Friday, May 31, 2019

My First Spring Release

I had always wanted to do a Spring Release weekend, especially when invitations from wineries started to flood my mailbox. For wine countries in the northern hemisphere, that is usually the kick-off of a new wine season. Wineries are roused from the much deserved rest that follows a busy period of harvest, crush, fermentation, and holiday or barrel tasting. When our vacation home in Walla Walla became available for our personal use this past spring (it is usually rented out), I snagged the opportunity, a couple of oenophilic friends, and a few coveted RSVP's. And off we went!

Here are some of my favorite memories at my first Spring Release in Walla Walla:

Leonetti Cellar

Leonetti Cellar
Spring is simply beautiful in Walla Walla. Vines are slowly awakening from the winter dormancy. Dogwood blooms are in full display. For the special weekend, wineries welcome tasters with a wonderful gourmet spread to showcase the newly released wines. Even wineries that do not typically open to public tasting will throw a party for their loyal wine list members. Leonetti Cellar is one such winery.

Founded in 1977, Leonetti is the first commercial winery in Walla Walla. With a humble beginning in farming back in 1906, Leonetti's shift to winemaking has earned it numerous international accolades. A premium winery, Leonetti is also known for its exclusivity, with a long wait to get on the member list.

The Spring Release weekend is the one time every year that Leonetti opens its doors to its members. This past release, the winery poured its 2017 Merlot followed by 2016 Cab Sauvignon, paired with delicious blue cheese beef sliders and asparagus fries.

Armed with libation, wandering about the winery grounds and then the underground cellar was probably my favorite part of the weekend. I have visited numerous wine caves in Champagne, Beaune, and even the Pened├Ęs. But this was probably my first time visiting an underground wine cellar in the United States. Even though the facility is modern in comparison, I felt like I was transported back to a European wine country.

Spring Valley Vineyard

My oenophilic friends with Uriah
On the other end of the exclusivity spectrum is Spring Valley Vineyard. Spring Valley tasting room is centrally located in downtown Walla Walla. It offers a free tasting of an impressive line-up of wines, always ending with my favorite Nina Lee Syrah paired with a piece of wine-infused chocolate truffle.

Similar to Leonetti, Spring Valley Vineyard started as a farm, but it went further back to the mid 1800's. In 1993, they planted their first grapes, and then in 1997, they bottled their first vintage. The winery is incredibly proud of its heritage, and several of their wines are named after co-founder Shari Derby's grandparents and parents. In fact, Nina Lee was Shari's mother.

During the Spring Release weekend, the winery opened up the Ranch for a big party with a spectacular wine line-up and a generous culinary spread of crab cakes, quiches, cured meats, cheeses, and all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Winemaker Serge Laville also busted open a (very) large format of the 2009 Uriah, an amazing red bank Bordeaux blend.

I have always wanted to visit the Ranch, that is open for tours on Saturdays during peak season. The drive there is breathtaking. Do be prepared to go on gravel road for a bit. But you will be rewarded manifolds during the journey and at the destination!

Breathtaking drive to Spring Valley Vineyard Ranch
Reynvaan Family Vineyards and MTR

Swinging the pendulum back to the more exclusive end is Reynvaan Family Vineyards, the biggest surprise for the weekend!

2012 ITR Syrah
It all started with dinner the night before. Our neighbor, a huge fan of Reynvaan, had gifted us with the 2012 vintage of In The Rocks Syrah. The winery has received several nods from the Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate, and Robert Parker since 2008. The wine was out of this world, and we became obsessed with it. But Reynvaan is so exclusive that we could not find any info about its Spring Release festivity. We reluctantly left it out of our itinerary.

It was not till our fourth (and what we thought was our last) winery for the day that we ran into a group of fellow oenophiles who had just came from the Reynvaan tasting. As it was getting close to the end of the day, we rushed to the winery just as it was about to lock up.

There might have been some obnoxious begging and groveling, and winemaker Matt Reynvaan graciously let us in. He started us with his other label, MTR, a project with his wife, Lauren. MTR focuses on wine with a longer aging time in barrels and bottles prior to release. Both 2013 and 2014 vintage of Memory Found were plenty tasty and even sexy. He then poured us the latest 2016 vintage of In the Rocks Syrah, which was mind-blowing good.

Fangirls with Matt Reynvaan
We walked out of Reynvaan with half a case of wine plus a free bottle, compliments of Matt. My friend even got on the fast track to be on the mailing list. We walked out as fan girls, pleased with our loot.

My Verdict: I can't believe I waited that long to go for a Spring Release weekend. Whether it is an exclusive access to a winery of which you are a member, or a release party that is open to all, or even chancing upon a tasting that is not published, Spring Release is such a grand time to be in the wine country. There are new releases to discover and winemakers to meet. It is practically the Comi Con for wine geeks. I think I may have to sign up again!