Chardonnay: Nuances in expressing site – an example from the Yakima Valley

Chardonnay on Roskamp Vineyard

Chardonnay is one of the world’s most popular grapes.  A noble grape, its parents are Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc. We first see mention of it in the 16th century in Burgundy.

You can find it grown all over the globe.  From its home in Burgundy to Australia’s Hunter Valley.  You find it in Italy, South Africa, Spain, Chile, Argentina, California, Oregon, Washington…Yes, Washington.  We will get to that later.

The Different Styles of Chardonnay

These different regions bring in some of the differences in the wines.  With wine grapes, flavors and aromas come from the variety, the location where it is grown (climate and soil) and then the winemaking. Chardonnay is incredibly adaptable.

Chardonnay can have aromas and flavors of yellow apple, citrus, tropical fruit, butter, vanilla, chalk, lime, white flowers, or stone fruit.  Warm climates give you tropical notes, cool climates more citrus and pear. 

The wine makers hand…

Here there are many variables.  It can be as simple as when the winemaker chooses to pick, what the sugar levels are at.  Then you can ferment in stainless or in wood.  You can allow the wine to go through malolactic fermentation or not, you can age on the lees, you can filter or not filter….so many options that will affect the taste of the wine. 

A tale of two Chardonnays

With all these variables that can affect the outcome of a bottle of Chardonnay, what if you eliminate a few.  Would the wines then taste the same?  We had a chance to investigate the nuances of Chardonnay with two vineyards in Yakima Valley.  These vineyards sit in 2 different AVAs within the larger Yakima Valley AVA.  DuBrul Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA and Roskamp Vineyard in the Snipes Mountain AVA.  While they are in two separate AVAs, if you were a crow you would have a 6 to 7-mile flight to get between the two vineyards. Standing in one vineyard, on a clear day, you can easily see the other.

Last year we visited with two winemakers we had met there before.  Co Dinn of Co Dinn Cellars and Kerry Shiels of Cote Bonneville.  The two both make Chardonnay from these vineyards that look across the Yakima Valley at each other.

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

Co Dinn Chardonnay Roskamp Vineyard Snipes Mountain AVA

Co pointing out DuBrul vineyard to the North

Co Dinn makes his Chardonnay from the Roskamp Vineyard on the Snipes Mountain AVA. Snipes Mountain sits in the middle of the Yakima Valley, an anticline in the Yakima fold belt. The north side is a gentle slope, while the south side is steep, with basement rock exposed.

His Chardonnay sits on the north slope.  While that might be odd in most regions, you have much longer days in the growing season here and they rarely have trouble getting fruit to ripen.  Keeping the Chardonnay on the north slope gives it the morning sun and keeps it protected from the afternoon heat. They have 3 blocks of Chardonnay here at Roskamp, the one Co pulls from is the most protected.  It is planted to the Dijon clones 76 & 96 in a field blend. 

These grapes, thanks to the sandy soil in Washington are own rooted. They keep the west side shaded and expose the east side.  The vines need more protection from the southwest heat and wind. Soils here on the gentler north slope are deeper, you can see the difference in vigor between these vines and the syrah vines growing closer to the south side.

Co makes his wines in a very traditional way.  His chardonnay is barrel fermented with full malolactic fermentation and ages 17 months on the lees.  His goal?  To really showcase the site.

“I believe that the ultimate expression of a wine is to capture the character of the site.  You can make beautiful wines by blending but you lose specificity.  I’ve decided to find these special places and to express them.  For example, this place is very unique and so are the wines.”

Co Dinn, July 2019
The view of Rattlesnack Hills and DuBrul Vineyard from Roskamp Vineyard

Co points out DuBrul Vineyard across the valley to the North.  The vineyard there is southwest facing.  Theirs is the older clone. 

Kerry Shiels, DuBrul Vineyard, Rattlesnake Hills AVA

Dubrul Vineyard with Kerry Shiels
Talking with Kerry Shiels of Côte Bonneville in her DuBrul Vineyard in Yakima

A few days later, we spent the morning with Kerry Shiels at DuBrul Vineyard. This site sits on a basalt upthrust.  They have a south facing slope with a cutout that allows for southwest and southeast aspects. They sit high in the foothills of the Rattlesnake Mountains.  This unique vineyard with its aspects grows quite a range, from Cabernet Sauvignon to Chardonnay to Riesling!

