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. 

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.  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

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How to measure a year – 2019, specifically..

Calendar

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.

Studying

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…

#OurAussieWineAdventure

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.

Want more details on some of these great spots?

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Digging into Biodynamics and a tasting

Lavender at Cowhorn supporting pollinators and biodyversity

More often than not, when we travel to wine country we find ourselves drawn to biodynamic vineyards. So it should be no surprise that when Michael and I went through the cellar to choose a couple of bottles to celebrate our Anniversary, we each chose a bottle and then realized that both were biodynamic.   So what is it that pulls us this direction?

I have heard at least one winemaker speak about “finding his people”, when he discovered biodynamics, and when we meet these people, we usually feel the same. What draws these people to this method?  I’ve read articles and spoken with people in vineyards and in wineries and I’m digging deeper on my understanding of “biodynamics”. There is alot here to unpack. Today, we will start with some of the basics.

Biodynamic
Digging into Biodynamics

Biodynamics – as per Merriam Webster

: of or relating to a system of farming that follows a sustainable, holistic approach which uses only organic, usually locally-sourced materials for fertilizing and soil conditioning, views the farm as a closed, diversified ecosystem, and often bases farming activities on lunar cycles Followers of biodynamic viticulture not only abstain from the use of chemicals, but also take a more holistic approach, viewing their environment—the soil, plants and animals—as a working unity that should be as self-sustaining as possible.— Alison Napjus


https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/biodynamic

Rudolf Steiner

Biodynamics as we speak of it today, came from a series of lectures given by Dr. Rudolf Steiner in 1924. He was a philosopher and scientist, which really gives you insights into where his studies were going. Influenced by Goethe and he was the founder of “anthroposophy” which was a spiritual movement. He believed in the link between science and spiritualism.

There is a rabbit hole here.  I could (and I expect I will) do quite a bit more digging on Mr. Steiner and not all of it will make me happy.  But, his work in agriculture looked at the farm as one unit and looked at a farm’s health in this way, much like holistic/homeopathic medicine, where you look at the whole patient and not just one symptom. That I can wrap my head around.

The Farmers Almanac & The Gardeners Labyrinth

I was feeling a little concerned about my research, when I came across hawkwakawaka and her brilliant sketches. (WakawakaWineReviews.com) This filled in some gaps for me, and I highly recommend taking a look at her breakdown of biodynamics. It is easy to understand and her sketches make it quite entertaining.

I grew up planting the garden depending on the cycles of the moon as listed in the farmer almanac, as did many of the people my family knew.  I took it as traditional farming, but it’s influence, as I learned from Elaine’s sketches, comes from Thomas Hill’s “The Gardeners Labyrinth”(I’ve included a link to a beautiful photo of a page on archive.com). The Farmer’s Almanac was first published in 1792 and is still published annually today. It gives annual schedules for planting according to the lunar cycles.

Stick with me here…this just makes sense. Calendars are a man made created thing. For early farmers the calendar was the seasons and the cycles of the moon.

Biodiversity and the Demeter Association

The Demeter Association, that certifies biodynamic farms, set a farm standard, that requires biodiversity. This to me is simple sustainable farming. Biodiversity as opposed to monoculture is just common sense. Any ecosystem is affected when you remove an element, the wolves at Yosemite for instance.

In addition there are requirements for soil managment, animal welfare, as well as the use of preparations (yes, this is where the cowhorns and cow poop come in), and the calendar with fruit, flower, leaf & root days which indicates when certain tasks should be done. We won’t dive that deep today, but we will later. These are things I find interesting and fascinating and I want to know more about them.

Biodynamic wines and the people behind them

My first exposure to biodynamics came through Tablas Creek in Paso Robles. I had an opportunity to speak with Jason Haas about the practice as they used it there. Their influence, of course, came from the Perrins at Chateau de Beaucastel in the Rhône where they have been using this practice for a while. Jill Barth just did a fantastic interview with Marc Perrin about this on Forbes. But surprisingly, the wines we chose today, were not Tablas…(I keep track of the vintage calendar closely, and many of the bottles in our cellar are still resting and aging).

Oregon and biodynamics

On our last couple of trips to Oregon, we spoke with many winemakers who are farming biodynamically. This was where the two bottles that Michael and I chose hailed from.

Johan Vineyard and Winery

Johan Vineyard in the Willamette Valley's Van Duzer Corridor
Johan Vineyard in the Willamette Valley’s Van Duzer Corridor

I first discovered Johan when I came across an online seminar on Oregon wines. The experts on the panel spoke on wineries to watch in Oregon and the woman who mentioned Johan, was emphatic that they were doing some amazing things and were to be watched. We determined that we would stop in on our next visit to the area.

  • Tree stump inoculated for mushrooms at Johan
  • Jack and the compost at Johan in the Van Duzer Corridor
  • View of the Johan Vineyard in the Van Duzer Corridor of Oregon's Willamette Valley

We dropped into the tasting room and were lucky enough to meet Jack, who walked us through the wines and so much more. On our last visit we set up an early morning visit to talk with Jack and walk the property in the Van Duzer Corridor AVA. The vineyard and the winery are certified biodynamic here. Their Pét Nat is a favorite of mine.

Johan 2018 Pétillant Naturel Melon

Johan Vineyards 2018 Melon Pét Nat from Oregon's Van Duzer Corridor
Johan Vineyards 2018 Melon Pét Nat from Oregon’s Van Duzer Corridor

Pét Nat or Pétillant Naturel, is a sparkling wine made in the “method anscestral”. In this method, the wine is bottled before the first fermentation is complete so the carbon dioxide from the end of the fermentation is trapped in the bottle. This makes the wine light and fizzy and the alcohol is relatively low. Unfined and unfiltered, you get a little bit of funk here that rounds the wine and makes it warm and comfy. Often people say that Pét Nats are like cider and this one does have that style of aromas and mouthfeel.

