Showing posts with label walla walla. Show all posts
Showing posts with label walla walla. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Hospice du Rhône in Walla Walla

Last December, my girlfriends and I were sipping Champagne when we learned that Hospice du Rhône was coming to Walla Walla in 2024. Tickets had just gone on sale. In our happy tipsy space, we proceeded to purchase a few for the Grand Tasting. And just like that, plans were made for our next trip to back to wine country.

Beautiful Abeja Winery in Walla Walla

So What Exactly is Hospice du Rhône?

Hospice du Rhône is a non-profit business league with the goal of promoting Rhône variety wine growers and producers. Its catchy tagline reads “Twenty-Two Varieties. One Vision.” But the organization had a humble starting with only one variety - Viognier. It all began in 1991 when wine shop owner Mat Geretson showcased 35 Viogniers to about 20 tasters near Atlanta, Georgia. It was called Viognier Guild. 

Rhône River by Txllxt TxllxT via Wikimedia Commons

The next year, John Alban offered to host the event in his winery and expanded it to include other Rhône variety wines. Renamed Raisin’ Rhône’s, the event was moved to the Alban Vineyards in Edna Valley, California. Over the years, the celebration of Rhône variety wines grew into a multi-day affair. 

In 1998/99, the event was rebranded again as Hospice du Rhône (HdR). Vicki Carroll was hired as the Director, and Paso Robles became the new venue. Under Vickie’s leadership, HdR became the largest international vintners association that focused on Rhône grape varieties. Its event brings over 120 Rhône variety wine producers all over the world. 

In 2010, HdR added luxury resort Blackberry Farm in Willard, Tennessee as a second venue for the celebration of Rhône variety wines. The format there was smaller and more intimate. After a brief pause, Paso Robles continued to be the venue for its biennial flagship events starting in 2016. There were two exceptions. The event was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, and it came to Walla Walla in 2024!

HdR, Walla Walla Edition

Four to five years in the making, Walla Walla became the third destination to host HdR in 2024. The three-day affair that ran from April 25 to 27 consisted of a dozen Rhône Around Dinners, two Master Classes, two seminars, two focus tastings, and a Grand Tasting. 

Walla Walla has a few things going to make it HdR-worthy. First, the region has over time built its cred in producing high-quality Rhône variety wines starting with the likes of Christoph Baron and Charles Smith as well as the more recent recognition of the Rocks District AVA. 

Force Majeure winemaker dinner

Second, the culinary landscape and hospitality industry continued to excel in showcasing the wine offerings and making Walla Walla a wine destination. But HdR could not have happened without the support of the wine community, and in particular, Carrie Alexander of Atelier Freewater and Force Majeure Vineyard.

My Grand Tasting Experience

The Grand Tasting featured over 130 international and domestic Rhône variety wine producers and importers. The biggest showing came from California, followed by France and Washington. Since I am not blessed with an unlimited alcohol tolerance, I went prepared with a dozen “must try” wineries circled in my copy of the exhibitor map. (I deliberately skipped my French favorites like Vieux Télégraphe and Beatus as well as Walla Walla gems such as Reynvaan and Latta because I either already own or have access to those wines.)

The clear winners at the tasting for me were Cave Yves Cuilleron and M. Chapoutier. Yves Cuilleron (the man himself) was at the event pouring a selection of wines that included an unclassified Syrah, three classified Northern Rhône wines, and a collaboration project with Sonoma’s Jeff Cohn Cellars. I particularly enjoyed his 2020 Labaya Crozes-Hermitage and 2020 Madinière Côte Rôtie.

Cave Yves Cuilleron 

As for M. Chapoutier, you could spot the stall a mile away. It was the one with the longest line, but the wait was worth the while. The pour included one Hermitage (2018 Sizeranne) and three Chateauneuf de Papes (2021 La Bernardino, 2015 Croix de Bois, and 2015 Barbe Rac). There was not a miss among them!

M. Chapoutier

While it was no chump change at $175 per ticket, the HdR Grand Tasting experience was phenomenal given the quality of wines that were poured. There were a couple of things that would have elevated the experience for me. One, the space was tight for the number of participants. I had moments of pandemic PTSD. Two, plain demi baguettes were a paltry offering for a tasting that ran around dinner time. I would have happily paid $25 more per ticket to have hors d'oeuvres instead to pair with the wine.

