The Valley Grove Vineyard and the future of Armstrong Family Winery

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

The Valley Grove Vineyard

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

From the Blue Mountains to the Ocean

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

The vision for the future

Where the winery will be…

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

The park

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

History on display

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

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

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

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

The historic barn

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

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

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

Tim Armstrong, July 2019

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

The vines are older than they look

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

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

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

Tim Armstrong, July 2019

Clones and canopy management

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

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

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

Other sources

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

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

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

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

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

Visiting them

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

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

Armstrong Family Winery

The Walla Walla Tasting Room is located at

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

The Woodinville Tasting Room

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

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

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

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

Bordeaux Bubbles? #Winophiles

Crémant de Bordeaux Amelia Brut Rose and Calvet Blanc

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

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

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

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

Crémant

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

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

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

Crémant de Bordeaux is one of eight french Crémants.

These are classified by region and include:

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

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

Crémant de Bordeaux

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

Vignoble de Bordeaux
Vignoble de Bordeaux

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

Grape varieties for crémant de Bordeaux

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

Red grape varieties for crémant de Bordeaux rosé

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

White grape varieties for crémant de Bordeaux Blanc

  • Savignon Blanc
  • Sémillon
  • Muscadelle

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

On to the Wines

Amelia Brut Rosé

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

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

Winemaker notes

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

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

Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux Brut 2016

Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux
Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux

Winemaker notes

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

Made by Calvet

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

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

Pairings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on crémant de Bordeaux

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

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

The French #Winophiles

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

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

Yakima Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with JB Neufeld

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

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

Justin Neufeld’s journey to wine

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

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

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

JB Neufeld and Cabernet Sauvignon

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

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

Justin Neufeld, July 2019

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

New clones

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

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

Justin Neufeld, July 2019

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

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

Cabernet a “stubborn” grape

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

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

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

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

Justin Neufeld, July 2019

Soils and microflora

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

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

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

Terroir and all it’s variables

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

The full time gig at Gilbert

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

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

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

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

Getting ahold of some JB Neufeld wine

JB Neufeld Cabernet Sauvignon
JB Neufeld Cabernet Sauvignon

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

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

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

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

Exploring New South Wales – Mudgee #ouraussiewineadventure

Vinifera Vineyard Sunrise Mudgee NSW Australia

During #ouraussiewineadventure in October we traveled to the Mudgee Region of New South Wales to spend a day exploring the town and the wineries that surround it.

Mudgee, through the fires and the drought, is still open for business!

From the beginning, I want to acknowledge that they are having a tough year, as is all of Australian wine country. Mudgee, like most regions has been impacted by the drought and the bush fires. While the fires are not directly in the vineyards, they must deal with the smoke, the increased lack of water, the slowing of tourism during the fires and on a more personal level, many employees and their families may be directly affected by the fires.

The thing is, they are still open for business and you can support them by getting out to visit. What? You are not in Australia you say? Well get yourself to a wine store and buy some Australian wine. Ask for wines from wineries other than Yellow Tail! Increase the demand for these wines. Drink them and talk about them. That’s what we plan to do. Wine is a product that takes months to years to be ready for sale, so you will find these wineries have white wines available that were bottled this spring and reds that may be anywhere from the 2013 to the 2018 harvest, not to mention older bottles of sparkling or sweet wines. There is plenty of wine that they have ready for you to enjoy.

#Feelthelove

Cara George CEO of Mudgee Region Tourism, told us that they are doing a campaign in February around Valentine’s Day called “Feel the Love in the Mudgee Region”.

We are waiting with open arms to welcome visitors. #feelthelove

Cara George, CEO Mudgee Region Tourism, January 29th, 2020

We will use this post to tell you about this region, to fill you in on it’s beauty, it’s people, it’s wines. But you can expect that we will be following up with details on the struggles that they are facing and how they are dealing with it.

Mudgee

Mudgee is a wine region in New South Wales. It sits inland from the Blue Mountains and on the West side of the Great Dividing Range. The city is the 2nd oldest settlement West of the Blue Mountains, established in 1838.

In the 1870’s two gold rushes swelled the areas population. The downtown area is picturesque with plenty of heritage listed buildings. It is a great place to stroll and enjoy the shops and food, but don’t miss getting out of town to the surrounding vineyards.

Wine in Mudgee

The name Mudgee means “nest in the hills” in the aboriginal tongue. The name comes from the perimeter of hills that create a “nest”. Grapevines were first planted here back in 1858 by German settlers. Most vineyards are found on the gentle slopes, where you get beautiful vistas. This nest does have it’s downfalls as it can have frost prone pockets.

We drove through the Great Dividing Range from the Hunter Valley to get here and the climate here is very different. There is no maritime influence and bud burst is later here due to the cold nights.

Rainfall is lower here. If you are aware of the bush fires and the current severe drought being felt across New South Wales, you realize how much of an issue that is. Irrigation is essential here, and with the drought they are running low on water to irrigate with.

Harvest here will run a full month behind harvest in the Hunter Valley to the east. It’s warm in summer and autumn. They are at 32 degrees south here and prime wine growing regions sit between 30 and 50 degrees, so they are the warmer edge. Luckily, they sit at about 1476 feet, which helps moderate the heat.

You will find a little more than 40 cellar doors in the area and a wide range of wines, from rieslings to zinfandel.

Lowe Wines

  • David Lowe of Lowe Winery in Mudgee Australia
  • Lowe Wines in Mudgee Zinfandel Vines bush trained
  • Zinfandel Vines with leaves just coming out at Lowe Wines Tinja vineyard in Mudgee Australia
  • Lowe Wines in Mudgee Australia Cellar Door

Our first stop as we drove into Mudgee, was a visit with David Lowe at Lowe Wines. David is growing bio-dynamically and is a proponent of Slow wine. We had a fascinating conversation with him in his beautiful and busy tasting room. After wondering the property with the map they provide in tasting room to see the orchard, the compost, the gardens etc…we left with a bottle of Zin. Yep…he is well known for his Zinfandel. You can see some of our interview with David:

The Parkview Hotel, Mudgee

We headed back into town to check into our lodging. We were guided on our choice by the suggested accommodations for the Post Wine Media Conference Tour that we were unable to join. (3 tours…we couldn’t do them all, so we came early!)

We found the Parkview Hotel, just off of the main area of town overlooking a quiet park. This historic building, originally built in the 1870’s, had recently reopened after extensive renovations. It retains it’s historic charm while adding modern conveniences. They have a cafe, which sadly was not open when we were there mid week. Our suite was easily accessible on the main floor, a boon as we needed to do some repacking! There is a lovely wrap around veranda on the 2nd floor, which they made us aware of upon check in and encouraged us to enjoy. We did. With a bit of time before our sunset meeting, we sat and enjoyed the quiet of the park, with blossoms dropping from the trees and scattering and drifting across the floor of the veranda. It’s was the perfect peaceful break in the afternoon.

