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

Kitzke Cellars Tasting Room Candy Mountain AVA

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

Boulders the size of VW buses!

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

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

Jim’s old vines

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

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

Cab Franc Pet Nat

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

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

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

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

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

Tasting with Seth Kitzke and more

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

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

Rescue rosé

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

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

Color and thin skins in Rosé

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

Savage Grace Blanc Franc with Ranier cherries at Red Willow

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

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

Why is it called Rescue Rosé?

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

The Syrah (artist series)

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

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

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

Oak, but not by choice

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

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

Cab franc & labels

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

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

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

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

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

’13 Monte

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

Hood River

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

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

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

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

The Kitzke Tasting Room

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

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

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

The benefits to making your wine near the vineyard

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

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

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

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

On growing in the Gorge and natural vegetation

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

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

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

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

More to Come…

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

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

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.

Amstrong Family Winery – The Journey to Washington

Armstrong Family Estate Vineyard, Walla Walla, Washington

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

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

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

It started in Chicago

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

They literally would mail DVD’s

Jennifer Armstrong, July 2019

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

A bottle of Merlot

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

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

Jennifer Armstrong, July 2019

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

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

Jennifer Armstrong, July 2019

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

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

Tim Armstrong, July 2019

A start in Woodinville

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

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

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

Immersive education and a fast track to winemaking

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

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

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

The Walla Walla spell

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

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

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

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

For More information

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

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

Yakima Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with JB Neufeld

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

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

Justin Neufeld’s journey to wine

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

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

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

JB Neufeld and Cabernet Sauvignon

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

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

Justin Neufeld, July 2019

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

New clones

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

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

Justin Neufeld, July 2019

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

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

Cabernet a “stubborn” grape

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

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

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

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

Justin Neufeld, July 2019

Soils and microflora

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

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

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

Terroir and all it’s variables

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

The full time gig at Gilbert

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

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

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

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

Getting ahold of some JB Neufeld wine

JB Neufeld Cabernet Sauvignon
JB Neufeld Cabernet Sauvignon

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

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

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

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.

Hedges Family Estate – Red Mountain Washington – the history

Hedges Family Estate the garden with the fountain Red Mountain Yakima Valley Washington

I had heard of Red Mountain. It is on the East end of the Yakima Valley AVA in Washington and was all the buzz. I had even heard it called “Washington’s Napa”. I was skeptical, not of the wines, but of the buzz. So on our first trip to Washington for a wine conference in Walla Walla, we focused our extra time elsewhere.

Returning a little less than a year later, we had a little more time to spend and time to research. As we have been focusing on biodynamic vineyards, we looked for one in the Red Mountain AVA, and came across the Hedges Family Estate.

The history, the beginnings

As I started exploring their site and learning about the Estate and the family I was anxious to see the property and speak with Sarah Hedges Goedhart, the daughter of the owners and their winemaker.

The property is beautiful. Upon arriving you feel as if you have been swept away to a French Château. This is no accident. Sarah’s mother Anne-Marie, is originally from Champagne….but wait….let me tell this story in order.

Tom Hedges & Anne-Marie Liégeois

Sarah’s farther Tom is from the Tri-Cities area. His family arrived in Washington back in 1888, settling first in the Waterville area and farming wheat, then moving to Wenatchee to grow apples. Her grandfather got a job in Hanford, so the family moved to this area.

Sarah’s mother, as I said before is from Champagne. It was at a party in Mexico, that her parent’s met. Her mother, there studying language, her father, studying tequila production, while getting his masters in International Business. 3 months after the party they were engaged, a year later married. It’s a romance that is coming up on 45 years.

The beginnings of the Hedges Brand

They traveled the world with her father, Tom, working in International Produce sales, spending time in South America, North East Canada and finally ending up in Seattle, with Tom looking for a new direction. West Coast wines were becoming a thing, so they started brokering wines, starting with bulk wines internationally, then getting more specific when they started getting requests for Washington wines. The first Hedges wine was sold to the government of Sweden. 5000 cases blended from the bulk wine they sourced from Washington. It was popular and inexpensive compared to European wines. The 2nd year they doubled their volume and decided to try selling this wine in the states. This is when the Hedges Brand was born. They moved from buying bulk wine to buying grapes.