Cowhorn

Cowhorn Tasting Room View
Cowhorn Tasting Room View

Well, the name of this winery is definitely a giveaway as to it’s thoughts on biodynamics. Cowhorn is in Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley. Bill & Barbara Steele founded the vineyard in 2002. As they researched growing techniques they met some biodynamic growers and found a group of people they could get on board with.

Bill Steele of Cowhorn
Bill Steele of Cowhorn

Bill spent a morning with us this past summer, showing us around the beautiful property, talking about their biodiversity and the biodynamic techniques they use. (Our background photo for this post is the lavender garden on their vineyard.) The vineyard sits at about 1,550 feet in soils best suited to Rhône varieties, so that is what you will find planted here. The soils are alluvial, from when the Applegate river came through the entire area. He also walked us through their wines in their beautiful Living Building certified tasting room.

Cowhorn 2015 Sentience

Cowhorn 2015 Sentience

The Sentience is a Syrah. For this vintage the Sentience came from 10 tons of Syrah harvested on September 29th and 30th (2015). This wine sits at 13.7% abv and is a deep purple that smells of black fruits, herbs and eucalyptus.

Today’s conclusion

So, Michael and I lean toward biodynamic wines. Why is that?

Back to Nature

Perhaps it is the idea of a more natural way of growing, getting back to the earth. Across the board the winemakers and growers we have spoken with say that the most important thing about biodynamics to them is the fact that the vineyards are safe. The animals, children and people who come to the property or live there, can safely wander through the vines without concern for dangerous chemicals.

Like minded people

Perhaps it is the people…I have yet to meet a biodynamic winemaker or grower that I didn’t like. These are practical people who have a reverence for the earth and a passion for keeping it safe while growing something amazing.

Lively wines

Maybe it’s the wine? I have heard it said that biodynamic wines feel more lively in your mouth and for my personal experience I find that to be true. There is something energetic in the way the wine feels in your mouth. I don’t have science to back that, yet.

There is so much more to explore. We will get into the history, as well as the preparations and the science behind them. There are so many great people to speak with and we look forward to sharing our conversations as we continue to explore biodynamics in wine.

You can look forward to a deeper into our conversations with Jack at Johan and Bill at Cowhorn, as well as other winemakers we spoke with like Sarah Hedges at Hedges Family Wine on Red Mountain in Washington’s Yakima Valley or Rod Windrim at Krinklewood Vineyard around the globe in Australia’s Hunter Valley of New South Wales. We find more and more vineyards either growing biodynamically or leaning that way and we will continue to bring you interviews and insights from these individuals.

If you have found biodynamic wineries that you love please share them with us in the comments!

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The Scenic Route Part 8 – Johan and Quady North

View of the Johan Vineyard in the Van Duzer Corridor of Oregon's Willamette Valley

The Van Duzer Corridor… it’s the newest AVA in the Willamette Valley and it is also home to one of our favorite wineries Johan. We stopped last year and spent an hour or so with Jack Tregenza in the tasting room and were looking forward to getting back for a more in depth conversation.

Van Duzer Corridor AVA

There is a drop in the Coastal Range of Mountains, creating a Corridor where the cool air from the ocean can come inland. That is the Van Duzer Corridor. Highway 22 takes you out through this river valley all the way to Lincoln City at the ocean ( a drive we would take later that day).

The warm air in the valley pulls in the cooling breezes at night. That diurnal shift (warm days, cool nights) especially as the vineyards close in on harvest, help keep some acid in the wines as they ripen.

Johan

Dag Johan Sundby is from Norway. He came to the Willamette valley with his family to establish this winery and vineyard in Rickreall Oregon. The winemaker here is Dan Rinke. Jack…well Jack is indeed a Jack of all trades, assisting in the vineyard, the winery and managing the tasting room, at least, lucky for us on the day we stopped by. He is a wealth of information and is passionate about this place.

The valley is beautiful and we were out bright and early to meet with Jack. You drive into the property through the trees and come around to the winery and tasting room to overlook the vines.

We set up on the patio to talk with Jack. We covered quite a bit, including why the vineyard was biodynamic and the different certification processes.

Vineyard View at Johan in the Van Duzer Corridor
Vineyard View at Johan in the Van Duzer Corridor

A walk of the vineyard

After our interview we walked the vineyard and Jack showed us some of the newly grafted vines. We took in the views, talked about the blocks and the compost pile (I know, crazy that I get excited over a compost pile).

  • Recently grafted vines at Johan Vineyard in the Van Duzer Corridor
  • Jack and the compost at Johan in the Van Duzer Corridor

He also showed us a tree stump that they had inoculated for mushrooms.

Tree stump inoculated for mushrooms at Johan
Tree stump inoculated for mushrooms at Johan

Back to the tasting room

We returned to the tasting room for a tasting and talked about…so much!

The wines here lean toward Natural. I know that is not an official term. Let’s say many are unfined and unfiltered with minimal intervention. They have some really wonderful sparkling wines a pet nat of Melon that I am enamoured with. It is barrel fermented and hand disgorged and there are only 80 cases made.