First Ridge Wines

  • First Ridge Wines in Mudgee NSW Australia
  • First Ridge Mudgee NSW Australia
  • The drive to the cellar door at First Ridge Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Sipping First Ridge Prosecco with Col in Mudgee NSW Australia
  • The last rays of sunset from First Ridge in Mudgee NSW Australia

Sunset found us at First Ridge, taking in the amazing views over Prosecco with Col Millott. Here they focus on Italian varieties; fiano, vermentino, pinot grigio, sangiovese and barbera. Col, the viticulturist, met us as their cellar door on the vineyard. It was after hours, being at sunset and he kindly drove back to the property and opened up their modern cellar door, that is made from 2 shipping containers.

They are located South East of the city of Mudgee and from their location you can truly see the “nest” that this valley is. Michael set up cameras to catch the views and Col opened up the walls of the cellar door and poured some Prosecco for us to sip while we chatted.

You will have to watch for our interview with Col that will be coming out later.

The sun set, and as the light began to fade, we gathered up the equipment and let Col get home for the day.

Dinner at the Red Heifer

We had planned a spot for dinner, but Col suggested the Red Heifer at the Lawson Park Hotel. It was a beautiful evening and the walk felt good.

The town of Mudgee is really a bit enchanting. By the time you get here, you have driven through quite a bit of bush and for me at least, it was a relief to see civilization. As we pulled into Church Street the town oozed charm. In the mid day sun, the parking spots along the streets were full and the town hummed with people making their way from shop to shop. Now in the evening it was quieter. The streets were mostly empty and the dark sky was pierced by the light of the clock tower. We strolled, taking it all in, until hunger pushed us to move a bit faster.

We arrived at Lawson’s and found the Red Heifer. The bar and restaurant are separate, so we grabbed a glass of local wine from the bar and, too tired to grill our own, (which is what the place is known for) we went simple with some fish and chips. It was seat yourself, casual and comfortable with the wall painted to show you all the best cuts of beef.

Full and happy, we strolled, a little more slowly now, back to the hotel.

Sunrise at Vinifera

  • Sunrise in Mudgee over the vines at Vinifera
  • Sunrise at Vinifera in Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Spring Vines at Vinifera
  • New green on the vines at Vinifera Mudgee NSW Australia
  • The winery at Vinifera Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Vinifera's award winning Cabernet Sauvignon Mudgee NSW Australia
  • The Giant Corkscrew in front of Vinifera that matches their logo Mudgee NSW Australia

Sunrise was out at Vinifera Vineyards, which is near Lowe Wines and across from the airport. We shivered in the cool morning, arriving early as always to catch the first rays over the vineyard. It was cloudy, so we caught bits as it broke through the clouds. Some of the vines were just hitting bud break here. We ventured back later in the day to do a tasting with Sam, daughter of Tony and Debbie McKendry who planted the vineyard in 1994 and still run it today. She has stepped in as the second generation here at the vineyards. But first…there was breakfast to be had.

Alby + Esthers

The Wine Media Conference would return here with a group after the conference. We could not join them, but we did grab their itinerary as a guide. They would be breakfasting at Alby + Esthers so we figured we would give it a try.

The entrance is a brick archway down an alley between shops. You feel like you are sneaking into a spot others might miss. The space opens to a courtyard between the buildings with small seating areas next to an open door into the cafe proper. There are a few seats inside, but why on earth would we not want to enjoy this enchanting garden. Words, don’t do the place justice. You’ll have to settle for some photos.

In addition to being a great spot for breakfast, they are open as a wine bar in the evening. With the lights strung over this cozy courtyard garden, I image that would be pretty amazing.

Now it was time to try to fit in another tasting or two, before heading back to the Hunter Valley.

Robert Stein – Riesling

We headed north out of the city to Robert Stein. It was still early and we were likely to be the first people in the tasting room. We pulled up out in front of the rustic looking cellar door, and took in the cloud filled sky, then strolled down to visit the vines.

Robert Stein is known for Riesling. I know, when you think of Australian Riesling, you might think of the Clare Valley and Eden Valley in South Australia, but you will find some award winning riesling from this Mudgee winery. The Stein family brought the first cuttings of Rhine Riesling to Australia, that actually survived, back in 1838, planting them south west of Sydney.

In 1976 the Stein family took up wine again, establishing Robert Stein vineyard here in Mudgee. The vineyard grew with the help of their son Andrew and now the 40 year old vines continue to thrive with their grandson Jacob Stein at the helm as chief winemaker.

  • The Robert Stein Cellar Door under a beautiful sky Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Riesling vine at Robert Stein Vineyard Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Stein's Wines cellar door entrance at Robert Stein Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Inside the Cellar door at Robert Stein
  • So many varieties and styles at Robert Stein
  • Robert Stein's award winning dry riesling. Mudgee NSW Australia

Stuart in the tasting room took us through a wide range of their wines, which include styles for every palate in varieties including: cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, chardonnay, semillon, pinot noir, gewurztraminer, riesling, sparkling wines, dessert and fortified wines. Their dry Riesling is the star, with multiple awards and medals.

They also have a motor cycle museum and the Pipeclay Pumphouse Restaurant, which we sadly did not have time to visit. We packed a couple of bottles (sadly the suitcase is only so big), and got ready for another drive.

More information on Mudgee

Our drive then would take us back to the Hunter Valley for the Wine Media Conference, where we had an opportunity to speak with Cara George, the CEO of the Mudgee Region Tourism. We look forward to sharing with you our interview with her, where she gives us an overview of the Mudgee Region. For more information visit:

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

Though the mountains may crumble…Apremont and some Alpine pairings #Winophiles

Apremont and morbier from Valley Cheese and Wine

Inspired to find some “Godforsaken Grapes”

At Cam’s suggestion, I picked up Jason Wilson’s “Godforsaken Grapes” to read for this month’s French #Winophiles piece. I’ve been devouring it whenever I have a moment free.

Godforsaken Grapes by Jason Wilson and a cup of tea
Godforsaken Grapes by Jason Wilson and a cup of tea

On Saturday February 15th, the #Winophiles will gather on Twitter to talk about indigenous french grapes, “godforsaken grapes” if you will, at 11 am EST. I can’t wait to see what other grapes that I’ve never tasted that the other #Winophiles find. You will find a list of their pieces at the bottom of this post!

As a wine lover who geeks out over obscure and underappreciated wines and grape varieties, this book turned out to really be my jam. If you are into those kind of things, I suggest you pick it up too. It’s uber fascinating!

Now that I was into the book, I needed to locate a wine from one of these “Godforsaken grapes” that was from France. *reminder…Vegas can be a wine desert, and I was really determined to try to buy from a local shop. Solenne at Valley Cheese and Wine came through for me with a Jacquere from Apremont, as well as a bit of morbier cheese to pair.

  • Our visit to Valley Cheese and Wine to pick up an Apremont & some morbier cheese
  • The cheese counter at Valley Cheese and Wine

Little did I know that the #winepw crew was diving into Savoie this month! I’ll link at the bottom to a place you can find all their posts if you want more information.

So now I have the wine and some cheese. Time to dig in deeper to the region, this Jacquere grape and perhaps some foods to pair with it.

Savoie

First things first, the pronounciation is “sah-VWA” This is not like the Benny Goodman song (Stompin’ at the Savoy) or the London Savoy Hotel, although sometimes you see it spelled that way.

Savoie is a French Department on the eastern edge of France bordered by Italy and Switzerland. Switzerland dips into France a little here with Geneva.

