November 23 and 24 were the punctuation mark on a long cool growing season for Washington grape growers. With temperatures plunging from 30 degrees to -4 degrees and lower in a matter of a few days, vineyard managers were scrambling. As wineries wrapped up the 2010 harvest, doubts about the 2011 harvest lay heavy on many people’s hearts. Much of the damage will be uncertain until Spring but many areas had a lot to be thankful for over the holiday.
Washington grape growers understand hard freeze. With one coming every 5-8 years, this part of the business is nearly unavoidable. Not every region in the state is susceptible to hard freezes. Much of Washington’s grape growing region lies along the moderate temperature control of the mighty Columbia River. There are some vineyard sights in higher elevation, or away from water that can cool off quickly.
Michael Haig, of Spokane’s Whitestone Winery, manages his wineries estate vineyards off of Lake Roosevelt, an area of the Columbia River created by the Grand Coulee Dam. Michael explains the potential devastation of a hard freeze and shows how wineries check the primary, secondary and tertiary buds for damage. What makes this freeze unique and potentially damaging is how early and how quickly the freeze came. Haig says, “Over time the buds will become cold hard, which means as the temperature slowly drops, the buds can withstand colder temperatures.” Michael peels back the layers of the bud to expose a positive sign, green. The primary buds, at Michael’s vineyard, remain intact indicating a full harvest for 2011.
Many vineyard managers I contacted held similar sentiments regarding damage, “I’ll let you know in the Spring.” An article in the Tri-Cities Herald by Andy Perdue paints a grimmer picture in certain areas of the state.
“It’s not pretty,” said Rob Andrews of McKinley Springs Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills. “It’s too early to tell 100 percent what is going on, but in the 30 years I’ve been growing grapes, this is the hardest I’ve ever been hit. We’re looking at a tough 2011.”
Preliminary investigation reveals little to moderate damage in most areas with Horse Heaven Hills containing pockets of greater damage. Damage will depend on grape varietal and specific topographical location for many of the vineyard blocks. The results will reveal themselves more fully with the Spring thaw.
The Washington State University Viticulture and Enology program has an informative Cold Hardiness Website that breaks down the potential damage to various grape varieties. According to the site, the more cold hearty varietals include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Riesling. The more fair weather grape varieties are Barbera, Mourvedre, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sangiovese. A mere 5 degrees can separate 10% bud loss from 90% primary bud loss.
During my visit with Michael, he was excited to announce the second annual release of the Pieces on Earth red blend. The wine is one of four wines that make up the Pieces series (Pieces of Red, Love You to Pieces, Scared to Pieces, and Pieces on Earth). The predominately Cabernet blend is available for a limited time and has a special holiday label. The medium bodied blend has a balanced structure of dark red fruit, coffee, cigar box, and moderate cedar. The tannins are well integrated and perfect for enjoying now or with your upcoming holiday dinner. At $20, this is a solid 3+/5
Whitestone will be releasing their 2007 Merlot on December 17. From Michael:
“This is our most coveted and award winning wine. In blind competition, our Merlot has won gold at every major wine competition in the United States, along with being named Top Merlot for the State of Washington. The 2007 vintage features rich textures of leather and spice adding deep texture to rich raspberry and currant. Ripe tannins find harmonious balance in this well structured wine, which finishes off with a long, smooth after taste. $26 bottle”
Whitestone’s Spokane tasting room is located at 111 S. Cedar and is open Noon – 6pm Thursday – Saturday. Watch their Facebook page for special events and live music when they‘re open until 9pm.
08 Dec 2010
A conundrum is a riddle in which a fanciful question is answered by a pun. Conundrum Winery offers a riddle of fanciful wine varietals to create a mysterious blend of delicious wine. For 20 years the Wagner family has been making Conundrum winery divulging only the use of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat Canelli. The addition of Semillon and Viognier in small quantities adds to the mystery that is Conundrum wine.
The wine grapes are grown, harvested and produced independently to focus on the quality that comes naturally from the vineyard. Some of the wine undergoes oak, some does not. Five quality wines come together during blending to create Conundrum. Conundrum is owned by the Wagner family (Caymus Vineyards), but is a separate brand. Charlie Wagner and Jon Bolta share winemaking responsibilities and in 2007 production expanded into a state-of-the art winery in Monterey County close to the sources of the most grape varietals that make up the wine.
