Years….they used to take forever! No longer. Now they often seem to speed by in a blur. The coming of the New Year makes me nostalgic. I sit warm, happy with a full belly and I remember that this is not to be taken for granted. Time for a little reflection and gratitude.
I head to social media to reflect on the year. Remember the days when we had journals or diaries or a box of photos? Well, technology has allowed us to share those memorable moments, both big and small.
Instagram is my go to photo journal. So I’m sifting through to give you an idea of my year…holy crap there are alot of wine photos! LOL!
The Quiet Time
My photo essay of the beginning of my year…snow, studying, a Valentines Day on the ice, new Ramen places, hiking at Mount Charleston, beautiful sunsets, reading by the ocean in Carlsbad, high tea with friends, the super bloom in San Diego, a blind tasting event and of course, Loki. Okay…that gets us through the quiet months.
Double click on any of the photos for a larger picture and perhaps a bit more information.
The Scenic Route
We did our typical drive a million miles summer vacation. This year it was named “The Scenic Route”. It took us from Vegas to Tahoe, to Mount Shasta, to Southern Oregon, through the Columbia Gorge to the Yakima Valley, Walla Walla and then back through the Willamette, down to the Applegate Valley and finally to Yosemite before traveling home. We met incredible winemakers, saw beautiful scenery and vineyards and while we shared the overall story of our trip this year, you can look forward to many more in depth pieces on the places we visited this year.
Then we rested…that should be what I write next. But no. This was crunch time for me. I had been studying all year to take my test to become a Certified Specialist of Wine. After a 13 week course and then months of additional study I hoped I was ready. I was…
Now was it time to rest? Nope. We were off to the Wine Media Conference in October. Social media got to see much of our trip…there are still interviews and articles to be written in the new year. Here is a glimpse of our travels through New South Wales Australia. We dubbed it #OurAussieWineAdventure.
So, exhausted and exhilarated, we returned. At this point the holiday’s approached and our 2nd Annual 12 Days of wine celebration was at hand.
12 Days of Wine
Here is a link to that page. 12 Days of Wine 2019. You’ll find fun video reveals and details about each of the wines there.
Now we’ve come to the end of the year. It was a full year. We have writing to do video’s to create and tons of content to share with you. And…there will be new adventures. For right now…I’m going to relax and then day dream about what the New Year might hold.
What wine list of ours would be complete without a bottle from Johan.
The Van Duzer Corridor
The Van Duzer Corridor is one of the newer AVA’s in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The TTB approval of the AVA happened in December of 2018 (7 years after they started the process). So what is this corridor and where is it?
1st, this is a nested AVA lying within the larger Willamette Valley AVA in Oregon. It is in the southern part of the AVA, north of Salem. Encompassing 59,850 acres, there are but 1,000 acres planted to vines. The soil here is marine sediment. It is named for the area 10 miles to it’s west, the actual Van Duzer Corridor, where there is a drop in the coastal range that funnels cold air into the interior. This happens daily at around 2 pm. The breeze, or should I say wind (it often gets up to 8 mph) does a couple of things. It cools things down and it dries out the berries, keeping them free from mold and fungus (think the Mistral in Provence). It also forces the berries to protect themselves. To do this they thicken their skins and tend to grow smaller and fewer. This gives you more tannins and anthocyanins (which give you color). Lower yields, smaller berries, thicker skin…this all means more flavor.
I have a great love for the wines of Johan. If you know me, you are probably surprised that this was not a Pet Nat! (I do love their Pet Nats). But today we dive into their Estate Grüner Veltliner. But before we get into that…a little on the vineyard.
Johan Vineyard is 85 acres certified biodynamic. More than that, the winery is certified biodynamic. A holistic approach is important to them here. We walked the vineyard with Jack when we visited and saw the compost heap, and the oak stump innoculated for mushrooms. They have a garden and their wines…most lean toward that “natural wine” style, with many deliciously unfiltered.
For more on Johan you can catch a couple of our previous pieces
Grüner Veltliner can be an underappreciated variety. Hailing from Austria, this grape can often trick people in tastings. That is until they get to the finish where white pepper is the give away. These wines can be citrus, or herbal, lean or full. Flavors as well as textures can vary dependent on climate and style.
In Austria white wines dominate, much of that due to the climate and Grüner is the definite leader covering about a third of the vineyard acreage.
2017 Johan Estate Grüner Veltliner
The grapes are crushed and destemmed, then barrel fermented through primary and malolactic fermentation in puncheons and aged 10 months sur lie (that’s on the dead yeast cells that fall to the bottom). They do not stir the lees. It sits at 13.6% abv and runs $34.99.
They look to make this wine rich and exotic, choosing to pick appropriately and going through malolactic and sur lie aging to increase the texture.
It should be noted that white wines from the Van Duzer Corridor have a few things in common. They tend to have bright fruit and acid that is compimented by weight and texture. The Oregon Wine Board also notes that you will often find Iodine and Nori characteristics in these wines.