This is region known for it’s beauty, with vineyards, lakes and of course the alps. These are considered the Rhône Alps, and were inhabited by a Celtic tribe who fought back the Romans, until finally being overtaken in 121 BCE. The area since then has been a part of multiple kingdoms and in the middle ages was controlled by the House of Savoy. Savoy became a permanent part of France in 1860. Most of the land is mountainous, with farmland between the mountains and the lakes. The farmland is devoted to cattle, dairy, apples, grains and vines.

Apremont

Vineyard in front of mount Granier of the Chatreuse mountains, Apremont, Savoy, France.

My title for this piece is in honor of Apremont. This region had what is thought to be Europe’s largest landslide back in 1248 which created this environment at 1150 feet for vineyards. Soils here are chalky and they catch the morning sun. The name means “Bitter Mountain” in honor of the many lives lost in this landslide. From the Les Rocailles site

This appellation takes its freshness from the typical ground of Savoy, composed of calcareous rocks, consequence of the landslide of the mount Granier in 1248

http://www.lesrocailles.fr/en/cuvee-apremont-les-rocailles–5.html

Apremont is one of the Cru Villages in Savoie. The AOC dates to 1973. The landslide left it barren for decades. The wine scene here began in the end of the 18th century.

Jacquère

Jacquère, the wine grape, is thought to be of french origin. This white wine grape variety, like the others in this region does not reach as high alcohol levels as other varieties. Hence, the 11.5% abv on the bottle I have. It is one of 10 grape varieties allowed in AOC Vin de Savoie and must make up 80% of the wine. It is the most widely planted grape in the region accounting for 50% of the plantings.

Wines from Jacquère can are dry and can range from floral and fruity (think peach, pear and maybe grapefruit) to mineral. These wines are typically meant to drink early.

There is a beautiful piece in the Decanter on this grape and region.

Pierre Boniface

The biggest producer in Savoie, Pierre Boniface’s Apremont is their signature wine, making up 70% of production. Pierre took over the business from his father, starting with just 20 acres of vineyard. Sadly, his children did not want to go into the wine business. Guillame Durand and Alban Thouroude bought the business from him. They are from Savoie and were college friends. You can read more on their story below in an article in France Today, as well as some information on their Les Rocailles vineyard.

Pairings

What to pair with an alpine wine? The region is huge for cheese, and potatoes are in plentiful supply as are cured meats, fresh water fish, mushrooms, apples and fruits. This is a place where you live out of the cupboards, while the ground is snow covered. So we dipped into recipes from the region that were variations on those winter ingredients.

Raclette

Of course raclette was the first pairing that came to mind, but as Solenne at Valley Cheese and Wine was out of raclette from Savoie at the time, I picked up a beautiful morbier from her. She suggested I try it plain as well as melted, as it really changes the flavors in the cheese. I picked up some raclette from the Murray’s cheese counter at the grocery store and then started digging into typical Savoie dishes.

  • Our raclette pairing with an Apremont from the Savoie region
  • fossil and Fawn, with potato chips and cheese
  • Potato chips with cheese

This alpine dish is simple, boiled potatoes topped with the melted cheese, a side of cured meats and gherkins. You can buy a raclette machine, which has trays over candles to warm the cheese.

Since I didn’t have one of those, I deferred to the method we had used for our raclette & wavy potato chip pairing we did a Christmas or so ago with that fantastic wine from Fossil & Fawn, that I believe Jim and Jenny called a “Gewürvignintocliniger” . Set the oven to broil, oil a cast iron skillet and put in the slices of cheese. When the slices are melted, use a spatula to slide them out and over the potatoes.

Tartiflette

  • Our single serving baked tartiflette
  • Tartiflette ready for the oven
  • Ingredients for the Tartiflette

I love tartiflette, discovering it a little over a year ago when planning a holiday french wine celebration. My dear friend Arnaud said it was one of his favorite french dishes. So, tartiflette was added to the menu and was a hit.

This time I riffed on a recipe, substituted muenster cheese and made two individual tartiflettes. Here’s how I did my quick version…

Saute some chopped prosciutto and onions, add sliced potatoes and cook for about 30 minutes, spoon some into each dish, topped with sliced cheese. Add another layer of both and then pour in some heavy cream. Bake at 425 for 15 to 20 minutes.

Le Farçon or Farçement

I came across a reference to Le Farçon, a Sunday dish that they make in Savoie. Le Farçon is meant to cook in a special pan (think a straight sided, angel food cake pan) in a bain de marie for 4 hours while the family is at Sunday mass. It is a potato cake with dried fruits and apples wrapped in bacon. Quite honestly it looked like something my friend Will would make for a football watching day!

  • Ingredients for our version of Le Farçon,
  • Our version of le farçon prebake
  • Just out of the oven, our loaf style version of Le Farçon from Savoie
  • An inside peak at our Le farçon our dish from Savoie

Well, without quite that much time at my disposal, I found a video with a version of this dish that was a bit simpler. Every family in Savoie has there own variation on this dish. So, I watched the video (which was all in French), caught a couple of words here and there and then from the visuals, concocted my own recipe. Here is the short version:

Le Farçon sliced, fried in butter and enjoyed with fresh greens. Dish from Savoie
A day later, our Le Farçon sliced, fried in butter and enjoyed with fresh greens.

Peel, cut, boil and mash 4 red potatoes (it’s what I had, and I riced them with Grandma’s ricer). Saute some chopped prosciutto and onions in a pan. Saute 2 sliced apples in butter. Mix it all together, add an egg and a handful of dried currants and cranberries, pour into a buttered glass loaf pan, top with a couple pats of butter and bake at 345 for about an hour. Serve sliced. Incidentally, you will find Le Farçon is even better the next day when you can take a slice and fry it in butter and serve with a fresh green salad.

Rissoles or r’zoles

Now I needed dessert. I found a reference to rissoles, an apple filled pastry that is often called r’zoles. With puff pastry in the freezer, this seemed the way to go.

Rissoles (or r'zoles) puff pastry filled with apple compote from Savoie
Rissoles (or r’zoles) puff pastry filled with apple compote

This one is pretty simple. Defrost the pastry, cut into rectangles, make an apple compote (mine had orange juice, sugar and honey). Spoon the mixture in the center of each rectangle of pastry, fold over, seal, top with an egg yolk wash and bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Voila!

Vin de Savoie 2013 Apremont Les Rocailles-Pierre Boniface

This wine on it’s own was dry with an overwhelming nose of bruised tart apple. By itself…not my favorite wine. Perhaps, it is a bit of an acquired taste. Or maybe this is a result of it’s age. With the food however…it was genius! It paired beautifully with the raclette, with the tartiflette with the Le Farçon and with the rissoles! As a food and wine pairing I will rhapsodize endlessly on this. This is by far one the best overall pairings I have encountered. Truly this is a food wine, destined for the local fare.

The French #Winophiles and their “Godforsaken Grapes”

What other “Godforsaken Grapes did the rest of the #Winophiles come up with! Read on!

More on Savoie

If you are really interested in Savoie, Jill Barth from L’Occasion led the Wine Pairing Weekend (#Winepw) group on a discussion of wines from this region. Here is a link to Jill’s piece which when you get to the bottom will provide you with another 15 articles on wines of Savoie!

