Seth Kitzke on Kitzke Cellars, Upsidedown Wine and so much more.

Kitzke Cellars Tasting Room Candy Mountain AVA

After checking out the Syrah out back, Seth walked us to the vines out front.  Here you walk between 2 vineyards, Kitzke‘s Candy Ridge vineyard and their neighbor Jim’s vineyard.  (You can read our previous piece in the back block here.)

Boulders the size of VW buses!

Out front is where Jim’s old vine stuff is as well as a bit of geological history.  Seth takes me to a spot where we can see a large piece of granite poking up through the ground.  Jim found it while he was planting the vineyard and thought he would pull it out.  As he started digging he realized it was bigger than he thought, approximately as big as a VW bus!  So…he covered it back up. This large boulder was likely part of the Missoula Flood that rolled through the Columbia Valley at the end of the last ice age.  With all that debris being swept down by the floods Seth says “Who knows what’s really under here?”  He’s found decomposed granite before.  It’s not common in Washington, it’s random, brought in by the floods. This boulder is chipped on the top.  From the mower Seth tells me. 

a large boulder just off of Kitzke's Candy Ridge Vineyard in Jim's yard
Boulders the size of VW Buses

Jim’s old vines

The Boulder sits next to a block of chardonnay that he believes is close to 30 years old. 

Jim also has cabernet sauvignon & merlot.  Seth says they get about 2 barrels of the old vine cab and one of the merlot.  Jim originally planted these just to make wine for himself.  He now sells to at home wine makers in smaller quantities.  He’s been known to even crush the grapes and ship them to Portland for clients.

Cab Franc Pet Nat

We talk about the cab franc on the lawn.  These plants get more water than the rest, due to the proximity to the lawn sprinklers.  So Seth decided to make a Pet Nat from them.  Pet Nat is short for petillant naturel, a light sparkling wine that has become popular (it’s a favorite of mine). It’s made by bottling the wine while it’s fermenting to capture the carbon dioxide, giving it a bit of effervescence.

Cab Franc on the lawn at Kitzke's Candy Ridge Vineyard
Cab Franc on the lawn at Kitzke’s Candy Ridge Vineyard

“I don’t want it (the cab franc) to go to waste just ‘cause it gets too much extra water.  When I was looking at the acids, the pH was low. It actually worked out pretty perfect for it.”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

They pick early and don’t thin this as much, so they get a heavier crop.  He found the pH was low so that seemed perfect.  He says it can be hard to get exact numbers on it, but he shoots for 21 to 22 brix.

Tasting with Seth Kitzke and more

Tasting with Seth Kitzke at Kitzke Cellars Candy Ridge Vineayard Washington
Tasting with Seth Kitzke at Kitzke Cellars

We did a tasting of both Kitzke wines and Upsidedown wines.  Everything they do, with the exception of their Method Red is vineyard designate.  The Method Red is a blend of cabernet, nebbiolo and either sangiovese or Malbec depending on the year.

Rescue rosé

  • Upsidedown Wines Rescue Rosé
  • Rescue Rosé notes fro Upsidedown Wine

We begin with discussing the Rescue Rosé which at this point is the only rosé of nebbiolo in Washington.  This is 100% nebbiolo that was grown specifically for this rosé. They crop at a higher tonnage.  Seth says they do the opposite of what they do with cabernet sauvignon.  Here they water during fruit set, trying to get bigger clusters and bigger berries.  More and larger clusters with more acidity is what they want, and they want to slow down the sugar accumulation.  This is whole cluster direct press, no skin contact and Seth cuts off the press when he feels it’s starting to be too astringent.  He notes that nebbiolo has thin skins, but those skins have quite a bit of tannin.  His wine making technique is low intervention so he does not use bentonite for stabilization or fining agents which would pull out some of the astringency.

Color and thin skins in Rosé

It seems strange that thinner skins often give more color.  “If you do something like a cab franc that has thicker skins…like Michael Savage, he does a cab franc he does a direct press and it has very little  but it has thicker skins”. With nebbiolo, the skins are so thin that it really leeches out the color.

Savage Grace Blanc Franc with Ranier cherries at Red Willow

Here is one of those wonderful coincidences in the universe.  This wine he was speaking of was Savage Grace Blanc Franc, which we actually tasted later that day, thanks to Jonathan and Mike Sauer of Red Willow Vineyard, we sipped this white cab franc at the Chapel with fresh Rainier cherries, watching sunset…

Seth is looking to make in a Provenće style rosé.  To create that big luscious mouthfeel with fruit, but keeping it dry, they do lots of lees aging in stainless.

Why is it called Rescue Rosé?

At Upsidedown Wines they work with a different non-profit with each wine through their Give Back program.  For the Rescue Rosé they work with the Humane Society.

The Syrah (artist series)

2016 Artist Series Syrah from Upsidedown Wine
2016 Artist Series Syrah from Upsidedown Wine

Seth poured us a syrah, and warned us that it would need to open up.  In fact, he swears that this syrah is best on day 3 after having been opened.  That’s when it really comes into it’s own.  This is from that east/west block of syrah in the back, closest to Candy Ridge.  100% syrah, they did 50% whole cluster in the 2016 vintage.  Since then they have opted for 100% whole cluster.  It’s neutral oak large format when possible, with lots of lees aging to create a style that feels like Northern Rhône to him. 

He loves the sense of garrigue and crunchy red fruit of the Northern Rhône.  Seth finds (similar to what we heard about cab sav from Justin Neufeld) that in Washington people are worried about picking early and getting too vegetal a flavor.)  They pick this earlier and end up with a syrah that sits at 13.3%. 

Oak, but not by choice

They have been integrating some new oak, not really out of choice.  He is trying to switch over to 500 liter puncheons and you don’t find those available used.  Those puncheons will just have to age and become neutral in his cellar over time. 

