Tag Archives: Chateau Ste. Michelle

60 Second Wine Review — Fidelitas Optu Red

A few quick thoughts on the 2009 Fidelitas Optu from the Columbia Valley.

The Geekery

Fidelitas was founded in 2000 by Charlie Hoppes, a 30 year veteran in the Washington wine industry. A graduate of UC-Davis, Hoppes started out working with Mike Januik at the Snoqualmie/Langguth winery before moving onto Waterbrook. He returned to Chateau Ste. Michelle where he worked with Januik and Bob Betz, eventually rising to be in charge of red wine production.

While at Chateau Ste Michelle, he worked with the Antinori family for the inaugural 3 releases of their joint Red Mountain project, Col Solare. In 1999, he left Chateau Ste. Michelle to help launch Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla and to work on his own project with Fidelitas.

Known as the “Wine Boss” of Washington, Hoppes also runs a consulting firm where he has worked with numerous small wineries such as Gamache, Market Vineyards, Ryan Patrick and Goose Ridge.

The 2009 Optu is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 5% Malbec and 5% Cabernet Franc. The wine was sourced from Champoux Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills, Red Mountain Vineyard located near Hedges Estate, Milbrandt’s Northridge Vineyard and Weinbau on the Wahluke Slope with around 240 cases made.

The Wine

Medium-minus intensity nose. Some dark fruits but they seem pretty dried and faded at this point. Little tobacco spice around the edges.

Photo by Emőke Dénes. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

The black plum fruits flavors in this wine are a little dried out at this point.

On the palate, those dried dark fruits carry through and get some definition as black plums and currants. The tobacco spice is more pronounced and also brings an autumn forest sort of woodsiness. Medium acidity and very soft medium tannins keep good balance with what is left of the fruit. Moderate length finish.

The Verdict

It’s clear that this wine is on the waning curve of its life but it still has some pleasure to give, especially if it can be paired with food that can compliment its soft elegance.

At around $50 for a bottle, it’s holding decent value for an 8+ year old wine.

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60 Second Wine Review — Warr-King Cabernet Sauvignon

A few quick thoughts on the 2013 Warr-King Cabernet Sauvignon from the Wahluke Slope.

The Geekery

Warr-King Wines was founded in 2013 by Lisa Warr-King Packer who followed a marketing career in the tech industry with enology studies at Lake Washington Technical College and Washington State University. Prior to starting her own winery, she did internships and worked harvest at Patterson Cellars and Chateau Ste. Michelle.

Packer’s maiden name is the winery’s namesake origin with the red poppies that adorn her labels paying homage to her British relatives who fought in World War I and II. Located in the warehouse district of Woodinville, Warr-King makes around 850 cases across all their wines.

The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon was aged for 30 months in a combination of new and neutral French oak barrels. I couldn’t find the exact vineyards used but considering how many other wines Warr-King sources from Rosebud Vineyard, that seems like the likely source.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. A mix of tobacco spice and dark fruits–black currants and black plums.

Photo by Archie MacDonald52. Released on Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-3.0

You’re going to want a nice steak to pair with this wine.

Those dark fruits carry through to the palate for a huge mouthfeel with high tannins and medium-plus acidity. The tannins are quite firm and stick to the gums. With the tobacco notes, those hard tannins definitely adds to a sense of dryness that dominates this wine. The acidity helps somewhat to balance but I don’t think there is ultimately enough fruit to make it mouthwatering and lively. The finish is long and quite dry.

The Verdict

It’s tempting to say that this wine needs more time for the tannins to mellow but I strongly suspect that this is probably the best this wine is going to get. The wine simply doesn’t have enough fruit (or flesh) to fill out the bones of it big structure.

At $30-35, the best bet for the 2013 Warr-King Cabernet Sauvignon is to be paired with a nice juicy steak that will let the proteins mellow the tannins while the juices give lift to the flavors.

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Wine Geek Notes 3/6/18 — Reverse French Paradox, Damaged Wines and Washington Vineyards

Photo by Alec Vuijlsteke. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0
Here is what I’m reading today in the world of wine.