  • Pet Nat of Melon de Bourgogne from Johan Vineyards
  • Zero / Zero Pinot Noir from Johan Vineyards
  • Notice the Demeter logo? They are Biodynamic certified here for both the vineyard and winery

We tasted though some beautiful Pinots, talked about bottle closures, wine pod cast, the use of argon…and so much more. Really I could have spent all day talking with Jack, but…he had other things to do and we were off to drive through that Van Duzer Corridor for a little Ocean therapy.

Applegate Valley AVA

The next day saw us up really early to make the drive south back to the Applegate Valley to visit with Herb Quady of Quady North.

Quady North

I first heard Herb Quady’s name when I was talking with Leah Jorgensen about her Blanc de Cab Franc. She sources her Cab Franc from Herb and spoke really highly of him. As we were going to be in the area, I knew I wanted to speak with him. He was kind enough to meet us out at the vineyard.

Panorama of the view from Mae's Vineyard
Panorama of the view from Mae’s Vineyard

We sat on the patio, by the house, the dog curled up under our feet at the table and talked about the vineyard and the varieties he is growing in Mae’s (the first vineyard) and Evie’s the newer vineyard. Both vineyards are named after his daughters.

Happy vines at Quady North's Mae's Vineyard
Happy vines at Quady North’s Mae’s Vineyard

We finished with a vineyard walk. Again, vines with views. The dogs ran around us chasing rabbits and we got in some good cardio (Herb’s a fast walker). Herb headed off to his day and we headed to Jacksonville to visit the tasting room.

The Quady North Tasting room in Jacksonville

Sarah met us in the tasting room and took us through an incredible line up of wines. Some are block specific, like the Ox Block Viognier, which we had just walked earlier that morning. Others like the Pistoleta are blends. The Pistoleta is a Rhône white blend of Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne & Grenach Blanc.

They also do some canned wines! Their Rose comes in a 3 pack. A Southern Rhône style blend, it’s led by Grenache at 55%, then 39% Syrah, 4% Mourvedre, 2% Vermentino and a splash 1% Counoise. Canned wine is accessible and rosé is the kind of wine you want accessible in the summer. They have a canning truck that comes by (just like a bottling truck) to package this.

There’s lots more to tell, but you will get the full scoop later. This was the last of our wine stops. From here, we headed south to Yosemite for a little nature meditation before returning to the desert.

Watch for future posts with our in depth interviews with both Jack and Herb!

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The Scenic Route – Flash Tour 2019 Part 4 – Naches Heights and Yakima Valley

Wilridge Sunrise Washington Naches Heights AVA

Day 5

What were we thinking!? A sunset shoot, followed by a sunrise shoot in Washington! Days here are longer. In July they are about 15 hrs. Sunset was 8:57 pm and sunrise is about 5:15 am. At least today we did not have a ton of driving to do.

Wilridge Vineyard in Naches Heights AVA at Sunrise
Wilridge Vineyard in Naches Heights AVA at Sunrise

We were up really early to get out to Wilridge Vineyard in the Naches Heights AVA before the sun. Paul Beverage, the owner, couldn’t join us that early, but was happy to give us permission to shoot on this beautiful property. We quietly pulled in. They allow camping on the property and there was an RV out front with people tucked away sleeping, as we were arriving before sunrise to set up.

Naches Heights AVA

The Naches Heights AVA was approved in 2012 and was the first Washington AVA to be completely sustainable. All 7 initial vineyards were biodynamic or LIVE certified. This AVA is in Yakima County, but sits outside (north and west) of the Yakima Valley AVA.

We’ve talked about the Missoula Floods that washed through this area. I remember speaking with David O’Reilly of Owen Roe at their Union Gap Vineyard. We stood toward the top of his vineyard at 1,200 feet and were at the top of the Missoula Flood level. Naches Heights sits between 1,200 and 2,100 feet, so the entire plateau is above the Missoula Floods.

The plateau was formed as a lava flow from the Cascades cooled. The soil here is known as Tieton Loam Loess. The high elevation means less chance of winter damage in the vineyard.

Wilridge Vineyard

Wilridge Vineyard Naches Heights Washington

Paul Beverage started his winery in Seattle back in 1988. In 2007 he planted Wilridge Vineyard near Yakima. The vineyard was planted to be Certified Organic and Biodynamic.

They consider themselves a “Recreational Vineyard”. There are bike trails and hikes, and they have a map to guide you around the vineyard and to the cliff trail hikes in Cowiche Canyon. You can even rock climb on the Andesite rock cliffs where the vineyard has bolted anchors.

Signs from the hiking trails guide you to the tasting room at Wilridge Vineyard
Signs from the hiking trails guide you to the tasting room

You can also just kick back on the porch of the 100 year old farmhouse that is their tasting room and enjoy the views and the wild (or not so wild) life. The cats are friendly. Rachel, a young black cat, came running up to me meowing and spent part of the morning purring and curling up in my lap!

Rachel, the vineyard cat. She ran up to me from across the porch meowing and demanded to sit in my lap and be petted! How could I not ablige.

  • Sunrise with vines a Wilridge Vineyard in Washington's Naches Heights AVA
  • Wilridge Sunrise & lavender Washington Naches Heights AVA
  • The Wilridge logo painted on the door at the farmhouse
  • Tree swing and tables for enjoying a glass or a bottle at Wilridge Vineyard Naches Heights Washington
  • Flowers and farmhouse at Wilridge Vineyard, Naches Heights AVA
  • Grapes in the morning sun at Wilridge Vineyard in the Naches Heights AVA of Washington State
  • The 100 year old Farmhouse at Wilridge Vineyard

The farmhouse has 3 AirBnb rooms, they take reservations for RV parking and you can camp in the vineyard! Staying here, gives you the luxury of waking up and taking in the gorgeous sunrise in your PJ’s with a cup of Joe in hand.

