Tag Archives: Rosé Wine

Celebrating International Grenache Day With The Grenachista

Today is International Grenache Day–according to someone.

I honestly have no idea who comes up with these things and googling around it looks Grenache Day hops all over the calendar a bit like Thanksgiving and Easter.

Which is kind of fitting since Grenache goes so well with turkey and rabbit. (Sorry kids)

But hey, I don’t need much of an excuse to geek out about something so that makes today the perfect opportunity to take a flashback to this spring’s Hospice du Rhône event and revisit the highly impressive wines of CR Graybehl aka The Grenachista.

The Background

CR Graybehl was founded in 2013 and is named after founder and winemaker Casey Graybehl’s grandfather, Cliff R. Graybehl, who inspired Casey to get into winemaking. The small operation is essentially a two person show with just Graybehl and his wife.

Graybehl studied Fruit Sciences at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo when the school hadn’t yet developed a viticulture program. He spent time working at wineries in the Central Coast and Bay Area before starting his winery in Sonoma.

In addition to his own wine project, Graybehl is a production manager for Obsidian Wine Co.–a custom crush facility and makers of Obsidian Ridge and Poseidon Vineyard.

The Grape – A Little Geeky History

While it is generally agreed that Grenache is a very old grape variety, Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz note in Wine Grapes that the origins of the grape is debated by ampelographers.

Photo by Fabio bartolomei. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Old vine Garnacha growing near the the Sierra de Gredos mountain range in Central Spain.

The stronger argument favors a Spanish origin where it believed that the grape was first documented growing in Madrid under the synonym Aragones in 1513 by Gabriel Alonso de Herrea in his work Argicultura general. The name Garnacha seems to have been established by the late 1600s when Estevan de Corbera describes the grape growing in Tarragona in his 1678 work Cataluña illustrada.

A competing theory argues that the grape is a native of Sardinia where it is known as Cannonau. Here the first mentioned appears in Caligari in 1549. The name Garnacha also shows up in Miguel de Cervantes’ 1613 work El licenciado vidriera referencing an Italian white wine that was being served in Genoa. The theory of a Sardinian orgin involves assuming that the Aragones grape of Madrid was not actually Grenache and that the grape was brought to Spain sometime after 1479 when Sardinia became part of the Spanish empire.

While Aragones is still a synonym used today for Garnacha it has also been used as a synonym for other grape varieties like Tempranillo.

Italian ampelographer Gianni Lovicu also argues that the Spanish name Garnacha is closely related to the Italian name Vernaccia that is derived from the Latin vernaculum meaning local. Documents in Catalunya dating back to 1348 describe a Vernaça grape that appears to have been introduced to the area from somewhere else. This would predate Sardinia’s Spanish colonization and suggest perhaps a different Italian region as the grape’s origins.

Photo by www.zoqy.net. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

Grenache blanc vines growing in the Rivesaltes AOC of the Roussillon region that borders Spain. Here the grape is used to produce the sweet Vin Doux Naturel dessert wines.


However, even today Spain remains the loci of the greatest mutation and clonal diversity of Grenache–strongly suggesting a far longer presence in the area than anywhere else. While Sardinia and the Colli Berici DOC of the Veneto have significant plantings of the dark skin Grenache noir, only Spain and southern France have a notable presence of the other color mutations (white and gris) as well as the downy leaved Garnacha Peluda.

Grenache in Modern Times

Today Grenache is the second most widely planted grape in France, after Merlot, with 94,240 ha (232,872 acres) planted as of 2009. The grape forms the backbone of many Southern Rhone blends such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape (around 70% of plantings), Gigondas and Vacqueryas as well as the rosé wines of Tavel and Lirac.

In Italy, it is the most widely planted grape on Sardinia–accounting for around 20% of the island’s wine production–with 6288 ha (15,538 acres) planted by 2000.

After Tempranillo and Bobal, Garnacha is the third most widely planted red grape in Spain with 75,399 ha (186,315 acres) of vines covering 7% of the country’s vineyards. The grape is most widely planted in the Aragon region of northeastern Spain where it accounts for 45% of production. It is also a popular planting in Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, Catalunya, Priorat and the Rioja Baja region. In Navarra, it is an important component in the region’s rosé.

CR Graybehl’s Grenache from the Mounts Family Vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma.


Grenache noir is believed to have been introduced to California in the 1850s by a Santa Clara wine grower named Charles Lefranc. The grape became a significant planting in the Central Valley after Prohibition where it was used to make dessert wines and lightly sweetly rosés. Today, along with Grenache blanc, it is used to make dry varietal wines and Rhone-style blends.