Interesting Tweets and Weblinks

In France, is wine still a national treasure? Or is it a health risk? by James McAuley at The Washington Post. Brought to my dash via Eric Orange of LocalWineEvents.com (@worldwineevents)

Apparently the health minister of the country that gave us the French Paradox is railing against the consumption of any type of alcohol, including wine, touting the bold statement that “’In moderation’ shouldn’t be used anymore”. Yikes! Needless to say French vignerons (and the French President) aren’t pleased.

Personally, I think that while we shouldn’t sugarcoat the negative impacts of alcohol consumption, I firmly believe that “In Moderation” is a vital outlook for all things in life–including wine.

Damaged Wines to Hit the Market by W. Blake Gray (@wblakegray) for WineSearcher.com (@WineSearcher). Brought to my dash via Rabbit Ridge Winery (@RabbitRidgeWine).

Kind of like with used cars, wine buyers should be mindful of the possibility of hurricane, flood and fire damage wines hitting the market. Gray gives a lot of great tips from expert Maureen Downey (@moevino) on what to keep an eye out for. I found this quote from Gray the most helpful.

Photo by Mario Fornasari from Ferrara, Italy. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

I would probably give wines that survive an earthquake a few weeks to recover from the “bottle shock” as well.

It’s important to note that heat-damaged wine is not immediately ruined. Heat affects the tannin structure of wine in unpredictable ways.

Some wines might even taste better shortly after being exposed to heat, but they will not last long in the cellar. Downey said when she knows she has a heat-damaged wine, sometimes she shrugs her shoulders, drinks it and wonders what it might have been if properly stored.

— W. Blake Gray, March 6th, 2018

This is a takeaway you can use even if you have the unfortunate incident of “wine trapped in a hot trunk” during the summer. Accept that you probably lost some positive attributes. Give it at least a week to settle from the shock and plan to drink it soon. While miracles do exist and potentially the wine could still age and give pleasure, it’s better to err on the side of caution and enjoy it sooner rather than later.

Taste Washington Wine Month

While doing some research for my 60 Second Review of the Gifford Hirlinger Malbec, I stumbled across the very cool website Everyvine.com! I haven’t fully explored the site yet but I totally geeked out on their vineyard search feature.

Here is a detailed Google Map image of 102.55 acres of Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain.

Here’s Owen Roe’s Outlook Vineyard.

Here’s Pepper Bridge Vineyard.

You can zoom in on particular blocks and see where the different varieties are planted, get details about climate, topography and soils. Lots of fun stuff!

Washington wine grape 2017 harvest down by 16 percent by Andy Perdue (@GreatNWWine) for Great Northwest Wine. Brought to my dash via WinesNorthwest (@WinesNorthwest).

The headline sounds more jarring than it really is. Yes, the 2017 harvest was down but it was down compared to the record setting 2016 harvest that was the largest in Washington State history. Even Perdue notes in the 2nd paragraph that 2017 still tied 2014 for the second largest harvest in state history.

In a tweet reply, Lagana Cellars from Walla Walla (@LaganaCellars) highlights this and also gives some great insight about the vintage.

BTW, if you are not following Lagana Cellars on Twitter, you should. Like Rabbit Ridge Winery that I linked to above, I find lots of great content and behind-the-scene perspective from these winery accounts. They have great social media people running them. If you are in Washington, definitely check out Lagana’s wines as well. They were one of the stand-outs at my recent Walla Walla tasting. Haven’t had Rabbit Ridge yet but I’m sure I’ll rectify that in April when I’m down in Paso Robles.

But, headline and tweets aside, the big reason I linked to the Perdue article above was this fascinating little nugget about Riesling.

Riesling fell to 33,000 tons from 41,300. This is widely viewed as a market correction by Chateau Ste. Michelle, the world’s largest Riesling producer.

Whoa! When Chateau Ste. Michelle is pulling up Riesling vines, something is going on. I kind of get the idea of “market correction” but it doesn’t feel like we’re at a market saturation point for Riesling. If anything, I would think we’re getting close to being over saturated with Cabernet Sauvignon but Cab is Still King and still being planted like crazy.

This thing with Riesling is something worth exploring a little more. This year’s Riesling Rendezvous is in Australia with the event coming back to Chateau Ste. Michelle in 2019. I wonder if we’ll have more clarity about this “market correction” by then.

