A Vineyard walk on Candy Ridge with Seth Kitzke

Candy Mountain as seen from Kitzke's Candy Ridge Vineyard

It was July 2019 and we were on summer whirlwind trip called #thescenicroute.  We had come from the beautiful Columbia Gorge region and were meeting Seth Kitzke at Candy Ridge Vineyard at Candy Mountain.

We pulled in and up to the Kitzke Cellars tasting room, on a Monday. Their tasting room is only typically open on the weekends, so we pulled up to a very confused looking gentleman.  This was Paul Kitzke, owner of the estate and winery and Seth’s dad.  Seth had evidently not mentioned us coming and Paul was surprised to see people at the tasting room so early, not to mention with camera and recording gear.  After a quick explanation, he warmed and looked to invite us in just as Seth pulled up. 

Seth’s tasting room for his own brand Upsidedown Wine is in Hood River, where we had just been, but he was coming from a meeting somewhere else this particular morning.  He had managed to squeeze us in to the middle of his day.

So where exactly are we?

Well, we are in the east end of the Yakima Valley in Eastern Washington. The area is near the Tri-Cities close to the city of Richland. Candy Mountain is just South East of Red Mountain the fairly famous Yakima Valley AVA that is winning high praise for it’s grapes and wine. 

Washington AVA Map Courtesy of Washington State, with Candy Mountain AVA
Washington AVA Map Courtesy of Washington State, with the area of the Proposed Candy Mountain AVA penciled in.

We started in the vineyard with Candy Mountain in the background.  The view is the same as the view on the sketch on their labels. The first thing I wanted to know about was the proposed AVA.

Candy Mountain AVA (Proposed)

You know we get into proposed AVAs, we’ve talked about the proposed AVAs in the Willamette Valley and I was really curious about the proposed Candy Mountain AVA.  When approved, it will be Washington’s smallest AVA at around 820 acres.  Seth told us it’s been submitted and approved on the Washington State side and now they are just waiting on the Federal stuff.  The application was “Accepted as Perfected” on January 24, 2017. As of the date of this piece, the time for public comment had closed and it was just waiting.  Likely it will be waiting a bit longer with everything slowing down right now.  It’s a little confusing.  I went to the TTB page and they are no longer listed on the “Pending approval” page, but they are also not listed on the “Established AVA” page.  So they are sitting in limbo in between.  As Seth put it “It’s sitting on someone’s desk somewhere in a stack waiting to get stamped.”

Details on the proposed AVA

The thing is, that this AVA which would be nested in the Yakima Valley AVA spills a little over the edge and they would need to expand the Yakima Valley AVA by 72 acres to adjust the overlap. 

The AVA is on the the southwestern slopes of Candy Mountain.  Seth mentioned that the slopes here are south facing due to the the way the ridge and Mountain are oriented.  Red Mountain AVA with it’s much larger 4040 acres, wraps around Red Mountain with vineyards Southeast facing, south facing and wrapping around to some that are south west and west facing also. 

“…Candy Mountain doesn’t really have that option. It’s pretty much all directly south.  You might have a tiny bit of southeast and southwest..”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

 Seth studied sustainability and tourism before getting into wine and like preserving ridge lines and views.  He mentions that a hiking group that used to do “hike, wine & dine” events bought up the land that goes up to the ridge so that the views won’t ever get obstructed with a bunch of houses.

Candy Ridge Vineyard

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

The Candy Ridge Vineyard is the Estate Vineyard for Kitzke Cellars.  They have another vineyard, the Dead Poplar Vineyard which is in the lower Yakima Valley directly across from (but not in) the Red Mountain AVA.

Here at the Candy Ridge Vineyard they are mostly growing Bordeaux varieties, Cab Franc, Cab Sav, Petit Verdot and then some Syrah in the back and some Sangiovese out front. 

“The sangio is kind of an anomaly here.  It’s all east facing all lyre style trained stuff, like a double cordon that comes up and splits, a lot more shade.”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

Their neighbor Jim, is kind of the reason Seth’s parents started growing grapes.  He has Merlot that was planted in 1982 as well as some other varieties that they get some of.  Seth says that he is really the pioneer of Candy Mountain.

Cabernet Franc and Caliche soil

We walk into the vineyard and Seth points out Cab Franc that was planted in 2008.  

Cab Franc by the Lawn at Candy Ridge Vineyard
Cab Franc by the Lawn at Candy Ridge Vineyard

“We kinda added as the wines proved themselves. My parents started gobbling up a little more of the square footage of the area, planting more rows…basically the yard was big and they were like “hey let’s plant some more cab franc.””

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

The cons of caliche soil

Previously all the cab franc was east facing out front and the back was just Petit Verdot and Cab Sav.  But just because they had the space didn’t mean it would be easy.  The front is rocky with floating basalt in the loam.  In the back…well

“My dad called me a wuss, because I couldn’t dig the poles when we got up here.  The caliche layer is like calcium carbonate, a really hard layer, like natural cement.  He ended up bringing in our backhoe.  When we had the backhoe in here it broke 2 teeth off the metal bucket on the backhoe.  It shows you how hard this stuff really is.”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019
Caliche comparison at Kitzke Cellars
In the lower hand basalt, in the upper caliche. The caliche, while really hard, is so much lighter.

But there are also pros…

The caliche though, has is pluses.  The berries on the cab franc in the back are tiny little stressed berries, where as the ones in the front get a little more size on them.  Stress berries equal tasty wine typically.  The Cab franc in the back has more shatter and natural stress from the caliche layer.  But caliche is also porous.  They had a foot of snow as late as early March in 2019.  Where as with basalt the moisture would evaporate, the caliche layer locks the moisture in and holds it.  In early July when we were there it was the first time they had turned on the water this season. They were trying to get the canopies to shut down and focus on fruit.  You can see in the video that the canopies were kinda going a little crazy.

Petit Verdot and new training systems

We moved on to the Petit Verdot.  Seth was getting ready to implement a new training system. 

“So you can see we are leaving some of the suckers low this year.  This stuff is all around 20 years old and you are getting older and older wood on the cordon.  So to preserve the vineyard and make it healthier longer I’m going to slowly start switching to can pruning, lower that way there are less cuts, less possibility for disease, or at least that’s what they say.”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

This system keeps fresh wood which encourages sap flow.  Vines produce less as they get older. Seth wants to keep these elderly vines as happy as he can.  At 20 years old they only do one color pass at veraison.  The vines tend to regulate themselves keeping to 3 to 3.5 tons per acre.  3 tons is Seth’s sweet spot for quality.

How to manage Syrah planted East/West

We walk back to the Syrah in the back.  This is trained differently.  When his parents first put these vines in they were not really thinking from a wine making standpoint.  This part of the vineyard is all trained east/west.  That sounds crazy to anyone who knows much about planting vineyards.  You typically run north/south to get the best of the sunlight.  Here with the east/west vines, you get sun on one side of the vine all day.  So, what do they do? 