In 2017, there were 306 acres of Grenache blanc and 4,287 acres of Grenache noir growing throughout the state from the Sierra Foothills and Sonoma down to Paso Robles and Santa Barbara.

Paul Gregutt notes in Washington Wines that Grenache was the first vinifera wine to earn critical acclaim in Washington when wine writer Leon Adams praised a dry Grenache rosé made by a home winemaker in the Yakima Valley in his 1966 book Wines of America.

As Gramercy Cellars’ winemaker Greg Harrington noted in his interview on Levi Dalton’s I’ll Drink to That! podcast, severe freezes in Washington in the late 20th century nearly killed off all Grenache in the state.

However, the grape has seen a renaissance of interest in recent years thanks in part to winemakers like Master of Wine Bob Betz and the Rhone Rangers movement pioneered in Washington by Doug McCrea. As of 2017, there were 212 acres of Grenache noir in Washington.

Over the years, growers have used Grenache to breed several new grape varieties such as Caladoc (with Malbec), Carnelian (with F2-7, a Carignan/Cabernet Sauvignon crossing), Emerald Riesling (Grenache blanc with Muscadelle) and Marselan (with Cabernet Sauvignon).

The Wines

Below are my notes on the CR Graybehl’s Grenache wines I tasted during the April Hospice du Rhône event updated with some production and winemaking details.

2017 Grenache Rosé Sonoma Valley ($24-25) — Sourced from Mathis Vineyard. Around 190 cases made. Medium intensity nose. Bright red fruits of cherry and strawberry mixed with some blood orange. Medium-minus body weight and juicy medium-plus acidity. Good patio sipper but not a great value compared to Grenache-based Rhone and Spanish Navarra rosés in the $10-15 range.

2016 Grenache blanc Dry Creek Valley ($19-24) — From the Mounts Family Vineyard. Around 245 cases made. Medium intensity nose. Tree fruits–pear and apples with noticeable baking spices of clove and nutmeg. Subtle herbalness. Medium body weight and medium acidity. Long finish ends on the tree fruits. Reminds me of a more refreshing Chardonnay.

2016 The Grenachista Alder Springs Mendocino County ($34) — High intensity nose. Dark fruits with wild berries like huckleberry, blackberry and boysenberry. Lots of blue floral notes and herbs de Provence giving this wine a lovely bouquet. Very full bodied but very ripe medium-plus tannins that are balanced by medium-plus acidity which highlights a peppery spice. Long finish.

The very full-bodied and fruit forward Mathis Vineyard Grenache from Sonoma Valley would go toe to toe with much more expensive old vine Grenache from Australia.


2015 Grenache Mathis Vineyard Sonoma Valley ($34) –Around 273 cases made. Medium-plus intensity nose. Lots of dark fruit–blackberries and black cherries. By far the most fruit forward nose of the bunch. Some spices come out on the palate with medium-plus acidity giving the fruit a lip-smacking juiciness. Ripe medium-plus tannins and full body bodied fruit. Kind of feels like an old vine Aussie Grenache.

2015 Grenache Mounts Family Vineyard Dry Creek ($34) — Made from clones 362 and 513 sourced from the Southern Rhone and Languedoc. Wild fermented with 100% whole cluster. Around 273 cases made. High intensity with a lot of savory black pepper spice that has a smoked BBQ element. Mix of red and dark fruit flavors on the palate. Medium-plus body and medium-plus acidity with ripe medium tannins. Long mouthwatering finish ends on the savory notes.

The Verdict

Across the board I was enjoyed all of CR Graybehl’s wines though I definitely think the best values lie with their reds. These wines shinned at a tasting that featured many more expensive bottlings. The whites are certainly well made and tasty but you are paying a little bit of a premium for their small production.

The vineyard designated Grenache noirs, however, could be priced closer to $45 and would still offer very compelling value. Each one has their own distinctive personality and character that more than merit exploring further.

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Getting Geeky with Conundrum Rose

Going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out about the 2016 Conundrum Rosé.

The Background

Conundrum is made by the Wagner family who founded Caymus Vineyards in Napa Valley in 1971.

Along with Caymus and Conundrum, the Wagners have developed a portfolio of wine brands made by Chuck Wagner and his kids, Charlie and Jenny, including Mer Soleil, Old Cannery Row, Red Schooner, 1858 Wines and Emmolo.