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Wine Geek Notes 3/5/18 — Zinfandel, World of Syrah and Washington Wine

Photo by schnaars. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

Here is what I’m reading today in the world of wine.

Interesting Tweets and Weblinks

The Week in Zinfandel (2/26/18) by Tom Lee (@NWTomLee)

This is a frequent series by Lee on the Zinfandel Chronicles that highlights reviews and articles that discuss Zin. He was gracious enough to include my recent review of the 2014 Two Vintner’s Zinfandel in his recent round-up but I was most excited to explore several of the other links he posted. Below were two of my favorites.

Have We Taken the “Less Is More” Wine Aesthetic Too Far? by Jon Bonné (@jbonne) for Punch (@punch_drink)

With Bonné being one of the big proponents for lighter, lower alcohol wines (pretty much the anti-thesis of “Parkerized”), this was not an essay I expected to read from him. But he does make a lot of great points about the value of diversity as he bemoans the lack of interest in what he terms “Ferdinand wines”–big wines that have beauty even at high alcohol levels–such as California Zinfandel, Amarone, Brunello di Montalcino, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Priorat.

Heart of Zinfandel: Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley (Paywall) by Stephen Brook (@StephenPBrook) for Decanter (@Decanter)

As I described in my post Zin-ful Thoughts, my opinions of Zinfandel are evolving and I’m eagerly looking for new areas to explore. Brook gives a nice overview of Dry Creek Zins and has me particularly intrigued by the offerings of Joel Peterson’s Once & Future from the Tedeschi Vineyard, Fritz Underground Winery and Passalacqua’s PQZ.

Cayuse manages to be weird in both taste and marketing. Though, IMO, their Cailloux and En Chamberlain Syrahs–with their boring orange labels–are the best.

World of Syrah Kick-off at Celebrate Walla Walla by Bean Fairbanks of Wine Beer Washington (@winebeerWA)

Part 1 of a series from the World of Syrah presentation given by writer Patrick Comiskey (@patcisco) and Master Sommelier/Master of Wine Doug Frost (@winedogboy). Nice overview of the distinction between the regions where Syrah is used as the primary grape versus more of a blending variety but my favorite quote is the one Bean highlights from Comiskey “The Syrah taste needs to be weird NOT the marketing”.

The beauty of Syrah, especially from the Rocks District in Oregon, is the funky weirdness. But gimmicky marketing is just….gimmicky marketing. If the wine can’t stand out on its own without the gimmicks than that should be a red flag.

Taste Washington Wine Month Links

March is Taste Washington Wine Month which at SpitBucket means that I’ll be nose deep in studying more about the history of the vineyards, wineries and people that make the Washington wine industry so exciting.

The women of wine are taking their rightful place (Jan 2015) by David LeClaire (@SeattleUncorked) for Seattle Dining (@SeattleDINING1)

March is also Women’s History Month and I loved this article from LeClaire highlighting kick-ass women who are not only winemakers (like Kay Simon of Chinook and Cheryl Barber-Jones of Chateau Ste. Michelle) but also sommeliers, writers (Braiden Rex-Johnson of Northwest Wining and Dining), chefs, and educators (Joan Davenport of WSU and DavenLore Winery).

Purple Gold: The influence of Husky alums can be tasted throughout the Northwest wine industry (December 2012) by David Volk for the Columns alumni magazine of the University of Washington.

I stumbled across this link while researching for the The Mastery of Bob Betz post. Every Apple Cup, I want to do a tasting of Husky wines vs Coug wines but, while it is easy to find wines made by WSU grads, until I came across this link I didn’t have an easy resource for wines with UW connections.

Washington’s great vineyards: Upland Vineyard (August 2013) by Andy Perdue (@GreatNWWine) for Great Northwest Wine.

Inspired by Peter Blecha’s essay on the history of Associated Vintners that I highlighted in my 3/3/18 Geek Notes, I wanted to research more about the role that William B. Bridgman played in the history of Washington wine.