“We’ll hang more fruit on the shady side, less on the sun side.”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

Seth notes that in hot areas in Washington, syrah can get rich, ripe, jammy and high in alcohol.  He wants to taste the terroir, not just the fruit.  So they pick separately the sunny side and the shady side, with again, more fruit on the shady side.  This allows them to really keep the alcohol down.  We later tried a syrah in the tasting room that Seth said was picked at 23 brix and came out at 13.3% abv.  Still it was phenolically ripe with time to develop without the sugar spiking. Rather than pulling out this vineyard, they found a way to work with it that really works for them.

More to come!

Stick with us.  We spent a ton of time talking with Seth out in the front vineyard and then in the tasting room where we tasted through Kitzke wines and Upsidedown Wines and talked about all sorts of interesting stuff.  One thing we spoke about was the Grenache that Seth was getting from the WeatherEye Vineyard up on Red Mountain.  More on that soon.

In the meantime, some links…

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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.

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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.

French Wine…where to begin? #Winophiles

Map of French Wine Regions

This month the French Winophiles are diving into a French Wine 101.  It’s timely as we all enter our comments to the government in opposition to proposed 100% European wine tariffs.  (If you have not heard about this, I’ll post some links at the bottom for more information.) We have done a bit of writing on French wines and you will find links to those pieces. Many of these pieces were written in conjunction with the French #Winophiles, which means there is the extra bonus, of each of those pieces having links to other articles written by the rest of the #Winophiles! If you are interested in French wine, you will have plenty of reading available!

French Wine 101

I’m here to rally for French wine.  If you are new to wine, French wine can be a bit overwhelming so let’s start at the beginning.

Old World vs New World

To be sure, when we say “Old World” in reference to wines, we think first of French wines.  But what does “Old World” mean?  From a scholastic point of view: Old world wines are dominated by terroir, they are defined by place.  Typically these wines are more restrained and elegant.  New World wines, on the other hand tend to be reflective of the winemaker’s style and are often more fruit forward and bold.

That is a really broad definition of the differences, and doesn’t always hold true, but when people say “Old World” and “New World” this is what they are thinking.

French wine names

In France, wines are named for the region they come from, not by the variety of grape as we do in the new world.  This takes us back to that idea of “terroir” which is a sense of place, with soil, and climate.  So rather than speaking about Chardonnay in France, you would speak of Chablis or White Burgundy.  Both of those wines are made with Chardonnay, but the wine is named for the region.

When we think of Bordeaux, we think of age worthy reds.  These are typically Cabernet or Merlot based, depending on which bank of the river the region sits.  And you will notice that I said “based”. These wines are blends of the different varieties of grapes that grow best in this region.

There is one exception to this. In Alsace, the white wine region on the German border in the North East of France, wines are often labeled with the variety.  This comes from the German culture and this area throughout the ages, has bounced back and forth between French and German control.

Without going too deep into the wine labels (that’s a rabbit hole best saved for another day), let’s talk about some of the most well known French Wine Regions, and I’ll give you a translation for what varieties you will see from each.

French Wine regions

Map of French Wine Regions
Map of French Wine Regions

I love maps.  It gives you a better sense of the geography and influences on a region.  I could dive into the climates and soils in each of these regions (I do love to get geeky on these things), but this is French Wine 101!  So let’s put together some dots for you, on what varieties you will find in each of these regions and what you might want to eat with each of these wines!

Loire Valley – Val de Loire

Map of the wine regions of the Loire Valley
Map of the wine regions of the Loire Valley

This is white wine country!  You will find a bit of red, but the white wines are likely to be the ones you have heard of.

Muscadet

On the West end of the Loire Valley closest to the Atlantic Ocean. Melon de Bourgogne, which you will hear called Muscadet, is most prevalent here. This is a dry white wine that pairs really well with seafood. You will get citrus, and green apple and pear along with a lovely note of salinity. Go for shellfish with this wine

Chenin Blanc

Moving east Chenin Blanc begins to shine. Vouvray and Saviennières are well known Chenin Blancs from the regions of Touraine and Anjou-Saumur respectively. The two can be very different. Vouvray can be made from dry to semi-sweet to sweet, and you will find you need to do a bit of research to determine which sweetness level you are getting. Saviennières has been called the “most cerebral wine in the world”. These wines have depth of flavor, great acidity and minerality.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc, is mainly found in the Upper Loire, the area furthest east and inland. Here you hear of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. These wines are crisp and high acid. Pair them with fish or poultry. With cheeses these are wonderful with goat cheese or other creamy cheeses (think brie).

Cabernet Franc

Not to be overlooked is Cabernet Franc which in this region is the primary red wine. Chinon or Bourgueil in the Touraine region produce elegant Cab Francs. These wines can be slightly spicy with raspberry and violet notes and are a favorite at Parisian Bistros.

For more…

Champagne

Popping a champagne cork!

Well you know what Champagne is!  This region and it’s soil and climate produce some of the world’s finest sparkling wines primarily from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.

These wines, while often looked at a just for celebrations or just with the hors d’oeuvres at the top of the meal actually are perfect during a meal. The bubbles and acidity clean your palate making every bite taste as amazing as the first.

There are plenty of classic pairings, but try potato chips, buttered popcorn or fried chicken! The bubbles and acid with the fat and salt are heaven.

For more…

Alsace

Famous wine route in the Vosges mountains Alsace France
Famous wine route in the Vosges mountains Alsace France

This region sits on the German border and as I mentioned earlier has bounced back and forth between French and German control. The names and architecture here reflect that mixed heritage and the wines do as well.

These bright aromatic white wines are perfect to keep your nose in all day or dab behind your ears. But…if you must move on to drinking them, pair them with fish, aromatic cheeses, schnitzle, salads…there are so many great pairings. These are also wines known for pairing well with spicy foods like Thai! You will find riesling, pinot gris, muscadet and gewurztraminer lead the pack on varieties.

For more…

There are a few other varieties including Pinot Noir, but you are less likely to run into them.

Chablis

Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu Simonnet-Febvre 2013 and Pôchouse
Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu Simonnet-Febvre 2013 and Pôchouse

Chardonnay

This is Chardonnay land, but not those big buttery California Chardonnays that your Aunt might drink.  These are sharp and bright with great mineral quality! Pair with fish or chicken, oysters or other shellfish, mushrooms or cheese (think goat cheese or Comté). The sharp acid makes this great with creme sauces.

For more…

Burgundy (Bourgogne)

Vignoble de Bourgogne
Vignoble de Bourgogne

Chablis, above, is in Burgundy sitting 80 miles northwest of the rest of Burgundy.  Burgundy is known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir

The Côte de Nuits is the Northern part of the Côte d’Or and is the region that Pinot Noir calls home. It ventures further afield, but this is it’s homeland and you will find some of the most expensive Pinot Noirs on the planet, hail from here.

Pinot Noir is perfect for red wine with fish. It is the go to wine to pair with salmon. Many Pinot Noirs also have earthy notes and pair beautifully with mushrooms.

Chardonnay

The Côte de Beaune is dominated by Chardonnay. These are likely to be aged in oak. They will be richer and more buttery than those lean Chardonnays from Chablis, but they are still dry. Try this wine with pasta, chicken, risotto, shellfish or salt water fish and with cheeses like gruyere.