Chuck’s other son, Joe Wagner, also makes several wines with Copper Cane Wine & Provisions including Belle Glos, Elouan, Tuli, Beran, Torial, Carne Humana, The Willametter, Napa Quilt and BÖEN.

With the Caymus Special Selection, the Wagners hold the distinction of being the only winery to produce a wine that has twice been named the number one wine on Wine Spectator’s yearly Top 100 list for the 1984 and 1990 vintages.

The Conundrum series of wines were introduced in 1989 with a white blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, Sémillon, Viognier and Muscat Canelli/Moscato. Over the years the brand has expanded to include a red blend (primarily Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon), a sparkling wine (Pinot gris, Viognier, Muscat Canelli and Chenin blanc) and, since 2016, a rosé.

The fruit for Conundrum are sourced throughout California from vineyards in the North Coast wine regions of Napa and Solano County, the central coast areas of Monterey, San Benito and Santa Barbara County to the inland vineyards of Tulare County south of Fresno.

My Conundrum hat autographed by Chuck Wagner.


The wines are made in Monterey County by Chuck’s son Charlie with Jon Bolta assisting and overseeing the white wine production.

The 2016 Conundrum rosé is made from the Valdiguié grape sourced from Paso Robles.

It is not widely published how many cases of the rosé are produced but previous vintages of the Conundrum Red have topped 120,000 cases and nearly 90,000 cases for the white.

The Grape

The Valdiguié grape originated in Southwest France, likely in either the Tarn-et-Garonne or Lot-et-Garonne departments. Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz note in Wine Grapes that the first documented mention of the grape, under the name of Valdiguier, appeared only in 1884 which leads to a few theories about Valdiguié’s origins.

One theory involves a landowner from the late 18th century in the village of Puylaroque in the Tarn-et-Garonne named Valdéguier who propagated different grape varieties in his courtyard garden. Another theory notes that later, in 1845, there was also a grower named Jean-Baptiste Valdiguié who was known to have had a vineyard in the hamlet of Tressens near Puylaroque.

Around this same time, in the neighboring department of Lot-et-Garonne, there was a vineyard worker named Guillaume Valdiguier who may have propagated Valdiguié from an abandon vineyard once owned by the Templiers monastery in Aujols.

Map created by 	קרלוס הגדול . Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-4.0

The Garonne river (highlighted in box) flows through Southwest France and eventually meets up with the Gironde estuary in Bordeaux. It is likely that the Valdiguié grape originated somewhere in this area.

A parent-offspring relationship between Valdiguié and the nearly extinct Fronton grape Mérille of the Lot-et-Garonne has been suggested by ampelographers but so far has not been confirmed by DNA analysis. Prevalent in Southwest France in the 19th century until phylloxera, Mérille was once one of the minor blending grapes of Bordeaux.

In the early to mid 20th century, Valdiguié’s tolerance to powdery mildew and reliably high yields saw its plantings greatly expand to a peak of 4,908 ha (12,128 acres) in 1958. But the variety eventually lost ground to other more popular plantings and by 2008 there were only 145 ha (358 acres) planted in Southwest France, Provence and the Languedoc.

In California Valdiguié was misidentified as the Gamay grape of Beaujolais (Gamay noir) and became a popular planting in the decades following Prohibition. Known as “Napa Gamay”, by 1977 there were over 6000 acres planted throughout the state. The grape was often fermented using the carbonic maceration method commonly used for Beaujolais Nouveau to produce fruity, easy drinking wines with moderate alcohol.

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

While Valdiguié is grown in several places in California, the fruit for the 2016 vintage of the Conundrum rosé was sourced from Paso Robles. Pictured is a Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard from the region.


In 1980, the French ampelographer Pierre Galet published that Napa Gamay was actually Valdiguié. While most producers today label their wines as Valdiguié, Napa Gamay is still officially recognized as a synonym for the variety.

As in France, acreage of Valdiguié began steadily dropping as other varieties earned greater focus and market share. As of 2017 there was 251 acres of the grape with plantings in Napa Valley, Suisan Valley, Solano County, Lodi, Redwood Valley, Paso Robles, Mendocino County, Monterey and the Madera AVA.

In the Calistoga AVA of Napa, the Frediani vineyard has old vine Valdiguié that were planted as early as 1935.

Beyond Conundrum, other notable producers of Valdiguié include Forlorn Hope and Driscoll Wine Co.’s vineyard designated wines from Frediani Vineyard, J. Lohr and the pétillant naturel (Pet-Nat) Valdiguié made by Cruse Wine Co. and Broc Cellars.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose. A mix of cantaloupe fruit and subtle rind-like earthiness. There is also red fruit that isn’t as defined or dominant as that melon and rind note.