Back to the Yamika Valley AVA

JB Neufeld

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

Justin of JB Neufeld made some time in his morning to talk with us about his Cabernets. In addition to his own label, he is the winemaker for Gilbert Cellars and we met him on their beautiful property on Hackett Ranch.

The bees buzzed happily in the lavender behind us as we chatted with a view of the beautiful gardens and amphitheatre here on the property.

Justin is focused on Cabernet Sauvignon. He looks to how this grape expresses itself in different soils and climates within Washington. We had a fascinating discussion with him on how he pulls the best out of each of his vineyard designates from Red Mountain to Red Willow, across the entire Yakima Valley, to create a beautiful complex blend of Cabernet. We also talked about microflora in the soil and about the wines he makes with Gilbert. You can expect us to share more of this interview later!

Wine Yakima Valley

When we visited Washington before for #WBC18, we met Barbara Glover who had put together the pre-conference tour for Wine Yakima Valley. Barbara was instrumental in helping us connect with vineyard owners and winemakers for this trip to the Yakima Valley. We were excited to meet with her and talk about all the exciting developments in the Yakima Valley Wine Region.

She arranged for us to meet her at Stems, a wine shop in downtown Yakima. We met Brad the owner and were able to talk Yakima Wine. In addition to the great interview with Barbara, it was fun to just chat with them about the region, it’s people and culture.

Stems Yakima

Brad mentioned that when he opened Stems, he planned to be just focus on Washington Wines. Local demand to learn more about other regions has him holding events including wines from outside the region. The thirst for knowledge (and wine) is alive and well in Yakima! This is a great place to pick up a bottle or twelve of wine and anything wine related that you can imagine.

Stems Wine Shop in Downtown Yakima, Washington
Stems Wine Shop in Downtown Yakima, Washington with Barbara Glover of Wine Yakima Valley.

Los Hernandez

Los Hernandez Tamales in Union Gap Washington
Los Hernandez Tamales in Union Gap Washington

When we asked where to grab lunch, everyone said the same thing…Los Hernandez. We did a piece on our delicious lunch here.

Treveri

The lawn at Trevari
The lawn at Treveri

We were running early for our tasting at Owen Roe, so we thought we would stop by Treveri. I mean who can pass up bubbles after filling up on tamales!

As we were filled with tamales, we passed on the cheese and charcuteries offerings, but…if you are in the area, this is a great stop for bubbles and a snack. Tastings are seated and are free. We found a spot outside. The clouds had rolled in and it actually got a little humid (which is not typical for this area!). It was just mere moments before an attentive host came to talk us through the menu. It felt a bit luxurious to sit and enjoy the view and have someone continually bring you new bubbles to try.

These are good affordable bubbles. Your tasting will take you through bubbles that go from Brut Zero to Demi Sec with their sweetness levels and in addition to the traditional Blanc de Blancs of Chardonnay, they have a rosé of Syrah and Chardonnay and the Demi-Sec sparkler we tasted was of Gewurztraminer.

Owen Roe

When we were here last October we attended a dinner at Owen Roe’s Union Gap vineyard. I had an opportunity to walk the winery with owner David O’Reilly as well as do a vineyard tour with him. As we walked the vineyard we tasted the Owen Roe wines on, in the blocks the grapes were harvested from.

But Owen Roe has many more wines than just the Union Gap vineyard designates. They pull from Red Willow for their Chapel Series, as well as from DuBrul, Olsen, Outlook and Elerding here in the Yakima Valley for many of their other wines (and they do have a really wide selection of wines!) They also source from the Willamette Valley from vineyards across 4 different AVAs. When we knew we were going to be back in the area, we knew that we wanted to sit down and taste through their wines.

Barrels, Owen Roe, Yakima Valley, Tasting Room, Barrel Room, Union Gap
Owen Roe’s Union Gap Tasting room is in the winery. Now filled with barrels some of which make for private tasting areas.

Tasting with Brandon at Owen Roe

The space looked so much different than our last visit! Our October visit was during harvest and the winery was filled with fermentation bins! Now there were stacks of barrels, some of which created a private tasting area and this was where Brandon set us up for our tasting.

Brandon set us up with a wide and large tasting through many of their wines and we promise we will walk you through that tasting in the not so distant future.

It was still early when we finished at Owen Roe, but we were bushed! We picked up some dinner and crashed early. The next day would be early again. Co Dinn was meeting us at Roskamp Vineyard in the Snipe Mountain AVA, early in the day. Next we would drive on to Red Mountain to visit with Sarah Goedhart at Hedges Family Estate. Then we would be making the drive to Walla Walla to meet Tim & Jennifer Amstrong at their vineyard. So stay tuned!

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The Scenic Route – Flash Tour 2019 Part 3 – Columbia Gorge to the Yakima Valley

Red Willow Vineyard In Yakima Washington from Within the Chapel

Day 4 – On to Washington Wine

Newburg OR to Bridal Veil, to Syncline Winery
Newburg OR to Bridal Veil, to Syncline Winery

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

Bridal Veil Falls base in Oregon
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.

Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil 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.

View of Mt. Hood from Syncline Vineyard in Washington's Columbia Gorge AVA
View of Mt. Hood from Syncline

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.

Entrance to Syncline Winery in Washington's Columbia Gorge AVA

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!).

  • Fermentation tanks at Syncline
  • Syncline Winery
  • Syncline Picpoul boushey Vineyard
  • Syncline Estate Gamay 2017
  • Syncline Gruner Veltliner 2018

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.