The syrah was really elegant.  Seth says if you pick early you get this coffee/smoky side that is really interesting.  He’s not sure what to attribute that too.  The spot where this block is, used to be where the neighbors orchard was and nearby was a big gravel pit.  The soil there almost looks like asphalt, like black gravel that has been conglomerated. 

Cab franc & labels

  • 2016 Kitzke Candy Ridge Vineyard Cab Franc
  • Back label of the Kitzke bottle.

The cab franc has a great back label with lots of details.  They use it on all of their Kitzke wines now.  It actually shows you what pH the fruit was picked at. This wine was 92% cabermet franc.  Typically it’s close to 100%. 

This cabernet franc also has the Candy Mountain label.  With the AVA on it’s way, he wanted to showcase where this sense of place in a timeless way. 

The labels at Upsidedown Wine are a bit more fun.  The artist series switches each year and they even play with bottle shapes.

This cab franc is one of Seth’s favorite wines from this vineyard.  It has good acid, a very cab franc feel, but a rich mouthfeel with the fruit.  Seth finds it hard to get the balance in Washington.  He finds some Red Mountain cab francs to be big, grainy and really rich, without the green bell pepper spice that he loves in a cab franc. He notes also that at the really cold sites the cab franc gets too thing and the green pepper then just dominates.  Getting the balance between these two versions can be tough.

’13 Monte

He pours for us the 2013 Monte Caramelle, which had been opened the day before.  It is 66% sangiovese, 18% cabernet sauvignon and 16% syrah.  It’s not a blend they do every year.  This is their Super Tuscan style wine.  Monte Caramelle, is Candy Mountain in Italian.  This vintage was made by Charlie Hoppes from Fidelitas Winery.  Seth worked with him to make the Kitzke wines in 2013 & 14 and then in 2015, Seth started to take the reins and adjust the wines more to his own style.  The 2013 is inoculated and has a shorter fermentation period.  With all of Seth’s wines now they are native yeast and 6-7 days to start fermenting with a slower cooler fermentation.

Hood River

We get talking about other things.  Seth has a busy week scheduled and is sad he couldn’t meet us in the Upsidedown tasting room in Hood River.  I ask him how they ended up there.

“I love Hood River.  I lived on Mt. Hood for a while 3 or 4 summers teaching snowboarding after highschool.  I used to do the…I was a semi-professional snowboarder. I’d teach and work at the summer camp there in the summers and then winters I’d take off from college and go film videos. So Mt. Hood and Hood Rivers always been a spot for me.”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

Seth looks at Hood River as a gateway to Washington Wine.  Yes….it’s on the Oregon side, but people fly to Portland and head out to the gorge and that’s where the vineyards start.  The Columbia Gorge AVA straddles the state line including both Washington and Oregon.

The Kitzke Tasting Room

For the Kitzke tasting room they wanted to be on the vineyard.

“we want to be able to walk you through the vineyard, we want you to come in the fall, you can taste a sangiovese grape you can taste the grapes and taste the wines and see the similarities side by side.  That’s more of our style, cause we’re growers at heart.”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

The benefits to making your wine near the vineyard

Seth lived in Seattle and didn’t want to do the Woodinville thing.  He had grown up around the grapes and wanted to be close.  He did his 2016 vintage in Seattle “everyday that the truck would bring the grapes was my favorite part.  Unloading the trucks you smelled all the fresh cut vines, the dirt…everything.  So you kind of felt like you were in the vineyard for a second.”

The downfalls to being so far from the vineyard…you schedule picks 6-7 days in advance and you don’t get to taste the grapes as often as you would like.  Picking from the numbers doesn’t always work. 

“if you would have picked off of just pH and sugars, in ’15, your wines would have been harsh and astringent and vegetal, because stuff would be 25 or 26 brix, but it would taste bad, the berries were not developed yet.  It was so hot, a lot of people were picking at the end of August.  If you are not there, tasting that, you don’t know that.”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

On growing in the Gorge and natural vegetation

In the Gorge, it’s a cooler area, consistently windy and of course rainier.  He notes that it is so much easier for people to be biodynamic and organic there because with the wind they have less mildew pressure.  This year at Kitzke they had to do sulfur sprays every 10 days.  They don’t use herbicides, as they are trying to get the natural vegetation to return.

“In our other vineyard you are really seeing it. We are starting to see a lot of sage and yarrow and stuff starting to grow back in the vineyard.  I feel like even last year you could get a little more of that in the wine versus clean under rows and vineyard, planted by vineyard, planted by vineyard without any of that natural vegetation carrying through the vineyards.”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

He notes people finding more aromatics in the wines depending on the local vegetation.  Like the garrigue you get in wines from southern France.

More to Come…

We did speak to Seth more about a grenache he is making from the WeatherEye vineyard on Red Mountain.  This is a fascinating project, more on that soon.

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

A Vineyard walk on Candy Ridge with Seth Kitzke

Candy Mountain as seen from Kitzke's Candy Ridge Vineyard

It was July 2019 and we were on summer whirlwind trip called #thescenicroute.  We had come from the beautiful Columbia Gorge region and were meeting Seth Kitzke at Candy Ridge Vineyard at Candy Mountain.

We pulled in and up to the Kitzke Cellars tasting room, on a Monday. Their tasting room is only typically open on the weekends, so we pulled up to a very confused looking gentleman.  This was Paul Kitzke, owner of the estate and winery and Seth’s dad.  Seth had evidently not mentioned us coming and Paul was surprised to see people at the tasting room so early, not to mention with camera and recording gear.  After a quick explanation, he warmed and looked to invite us in just as Seth pulled up. 

Seth’s tasting room for his own brand Upsidedown Wine is in Hood River, where we had just been, but he was coming from a meeting somewhere else this particular morning.  He had managed to squeeze us in to the middle of his day.

So where exactly are we?

Well, we are in the east end of the Yakima Valley in Eastern Washington. The area is near the Tri-Cities close to the city of Richland. Candy Mountain is just South East of Red Mountain the fairly famous Yakima Valley AVA that is winning high praise for it’s grapes and wine. 