The decision to build on Red Mountain

Then came a trip to Vin Expo in Bordeaux where they were continually asked where their vineyard was. Her father was confused, but her mother explained. In France you are nothing without land. So then the decision to be made was, build a winery or buy land? Her father went to a High School reunion in 1989 and heard that Red Mountain was going to be big, with the best fruit in the state. So decision made, they bought 40 acres at somewhere around $1,200 an acre, and they got the last private water rights ever granted in the area.

The Château

In 1995 they broke ground on the Château. This is a place that with it’s attention to detail, transports you to France. Vines line the circular driveway leading up to the Château. You enter through the cobbled walkway shaded by Umbrella Calabra trees, with stone benches and lanterns that you can invision lit at evening. When you reach the entrance you arrive in a courtyard with seating under the trees and a large fountain. The large winery doors beckon, but so does the view of Red Mountain the other direction.

We will continue with our interview with Sarah, discussing the biodynamic practices they have chosen to employ on the estate.

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.

12 Days of Wine Day 10 – Girardet

If you have tried today’s variety I want to hear about it! This is Baco Noir, a French American hybrid created by Francois Baco from folle blanche (which is a wine grape from France) and a red grape of the vitis riparia species (comes from America, but the exact grape is unknown). This variety is often found on the east coast and chilly North American regions like Ontario and New York.

Baco Noir at Girardet

The vines for this wine came from New York. In the late 60’s Philippe Girardet was bored of rocket science so he and his wife Bonnie headed north in their VW bus. They settled in the Umpqua Valley in Southern Oregon bought some land, built a cabin and decided to plant a vineyard.

Well to plant a vineyard, you need vines. So they headed cross country in the VW bus and picked up vines in New York, among them Baco Noir.

It was 1990 before Girardet did a single varietal bottling of Baco Noir, the first time this had been done. In 2009 it was Matt Kramer hailed as one of Oregon’s best reds in the Oregonian.

We are here to make discoveries, not to follow the beaten path.

Philippe Girardet, Co-Founder Girardet Vineyards and Winery
Girardet Tasting Room in Umpqua Valley in Southern Oregon

Marc Girardet

Marc Girardet was born in 1975, so the vineyard had just recently been planted. He grew up on the vineyard and then in the winery as that was built. He was away for a bit in the Air Force, but the vines called him home. In 1999 he took over the winemaking from his father. It was time for dad to enjoy the fruits of his labors.

Philippe and Marc Girardet
Philippe & Marc Girardet

The vineyard

We spent an afternoon with Marc, talking on the patio, driving through the vineyard and tasting wine. Marc has planted the back vineyard(Shale Rock Summit) to Italian varieties now including Sangiovese, Barbera and Teroldego. We watched the jackrabbits, talked about the vines, the bush training he was doing and took in the view.

  • Jack rabbits at the Girardet Vineyard
  • Marc & I by the Sangiovese on the Shale Rock Summit Vineyard at Girardet
  • Ancient Marine Shale at the Shale Rock Summit Vineyard at Girardet in Southern Oregon
  • Grapes at Girardet
  • View from Girardet and the Shale Rock Summit Vineyard in Southern Oregon

We did a short version of our visit that you can read about here The Scenic Route – Flash Tour 2019 Part 2 – Southern Oregon Applegate and Umpqua Valleys and you can be sure that we will be following up with more in depth information on our visit.

2016 Girardet Baco Noir

The grapes were hand harvested and hand-punched twice a day during fermentation and the resulting wine was aged in small French barrels for 15 months before bottling.  490 cases.  Vegan Friendly!

http://girardetwine.orderport.net/product-details/0009/2016-Baco-Noir

This wine sits at 13.4% abv and they note plum, blueberry, black cherry, dark chocolate and cinnamon spice in the tasting notes. It ran $34.00. Yep, sorry, this vintage is sold out, but never fear the 2017 has been released and sounds even more delicious with additional notes of clove, tobacco, cedar, vanilla and caramel. It also runs $34.00

The Tasting

Girardet Baco Noir with aroma inspirations
Girardet Baco Noir with aroma inspirations

This wine came with the promise of notes of plum, blueberry, black cherries, dark chocolate and cinnamon spice.