Kitzke Cellars

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

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.

Seth Kitzke & I walking Kitzke's Candy Ridge Vineyard
Seth Kitzke & I walking Kitzke’s Candy Ridge Vineyard

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.

Candy Mountain as seen from Kitzke's Candy Ridge Vineyard
Candy Mountain as seen from Kitzke’s Candy Ridge Vineyard

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.

Kitzke Cellars http://www.kitzkecellars.com/news/

As we walked the vineyard we talked about the caliche in the soil (more fascinating stuff to come).

Upsidedown Wine

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

The Chapel on the Chapel block at Red Willow Vineyard
The Chapel on the Chapel block at 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!

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The Scenic Route – Flash Tour 2019 Part 2 – Southern Oregon Applegate and Umpqua Valleys

Day 3

Southern Oregon & the Applegate Valley

Day 3 had us up early and traveling back the way we had been the afternoon before. The Applegate Valley AVA in Southern Oregon established in 2000, is actually a sub AVA of the Rogue Valley AVA. From California’s border runs north 50 miles to the Rogue River west of Grants Pass.

Cowhorn

Cowhorn Entrance Gate in the Applegate Valley in Southern Oregon
Cowhorn Entrance Gate

We arrived early to Cowhorn to meet Bill Steele. This Southern Oregon vineyard is Demeter Certified Biodynamic and is a bucolic setting on Eastside Road that runs along the Applegate River. We did an interview with Bill in the vineyard and walked the property before heading into the beautiful modern tasting room to do a tasting with Bill. The tasting room features a large window that looks out onto the vineyard and the valley, which is reflected in the shiny white glass behind the tasting bar, allowing you the view while facing either direction.

The wines here are Rhône varieties primarily and the finese on the winemaking is pretty spectacular. Everything is done with native yeast. I have to admit the grounds were so beautiful, I really didn’t want to leave. We will dive in deep to our visit in a separate post and tell you about Bill, biodynamics, the patio, gardens and the tasting room. Their tasting room was the first in the US to meet the “Living Building Challenge”.

The Tasting Room at Cowhorn
The Tasting Room at Cowhorn

You can look forward to our in depth interview with Bill coming up soon.

We left unwillingly. We could have stayed all day (or perhaps forever). But we had another appointment and this one was a bit of a drive.

North to the Umpqua Valley

Cowhorn To Girardet Wine Cellars

We were headed toward Roseburg in the Umpqua Valley about 2 hours North. The Umpqua Valley AVA is a little older, established in 1984. We jumped back on Route 238 and took the scenic (and shorter) route to Grants Pass where we grabbed a bite and got on the 5. Yes it was freeway, but it’s Southern Oregon, so the views are still pretty spectacular.

Girardet Vineyards

Girardet Tasting Room in Umpqua Valley in Southern Oregon

We exited onto the 99 around Cow Creek and then took Route 42 out to Ten Mile where Girardet Vineyards is located. Mind you….our GPS had a little trouble out here and we ended up coming into the property the back way. I suggest downloading a map ahead of time and not relying on GPS.

Girardet is one of the older wineries in this area planting the vineyard back in 1971. The Girardets (Philippe and Bonnie) got in their VW bus and drove the country looking for vine starts. They picked up some French varieties from Wente and then planted some of the French hybrids that they picked up in New York; Baco Noir, Seyval Blanc, Cayuga among others. Marc was born in 1975 just after this experiment had begun. He now runs the vineyard and winery and he took some time to speak to us on the beautiful covered patio with a picnic table, next to the tasting room. After our chat he took us through the winery and drove us up into the vineyard to see the views. Vines do love a view.

We finished this stop with a tasting which included some of the Italian varieties that Marc has added on the newer section of the vineyard where they found ancient marine bed shale. We made some friends in the tasting room before heading back on the road to Newburg, where we would stop for the night. This winery has a great history that we look forward to sharing with you.

  • Grapes at Girardet
  • Ancient Marine Shale at the Shale Rock Summit Vineyard at Girardet in Southern Oregon
  • The picnic patio at Girardet
  • Vines at Giraradet in the Umpqua Valley
  • Girardet Tasting room Umpqua Valley Southern Oregon
  • Pouring in the Girardet Tasting Room
  • Philippe and Marc Girardet
  • Jack rabbits at the Girardet Vineyard
  • The view of Ten Mile from Giraradet Vineyard in Southern Oregon

Coming up Next…

Next we head North, first to the Columbia Gorge to visit the waterfalls on the Oregon side, then onto the Washington side to visit Syncline winery. From there it is off to the Yakima Valley to visit with Seth Kitzke of Kitzke Cellars and Upsidedown Wine and then enjoy sunset with Jonathan and Mike Sauer at the iconic Red Willow Vineyard.

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Elephant Mountain Vineyard in Yakima Valley’s Rattlesnake Hills

Looking South from Elephant Mountain Vineyard across the Yakima Valley

We finished our breakfast and morning flyover seminar, courtesy of Wine Yakima Valley.  With caffeine ingested and a little more information to give us a some perspective on the Yakima Valley, we headed to Elephant Mountain Vineyard.

Rattlesnake Hills AVA

This is a super nested AVA, inside the Yakima Valley AVA which is itself nested within the Columbia Valley AVA. (It is the darker region north of 82 to the West side of the map).

Map Yakima Valley 2019 courtesy of WineYakimaValley.org
Map Yakima Valley 2019 courtesy of WineYakimaValley.org

Located on the North Western side of the Yakima Valley AVA the Rattlesnake Hills AVA was established in 2006 with vineyards dating back to 1968.  It’s about four miles south east of the city of Yakima, where we were staying.  The AVA spans over 74,000 acres with around 1,800 under vine.