Washington AVA Map Courtesy of Washington State, with Candy Mountain AVA
Washington AVA Map Courtesy of Washington State, with the area of the Proposed Candy Mountain AVA penciled in.

We started in the vineyard with Candy Mountain in the background.  The view is the same as the view on the sketch on their labels. The first thing I wanted to know about was the proposed AVA.

Candy Mountain AVA (Proposed)

You know we get into proposed AVAs, we’ve talked about the proposed AVAs in the Willamette Valley and I was really curious about the proposed Candy Mountain AVA.  When approved, it will be Washington’s smallest AVA at around 820 acres.  Seth told us it’s been submitted and approved on the Washington State side and now they are just waiting on the Federal stuff.  The application was “Accepted as Perfected” on January 24, 2017. As of the date of this piece, the time for public comment had closed and it was just waiting.  Likely it will be waiting a bit longer with everything slowing down right now.  It’s a little confusing.  I went to the TTB page and they are no longer listed on the “Pending approval” page, but they are also not listed on the “Established AVA” page.  So they are sitting in limbo in between.  As Seth put it “It’s sitting on someone’s desk somewhere in a stack waiting to get stamped.”

Details on the proposed AVA

The thing is, that this AVA which would be nested in the Yakima Valley AVA spills a little over the edge and they would need to expand the Yakima Valley AVA by 72 acres to adjust the overlap.  *Update! My understanding is that the adjustment to the Yakima Valley AVA is complete.

The AVA is on the the southwestern slopes of Candy Mountain.  Seth mentioned that the slopes here are south facing due to the the way the ridge and Mountain are oriented.  Red Mountain AVA with it’s much larger 4040 acres, wraps around Red Mountain with vineyards Southeast facing, south facing and wrapping around to some that are south west and west facing also. 

“…Candy Mountain doesn’t really have that option. It’s pretty much all directly south.  You might have a tiny bit of southeast and southwest..”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

 Seth studied sustainability and tourism before getting into wine and like preserving ridge lines and views.  He mentions that a hiking group that used to do “hike, wine & dine” events bought up the land that goes up to the ridge so that the views won’t ever get obstructed with a bunch of houses.

Candy Ridge Vineyard

Kitzke Cellars on Candy Ridge in the Yakima Valley AVA
Kitzke Cellars on Candy Ridge in the Yakima Valley AVA

The Candy Ridge Vineyard is the Estate Vineyard for Kitzke Cellars.  They have another vineyard, the Dead Poplar Vineyard which is in the lower Yakima Valley directly across from (but not in) the Red Mountain AVA.

Here at the Candy Ridge Vineyard they are mostly growing Bordeaux varieties, Cab Franc, Cab Sav, Petit Verdot and then some Syrah in the back and some Sangiovese out front. 

“The sangio is kind of an anomaly here.  It’s all east facing all lyre style trained stuff, like a double cordon that comes up and splits, a lot more shade.”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

Their neighbor Jim, is kind of the reason Seth’s parents started growing grapes.  He has Merlot that was planted in 1982 as well as some other varieties that they get some of.  Seth says that he is really the pioneer of Candy Mountain.

Cabernet Franc and Caliche soil

We walk into the vineyard and Seth points out Cab Franc that was planted in 2008.  

Cab Franc by the Lawn at Candy Ridge Vineyard
Cab Franc by the Lawn at Candy Ridge Vineyard

“We kinda added as the wines proved themselves. My parents started gobbling up a little more of the square footage of the area, planting more rows…basically the yard was big and they were like “hey let’s plant some more cab franc.””

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

The cons of caliche soil

Previously all the cab franc was east facing out front and the back was just Petit Verdot and Cab Sav.  But just because they had the space didn’t mean it would be easy.  The front is rocky with floating basalt in the loam.  In the back…well

“My dad called me a wuss, because I couldn’t dig the poles when we got up here.  The caliche layer is like calcium carbonate, a really hard layer, like natural cement.  He ended up bringing in our backhoe.  When we had the backhoe in here it broke 2 teeth off the metal bucket on the backhoe.  It shows you how hard this stuff really is.”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019
Caliche comparison at Kitzke Cellars
In the lower hand basalt, in the upper caliche. The caliche, while really hard, is so much lighter.

But there are also pros…

The caliche though, has is pluses.  The berries on the cab franc in the back are tiny little stressed berries, where as the ones in the front get a little more size on them.  Stress berries equal tasty wine typically.  The Cab franc in the back has more shatter and natural stress from the caliche layer.  But caliche is also porous.  They had a foot of snow as late as early March in 2019.  Where as with basalt the moisture would evaporate, the caliche layer locks the moisture in and holds it.  In early July when we were there it was the first time they had turned on the water this season. They were trying to get the canopies to shut down and focus on fruit.  You can see in the video that the canopies were kinda going a little crazy.

Petit Verdot and new training systems

We moved on to the Petit Verdot.  Seth was getting ready to implement a new training system. 

“So you can see we are leaving some of the suckers low this year.  This stuff is all around 20 years old and you are getting older and older wood on the cordon.  So to preserve the vineyard and make it healthier longer I’m going to slowly start switching to can pruning, lower that way there are less cuts, less possibility for disease, or at least that’s what they say.”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

This system keeps fresh wood which encourages sap flow.  Vines produce less as they get older. Seth wants to keep these elderly vines as happy as he can.  At 20 years old they only do one color pass at veraison.  The vines tend to regulate themselves keeping to 3 to 3.5 tons per acre.  3 tons is Seth’s sweet spot for quality.

How to manage Syrah planted East/West

We walk back to the Syrah in the back.  This is trained differently.  When his parents first put these vines in they were not really thinking from a wine making standpoint.  This part of the vineyard is all trained east/west.  That sounds crazy to anyone who knows much about planting vineyards.  You typically run north/south to get the best of the sunlight.  Here with the east/west vines, you get sun on one side of the vine all day.  So, what do they do? 