There is more to the region, the Côte Chalonnais and the Mâconnais, but we will leave those for another day.

For more…

Beaujolais

Gamay grapes in Beaujolais
Gamay grapes in Beaujolais

Just south of Burgundy you find Beaujolais.  This is a wine you will know better by the region name than by the grape, Gamay, that it is made from.  Beaujolais Nouveau is the first wine released each year on the third Thursday in November.  These early release wines are fresh and fruity, but the region does have other Gamay’s that are meant to be deeper and more age worthy.

Beaujolais Nouveau will be fruit forward and downright perky! Sometimes you will hear people say that they smell bubblegum or bananas in addition to raspberries and cranberry.

Aged Beaujolais might have notes of forest floor, mushroom, violet, tart cherry and smoke.

These are lighter wines and can pair across the spectrum from salmon to barbeque. Visit the Beaujolais site for a great graphic to assist with pairings for all the varied wines from this region.

The Rhone Valley

M.Chapoutier Crozes Hermitage vineyards in Tainl' Hermitage Rhone valley France
M.Chapoutier Crozes Hermitage vineyards in Tainl’ Hermitage Rhone valley France

I am a lover of Rhônes. Guaranteed…many of mine come from the Rhône Rangers that you find in California, and many of which were brought from Chateauneuf-de-Pape in the Southern Rhône.

The region is broken into the Northern and Southern Rhône. The Northern Rhône is the land of Syrah and Viognier and typically very pure and expensive versions of these.

Syrah

The Côte Rotie is known for some of the most amazing Syrah on the planet. I’ve heard it described as bacon and violets. Which sounds pretty amazing to me.

Viognier

Condrieu is well known for 100% Viognier. This white wine is full bodied and round with notes of apricot, pear and almonds.

There are other appellations like Crozes Hermitage above and Cornas, there is more to explore here, if you have the budget.

The Southern Rhone is warmer as it heads down the Rhone river to the Mediterranean and you will find blends of multiple varieties.  The famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape is here with blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre and more. Wines here lean toward blends.

Red Rhône Blends

These will have berry notes (think raspberry and black berry) baking spice, and maybe some garrigue (think underbrush), lavender, dried herbs. The more Mourvedre, the more likely you will have meaty notes to the wine.

These go well with mediterranean foods, like olives and red peppers, and herbs like rosemary or sage (or herbs de Provençe).

White Rhône Blends

Marsanne, Roussanne & Viognier make up the body of most white wines in this area. These blends are medium bodied and have notes of beeswax (I love that), as well as moderate citrus, like a meyer lemon, then stone fruits like peach and apricot.

Pair them with richer dishes with white meat (chicken or fish or even pork) and perhaps with fruits that are stewed or roasted. Dried apricots are a definite must on a cheese plate with these wines.

For more…

Bordeaux

Vignoble de Bordeaux
Vignoble de Bordeaux

If you have heard of any region in France other than Champagne, it will be Bordeaux. This is the region that Napa Valley wants to be. It is the big daddy of French wine with bottles that can be very pricey and many that need considerable aging. When people pull out dusty bottles from their wine cellar, typically they are Bordeaux wines.

Left Bank Reds (Cabernet Sauvignon based)

Red wines here are classified by which bank of the river the vineyards sit on. Left bank wines are west of the river in Médoc and Graves. The reds here are Cabernet Sauvignon based.

Right Bank Reds (Merlot driven)

The Right bank wines are on the other side of the river in the Libournais. These wines are Merlot driven. The Entre-deux-mers, the area in the middle between the two, has much more fertile soil producing less concentrated (but more affordable) wines.

The bold reds of Bordeaux are perfect with rich meaty dishes, like a big steak.

Sweet wines of Sauternes

Down in Graves you find the region of Sauternes. These are my friend Corinne’s favorite wines. These are sweet wines made from grapes with “Noble rot”. The botrytis fungus takes hold of the grape and dries them out considerably. They are pressed into tiny amounts of wine that when fermented becomes sweet and delicious. These are wines to pair with bleu cheese or with desserts.

For more…

Provence

Emotion, Urban Provençe and Inspiration rosé from Provençe
Emotion, Urban Provençe and Inspiration. Emotion and Inspiration come from Château de Berne and Urban Provençe is from Ultimate Provençe

Rosé

This is Rosê country, more than 1/2 the output of wine from this region is rosé. The mistral wind that whips down from the mountains keeping the vines in this Mediterannean region dry and free from disease. The landscape is dotted with lavender fields. It’s pretty dreamy.

In addition to those delicate ballet slipper pink rosés you will find Bandol, which is a rich red wine from Mourvedre.

Pair pink with pink. It’s delicious and pretty. Smoked salmon, ham, prosciutto, crab, lobster….you get the picture.

Yes…these wines are great in the summer. Their high acid and bright flavors are perfect to help you cool down on a hot day. But don’t overlook them at other times.

For more…

Other regions

Is there more to French Wine?  Why yes…so much more, there is the island of Corsica, the black wines of Cahors, Picpoul de Pinet from Languedoc-Rousillon…and then there are the wines that I have yet to discover!

Oh and did I mention Crémant? That would be sparkling wine from any region outside of Champagne! You want bubbles and value? It’s your go to!

Dive deep into the links and the links in the links and take a little vacay to France sans airfare!

For more…

More from the Winophiles!

There are so many ways to dive into French Wine, I have only scratched the surface. Why not check out the other #Winophiles and their approaches to the subject! You can join us for the conversation on Twitter on Saturday Morning January 18th (8 am PST, 11 am EST) by following the hashtag #Winophiles!

Remember I said I would include more about those potential tariffs.

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 6 – Armstrong Family Winery

Today we venture out of the Yakima Valley, sort of….This wine is from Armstrong Family Winery, who are located in Walla Walla. We spent an afternoon with Tim & Jennifer Armstrong at the vineyard this summer (you can read about it here). But, sadly…the fruit from this vineyard, did not go in this wine. Here’s the deal…

Tim & Jennifer started their wine journey near Seattle with Tim working with a winery in Woodinville. (Well actually they met in Milwaukee and spent time in Chicago before heading to Washington…but Washington is where we get to the good part). After sourcing grapes, they found a vineyard near Walla Walla (which is where we visited them). They now have a tasting room in both Woodinville as well as Walla Walla and their vineyard has just had it’s first estate harvest! So…you need to get in line for the 2019 Vintage!

Armstrong's Valley Grove Vineyard Barn Walla Walla Washington

Their property is stunning, with the historic barn that now graces many of their labels. The vineyard is 20 years old, and they have been retraining it. I look forward to the vintages that will come from the estate and to seeing their dream of a winery and tasting room on property progress. In the meantime, you can visit by booking the guest house they have on property.

Okay…on to this particular wine.

Armstrong Family Winery 2016 Bogie’s Blend

Armstrong Family Winery 2016 Bogie's Blend
Armstrong Family Winery 2016 Bogie’s Blend

Where does the name come from?

Bogie, the family dog is a blend of beagle and basset hound. The wine named in his honor is a blend of 55% Syrah & 45% Cabernet from the Columbia Valley. Bogie joined the family 13 years ago as a rescue.