On the palate the cantaloupe comes through with medium-plus acidity adding freshness which is quite vibrant for a 2 year old rosé. The rind notes also carry through with a pithy, phenolic texture that adds medium-minus bodied weight to this dry rosé but doesn’t stray to bitterness. The red fruit becomes a little more pronounced as strawberries but fades quickly with the finish.

The Verdict

At $18-22, you are paying a tad bit of a premium for the geeky variety but it is not that out of line for the uniqueness and quality of the wine. With the Conundrum White and Red having noticeable residual sugar, I was expecting this wine to follow suit but instead this rosé is distinctly dry and well made.

While many mass-produced rosés have a steep decline in quality after a year in bottle, the Conundrum rosé still has admirable freshness and vibrancy though the short finish and nondescript red fruit give away its age. If you have a bottle, I would recommend drinking it soon or look for a newer vintage.

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60 Second Wine Review — Finn Hill Rosé of Pinot gris

A few quick thoughts on the 2017 Finn Hill “Le Fantôme” Rosé of Pinot gris from the Sugarloaf Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA of the Yakima Valley.

The Geekery

Finn Hill winery was founded in 2008 by Rob Entrekin in his garage in the Finn Hill neighborhood of Kirkland, Washington–an area first settled by Finnish families.

In 2016, Finn Hill was named by Wine Press Northwest magazine as a “Washington Winery to Watch”.

The Sugarloaf Vineyard was first planted in 2005 by Joe Hattrup (who also owns Elephant Mountain Vineyard) on the southwestern slopes of the Rattlesnake Hills. Today the vineyard covers 37 acres on shallow, gravely soils of silt loam with some clay. In addition to Pinot gris, Sugarloaf also grows Grenache, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Syrah, Viognier and Riesling.

Along with Finn Hill, other notable wineries that have sourced fruit from Sugarloaf includes Cor Cellars, Eleven Winery, Maryhill, Stottle Winery and TruthTeller Winery.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose. A very intriguing mix of white peach, strawberries and rose petals.

Photo by Janine from Mililani, Hawaii, United States. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC-BY-2.0

Rose petals certainly play a big role in the flavors of this wine.

On the palate both the white peach, strawberry and rose notes carry through with the edge going to the floral flavors. In many ways this rosé taste like you have a bunch of rose petals in your mouth with the sense of texture partnering with its light-bodied weight. Medium acidity could use just a tad more lift to bring out the freshness of the fruit but offers enough balance to keep the wine enjoyable. Moderate length finish brings back the white peach and strawberry though the floral notes aren’t far behind.

The Verdict

Probably the most famous rosé of Pinot gris in Washington is Long Shadow’s Julia’s Dazzle and for around that same $18 price point, this Finn Hill rosé is pretty on par in quality.

Overall the Finn Hill is a tad drier while the Julia’s Dazzle has more acidity but both offer plenty of pleasure while sipping on the patio.

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60 Second Wine Review — Michael Florentino Nebbiolo Rosé

A few quick thoughts on the 2017 Michael Florentino Nebbiolo Rosé from the Yakima Valley.

The Geekery

Michael Florentino Cellars was founded in 2005 by Michael Haddox, a military vet who started in the wine industry working the bottling line at Columbia Crest.

Financial difficulties in 2009 prompted Haddox to sell the brand to Brad Sherman who got his start as an amateur winemaker with the Boeing Wine Club–which counts among its alumni Ben Smith of Cadence, David Larsen of Soos Creek and Tim Narby of :Nota Bene Cellars.

Today Michael Florentino focuses on producing small lots from unusual grape varieties like Tempranillo, Monastrell/Mourvedre, Primitivo/Zinfandel, Garnacha/Grenache, Albariño, Sangiovese, Counoise, Touriga Nacional, Sousão, Barbera and Nebbiolo.

To seek out these unique grapes (many of which have less than 100 acres planted throughout Washington), Sherman works with a wide range of vineyards including Gilbert and StoneTree Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope, Coyote Canyon Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills, Dineen Vineyard in the Yakima Valley, Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain as well as Red Haven, Ciel du Cheval, Kiona and Artz Vineyard on Red Mountain.

The Wine

Medium-minus intensity nose. Some faint tropical fruit and cherry notes but they aren’t very define. With air the fruit aromatics become more muted but a little bit of Asian spice (tumeric?) comes out.