“We’ll hang more fruit on the shady side, less on the sun side.”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

Seth notes that in hot areas in Washington, syrah can get rich, ripe, jammy and high in alcohol.  He wants to taste the terroir, not just the fruit.  So they pick separately the sunny side and the shady side, with again, more fruit on the shady side.  This allows them to really keep the alcohol down.  We later tried a syrah in the tasting room that Seth said was picked at 23 brix and came out at 13.3% abv.  Still it was phenolically ripe with time to develop without the sugar spiking. Rather than pulling out this vineyard, they found a way to work with it that really works for them.

More to come!

Stick with us.  We spent a ton of time talking with Seth out in the front vineyard and then in the tasting room where we tasted through Kitzke wines and Upsidedown Wines and talked about all sorts of interesting stuff.  You can read about that here. One thing we spoke about was the Grenache that Seth was getting from the WeatherEye Vineyard up on Red Mountain.  More on that soon.

In the meantime, some links…

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The Valley Grove Vineyard and the future of Armstrong Family Winery

Vines running North to South in the Valley Grove Vineyard in the Walla Walla AVA

The Valley Grove Vineyard

It was a lovely afternoon in the Walla Walla Valley and Tim & Jennifer walked us around the property. (You can hear the crunch, crunch of the gravel under our feet in the video). Their Valley Grove Vineyard is located just north of Walla Walla Washington.

From the Blue Mountains to the Ocean

We walked down to where they hope to build their winery. Tim pointed out the tree line, which is the property line. It is also where the creek flows. This creek flows into the Walla Walla River, then into the Snake River and eventually into the Columbia River. Then the Columbia carries this water through Portland Oregon and finally out to the Pacific Ocean. The creek is fed by the Blue Mountains, which we can see in the distance. Over the course of a year the creek rises and falls pretty dramatically. Rain or snow melt will see it rise 5 to 6 feet beyond where we see it now.

The vision for the future

Where the winery will be…

The winery will be built in this area facing the Blue Mountains to the west. They will landscape and add some more vineyard. The idea is to include a porch where people can take in this view. There will be grass. It will be a place where people can wander and take in the splendor. (Oh dear…yes, I have been binging West World)

The park

We walk on to the pond, the area they like to call The Park. It is a man made irrigation pond. Already it is beautiful, with lavender around the edges and some fish. They will landscape here and picture dinners and maybe a band. (They have Wednesday night Jazz at their Walla Walla tasting room, an event we will get to later on this day).

History on display

The bare cliff wall below the Audrey block at Amstrong Family Winery's Valley Grove Vineyard
The bare cliff wall below the Audrey block at Amstrong Family Winery’s Valley Grove Vineyard

We walk on beyond a bridge that straddles the creek and turn to see this amazing exposure of soil, a cliff or ledge of sorts, beneath the Audrey block of Cabernet. Here you can see the layers of wind blown loess that the roots are growing through, and eventually the layers of ancient riverbed.

Nature won't be kept down.  A couple of reborn volunteers in one of the pulled up blocks at Amstrong Family Winery's Valley Grove Vineyard
Nature won’t be kept down. A couple of reborn volunteers in one of the pulled up blocks

We walk to another old vineyard patch. There are a few straggly vines popping up. This used to be a vineyard but with winter damage they determined to pull it up. Still, vines struggles to continue, trying to come back. Eventually they will plant vines here again. They are pondering on Cab Franc, or Riesling or perhaps Gamay. While there is not much of any Gamay planted in Walla Walla, Tim things it might do well. It’s cold hardy and you can harvest it early to make a lighter red or rosé.

The historic barn

  • Armstrong Family Winery Barn at the Valley Grove Vineyard built in 1895 with clouds above
  • Armstrong Family Winery Barn at the Valley Grove Vineyard built in 1895

As we walk to the barn, Tim tells us why he feels the so important.

The thing about it is that it kind of connects this site to the history of this land. This is agriculture and it has been agriculture.  It’s just really neat to have that history here and be able to tell the story about how, it wasn’t grapes, but people have been farming here for a really long time.  We like the historical character that that barn brings to the property and how it ties us to the history.

Tim Armstrong, July 2019

The barn dates to 1895 and they do have it registered with the Heritage Barn Register. Considering the shape it is in, it is probably beyond repair, as far as actually turning it into a usable building from health department standards. Barns were not built for those kind of things. Still the historic character of this building and it’s iconic presence on the property…they will keep it for it’s historic character.

The vines are older than they look

We walk on to the Emily block of Cabernet which you drive past to arrive at the house and cottage. The vines here are almost 20 years old, but by looking at them you would not immediately know this. When they bought the vineyard, there was some extreme winter damage and the vines needed to be retrained. They have spent the last few years doing just that. The vines were cut back to the roots, the new shoots grew to become the trunk and now after 3 years they were going to get their first harvest in 2019. This is different than planting new vines, the grapes have the advantage of a root system that has already had time to dig deep.

When you look closely you can see that the base of the plant is pretty big. Where it enters the ground the base is about 1 foot in diameter. Tim pointed out the suckers at the bottom of the vines.

This is the grapevine basically saying “I’ve got tons of energy in my root system, more energy than the canopy is currently supporting based on the trunk size.”  So it is just pushing up suckers. We’ve been through here to clean this up once this year, an we’ll go through to clean it up again, here in the next couple of weeks.

Tim Armstrong, July 2019

Clones and canopy management

This is all clone 4 cabernet. Clone 4 is the Mendoza clone which was imported from Argentina. This clone is noted for it’s typicality, the herbal character that Cabernet Sauvignon is known for.

Vines running North to South in the Valley Grove Vineyard in the Walla Walla AVA
Vines running North to South in the Valley Grove Vineyard in the Walla Walla AVA

Vineyards here run north south, so canopy management is pretty straight forward. The morning side of the vines will have the leaves thinned to allow the grapes to soak up the sun. On the afternoon side, where the sun will be much hotter, they allow the vines more sprawl, leaves covering and protecting the bunches of grapes from sunburn.