Exotic and rich…lime, lemon, herbs, white pepper, poprocks, nectarine, ginger, honey are all typical aromas and flavors for Gruner.
This wine was a deep golden color in the glass. The first thing on the nose was bruised apple, then white flower and nectarine. It exploded out of the glass and bottle when it was first opened. It perfumed the air for a several foot radius around the bottle and glass. Then it quickly became shy, making me search for aromas. The acids were firm and the wine had a depth of texture.
We paired this with camembert cheese and found that it brought forth the floral notes. It was lovely with our asparagus risotto. This is one of those rare wines that can pair with asparagus! We also tested it with a split pea soup and found it was less exciting. Perhaps a lighter style of Grüner would have worked with this. I did struggle to find that signature Grüner white pepper on this wine. On a second pour tropical notes came forward and it opened again in the glass with rich warm baked apples.
Other pairing suggestions
Grüner can pair beautifully with Wiener schnitzel (breaded veal cutlets quickly fried). It also pairs well with fried chicken. In addition it is one of those rare wines that will pair with artichokes! Try it with cauliflower, trout or gnocchi!
Noooooo….Only 1 day left!
Thank goodness there is Christmas to cheer us after tomorrow! Otherwise what would we do? The sadness as the 12 days comes to an end would be unbearable! Come back tomorrow!
We stayed in Newberg in the Willamette Valley on the night of our third day. Sadly while this area is heaven for wine, we did nothing but sleep. But sleeping here got us closer to our morning stop, the Columbia Gorge. It would also put us closer to the goal for the day, Washington Wine.
The hotel was silent as we quietly packed the care and headed out. I wanted to take in at least one waterfall on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge. It was relatively quiet as we made our way through Portland pre-morning traffic and drove into the Gorge in the early morning hours. After a quick look at the map, I chose Bridal Veil Falls as our morning stop.
Bridal Veil Falls
We arrived at 6:30 am and had the place mostly to ourselves. A quick hike to look out over the gorge rewarded us with vista views as the morning light started to dawn. The moisture in the air with the green trees felt lush and alive. We hiked down to the falls, on the steep switch back trail and spent some time just soaking in the woods, the water and the spectacular falls.
After this bit of peace and tranquility, it was back on the road. Our morning appointment was with James at Syncline, a winery located on the Washington side of the Gorge.
Traffic was a little busier as we crossed the gorge at White Salmon on the Hood River Bridge and got on Route 14. This was a big change from Route 84 on the Oregon side. Route 84 is low in the Gorge, running just above the river, you are blanketed in trees with views upon occasion. You find yourself looking up at the trees and cliffs. Route 14 is higher and the views are expansive.
We were also starting to see the landscape change, from lush evergreen forest to a more arid landscape.
Columbia Gorge AVA
The Columbia Gorge AVA was established in 2004. It sits 60 miles east of Portland and straddles the Columbia River Gorge including both Oregon and Washington. We will be back later to explore Hiyu on the Oregon side, but today we were heading to Syncline on the Washington side.
Syncline – into Washington Wine
At Rowland Lake we turned left to get on Old Hwy 8 and eventually turned onto Balch Road which took us into Syncline.
The front entrance is quiet and unobtrusive, with a simple elegant sign on the fence. The gate was open for us leading up a drive between the trees where you could see vineyard in the distance.
We pulled up and parked near the winery, past the house. The simple entrance felt deceiving now, as we looked at the elegant and beautiful garden with multiple small seating areas for wine tasting. We were to learn later that this garden was designed to be water smart. We found a spot to set up for our interview and were joined shortly by James Mantone, the owner/winemaker. He spoke to us on biodynamics, Shale Rock Vineyard, the climate here in this section of the Gorge and the other vineyards he sources from, before walking us up to take in the vineyard and it’s views. His Syrah has the best view of any of the grapes we have met so far.
We walked back down to the winery. Here we did a tasting through his Bloxom Vineyard Grüner, his Picpoul from Boushey Vineyards in the Yakima Valley, the 2017 Estate Gamay and the 2017 Syrah from Boushey Vineyard. We finished our tasting with a really wonderful treat, a Sparkling Grüner that they made just for their crew. (Thank you so much for sharing this with us James!).
Again it was hard to pull ourselves away, but we headed out, this time driving on to the East end of the Yakima Valley.
The Columbia Gorge to Yakima
Back in the car we headed further east on 14. We stopped to take in the expansive views of the gorge from time to time, watching the the landscape transition from lush and green with steep cliffs to more arid and brown with rolling hills and wind farms.
