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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
He also showed us a tree stump that they had inoculated for mushrooms.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
When we asked where to grab lunch, everyone said the same thing…Los Hernandez. We did a piece on our delicious lunch here.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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”.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
is recognized as one of the top in the state.
Part 1 – Overview and comparisons
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
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
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
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.
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)
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!
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).
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
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
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
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.
Dipping into fermentation
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
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.”
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)
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!
We made the drive toward the southern part of the Willamette Valley to visit Illahe. (ILL-a-he) We were staying in Newburg and took the opportunity to get up early and drive south through the Eola-Amity Hills and then down to Salem. In Salem we made a stop along the Willamette River at Minto-Brown Island Park for a little morning hiking and to see the river. We headed back across the river and along Rt. 22 to Rickreall and then south and west to Illahe Vineyards. This area is Southwest of the Eola-Amity Hills AVA. The area has a proposal in to become a new AVA which would be the Mt. Pisgah/Polk County AVA. Illahe is one of nine vineyards that would be located in this new AVA.
This is part 2 in our series (the folks at Illahe were kind enough to spend the whole morning with us!). Check out part one with an audio recording here.
bit of tasting with Vineyard Owner Lowell Ford and tasting room manager Kathy,
Lowell took us out front to the patio that overlooks the vineyard.
view is wide and bucolic. Lowell first
planted back in 2001 with 22 acres of Pinot Noir. The vineyard is now 60 acres of the 80-acre
slope and includes 7 varieties. They
also grow estate fruit on the 120-acre family vineyard at Glenn Creek which is
back near Salem.
vineyard is planted south facing for heat with rows planted north to
south. There is one small exception
where the vineyard was very steep, and the rows could not run north south for
thing we noticed on our drive in and from our vantage point looking down on the
vineyard was the bright pops of color from flowers in the vineyard. They have planted baby blue eyes, which by
the time we visited were a bright pink/purple color. They worked with the soil and conservation
district and have planted every other row to a different cover crop of flowers. The idea is to return the area to the native
savannah that it was before the European settlers arrived with native species.
There are poppies, which sadly only a few were in still in bloom when we
visited and 5 or 6 other varieties of flowers in a 2.5-acre spot in the vineyard. As you look out, you see some areas with more
color where they planted these cover crop flowers more densely to help combat
erosion. Eventually they would like to
use this practice throughout the entire vineyard.
bad news first…many of these flowers grow very tall which creates issues for
the vineyard workers and trouble with mowing.
plus side, these plants de-vigor the vines, causing them to pull back on their
Water in the Vineyard and the Deep
They, like most vineyards began with irrigation, as young vines, especially in the first three years need a little extra help as they establish their root system. They have since joined the Deep Roots Coalition. The organization believes that when you don’t irrigate, the roots dig deeper, giving you a truer expression of the terroir.
Roots Coalition is based out of nearby Salem and includes 26 vineyards in the
Willamette Valley. Their group looks to
make terroir driven wines from sustainable agriculture. Dry farming accomplishes both of these
We promote sustainable and terroir-driven viticulture without irrigation.
Wine should reflect the place from which it emanates: its terroir. Irrigation prevents the true expression of terroir. In most cases, irrigation is not a sustainable method of farming. The members of drc, winemakers and vineyard growers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, are committed to producing world-class wines solely from dry-farmed vines.
From the http://www.deeprootscoalition.org/
asked Lowell if there was a water table that the roots could be heading
toward. There is he told me “about 12-15
feet down”. With the Willakenzie soil
they have a dense black clay from the Missoula floods that is very hard. As they were putting in the vineyard, they
had to tile a section as there was water coming out from a hole in the side of the
hill creating a mud hole.
