Category Archives: Wine regions

Exploring The Burn with Borne of Fire

Going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out about this new Washington wine.

In January, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates released their newest wine, Borne of Fire, featuring fruit from the newly proposed AVA The Burn of Columbia Valley. A 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon with 10% Malbec blended in, Borne of Fire is the only wine currently on the market that features fruit exclusively from this new region in Washington State.

The Burn

Located in Klickitat County just west of the Horse Heaven Hills and east of the Columbia Gorge AVA, The Burn encompasses the plateau and benchland bordered by the Columbia River to the south and two creeks (Rock and Chapman) flanking it northwest and northeastern sides. The name comes from the tradition of settlers in the late 1800s and early 1900s of setting the entire plateau on fire in the fall to provide ash and fertilizer that would rejuvenate the grasslands in the spring when the horses needed to be fed.

The first Cabernet Sauvignon vines were planted in 2002 with Chateau Ste Michelle and the Mercer family of the Horse Heaven Hills taking the lead in developing the region. In 2015, plantings were greatly expanded with more Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah, Sangiovese and Chardonnay. Of the nearly 17,000 acres in the proposed AVA, 1261 acres are currently planted with Chateau Ste. Michelle having plans to eventually expand to 2100 acres.

This expansion would surpass the 1671 acres currently planted in Walla Walla and almost reach the 2225 acres planted in Red Mountain.

Map from the Washington State Wine Commission with edits added by the author

Location of The Burn within Washington State


The propose AVA draws some comparison to Red Mountain with its warm temperatures and similar heat accumulation numbers. However, the heat is spaced out over a longer growing season which allows more hang time to ripen stem and seed tannins while still maintaining fresh acidity.

The unique soils of The Burn are a mixture of silt-loam and loess that retains water better than the gravel and sandy loam typical of Red Mountain and many other Eastern Washington AVAs. With an average of 8.7″ of rain, vineyards in The Burn have reduced needs for irrigation and the potential to dry farm in some vintages.

The AVA petition for The Burn was officially accepted October 31st, 2017 with Joan Davenport (of Washington State University and Davenlore Winery), Kevin Corliss (of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates) and John Derrick (of Mercer Canyons) as the petitioners.

Wine Stats

Made by Juan Muñoz-Oca, the head winemaker of Columbia Crest and Intrinsic, at Ste. Michelle Wine Estate’s Paterson facility, Borne of Fire is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec with the Malbec sourced from the 2015 plantings and being harvested after its second leaf.

With the ripe stem tannins, the Cabernet grapes were mostly fermented whole cluster with the stems. The wine was aged almost a year in large 120 gallon puncheons of Hungarian oak that was lightly toasted as a means of paying homage to The Burn’s history. Around 35,000 cases were produced for the inaugural release with plans for the 2017 release increasing that number to 95,000 cases.

The Wine

Photo by Imtiyaz Ali. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-3.0

This very young wine has some fresh red cherry notes.

Medium-minus intensity nose. Very tight. Some red cherry and spice. There is an interesting black tea component on the nose that I usually associate with Pinot noir from the Yamhill-Carlton District (like stuff sourced from Shea Vineyards).

On the palate, the tightness and youth still hold court. Medium plus acidity and medium plus tannins lock the fruit and doesn’t allow much to express itself. Working it around a bit in the mouth lets some red currant join the cherry fruit from the nose. The finish is short but that intriguing mix of black tea and “Malbec-like” spice briefly appears.

The Verdict

At around $23-26, you are buying this wine on its potential–both of the wine and the terroir of The Burn. With the typical Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon usually north of $35, this AVA and wine is worth keeping an eye on.

There are definitely some intriguing hints and I can see this wine developing on a steep learning curve over the next year. Right now, it just needs more bottle age.

Beaver State Bubbly

I’m a bit of a bubble fiend. I love drinking sparkling wine. I love talking about it.

Easily at least half of the wine reviews I post here are about bubbles and when I get new sparkling related wine books like Bursting Bubbles, I eagerly devour them.

Living in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve watched with excitement the growth of the Oregon sparkling wine industry that Forbes.com contributor Joseph V. Micallef highlighted in a recent post.

The founding father of Oregon Bubbles is Rollin Soles who started Argyle Winery in Dundee in 1987. His venture had a lot of all-star firepower backing it with Australian winemaking legend Brian Croser (the 2004 Decanter Man of the Year) and Christian Bizot, then owner of the Champagne House Bollinger.

In 2001, Argyle became part of Lion Nathan corporation with their US branch spinning off in 2012 to become Distinguished Vineyards. Now Argyle is part of a portfolio of brands that includes MacRostie, Wither Hills and The Counselor. In 2013, Soles stepped away from the winery to focus on his brand ROCO that he founded with his wife, Corby Stonebraker-Soles.