Meanwhile…I’m off to find some more “Godforsaken Grapes”.

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

Sarah Hedges Goedhart on her journey to winemaking and biodynamics

When we planned our trip to Washington, I was specifically looking for biodynamic vineyards. Biodynamics in wine is a subject I find fascinating and quite honestly, I find I really like speaking to the people who are into this practice. They feel like my kind of people. These people are passionate, care deeply about the planet, they are detail people who are not looking to cut corners just to make a profit. They believe strongly in doing things the right way.

Choosing Hedges Family Estate on Red Mountain

As I looked at the Red Mountain AVA, I searched for a vineyard that was using biodynamic practices. Hedges Family Estate was the only one that came up, so they were kind of a shoo-in. I continued to look into the property (and it’s stunning) and came across a video on their site, that was warm and a bit enchanting. Then I read a bit about Sarah Hedges Goedhart and her approach…and well that pushed it over the edge, I knew I wanted to speak with her.

Sarah’s journey to winemaking

We spoke with Sarah about the history of the winery. It’s come along way from the days when her father started buying and selling bulk juice. Back then, her 12 year old self had no interest in the business and no desire to live in eastern Washington. They came every summer from Seattle, where they lived and as she got older, she got into wine. But her true passion was to be a veterinarian. Her father insisted that she get a business degree. She got that degree in San Diego and then went to Santa Barbara to get the pre-reqs for vet school. It was there that she met her husband. Okay…actually they met in high school, but they reconnected in Santa Barbara.

Getting hooked on wine in Santa Barbara

While going to school she got a job as a tasting room manager at the Santa Barbara Winery. Her future husband was working there in production. It was there that she got hooked. They would pick 2nd harvest grapes and make bathtub wine. They had the bug, and were on the journey to start their own winery.

On to Preston in Healdsburg

They ended up in Healdsburg working at Preston, where she learned biodynamics, organics, in addition to breadbaking and olive production. This was about the entire culture of working with the land.

Preston is a kind of magical place. We visited in 2011, I remember feeling like I’d taken a step back in time. This is simple beautiful Americana with home baked breads and olives in the tasting room. This is a farm and an enchanting one at that.

Returning to the Tri-Cities

California is an expensive place to live for two people just starting out and her brother suggested they come work at the family winery. Sarah started out working on the garden and hosting people and a year later became the assistant winemaker to her uncle, when the position opened up.

When she started as assistant winemaker, Hedges was making about 100,000 cases a year. That’s quite a jump from the 8,000 cases she assisted with at Preston.

Biodynamics at Hedges

In 2007 they started the biodynamic conversion. At this point 3 of their vineyards are biodynamic and 2 are organic. Bit by bit they add livestock. Right now they have chickens and a turkey and they want to add sheep. It’s a gradual process and she wants to be sure that they understand and adapt to each part before moving on.

Native ferments

The first wine they tried to make biodynamically was in 2011, with a native ferment. Native ferments can seem simple, just leave the tank alone right? Nope. Since then they have been using the pied du cuvee method. You get a bucket of grapes and get your fermentation started there.

Soothing tunes for the wines

She has also incorporated music in the cellar. She had a white wine that was a little reductive. It seemed to her that the wine was stressed and struggling, so she asked the cellar crew to play mellow spa music. Of course they thought she was a little crazy, but tasting the before and the after…they became believers.

The Goedhart label

The label had been their dream when they lived in California, but with California costs, it was just not possible. In 2005 they moved to the Tri-Cities and started their label with a winery in the basement of the ranch house they were living in. They both had full time winery jobs and would do this in all their free time as a labor of love. Their focus was Syrah. Not a fruit bomb, but not an old world overly lean wine either. This wine was to be elegant with a bit of restraint. They ran the label for 6 years. On weekends they would be open for tastings and she would make wood fired breads and panini’s.

Kids, a full time job and running their own winery became too much, so Hedges took over the label. Once the kids are raised, perhaps they will try this again. In the meantime, she can continue to make their Syrah in the style they like here.

Sarah on Syrah

Sarah and I spoke about the Syrah they are growing here. They have the Joseph Phelps clone, which was the first clone available in Washington. This clone tends to be lean with herbal characteristics. Then they have the Tablas clone. This is the clone that Tablas Creek brought over from Chateauneuf-de-Pape. She describes this clone as “Wild, savage, and fruity”. They do multiple picks over a few weeks, keeping clones and picks separate and then she can blend these to create that elegant style of Syrah that they enjoy best.

We have recently opened up two different Syrah’s from Hedges and both were pretty exceptional. My palate obviously is in line with the style of Syrah that they are making.

Sarah on the reason for biodynamics

I asked Sarah what was most important to her in biodynamics…

Preserving land for the future, for kids, for everybody.  I think that’s the one thing on this planet that we’re screwing up and we really need to turn it around.  What do we call ourselves?  Stewards of the land it’s our responsibility to keep it around. 

Sarah Hedges Goedhart, July 2019

The property is beautiful. That is reason enough to come. In addition the wines we tasted here were delicious and their was quite a portfolio of wines to taste. Sarah even brought in a couple of barrel samples for us to taste. The topper here is the people. Sarah was a joy to speak with, her father Tom said a hello as he came through the tasting room. They had just finished a morning meeting before Sarah came to speak with us. The volume here is high. They do make quite a bit of Columbia Valley wine in addition to the Estate wines that Sarah focuses on, but it’s still a family business. It has that blend of Washington practicality with the elegance of a French Château, blended with the relaxed biodynamic style that Sarah brings.

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

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?

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

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!

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

The Scenic Route Part 7 – Du Brul to Hiyu

Cote Bonneville Dubrul Vineyard

Our time in Washington was nearing it’s end. Morning had us traveling from Walla Walla west to the Yakima Valley once again to visit with Kerry Shiels of Côte Bonneville. We met her for an interview at their tasting room in Sunnyside.

Côte Bonneville

Driving through the small town of Sunnyside you come upon a quaint restored building that was previously a train station. When Hugh and Kathy Shiels moved to the area, Hugh set up practice as an orthopedic surgeon. The renovated Train Station was his office for many years. It has now become their beautiful tasting room.

Cote Bonneville, Tasting Room Sunnyside Washington
Cote Bonneville, Tasting Room Sunnyside Washington

Kerry is a wealth of information on the area and the science behind the vineyard and wine making. Kerry has an engineering degree, which she put to use with Fiat in Italy, before returning to get a degree in Viticulture and Enology and then taking over as winemaker. She is smart and intense, a woman who made her way in the male dominated engineering field.

DuBrul Vineyard

We headed to their DuBrul vineyard before things warmed up too much. The drive up to the top was a little sketchy for our Kia hybrid, but we made it. The mountains were both out (Mt Adams and Mt. Ranier) as we reached the top of the vineyard to walk through the vines.

Own rooted vines

We talked about the aspect of this vineyard, which allows them to grow so many varieties well and discussed the difference with own rooted vines.

“It’s like reading Tolstoy in Russian”.