My Verdict: Despite an initial buyer's remorse (especially after I found out about the demi baguettes), the answer was a resounding YES! I wish I had given more thoughts about other HdR activities such as the focused tastings, seminars, Master classes, or wine dinners; each of which ran the gamut of $50 to $500. For a Rhône lover with a deep pocket and a palate to match, participating in multiple HdR activities could run into thousands of dollars. But if the Grand Tasting is any indication, they may be worth every penny for the right person.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Not Just Any Wine Labels

One of the funnest parts in hobby winemaking is designing wine labels. I am not creative by myself, but as a group, we usually come up with pretty good ideas. Because our wine is not for sale, we have complete freedom in how we label and commemorate each vintage. I want to share some of our creations here.

Our first vintage was the 2016 Yakima Valley Syrah. We had completed winemaking theory and were excited to get our hands on the grapes. It was a simple wine made in a carboy to demonstrate the primary and secondary fermentation process. As harvest rolled around, my husband got pretty ill with a bad abscess in his throat and was unable to make the crush. Hence, we named the wine Abscession, a play on Calvin Klein's famous fragrance label. 

2016 Abscession Syrah by Alisa Kessel

The next year, we got our hands on some Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from the famous Red Mountain AVA. A shortage of vineyard workers, a late-day harvest, and an untimely power outage culminated to us crushing 4,000 lbs of grapes late at night. There is nothing like fumbling in darkness with sticky grape juice all over you. That night, Midnight Crush was conceived. The werewolf seemed a natural fit.

2017 Midnight Crush by Olivia Lee

In 2018, we decided to up our game and make a blend; Walla Walla Merlot and Yakima Cabernet Franc. Then things got more complicated when one of our hobby winemakers relocated for a new job. Besides managing the fermentation timeline with two varieties harvested three weeks apart, we had to coordinate the use of equipment in two locations. 

This is the vintage where I wore my project manager hat frequently, and good project management did pay off. By the time we were ready to bottle, we were convinced that we had made four different wines. That meant four labels. We decided to have fun with a political theme.

We were so delighted with our free-run Merlot that year that we decided to have a single varietal bottling. The Merlot was aromatic with cherry and cocoa, elegant yet powerful. We named it Kamala Walla Walla after Senator Kamala Harris. Senator Harris caught our attention during the first Democratic presidential debate. We were thrilled when she was announced the Democratic vice presidential nominee the very same day the label went into press.
2018 Kamala Walla Walla by Reuben Lee

We then separated out a 70% Merlot and 30% Cab Franc blend. On the nose and palate, we got cherry and strawberry. But the blend carried a higher level of tannins and acidity as well as a very long finish. We decided to name it Notorious RBG after every feminist's favorite Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. RBG also stands for Red Bordeaux Grapes and specifically Right Bank Grapes; of which, Merlot and Cab Franc are dominant. 
2018 Notorious RBG by Reuben Lee

The second blend consisted of 60% Cab Franc and 40% Merlot. It was fruit-forward and herbaceous, with a lot of tannins, having spent the longest time in oak. We named it AOC Columbia Valley, after Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Despite her youth, AOC is laser focused on her progressive platform, calling out the rich and fighting for the poor. AOC is also a play on the French wine classification, Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée.

2018 AOC Columbia Valley by Reuben Lee

Our final blend was 80% Merlot and 20% Cab Franc, made in our second location. I personally have not tasted this blend and have no tasting notes to share. Following a string of strong well-spoken female public figures, it seems fitting to add a male politician. 

We named this wine Pete after former South Bend Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate, Pete Buttigieg. Pete's impressive resume includes a Harvard degree, a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford, a high-end management consulting gig, and a military career. For better or for worse, no one else made the news for being in a wine cave!
2018 Pete by Reuben Lee

While the labels for each vintage are varied in themes and designs, the ability to have fun and to commemorate each year of winemaking unifies them all. We are after all not trying to create a brand. Yet in so doing, we are able to express what our wines mean to us. 