Mount Adams, West of the Yakima Valley

The morning we visited the Mountains were out. When you looked to the West you could see Mount Adams to the south and further north in the distance Mt. Rainier.

We spent some time in the cool chardonnay vineyard.  This was early July, and they would not pick the Chard until the beginning of September. 

Kerry also does her Chardonnay in a classic style with a barrel ferment, full secondary, full malolactic.  They keep it on the lees, and it spends about a year and a half in barrel.

“I have a friend who doesn’t like Chardonnay, she says “your chardonnay is good, I recognize the quality, it’s not my favorite grape. Which is fine, but it’s good enough that she says “If I’m going to drink Chardonnay, I’ll drink yours. But I’d rather drink coke”.  If you like Burgundian styled classical age-worthy complex balanced Chardonnay, then you are going to like our Chardonnay.”

Kerry Shiels, July 2019

We look across to the South to Snipes Mountain and Roskamp vineyard.  

“I think it’s really interesting how different that Chard taste from this Chard.

I mean they are different clones, but also the soil is different.  Snipes is its own, geologically it’s totally distinct from this.  It’s fun to see that sense of place.

Kerry Shiels, July 2019

Similarities and Differences

So how did our side by side tasting go?  It was interesting.  Let’s run down the similarities and differences again.

Cote Bonneville 2015 DuBrul Vineyard Chardonnay and Co Dinn 2015 Roskamp Vineyard Chardonnay

Both were barrel fermented, with 17 to 18 months on the lees.  They were both unfined and unfiltered and from the same 2015 vintage. Both come from the Yakima Valley, from vineyards just 6 to 7 miles apart.  They were both made by winemakers with similar styles, both wanting to showcase the site.

They were Chardonnays from different clones, from 2 different AVAs (regardless of how near they are), the aspects were different with the Roskamp Chardonnay on the gentle North slope and the DuBrul on a South west facing slope. The soils and the microclimates (most definitely the microclimates) are different.  Lastly, quite honestly, I don’t know what yeast they each used.

Tasting & Comparing

The Co Dinn Roskamp Chardonnay was plush and creamy with baking spice, whereas the Cote Bonneville was leaner and more elegant with not quite ripe pear notes and a lovely mineral note.

How much of this was the soil, the different aspect, perhaps the picking date?  I don’t know, I just find it wonderful and amazing that two wines made from grapes in vineyards that look out on to each other, can be so subtly different.

I’m going to also mention that these are probably two of the finer Chardonnay’s that you will find in the Yakima Valley and they don’t come cheap.  In fact, the Cote Bonneville may no longer be available. Pick up the latest vintage.  They pride themselves on consistency and it is bound to be good.

The Wines and where to find them

Both of these wineries can be found in Sunnyside Washington, at about the mid point of the Yakima Valley. Both has beautiful historic buildings for tasting rooms and are well worth the trip. But, in these days, when travel is not so easy…you can order them online.

2015 Chardonnay Cote Bonneville SRP $50

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

https://www.cotebonneville.com

2015 Co Dinn Chardonnay Roskamp Vineyard SRP $45

Co dinn Cellars Tasting Room
Co dinn Cellars Tasting Room

https://codinncellars.com/

Other resources on Chardonnay and the Yakima Valley

More on this region from Crushed Grape Chronicles

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Robin Renken CSW (photo credit RuBen Permel)

Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.

When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.

12 Days of Wine Day 12 – Syncline

Syncline

Let’s start with the name. Syncline…where does that come from? It was a new word to me. This winery & vineyard in located in the Columbia Gorge AVA. Vineyards are typically in scenic areas. Grapes like a view. But the Columbia Gorge? Come on…this is a pretty stellar backdrop.