Other sources

While this year they will make their first estate wine from the Valley Grove vineyard, they have been making wine since 2010. In that time they have connected with several vineyards where they continue to source fruit. They are making wines that are both Walla Walla AVA as well as Columbia Valley AVA.

Tim tells us about Discovery Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills.

they have this amazing vineyard site that sits up above the Columbia River, literally on the bluff above the river, looking into Oregon. It’s just this gorgeous site with the wind coming up the river all day long. 

Tim Armstrong on the Discovery Vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills, July 2029

In addition, they pull fruit from Walla Walla’s Seven Hills Vineyard. Seven Hills is one of the 1st commercial vineyards in Walla Walla. From the Yakima Valley they source from Dineen, outside of Zillah and Sugarloaf. The Bogie’s blend we tasted with them on the patio is a Syrah/Cab Franc blend that comes from Elephant Mountain. (add the link to elephant Mountain)

Visiting them

While they work toward building their winery on site, they work out of a Walla Walla custom crush facility. But don’t worry, there are lots of ways to experience their wine. They have tasting rooms in both Woodinville (outside Seattle) and in Walla Walla. The Walla Walla tasting room is charming with a great staff and Jazz on Wednesday nights. If you want to see the barn and the beautiful Valley Grove Vineyard, you can book a stay at the Armstrong Vineyard Cottage. This beautiful vacation rental on the property has two bedrooms and a wrap around porch, a full kitchen and a fireplace. You are likely to meet Bogie, their beagle or the resident cats, while you take in the breathtaking views.

  • Armstrong Family Winery tasting room in Walla Walla Washington
  • Winery tasting room Located at 14 W. Main Street in Walla Walla
  • Beautiful exposed brick and the backdoor to the Armstrong Family Winery Tasting Room in Walla Walla

Armstrong Family Winery

The Walla Walla Tasting Room is located at

14 W Main St
Walla Walla, WA
509-524-8494

The Woodinville Tasting Room

19151 144th Ave. NE, Ste. I
Woodinville, WA 98072

If you are interested in staying at the guest house check out this link https://www.armstrongwinery.com/visit/guesthouse/

You can see more on the history of Armstrong Family Wines here

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Bordeaux Bubbles? #Winophiles

Crémant de Bordeaux Amelia Brut Rose and Calvet Blanc

Bordeaux… You think rich red wines, Cabernet or Merlot based. Or perhaps you think of Sauternes, those luscious sweet wines from southwest Bordeaux. But when you think of Bordeaux, do you think of bubbles? Probably not.

It’s not easy to find crémant de Bordeaux in the US. I checked local wine shops, to no avail and then searched online. After going through 8 sites, I found 3 crémant de Bordeaux wines on one of the larger sites. I snapped up 2 bottles and noticed when I went back to jot down the details on the wines, that I had purchased the last bottle they had available of one of these wines. (Okay…I did find one by the glass at a local restaurant. More on that later.)

So why am I talking about them, if they are so hard to find? Well, like with anything, supply is often dictated by demand. So let’s increase the demand. Go ask for a crémant de Bordeaux! Let’s get a few more available in the marketplace!

These are delicious sparkling wines made in the traditional method that are a fraction of the price of Champagne!

Crémant

The word “crémant” means “creamy” and refers to the fine bubbles in these wines. (Notice that fine stream of bubbles coming up from the bottom of this glass).

There are some rules for using the term “Crémant”. (Crémants.com)

  • must be within the protected designation of origin (PDO)
  • grapes must be picked by hand
  • they must age for at least 12 months
  • they are made in the méthod traditionelle (Traditional/Classic Method)
  • limit of 100 liters for 150 kilos of grapes pressed
  • maximum sulfur dioxide content not over 150mg/l
  • sugar content is less than 50g/l

Crémant de Bordeaux is one of eight french Crémants.

These are classified by region and include:

  1. Crémant de Loire
  2. Crémant d’Alsace
  3. Crémant de Bourgogne
  4. Crémant de Die
  5. Crémant de Limoux
  6. Crémant de Jura
  7. Crémant de Savoie
  8. Crémant de Bordeaux

***Side note….there is also Crémant de Luxembourg, which is from Luxembourg outside of France. It’s the only place outside of France where the term “crémant” can legally be used. (Wine Folly – All about Crémant Wine)

Crémant de Bordeaux

While sparkling wines have been made in Bordeaux since the 1800’s, the appellation was not official until 1990! While production has been typically pretty low, it’s currently increasing, especially the rosé. Two of the 3 wines I found were rosé. This is probably to be expected in this region. Crémant de Bordeaux is actually one of the largest appellations in France in regards to geographical area with more than 500 different vineyards. (Bordeaux-Magazine-US/The-Ultimate-Guide-to-Cremant-de-Bordeaux)

Vignoble de Bordeaux
Vignoble de Bordeaux

As of 2018 crémant de Bordeaux was selling 6.4 million bottles each year. The overall Bordeaux AOC encompasses 111,400 hectares, 910 of these hectares are designated for Crémant. Most of these wines are sold on the French market, with just 20% headed to export markets. (Crémants.com)

Grape varieties for crémant de Bordeaux

So the other great thing about crémant is that you get to taste sparkling wine from varieties other than the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier of Champagne. These wines are made from the grapes of the region and for Bordeaux that means…

Red grape varieties for crémant de Bordeaux rosé

  • Merlot
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Malbec
  • Petit Verdot
  • Carménère

White grape varieties for crémant de Bordeaux Blanc

  • Savignon Blanc
  • Sémillon
  • Muscadelle

Primarily, as expected, with rosé you see Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon used for these wine with smaller amounts of the other grapes sometimes. Typically these are Cabernet Sauvignon dominant. For the white sparklings, again, the primary white grapes of the region and they are Sémillon dominant. Keep in mind that rosé just indicates skin contact for color, I had a white crémant that had Cabernet Franc as part of the blend. It was not allowed extended skin contact so it imparted no color to the wine.