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

The passion fruit notes in this rosé are much more noticeable on the palate than on the nose.

On the palate the fruit becomes a little more pronounced with passion fruit and pomelo taking the lead. Light bodied with just a tad of residual sugar on the tip of the tongue the wine is well balanced with medium-plus acidity that keep the wine tasting fresh. Short finish ends on the fruit without the faint spice note from the nose returning.

The Verdict

For around $15-18, this Nebbiolo Rosé is certainly unique but you are paying a premium for the uniqueness of the variety–especially compared to the value you can get from Provençal rosés in the $10-13 range.

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60 Second Wine Review — Ambassador Rosé

A few quick thoughts on the 2017 Ambassador Rosé from Red Mountain.

The Geekery

Ambassador Winery was started in 2004 with the goal of using estate-grown fruit from their 22 acre Ambassador Vineyard on Red Mountain. Over the years, the Ambassador estate has grown to include two sister vineyards on Red Mountain–Sunset and Annex Vineyards. All the vineyards are farmed sustainably.

The vineyards are managed by legendary grower Dick Boushey. In addition to running his own Boushey Vineyards in the Yakima Valley that supplies fruit to many of the state’s top producers such as àMaurice, Avennia, Betz Family Winery, Bunnell Family Cellar, Chinook Wines, DeLille, Fidelitas, Gorman, Two Vintners, Long Shadows (Sequel and Saggi) and W.T. Vintners, Boushey also manages several estates on Red Mountain including Col Solare, Upchurch and Duckhorn’s Canvasback.

In 2002, Boushey was named by the Washington State Wine Commission as “Grower of The Year” and, in 2007, he was recognized internationally as “Grower of the Year” by Wine & Spirits magazine.

The wines of Ambassador are produced by Sarah Hedges Goedhart (of Hedges Family fame) with longtime Napa Valley winemaker Tom Rinaldi (of Provenance, Hewitt, Freemark Abbey and Duckhorn fame) consulting.

The 2017 rosé is a blend of Syrah and Grenache.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose. Very floral with hibiscus and tropical fruit notes such as passion fruit and mangosteen orange peel.

Photo by C T Johansson. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

This rosé has a very lovely floral hibiscus note on the nose.


On the palate the wine is dry but the tropical fruits dominant with a pithy texture. With the fair amount of weight and tannins this rosé has I suspect it maybe a saignée. The medium-plus acidity balances the weight well and keeps the rosé tasting crisp and refreshing.

The Verdict

The weight and texture of this rosé definitely lends itself towards more robust food pairings like the kind that Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan describes in her book Rosé Wine.

At $20-25, this 2017 Ambassador rosé offers a good amount of complexity and versatility with food pairings to make it a nice summertime accompaniment.

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60 Second Wine Review — 2017 Mr. Pink Rosé

A few quick thoughts on the 2017 Mr. Pink rosé from the Underground Wine Project.

The Geekery

The Underground Wine Project was started in 2009 as a collaboration between longtime friends and Washington winemakers Mark McNeilly of Mark Ryan Winery and Trey Busch of Sleight of Hand Cellars and Renegade Wine Co.

Beginning with 100 cases of Idle Hands Syrah, the label has now grown to a 30,000 case production that include 3 wines as well as a second label, Sustain Wines.

In 2018, the Underground Wine Project partnered with Pearl Jam to create a 4 bottle box set of red blends called “Home X Away” for $150 each with proceeds benefiting the band’s Vitalogy Foundation that combats homelessness in Seattle. With only 450 sets made, the wine sold out within 12 minutes of being announced on Pearl Jam’s email list.

The 2017 Mr. Pink rosé is a blend of Sangiovese and Syrah from the Columbia Valley with previous vintages sourced from vineyards on the Wahluke Slope and in the Ancient Lakes AVAs. The name and label pays tribute to Steve Buscemi’s character from the 1992 film Reservoir Dogs. Around 11,000 cases were produced.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose. Fruit forward with raspberry, strawberry and ruby red grapefruit. A little bit of sea spray minerality follows the fruit.

Photo by Tiia Monto. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

The bright ruby red grapefruit notes of the rosé particularly comes out on the palate.

On the palate the rosé is dry with crisp, medium-plus acidity. Very light body, the fruit is a tad less vibrant with the exception of the ruby red grapefruit that gets more citrusy and lingers through the moderate length finish with the sea spray tang.

The Verdict

At $10-13 this is a pleasant and easy drinking rosé that is perfectly in place being sipped on a patio on a warm summer day.