Mostly Pinot Noir
Most of the grapes planted here are Pinot Noir, with the Lion’s share going to the very popular Estate Pinot Noir. They also have 3 other Pinots their Bon Savage from the lower blocks, the Percheron and the 1899.
looked over the vineyard, Lowell pointed out a section of two rows that was
shorter and lighter in color than the rest. This is the Schioppettino that was
planted down in what he calls “Little Italy”, where they also grow Lagrein, and
Side note: Schioppettino is the
word for “gunshot” in Italian. This wine
is often dry with black cherry and spicy, sharp black pepper.
they have 15 rows of Grüner Veltliner, plus some Pinot Gris, Viognier and some
Tempranillo that they make into a rosé.
We looked out and could see a tractor moving. David, their neighbor was out feeding his cattle and while he was over a quarter mile away, you could clearly hear the tractor. This prompted Lowell to share with us a story about the cattle. Early on as they started making wine, they were looking for a way to use the pomace (the grape skins and seeds that are left after the wine has been pressed). As a natural product he and David thought they could feed it to the cows! Lowell took a truck load over to dump near the shed and noticed the cows got aggressive, jumping up and shoving each other out of the way.
David called later to say the cows were drunk and they were not good drunks. They now blend the pomace with hay, which keeps the cows happy with less of a buzz, since they obviously can’t hold their liquor!
We saw raptors, northern harriers and white-tailed kites. Oregon is home to many raptors. Lowell enjoys seeing these birds who often cause starlings to disappear in a big puff. I might sound cruel, but starlings can wreak havoc on a vineyard. There have been years when starlings appeared as a huge cloud migrating from Alaska. During harvest propane cannons which cause periodic explosive bursts that will scare the piss out of you and squawkers, which are recordings of birds in distress are used to keep the birds away, so they don’t eat all the fruit. Lowell says each of these techniques works for about 2 weeks until the birds catch on. Robins (not me!) can be an issue also. Luckily for him, the last four years the birds have been less of a problem.
From here we headed back into the winery, to fill our glasses again and talk about the wine making techniques.
How to find them!
Vineyards is located at 3275 Ballard Rd, Dallas, OR 97338.
a call for an appointment at 503-831-1248 or drop her an email at [email protected].
are $25 per person and are waived with a $100 purchase.
they don’t serve food, they have a lovely patio with tables overlooking the vineyard,
where you can bring your own lunch and enjoy the view.
We made the drive toward the southern part of the Willamette Valley to visit Illahe. (ILL-a-he) We were staying in Newburg and took the opportunity to get up early and drive south through the Eola-Amity Hills and then down to Salem. In Salem we made a stop along the Willamette River at Minto-Brown Island Park for a little morning hiking and to see the river. We headed back across the river and along Rt. 22 to Rickreall and then south and west to Illahe Vineyards. This area is Southwest of the Eola-Amity Hills AVA.
The area has a proposal in to become a new AVA which would be the Mt. Pisgah/Polk County AVA. Illahe is one of nine vineyards that would be located in this new AVA. We talked with Kathy Greysmith, until Lowell Ford the owner and grape grower arrived and then we had a conversation about how things got started and some of the reasons for their philosophy and direction they chose with their Winery. This is the primer for the next 4 Video’s. Geek out with us.
A Family Affair – a few people and alot of hats
Illahe is a small family based winery. Lowell Ford is the owner and grape grower along with his wife Pauline, his son Brad is the winemaker and Brad’s wife, Bethany, deals with the marketing and National Sales, so it really is a family affair. They have an Associate Winemaker, Nathan and Cellar Master Howard and then Kathy. Kathy Greysmith, who was our contact, is their tasting room manager and deals with sales, membership and whatever other office work comes up. They all wear many hats. There It’s a labor of love that makes for some great wine.
Soil types here are different from Dundee, side by side tastings will tell you that. The climate is a little different also as they are further south. The terroir expresses itself in those differences. When they initially planted, they took the time to experiment in the vineyard, to see what would do best.
Illahe Grüner Veltliner
One of their early experimentation was with Grüner Veltliner and many of the different whites from Germany to see how they did. The Grüner was the star of the bunch.