For our 2019 vintage, we stepped back to a single variety, Walla Walla Syrah. As we bottled the rest of the wine yesterday, it is time again to start thinking about labels. So do stay tuned because ours are not just any wine labels.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

SIP (Shelter-In-Place) in Walla Walla, COVID-19 edition

March 14 (Saturday)

It was a cold spring day as we drove to Walla Walla. We took the usual scenic route through the Cascade Mountain Range to Vantage before heading south along the Columbia River on and off till we arrived in the wine country. 

Breathtaking drive through the Cascades
Still, we counted our blessings: the ability to work remote in a place with no known case of COVID-19, and our friends in Walla Walla who were awaiting with nourishment and libation.

March 15 (Sunday)

It seemed unusually quiet even for the shoulder season in Walla Walla wine country. Cayuse had called off its annual Private Release weekend, usually held in the first weekend of April. There were rumors that other wineries might follow suit, culminating in the cancellation of Spring Release in May.

We snuck in a visit to the newly opened tasting room of Caprio Cellars in the southside. The winery welcomed us with a glass of sparkling Vouvray before we got into the estate 2018 Semillon. This was followed by a vertical tasting of the 2015 to 2017 Eleanor Vineyard Bordeaux blends. Completing the line-up was my favorite, the 2015 Sanitella, also a Bordeaux blend but from both estate Eleanor and Octave Vineyards.

Wine tasting at the new Caprio Cellars tasting room
The tasting room was gorgeous and airy, with plenty of natural light and outdoor seating. On certain days, an on-site chef comes in to prepare food that pairs with the wines. And once a week, you can order dinner-to-go for two with a bottle of wine for $50. The upcoming meal deal is lasagne. Something to think about!

March 16 (Monday)

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee announced statewide shutdown of restaurants, bars, and large social gatherings starting the next day. That would include all tasting rooms. Not knowing how long this would last, we got together with some close friends for our last supper to support our favorite restaurant, Passatempo.

Last supper at Passatempo
Restaurants all over town announced to-go and delivery services starting Tuesday. It would be weird to be in Walla Walla and not be able to visit a winery and go to our favorite restaurants. But safety first.

March 20 (Friday)

TGIF! I have not spent this much time at home, and the dogs definitely love it. Once or twice a day, we will take the dogs to the beautiful Pioneer Park and Aviary across the street from our house. The dogs enjoy checking out their feathered friends and sniffing out red fox squirrels.

Dog-tired from working remote
It has been quiet here in Walla Walla; a college town without students and a wine country without tourists. Businesses are shut down for the most part, and we don't know how many will return or recover after the pandemic.

March 21 (Saturday)

We did get the lasagne meal deal from Caprio Cellars after all. It came with a bottle of wine, a scrumptious salad with sliced beets and citrus dressing, brownies for dessert, and the winery-branded toilet roll!

Caprio-branded TP
Speaking of TP, the stores have been out of toilet paper even before we got there. Whenever a shipment arrives, the store would announce it, and the merchandise would be gone within the hour.

BAD NEWS! Walla Walla County got its first confirmed case of COVID-19. A man in his 40s is under home isolation for two weeks or three days without fever, whichever is longer. We believe we will see more cases in the coming days. 

March 23 (Monday)

This is the start of my second week of remote work from Walla Walla. The work day ended with Governor Inslee issuing a stay-at-home order. We had already been home for the most part besides running essential errands and walking the dogs. We started looking into grocery delivery services such as Instacart. In Walla Walla, that means a fine offering of Safeway, Albertson's, and Petco. 

March 27 (Friday)

The work week ended with a total of five confirmed COVID cases in the county; all under home isolation. One of them happened to be a TSA screening officer at the Walla Walla Regional Airport. The airport was shut down a couple of days for deep cleaning. 

2011 Dunham Late 
Harvest Riesling
On the wine front, our neighbor had brought over a bottle of dessert wine from Dunham Cellars several days ago. It is the 2011 vintage of the Late Harvest Riesling from Lewis Estate Vineyard in Columbia Valley. The wine has a deep amber hue, likely contributed by its age, and a port-like honey nose. The 26.7% residual sugar is much higher than most dessert wines, but the honeysuckle sweetness on the palate is balanced by citrusy acidity.