That research brought me to Perdue’s article on the history of Upland Vineyard that Bridgman first planted in 1917 with Vitis vinifera varieties like Zinfandel and Sauvignon blanc. Today the vineyard is owned by the Newhouse family who continue to farm old blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin blanc, Merlot and Riesling that were planted in the 1970s. There is also a block of old vine Black Muscat that the date of planting is not quite known but it is possible that these vines are approaching the century mark.

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60 Second Wine Review — Alexandria Nicole Tempranillo

A few quick thoughts on the 2010 Alexandria Nicole Tempranillo from Destiny Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills.

The Geekery

Founded in 2001, the origins of Alexandria Nicole date back to the first planting of the Destiny Ridge Vineyard by Jarrod and Ali Boyle in 1998.

Jarrod was working as a viticulturist with Hogue Cellars, under the mentorship of Dr. Wade Wolfe (of Thurston Wolfe fame). While checking out vineyard sites, he noticed an unplanted south facing slope north of Alderdale that overlooked the Columbia River. Finding out that the property belonged to the Mercer family (Champoux Vineyards and Mercer Wine Estates), the Boyles and Mercers went into partnership to plant Destiny Ridge Vineyard.

Today, the 267 acres of Destiny Ridge are sustainably farmed and planted with 23 grape varieties–including unique varieties like Tempranillo, Barbera, Carménère, Counoise, Marsanne, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Roussanne. While the Boyles get first pick, Paul Gregutt in Washington Wines notes that fruit is also sold to wineries like Chateau Ste. Michelle, Darby Winery, Guardian Cellars, Saviah and Tamarack.

The 2010 Tempranillo is a blend of 94% Tempranillo, 4% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc. The wine spent 20 months aging in 1 and 2 year old French barrels with 104 cases made.

The Wine

Medium-minus intensity nose. Red fruit dominant with cherry and cranberries. A little tobacco spice but very muted.

Photo by Tiia Monto. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Dried cranberry notes characterize this wine.

On the palate, the red fruit is carrying through but is faded and dried. This dried fruit element, interestingly, seems to amplify the spice with black licorice notes joining the tobacco. Medium-plus acidity and firm medium-plus tannins add an edge to this wine that is desperately missing the fruit to balance it.

The Verdict

This wine is probably about 3 years past it peak. That said, even at its peak, it’s hard to say this was a compelling enough wine to merit its $55 price tag.

Especially when you compare it to what you can get at that price from Spain (not to mention southern Oregon), it’s clear that you are paying for the novelty of a Washington Tempranillo.

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The Mastery of Bob Betz

Washington State is ridiculously spoiled with talented winemakers.

Alex Golitzin of Quilceda Creek, Christophe Baron of Cayuse, Chris Figgins of Leonetti, Rick Small of Woodward Canyon, Scott Greer of Sheridan, Anna Shafer of àMaurice, Greg Harrington of Gramercy, Kay Simon of Chinook, Charlie Hoppes of Fidelitas, Chris Upchurch of DeLille/Upchurch Vineyard, Ben Smith of Cadence, Chris Camarda of Andrew Will, Charlie Hoppes of Fidelitas, Rob Newsom of Boudreaux, Kerry Shiels of Côte Bonneville, Chris Peterson of Avennia/Passing Time, etc.

And that is only a small sliver of the immense talent in this state.

But if you asked me to give you just one expression of winemaking talent that exhibits the best of Washington, I would answer without any hesitation that it is Bob Betz.

From Chicago to the Chateau

A Chicago native, Bob Betz moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1954. He attended the University of Washington with the goal of entering med school but, when those plans didn’t work out, he spent a year in Europe with his wife, Cathy, where he discovered a passion for wine.

After working at a wine shop for a year, he was hired by Charles Finkel (now of Pike Brewing Company) to work at Chateau Ste. Michelle back when the Washington powerhouse was a small winery operating on East Marginal Way in Seattle. There he was mentored by the famed consultant André Tchelistcheff of Beaulieu Vineyard fame.