Elephant Mountain Vineyard fruit

Well…I know it says Columbia Valley, but those grapes come very specifically from Elephant Mountain Vineyard, which we visited a while back. This vineyard is super nested. So yes, it is in the Columbia Valley as the label says, it is also within the Yakima Valley AVA (which is in the Columbia Valley AVA) and then it is in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA (which is within the Yakima Valley AVA). So, when I said we ventured out of the Yakima Valley at the top…well i was only telling part of a truth. Yep, this wine actually comes from fruit from the same AVA as that lovely Côte Bonneville Riesling.

Cabernet Sauvignon on Elephant Mountain
Cabernet Sauvignon on Elephant Mountain

The Tasting

Armstrong Family Winery 2016 Bogie's Blend with it's flavor profile
Armstrong Family Winery 2016 Bogie’s Blend with it’s flavor profile

So you may have noticed by now the photos of the wines with their flavor profiles. Well, I only had one bottle of each of these wines, so I referred to tasting notes to find the flavors and pairings ahead of time. For this lovely photo I blended Tim’s notes with a review of this wine and put together a spread of black cherries, tobacco, spice, vanilla, rose petal, lavender, roasted walnuts, coffee, blueberry and anise. Did I get all that from the wine when I opened it? First I found stewed red berries and spice then florals, yes…dried rose petals and lavender. Then the nose took on those cocoa notes, I thought of chocolate covered dried chukar cherries (which seem appropriate as we are in Washington). The tannins were tingly, not drying and I got a bit of mocha and smoke…and a little cigar tobacco.

This wine sits at a hefty 15.2% abv, but it is surprisingly smooth. This wine runs $42.00. It was the wine we enjoyed sitting on their back patio overlooking the vineyard as we chatted with Tim & Jennifer.

View from the patio at Armstrong
The view while sipping Bogie’s Blend

The Pairing

I did roast some walnuts to pair with this and they were perfect. We made a perfect bite with bleu cheese, honey and rose petal…and then another with the walnut, raspberry jam and a sprinkle of dried lavender…the combinations to delight with this wine are endless.

Armstrong Family Winery Bogie's Blend
Armstrong Family Winery 2016 Bogie’s Blend

Half way there!

I don’t know if that is good or bad. I kinda want this to go on forever! None-the-less we are on to Day 7 tomorrow! See you then!

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 5 – JB Neufeld

Justin Neufeld is the winemaker for Gilbert Cellars. On his own he works on his JB Neufeld label, focusing on Cabernet Sauvignon. We spoke with Justin when we were in Yakima in July. He sources his fruit and he played with vineyard specific bottlings for a bit, and found that by blending fruit from multiple vineyards he could bring more depth to the wine. Different vineyards have different soils and aspects and the fruit ripens differently, bringing different notes to the wine.

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

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon – Yakima Valley from JB Neufeld

JB Neufeld Cabernet Sauvignon
JB Neufeld 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

Brooke Neufeld was kind enough to send me the vineyard breakdown for this vintage.

The vineyard compilation for 2015 was: -38% Dineen Vineyard -38% DuBrul Vineyard -17% Two Blondes Vineyard -7% Conley Vineyard.

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

So to break this down, DuBrul is located north of Sunnyside (in the Prosser area) so around the middle of the valley. Dineen and Two Blondes are located further west, north of Zillah and Conley Vineyard is on the far end of the valley near the city of Yakima. So you can see that these vineyards are likely to have different character notes in the fruit.

This wine is not listed on their website. The current release is the 2016. But…Brooke told me they have a case of this left at the winery…so…if you want a bottle you should act quickly!

The Tasting

JB Neufeld Cabernet Sauvignon
JB Neufeld 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

This wine is smoother than expected. Tannins hit your gums but smooth quickly, leaving a bit of a buzz in your mouth. The wine feel cool and lifts on the palate. Red fruit dominates up front with cranberry, red currant and pomegranite. A set of tasting notes I came across mentioned blackberry, basil and fennel on the nose, and I get all that if I breath deeply.

This wine sits at 14.7%. Yep, it sounds big, but it is smooth. While I don’t know the price on this from the winery (you’ll have to call and ask Brooke) the 2016 vintage will set you back $35.

The Pairing

So with those thoughts of fennel and basil, I whipped up a salad of fresh shaved fennel, basil, olive oil, fresh orange juice, salt, pepper and orange zest. Heaven! We had Steak and Stout pies with this and it was lovely. With bleu cheese? Divine, as well as with blackberries and dark chocolate.

Steak and stout pies, fennel salad, potatoes and peas

We will have more on our visit with Justin coming soon. In the meantime, you can check out the highlights of our visit in The Scenic Route – Part 4 Naches Heights and the Yakima Valley

On to Day 6 – Our halfway point!

Come back tomorrow! We will reveal another great wine as we slide into our half way point on our 12 Days of Wine!

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

Un repas de Noël pour les fêtes de fin d’année (A Christmas Dinner for the end of the year celebrations)…with wine. #Winophiles

The wines of Vignobles & Signature for our French Style Season Dinner

When the French #Winophiles mentioned that they were going to make a “French-Style Season” the theme for our December discussion and tasting, I was all on board.  I knew I wanted to pair these wines with authentic French holiday and winter foods, so…I went straight to my favorite Frenchman, Arnaud, to ask for suggestions.  He had a tête à tête with one of his foodie friends in France and they put together a list for me of their favorite holiday and winter foods for gatherings.  Thus began the planning for a party.  These are foods and wines that are meant to be shared.

Well, the food part began there.  The wines…ahhh…the wines were graciously sent from Vignobles & Signatures through Michèle Piron/Vinconnexion.  7 of their producers participated, and I received 3 wines.

I received the 3 wines as samples and  I was not paid for this post. The opinions expressed here are all my own.

The Wines

The wines of Vignobles & Signature for our French Style Season Dinner
The wines of Vignobles & Signature for our French Style Season Dinner

Château de Tracy 2017 Pouilly-Fumé

Château de Tracy has been run by the same family since the 14th century.  The Domaine is 33 hectares.  Soils here are limestone and flint.

This 2017 Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley comes from a vineyard overlooking the Loire.  This was a tough year with spring frost that came after budbreak and limited the crop. 

Quadratur Collioure Rouge 2015

This wine comes from Coume Del Mas in Banyuls/Collioure. This region is in Occitanies near the border with Spain.

Coume del Mas has only been around since 2001, when Philippe and Nathalie Gard created it.  They have about 15 hectares of vines mostly on the very steep slopes near Banyuls sur Mer.  Everything in the vineyard must be done by hand, you can’t get a tractor or even a horse up these steep slopes.

This wine is 50% Grenache Noir, 30% Mourvèdre and 20% Carignan.  The soil is schist. Manually harvested, the berries get a cold soak and macerate for 3-5 weeks, then spend 12 months in barrel.

I was lucky enough to correspond with Andy Cook at Coume del Mas.  I was looking for cheese pairings.  He was a bit reserved on cheese with their red wines.  They typically pair cheeses with their white wines.  He suggested something creamy to smooth out the tannins.  He also recommended that I decant the wine for two hours prior to serving (a tip that was used and I was rewarded!)