The first thing I got on the nose was brambles and dried herbs, with a backing of that black cherry and then blackberry with spices in the background. It had great acidity (think sour cherry) and lots of red and black fruit on the palate.

The Pairing

Girardet Baco Noir Pairing
Girardet Baco Noir Pairing

Okay…this was a late night tasting. I was soooo hungry at work, and I was craving pasta. I mentioned this to Carlo (a handsome Italian I work with, who is a great cook). He rattled off sauces…bolognese, puttanesca. Both sounded delicious, but I didn’t have the time to make those this evening. Then he said a word I had not heard…amatriciana. What is that? “You chop up bacon and sauté it, but don’t let it get crispy…” (Then he left to do a cue and I was waiting breathlessly for the rest of the recipe!). He returned to tell me to add peeled tomatoes, salt and pepper, maybe a little basil if you have it. So…a late night grocery run on the way home for these simple ingredients and voila!

We also paired with Gouda, bleu cheese and blackberries and a little dessert pairing with brownies. All good choices.

Only 2 more days! Noooo!

Yep…there are just 2 days left in our 12 Days of Wine Celebration. Come back tomorrow…

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 – Shoalhaven Coast & Southern Highlands #ouraussiewineadventure

Cambewarra Mountain lookout

Australia…it’s the other side of the world and a day away. Far from our normal life. A place where they drive on the other side of the road and sit on the other side of the car to drive. Where the signs on the road tell you to watch for kangaroos and wombats. But…the language is the same, well, mostly. The slang can be a bit of a hang up to translate.

In October, we got on a plane for the short (that’s sarcasm) flight to Sydney. Our destination was the Wine Media Conference in the Hunter Valley which is north of Sydney, but we flew in early to visit a bit more. Mind you Australia is a large country, almost as large as the US, so we focused on the region of New South Wales which surrounds Sydney and of course, primarily, we were looking at the wines of this region.

If you’ve followed our trips before, you will know that we are not afraid of a little bit of driving. That held true on this trip, as you can see by the map below. It allowed us to take in quite a bit of New South Wales, but not all of it. This region has quite a bit to explore.

Map of our travels in New South Wales
Our Aussie Wine Adventure

New South Wales

New South Wales is the region surrounding Sydney.  Good ole’ Captain James Cook discovered and named this region.  Okay…we will amend this.  He didn’t “discover” it.  It was there and inhabited by aboriginal peoples.  But none the less, he donned it with the name “New South Wales” and soon the Brits were sending Convict Ships this way. (The American Revolution meant they couldn’t send their convicts there any longer).

The first fleet of six ships included the Scarborough (that name will come up again later).  They landed in what is now Sydney. In this region you find the Gadigal people.  Future settlements moved up and down the coast and inland and provided the infrastructure for much of the region as it is known today.

Map courtesy of Destination NSW and NSW Government New South Wales
Map courtesy of Destination NSW and NSW Government

We visited 5 of the 14 wine regions in New South Wales: Shoalhaven Coast, Southern Highlands, Mudgee, Hunter Valley and Orange. These are the regions closest to Sydney. A little further north on the coast takes you to Hastings River, then even further north and inland you find New England. Inland to the West of Sydney (and mostly to the south) you find the regions of Cowra, Hilltops, Gundagai, Canberra District, Tumbarumba, the tiny Perricoota and the really large Riverina. We would have needed far more than 2 weeks to explore all these regions.

Sydney

(don’t worry we will come back)

Our visit started and ended in Sydney which sits on the coast of New South Wales. It sits only a little closer to the southern border with Victoria, than the Northern border of Queensland along the 2137 miles of coastline.

Royal National Gardens & the Sea Cliff Bridge

The road to Shoalhaven Coast and the Sea Cliff Bridge New South Wales Australia
The road to Shoalhaven Coast and the Sea Cliff Bridge

We drove south from Sydney on what was (unbeknownst to us) a holiday weekend and into the Royal National Gardens. Sadly we had no time to hike and explore (the Figure 8 pools sound amazing, but that was a 2.5-4 hr hike!). Instead we took in the scenery (and met a stick bug, who dropped in our window landing on my shoulder and sadly lumbered away before I could get a photo) as we drove through. The coast is beautiful and we drove across the Sea Cliff Bridge as we made our way south, stopping for lunch and a view in Gerrigong.