Kerry Shiels of Côte Bonneville and DuBrul Vineyard
Dubrul Vineyard with Kerry Shiels
DuBrul Vineyard with Kerry Shiels

This is certain to be a topic we hear more about and lamented over as phyloxera has been found in Washington and precautions will need to be taken. I will tell you that I find the difference in the character of the wines from own rooted stock undeniable and wonderful.

You can look forward to hearing much of our conversation in future posts. It was really a fascinating morning.

Co Dinn Cellars

We made a stop to visit Co at his tasting room at Co Dinn Cellars. Co also has a renovated historic building in Sunnyside. His winery and tasting room are in the old Water Works. It’s a gorgeous space.

  • Co dinn Cellars Tasting Room
  • Co dinn Cellars Tasting Room
  • Co dinn Cellars Tasting Room
  • Co dinn Cellars Tasting Room
  • Co dinn Cellars Tasting Room

He showed us around and took us through a tasting. We also had an amazing conversation on closures…more on that later.

We headed back to the Gorge and through Hood River then off to Hiyu on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge AVA.

Hiyu Wine Farm

Go to the website…the water colors will enchant you. I was sucked in immediately and knew that I needed to visit this place.

Hiyu is 30 acres of wine farm. There is a sense of wildness here. Nate Ready, a Master Sommelier and China Tresemer fell in love with the beauty of this region. This place is undeniably stunning, with it’s glorious views of Mt. Hood.

The idea didn’t begin with wine. They really wanted to cultivate a lifestyle. From 7 acres in 2010 it expanded to take in another 20 acres in 2015.

We arrived a bit early, and walked in to see if it was okay if we explored the property. There was a bit of chaos happening, the goats had just escaped and there was some scurrying to round them up.

Community within the staff

The farm has a staff that includes a handful of interns. Duties rotate weekly, so everyone gets to do each of the jobs. This insures that no one takes for granted the job someone else is doing. It has a little 60’s 70’s nostalgia feel to me. A little feel of a hippy commune, and I’m down for that.

  • Hiyu Beet Pairing
  • Hiyu Smockshop Band
  • Hiyu Smockshop Band
  • Hiyu Wines
  • Hiyu Goats
  • Hiyu Goats
  • Hiyu Goats
  • Hiyu Ducks
  • Hiyu Farm
  • Hiyu Farm
  • Hiyu Farm
  • Hiyu Vineyard

Gardens

The garden in front of the tasting room is an edible food forest. You will find Goji berries and rock herbs here seasonally. We headed up the hill to the garden. Wild and overgrown, the things that were complete for the season were taking their natural course, going to seed to prepare for the next season. There are flowers and herbs, annuals and perennials, artichokes, favas and cardoons.

Vineyard

From here we walked the vineyard and then up to the hill where the view of Mt. Hood is simply breath taking. Winter to spring the cows, pigs and chickens wander through the vines, grazing and fertilizing. There is an acre of pear trees left. They have a green house and make compost on site.

Falcon boxes protect the vineyard. And they have grafted field blends. They don’t hedge the vines here, allowing them to be a little more wild, and do just 1 pass with a scythe. Cinnamon is used to prevent powdery mildew.

Livestock & Animals

There are cows and guinea fowl. A 100 year old irrigation ditch feeds the pasture and gardens. We wound down by the pond and visited with the ducks and came around to the goats. Phoebe the matriarch stood on the fender of the horse trailer. They were fiesty, but contained once more.

There are hawthorn trees and over by the house there are currants. I was reminded of days as a child on mountain farms in West Virginia. Life is allowed to thrive and be wild and perhaps a bit messy.

Mt. Hood

The day ended with spectacular views of Mt. Hood. We leave you hear with a bit of spectacular nature.

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

French Poets, Philandering Kings and little sweetness from Jurançon #Winophiles

Vineyard, Jurancon, France

This month the French Winophiles are heading to the Sud Ouest of France.  That south west corner that seems rather quiet. You don’t hear much about it. Within it you will find French Basque Country and Jurançon.    On the coast is the Pays Basque with it’s wine region of Irouleguy.  When you continue east you arrive at the Jurançon, which is our destination today. 

Map of the South West of France
South West of France

Jurançon

If you watched the Tour de France you might have seen the time trials in this region on July 19th in Pau which is just 15 miles east of this region.  (If you want to see a bit of the scenery… here you go…

Tour de France Time Trial in Pau in the Jurançon

Vineyards here sit in the foothills of the Pyrenees.  The area is hilly with steep rolling hills, lush with trees and amazing views against a backdrop of the Pyrenees. There is a beautiful piece on Pau and this region on Wine Chic Travel.

Vineyard, Jurancon, France
Vineyard, Jurancon, France

The landscape is dotted with small vineyards and farms. If you put all the acreage under vine together, it would add up to about 5 square miles.

Petit Manseng – historically a great seducer

The area is best known for their sweet wines.  These wines were a favorite of the French poet Colette.  (If you do not know her…she wrote the novella “Gigi” which was turned into a movie with Maurice Chevalier singng the iconic song “Thank heaven for little girls”. I remember watching this movie when I was a little girl myself, I find myself not remembering it clearly. Perhaps it is time to find and watch it again.)

Colette called the Jurançon wines of Petit Manseng “seduction du vert galant”.  She was quoted saying

“I was a girl when I met this prince; aroused, imperious, treacherous as all great seducers are”. 

Colette

Her comments inspired winemakers to advertising “Manseng means Jurançon means sex”. 

Colette also said “Time spent with a cat is never wasted”. How can you not love this wise woman.

Evidently, this wine is also given credit for giving King Henry the IV of France, the strength to keep up his philandering! Born in Pau, Good King Henry  “…also became notorious for his sexual exploits, taking on many lovers and earning the nickname “Le Vert Gallant” (The Gay Old Spark).” biography.com

Grapes of the Jurancon
Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng grapes are grown for Jurancon wine in Southwest France.

While Petit Manseng is well known and loved here, Gros Manseng is actually more widely grown. You will also find Camaralet de Lasseube. According to Madeline over at WineFolly Camaralet de Lasseube is very rare and Jancis Robinson in Wine Grapes called it endangered. This grape only produces female flowers. It also is prone to oxidation and has really low yields.

Petit Manseng

Indigenous to this region Petit Manseng is similar to Gros Manseng, but it has smaller berries and produces significantly different wine. Petit Manseng is aromatic with peach and citrus rounded out by tropical fruits like mango and pineapple.

This grape concentrates sugar in the berries during ripening and still maintains high acidity.  The sweet wines made here rival Sauternes, but can be found at a much more reasonable price.

Domaine Cauhapé

Henry Ramonteu, the owner and producer at Domaine Cauhapé is known to wait until January to harvest the last of his grapes for his sweet wines.

Many consider this to be the finest estate in Jurançon. The estate is 45 hectares on clay and siliceous soil. They grow Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, Camaralet, Lauzet and Courbu.

2015 Symphonie de Novembre Jurançon

Domaine Cauhapé Symphonie de Novembre
Domaine Cauhapé Symphonie de Novembre from the Jurançon

This is one of the first picks for this Domaine’s sweet wines, picked in November. It is 100% Petit Manseng and sits at 13.5% abv. This golden elixir comes from vines that are about 500 m (wait, perspective for those of us in the US…1,640 feet!) on steep vineyards.