Grüner Veltliner is mostly grown in Austria, they think of it as an “autochthonous” grape in the region. (that’s a big old technical term for grapes that are almost exclusively the result of a mutation or cross breeding in a specific area, that also have a long history in that area). It is thought to be a crossing between Traminer and possibly St. Georgen, both grapes that are indigenous to Austria. While most believe it expresses itself best in Austria, I can tell you that it is creating beautiful wine here at Illahe in Oregon.
The wine gives you crisp apple, stone fruit and then some herbal qualities from being partially fermented in acacia barrels. It, like all their white wines is a very reasonable $19 per bottle and you can find it here.
Back in the fall we asked Brad for a winter pairing with this wine and he suggested a Soupe aux choux (cabbage soup) You can read about that pairing with the link below.
Hedging bets on Climate Change with other varieties
also planted Lagrein, Teraldego and Schioppettino wines from the base of the
alps in Italy. All three are growing
well in their “little Italy” block. They
felt it important to experiment and will likely continue. With Climate change you can’t move the
vineyard, so you have to hedge your bets and look to varietals that may do
better as the conditions in the vineyard change.
We have heard this before. If you read our piece on Montinore, you will know that they are also growing Lagrein and Teraldego. Experimenting with these Italian varieties for much the same reason. We spoke with Rudy Marchesi about this at the end of our Barrel Tasting with him at Montinore.
Pushing the envelope – trying new things
Brad is creative. He wants to try new things. This is how the 1899 came about, their wine made using the technology that would have been available in 1899. (More on that later). They have 6 different clones of Pinot Noir as well as Pinot Grigio (clone VCR5) sourced from the base of the Alps. (As we talked, we tasted the 2017 Pinot Gris). 50% of the Pinot Gris was made it what Kathy calls the Hobbit Barrel (Lowell tells the story at around 4:30 in about how they came to have this barrel.)
We talk about their Tempranillo Rose which sells out annually. We only get to talk about it, we don’t get to taste it. Released on Valentines Day, it sells out by Memorial Day. Every year they increase their production, and every year they still sell out by Memorial Day.
On to the Pinot Noirs
Lowell had planned to be a grower. He thought he would have a vineyard not a winery. He would grow the grapes and in the off season he and his wife would travel. Brad changed all that. But…at least he did it wisely.
As they planted the vineyard, every tenth row, every 20th plant, Brad kept detailed records on for 3 years. This included pruning, weights, brix, blossom time…very detailed. They found the sweet spots in the vineyard. The Percheron block…that was the sweet spot. This block also happened to be next to where originally Lowell had planted his riesling. So, sadly the Riesling made way for the Pinot Noir. This block is typically their earliest ripening. You will find clones 777, Wadenswil 2 and Swan.
with us as we head out front to view the vineyard and talk about some of the
Vineyards is located at 3275 Ballard Rd, Dallas, OR 97338.
a call for an appointment at 503-831-1248 or drop her an email at [email protected].
are $25 per person and are waived with a $100 purchase.
they don’t serve food, they have a lovely patio with tables overlooking the vineyard,
where you can bring your own lunch and enjoy the view.
1 : 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 biodynamic practices
2 : grown
by or utilizing biodynamic farming biodynamic vegetables a biodynamic
I grew up with a Mother Earth News on the coffee table, the Farmers Almanac from my dad’s shelf was referred to for the garden. I do Yoga and believe in chakras. You will find a stone or crystal in my pocket most days and essential oils in my drawer. I have a dear friend who has a house in Hawaii, she and a friend put out gifts for Pele during the last expansion of Kilauea and I am sure that it protected her home. Yet somehow, when I speak with winemakers or vineyard owners about biodynamics, the skeptic comes out in me. I will talk with them about how it is probably the attention to detail in the vineyard that causes the results to be so good. And they ARE good, of that I am sure.