Château Haut Selve Red 2015

This is the 20th anniversary vintage of this wine.  Yep, a new vineyard in Bordeaux.  They are the only vineyard created in Bordeaux int he 20th Century.  Château Haut Selve is located in the Graves appellation, they found a property that had been well known for grapes before the phylloxera epidemic.  The land had been lying fallow for 120 years and was now overgrown with pine.

They took care clearing the trees and planting the vines. Owners Arnaud and Denis Lesgourgues brought in a talented crew to create a sustainable winery that has state of the art technology.

This wine is 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon.  It spends 3 weeks in masceration and then is aged 12 months in French Oak, one third of it new.

A few other wines

Well…3 bottles was not going to do the entire party right?  We needed bubbles to start the party.  I referred to my Cremant post from last month and picked a few white, rather than rosé versions to start the night.  Michael had really enjoyed the Levert Frères Cremant de Bourgogne so I picked up a couple bottles of that as well as of course a Cremant d’Alsace, from Lucien Albrecht.

Our friend Jill brought a bottle of Côtes de Bordeaux from Château La Grange Clinet that was 68% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. This 2015 vintage was labeled Grande Reserve. It ferments  in stainless steel and then ages in oak for 12 months. The vineyard is sustainable.

We also needed a wine for with dessert so we went with a wine from Sauternes from Chateau Doisy-Védrines.

The menu!

So Arnaud came up with a quick list for me of suggestions that included: Oysters, smoked salmon, foie gras, escargot, La dinde aux marrons, boudin blanc, boeuf bourguignon, pot au feu, tartiflette, raclette, mont d’Or chaud and Bûche de Noel.  We narrowed down the list by time, wine pairing issues and product availability. We couldn’t find boudin blanc locally even after I had a friend with connections call around for me (Thanks Roxanne).  So…here’s what we settled on.

The Cheese platter

  • Gouda
  • Comte
  • Haymarket aged goat cheese
  • a honey goat cheese
  • an herbed goat cheese
  • smoked salmon
  • proscuitto
  • grapes
  • blackberries
  • assorted nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, filberts)
  • Lobster pate with cognac
  • Dijon mustard
  • cherry preserves
  • tomato marmalade

I’ll admit, this was for grazing and sadly we didn’t end up pairing these with the wines, just munching with the Crémant. If we had…I would expect that all of the goat cheeses would have been exceptional with the Pouilly-Fumé and the blackberries, prosciutto, gouda and compte would have played nicely with the red wines.

Butternut Squash Soup

Okay, I know this was no where on Arnaud’s list, but we needed a soup to start us out!  My french tie in for this is that I found the recipe on FrenchWomenDontGetFat.com

Butternut squash soup
Butternut squash soup

This soup went without the cream and was lovely with the Pouilly-Fumé. 

Ratatouille

Ratatouille
Ratatouille

Yes, I know…this is typically a summer dish, but it really is lovely in the fall also as a vegetable side.  It is so rich in flavor.  So this was our vegetable dish and it was delicious.

Escargot

Escargot with cheese
Escargot with cheese

Yep, that was on Arnaud’s list and I found a can at Cured & Whey (thanks again Roxanne).  I didn’t splurge for shells and I didn’t have it in my budget to buy multiple escargot pans, so I went with a South African Recipe I found which simply cooked the escargot in butter, garlic and lemon juice and then put them in a dish, covered them with mozzerella and stuck them under the broiler.  Michael has discovered that he likes escargot!

If you want to find the recipe…snails in butter on Food24

Tartiflette

Tartiflette
Tartiflette

I made two versions of this extremely decadent potatoe dish!  I had no idea what tartiflette was when Arnaud mentioned it.  Now that I have made it, I don’t know how I lived without it!

I had a friend who is Jewish and does not eat animals (with the exception of Thanksgiving), so I wanted to make a tartiflette that she could enjoy also (no one should go without tartiflette).  So I made one classic tartiflette and one with mushrooms rather than bacon. This was based on a BBC recipe for Tartiflette.

Bouef Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon
Boeuf Bourguignon

This was a slow cooker recipe based on Julia Childs recipe.  It was a bit of work, but it was well worth it.

Bûche de Noël

Okay, I was going to make a Bûche de Noël.  I mean I had just watched the Great British Baking Show – Holidays! So I should be good to go!  I chickened out and visited Patisserie Manon and ordered one (they have amazing desserts)

Patisserie Manon dessert counter
Patisserie Manon dessert counter

How the cooking went down

So the party was on Saturday, so I shopped on Wednesday, and started cooking on Thursday (thank goodness I’m on Vacation!).

It began with making the Butternut Squash soup on Thursday. It will sit in the fridge and the flavors will marry.  This way it will be even happier when I reheat it in the crock pot the day of the party.

Friday I began the boeuf bourguignon and the ratatouille.  After the initial prep the boeuf spent the day in the slow cooker and then went to the fridge to become even more flavorful.  I did this before the addition of the mushrooms and wine. 

Boeuf Bourguignon ingredients
Boeuf Bourguignon ingredients

The ratatouille, I was a little concerned about. What if it got soggy as it waited a day to be reheated?  As this was a savory fall inspired ratatouille I decided it was okay.  It smelled like heaven as it cooked.

Saturday I did the tartiflettes.  Roxanne at Cured & Whey had just posted a recipe using the Le délice du Jura cheese which is a Reblochon style cheese from Jura.  I put the two tartiflettes together (one bacon, one mushroom) and then stuck them in the fridge until I was ready to bake them.  Then I prepped the escargot in the same way, ready to have the mozzerella topping added and sit under the broiler.

Before guests arrived I laid out the cheese plates.  And when we were almost ready for soup, I popped the Tartiflette in the oven, followed by the escargot.

The Pairings

This was a feast, so we were drinking the wine, eating the food and enjoying the company.  We did have a few aha moments:

One of my guests who typically avoids white wine, was smitten by the Château de Tracy Pouilly-Fumé.  And we found it went nicely with the Butternut squash soup and the Ratatouille as expected.

I was enamoured by the Quadratur.  I am terrible at decanting, I am always paniced that it will lose to much.  This wine with the Rhone grapes that I love was huge, but opened beautifully as it decanted.  It was my favorite of the night and I enjoyed it most with the boeuf bourguignon, although it was nice with the bacon tartiflette also.

My Bordeaux loving guest, stopped dead in his tracks when he tasted the Haut Selve.  He spun and looked at me and said “That’s really good!”.  Again this wine was really happy with the Bouef Bourguignon.

The Bûche de Noël, beautiful as it was got lost in the fray. I presented it to a group of people in deep conversation.  But we did pour tiny glasses of the Sauternes and have a toast before everyone dug in to the cake as well as the macarons that Jill brought.

Bûche de Noël with macarons
Bûche de Noël with macarons

The Takeaway

This was a brilliant evening filled with great wine, food and conversation.  Everything was delicious and a good time was had by all.  That really seems to me exactly what a French Style Season should be.

And….it makes for outstanding leftovers which we enjoyed with the Crémant D’Alsace the next day!