Horse Heaven Hills AVA
Leaving Syncline, we left the Columbia Gorge AVA and stepped into the Columbia Valley AVA. This AVA covers almost all of the wine growing regions in the state of Washington, with the exception of the Columbia Gorge AVA, Puget Sound AVA and Lewis and Clark AVA. As we drove further along 14 and then turned north on Rt 221, we were driving through the center of the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. This AVA sits between the Yakima Valley and the Columbia Gorge. We didn’t stop at a winery here, but we tasted plenty of Horse Heaven Hills wines. The area has almost 30 vineyards, but only 5 tasting rooms. Washington State is the 2nd largest producer of premium wines in the United States and this AVA is home to some of the largest wine producers (think Columbia Crest and Chateau St. Michelle).
Yakima Valley AVA
We ended up on the east end of the Yakima Valley. Trust me, you will be hearing alot more about the Yakima Valley AVA from us. This AVA contains 3 nested AVAs, Rattlesnake Hills AVA, Snipes Mountain AVA and Red Mountain AVA. Today however, we were headed to just east of the Red Mountain AVA, to visit Kitzke Cellars and speak with Seth Kitzke.
As we pulled up passed the houses to the tasting room (which feels like it’s in a neighborhood), were greeted by Paul Kitzke, the owner and founder of Kitzke Cellars. He’s also Seth’s Dad and since we had just been in touch with Seth…it was news to him when we arrived cameras in hand. Seth was on his way in from another appointment and arrived shortly. In the meantime, we were warmly welcomed and brought in to the tasting room, out of the heat.
We walked the estate vineyard with Seth and talked viticulture, soils and all kinds of geeky wine stuff. I could have spent all day chatting with Seth on all things wine. They are located right next to Candy Mountain, which is just south of Red Mountain. The process for Candy Mountain to become an AVA is almost ready for approval. The Proposed Rule is published and now has a 60 day period for comment.
I pulled up a bit from the Kitzke blog about their Candy Ridge Vineyard…
Candy Ridge Vineyard may look like a backyard project on Candy Mountain in Richland Washington but (it’s) what’s right underneath your feet that makes it stand apart. Candy Ridge is built on a very small alluvial fan that was made when the Missoula Floods flowed right between Candy Mountain and Badger Mountain into Richland. Depositing large amounts of gravel, basalt, caliche, and granite in our soils. It is such a small area with expressive unique terroir that showcases depth and subtleties that aren’t overpowered by tannin.
As we walked the vineyard we talked about the caliche in the soil (more fascinating stuff to come).
Seth is also the winemaker for Upsidedown Wine, where he makes wines from all over Washington State striving to create wines with a true sense of place. They also give back with 20% of their net profits going to the charitable organizations they are partnered with.
Now we were off to the other end of the Yakima Valley for an sunset shoot at the iconic Red Willow Vineyard.
Red Willow Vineyard
Red Willow Vineyard is on the Western side of the Yakima Valley AVA, outside of Wapato. The address is Wapato, but it’s about 20 minutes due west of the town. These are long straight roads in a region that is all agriculture. We drove looking at Mt. Adams, whose base began to disappear behind the foothills as you get closer.
When we arrived at Red Willow we were warmly greeted by Jonathan Sauer as he waved goodnight to the vineyard crew, who were on their way home. Jonathan had graciously offered to let us shoot sunset on their vineyard near the Chapel Block, where their stone Chapel marks the skyline at the top of the hill.
He put us on the golf cart and we headed out into the vineyards past rows tagged with names familiar in this valley, Owen Roe, Betz, DeLille, Savage Grace… We stopped to look at the soil strata in a cutout section of the vineyard and he pointed out blocks and the notable items in the landscape. At one point we heard an ATV coming and his father Mike Sauer pulled up to join us. After a chat we continued to the top of the hill by the Chapel. We pulled a picnic table into the shade to sit and chat while Michael set up cameras for sunset. (You will get to enjoy our full interview with Mike and Jonathan later).
A little history of Red Willow Vineyard
There is so much history here. One of the oldest vineyards in the state and the furthest west vineyard in the Yakima Valley AVA, Mike Sauer started planting the Red Willow Vineyard in 1971. The beginnings of this vineyard were tied to Mike Sauer’s relationship with Dr. Walter Clore, who is known as the “Father of Washington Wine”, as well as with David Lake the head winemaker at Columbia Winery. (that’s alot of Washington wine history in one sentence).
I spent sunset watching the birds swooping down to catch bugs, listening while Mike and Jonathan shared stories of the history of this vineyard. We watched the sun set with this spectacular view from the Chapel over a unique bottle of Blanc de Cab Franc by Savage Grace and a bag of fresh Rainier cherries. I promise, I’ll share these stories with you later.
My heart kinda wanted to burst at such a glorious end to an amazing day. The Sauers are such wonderful generous people, it was a joy and honor to share an evening with them. We rode off into the sunset, in a small cloud of dust down the farm roads, full from a great day and ready for some sleep. It would be an early morning tomorrow, with a sunrise shoot at Wilridge Vineyard in Naches Heights AVA. Stick with us. We are just getting started!