The Nectar View
2009 Conundrum White Wine
The Conundrum wine is a proprietary blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Semillon, and Viognier. The wine has a moderate gold tone in the glass leaning more toward a golden wheat color. Immediately the floral and tropical aromas jump out of the glass causing me to think Viognier and Muscat Canelli. At first sniff, the thoughts of sweet syrup cross my mind but a subtle interwoven aroma of lemon and guava save the day. In the mouth the wine is slightly flabby but very full of flavor. The sweetness indicated on the nose is not overwhelming in the mouth. A hint of honey quickly gives way to smooth guava and butter. I would venture to guess that the predominate wines in this blend are Chardonnay (oaked), Muscat Canelli, and Semillon (also oaked). The white flowers definitely come from the Viognier. The wine lacks in a strong acidity which may lend itself more to a sipping wine than a food wine but the layers of flavor are very intriguing. Pair this with summer, bikinis, and some fresh shrimp fettuccini pasta or even a fresh cheese plate. The wine can be purchased for $17-$20. 3+/5
Check out these other food pairing suggestions
26 Nov 2010
I am not a huge fan of turkey. For Christmas I’d rather have ham, for Easter, I’d rather have prime rib. For Thanksgiving, we’ve established a tradition of lasagna and cheesecake. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate turkey. If you’re going to invite me over for Thanksgiving dinner, don’t think you have to serve something different. Just don’t serve me mushrooms, brussel sprouts or liver and onions.
Every other year my wife and I end up alone for Thanksgiving. With family in Portland, some in Phoenix, and shared custody of the boy, we stay by ourselves in Spokane on the even years. When we first got married we decided to try something different. Rather than make a big turkey dinner for the two of us, we, well mostly me, decided, “Why not make my two favorite things in the whole wide world?” Enter, lasagna and cheesecake.
Our good friends, Tim and Tracy Nodland (owners of Spokane’s Nodland Cellars), were gracious enough to provide us with three of their newer, recently released and soon to be released wines. Not one to be very patient, I jumped at the opportunity to pair these three wines with our non traditional Thanksgiving meal.
2008 Nodland Cellars Bebop Riesling
The Nodland’s make a Riesling only when the vintage is right. Tim loves the old world Mosul style Riesling full of petrol and minerality. I recall the 2005 Bebop having aged very nicely to display these characteristics. The 2008 is a very bright golden delicious apple color in the glass. A slight effervescence jumps out on the aroma. Further scents of slightly sweet peaches and tropical flowers add to the beautiful bouquet. On the sip, the Bebop strikes a nice chord or a hint of sweetness and a mild tartness. A little steely minerality spikes up on the mid-palate and the wine has a really good acidity which helps to cleanse the palate.
We used ½ cup of the Riesling in the raspberry puree reduction for the cheesecake. The dry Riesling was a great pairing for the tart sweetness of the raspberry sauce. The medium acidity provided a great wash after each bite of the thick white chocolate cheesecake. At $20, some may find this Riesling to be a tad out of their normal budget for white wines, but if you like a gently sweet dry Riesling, you’ll love this wine. 3+/5
2008 Nodland Cellars Bad Attitude
The first release of the Nodland Cellars Rock-n-Roll series label, Bad Attitude, has been a huge success. Tim and Tracy have only made one red wine in their previous vintage releases. At $35, their traditional Bordeaux Red Blend can be out of reach for most people’s every day drinking wine. The Bad Attitude uses the same great Seven Hills fruit but rather than aging the wine in $1200 French oak barrels, the wine is aged in $500 American oak barrels. This year’s Bad Attitude is a blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Malbec (two of the more amazing grapes grown in Washington).
The swirl showcases the light characteristics of Merlot with a fairly translucent color. The wines aromas begin to showcase their rock-n-roll attitude right from the beginning. A huge power chord of vanilla, blueberry and charcoal reverberate from the glass. In the mouth the wine is also very gentle. This wine reminds me more of a gentle Over the Hills and Far Away rather than the driving Black Dog (bonus points for those that get the reference). In the mouth you can feel the use of American oak. For me, it’s nicely integrated and I like the play of the overly cooked marshmallow, vanilla and graham cracker. At $20, the Nodland’s have a number one single on their hand. 4/5 Instant Classic!
2007 Nodland Cellars Avant-Garde
From the back label:
“Avant-garde represents a pushing of the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm or the status quo. This wine is made from the obscure Carmenere grape, referred to a Grand Vidure in French.”
Carmenere is rarely used, and when it is, it is used as a blending grape. The original traditional Bordeaux blends included Carmenere, but it has since been mostly neglected. Nodland Cellars uses Carmenere in their Red Blend release. For 2007, they held back a small portion to be released as a 100% Carmenere, a showcase of the varietal.
On the swirl the Avant-Garde has a thick center core of plum that fades to more translucence around the edges. Typical of all Nodland wines the aroma is full and big. Strong bouquet of blueberries and exotic spice (not sure how to describe it) are most prevalent. On the sip the wine is full and lush with a gentle mouth coating feel. A hint of cherry sweetness graces the front palate and strong minerality of lead and rocks poke through the mid palate. One of our guests didn’t care for the minerality and described it as a little biting. There is a slight alcohol heat on the finish. The spice of the wine wasn’t a great pairing with the spice and acid from the tomato based lasagna. A better pairing for this wine would be beef, or a Pork Osso Bucco. Personally, I loved the wine and the uniqueness of flavor. At $32 it might not be for everyone. Unless you know you’re a spicy Carmenere lover, I suggest you head to the tasting room for a sip of this wine before dropping the cash. Personally, I’d buy TWO, one to drink now and one to see how the magic evolves in five years. 4/5
The Avant-Garde is being released on Friday, December 3 at the Nodland Cellars tasting room at 11616 E Montgomery 5:30-8:30. Enjoy a sip and a special discount.