While I’ve enjoyed Argyle since Soles left, I must confess that I haven’t been as wowed by the winery’s offerings in recent years. Part of it could be the increase in competition as wine shops have been bringing in more sub $25 Crémants from Alsace, Burgundy and the Loire that way over deliver on value. While years ago, Argyle’s basic brut at $20 stood out from the pack, now it is just middle of the road with even sparkling wines from New Mexico like Gruet and Jacqueline Leonne delivering delicious value in the under $15 category. Still, the 1998 Argyle Extended Triage remains one of my all time favorite wines.

But times change and winemakers move on, which is why I was very excited to try Soles’ new ‘RMS’ sparkling wine project at The Herbfarm’s holiday dinner series “The Holly & The Ivy”. While it didn’t reach the level of that 98 Extended Triage, the 2014 RMS Brut did remind me of all the things I missed about Argyle.

Not a bad way to start off a 9 course meal.


Around 66% Pinot noir with the remainder Chardonnay, the wine had high intensity aromatics of spiced pear wrapped in a toasty pastry crust. Those notes carried through to a creamy but powerful mouthfeel not that dissimilar to Charles Heidsieck. It also reminded me of Pol Roger where the weighty flavors are balanced by fresh citrus notes and racy minerality that give lift to the wine. An incredibly well-made sparkler that would probably continue to age even in the bottle under cork. It is certainly well worth the $65 winery price.

What Makes Oregon Bubbles Special?

In his Forbes post, Micallef quotes Tony Soter on how the “sweet spot” of Oregon’s cool-but-not-too-cool climate gives its an advantage over both warmer California and cooler Champagne.

“[In Oregon you have] … a generosity of fruit that is expressive of the grape varieties (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) reaching a high level of maturity while still maintaining an admirable level of acidity, finesse and elegance critical to sparkling wine. [While] … in California, the weather is too warm, forcing a premature picking to minimize excessive alcohol at the expense of the nuance and delicacy of fully developed grapes.” — Tony Soter, as quoted on Forbes.com January 19th, 2018

Far from being an “Oregon-homer”, Soter’s opinion on the differences between Oregon and California’s terroir is backed by his 30 plus years of experience working at some of the best names in California wine like Chappellet, Araujo, Shafer, Spottswoode and Dalle Valle.

The stats on Oregon’s favorable “goldilocks position” also bares out according to Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson’s Wine Atlas. While Champagne sits along the 49th parallel and averages a daily growing season temperature of 58.4°F, Napa Valley (home of Schramsberg, Domaine Chandon, Mumm Napa, etc) sits on the 38th parallel averaging growing season temperatures of 66.8°F. The Willamette Valley is nestled right in the middle of that on the 45th parallel with average growing season temps of 60.6°F.

Photo by Hahn Family Wines. Released on Wikimedia Commons via Flickr under CC BY 2.0

In addition to losing acidity, if you wait too long to harvest your grapes in warm climates you risk “baking out” the more delicate and complex flavors. This produces over ripe and dried fruit notes that the French call ‘sur maturité’. For many California sparkling wine producers, its a Catch-22.

Harvests in California for sparkling wine regularly taking place in early August while in Oregon it doesn’t start till September. In Champagne, which wine authors like Robert Walters in Bursting Bubbles claim often harvest too early and too unripe, harvest typically begins late August and early September. Many high quality grower producers in Champagne harvest later into September.

The timing of harvest is key because you want ample acidity for sparkling wine production which you can risk losing if the grapes hang too long on the vine. But at the same time unripe grapes can give bland and uninteresting flavors. Tom Stevenson and Essi Avellan note in their Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine that having ripe grapes is absolutely essential for high quality sparkling wine.

Photo by Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives. Released on Wikimedia Commons under Oregon Historical County Records Guide public use

In the Willamette Valley, daytime highs in July in the low 80s (°F) can drop to the low 50s (°F) at night.

Like Washington State, Oregon also benefits from having drastic diurnal temperature variations during the growing season where temperatures can drop at night 30-40 degrees from day time highs, letting the vine literally “chill out” and retain fresh acidity.

This extends the growing season, allowing the grapes to hang longer on the vine, developing riper flavors while still maintaining that vital acidity.

Oregon Sparkling Wine Producers to Seek Out

Micallef notes that there is around 40 producers making sparkling wine in Oregon. While most of the production is small and limited to sales at the winery’s tasting room or wine club, there are some producers with ambitious aims.

One that is mentioned in the Forbes article is Radiant Sparkling Wine Company that was founded in McMinnville by Andrew Davis, a protege of Rollin Soles. After 8 years at Argyle, Davis founded his company to serve essentially as a mobile méthode champenoise facility, traveling to wineries with his sparkling wine equipment and technical know-how to help winemakers turn their base wines into bubbles.

Among the wineries that Davis has worked with includes Adelsheim, Anne Amie, Brooks, Ponzi, Raptor Ridge, Sokol Blosser, Stoller, Trisaetum and Willamette Valley Vineyards. In 2017, Davis helped create over 20,000 cases of Oregon sparkling wine to add to the 25,000 cases that Argyle produces yearly.

The Stoller rose sparkler more than held its own in a line-up of impressive bubbles.