On to the Wines

Amelia Brut Rosé

Remember when I mentioned that I found a crémant de bordeaux by the glass locally? Well this was the one. I had already ordered the wines online, when a friend and I had dinner at True Food Kitchen. They offer 3 sparkling wines on their menu and one was the Amelia Brut Rosé. The bartender was kind enough to let me do a bottle shot.

  • Amelia Crémant de Bordeaux Brut Rosé
  • Coupe of Amelia Crémant de Bordeaux

Winemaker notes

  • 85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc
  • 12.5% abv
  • fermented over 3 weeks in cool temperatures
  • aged sur lie 2 months before bottling
  • rested another 18 months en tirage
  • SRP $23.99

They served this in a coupe and the bubbles were really hard to see, but the wine did feel effervescent on my tongue. When we served this at home, I noticed the same thing. It is aromatic with red and black fruit notes.

Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux Brut 2016

Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux
Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux

Winemaker notes

  • 70% Sémillon, 30% Cabernet Franc
  • fermented at low temps
  • 2nd fermentation 9 months
  • 11.5% abv
  • $16.99 SRP

Made by Calvet

The grapes for this particular wine hail from the Entré-Deux-Mers region of Bordeaux. Entré-Deux-Mers means, “between two seas” which indicates it’s location between the Garonne & Dordogne rivers in the central part of Bordeaux. (You can see this on the map above.)

Sémillon is the main grape used in the sweet white wines of Sauternes. It’s also one of the major varieties from the Hunter Valley in Australia, where we were able to taste quite a few dry sémillons. This variety ages very well developing nutty flavors.

Pairings

Suggested pairings for the Amelia rosé included “flavorful cheeses, fresh seafood or meats, like duck, chicken and pork, with flavorful, fruit-based sauces”. The Calvet…well, it was tougher to find information, but I found mention of serving it on it’s own or with dessert.

Crémant de Bordeaux snack pairing with berries and cheese crisps.
Crémant de Bordeaux snack pairing with berries and cheese crisps.

After a small snack of raspberries, black berries and cheese crisps, I settled on surf and turf for dinner! We did a simple salad with crab and then bacon wrapped filets that I topped with a berry sauce. (Blackberries, raspberries, rosemary, sage, red wine, salt, pepper and worcestershire sauce). We finished off the meal pairing with apple turnovers. (Yellow fruit? That’s all I could come up with).

Crémant de Bordeaux pairings, crab salad and bacon wrapped filet with berry sauce
Crémant de Bordeaux pairings, crab salad and bacon wrapped filet with berry sauce

The Calvet went well with the crab salad, the Amelia Brut Rosé was heaven with the steak. The berry notes pulled to the front with the berry sauce and the fat in the bacon was balance beautifully by the acid in the wine. You know, bubbles, they are just really wonderful. They are joyful and they clean your palate making each bite as delicious as the first. I was sad when my steak was gone.

Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux with apple turnovers
Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux with apple turnovers

The Calvet went beautifully with the dessert, nicely playing off the sweet softness of the apples.

More on crémant de Bordeaux

While I was only able to find these two crémants, I do have a friend in Bordeaux who wrote a piece on one of the larger producers in the region. Les Cordeliers where they have been producing sparkling wines for over 120 years. It’s well worth the read and has some stunning photos.

Jennifer has tons of great insider information on the Bordeaux Region that you can find on her site Bordeaux Travel Guide.

The French #Winophiles

Of course the reason we are discussing crémant de Bordeaux is because it is the French #Winophiles topic for March! (Thanks Guys for an excuse to drink Crémant!) You can join us on Saturday March 21st at 8 am PST on Twitter, following #Winophiles to join the conversation and hear about all the Crémants we all tasted! Then for more info…check out all the pieces below!

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Amstrong Family Winery – The Journey to Washington

Armstrong Family Estate Vineyard, Walla Walla, Washington

We were driving through rolling hills of fields of wheat for as far as the eye could see. You’ve seen it. It’s popular for car commercials these days, and for good reason. It’s spectacular, and eerie. The vastness makes you feel at once both immense in this wide open vista and extremely small.

So this is wine country? You wouldn’t guess that from the scenery. We were driving North out of the city of Walla Walla Washington, past the penitentiary and into the open fields of wheat. Finally, we turned and came upon a green patch. Turning in, we crossed the creek to a spot of green with trees, vineyard, a house and cottage and a spectacular historic barn.

This is the Armstrong Family Winery’s Valley Grove Vineyard. It is their home and an oasis in the wheat fields. We sat with Tim & Jennifer Armstrong on their back patio overlooking the Audrey block of cabernet sauvignon.

It started in Chicago

Neither of them were really into wine to start with. It wasn’t part of their lives, even as young adults (I can relate to this personally). When they got married, Tim had a little interest in wine. He had been to New York and someone poured him a glass of Opus One (lucky guy). Well, this hooked him on Bordeaux wines and soon enough he was spending a good bit on wine and investing in Bordeaux futures! His pragmatic wife Jenifer asked “Hey, do you know what you are doing?” He found an online class from the UC Davis extension that they both took.

They literally would mail DVD’s

Jennifer Armstrong, July 2019

Yep, they are a little dated by this. They sat in their Chicago bungalow learning about wine and Tim realized that this was his calling. He had grown up in Wisconsin surrounded by farms, and while the family didn’t farm he had a propensity for mechanical things. That and his love for wine…he’d found his bliss. Jen was skeptical, but supportive.

A bottle of Merlot

How did they decide on Washington? Here’s the story. It all kind of started with a bottle of Merlot.