Rattlesnake Hills take in the hills running east to west, that are north of the Yakima River.  Elevations for here are high, starting at 850 feet and going to over 3,000 feet, with most vineyards planted in the lower elevations.

Want to get really geeky on this area?  Visit the washingtonwine.org page for Rattlesnake Hills  https://www.washingtonwine.org/wine/facts-and-stats/regions-and-avas/rattlesnake-hills

Elephant Mountain Vineyard

It was October and harvest as we drove into Elephant Mountain Vineyard.  We passed bins filled with fruit harvested that morning and had to stop and take grape glamour shots. 

We climbed up the mountain through the vineyards surrounded by high desert landscape.  I will admit to it feeling a little odd.  We are from Vegas and to see a vineyard in the midst of this landscape was a little disconcerting.  We climbed the hill to the picnic area on top, where picnic tables were set out with bottles of wine and plates of wine grapes.

Elephant Mountain Vineyard
Elephant Mountain Vineyard, in Yakima Valley’s Rattlesnack Hills AVA

The Vineyard itself is located on the southern slopes of Rattlesnake Ridge which sits at the base of Elephant Mountain.  The ridge sits above the Missoula Flood plain.  Elevations here sit from 1320-1460 feet.The high elevation here means that they have about 30 more frost free days than the rest of the Yakima Valley.

Varieties Grown at Elephant Mountain

First planted in 1998 with Merlot and Cabernet, the vineyard has expanded to almost 120 acres which now includes Cab Franc, Mourvédre, Grenache, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Sangiovese, Cinsault, Counoise, Barbera and Viognier, Marsanne & Roussanne. 

I mentioned the grapes on the table.  It was a gorgeous line-up for tasting the ripe grapes of Cinsault, Counoise, Mouvédre, Grenache, Syrah, Marsanne & Roussanne.

  • Cinsault grapes at Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • Roussanne grapes at Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • Marsanne & Counoise grapes at Elephant Mountain Vineyard

Co got started giving us a little background on the area and then, Joe Hattrup, the owner of the vineyard met us to speak about the vineyard. 

Joe Hattrup speaking to us about his Elephant Mountain Vineyard
Joe Hattrup speaking to us about his Elephant Mountain Vineyard

Joe has been a farmer all of his life, but when they started this vineyard, he was new to wine grapes. So they set up a test block to see what worked and learn about the grapes before planting them in the commercial blocks.

Elephant Mountain Vineyard map
Elephant Mountain Vineyard map

They began as I said with Cab & Merlot and quickly got into Syrah. From there they found tat this site with it’s high elevation was good for many of the Rhône varieties. Most Rhônes are late ripening and the elevation here gives them those 30 additional days frost free, as well a great southern exposure late in the year to help with ripening.

They do have a second vineyard, Sugarloaf, also in the Rattlesnake Hills. He mentioned that they had pulled out the Viognier here at Elephant Mountain to plant Grenache which is in high demand and grows better with the protection this site provides.

A little on the Geography

We mentioned the elevation here, but Co put this into perspective with a few stats. At this point in the Yakima Valley, the river sits at 900 feet, and we were standing at about 1450 feet. When you head east to Red Mountain, the river there sits at around 400 feet. So you can see the valley is much lower there.

  • Desert, Vineyard and basalt. In Yakima Valley's Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • Basalt at Elephant Mountain Vineyard

We were standing in a ring of basalt lava rocks which informs the soils. Up on the ridge behind us, if you look closely, you can see a tree line. A band of trees sites at about 1600 feet, right at the line for moisture, fog and snow.

The views

Spectacular panorama of the Yakima Valley from Elephant Mountain Vineyard
Spectacular panorama of the Yakima Valley from Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • View of Mount Adams from Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • Looking South from Elephant Mountain Vineyard across the Yakima Valley
  • Vineyard View Elephant Mountain.

The wines

The lineup of wines on the table, all from wineries who source from this vineyard, was diverse and impressive!  The grapes are concentrated and the wines from these grapes tend to be really inky.

We tasted a wide sampling of Rhône varieties and blends from an assortment of wineries, all with fruit from this vineyard. It was really interesting to see the reflection of the fruit with it’s similarities and then the expression of the various winemakers on top of this.

  • Wines made with Elephant Mountain fruit WBC18

We were treated to a great lunch following this tasting. A food truck with Authentic Mexican food arrived to fill our bellies. I felt even more at home, with food truck the desert sage brush. Once full, we climbed back into our vans and headed to Walla Walla for the start of the Wine Bloggers Conference. But along the way, we took in some spectacular views and our driver filled us in on the history of the area, ancient as well as recent.

I’ll do yet another shout out to Barbara Glover at Wine Yakima Valley. This visit that she planned for us was entertaining, informative and beautifully paced. Thanks also to Co Dinn and Joe Hattrup for taking the time to give us these great insights into the Yakima Valley Wine Region. And of course to WBC18, without which we might not have visited this beautiful region.

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Yakima Valley Seminar

Owen Roe Winery in Yakima Valley Washington

We spent a glorious evening at Owen Roe Winery, tasting wines and meeting winemakers from all over the Yakima Valley.  Now it was time to get into the nitty gritty geeky stuff.

Wine Yakima Valley,  set us up with a morning seminar for a video flyover of the Yakima Valley with Co Dinn and Kerry Shiels to orient us on the layout of the valley.