Starting in communications with the estate, as Chateau Ste. Michelle moved to Woodinville and grew into Washington’s largest winery, Betz worked his way up to Vice President of Winemaking Research–working closely with an All-Star roster of winemaking talent such Mike Januik (Novelty Hill/Januik Winery), Cheryl Barber-Jones (Sozo Friends), Kay Simon (Chinook Wines), Joy Anderson (Snoqualmie Vineyards), Erik Olsen (Clos du Bois/Constellation Brands) and Charlie Hoppes (Fidelitas). During this time, his own passion for winemaking and starting his own label developed.

Photo taken by self. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons as User:Agne27 under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Bob Betz (in grey sweat shirt) talking with guests at a release party at Betz Family Winery

In the mid 1990s, he embarked on completing the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) program, earning his Master of Wine (MW) in 1998. To this day, he is one of the few MWs who are practicing winemakers (Billo Naravane at Rasa/Sinclair Estate is another), with the vast majority of individuals who hold that title being writers, educators, wholesalers and retailers.

In earning his MW, Betz won the Villa Maria Award for the highest scores on the viticultural exam as well as the Robert Mondavi Award for the highest overall scores in all theory exams.

Betz Family Winery

In 1997, Greg Lill of DeLille Cellars offered space in his winery for Betz to make six barrels of his first vintage. Sourcing fruit from Klipsun vineyard on Red Mountain, Harrison Hill on Snipes Mountain and Portteus vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, it wasn’t long before the accolades came in with Betz having numerous wines featured on Best of Washington lists by the Seattle Times and Seattle Met as well as earning Winemaker of the Year from Sunset Magazine in 2007. Moving from DeLille, he was one of the first wineries in the now-famous “Warehouse District” of Woodinville before building his own winery.

Just as he was mentored by Tchelistcheff and others, Betz has mentored other budding talents such as Kathryn House (House of Wine), Tyson Schiffner (brewmaster at Sumerian Brewing), Ross Mickel (Ross Andrews), Chris Dickson (Twill Cellars), Casey Cobble (Robert Ramsay) and his eventual successor as head winemaker at Betz, Louis Skinner.

La Côte Rousse, a “New World style” Syrah from Red Mountain

In 2011, with Bob & Cathy Betz’s daughters expressing no interest in taking over the winery, Betz worked out an agreement to sell the winery to South African entrepreneurs Steve and Bridgit Griessel. Agreeing to stay on with the winery for five more years, a succession plan was worked out with Louis Skinner, a South Seattle Northwest Wine Academy alum and former assistant at DeLille Cellars, taking over the winemaking duties at Betz Family Winery in 2016 with Betz as a consultant.

In 2017, Bob Betz returned to Chateau Ste. Michelle as a consultant for Col Solare, a joint project with the Antinori family located on Red Mountain. Here Betz will be working with Darel Allwine and Antinori’s head enologist Renzo Cotarella.

Tasting the Best of Washington

While the future of Betz Family Winery looks strong with the Griessels and Louis Skinner, there is something magical about “Bob’s vintages” of Betz that are worth savoring. Paul Gregutt, in Washington Wines, describes Betz Family Winery as one of the “Five Star Wineries” in Washington and ascribes their success to Betz’s “painstaking planning and attention to detail”, noting that if even a single barrel of wine didn’t meet his standards then it would be sold off rather than used in the wines.

La Serenne, a “Northern Rhone-style” Syrah from Boushey Vineyard.

The list of vineyards that Bob Betz has worked with includes some of the “Grand Crus” of Washington like Boushey Vineyard and Red Willow in Yakima; Ciel du Cheval, Kiona and Klipsun on Red Mountain; Harrison Hill and Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain.

2010 La Serenne Syrah – 100% Syrah sourced from Boushey Vineyard. This cool-climate site north of Grandview, Washington is often harvested more than a month after the Syrahs that go into La Côte Rousse from Red Mountain are picked. Around 535 cases were made.

High intensity nose with a mixture of dark fruit–black plums and blackberries–smoke and spice.

On the palate those dark fruits come through but it is the savory, smokey, meatiness that is the star of the show. Medium-plus acidity keeps it fresh and juicy while the medium-plus tannins have a velvety feel at this point. The long savory finish on this wine would make any Côte-Rôtie lover weak in the knees. Stunningly beautiful and well worth the $70-75.