So when we were in Chicago, we were buying mostly Bordeaux, getting progressively geekier about those wines and paying a lot of attention to the wine that we were drinking.  One day Tim came home with a bottle of Walla Walla Merlot.  It was a Walla Walla Vintners bottle.

Jennifer Armstrong, July 2019

They had been thinking about wine making and researched different regions. Virginia & North Carolina, came up since they were near to Jen’s family. They thought about New York with the Finger Lakes region. With Tim in the technology industry, the Bay area was an idea, but that bottle of Walla Walla Merlot….

We tasted it and were kind of blown away.  It tasted like the Bordeaux that we had fallen in love with.

Jennifer Armstrong, July 2019

What blew them away? Tim says this bottle was new world fruit with the structure and earthiness they loved about Bordeaux.

It really was striking this balance between old world wines and the California west coast wines that we had gotten to know.

Tim Armstrong, July 2019

A start in Woodinville

So now Washington was a viable option for them. They spent a couple years doing research and paying attention to the region. When an opportunity to move to Washington for Tim’s job came up, they made the move. This was the opportunity to be a part of a world class wine region. Something you can’t do in Napa or Sonoma without coming in with a large fortune. In Washington it is still possible to own a small vineyard and make wine, without being a millionaire.

Tim flew to Seattle and a friend told him he needed to check out Woodinville. He was blown away. Here people kept their day jobs and moonlighted as winemakers! It occurred to them that they could pursue this and get started right here.

They moved out in 2010 buying grapes even before the furniture was delivered. They met people at a wine shop and then a brewer/winemaking supplies company who referred them to people in the warehouse district where they bought a couple hundred pounds of grapes.

Immersive education and a fast track to winemaking

Tim arrived on Jennifer’s birthday in October around 7:30 am to pick up the grapes. Well, the grapes were not there. While he waited (until 4 pm) for the grapes he had them put him to work. He had his first experience in a commercial winery that day. Waiting for those grapes, he helped out, cleaning things and shoveling grape must.

The next summer he called John Patterson of Patterson Cellars in Woodinville. Tim told John he wanted to make some wine and work with him. John tried to talk him out of it. He was unsuccessful. In 2011 Tim & Jen contracted 6 tons of grape and made their first vintage. So the 2010 home batch they started…by the time it was ready to bottle, they were bottling it in a commercial winery. Fast tracking for sure.

Tim dove into classes with the WSU extension as well as South Seattle Community College. As the business evolved they signed a lease at the end of 2012 and opened their own space in 2013. 2013 they did their own crush, in their own facility in Woodinville. By 2016 they had 52 tons of grapes in that tiny spot. They had upgraded equipment, but it was just Tim, Jennifer and Jennifer’s Dad doing it all. They played the winery tetras game, which was more difficult in this area. The Warehouse district tasting rooms were open all day, so you couldn’t utilize outdoor space in the parking lot until late at night. They pulled 10 all nighters that harvest. They determined it was time to make a change.

The Walla Walla spell

They fell for Walla Walla. It’s easy to do. A drive through town will have you enchanted and you won’t ever want to leave. So they didn’t. They found a small vineyard north of town that was for sale and their fate was sealed. With a vineyard, a house, a historic barn, a creek, a guest cottage…it was perfect.

Not that it was easy. The spot was originally out of their budget. They kept their eye on it and eventually the price came down. Sadly it went under contract just before they got to it. Their disappointment only lasted a day, when a friend in the industry told them the contract fell through. They drove up from Seattle immediately and the rest is history.

The Valley Grove Vineyard is 22 acres with 2 blocks of cabernet sauvignon. They had to do some retraining of the 17 year old vines and pulled their first harvest in 2019. They now have 2 tasting rooms, one in Woodinville and one in Walla Walla, and they have plans for the winery they want to build here on site.

Our conversation didn’t end there. Join us as we talk about the history of the vineyard, and their plans for this beautiful spot just outside of Walla Walla.

For More information

Want more information? You can visit their website or read the other pieces we’ve written about them.

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Yakima Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with JB Neufeld

Justin of JB Neufeld at Gilbert Cellars in Washington's Yakima Valley AVA

We’d been up early, catching sunrise in Naches Heights, just outside the city of Yakima. After a quick bite to eat we went to meet Justin Neufeld, to talk about his JB Neufeld wines. We met out at Gilbert Cellars where he is the winemaker. Soon we were to find that there was a connection there. He had grown up in this area.

Justin Neufeld’s journey to wine

Justin graduated from High School in Naches Washington, just outside of Yakima in 1998. Unlike many in this region, he did not come from an agriculture family. His father was a carpenter and his mother a nurse. Like many he was ready to get out of the valley. So he went on to U Dub (University of Washington or UW) to get a degree in molecular biology.

During his junior year, he got the wine bug. UW did not have a oenology or viticulture program at that time. So he did a bit of reading and researching on his own. This pull of viticulture was also the pull of home. Seattle is great, but it takes getting away from rural lands to appreciate them. He returned to the Yakima Valley.

Justin is currently the winemaker and manages the vineyards for Gilbert Cellars as his full time gig. Still, he always knew he wanted to have his own winery. He and his wife Brooke (the B in JB Neufeld) created and run JB Neufeld.

JB Neufeld and Cabernet Sauvignon

Justin didn’t start out planning to make Cabs. Early on he had a couple of Bordeaux wines. That gradually led to exploration into those blends and finding that he was intrigued by the Cabernet Sauvignon in them. Of course there are a lot of cabs in Washington, so he started tasting them. The Yakima Valley is diverse with multiple microclimates. Justin began by doing vineyard designate Cabernet Sauvignons, working to show the differences in climate and site through the wines. Eventually he found he could craft a better wine by blending these sites. He would use Red Mountain AVA fruit as a base with it’s structure and ripe fruit. Then blend in cab from cooler areas that are softer with almost chalky tannins and more complexity. Then there is Red Willow fruit….