Shoalhaven Coast

The Shoalhaven Coast is about 2 hrs south of Sydney. This is a popular weekend getaway for people living in Sydney and the area has embraced tourism. Gerrigong, where we enjoyed lunch was a cute town with small shops and restaurants, the perfect beach town with a view. Our lunch at The Hill, set us up with high expectations for the food we would encounter in New South Wales.

The vineyards here often have a view of the ocean, so the maritime influence is a major factor in the vineyard. The primary concern here is summer rainfall, which can create issues for ripening as well as problems with disease and molds. We also heard that birds can be a huge problem, sneaky birds that get under the netting during harvest and can gobble up and entire crop.

Coolangatta Estate

  • Coolangatta Estate Originally opened in 1822, renovated and reopened in 1972. Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • Mt. Coolangatta in the morning mist. New South Wales
  • Lush greenery at Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • Our suite in the Servant's Quarters at Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • Coolangatta Historic Homestead Shoalhaven Coast, New South Wales Australia
  • The view to the lower vineyard next to the stable building Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • The old brick main building at Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • Coolangatta Estate photo 1914 Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia

We arrived at Coolangatta Estate to meet with owner/vigneron Greg Bishop. The Estate is a renovated historic convict built estate where we stayed in the servants quarters.

This historic property of a convict built estate, and was the first European settlement on the South Coast.  The name derives from “Collungatta” which was the Aboriginal word for “fine view”  The Estate sits at the foot of Mt. Coolangatta from which this “fine view” can be enjoyed.  The Estate fell into disrepair in the first part of the 1900’s.

In 1947 Colin Bishop acquired land here for farming.  He and his wife (Greg’s parents) then began to restore the property and turn it into a historic resort. 

  • The lower vineyards at Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales AustraliaNSW Australia
  • Spring Vines at Coolangatta Estate in the Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • Rolling vineyard in the shadow of Mt. Coolangatta, Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • White wines at Coolangatta Estate New South Wales Australia
  • The 2018 Winsome Riesling just won the Canberra International Riesling Challenge, Scoring 95 points Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia

Greg planted the vineyard here in the 1980’s and they are producing a wide variety of wines including: Semillon, Chardonnay, Riesling, Verdelho, Savagnin, Chambourcin, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and surprisingly a Tannat.

After our conversation with Greg, it was time for a bit of a nap before enjoying dinner at their restaurant Alexander’s paired with Coolangatta wines.

Two Figs

  • Two Figs Winery on the Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales AustraliaNSW Australia
  • View of the Shoalhaven River from Two Figs Winery Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia

We did stop by Two Figs to take in the views, and tried to do a tasting, while we were in the area. But remember I mentioned it was a holiday weekend? Two Figs does tastings by reservation and we had not pre-booked. The place was packed and hoppin’. The views had to suffice.

Southern Highlands

The next morning we awoke early to head inland to Southern Highlands. Our drive took us through Nowra, where we picked up a quick (and delicious) breakfast at a gas station. (Really the food here…it’s like getting every meal from Whole Foods!). We then drove into the mountains in the Budderoo National Park, through Kangaroo Valley, past Fitzroy Falls and finally into Mittagong.

The region, on a plateau, was a place for the colonial squires to escape Sydney’s summer heat (think Hamptons). The villages are picturesque, the streets wide and tree lined and the region sees all four seasons. It was most definitely spring when we arrived with flowers blooming everywhere.

As to growing vines here? It’s altitude and cool climate make it perfect for crafting beautiful white and sparkling wines. You will also find Merlot, Shiraz and some Pinot Noir grown here also. The region has 12 wineries around 6 towns: Berrima, Bowral, Exeter, Mittagong, Moss Vale and Sutton Forest.

Tertini

  • The Tertini entrance sign, unpretentiously nestled in the trees Southern Highlands New South Wales Australia
  • The Tertini Cellar Door near Mittagong in Southern Highlands New South Wales Australia
  • The elegant Tertini Tasting Room Southern Highlands New South Wales Australia
  • The Patio at Tertini Wines in Australia's Southern Highlands, New South Wales
  • Panorama of the Tertini Winery in Australia's Southern Highlands in New South Wales.