French Style Season dishes
French Style Season dishes

Join Us to chat on Twitter

There were many other French #Winophiles taking part in this French Style Season. We will be gathering on Saturday December 15th, to discuss the wines and the foods on Twitter.We hope you’ll join– 8am PT, 11 am ET, and 5pm in France— and chat with us (I know 8 am is early Pacific time, but I’ll be up for it!) It’s easy to participate: just log in to Twitter at the times mentioned and follow #Winophiles. Feel free to chime in, making sure to append #Winophiles to your tweets so we can welcome you.

Here’s a preview of what each writer will contribute to the discussion – all articles will be live on Friday or Saturday, December 14 or 15th:

12 days of Wine

Here at Crushed Grape Chronicles we are counting down the days to Christmas with wine!  Join us as we taste great wines and pair them with winemaker suggestions.  Day One is here : On the First day of Christmas my true love gave to me a Gewürvignintocloniger!

Follow all 12 days on our 12 days of wine page

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

Blenheim Vineyards in Virginia Wine Country

Blenheim Vineyards Patio space

The day started as overcast.  We began with the amazing views from Monticello, without the sun, but without actual rain also.  The world was covered in the gorgeous bright green of spring.  It’s that shade that pops against the gray, turning even a completely overcast day into something bright!  It was spring in Virginia, with the ground covered in pink petals washed from the trees.  It’s especially magical for those of us who have been so long away from the green.

That changed as we drove our way to Blenheim Vineyards.  The sky started to leak.  Not a full on rain storm, just steady inconvenient rain.  But that was okay. We didn’t get to sit outside at the outdoor tasting bar at Blenheim, but wandered down into the main tasting room.  It is an A-frame building with the front full of windows as well as windows along the peak of the room. When you walk in you can also look down through the glass floor at the center to see the winery, it’s tanks and barrels.  The windows here allow for natural light even on this rainy day.

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The end of the tasting room holds the bar so you can enjoy your tasting looking out through the huge windows overlooking the vineyard.  The bar was full, so we were guided to a table.  I asked if we needed to go to the bar for our tastings and was assured that we did not.  They have pourers assigned to the tables who come around.  The staff, which seemed to be all female were helpful, friendly and knowledgeable about the wines and the vineyard.  Out came the glasses and the tasting menu.

The pours here were generous and the atmosphere was relaxed.  It was a place you could come and enjoy a tasting with friends, which was what we were doing.  Those types of tastings lean more toward conversation with your friends, and less about in-depth tasting and contemplation.  This of course is rather new to Michael and I, wine geeks who typically taste with just the two of us and take copious notes.  I did manage to scribble a few down and when I did ask about the blends, the staff were quick to pull out the vineyard map and show us where each block was located.

– A map of the vineyard blocks with all the varieties at Blenheim Vineyards

The grapes of Blenheim Vineyards

They are growing 13 varieties of grapes here.  You have the standard Cabernet Franc and Viognier which are the varieties that seem to grow best here in Virginia.  In addition they grow, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Roussanne and then surprisingly (at least for me) Pinot Noir.  Yes, I’m still two short.  They also have a block of Teroldego and a block of Garganega which are new and have only been in the ground for 3 years.  Teroldego is a deeply colored red grape from northern Italy in the Province of Trentino.  Garganega is a white grape also from Northern Italy from the Provinces of Verona and Vicenza.  It will be interesting to see how these grapes do.

The tasting at Blenheim Vineyards

I fell in love with the Rosé ’16.  It does 48 hours on the skins.  This is a blend of 46% Merlot, 31% Cab Franc, 12% Pinot Noir and 11% Syrah.  It was complex on the nose and tart on the palate. ($17)

The Chardonnay ’15 was partially (30%) aged in Hungarian and American Oak for 5 months.  While you got a little oak on the nose, the palate was clean and bright. ($17)

The 2015 Painted white has a totem on the label.  It is 58% Chardonnay, 21% Viognier, 12% Albarino, 9% Sauvignon Blanc aged for 9 months in French and Hungarian oak with 35% tank aged. ($25)

Petit Verdot ’14 was 10 months on mixed oak; 75% American Oak and 25% French Oak.  It had a yummy nose, was milder on the palate with a quick finish but was very nice. (My dear friend Mess, has discovered that she likes Petit Verdot and after searching for a term, decided that they were chewy!)($24)

The Painted Red ’15 also features a totem.  The Painted Red 2015 was 44% Cab Franc, 31% Petit Verdot, 13% Merlot, 12% Cab Sav, 76% aged for 10 months in French, American and Hungarian Oak. This was very nice but our favorite of the reds remained the Petit Verdot. ($30)

They also sell “growlers” here.  Yep, they have 2 wines, the Claim House White (83% Chardonay, 10% Pinot Noir and 7% Viognier (un-oaked) and the Claim House Red 84% Cabernet Franc, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot (un-oaked) that are available at $6 per glass or you can buy a growler for $7 and fill it for $19. The growlers are becoming popular in this area.  You buy the growler itself once and then can return to have it refilled!  These wines are not all estate, but include fruit from some other vineyards.  Both are NV (non vintage).

Doesn’t Somebody Famous own this winery?

So here I am two thirds of the way through this post and I have just gotten around to telling you that Dave Matthews owns this vineyard.  I am a Dave Matthews fan from way back and was lucky enough to see them play on Brown’s Island in Richmond with Widespread Panic back in the ’90’s.  Dave draws the totems on the labels for the blends.

Blenheim Vineyard

The posters of the labels for the Blenheim Vineyard blends, drawn by Dave Matthews

Dave designed the winery with William Johnson and finished it in 2000.  The winery, that you see though the glass floor in the center of the tasting room is nestled into the hillside to help with climate control.  The place is made from reclaimed wood and those south facing windows mean that they don’t need to use lighting in tasting room at all in the summer.

Dave Matthews moved to Charlottesville when he was 19.  He formed the Dave Matthews band here.  Did you know their first concert was on Earth Day in 1991?  Without knowing the connection we had dinner (and great burgers and beer) at Miller’s in Charlottesville where he bartended before he started the band.

The Vineyard and Winery were meant to make good wine, not necessary to make money.  Success had hit and they had the luxury of not needing the money.  So they focused on the wine, and in my opinion succeeded.  Inspired by Farm Aid, he started out with the BOWA (Best of What’s Around) farm outside of Charlottesville that they rehabilitated and had certified organic. He planted Blenheim Vineyards on the remnants of an old vineyard that was on the property.

But why is it named Blenheim Vineyards?

Ok, while it seems like this should be an easy question, I found the answer to be a bit ’round about.

So…John Carter was the Secretary of the Colony of Virginia.  In 1730 he obtained a large parcel of land in what is now Albemarle County Virginia.  His son Edward, of Blenheim built the first Blenheim house, which was named for the Duke of Marlborough who won the War of the Spanish Succession for Britain.  The Duke’s family seat was Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire.  Blenheim Farm & Blenheim Vineyards are located on this property.

It is said that Thomas & Martha Jefferson stayed here when their coach had to stop nearby in a snowstorm.  The house burned down in the mid 1840’s.