One of these wines that I’ve recently had the opportunity to try was the Stoller 2014 Legacy LaRue’s Brut Rosé. The 25% Chardonnay and 75% Pinot noir base saw 10 months aging in neutral French oak before bottling and secondary fermentation. The wine spent 2 years on the lees prior to disgorgement with around 275 cases produced.

The LaRue rosé had a beautiful medium plus intensity nose of fresh cherry and strawberries. But what most intrigued me was the tinge of citrus blood orange that framed the red fruit notes. On the palate, the wine added another depth of flavor with some spicy and mineral notes.

I had this wine only about a couple weeks after I had the Louis Roederer 2011 Brut Rosé that I described in my post Cristal Clarity. We had another bottle of the Roederer rose opened with the Stoller and it was quite impressive how the Stoller showed in comparison. While it was more on the delicate and minerally side versus the fruitier Roederer, the Stoller clearly won out with much more vivid aromatics and longer finish that didn’t fade as fast as the Roederer. Considering that the Stoller LaRue is $65 while the Roederer is around $70 and you have some substantial value.

For a relatively young sparkling wine industry that just reached 30 years, the future looks exciting for wine geeks wanting to explore Oregon bubbles.

Running Out of Stones (and Glaciers) in the Age of Climate Change

By the year 2100, some of the most exciting wines being made could be Scottish Pinot grigio and Suffolk Syrah. Such is the (potential) reality of climate change predicted by professors from the University College of London in a study commissioned by wine merchant Laithwaite’s. While the English sparkling wine industry has already seen some benefits from changing climates, an expected increase in global temperatures of 2° Celsius (3.6° F) and more rain could mean a dramatically new landscape for both wine lovers and producers.

Image Credit: Laithwaites

Image Credit: Laithwaites


But at a cost.

For every climate change “winner”, there are also losers as traditional and well established wine regions have to grapple not only with changing vintage patterns but also the changing dynamics of consumer tastes and fashion. It’s no secret that consumers’ tastes have been trending towards riper, more fruit-forward wines that are either sweeter in sugar or “bolder” in flavor and alcohol for some time now.

While there are still fans of lower alcohol, less fruit-driven wines, it’s hard for those kind of wine drinkers to not feel like their taste and preferences are being relegated to the Stone Age of the wine industry. As we start seeing strings of highly acclaimed “blockbuster vintages” being bolstered by warmer climates, it may be more than just the wine map that has to change in this new age of wine drinking.

Would you like a little acid for your Riesling?

http://www.winesandvines.com/template.cfm?section=news&content=177266

Dr. Monika Christmann. Credit: Jim Gordon, Wines and Vines


In Germany, producers are enjoying a “boon” of riper vintages but are finding themselves in the unique position of being a country known for bracingly acidic and vibrant Rieslings now needing to acidify their wines. A recent Wines and Vines article on the 62nd German Winegrowers Congress in Stuttgart, included comments from the keynote address of Dr. Monika Christmann of Geisenheim University .

Dr. Christmann noted that producers are finding themselves at a crossroads of either letting the impact of climate change steer the style of wines in their region towards a different direction or adapting new methods afforded by modern technology to help maintain the “traditional styles” historically associated with their wines albeit sometimes through very non-traditional means like reverse osmosis, crossflow filtration and the use of additives.

While the issue of climate change and the trend towards fruit-forward, high alcohol wines certainly vexes the hoi polloi of wine writers and “taste makers”, you can complete that trifecta of ire with the battle of modern winemaking that embraces the use of technology versus natural wine which eschews it use.

There are pros and cons to both sides but if the thought of German winemakers needing to add acid to their Rieslings horrifies you, then you may have some sympathies with natural wine enthusiasts who would argue that if you have to “manipulate” your German Riesling to taste like what a German Riesling is expected to taste like, is it still really a German Riesling?

On the other hand, though, if the thought of tasting a German Riesling that is indistinguishable from the tropical, lush, high alcohol flavors of a New World Viognier gives you pause then you may find comfort in this quote from Dr. Christmann.

“The Stone Age did not end because there were no stones left,” she said, but because early humans moved on when they discovered how to work with a better technology: metal.

What is the Greenlandic translation of Vinho Verde?

We may not run out of stones in the world of wine, but an unquestionable consequence of climate change is that something is going to get left behind as the industry and consumers adapt to the changing reality of the world around us. We may have to give up “tradition” and expectations of what certain wines from certain regions should taste like. We may have to open our minds to the possibility of new styles and new fashions. We may gain new knowledge and introduction to fantastic terroirs and see the birth of new classics but we may also have to mourn the loss of old favorites and classics. There will be conflict and there will be battles over the soul of wine. There will be change and there will be costs that the wine industry will have to bear.

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37582061

Seriously, if you haven’t seen this film yet, go watch it now.


But in the bigger picture, beyond the scope of wine, will be the tremendous costs that the whole of humanity will bear. Perhaps as we ponder the changing wine map, we also shouldn’t forget that the world is losing things like our glaciers at a frightening clip. Reading the warning of scientists about climate change and watching brilliant, but sobering, documentaries like Chasing Ice is enough to drive anyone to drink.

Though maybe we could pass on the Scottish Pinot grigio.