Winemakers, Eric Dunham and Daniel Wampfler, were certainly right in their description that the "wine is going to last a long, long time in the bottle (if left unopened)." It is quite delightful!

March 29 (Sunday)

Another quiet home weekend spent working on the yard and cleaning the house. Spring weather is always unpredictable with a mix of rain and sun breaks. Feeling a little stir-crazy, we decided to go out for a drive to Milton-Freewater in Oregon. 

While it sounds far, the truth is Walla Walla and Milton-Freewater are less than 12 miles apart, equidistant from the stateline. In fact, Walla Walla AVA extends from southeastern Washington to the northeastern Oregon. You really get both Washington and Oregon wines from the AVA.

Rainbow over spring wheat field
The drive through parcels of vineyards and wheat fields turned out to be quite uplifting. To top that, we were greeted by a light rainbow that stretched across a huge spring wheat field with the Blue Mountains as a faint backdrop. It gave me hope that the pandemic shall pass as we wait it out in beautiful Walla Walla wine country.

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 Penedès. 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!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Three Walla Walla Wineries in a Day

The last of the snowfall was hopefully done as the Blue Mountains looked stunningly beautiful in wintry white. We started heading south with a conscious effort to "pace ourselves" on this big day that had been planned for weeks - three Southside wineries before the winemaker dinner

First stop, Vital Wines, a winery that combines my two passions - wine and healthcare. Started by winemaker Ashley Trout, Vital Wines donates all of its profit to fund a free clinic to those in need, especially the uninsured immigrant vineyard workers in the valley. It was a pleasure to sip wines and enjoy the gorgeous view of the Blues from the tasting room. I left happily with a bottle of the 2016 GSM.

Snow-capped Blues viewed from Vital Winery
Next stop, Rulo, a no-frills winery that is fully operated by Dr. Kurt Schlicker and his wife, Vickie. An MD with a BS in Microbiology from Stanford University, Kurt definitely as both the science and art of winemaking down pat. I always have fun geeking out with Kurt about winemaking during my visits. This visit, he proudly showed me his steel barrels which he used to age his Chardonnay from Sundance vineyard, his version of Chablis, which was pretty tasty.

The gang in Rulo Winery's barrel room with Kurt (in the middle)
The last winery of the day was a blast for wine-loving music buffs, Sleight of Hand Cellars. Inspired  by the song title of winemaker Trey Busch's favorite band, Pearl Jam, the winery features a delicious wine line-up with fun labels. The tasting room in Walla Walla is decorated with vibrant colors, framed posters of the wine labels, shelves of music records, and a turntable for guests to pair their favorite music with their wine. There is even a backroom set up with colorful mid-century sofas, inviting you to kick back and lounge around. My favorite from the last tasting was hands down (no pun intended!) the 2016 Psychedelic, which is their Rocks AVA Syrah.

Chilling out in Sleight of Hand Cellar's backroom
It was the perfect to end the winery tour portion of the weekend. Look for the next post when I will share the most amazing Force Majeure winemaker dinner. Mmmmm....

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Vital Response to SOS

These days it seems like there is a rise of xenophobia, and we are constantly confronted with immigration issues. The wine industry in Washington state and around the country is not immune, as migrant workers play a key role in viniculture. The 2017 harvest saw a drastic shortage of vineyard workers, and the outlook for the upcoming harvest is hardly optimistic.

Vital mission buttons
In this environment of hostility towards immigrants, it is timely that a winery was launched to intentionally do good.

Vital Winery in Walla Walla, led by winemaker Ashley Trout, donates 100% of its profits to fund a free clinic in the valley. The beneficiary, SOS Health Services, is an urgent care facility that provides walk-in healthcare services to underinsured and uninsured individuals. No questions asked!

This endeavor expands access to healthcare services for migrant laborers. This is also how Trout sees as closing the loop and bridging the two communities; the migrant vineyard workers and the wine industry.