The Women of Blenheim Vineyards

I mentioned that the tasting room staff was primarily women.  Well the winery staff is also female dominated, which is a rarity these days.  Their Winemaker and General Manager Kirsty Harmon, graduated from UVA with a degree in Biology in 1998.  She apprenticed with Gabriele Rausse (who has his own winery in Virginia and was the director of gardens and grounds at Monticello and is often referred to as “The Father of the Modern Virginia Wine Industry”).  She then studied at UC Davis in California getting a degree in Viticulture and Enology in 2007.  She spent a bit of time in France and New Zealand working in the industry and then became the Winemaker at Blenheim Vineyards in 2008.

The remainder of the major members of the staff are also female (I’m lovin’ the girl power!).  Tracy Love runs the Sales department, Ellen Houle is the tasting room manager, Amanda Gray is the Event Manager & Mimi Adams is the Vineyard Manager.

So if you are an environmentalist, a feminist and like good music, good people and good wine (like me) than you should definitely stop by Blenheim.  If it is a pretty day you can see the grounds, but even if it’s raining, it’s well worth the trip.

Blenheim Vineyards is located at 31 Blenheim Farm, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902

They are open daily from 11 am to 5:30 pm, tastings are $7 per person and you can bring your dog, as long as they are on a leash and friendly.  They are on the Monticello Wine Trail

It is well worth it to make it a day!  Visit Monticello in the morning, stop at Blenheim Vineyards and have lunch at the Historic Michie Tavern.  Find another winery (there are plenty in the area) and then go for dinner downtown in Charlottesville.  We had amazing burgers the first night at Miller’s (you remember I mentioned the Dave Matthews connection there earlier) and the 2nd night we had an amazing meal at the Downtown Grill  (and a great bottle of Frank Family Pinot Noir from Carneros) followed by drinks upstairs at the Sky Bar.  This is a college town so it is eclectic and busy.  If the weather is nice I highly recommend enjoying a table out on the Downtown Mall which is one of the longest pedestrian malls in the country.  It is located on Main Street and the center is set with tables for outdoor dining for all of the restaurants.

We will be posting more on our trip and of course on lots of other wine related things so stop back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

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In the Vineyard with Steve Beckmen – Shoot thinning

The drive to Purisima Mountain was like taking a step back into my childhood, the curving roads at the top of this canyon reminded me of southern West Virginia, with one dramatic difference…there were vineyards on these hills. WE made this trek during the Spring Vintners Weekend, when we were lucky enough to do a Vineyard hike with Steve Beckmen at the Purisima Mountain Vineyard.

Located in the new Ballard Canyon AVA this property sits at the north end of the Canyon. From Ballard Canyon Road you drive up and around the Stolpman property to reach the 365 acre property. This estate vineyard is planted primarily with Syrah & Grenache with smaller blocks of Roussanne, Marsanne, Counoise, Mourvedre, Grenach Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. This vineyard became 100% biodynamic in 2006 and uses a gravity fed drip irrigation system.

The elevations at Purisima Mountain reach 1250 feet. The wind, the fog, the climate all affect the grapes and I had a fascinating conversation with Steve about the “architecture” of the vineyard and how that was still evolving.

We had hiked part way up the Mountain and stopped in the shade of a large Oak tree to taste some wine, have some water and enjoy some snacks. Then Steve pulled us over to the nearest vines and showed us the process of shoot thinning that was beginning to happen all over the vineyard.

The vines here are bi-lateral cordons and they pull off the suckers and try to leave 4 evenly spaced shoots on each cordon. Sometimes you are just pulling suckers (shoots with no blossoms or fruit) and sometimes you are doing some pre-thinning on your fruit this way. The shoot thinning does a couple of things, it gets rid of the suckers that are pulling energy from the vine, it thins out the leaves to allow better sunlight and airflow through the vines and it thins your crop a little to allow your berries to be a little more concentrated. As they thin they also start to train the shoots up into the trellis system above.

Watch as Steve explains:

The Beckmen Winery and Tasting room are not located here at Purisima Mountain, but are one valley over. They have a tasting room on a duck pond with gazebos where you can enjoy a picnic lunch, that is located just outside Los Olivos.

2670 Ontiveros Road, Los Olivos

1-805-688-8664

They are open Daily from 11-5.

You can learn more about the new Ballard Canyon AVA at their new site or on our Ballard Canyon Page here on Crushed Grape Chronicles.

For more information on the entire Santa Barbara Wine Region visit the Santa Barbara Vintners.

Santa Barbara Wines- the Highlight Reel!

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural Central Coast Wine Country

We are back from our trip to Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles and I wanted to quickly get the highlights out and give some shout outs to people and places that made this an exceptional trip.

Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro SB

Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro SB

We started the trip in Santa Barbara, walking the beach, exploring the murals in the funk zone and then heading up to beautiful State Street for lunch and a flight at Wine Bistro Pierre Lafond.  This beautiful café has great sidewalk tables that let you take in the romance that is State Street while enjoying great food and wine.  There is great history here, more about that in a later blog.

 

Grassini Tasting Room

Grassini Tasting Room

Our next stop was Grassini Family Cellars.  This winery is located in Happy Canyon and they specialize in Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Their tasting room is located in the historic El Paseo shopping center near Au Bon Climat and Margerum.  This is a beautiful space and Katie Grassini stopped in while we were there and we had a wonderful conversation about their wines, the winery and the sustainable practices they are using there.

 

Carr SB Tasting Room

Carr SB Tasting Room

From there we headed off the beaten track a little to Carr and we tasted through their line up.  The space here is a converted Quonset hut giving it a feel of the inside of a barrel.  They also have wines available here on tap.

 

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

Now it was back into the Funk Zone proper to AVA Santa Barbara, previously known as Anacapa Vintners.  This beautiful tasting room features wines from each of the Santa Barbara AVA’s.  On the entire wall behind the tasting room bar you will find a huge Elkpen mural that shows the AVAs and describes the climates, soils and topography.  They have soil samples on the counter to look at and the staff is incredibly knowledgeable.  For wine geeks that get into the soil and climate this is heaven.

To finish our day we headed down to Stearns Wharf to Conway Family Wines Deep Sea Tasting Room.  This beautiful tasting room is on the 2nd level on the Wharf with beautiful views of the coast and the ocean.  Their Deep Sea Wines are made with coastal grapes.  Shout out to Lauren for a great tasting!

Conway's Deep Sea Winery

Conway’s Deep Sea Winery

 

We finished the day with some sunset shots followed by dinner on the end of the Wharf at Santa Barbara Shellfish Company…tiny and perfect!

Santa Barbara Shellfish Co.

Santa Barbara Shellfish Co.

 

Just before bed I realized I had a message from Morgen McLauglin from the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association, she had been searching to see if anyone was harvested so we could go get some harvest shots.  Well she found a small harvest happening at none other than Clos Pepe.  So we were up early the next morning to meet her at the vineyard at 5:45.