That’s a really unique site.  It doesn’t fit that upper valley, cooler site profile of the chalkier tannin and floral notes.  You know I’ve only worked with fruit now for 2 vintages, but so far it’s really unique, it takes on a more earthy minerality type character on the nose.  There’s still some dark fruit for sure, but almost a similar structure to the Red Mountain.  It’s pretty cool.

Justin Neufeld, July 2019

We second the love of Red Willow Vineyard fruit. It’s an amazing site. You can read more about our visit with Mike and Jon Sauer at their beautiful vineyard here. You can look forward to seeing more on our visit to this stunning vineyard run by some truly wonderful people.

New clones

Washington State started with Clone 8 and it continues to be the most widely grown clone in the state giving consistent fruit and yields. But there are other Cabernet Sauvignon clones making their way into Washington. Justin is pretty excited about some of these.

337 I’ve kinda been geeking out about.  They’re still really young vines, but they have a different profile from clone 8, they are a little more red fruit.  A little bit grittier of a tannin and rather than being vegetal when they are picked green they are more herbaceous.  So I’m really excited.

Justin Neufeld, July 2019

I found an interesting piece by Shannon Dininny on goodfruit.com about Cabernet Sauvignon clones in Washington State. Most of the discussion was regarding yields and reliability, as opposed to flavor. None-the-less it’s an interesting discussion if you want to nerd out about that stuff. https://www.goodfruit.com/wine-grape-growers-weigh-in-on-cabernet-sauvignon-clones/

When it comes to the clone Justin is speaking of, clone 337, it came up from California. It is a clone that can make very extracted wines and lacks the typical herbal character when picked late. In a comparative tasting of clones from Bell Wine Cellars, they noted that 337 had the most lush profile when compared to clones 6,4 & 7. What does all this mean? It’s like Justin said, you can blend Cabernet from different clones and different sites to create a more complex wine.

Cabernet a “stubborn” grape

We spoke a bit about Cabernet and how it expresses terroir. Syrah and Pinot Noir are notably varieties that express location. They are wines that take on notes of their climate, soil and anything the winemaker throws at them. Kind of like a person with a full closet in tons of different styles.

Cabernet is noted for being, as Justin calls it “stubborn”. It does not show site as dramatically as Syrah or Pinot. With Syrah or Pinot Noir, when you pick, at what ripeness level, can also have a dramatic affect on the wine that you bottle. Cabernet on the other hand has a wider picking window that won’t show a great difference. It can also handle oak better without being overly influenced.

He noted a tendency to pick late to avoid any vegetal notes. Justin feels that causes you to lose complexity in the finished wine. He prefers to pick a little earlier.

I think, personally, my opinion is that a lot of Cabernet Sauvignons are pushed a little too far.  They go to ripe and then a little past because they don’t want any vegetal character.  I’ve found that when you take it to that next level, a lot of that wonderful complexity is sort of gone.  So that’s what I’m trying to shoot for, timing wise, with picking at a point where there might be a little bit of vegetal. I’d rather it be herbaceous.  You just get a lot more complexity in the nose and I think the terroir shines through a little bit more.

Justin Neufeld, July 2019

Soils and microflora

Parts of the Yakima Valley sit in the Missoula Flood Plains. This was the tremendous floods that spanned 2000 years after the last ice age. This flooded the Columbia Valley and down into Oregon. You can read more about these in our post with Rudy Marchesi at Montinore Estate. For more about how it affected the Yakima Valley see our conversation in the vineyard with David O’Reilly with Owen Roe.

The floods deposited soils and the levels in the Yakima Valley get to 1200 to 1300 feet. Above that are older soils. These soils affect the wine, but Justin is digging deeper. He is interest in the microflora. Microflora you hear about these days regarding your gut (kombucha and keeping the micro flora in your gut healthy). But you find them in soils also. Microflora are defined as: bacteria and microscopic algae and fungi, especially those living in a particular site or habitat.

Justin is fascinated by the microflora which has a symbiotic relationship with the plant. These microflora would also be affected of course by the composition of the soil. It’s yet another factor in “terroir” or the sense of place that you find in a wine.

Terroir and all it’s variables

We had discussed the difference in micro climates and soils, and it’s interesting to see all the variables. Red Mountain is hot and early. Bloom can happen here 2 or 3 weeks earlier than the rest of the Yakima Valley. This gives Justin more hang time on that fruit. He spoke with Fred Artz in Red Mountain and discussed the wind they get there. Wind can stress the vine and delay ripening. But if it’s a sustained wind it causes thicker skins, which give you more accumulated tannins. So wind is a significant part of the terroir in Red Mountain.

The full time gig at Gilbert

Being the head winemaker at Gilbert Cellars is Justin’s full time gig. He works with Assistant Winemaker/Oenologist Dusty Jenkins. Other than some extra help at harvest, between the two of them they do most everything regarding wine making.

Gilbert is primarily from estate fruit and they focus on Bordeaux varieties. They do have a wide variety of vineyards from Horse Heaven Hills AVA, Wahluke Slope AVA and the greater Columbia Valley AVA. The River Ridge Vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills AVA is the one with the new Cabernet Sauvignon clones Justin is really excited about.

In addition to Bordeaux style wines they are doing a Rhône white blend of Grenache Blanc and Viognier, called Vin du Vallee. They also do a Rhône red called Allobroges which is a GSM.

Gilbert is a busy spot in the Summer. They do a full concert series on the beautiful grounds that you see behind us in the videos. Music in the Vines celebrates it’s 10th season in 2020.

Getting ahold of some JB Neufeld wine

JB Neufeld Cabernet Sauvignon
JB Neufeld Cabernet Sauvignon

JB Neufeld can be found through a variety of distributors. You can check out their distributor page.

You can also order direct from their site and feel free to contact Brooke for more details!

It’s Taste Washington Wine Month, so we will be featuring some great Washington wineries and vineyards throughout March. So check back as we visit some other regions in the state! Here are a couple of links in case you want to dig a little deeper into Washington wines.

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