View of Mt. Hood from Syncline Steep Ranch Vineyard

So…back to the meaning of the word Syncline, from their website

syn-cline (‘sin-klin)
a trough of stratified rock in which
the beds dip toward each other from either side

http://synclinewine.com/our-history/

The Syncline winery is located on the Washington side of the Gorge on their Steep Ranch Vineyard. West of the property 300-foot cliffs rise up from the Columbia River…this is the Syncline, locally called the Coyote Wall Syncline.

The Columbia Gorge AVA

Views of the Gorge make this Washington Wine delicious
View of the Columbia River and the Gorge from Syncline’s Vineyard

The Columbia Gorge AVA was established in 2004 and is overwhelmingly known for white wines. This is the sweet spot where the rainy western part of the Gorge and the more arid Eastern Gorge meet. Syncline is on the South Eastern edge of the AVA.

Myself & James Mantone walking the rows at Syncline
James Mantone leading me through the Steep Ranch Vineyard

We spent a wonderful morning, talking with Winemaker, Vineyard Manager and Co-Founder of Syncline, James Mantone. Sitting in their beautiful gardens, we spoke about biodynamics which they are putting into practice here on this vineyard as well among other things before we walked the vineyard to take in the spectacular views at the top of the Syrah block.

But alas…in addition to the wines he makes from grapes grown on the estate vineyard, he also sources some fine grapes from elsewhere to make some beautiful wines. Such is the case with this Picpoul.

Picpoul

Picpoul is a favorite of mine. I have enjoyed Picpoul de Pinet which comes from the South of France right on the Mediterranean coast, as well as some lovely California Picpouls. You can read about those in Picpoul from Pinet and California and a seaside pairing. The name “Picpoul” means lip stinger in French. It is a zippy high acid wine.

Syncline 2018 Picpoul Boushey Vineyard Yakima Valley

Syncline Picpoul boushey Vineyard

We tasted this wine in the tasting room with James when we visited. Since I tend to think of Picpoul and ocean, this was intriguing to me. The grapes for this wine are sourced from Boushey Vineyards in Washington’s Yakima Valley. Boushey Vineyard sits at a high elevation (700-1200 feet) on southern slopes of the Rattlesnake Mountains. Dick Boushey is considered one of Washington States top wine grape growers.

Soil and the long ripening time at this vineyard allow for lots of complex flavors to develop.

The fruit was hand harvested and transported to the winery on October 2nd. It was whole cluster pressed and settled overnight. The juice was then racked to one of our stainless steel tanks. Fermentation completed with no malolactic fermentation. It was aged in stainless steel and bottledin March 2019. 300 cases produced • 12.4% Alc. By Vol.

http://synclinewine.com

The Tasting

Syncline 2018 Picpoul flavor profile
Syncline 2018 Picpoul flavor profile

James tasting notes mention “Bright lemon verbena and key lime blossom” as well as “citrus zest and wet stones”. When we opened this wine, the first thing I smelled was chalk and dust followed my notes of tart citrus fruit. It opened further with some floral notes and then lemon zest and yes wet stones. This wine was completely enjoyable on it’s own.

The Pairings

Herbed goat cheese with the Syncline 2018 Picpoul from Boushey Vineyard
Herbed goat cheese with the Syncline 2018 Picpoul from Boushey Vineyard

We paired this wine with herbed goat cheese and olive oil on bread to start. The pairing sweetened the cheese and brightened the wine and was kind of magical.

Mussels with lemon zest
Mussels with lemon zest

Then we went to a classic Picpoul pairing of shellfish. We had mussels in garlic and butter dusted with lemon zest. Which is indeed a perfect pairing with this wine. Often you think of oysters with Picpoul and somehow those didn’t hit me as the right pairing. Perhaps it was me thinking of the photos I had recently seen of the hoarfrost on the vines in the Yakima Valley. None-the-less this wine wanted a warmer version of shellfish and these mussels did the trick, warm with savory flavors and a bit of brightness, they snuggled with the wine and brightened a chilly evening.

Visit them….

I totally told you all about the vineyard at Syncline, but I skipped right over the stunning gardens and grounds at their winery and tasting room. Here…take a look.