The Winemaker

Trout has had several years of winemaking experience under her belt before launching the non-profit Vital label. She started part-time on the production floor at Reininger Winery when she was a student at Whitman College. She has since launched a few labels. In addition to Vital Winery, she also owns Brook and Bull Cellars (previously known as March Cellars).

Trout remembered what it was like being uninsured as many small wineries in Walla Walla could not afford to provide health insurance to all their workers. Today, she sits on the board of SOS Health Services and is keenly aware of its financial challenges. That led her to play an active role in providing the solution.

Working in the healthcare industry myself, I too am passionate about the need to provide access to basic healthcare. So in our last trip to Walla Walla, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to check out Vital Winery.

The Winery

Vital as well as Brook and Bull labels 
With Trout leading the charge, Vital Winery relies heavily on the donation of raw materials and services needed for wine production. It runs the whole gamut, with winery partners providing fruit, barrels, bottling materials, crushing and hauling services, and even PR. It is truly a community effort.

Co-located with Brook and Bulls Cellars, Vital Winery is one of the scenic Southside wineries. It is situated just north of the state line that separates Washington from Oregon.

The tasting room was spacious, tastefully decorated with minimum frills. It serves both Vital as well as Brook and Bull wines. The outside patio offers a picturesque view of the Blue Mountains as the backdrop for acres and acres of beautiful vineyards and wheat fields as you taste through the line-up.

We tasted the 2016 Vital GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre), which is really dominant on Mouvedre at 45%, followed by Grenache at 36%, and Syrah at 19%. On the nose, it was full of berries, which carried through to the palate. The wine has a rich mouthfeel with bright tannins and a well-balanced acidity. Considering that this was made from donated grapes, it was artfully crafted. At the price point of $28, it is a steal!

2016 Vital GSM
My Verdict: Vital Winery tugs at my heartstrings by making delicious wines while giving back to the community. Such a labor of love and compassion definitely gets a thumbs-up from me. May we all be inspired to be kind and do good. And if you have not tried Vital wines, you must!!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Drink Washington Wine, Rulo!

March is Washington Wine month.

For Seattleites, this means thirty-one glorious days of discounts on Washington wine at participating grocery chains, wine shops, and restaurants. The annual celebration of Washington wine culminates in a four-day food and wine festivity known as Taste Washington. The 2018 Taste Washington program brought together thousands of food-and-wine enthusiasts to enjoy a spread of over 200 wineries and 60 restaurants. There were numerous tasting events and seminars to boot.

For this month's post, I'd like to highlight a Washington winery that is a bit of a hidden gem, Rulo Winery.

Rulo Winery
We discovered Rulo through a friend's recommendation and had a chance to try it with dinner at Whitehouse-Crawford, a dining establishment in Walla Walla. Its Rhone-style red did not disappoint.

Rulo is solely owned and run by winemaker Dr. Kurt Schlicker and his wife, Vickie. They do everything themselves, from vineyard checks, winemaking, equipment cleaning, and tasting room management. Their low-key approach also means that their wine distribution can be quite limited, even within the state. However, if you have tasted Rulo, you will understand why it is well sought after.

Although located among Walla Walla's gorgeous Southside wineries and close to famous neighbors such as Northstar and Amavi, Rulo opens its modestly-decorated tasting room to the public only by appointment. However, once you have that appointment set up, your visit is very much rewarded with a delicious flight and fascinating conversations with Kurt or Vickie.

Rulo is 100% screwcaps
An MD from the University of Washington with a BS in Medical Microbiology from Stanford University, Kurt happily geeks out about wine yeasts and the fermentation process. He is chock full of knowledge and loves the process of coaxing yeasts and bacteria to consume sugar, amino acids, and other compounds to produce a delectable elixir from the grapes.

Kurt makes primarily Rhone-style wines and Chardonnay although he has successfully ventured into varietals that are unusual for Washington, such as Petite Sirah and Grenache Blanc. The other thing that sets Rulo apart from many high-quality Washington wines is the 100% use of screwcaps to counter any problem with cork taint. And if price point has kept you from enjoying high quality wine, you'll love how friendly Rulo wines are to your wallet as they range from $20 to $40 a bottle.