2011 La Côte Rousse – 100% Syrah sourced from Ciel du Cheval and The Ranch At The End of The Road Vineyard in Red Mountain. The parcels from Ciel du Cheval include some of the oldest plantings of Syrah on Red Mountain. The wine was aged in 45% new oak barrels. Around 559 cases were made.

Medium-intensity nose. A bit more oak driven with the baking spice. Underneath there is a core still of dark fruit but it is not as defined.

On the palate, the fruit is still struggling to be defined. It seems to be a mix of black cherries with a little red pomegranate. Medium acidity and soft medium tannins add lushness to the mouthfeel. The oak is still fairly noticeable with a sweet vanilla edge and rich dark chocolate note that lingers through to the moderate finish. Definitely a more “New World” style that reminds me of a less sweet Mollydooker. Not my personal style but at $70-75, it is well in line with Mollydooker’s Carnival of Love and Enchanted Path for those who enjoy those bold, lush wines.

2011 Bésoleil – A blend of 54% Grenache, 15% Cinsault, 12% Counoise, 12% Mourvedre and 7% Syrah. Sourced from vineyards in Yakima, Red Mountain and Snipes Mountains, this was the first vintage to include Counoise. Around 662 cases were made.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Very evocative mix of blue flowers–violets and irises–with spicy black pepper, anise and Asian spices. This wine smells like you walked into a fantastic Indian restaurant.

On the palate, a mix of dark and red fruits come out but the spices get even more mouthwatering with the medium-plus acidity. The medium tannins are very silky at this point, helping the fruit to wrap around your tongue and linger for a long finish. Still fairly New World in style but at $50-55, this is inimitably charming and complex to entice a Châteauneuf-du-Pape fan.

2011 Clos de Betz – A blend of 67% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. Often features fruit from Ciel du Cheval and Kiona on Red Mountain, Red Willow and Dubrul in the Yakima Valley and Alder Ridge in the Horse Heaven Hills. The wine was aged in 45% new oak. Around 1186 cases were made.

Clos de Betz, a Right Bank Bordeaux style blend.

Medium intensity nose–a mix of red and black currants with a floral element that is not very defined. With some air, tertiary notes of tobacco spice emerge as well as an intriguing graphite pencil lead that would have me thinking Cabernet Franc is in this blend even though it’s not.

On the palate, the tide tilts more towards the red fruits dominating with the medium-plus acidity adding a sense of freshness to the wine. The graphite pencil notes disappear and seem to be replaced with an espresso chocolately note that plays off the tobacco spice that carried through. Medium tannins are well integrated and velvet–showing that this wine is probably at its peak drinking window now. Moderate length finish brings back the floral notes though I still can’t quite pinpoint them.

At $65-70, you won’t confuse this for a St. Emilion or Pomerol but this wine amply demonstrates how fantastic Bordeaux varieties–particularly Merlot–do in Washington State.

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60 Second Wine Review — Tagaris Pinot noir

A few quick thoughts on the 2015 Tagaris Pinot noir from the Areté Vineyard.

The Geekery

Founded in 1987 by Michael Taggares, the Tagaris winery honors the original Greek spelling of the family’s surname that was changed when Taggares’ grandfather, Pete, immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island.

According to Paul Gregutt in Washington Wines, Tagaris became a “winery to watch” in Washington when Frank Roth joined the estate as winemaker in 2006. A former cellarmaster at Barnard Griffin, Roth also spent time in Canada working at Hawthorne Mountain and Sumac Ridge before returning to Washington.

Over the years Tagaris has earned a reputation for focusing on small lots from unusual grape varieties in Washington like Tempranillo, Counoise, Mourvedre, Carmenere, Cinsault and Pinot noir from their three estate vineyards.

The 200 acre Areté Vineyard was first planted in 1983 and is certified organic. Located at an elevation of 1300 feet on Radar Hill near Othello, the vineyard is a source of organically grown fruit for Power’s Badger Mountain and Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Snoqualmie Naked wines. The vineyard include 2.27 acres of Pinot noir planted on sandy loam.

Frank Roth’s winemaking style is noted for his restrained use of oak, preferring to use neutral oak barrels that are at least six years of age.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. Some red cherry notes with a little herbal tomato leaf. With some air a bit of fresh cranberry comes out as well.

