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.

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

Kitzke Cellars Tasting Room Candy Mountain AVA

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

Boulders the size of VW buses!

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

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

Jim’s old vines

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

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

Cab Franc Pet Nat

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

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

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

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

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

Tasting with Seth Kitzke and more

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

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

Rescue rosé

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

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

Color and thin skins in Rosé

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

Savage Grace Blanc Franc with Ranier cherries at Red Willow

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

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

Why is it called Rescue Rosé?

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

The Syrah (artist series)

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

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

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

Oak, but not by choice

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

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

Cab franc & labels

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

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

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

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

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

’13 Monte

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

Hood River

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

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

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

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

The Kitzke Tasting Room

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

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

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

The benefits to making your wine near the vineyard

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

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

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

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

On growing in the Gorge and natural vegetation

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

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

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

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

More to Come…

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

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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.  *Update! My understanding is that the adjustment to the Yakima Valley AVA is complete.

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.  You can read about that here. 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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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.

Sarah Hedges Goedhart on her journey to winemaking and biodynamics

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

Choosing Hedges Family Estate on Red Mountain

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

Sarah’s journey to winemaking

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

Getting hooked on wine in Santa Barbara

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

On to Preston in Healdsburg

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

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

Returning to the Tri-Cities

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

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

Biodynamics at Hedges

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

Native ferments

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

Soothing tunes for the wines

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

The Goedhart label

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

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

Sarah on Syrah

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

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

Sarah on the reason for biodynamics

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

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

Sarah Hedges Goedhart, July 2019

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

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Hedges Family Estate – Red Mountain Washington – the history

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

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

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

The history, the beginnings

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

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

Tom Hedges & Anne-Marie Liégeois

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

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

The beginnings of the Hedges Brand

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

The decision to build on Red Mountain

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

The Château

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

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

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Red Mountain AVA Yakima Valley Washington

Red Mountain in Washington's Yakima Valley

Red Mountain. If you have not heard of it, it perhaps conjures thoughts of red earth, or red trees covering a towering mountain. If you have heard of it, your brain defaults straight to Cabernet Sauvignon.

Red Mountain is an AVA in the Yakima Valley of Washington State. Here is a quick reminder on Washington State and it’s nested AVA’s.

Washington-AVA-Map-courtesy-of-Washington-State-wine
Washington-AVA-Map-courtesy-of-Washington-State-wine

That large brownish area at the center and east is the Columbia Valley AVA. You see it, the Columbia Gorge and Walla Walla AVA’s dipping over into Oregon. The Yakima Valley AVA encompasses a strip there in the center that includes Rattlesnake Hills AVA, Snipes Mountain AVA and then on the eastern edge of the AVA, the tiny little triangle labeled as Red Mountain.

So to begin, Red Mountain AVA is nested inside the Yakima Valley AVA which is nested inside the Columbia Valley AVA, like Russian dolls.

Red Mountain – not really red – not really a mountain

Red Mountain AVA is on Red Mountain, but it is not the entire mountain. We are talking grapes here right? In order to catch the best sun, the vineyards are on the southwest facing slope of the mountain. And then there is the term mountain, which indicates a landmass above the earth surface that typically rises above 2000 feet. Red Mountain is actually part of the fold belt that makes up the Yakima Valley and at it’s highest point sits at 1410 feet. As to the red? There is cheatgrass that in the spring is reddish. The vineyards here sit between 540 and 1400 feet. The whole AVA only covers 4,040 acres, the smallest in Washington State.

The Yakima River flows by, moderating temperatures and keeping away the threat of frost. It also provides water for irrigation. With only 5 to 6 inches of rainfall annually, irrigation is necessary.

Vines at Hedges Family Estate in Yakima Valley's Red Mountain AVA
Vines at Hedges Family Estate in Yakima Valley’s Red Mountain AVA

Vineyard History

The first vineyard was planted here in 1975, by Jim Holmes and John Williams. These two met when their desks got pushed together working at General Electric. Some things are kismet. The vineyard that grew from this friendship was the Ciel de Cheval Vineyard. Just a few years before, the land on Red Mountain was nothing but sagebrush, grass, cougars and snakes. Power and irrigation had been brought in. They planted Cabernet Sauvignon, which is what the AVA has come to be known for, and the site is still revered for the quality of fruit it produces.

John & Jim started Kiona Vineyard & Winery, the first winery on Red Mountain. The Williams, John & Ann, built a house and opened Kiona’s tasting room. Their son Scott helped with planting the vineyard and eventually took over. Scott’s son JJ now works for Kiona.

The buzz for Red Mountain spread, first with other friends and co-workers jumping on the bandwagon. Today there are around 2,200 vineyard acres planted in this small AVA. There are over 15 wineries in the AVA with loads of others jostling to get in line for some of the prized fruit that comes from these vineyards.