Our destination in Southern Highlands was Tertini Wines near Mittagong, to visit with winemaker Jonathan Holgate. Jonathan spoke with us about the region and his wine making style before taking us out to see the winery and then to visit their Yaraandoo Vineyard. We returned to the cellar door for a tasting, and I look forward to telling you later about his spectacular wines, which include a decidedly unique Arneis.

  • Spring Vines in Tertini's Yaraandoo Vineyard in Southern Highlands New South Wales Australia
  • Tertini's Yaraandoo Vineyard in the Spring  Southern Highlands New South Wales Australia

Jonathan’s Private Cellar Collection Arneis is made from fruit from their Yaraandoo Vineyard which is partially fermented in French Oak. This is unlike any other Arneis you will taste.

We left as the tasting room filled up with booked seated tastings, some of them scheduled specifically with Jonathan.

Artemis

We made one more quick stop for a tasting at Artemis Wines. This winery is set up to host. Views of the vineyard right around the tasting room, with a patio that was set up for wood fired pizza. This is a gathering place, and it was crowded when we arrived. We did a pretty hasty tasting of their wines with a very knowledgeable (and busy) staff member. They also do tastings of ciders and beers.

Camberwarra Mountain Lookout

On the way back to Coolangatta we took in the views from Camberwarra Mountain Lookout. You can see Mt. Coolangatta out toward the coast as well as the Shoalhaven river that runs out to the coast. The lookout has a tea room, so it’s a lovely spot to take in the views and a cup.

Australia Shoalhaven Coast, New South Wales-
Australia Shoalhaven Coast, NSW- The view from Cambewarra

Newcastle

After enjoying another evening soaking up the great atmosphere at Coolangatta Estate, we drove North, swinging wide around Sydney and up the coast to Newcastle.

This port city north of Sydney is Australia’s second-oldest city and 7th largest.  It is known for shipping coal.  Mind you the Aussie’s are environmentally minded and don’t use much coal.  They do however mine it and ship it out for other countries to use. 

As an important side note here, every vineyard owner and winemaker I spoke with in Australia acknowledged the affects that climate change was directly having on their vineyards.  In addition (or as a result), the bush fires have increased in the northern part of New South Wales and in Queensland.  They are in a drought, the second in a dozen years.  The sad cycle of lack of water due to climate change, causes agricultural businesses to struggle, and I can’t help but feel that this leads back to exporting coal to support the economy, that same coal that leads to further pollution and climate change.

This city is on the coast of the Hunter region.  We soaked in a bit of beach, had dinner wharf and enjoyed an artsy stroll through the downtown district back to our hotel.  The arts college is here and walls are covered in murals, music on this October long weekend (a holiday weekend that we didn’t realize we were in the midst of) poured out of doorways with pubs and cocktail bars.  The town was busy and full of people enjoying the holiday weekend.

Places to stay…

Here I will do a shout out to our hotel.  In the states, most Holiday Inn Expresses are mid to low range hotels.  We find them in the smaller sections of wine country and they are always reliable.  Here we were staying in the Holiday Inn Express in Newcastle, a relatively new hotel.  It was pretty spectacular, much more like the Hotel Indigo’s at home, but larger.  The design was beautiful, the staff friendly and helpful and the included breakfast…?  I’m ruined for breakfast ever again.  It was fresh and beautifully laid out.  I felt so elegant eating so healthy.  It was the perfect meal to send us off for our drive into Mudgee, where we will continue Our Aussie Wine Adventure.

For more information on these regions:

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

Red Willow Vineyard In Yakima Washington from Within the Chapel

Day 4 – On to Washington Wine

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

We stayed in Newberg in the Willamette Valley on the night of our third day. Sadly while this area is heaven for wine, we did nothing but sleep. But sleeping here got us closer to our morning stop, the Columbia Gorge. It would also put us closer to the goal for the day, Washington Wine.