Co Dinn and Kerry Shiels talk Yakima Valley Wine
Yakima Valley with Co Dinn and Kerry Shiels

Co Dinn

Co Dinn Cellars

I had met Co Dinn on the first evening in Yakima.  As the party was winding down, and the table emptying out, he came to my end of the table and introduced himself.  We spoke for quite awhile in the shadows, my shot of the wine I tasted with him, with attest to that.

Co has been a winemaker in Washington for over 20 years.  A UC Davis master’s grad, he worked in Napa and then came to Washington in 1996.  Since then he has worked with vineyards all over the state to make his wines.

He spent 12 years working with Côte Bonneville before diving into his own label Co Dinn Cellars, where he makes wines of the Yakima Valley and is devoted to learning everything about this areas soils and climates.  His knowledge is expansive as you will see as he speaks with us.

Kerry Shiels

Côte Bonneville

We mentioned that Co had spent time working with Côte Bonneville.  The Côte Bonneville estate vineyard is Du Brul Vineyard.  It was planted by Hugh and Kathy Shiels back in 1992 with the winery founded in 2001.  Kerry Shiels, daughter of Hugh and Kathy and the current winemaker at Côte Bonneville joined us for this conversation.

DuBrul Vineyard

Did I mention that Co was devoted to learning about the climates of the area.  Yes, that was plural climates.  When you talk about DuBrul vineyard, they have multiple microclimates within their 45 acre site. 

“In distance measured by hundreds of feet or less, we observe different growing conditions and tailor our farming practices to provide for the individual needs of the vine.

Quote courtesy the Cote Bonneville website https://www.cotebonneville.com/vineyard

This vineyard is recognized as one of the top in the state.

Part 1 – Overview and comparisons

In Part 1 below, we begin with Barbara Glover, the Executive Director of Wine Yakima Valley giving us an overview of the Yakima Valley AVA, it’s sub AVA’s and some of the surrounding area.  She then turns it over to Co Dinn. Co gives us a little perspective on the size of the wine region here compared to other regions. He and Kerry move on to a comparison of Washington to Burgundy and then moving on to talk about the soils and geology within this region.

Part 2 – Soil overview and Union Gap to DuBrul Vineyard

Part 2 continues with details on the soils and top soils.  They don’t have clay here, the soils here are gravel or sand.  As they don’t have clay, they don’t have phylloxera.  They are also in a rain shadow.  We zoom in and begin our flyover where Kerry details some of the vineyards that we will be driving by shortly on our way first to Elephant Mountain and then on to Walla Walla.

Kerry mentions the world class vineyard research happening here in the Yakima Valley.  She also tells us about the Red Willow Vineyard.  They focus on Syrah here and have a replica of the Chapel at Hermitage on the hill at the vineyard.  They also are looking deeply into the nuances of the different microclimates of the vines on different sides of their hill. Red Willow is a vineyard and at least 18 wineries source fruit from this iconic vineyard.  Our flyover takes us from Union Gap on the western end of the valley discussing areas and vineyards as we travel east.  We get to DuBrul Vineyard in Rattlesnake Hills AVA, where Kerry takes over speaking of their vineyard.

Kerry gives us a great quote from Bob Betz, Master of Wine

“Every grape would be red if it could.  Every grape would be cabernet if it could, and the best cabernet in the state of Washington is DuBrul Vineyard merlot.”

Part 3 – DuBrul to Red Mountain

 In Part 3 Co continues us east from DuBrul ending in Red Mountain.  This hill is an extension of Rattlesnake Ridge.  Red Mountain provides excellent structure and tannins and is used often in blends.  This is a southwest facing slope, not an entire mountain.  It is one of the warmest grape growing region in the state, so the cabernet grown there always ripens fully. 

We had a little time for questions which got into climate change. Kerry says the hillsides help to protect them according to most projections, but they are working on water management.  (She goes into some great details on why this is so)

Thanks to the Wine Media Conference https://www.winemediaconference.org/ (then known as the Wine Bloggers Conference) and Wine Yakima Valley https://wineyakimavalley.org/  for setting us the enjoyable and informative Pre-Conference tour.

Next up – Elephant Mountain Vineyard

From here we head out to Elephant Mountain Vineyard in the middle of the Yakima Valley

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Full fermentation bins! A walk inside Owen Roe Winery at Harvest.

Owen Roe Winery in Yakima Valley Washington

While we were in the Yakima Valley for #WBC18, we had the opportunity to go to Owen Roe Winery with the Pre-Conference Tour with Wine Yakima Valley.  You can read all about Day 1 of our adventure in the Yakima Valley here at Yakima Valley Wine and Beyond with Wine Yakima Valley’s Flavor Camp

While enjoying our afternoon, tasting the wines and getting set for Flavor Camp, I peeked around the side of the winery, where work continued.  We were deep into harvest and cleanup was happening outside the winery, behind where the tables were set out for dinner and wine was being poured.  I always lean toward the backstage (I am a Stage Manager after all), so I snuck around the side and found a couple fellow wine writers peeking as well.  As luck would have it, David O’Reilly, owner of Owen Roe, had spied us, and offered to give us a tour inside the busy working winery.

Full Fermentation Bins!

The Winery was full of bins filled with fruit that was fermenting.  Pulling back the tarp, that was spring clamped on as a lid, we looked in at the berries (grapes) that looked remarkably like blueberries (as someone noted). 

Whole berries in a fermentation bin at Owen Roe Winery in the Yakima Valley
Whole berries in a fermentation bin at Owen Roe Winery in the Yakima Valley

David informed us that this was a whole berry ferment.  They don’t use a crusher to crush the berries, the weight of the berries pressing down on each other does that work for them. 