Pairing the Jurançon

The classic pairing for this wine is Foie Gras. Baked fruit desserts and Roquefort cheese, as well as poultry dishes are suggested. We settled that we might as well go in for the Foie Gras. I know…I am typically against this. I’m feeling the guilt, but …it was delicious.

Cured & Whey to the Rescue!

Cured & Whey sign
Cured & Whey

I called Cured & Whey and they said they had it foie gras in stock, so we headed across town to see them. Michael the owner came out to talk with us about the foie gras. They have convenient little 2 oz packets of foie, and Michael suggested this was our best bet for two single portions. I asked Diana about a Roquefort, and while she had one, she suggested the Ewe’s Blue.

Ewe's Blue Cheese
Ewe’s Blue Cheese

This award winning cheese is from the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company in Old Chatham, New York. It is a rindless cheese made from fresh sheep’s milk that is similar to Roquefort, and delicious!

On the way home, I found a recipe to riff on…here we go.

Pan-seared Fois Gras with apple puree and orange reduction.

Pan seared foie gras
Pan-seared Fois Gras with apple puree and orange reduction

Remember…this is just a riff on a recipe. I started with the puree. It was just butter, thinly slice apple, a little jam (I used mango passion fruit) and a little wine (think dry white, although I actually used the rose in my glass). Toss in a pan until soft then toss in the blender.

Cut a couple of circles of brioche and toast them in the oven.

Carefully score the two pieces of fois gras, add salt and pepper and put them in a pre-warmed pan at medium heat. 2 minutes per side, then on a plate to rest.

Lastly, use a bit of the drippings, add fresh squeezed orange juice and a little bit of wine (I used the Sauternes I had on hand and open), a little orange zest and some finely chopped rosemary. Reduce, stirring with a wooden spoon to incorporate the crunchy bits.

Ewe's Blue, apples, pecans & baby dried pineapple
Ewe’s Blue, apples, pecans & baby dried pineapple

We also put together a board of the Ewe’s Blue, sliced apple, dried baby pineapple and roasted salted pecans.

The Wine – taste the Jurançon

This wine was lush with great acid as well as that sweetness. It was definitely a food wine and is my kind of sweet wine, not cloying. I got tart apple, and pineapple on the nose and palate.

To Match or Contrast

Jurançon and pairings
Jurançon and pairings

With pairings, often we try to either match flavors or contrast them. The foie gras was delicious and both the apple puree and the orange sauce matched the wine perfectly with their acid and flavor profile. The Ewe’s Blue did the opposite, the tang and salt contrasting with the wine. Quite honestly, as delicious as the foie gras was, the pairing with the Ewe’s Blue was our favorite of the two.

Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate

A surprising pairing was with dark chocolate, which Domaine Cauhapé suggested. Michael grabbed a bar and I was really skeptical. This turned out to be a surprisingly delicious pairing.

The wines of Jurançon are certainly worth searching for and exploring. I will look for some of the Jurançon dry white wines to explore in the future. For now…if you are searching for a sweet wine, expand a little further than Sauternes and try the sweet wines of the Jurançon. You won’t be disappointed and your wallet will be happy!

Read on for other great pieces on the French Basque Country and the Sud Ouest by the French #Winophiles!

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

Tasting blind – globetrotting at home

Table set for a blind tasting

We gathered a bakers dozen of folks for a blind tasting of 3 white wines and 3 reds. There were aroma jars and tasting sheets and lots of glasses! After the reveal for each, we had small bites to pair with each of the wines. People discovered varieties and places they did not know they liked. Here’s the run down on the wines we tasted.

The White Wines

When choosing these wines, we didn’t want to pick wines everyone was already familiar with and we also wanted them to be from a range of places around the globe. Without realizing it at first, we had chosen three wines, with somewhat similar profiles, which made the guessing a bit harder. Here are our 3 white wines.

White Wine #1 Carhartt 2018 Sauvignon Blanc

Carhartt 2018 Savignon Blanc bottle shot with apple, lemon zest and honeydew melon
Carhartt 2018 Savignon Blanc

This wine is from California, Santa Barbara Country and more specifically from the Santa Ynez Valley. It hails from 2 vineyards, the Carhartt Vineyard in Santa Ynez (60%), and Grassini Vineyard located in Happy Canyon (40%). Carhartt is great about the deets on their labels: 100% Savignon Blanc, Clone 1 on 101-14 rootstock, vertical trellis system, sustainably farmed, fermentation in both oak and stainless steel, cooperage :6 months in neutral oak and stainless steel 50% each.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

We set out scent jars for this wine that included pear, green apple, lemon zest and honeydew melon. We paired this with herbed goat cheese on crostini.

This is a great summer sipper sitting at 12.5% alcohol, it will drink fresh through 2022 and can age beyond that. They made 900 cases of this wine and it will set you back $25.00.

About Carhartt

And yes….this is the same Carhartt that you see on work wear. They family had a ranch in the Santa Ynez valley that Mike and his family decided to grow wine grapes on. They still have some livestock and they work the ranch and vineyard. Here is a link to a video that will give you a feel for Carhartt.

Carhartt Hand Made Films Presents: Carhartt Vineyard

You can find their tasting room in Los Olivos at 2939 Grand Ave If you have visited before, know that they are no longer in the tiniest tasting room at the north end of Grand Ave. You can find them in the new larger spot across the street about a block south.

2939 Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441
Ph #: 805.693.5100
Open daily 11am-6pm
No reservations. First-come, first-serve.
Closed only on Christmas Day

White Wine #2 Spier 2017 Vintage Selection Chenin Blanc

Spier 2017 Vintage Selection Chenin Blanc
Spier 2017 Vintage Selection Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc hails form the Loire Valley in France. While it is grown in France and elsewhere, this is a variety that has become most notable in South Africa, where locally they refer to it as “Steen”.

Spier Wine Farm

This wine is from South Africa from Spier Wine Farm which dates back to 1692. The fruit comes from the Western Cape in the Breede River and Coastal regions. For a video about this winery…

A visit to Spier Wine Farm and Hotel

More details: alluvial, well-drained and aerated soils with decomposed granite from the mountain foothills. Grapes are both trellised and bush vines (head pruned). They hand harvest, destem and slightly crush before pressing. There is a bit of skin contact then they let the free run juic settle in tanks overnight. In the morning they rack from the lees and innoculate with yeast strains (so this is not a native yeast wine). They let the wine mature on the fine lees for 3 months to add body. We could see the results of this in the richer fuller mouthfeel of this wine.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

Fragrance jars for this wine included pear, peach, vanilla beans and a mango/guava/passion fruit jam, as there were notes of tropical fruit and green guava in the wine. We paired this with two different bites, a cracker with brie and a dab of the mango/guava/passion fruit wine as well as smoked trout on a baguette slice with either a russian pickle or a cucumber slice. (Here we were lucky that one of our guests had recently been fishing and caught a trout and another had taken that trout and smoked it! Thank you for this great bite to pair with this wine!)

You can look for this wine locally as it is widely distributed. It sits at a higher alcohol level than the Sav Blanc at 14.5% and you can find it for around $18.00.