What makes Red Mountain fruit so good?

Well, the soil here, has a decided lack of nutrients. It also has a high pH. This combines with the wind to cause small berries with thick skins which give you a greater skin to flesh ratio, as well as higher tannins. That gives you much more intense juice.

Wines from Red Mountain are some of the most well thought of and highly rated wines in Washington State.

For More information visit

More to come

We visited with Sarah Goedhart, winemaker at Hedges Family Estate, while we were in Red Mountain and look forward to bringing you our conversation with her soon. In the meantime, you can see a few photos and a bit of our conversation with her, as well as a bit on the Goedhart Family Syrah at the links below.

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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 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!

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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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12 Days of Wine 2019 – Day 2 Owen Roe

We’ve come to Day 2 of our 12 Days of Wine! Today’s wine is from Owen Roe Winery and it’s kinda special. This is the 2015 Syrah Chapel Block. Yes…I know, another Syrah. Well, we happen to like Syrah and as I mentioned this one is special to us.

The Chapel Block – Red Willow Vineyard

The Chapel on the Chapel Block at Red Willow Vineyard Yakima Valley Washington
The Chapel on the Chapel Block at Red Willow Vineyard

Red Willow Vineyard is in the Yakima Valley, and within it sits the very special Chapel Block. We were lucky enough to visit and spend an evening watching the sunset with vineyard owner/grower Mike Sauer and his son Jonathan.

So many of the vineyards in the Yakima Valley are easily accessible along Interstate 82. It’s a bit more work to get to Red Willow. Southwest of the City of Yakima, you must travel West from Wapato. It is 14 miles through large blocks of agricultural land that seems to go on forever. Far in the distance Mt. Adams rises.

  • Red Willow Vinyard
  • Red Willow Vinyard
  • Red Willow Vineyard Chapel Block
  • Red Willow Vineyard Chapel Block
  • Red Willow Vinyard with Mike and Jonathan Sauer
  • Red Willow Vineyard Yakima Valley AVA Mt. Adams in the Distance
  • Red Willow Vineyard
  • Red Willow Vineyard
  • Red Willow Vinyard with Mike and Jonathan Saue

We arrived before sunset and Jonathan Sauer took us up to the Chapel Block. The Chapel stands on the top of a hill with slopes on each side planted to wine grapes. That syrah grows in sight of the Chapel is no mistake. The building harkens back to the Chapel of Hermitage in France’s Northern Rhône where Syrah is king.

While we were there, we saw blocks labeled for wineries, one of which was for Owen Roe. This was where the Syrah for this wine originated from. The Chapel Block, with it’s iconic Chapel is well known for highly prized fruit in the Yakima Valley. The care and pride that the Sauers put into the fruit they grow, shows in the final wine. You can read a bit about our magical evening with them here

Red Willow source for some of Owen Roe's great Washington Wine
Red Willow Vineyard, the Chapel Block, one of the rows for Owen Roe

Owen Roe 2015 Syrah Chapel Block (Red Willow Vineyard)

Owen Roe 2015 Chapel Block Syrah
Owen Roe 2015 Chapel Block Syrah

So, we do have a progression here from yesterday’s wine. This is from the other end of the Yakima Valley and it is 2 years younger. It was aged 10 months in 47% new oak. It sits at 14.1% abv and will set you back $55.

Tasting

The color on this was a bit bluer and the rim a little less (2 years younger will do that). Blueberry, blackberry and a bit of orange zest come out, blended with notes of leather, tobacco and a bit of wet stone.

Notes of bramble fruit, wet stone, tobacco, leather, orange peel and on the 2015 Chapel Block Syrah from Owen Roe
Notes of bramble fruit, wet stone, tobacco, leather, orange peel and blueberry on the nose 2015 Chapel Block Syrah from Owen Roe

Pairing

We again hit the bleu and gouda to pair with this. I found raspberries and cherries to pair nicely. (hmm…cherries and the Chapel block…that just makes me happy to think about)

More on Owen Roe

We visited Owen Roe and met with then Owner David O’Reilly in October of 2018. Recently he has sold the winery, though he is still overseeing operations. We are always sad to see a winery sold, most especially when it is to a larger organization. We hope that as David is staying on, not just with Owen Roe, but will be taking a place within Vintage Estates a a regional director, the winery will continue in it’s quality and uniqueness.

For more details on Owen Roe Winery you can visit these posts

More on the Yakima Valley

We have fallen a little in love with this valley. As such, we have a list of pieces and additional places you can get information on Washington’s Yakima Valley wine region.

You can also visit Wine Yakima Valley‘s site for maps and details.

On to Day 3!