Michael and I had a
discussion about this recently. I value
his perspective, as he tends to be analytical with these things. We talked about the preparations, with cow
manure in a cow horn buried in the ground.
Sounds like a “potion” right? But
you are creating something with the biology in the ground, the micro-organisms
on the site. That’s science. We discussed the leaf days, which I have been
really hesitant to buy into, but they are based on moon cycles. I’m a woman, I believe in moon cycles. Again…there is some science behind it.
Finally we came around to the founder, Rudolph Steiner, and I think I found my answer. I don’t have enough depth of knowledge on him and I am skeptical of one guy coming up with all the answers. (ie, I love Bikram Yoga. Bikram Choudhury, the founder of this style yoga…not so much)
What I will tell you, is that I have yet to meet a biodynamic wine that I didn’t like, and when it comes to the people I have met on vineyards who are growing biodynamically, they are some of my very favorite people in the industry. You can check out a couple of interviews we have done with Jason Haas of Tablas Creek and Rudy Marchesi of Montinore.
But for now, lets get on to a quick
explanation of biodynamics and then move on to the wines!
As the definition at the top
says, this is about a holistic approach to farming that looks at the farm as a self-sustaining
system. It takes organic a step further. These farms work without chemicals and adhere
to a lunar calendar.
Biodynamics in Winemaking
Rudy Marchesi reminded me in
…biodynamic practices were established as agricultural practices. …Biodynamic winemaking is an extension of the thought process.
Rudy Marchesi, in our interview July 2018.
Biodynamic practices have been adapted to growing wine grapes and processing wine. Demeter International is the most recognized organization for official biodynamic certification. https://www.demeter-usa.org/
You can find certification logos on bottles in different forms.
Finding Biodynamic wine
It’s tough! If you are not out in wine country it can be hard to find! In Las Vegas I could not find any biodynamic French wines at the “to be unnamed” wine store that claims to be “total” on the wines is carries. The manager told me that 100% of the people buying wine do not care about biodynamics. After a sharp glance from me, he updated his statement to “only 1 out of 100 customers care”. I did admonish him, that as people in the industry, it was our job to educate people on this subject.
So I searched and finally purchased wine online to be shipped to me. I was lucky to have Jeremy at wine.com who was willing to do the research and provide me with multiple links to wines they had available to choose from. I settled on the Château Maris Les Planels Old Vine Syrah La Liviniere Minervois 2011 and the Domaine Fouassier Sancerre Les Chailloux 2016.
The bottles arrived and I
found them to be without Demeter labels.
But I had researched and each of the wineries said they grew
biodynamically! Well they are. My love/hate
relationship with certifications comes out here. Running a winery is a busy all-encompassing
business. Certification means extra time
and money that many wineries may not have.
Also, it depends on when they were certified! I checked my Tablas Creek bottles. They were certified in October of 2017, so it
won’t be until the 2018’s are released that they will be able to put the
Demeter logo on their label.
So…while I won’t show you
Demeter logos on the bottles I tasted, I will tell you about the vineyards and
their biodynamic practices. And then…we
will get to the delicious pairings.
Sancerre Les Chailloux 2016
Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre, Loire, France $29.99
This domaine has been in the Fouassier family for 10 generations, with Benoit and Paul Fouassier at them helm. The domaine is 59 hectares of mostly Sauvignon Blanc. Wines are vinified by parcel here to showcase the individuality of the sites. They have members of Biodyvin since 2009.
to them means enchancing the soil and the plant, applying preparations at
precise times and working the soils through ploughing and hoeing.
domaine, just like any other agricultural concern, is considered to be a living
entity. The soils that we work are not just there to support the vine but are a
living environment and a source of energy for the plant, just as much as the
air it breathes.
