300 wines and 200 restaurants … I’ve died and gone to heaven!”  (Actually, there are more than 225 wineries pouring north of 800 wines and 60 restaurants. But who’s counting, Mom, particularly after the first hour.)

“Sip and spit, sip and spit.  You’ll last longer that way!”

“Talk to the winery staff manning the tables.  You learn a lot about wines and they are such nice people!”

“Have fun. Wine and food is about enjoying yourself, so just go with the flow.”

Etcetera , Etcetera, Etcetera

Want more? Check out Taste WA previews on Washington Wine Report, Northwest Wine Anthem and Wine Peeps.