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

This unexpected boon turned out to be so much more than we expected.  Michael jumped in getting shots and Morgen and I chatted and she walked me down to meet Wes Hagen, the winemaker.  Wes handed us gloves, clippers, a bucket and a head lamp and directed us on the finer points of harvesting pinot noir.  The harvest was for a sparkling project that he was working on with another winery. We spent about 2 hours helping to harvest 2 rows of beautiful tight clusters of pinot noir and watching the sun come up.  And…we were lucky enough that Wes invited us to tag onto a tour and tasting he was doing later that day.

 

Vines at Carhartt

Vines at Carhartt

After a quick cleanup and breakfast at Succulent in Solvang, we headed to Carhartt for a winery tour with Joe the new Wine club manager.  We got to see all the new buildings the harvest prep and then head up to the ridge to see the vineyards as well as the newly planned vineyard site.

 

Saarloos & Sons

Saarloos & Sons

We headed back into Los Olivos for a little wine and dessert!  “Enjoy Cupcakes” has cupcake flights available daily to pair with Saarloos and Sons tastings.  If you are here on a weekend, this is really something you shouldn’t miss.

We managed to have time for one more shared tasting at Presqu’ile.  This is a stunning tasting room that they unfortunately closed after Labor Day.  Don’t be too sad though, they have a tasting room open at their new winery in Santa Maria.  Everyone I have spoken to says the new winery is beautiful.  The wines here I found to have a unique flair which seems to come from their winemaker.  I look forward to stopping by the winery on our next trip.

At this point it was time to head back out to Clos Pepe.  I will have an entire post about our visit here.  Wes Hagen opens his mouth and fascinating facts fall out.  The wines were spectacular and the information and knowledge shared was beyond expectations.  If you are in the area and love wine, you should schedule a visit with Wes.

We ended our day in the world’s tiniest tasting room at Carhartt’s which becomes quite the gathering spot at the end of the day.  They are open an hour later than the other tasting rooms and end up being quite the industry gathering spot. And then caught a light dinner at Avant in Buellton.

 

Hilliard Bruce

Hilliard Bruce

The next morning we were off to Hilliard Bruce.  As I was tweeting about our upcoming trip, I had a tweet from them saying, “If you can, you’ve got to see the canopy management at Hilliard Bruce Vineyards at least once before you die.”  Well with an offer like that…  So we went.  This is a mind bogglingly beautiful property.  John Hilliard and Christine Bruce are both Certified Master Gardeners and they love their plants.  The entire property is beautifully landscaped and truly, the canopy management is beyond anything you will see anywhere else.  Again, you will get an entire blog post on this exceptional property, but let me say that between the wine, the property and the people this was really an amazing visit.

Lots more fascinating details to come as well as photos and video!

Shale Oak – a holistic sense of sustainability

Shale OAK Winery

In researching for our trip to Paso, I came across CellarPass.  Cellar Pass provides online reservations for tastings at wineries.  I found Shale Oak through them and scheduled a 10 am tasting.

This stunning tasting room is off of 46W on Oakdale road. The winery released it’s inaugural vintage in May of 2011, and opened their tasting room later that year.  This winery was built to be sustainable and the building is LEED certified.  At least 1/3 of the wineries energy needs are supplied by the solar photovoltaic panels on the building. The redwood used on the building is 100 year old reclaimed wood from Vandenburg.  All the items in their gift shop are repurposed items.

The owner Al Good was raised in Virginia and is an entrepreneurial farmer.  He has developed a holistic approach to the agriculture business.  The sense of land stewardship is what drives Shale Oak.  Their winemaker Curtis Hascall is in his early 30’s and grew up in Watford England.  He graduated from Cal Poly with a degree in food-science.  He worked with Consulting winemaker Kevin Patrick Riley before coming on board with Shale Oak.  Consultant winemaker Kevin Riley is well know in Paso and consults for several wineries as well as owning and running Proulx with his wife Genoa. His adventure style shows in the wines.

Before we began our tasting our pourer got us each a small glass of a palate cleanser called evo that was developed by a couple for their senior project at Cal Poly.  The pH is the same as wine, so it is better than crackers or water.  Our tasting began with the 2011 Sui.  Sui is the second element in Japanese philosophy and represents water, fluidity, magnetism and suppleness.  This blend of Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Albarino, Pinot Grigio is bright and clear with honeydew melon and a nice minerality.  We next moved on to the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon.  I know…Cabernet as the first red on a menu?  Seems a little out of order doesn’t it?  But this is  a lovely approachable soft cab with just a little petite Verdot.  The Cab has a very interesting nose.  It is deep rich and smoky.  On the palate it is lighter bodied almost with a Pinot Noir mouth feel, but still a very deep nose.

The 2009 Syrah had berries on the nose and was meaty and smoky on the palate.  This is a fruit forward new world style wine.

The 2009 Petite Sirah has a sense of caramel, this is a bigger wine, but very approachable.  You get violets on the nose.  Unlike many Petite Sirahs this is not heavy or inky.  It has great aromas and flavors but is lighter on the palate.  They once did a pairing of this with an ice cream with a caramel ribbon (yum).

The 2009 Petit Verdot is dry but not as dry as a typical Petit Verdot.  You get a burst of raisin with this.  This one sits at 16% alcohol but is not hot.

The Cabernet and all of their whites are grown on their Pleasant Valley Vineyard on the East side. Here on the property by the winery they grow Syrah, Grenache and Zinfandel.  The Zin is young and not producing much yet so they supplement their Zin by buying fruit from Willow Creek Farms right down the road.  Willow Creek is owned by Kevin Riley.

Their white wines are aged in stainless, and the reds in oak.  Their 2012 Zin is currently aging in New Oak.

The tasting room is stunning with vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows on the front, clean lines and a sense of peacefulness.

They have a beautiful patio where they have music on the last Sunday of each month.  They sell wine by the glass and encourage people to bring their lunch and enjoy the patio.

Really this place is stunning and the wines were really wonderful.

If you need a little Zen time, this is the place to come.  Bring a snack, get a glass of one of their wines and relax and rejuvenate on the serene patio with the beautiful water features.

Sculpterra Wine & Art – Roaming the sculpture garden

Sculpterra Winery

Sculpterra is located on the East side of Paso off of Linne Road. This unique winery greets you with a magnificent sculpture garden.  Surrounded by gorgeous iron fencing by master black smith Robert C. Bentley the garden itself is filled with the beautiful sculpture work of John Jagger.

Dr. Warren Frankel bought this property back in the 1980’s and moved his family there in 1990.  Paul his son is the winemaker, a graduate of Cal Poly in Viticulture and Enology.  Paul is more than just the winemaker, he also manages the vineyards, deals with fruit and juice sales and occasionally can be found pouring in the tasting room.

As we were here on a Saturday, the winery was busy and had an accordion player playing live in the tasting room.  In addition to making their own wines, they also sell bulk fruit and juice to small independent winemakers.  They do a wide variety of wines here, including Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay, Grenache, Pinot Noir, Primitivo, Mourvedre, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The wines are lovely and it is a wonderful place to come grab a glass of wine and wander the sculpture garden for a little art fix.

Enjoy a virtual stroll through their amazing sculpture gardens…you’ll have to provide your own wine, I recommend a rose.