Photo by Anna Anichkova. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

This Pinot has fresh cranberry notes.

On the palate those red fruits come through with the herbal notes more muted. There is also a spice element on the palate that is not very defined. Medium-plus acidity with medium tannins and a very light body that makes the fruit taste a bit thin. Perhaps this could have used a little new oak to balance?

The Verdict

At around $30-35, you are paying for the novelty and uniqueness of a Washington Pinot noir.

Admittedly, if you compare this to the quality level you can get from an equivalent priced Oregon or California Pinot, it doesn’t hold well.

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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.

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The Facade of Choice

The Wine Industry Advisor posted their list of most read articles of 2017 with the number one article,from March, being on the launch of Liberation Distribution‘s web-based platform designed to connect small wineries with retail and restaurant clients.

LibDib aims to fill a huge gap in the traditional three-tier distribution network where the wholesale tier is dominated by a few large players who virtually ignore all but the largest portfolios. This is an exciting development for wine lovers to watch because when small family owned wineries gain more avenues to reach retail shelves and restaurant wine lists, consumers get a chance to have real choice when it comes to their wine purchases.

That’s not the case right now with most consumers having their choices at grocery stores and restaurant wine lists limited to an assortment of brands made by just a handful of producers.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a stroll to a local grocery store and look at the shelves.

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Here’s a snapshot of 20 Cabernet Sauvignons. That’s a lot of Cabs right? Well out of the 20, we have 5 of the wines being brands that belong (either whole or partially) to E. & J. Gallo. That’s 25% of the shelf right there. Of course that percentage could be higher if we include Gallo’s recent purchase of Orin Swift wines or add other popular and well known Cabernet Sauvignons from the Gallo brands of Bridlewood, Carnivor, Souverain, The Naked Grape and Vin Vault.

Let’s move over to Chardonnay where Jackson Family Estate holds considerable weight in the market place. Both the Kendall Jackson Vintner’s Reserve and La Crema Sonoma Coast regularly vie for top-selling Chardonnay in the United States but Jackson Family Estates can also control the shelf with Chardonnays from their Carmel Road, Freemark Abbey, Brewer-Clifton, Byron and Matanzas Creek brands.

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In recent years, the Jackson Family has been aggressively acquiring brands in Oregon and now includes such notable names as Penner-Ash, Zena Crown and Willakenzie in their portfolio.

If we head over to red blends, we see a lot of familiar names and many of them are under the umbrella of Constellation Brands. The past couple of years, Constellation has been spending mad money buying virtually everything from high-end Napa estates like Schrader Cellars, several of Charles Smith’s Washington labels to distilleries like High West and breweries like Ballast Point.
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Constellation Brands has been buying up so many labels that it is becoming something of a parlor game to guess who they are going to swallow up next. For many observers, the betting money is on Constellation making a move to acquire Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

Speaking of Ste Michelle Wine Estates, a quick peak at the Syrah and Merlot section of our local grocery store shows what a commanding presence they have in Washington State. Of the 17 skus featured on the shelf here, an astounding eight of then (nearly 50%) are made by this one company.

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That doesn’t even include their other well known brands like Seven Falls, Drumheller, Northstar, Spring Valley Vineyards, Stimson, Tenet/Pundit, Col Solare and their original Chateau Ste. Michelle label. It also doesn’t include some of their partnership projects and recent purchases of California wineries like Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Patz & Hall to go with their previous holdings of Conn Creek, Villa Mt. Eden, and Erath in Oregon.

In fact, it is entirely possible for many restaurants in Washington State to have a wine list of 100+ wines made up of nothing but brands owned completely or partially by Ste Michelle Wine Estates.

And this is not unusual in the world of wine. The consolidation of distributors and flurry of mergers and acquisitions of wineries by big corporations puts immense pressure on dwindling shelf space.

For many small wineries its virtually impossible to break through so it is no surprise that a start up like Liberation Distribution is capturing attention. It potentially could be a game changer for many family wineries.

It’s something worth watching and worth raising a glass to toast the success of–even if that glass, right now, is made by one of the handful of mega-corporations.

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