The 2016 Les Chailloux is 100% Sauvignon Blanc comes from a vineyard with vines between 10 and 35 years old. It spends 12 months in stainless steel. The soil on this vineyard is clay, chalk and limestone and you get the minerality immediately on the nose. Alcohol on this is 12.7%.
lemon puree came out looking decidedly different than theirs, but regardless,
it was delicious and it was an absolutely perfect pairing with this wine. The notes of mineral in the wine reflected in
the cod, the lemon notes of the purée mirroring the wine. It was truly blissful.
noted that after enjoying the pairing and then just sipping on the wine, that
the wine was enhanced by the lingering flavors on his palate from the food.
Château Maris Les Planels Old Vine Syrah La Liviniere Minervois 2011
Syrah/Shiraz from Minervois, Languedoc-Roussillon, France $31.99
About Château Maris
Wine spectator says that “Château Maris is one of the five most environmentally friendly wineries in the world.”
Robert Eden and Kevin Parker bought this vineyard in 1997 with the idea of growing grapes and making wine, in harmony with nature. They knew they wanted to go chemical free, and decided to do a test with biodynamics. They set up two compost piles and treated one with a biodynamic preparation, while the other went without. Testing later, they found the compost treated with the biodynamic treatment had far more living organisms than the one without…and the path was set.
This Syrah comes from a 3 hectare parcel with soil of clay-limestone and clay-sandstone. It sits at 14.5% alcohol. Tasting notes on this wine noted, tar and smoke on the nose with notes of black currants and black licorice.
The first thing I got on the nose was smoke, for Michael it was blueberries. When I dipped my nose back in I could find a little tar, but it was savory. There were nice tannins. This wine was big, but not too big, kind of a gentle giant. This wine did not feel like a 2011. It’s aging is really graceful. It has probably mellowed, but still is vibrant.
The Pairing – bacon wrapped tenderloin fillets
I again went to the tasting notes and pulled from these for my pairing. I picked up a couple bacon wrapped tenderloin fillets and encrusted them with cumin and black pepper (both spices often found on the nose of syrah). These got seared on both sides and went into the oven to finish. While they were cooking I took some red currant jam, added fresh blackberries, a bit of worchestershire sauce and a bit of anise seeds and slowly cooked it down, to drizzle on top.
We did baby potatoes in butter and herbs de Provençe and a baby greens salad topped with fennel and green apple in a lemon vinaigrette with just a touch of lavender.
The pairings all worked pretty well. The fennel in the salad pulling up those black licorice notes (although I would have lightened up on the amount of lemon). The umami from the tenderloins with the berry sauce went beautifully. This was a delicious and very comfortable pairing.
The wrap up – is it worth it to search out Biodynamic Wines?
That’s a pretty easy yes. Here’s my take on why. When I’m searching for a new wine the possibility exists that I may not like it. Even with scores etc…it’s often hard to be sure of the quality of the wine you are getting. I have never been disappointed with a Biodynamic wine. There may be many reasons for this, the farming is one, the attention to detail demanded by this type of farming is another and quite honestly the vineyard that is determined to do this is committed with time and resources to doing this and that may be one of the biggest reasons that it works so well.
Will it be difficult to find biodynamic wines? Probably to start, but if all of you go out and start asking about biodynamic wines in your local wine shops and restaurants, the market will follow! Businesses will add items that they hear people consistently asking for. So do us all a favor and start asking!
The French #Winophiles
The French #Winophiles are a group of wine writers that gather monthly to together, tackle a subject on French Wine. I am privileged and honored to be a part of this lovely group. This month, the topic was biodynamic French wines. You have seen my take on this, now you can read on, to see biodynamic French wines from a variety of points of view! There will be so many different wines and pairings! And…you can join us on twitter on Saturday morning January 19th as we spend an hour chatting about the wines we tasted and biodynamics and the impact on the wines (as well as the impact on the planet!). Gwendolyn from Wine Predator will be leading the discussion at 8 am PST or 11 am EST.
More great pieces from the French #Winophiles on Biodynamic French Wine