Here is a video to give you a little more information on this South african Winery. https://www.spier.co.za/

White Wine #3 Martin Codax Albariño

Martin Codáx 2016 Albarino from Rias Baixas Spain with pear and green apple
Martin Codáx 2016 Albarino from Rias Baixas Spain

We headed to another country for our final white wine. This is an Albariño from Spain’s Rias Baixas region. Michael actually tasted this wine last year at a session at WBC18 on Rias Baixas.

Rias Baixas

The region of Rias Baixas, if you are unfamiliar, is on the coast of Spain above Portugal. The area is known as Galacia. Most grapes here are grown on pergolas, and the region is green and lush. This wine comes from Val do Salnés, which runs along the coast south of the Ria de Arousa. This area is known as the birthplace of the Albariño grape.

Bodegas Martin Códax was founded in 1986 and was named after the most known Galacian troubadour whose medieval poems, the oldest in the Galician-Portuguese language, have survived to the present. In the poems, the troubadour sings to love, the sea and the coastline.

http://www.martincodax.com/en/

The winemaker for Martin Códax is Katia Alvarez. That she is a woman is unsuprising in Spain’s Rias Baixas region, where roughtly half of the winemakers are female.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

The scent jars for this wine were simply, pear, green apple and the mango/guava/passion fruit jam (this time for the passion fruit). We paired this with a slice of Guyere and a slice of pear. It sits at 13% abv and runs about $16. Widely distributed, this is a fairly easy to find wine.

Find out more about this beautiful wine region by visiting the Rias Baixas site.

The Red Wines

When looking to red wines, we again wanted to go a bit out of the box, but not too far. Here though, the wines that we chose had flavor profiles that varied quite a bit so it was easier to differentiate the wines. All of these wines were international varieties that have ventured out from their homeland.

Red Wine #1 Carhartt 2016 Estate Sangiovese

Carhartt 2016 Estate Sangiovese with wet stones, strawberries, black tea, clove, and cedar plank
Carhartt 2016 Estate Sangiovese

We spoke earlier about Carhartt. We have been fans of Carhartt for awhile and on two separate occasions were able to visit the ranch. Once for a wine dinner (which was a blast) and once to take a tour with Joe, who at the time ran their wine club. We walked the Hilltop vineyard and he pointed out the Sangiovese on the 11 Oaks vineyard across the way.

Sangiovese? Think Chianti

This is a Sangiovese, the famous Italian variety that you might think of as Chianti. You remember the wine in those straw wrapped bottles?

The Geeky bits: 100% Sangiovese from 11 Oaks Vineyard in Santa Barbara’s Santa Ynez Valley. Fontodi & isole e olena clones that are own rooted, sustainably farmed, fermented in small lots with a cold soak, 18 months in barrel 25% of which is new. Unfined and unfiltered (see Zeina, that was the floaty stuff!)

Aromas, flavors and pairings

Jars for this included: wet stone, wild raspberry jam (couldn’t find wild raspberries), black tea, cedar plank, clove and strawberry. We paired this with an Asigo cheese topped with a bit of prosciutto and a touch of raspberry jam.

Asiago Proscuitto and raspberry jam
Asiago Proscuitto and raspberry jam appetizer

They made just 565 cases of this wine, it sits at 13.6% abv and is a crowd pleaser. It is medium to light bodied, so lots of folks guessed it was a Pinot Noir. It will drink well through 2029 and was the most expensive wine we poured at $40 per bottle.

Red wine #2 Gascon Malbec Reserve 2015

Gascón 2015 Reserva Malbec from Argentina with blackberries, plum and spice
Gascón 2015 Reserva Malbec from Argentina

This grape is a little more well traveled. Malbec is originally from Cahors in France where it is known as “the black wine of Cahors”. Long ago it travelled to Argentina where it found it’s voice. In Cahors he dressed in black, in Argentina he wears purple and red!

Don Miguel Gascón Wines

This particular wine is from Mendoza where more than 70% of the country’s vines can be found and most of which are high altitude at 2,000 to 4,000 feet above sea level. Argentina currently has just 2 DOCs: Luján de Cuyo and San Rafael. This wine hails from Luján de Cuyo, and more specifically from the Agrelo and Uco Valley regions. It is labeled “Reserva” which indicates it must have been aged at least 6 months.

The grapes for our Don Miguel Gascón Reserva Malbec were harvested by hand in the early morning hours in mid to late April from the high elevation vineyards of Altamira, Agrelo and Tupungato, then crushed and cold soaked for 72 to 96 hours. The juice maintained contact with the skins for up to three weeks through the end of fermentation, which occurred in upright conical tanks at 85°F for six days. Malolactic fermentation was completed prior to racking and aging. Sixty-five percent of the wine was aged for 15 months in a combination of medium toast French and American oak barriques.

http://www.gasconwine.com

You should really visit the Gascon site for great information on this winery that dates back to 1884.

This wine is 97% Malbec with just a touch (3%) of Petit Verdot. It sits at 14.8% abv and runs a little over $20 a bottle.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

Scent jars here included blackberries, plum and spice. We did two bites here a cracker with blue cheese and cherry jam, as well as a slice of smoked gouda.

Red wine #3 Larner 2014 Syrah Ballard Canyon

Larner 2014 Syrah Ballard Canyon  with plum, blackberry, cherry, peppercorn, earth and leather.
Larner 2014 Syrah Ballard Canyon

If you have visited our site before, you know we are big fans of Michael Larner of Larner Vineyard & Winery. He helped to put Ballard Canyon and their Syrah on the map. He was instrumental in founding the Ballard Canyon AVA in Santa Barbara County.

Michael’s background is in geology and he is an invaluable resource for discussing the soils of the entire Santa Barbara Region. He is passionate about the region and it’s wines, most especially the Syrah from this little corner of the universe.

This wine is all Estate grown fruit that is aged 22 months in 33% new French oak and 8% new American oak (the rest is neutral oak).

  • Larner Vineyard Syrah
  • Larner Fête 2016, Larner Vineyard
  • Larner Vineyard Sunset

Aromas, flavors and pairings

This wine was the biggest we served at 14.9%. With a complex nose, we set out scent jars of blackberry, plum, cherry, pepper corns, leather and earth. We paired this with our favorite bite with syrah, bacon wrapped dates.

Visit Larner

If you want a bottle of this wine, or to taste his other wines, head to Santa Barbara and Los Olivos. You can find the tasting room at the corner of Grand Avenue and Alamo Pintado Ave next to the Los Olivos General Store. Grab a tasting and a sandwich from next door and sit at a table in front in the shade, behind the historic gas pump.

2900 Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441
Email: [email protected]
T: (805) 688-8148

Open Daily 11-5

It was a fun evening and hopefully everyone discovered a new wine that they enjoyed! We got up today to 85 dirty glasses! I have a new appreciation for tasting room staff who deal with this, and then some, daily! Was it worth it? Damn straight! We got to explore the world with wine while sitting in the living room with friends. What could be better?

85 dirty wine glasses
A sampling of the 85 dirty wine glasses after last nights tasting.

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

Faults in wine

Owen Roe Winery, Grapes in Fermentation Bins

We’ve all had wines that we didn’t like. Perhaps it smelled a little funny, or was just bland. Sometimes, that’s a wine that is just not for us, or is poorly made, but sometimes it is the result of a wine fault.