The hotel was silent as we quietly packed the care and headed out. I wanted to take in at least one waterfall on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge. It was relatively quiet as we made our way through Portland pre-morning traffic and drove into the Gorge in the early morning hours. After a quick look at the map, I chose Bridal Veil Falls as our morning stop.

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls base in Oregon
Bridal Veil Falls

We arrived at 6:30 am and had the place mostly to ourselves. A quick hike to look out over the gorge rewarded us with vista views as the morning light started to dawn. The moisture in the air with the green trees felt lush and alive. We hiked down to the falls, on the steep switch back trail and spent some time just soaking in the woods, the water and the spectacular falls.

Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls

After this bit of peace and tranquility, it was back on the road. Our morning appointment was with James at Syncline, a winery located on the Washington side of the Gorge.

Traffic was a little busier as we crossed the gorge at White Salmon on the Hood River Bridge and got on Route 14. This was a big change from Route 84 on the Oregon side. Route 84 is low in the Gorge, running just above the river, you are blanketed in trees with views upon occasion. You find yourself looking up at the trees and cliffs. Route 14 is higher and the views are expansive.

We were also starting to see the landscape change, from lush evergreen forest to a more arid landscape.

Columbia Gorge AVA

The Columbia Gorge AVA was established in 2004. It sits 60 miles east of Portland and straddles the Columbia River Gorge including both Oregon and Washington. We will be back later to explore Hiyu on the Oregon side, but today we were heading to Syncline on the Washington side.

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

Syncline – into Washington Wine

At Rowland Lake we turned left to get on Old Hwy 8 and eventually turned onto Balch Road which took us into Syncline.

Entrance to Syncline Winery in Washington's Columbia Gorge AVA

The front entrance is quiet and unobtrusive, with a simple elegant sign on the fence. The gate was open for us leading up a drive between the trees where you could see vineyard in the distance.

We pulled up and parked near the winery, past the house. The simple entrance felt deceiving now, as we looked at the elegant and beautiful garden with multiple small seating areas for wine tasting. We were to learn later that this garden was designed to be water smart. We found a spot to set up for our interview and were joined shortly by James Mantone, the owner/winemaker. He spoke to us on biodynamics, Shale Rock Vineyard, the climate here in this section of the Gorge and the other vineyards he sources from, before walking us up to take in the vineyard and it’s views. His Syrah has the best view of any of the grapes we have met so far.

We walked back down to the winery. Here we did a tasting through his Bloxom Vineyard Grüner, his Picpoul from Boushey Vineyards in the Yakima Valley, the 2017 Estate Gamay and the 2017 Syrah from Boushey Vineyard. We finished our tasting with a really wonderful treat, a Sparkling Grüner that they made just for their crew. (Thank you so much for sharing this with us James!).

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

Again it was hard to pull ourselves away, but we headed out, this time driving on to the East end of the Yakima Valley.

The Columbia Gorge to Yakima

Back in the car we headed further east on 14. We stopped to take in the expansive views of the gorge from time to time, watching the the landscape transition from lush and green with steep cliffs to more arid and brown with rolling hills and wind farms.

Horse Heaven Hills AVA

Leaving Syncline, we left the Columbia Gorge AVA and stepped into the Columbia Valley AVA. This AVA covers almost all of the wine growing regions in the state of Washington, with the exception of the Columbia Gorge AVA, Puget Sound AVA and Lewis and Clark AVA. As we drove further along 14 and then turned north on Rt 221, we were driving through the center of the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. This AVA sits between the Yakima Valley and the Columbia Gorge. We didn’t stop at a winery here, but we tasted plenty of Horse Heaven Hills wines. The area has almost 30 vineyards, but only 5 tasting rooms. Washington State is the 2nd largest producer of premium wines in the United States and this AVA is home to some of the largest wine producers (think Columbia Crest and Chateau St. Michelle).

Yakima Valley AVA

We ended up on the east end of the Yakima Valley. Trust me, you will be hearing alot more about the Yakima Valley AVA from us. This AVA contains 3 nested AVAs, Rattlesnake Hills AVA, Snipes Mountain AVA and Red Mountain AVA. Today however, we were headed to just east of the Red Mountain AVA, to visit Kitzke Cellars and speak with Seth Kitzke.