How was your Thanksgiving? Did you have any amazing wine pairings? Please share…
23 Nov 2010
I love discovering value wines. The majority of the folks on this earth are average Joe wine consumers. The average Joe (or Suzie) consumes about 12-15 bottles of wine per year (I go through that in less than a month) and spends about $15 per bottle. Finding good tasting value wines has been a fun challenge over the last year. I have an entire section of my blog dedicated to “Under $10 Wines” and reviewed 30+ wines over the course of the year to create the “Under $10 Wine Team.”
Recently, by way of industry sample, I received 2 bottles of Parducci wine. I try to review every wine I receive (timing and format vary) but I was excited about the Parducci because there is a Spokane connection. Mike Conway of Latah Creek winery spent time at Parducci in the 70’s. It was while at Parducci that he honed his skills for white wine and brought the slow cold fermentation process to Washington state (cold fermentation brings out a natural residual sweetness in white wines at a lower alcohol level of 8-10%).
Parducci was founded in 1932 as the first Mendocino County winery. In 2004 ownership changed to Mendocino Wine Company, headed up by Paul Dolan and the Thornhill Family. Parducci makes approximately 200,000 cases of wine per year with the majority of it retailed at $10.99. Mendocino Wine Company moved Parducci into sustainable and eco-friendly practices being recognized as the America’s first Carbon Neutral winery.
“In recognition of Parducci’s status as the nation’s first carbon neutral winery and our continuing dedication to social responsibility and environmentally sound practices, we received California’s highest environmental award, the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award in 2007 and 2009.”
The Nectar View
The 07 Petite Sirah (actually only 88% Petite Sirah 11% Syrah and 1% Viognier) is very vibrant and violet in the glass. The color is actually quite striking and invites a continuous swirl. Moving on to the sniff produces a mild aroma of dried prunes, wet socks (not entirely awful) and violets. The strange mix of aroma makes for a fairly interesting experience. On the sip the PS starts with a very smooth and velvet attack but quickly moves to a strangle hold on the tongue. Petite Sirah can be a little tart and tannic on the palate but in the right settings is a great food pairing. This Parducci wine has nice flavor and structure and begs to be drunk with food. Looking for a sipping wine? This is not it. Looking for a unique inexpensive experience? Give this a try. At $10.99 retail (usually under $10), this scores 3/5.
The 07 Cabernet Sauvignon is a combination of Cab Sauv, Malbec, Cab Franc, Syrah and Viognier. With 20% of the wine spending 26 months in new American Oak, I would expect a bit woody experience. Overall, the wood is flaccid J. In the glass the wine is moderately opaque and the sniff is very mild and tame only producing hints of fruit aroma and vanilla. In the mouth the Cab Sauv is minimal in flavor as well. At this price point you’ll often find under ripe or off flavors. The Parducci produces a decent smooth, easy drinking flavor that will not offend or surprise. Only $10.99 retail (usually under $10), this scores 3/5.
Paul Dolan talking about Sustainable Practices
Marketing! Pure marketing brilliance. Some wines are all flash and no substance, pretty packages, gimmicky labels, marketing fluff and no flavor. If the Gamay found in the Beaujolais Nouveau was in any other bottle some might say it fits in the previous sentence…and maybe it does. Each year, with great fanfare and celebration, the French celebrate the completion of harvest with the release of Gamay from Beaujolais Village. The wine in the bottle was still hanging as grapes on the vine just 6-8 weeks ago.
Seemingly everyone is familiar with Georges Duboeuf’s “don’t need to buy a vowel” wine. Rather than bore you with a lazy wine writing, I’ll just give you my thoughts so you know what you’re getting in to. Rather than attempt to explain how the carbonic maceration works, I’ll let you read the great explanation from Erika Syzmanski, writing for Palate Press.
For me, the wine is average. It’s exactly what I would expect it to be. It’s not complex, there are no layers of cedar, earth or spice. The color is bright and it tastes like a slightly tart grape Jolly Rancher. In this wine drinker’s opinion the 2010 vintage is better than the 2009. Should you buy it? I think it’s fun. I also love the concept. The marketing works on me and I enjoy the spirit of celebrating the culmination of the harvest. Would I buy it on a regular basis? Nope, but every once in a while it’s okay to put aside the snobbery and celebrate with something fun. At $10-$12 it won’t rock your world, but that is just fine sometimes. 3/5
Enjoy life with friends. Drink Happy!