Recently, I opened the 2014 Petite Sirah, and here are my tasting notes:

2014 Rulo Petite Sirah

2014 Rulo Petite Sirah Heart of The Hill Vineyard
Price: $35

When I think of Petite Sirah, Washington is not the first region to come to mind. While originally discovered in France in the 1800s, most of today's Petite Sirah is grown in California. 2014 is Rulo Winery's second vintage of Petite Sirah, and the grapes hail from Red Mountain's Heart of the Hill Vineyard.

On the nose, there is plum and berry. On the palate, the dark fruit carries through with a good balance of wood and a hint of chocolate. It is full-bodied with medium acidity and smooth tannins. The finish is long-lasting.

We paired the wine with lamb burger topped with creamy dill ranch on avocado and onion slices. The full body, tannins, and bold flavors of the wine match well with the gaminess and fattiness of the lamb burger and the savory dressing.

My Verdict: The Petite Sirah is a winner.

But whether it is Petite Sirah, Rhone-style (both red and white), or Chardonnay, Rulo wines are definitely worth trying. I would recommend adding Rulo to your itinerary the next time you visit Walla Walla. If you can't make it out there, check this link out on where you can find their wines.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

My Top 10 Walla Walla Wineries

We fell in love with Walla Walla Valley when we first visited it in 2007. The beautiful wine country was a 4-5 hours' drive from Seattle and about an hour by flight. In the hot Mediterranean-like summer, the vineyards in Walla Walla are vibrant with Palouse hills and Blue Mountains in the backdrop. However, the valley can get below freezing in the winter as the vines are wrapped in snow and silent beauty.
Walla Walla vineyards in the summer
Walla Walla vineyards in the winter

Five years ago, we were fortunate to find the perfect second home in Walla Walla, which we also made into a vacation rental. This led to many more trips shared with friends and family, tasting new wines and stocking up old favorites. For this post, I want to share with you my top ten wineries to visit in Walla Walla.

My Top 10 Walla Walla Wineries to Visit (in somewhat geographical order)
  • Woodward Canyon (west) - Second winery in the valley and famous for their Cabernet 
    Woodward Canyon
    Sauvignon and Chardonnay, but my new favorite is the Rhone-style Erratic.
  • LE'cole (west) - Third winery in the valley, you can't miss the school house building next to Woodward Canyon and famous for their Bordeaux-style wines, especially the Apogee and Perigee.
  • Gramercy Cellars (west) - Founded by Master Sommelier Greg Harrison, the winery creates amazing Syrah.
  • Abeja (east) - Rather exclusive, you need to either stay at the beautiful inn or be a mailing list member to taste at the exquisite winery. Abeja makes some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the valley. It will be interesting to see what the 2015 departure of John Abbott (formerly Abeja winemaker who helped launch Abeja) does to future vintages.

    • Revelry Vintners (east) - I discovered this winery through a friend. Revelry was launched by former Whitman grad, Jared Burns, in 2005. My favorites are the Aerial Series that focus on terroir-driven wines.
    • Spring Valley Vineyard (north/downtown) - Free tasting is getting rarer these days, not to mention free tasting of very high quality wines accompanied by the story of the winery and its wines. Spring Valley always ends the tasting with the Syrah, named Nina Lee, paired with custom-made Syrah-infused chocolate truffles. Delicious! Besides Nina Lee, my other favorites are Frederick and Uriah, both Bordeaux-style blends.
    • Rotie Cellars (north/downtown) - Winemaker and owner Sean Boyd makes some of the most compelling Rhone-style wines in the valley. The two popular ones are the Northern Blend (Syrah-Viognier) and Southern Blend (Grenache-Syrah-Mouvedre). I also love the Homage, a Mouvedre-based wine, and the Swordfight, a Mouvedre-Syrah blend that is a collaboration with El Corazon Winery.
    • Amavi Cellars (south) - Probably the winery with the best view from the tasting room and located in the most scenic part of Walla Walla. Winemaker Jean-Francois Pellet also manages sister winery, Pepper Bridge. The wines tend to be big and quite extracted with aging potential.
    • Va Piano (south) - Another beautiful winery in the midst of vineyards, this is also another must-visit. Va Piano owner and winemaker Justin Wylie makes delicious Syrah. The new Black Label wines are vineyard-designated and are my favorites. 
    • Northstar Winery (south) - Also located in the midst of vineyards, Northstar is the winery  hat helped me appreciate Merlot the most. And if you feel like splurging, the Premier Merlot is something else. You can also order the wine and cheese tasting and enjoy it in its beautiful tasting room. 
    Northstar Winery
      Some thoughts on Accommodation
      Accommodation was challenging in Walla Walla when the wine industry first exploded several years ago. Hotels and inns would be booked up way in advance during peak season. Some visitors had to stay as far as Prosser and make day trips into Walla Walla. This propelled alternate lodging arrangements, such as vacation rentals, which work out well for those who travel in groups and who prefer the comfort and convenience of an entire property over a room.
      • Walla Walla Vacation Rentals - We are partial to Walla Walla Vacation Rentals, locally owned and operated by Alexa Palmer. Alexa operates over 30 properties, including our very own Jasper's by Pioneer Park. She is very resourceful and is happy to answer any questions. Look for pet-friendly properties or if you want a pool or hot tub.
      • Fat Duck Inn - If you prefer a room and good food to boot, try the boutique inn. Located in a residential area within walking distance to downtown, Fat Duck Inn is beautifully and lavishly decorated yet comfortable and welcoming.
      If you are looking for hotels, there is the historic Marcus Whitman Hotel as well as the usual chain hotels, such as Marriott Courtyard, Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn, and so forth.