Kitzke Cellars

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

As we pulled up passed the houses to the tasting room (which feels like it’s in a neighborhood), were greeted by Paul Kitzke, the owner and founder of Kitzke Cellars. He’s also Seth’s Dad and since we had just been in touch with Seth…it was news to him when we arrived cameras in hand. Seth was on his way in from another appointment and arrived shortly. In the meantime, we were warmly welcomed and brought in to the tasting room, out of the heat.

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

We walked the estate vineyard with Seth and talked viticulture, soils and all kinds of geeky wine stuff. I could have spent all day chatting with Seth on all things wine. They are located right next to Candy Mountain, which is just south of Red Mountain. The process for Candy Mountain to become an AVA is almost ready for approval. The Proposed Rule is published and now has a 60 day period for comment.

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

I pulled up a bit from the Kitzke blog about their Candy Ridge Vineyard…

Candy Ridge Vineyard may look like a backyard project on Candy Mountain in Richland Washington but (it’s) what’s right underneath your feet that makes it stand apart. Candy Ridge is built on a very small alluvial fan that was made when the Missoula Floods flowed right between Candy Mountain and Badger Mountain into Richland. Depositing large amounts of gravel, basalt, caliche, and granite in our soils. It is such a small area with expressive unique terroir that showcases depth and subtleties that aren’t overpowered by tannin.

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

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

Upsidedown Wine

Seth is also the winemaker for Upsidedown Wine, where he makes wines from all over Washington State striving to create wines with a true sense of place. They also give back with 20% of their net profits going to the charitable organizations they are partnered with.

Now we were off to the other end of the Yakima Valley for an sunset shoot at the iconic Red Willow Vineyard.

Red Willow Vineyard

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

Red Willow Vineyard is on the Western side of the Yakima Valley AVA, outside of Wapato. The address is Wapato, but it’s about 20 minutes due west of the town. These are long straight roads in a region that is all agriculture. We drove looking at Mt. Adams, whose base began to disappear behind the foothills as you get closer.

When we arrived at Red Willow we were warmly greeted by Jonathan Sauer as he waved goodnight to the vineyard crew, who were on their way home. Jonathan had graciously offered to let us shoot sunset on their vineyard near the Chapel Block, where their stone Chapel marks the skyline at the top of the hill.

He put us on the golf cart and we headed out into the vineyards past rows tagged with names familiar in this valley, Owen Roe, Betz, DeLille, Savage Grace… We stopped to look at the soil strata in a cutout section of the vineyard and he pointed out blocks and the notable items in the landscape. At one point we heard an ATV coming and his father Mike Sauer pulled up to join us. After a chat we continued to the top of the hill by the Chapel. We pulled a picnic table into the shade to sit and chat while Michael set up cameras for sunset. (You will get to enjoy our full interview with Mike and Jonathan later).

A little history of Red Willow Vineyard

There is so much history here. One of the oldest vineyards in the state and the furthest west vineyard in the Yakima Valley AVA, Mike Sauer started planting the Red Willow Vineyard in 1971. The beginnings of this vineyard were tied to Mike Sauer’s relationship with Dr. Walter Clore, who is known as the “Father of Washington Wine”, as well as with David Lake the head winemaker at Columbia Winery. (that’s alot of Washington wine history in one sentence).

I spent sunset watching the birds swooping down to catch bugs, listening while Mike and Jonathan shared stories of the history of this vineyard. We watched the sun set with this spectacular view from the Chapel over a unique bottle of Blanc de Cab Franc by Savage Grace and a bag of fresh Rainier cherries. I promise, I’ll share these stories with you later.

My heart kinda wanted to burst at such a glorious end to an amazing day. The Sauers are such wonderful generous people, it was a joy and honor to share an evening with them. We rode off into the sunset, in a small cloud of dust down the farm roads, full from a great day and ready for some sleep. It would be an early morning tomorrow, with a sunrise shoot at Wilridge Vineyard in Naches Heights AVA. Stick with us. We are just getting started!

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

Day 3

Southern Oregon & the Applegate Valley

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

Cowhorn

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

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

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

The Tasting Room at Cowhorn
The Tasting Room at Cowhorn

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

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