Now wine faults can arise from poor wine making, but they can also come from sources that are out, or at least somewhat out, of the control of the winemaker. We will dive into a few of these in this post.

We discussed the chemical makeup of wine in the last post. Some of those chemical reactions we mentioned can happen at a level that is not so good in wine.

Sulfur and it’s potential faults

Sulfur is often used in wine making to preserve the wine. Adding sulfur keeps wine from oxidizing and it’s rare for a wine to be completely sulfur free. Even when sulfur isn’t added small bits are produced during the fermentation process.

A little sulfur is not typically an issue, but… if there is too much, or if it starts to combine with other chemicals in the wine, it can get stinky.

Hydrogen Sulfide

Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park

Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is that rotten egg smell that you might smell at a volcano or a swamp. If you have lots of sulfur in a wine and then it sits without oxygen you can get this smell. It can happen with screw caps where there is no oxygen exchange like you get with corks or if you are aging on the lees or yeast too long.

Sulfur Dioxide

burnt match
burnt match

Matches tipped with sulfur, when struck combine with the oxygen and you get that burnt match smell. In wine, you might smell this if there is too much sulfur or you might just notice it as a burning sensation in your throat. The way that you notice this is connected to the acidity of the wine. The more acid, the more SO2 you will notice.

Mercaptan

garlic
garlic

We know that the alcohol in wine is ethanol. Well, ethanol can combine with sulfur to create “ethyl mercaptan”. This is the odor that they add to natural gas so you can smell a gas leak. I know, we said that hydrogen sulfide it the rotten egg smell, and if you are like me, that’s the smell I associate with natural gas. While I hope I do not have occasion to smell a natural gas leak, that is “ethyl mercaptan” which smells like garlic or onions. And sadly for winemakers, if you get ethyl mercaptan in your wine, there is very little you can do to fix it.

TCA or cork taint

We’ve all heard of corked wines. Perhaps you thought that was the reason that at restaurants they will hand you the cork? (It’s not, actually, they show you the cork to prove the wine is from the winery. There have been times when scandalous tricksters would re-bottle a cheap wine in a fancy bottle and try to pass it off as the higher end wine. The cork, if the wine was legit, would be stamped with the winery name.)

TCA is a mold. It actually has a much longer name: 2, 4, 6 Trichloroanisole. It is typically shortened to TCA for obvious reasons. While we think of it as “cork taint”, and indeed it can grow on cork trees, it can also grow in boxes, barrels or even winery walls. Once it gets in, it’s tough to get out. If it gets into a winery it can be transferred into the wine.

What does it smell like?

Underground Wet cave
Underground Wet cave

TCA can smell like a dark, dank, musty basement, or in lighter cases might just make a wine bland or muted. It’s not harmful, luckily and cases have decreased. The estimates on wines affected by TCA vary pretty dramatically from 1% to 8% of bottles. Distributors will typically refund clients for corked wines and at the table, if a customer says a wine is corked, it is unlikely that the restaurant will argue. Hence the differences in estimates.

Bacteria that make things stinky

So most bacteria can’t survive in wine. I mean, that’s how wine got started right? Water wasn’t always safe, but fermented beverages with their high alcohol killed off most bacteria.

Well there are a couple of bacteria that can survive in wine, one we like much of the time but the other….

Acetobacter

vinegar
vinegar

This bacteria grows when ever wine is exposed to oxygen. This little bugger converts alcohol into acetic acid and ethyl acetate. Acetic acid smells like vinegar. Ethyl acetate, which can smell like florals in small quantities, can smell like fingernail polish remover when at greater quantities.

Beyond that, when ethyl acetate and acetic acid combine it’s called ascensence.

Lactic Bacteria

This bacteria is sometimes useful! Malolactic fermentation is often used to round a wine and make it less acidic. Malic acid is often found in cool climate grapes or under-ripe grapes and is like tart green apple. Lactic bacteria eat the malic acid and produce lactic acid, which is much rounder in your mouth and less acidic. It can also produce a buttery aroma.

butter
butter
Homemade sauerkraut with cumin in a glass jar, closeup
Homemade sauerkraut with cumin in a glass jar, closeup

Too much of a good thing and you get more lactic acid than you want which smells like sauerkraut. You can also get butyric acid which smells like rancid butter. Butyric acid can come from an over-vigorous malolactic fermentation, or it might be from a bacteria before pressing.

geranium
geranium

There is also the smell of crushed geranium leaves that is either caused by an incomplete malolactic fermentation or if sorbic acid has been used as a preservative, it can be from an improper breakdown of that.

Other stinky stuff

There are other stinky things caused by stuff in wine. (There, that’s scientific isn’t it!?) Some of these things people like in small portions and sometimes the style of wine means that you will create one of these situations. Let’s start with those first.

Oxidization

nuts unshelled
nuts unshelled

Oxygen will dissolve into wine and when it reacts with the phenolic compounds (from the skins) it creates acetaldehyde, which smells like caramel or nuts and can cause browning. Some liken the smell to jackfruit (yuk) or bruised beat up apples. Oxidation can cause a wine to lose most of it’s fruit character. However…they use oxidation to make fino Sherry. So in that case, it’s a plus!

jackfruit
jackfruit

Maderization

A step beyond oxidation is maderization. You might recognize the word from Madeira. This is what happens when a wine is exposed to lots of heat or oxygen. You get a cooked or baked odor. When you get this in Madeira, it’s on purpose. When you get this from the wine you left in the back seat of your car that you parked outside in a parking lot in the Vegas sun…not so much. So generally this is considered a fault.

Brettanomyces

This one is tricky. Brett (it’s nickname) is a wild yeast. It shows up in wineries and can smell sweaty or horsey and will ferment right alongside the wine yeast.. Some people like a little brett, (I do). It gives that barnyard smell to red wines. Some people believe it to be a fault regardless of the level. It can smell medicinal or like band-aids or it might just deaden the flavors in the wine.

UV Damage

Wet Lamb
Wet wool (in it’s most natural form)

Sometimes this is called Light Strike. This happens in light white wines if they are exposed to light or UV rays. It will make the wine smell like wet wool. (don’t store your wine near a window!)

Other smells and causes

  • Moldy – that could be from actual mold in the winery or barrels
  • Green – using grapes that are not yet ripe can smell like leaves
  • Rubbery – this can pop up if there is too much sulfur or wines that are low in acid
  • Stemmy – underripe (unlignified) grape stems in a wine can have a green bitter smell.
  • Wet cardboard – Could be TCA (cork taint) or might be from filter pads that are not being used properly in the winery.
  • Leesy or yeasty – When you get overpowering yeast smell, that can come from too much time sitting on the lees (dead yeast cells). While this is good in Champagne and some sparkling wines, it’s not always good in other wines.

All in all if you get a bottle of wine and you think it has a fault, you should send it back. Too often people get a faulted wine, and will write off the region or the type of wine, thinking they don’t like the region. If you know these faults, you can tell the cause and distinguish from from the region or area. It would be horrible to write off an entire region over one bad bottle!

We will be continuing our series of educational posts on wine in all it’s complexity! Join us to explore and learn more about this fantastic and fascinating liquid.

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