  • Entrance to Syncline Winery in Washington's Columbia Gorge AVA
  • Syncline Winery in Washington Win in the Columbia Gorge AVA
  • Syncline Winery
  • The outdoor tasting bar at the Syncline Winery
  • Beautiful Foudre that was being refinished for wine at Syncline
  • The garden at the Syncline tasting room in Washington's Columbia Gorge AVA
  • Perfect spot for a summer tasting Syncline
  • Syncline Wine's tasting garden in the Columbia Gorge AVA
  • Syncline Wine's tasting garden in the Columbia Gorge AVA
  • Syncline Wine's tasting garden in the Columbia Gorge AVA
  • Syncline Wine's tasting garden in the Columbia Gorge AVA

Head up there in the summer, on a weekend. Drive the Gorgeous Gorge and then stop for a tasting and to enjoy the garden.

That’s a wrap!

All the unwrapping is complete on our 12 Days of Wine Celebration. Hopefully you enjoyed the journey and perhaps have a few wines to search for, or a vacation to plan to take in some of these places.

We wish you all a very happy holiday and a wonderful New Year. Here’s to a spectacular 2020!

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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!

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12 Days of Wine – Day 4 Côte Bonneville

DuBrul Vineyard is one of the older vineyards in the Yakima Valley. Hugh and Kathy Shiels purchased the property in 1991 and pulled out the orchards to plant vines. This is a family business and the winemaker is their daughter Kerry Shiels.

Last summer we spent a morning with Kerry first at their Sunnyside tasting room and then in the family’s DuBrul vineyard.

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

The tasting room is in the historic Grandview Train Depot, on the line that connected Walla Walla and Yakima. After it’s life as a train stop and before becoming a tasting room it was home to her father’s orthopedic practice.

Dubrul Vineyard with Kerry Shiels
DuBrul Vineyard with Kerry Shiels

The DuBrul vineyard is a bit of a drive up into the Rattlesnake Hills. The rolling terrain has multiple aspects allowing them to grow a variety of grapes types in the micro climates. We felt the micro climates just walking across the vineyard from one side to the other.

2018 DuBrul Vineyard Riesling Yakima Valley

Côte Bonnevile 2018 DuBrul Vineyard Riesling
Côte Bonneville 2018 DuBrul Vineyard Riesling

This is the oldest block on the DuBrul. I assume it predates their purchase of the property as it was planted in 1982. These almost 40 year old vines produce fruit that Côte Bonneville turns into spectacular wine a Spätlese style riesling that sits at low 10% abv. I must share with you the beautiful quote from Kerry on the back label.

On a rocky windswept plateau high above the Yakima Valley DuBrul Riesling vines struggle to survive. Among the oldest planted in Washington State, their small truncks bear witness to the severe growing conditions. Yet their tiny berries transform into wine glowing with intensity.

On the bottle – 2018 Côte Bonneville Riesling

When we spoke with Kerry, she was in the midst of her Summer of Riesling. They had taken a cruise on the Mosel with their wine club earlier in the year, tasting Mosel Rieslings side by side with those from DuBrul. I have no doubt, that as good as this wine was, the Rieslings from Côte Bonneville will continue to get even better. I like to explore wines, and rarely keep more than one bottle of a wine in the cellar. Life is too short to drink the same wine! I’ll make an exception here. This is a wine that I want to have around all the time. Oh…I guess we should get on to the…

Tasting

Côte Bonneville 2018 DuBrul Vineyard Riesling
Côte Bonneville 2018 DuBrul Vineyard Riesling

This wine has a light golden color. It’s a wine that I want to dab behind my ears. You get that classic petrol and then citrus and tart pear. It is rich with a bit of sweetness (it is spätlese in style after all). With the low alcohol it is quaffable, but you will find yourself wanting to savor this wine.

Pairing

Pad Thai with Tofu
Pad Thai with Tofu

Riesling with Thai food is classic right? We paired this with a lunch of Pad Thai. Lunch seemed appropriate. This wine is bottled sunlight and it felt appropriate to bask in the winter sun as it came through the window while we enjoyed this wine.

More on Côte Bonneville

We will be on to Day 5 tomorrow!

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