2 down 10 more coming your way! Don’t miss tomorrow’s reveal as we march on with our 12 Days of Wine Celebration!

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Cabernet Franc Day – Rosa Mystica Cabernet Franc

Owen Roe Winery in Yakima Valley Washington

It’s Cabernet Franc Day! So we are celebrating by pulling a bottle out of the cellar. Our Cabernet Franc today comes from the Yakima Valley in Washington and is made by Owen Roe.

Sunset at Owen Roe Winery in Yakima Valley
Sunset at Owen Roe Winery in Yakima Valley

Who is Owen Roe? Well….

Owen Roe O’Neill was a seventeenth century Irish Patriot, who dedicated his life to upholding the highest principles of political equality and freedom. His commitment to great things makes him an ideal model for us at Owen Roe, for we share his dedication to principle in our work to produce the wines of Owen Roe.

Owen Roe Winery
  • David O'Reilly co-owner Owen Roe Winery
  • Jackie Evans, Owen Roe Winery, Winemaker
  • Owen Roe Winery, in Yakima Valley Washington
  • Owen Roe Winery, Grapes in Fermentation Bins
  • Owen Roe Winery, in Washington State Union Gap Cabernet Franc
  • Yakima Valley Flavor Camp Wine Dinner
  • Dinner in Yakima Valley at Owen Roe Vineyards

We visited Owen Roe in October of 2018 when we attended the Wine Media Conference in Washington. It was harvest and Wine Yakima Valley had provided a pre-conference tour that included a dinner with a sunset view in front of the Owen Roe winery. Before dinner we had the opportunity to do a vineyard tour with then owner David O’Reilly and I even managed to tour the winery, filled with fermentation bins with David and meet winemaker _____.

You can read more about those adventures:

We visited the Yakima Valley again this summer and did a wonderful tasting with Brandon. Owen Roe sources grapes from both Oregon and Washington, so you will find Oregon Pinot, Washington Reds and white wines from Chardonnay to Gewurztraminer to Oregon Pinot Gris.

Wine news (a bit of wine politics)

There is a bit of news since our visit. Vintage Estates of Santa Rosa California, purchased Owen Roe in September 2019. These are the same peeps that purchased Qupé in Santa Barbara a while back. I’m always a bit of a skeptic when a large company purchases a winery and adds them to their “portfolio”. David O’Reilly stays on directing operations at Owen Roe. He also gets a new title as regional winemaking director for Vintage Wine Estate. So….we shall see.

So… on to the wine we are drinking today!

Owen Roe 2017 Rosa Mystica Cabernet Franc

This Cabernet Franc is from the Yakima Valley and sells at $28. is at 14.1% abv. The fact that it says Yakima Valley and does not have a vineyard designate, tells us that this fruit source from multiple locations in the Yakima Valley, blended together. It aged 16 months in French Oak.

2017 Rosa Mystica Cabernet Franc from Owen Roe Winery Yakima Valley

The first thing that catches your eye is the label. This black and white photography by David K. Brunn, is haunting…I guess a little mystical (hence the name). Here’s what the winery has to say about it:

The image on the front label was captured by photographer David K. Brunn. The ancient Drumlane Abbey in County Cavan, Ireland served as a place of refuge for almost one thousand years until it was destroyed by the forces of Oliver Cromwell. Here the great patriot Owen Roe O’Neill sought solace until he too breathed his last, also at the hands of Cromwell in 1649.

Owen Roe Winery http://www.owenroe.com

This Cabernet Franc – In the Glass

The color of this Cabernet Franc leans toward Ruby. Deep enough in the glass that while I can see light through it, it is not transparent enough to read through. The nose first hits you with cocoa powder. Another breath finds wet tobacco and brambles. Then you find cooked strawberries, stewed on the stove with maybe a bit of herbs. Finally comes the spice, baking spice and a bit of vanilla.

A sip finds the wine dry. While it smelled hot on the nose right after it was opened, indicating high alcohol, on the palate it is smoother, lighter, feeling medium on tannins, alcohol and body. The acid while not high, it high enough to pair beautifully with food. This feels old world, in it’s lightness. While bigger on the nose, than on the palate, I did get more in the way of black fruit on the palate. We paired this with grilled sausage today, which went nicely.

Other Great Cabernet Francs

Cabernet Franc is so underrated! It’s more than just a blending grape..the 3rd in the line of Bordeaux grapes. It is being grown in Virginia, where it is making some luscious juice. We had a terrific one a while ago from Veritas. You find it in California and Oregon (it’s doing great in Southern Oregon…check out the Cab Francs from Leah Jorgensen Cellars, or Quady North. And of course Washington is growing some great Cab Franc in the Yakima Valley! Where ever you find it, it’s worth picking up. I suggest pairing it with a big juicy burger like we did.

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