The room was filled with these white bins full of berries fermenting.  Someone asked if this was like a carbonic ferment.  Well….carbonic fermentation (as David explained) is a whole berry fermentation like this, but….it is done in an enclosed system with CO2. They do this with the Cinsault that goes into their Sinister Hand Blend. He pointed out the room in the corner, their cold room. The carbonic masceration, does with the Cinsault, what is does with Beaujolais Nouveau, it give the wine a fresh fruit note.

So many Stories

You know I love a good story. While David O’Reilly told us the tales of the winery and the vineyard, I dug a little deeper to find the inspiration for the name of the Winery and beyond that, of the Sinister Hand wine that David mentioned to us and that I got to taste later.

Behind the Name Owen Roe:

Owen Roe O’Neill was a seventeenth century Irish Patriot, who dedicated his life to upholding the highest principles of political equality and freedom. His commitment to great things makes him an ideal model for us at Owen Roe, for we share his dedication to principle in our work to produce the wines of Owen Roe. At Owen Roe we do not compromise: only the best is good enough.

Courtesy Owen Roe Winery

I reached out to Taylor at Owen Roe and she told me that David O’Reilly had spent his first 14 years of life on a farm in Ireland. His family then moved to British Columbia and he fished and raised vegetables and grew up living off of the land.

The name on the Label

Owen Roe Winery, in Yakima Valley Washignton
Owen Roe Winery, in Yakima Valley Washignton

A letter written in 1649 by O’Neill was found in David O’Reilly’s family castle, but because the letter was written in Spanish, O’Neill penned the signature with his Spanish name. David cut out the letters from the document to create Owen O’Neill’s signature. O’Reilly is related to O’Neill through marriage.

Courtesy of Taylor Boyle Wine Club Manager at Owen Roe

The story of the Sinister Hand

Sinister Hand Label from Owen Roe Winery (courtesy of Owen Roe WInery)
Sinister Hand Label from Owen Roe Winery (courtesey of Owen Roe WInery)

THE STORY BEHIND THE LABEL: Long ago, pre-dating the 11th century, the families that became modern day O’Neills and O’Reillys were feuding over the land that became their ancestral home. To settle the dispute, a competition was organized and several rowing teams agreed that the first to touch the land, after rowing across the lake, would become ruler of the land. O’Neill’s boat was falling behind so a member of the crew grabbed his own sword, cut off his hand and threw it ashore, and touching first, winning the title to rule the land.  The island fortress on this land can still be visited on Lough Oughter in County Cavan.

From OwenRoe.com

Dipping into fermentation

Owen Roe Winery, Grapes in Fermentation Bins
Owen Roe Winery, Grapes in Fermentation Bins

David opened up a bin that was about half way through its ferment.  You could feel the heat.  The bin was sitting at about 32 ° C that would be about 85 ° F.  David explained that with Interns in the winery from all over the world, they use celsius temperature and metrics here (easier than teaching another language!). 

We looked in another bin and you could see some skin separation. The color was also leaching out of the skins into the juice adding those wonderful phenolics that make red wines so tasty and interesting.

When asked about regulating temperature, David said that they regulate the ambient temperature in the winery.  We had arrived at the change of seasons, when the daylight temperatures tend to plummet.  Often it is actually too cold for fermentation in the winery.  They do have their cold room in case a fermentation gets running too hot.  They typically keep their fermentations at around 80 ° here and let them do a nice slow 2 week fermentation.

Jackie Evans, Winemaker

Jackie Evans, Owen Roe Winery, Winemaker
Jackie Evans, Owen Roe Winery, Winemaker

We met Jackie Evans, the winemaker here at Owen Roe, as she was making her rounds adding nutrients to keep the fermentations on track.  They had their lab where they check levels and add nutrients to be sure the fermentation does not get stressed.  This avoids stuck fermentations.  As David puts it “Band-aids are easier than mouth to mouth resuscitation.” 

Later in the evening the crew would be in for punch downs.  I had planned on trying to get back in to see that, but the wine, the food, the conversation, and that sunset…well, suffice to say, I got distracted.

None the less, we did go on to do our Flavor Camp which included a vineyard tour with David.  You will see that coming up next!

Visiting Owen Roe

Owen Roe has 2 tasting rooms, one in Washington at the Union Gap Vineyard that we visited, as well as another in Newberg Oregon (they make wines in the Willamette Valley also)

Owen Roe Winery, in Yakima Valley Washington
Owen Roe Winery, in Yakima Valley Washington

Washington Tasting room

Open Daily from 11-4 in the Yakima Valley, they do require reservations for more than 8 guests.

They also offer Barrel Room Tastings on the weekends started each day at noon. You can reserve this for a fee on their reservation page. It includes a tour, private tasting, an expanded flight and a cheese and charcuterie platter.

The Union Gap Vineyard and tasting room can be found at 309 Gangl Rd in Wapato WA 98951. 509-877-0454

Oregon Tasting Room

Again open daily from 11-4 their tasting room off Hwy 219 outside of Newberg requires reservations for more than 6 guests. You can bring snacks, or contact them ahead of time and they can have a snack plate ready.

Here they have a Cellar Table Experience that you can reserve to do a more private tasting geared toward your palate. Contact them ahead of time to set this up.

The Willamette Valley tasting room is located at 2761 E 9th St. Newberg OR 97132. 503-538-7778

More to come!

Watch for our vineyard tour with David O’Reilly, coming out soon!

And visit our Yakima Valley Wine page on our site for more details on this great region.

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