      My Verdict: Spend a few days in Walla Walla and enjoy the wineries. There are many high quality wines that are considered a steal. Prepare to spend up $10-$25 for your tasting. It is still less spendy than Napa, Sonoma, or Willamette.

      Friday, April 29, 2016

      Kim Brady of Brady Cellars - From Technology to Oenology

      Washington winemakers come in all shapes and sizes! Some come from generations of winemakers like Christophe Baron of Cayuse, some hail from Napa Valley like Todd Alexander of Force Majeuer, and then there are those who have taken a leap of faith from technology to oenology like Microsoft vet Marty Taucher of Avennia. I happen to know a few folks from this last category, and they vary in their levels of success.

      The truth is that being a successful winemaker is no small feat. The Washington wine industry is highly competitive and has over 800 wineries. One of my favorite Washington wines comes from technologist-turned-oenologist Kim Brady of Brady Cellars.

      Our neighbor invited us to Kim's release party a few years ago. Having tasted novice attempts by other technologist-turned-oenologist friends in the past, I was skeptical. But I was surprised and very much delighted by Kim's first commercial release. His 2010 Cab was delicious during the tasting. Over time, it has aged so nicely that I persuaded him later to sell me one of his remaining six bottles, which I still have in my cellar.

      Thankfully, Kim did not turn out to be a one-hit wonder! The vintages that followed the initial commercial release continued to showcase his talents in winemaking. His line-up has expanded to include dry Provence-style Rosés, beautiful Bordeaux blends (called 'Symphony'), amazingly complex Merlot, and my latest favorite, Grenache.

      Kim credits his achievements to experienced winemakers (such as Tim and Kelly Hightower of Hightower Cellars and others), who have advised and guided him even before his first commercial release. He even had a chance encounter with Mike Grgich (famed winemaker of the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that won the Paris wine tasting) and ended up helping at the Grgich Wine Estates for a day.

      Last weekend was Brady's 2016 Spring Release Party, hosted at the lovely Wingle Residence in West Seattle. (The Wingles are wine club members.) Like prior parties, Tyler Palagi of Radiator Whiskey whipped out all kinds of carnivores' delights, such as charcuterie, brisket with horseradish cream, and pork belly, all of which paired wonderfully with Brady's wines. The line of tasters kept Caroline, the winemaker's wife, busy pouring. Another successful release party indeed!

      Left to right: Tyler Palagi, Caroline and Kim Brady
      My Verdict: While it is not easy to succeed as a winemaker in this very competitive market, I am certainly glad that this technologist has made the transition to winemaking. I don't say that to just anybody. Here's a nod and a toast, and I look forward to more vintages. Cheers!

      Price: $18 (Rosé), $30-40 (Red)