The lightness of the body and fruit would lend itself more to savoring just as it is or with lighter food pairing options such as an endive-grapefruit salad that can play up the wine’s citrusy grapefruit notes and acidity.

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Getting Geeky with Davenport Cellars Ciel du Cheval Rosé of Sangiovese

Going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out about Davenport Cellars’ 2017 Rosé of Sangiovese from the legendary Red Mountain vineyard of Ciel du Cheval.

The Background

Davenport Cellars was founded in 2006 by Jeff and Sheila Jirka. Alumni of the Northwest Wine Academy at South Seattle College, the Jirkas were members of the very first Wine Production class–helping to pioneer a program that would go on to educate such award winning winemakers as Michael Savage of Savage Grace Wines, William Grassie of William Grassie Wine Estates, Charlie Lybecker of Cairdeas Winery, Kit Singh of Lauren Ashton Cellars, Tom Stangeland of Cloudlift Cellars, Jason Morin of Ancestry Cellars, Scott Greenberg of Convergence Zone Cellars, John Patterson of Patterson Cellars and Louis Skinner of Betz Family Winery among many others.

In addition to their studies at NWA, Jeff studied winemaking through the University of California-Davis Extension winemaking program while Sheila studied viticulture through Washington State University’s certificate program.

Located in the Woodinville Warehouse District, Davenport Cellars makes around 1000 cases a year from fruit sourced from some of the top vineyards in Washington State such as Les Collines, Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills Vineyard in Walla Walla, Boushey and Sheridan Vineyard in the Yakima Valley as well as Ciel du Cheval and Kiona Vineyard on Red Mountain.

The 2017 Rosé of Sangiovese is 100% Sangiovese sourced from Ciel du Cheval. Around 25 cases were made.

The Vineyard

In his book Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide, Paul Gregutt list Ciel du Cheval as among the Grand Cru vineyards of Washington along with Boushey Vineyard, Cayuse Vineyard in Walla Walla, Celilo Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge, Champoux Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills and Klipsun Vineyard on Red Mountain.

The author with John and Ann Williams of Kiona Vineyards who help plant Ciel du Cheval Vineyard with Jim Holmes.

Along with Kiona Vineyard, Ciel du Cheval was first planted in 1975 by Jim Holmes and John Williams, two engineers from the nearby Hanford nuclear site. The two were inspired to plant on the relatively barren scrubland near Benton City after reading Dr. Walter Clore’s report from Washington State University on the viability of grape growing in the area.

After purchasing 80 acres from Williams’ father-in-law in 1972 for $200 an acre, the men invested in bringing electricity to Red Mountain for the first time, constructed roads and drilled in search of an underground aquifer. Their funding was close to running out by the time the drillers finally hit pay dirt with a water source located 560 feet beneath the surface.

Those first acres of plantings would become what is today known as Kiona Vineyard. Soon after its establishment, Holmes and Williams began planting another 80 acres across Sunset Road with a group of investors that included David and Patricia Gelles (who would later establish Klipsun Vineyard). This second vineyard was called Ciel du Cheval, a rough French translation for the Horse Heaven Hills that were visible from Red Mountain across Highway I-82.

The early vintages of the new vineyard were sold to local wineries like Preston Winery and Quilceda Creek as well as Amity Vineyards from Oregon. In the 1980s, Andrew Will began sourcing Ciel du Cheval fruit and DeLille Cellars started a long term relationship with the vineyard in 1990.

The Horse Heaven Hills from which Ciel du Cheval gets its name as seen from Col Solare on Red Mountain.
Just behind the vineyards of Col Solare in the foreground are the vineyards of Kiona’s Heart of the Hill, Ciel du Cheval and Galitzine.

In 1994, Holmes and Williams amicably split up their partnership with Williams taking complete control and ownership over the original Kiona Vineyard while Holmes took over Ciel du Cheval. In the early 2000s, Holmes started planting adjacent plots next to Ciel du Cheval as part of joint ventures with Quilceda Creek (Galitzine Vineyard) and DeLille (Grand Ciel Vineyard).

Today there are 103 acres of vines planted at Ciel du Cheval broken up into 36 plots of Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cunoise, Grenache, Merlot, Mourvédre, Nebbiolo, Petit Verdot, Pinot gris, Roussanne, Sangiovese, Syrah and Viognier. The vineyard is farmed sustainably with no herbicides used on the vines and low impact viticulture practiced for soil conservation and dust control.

In 2012, the Holmes family started Côtes de Ciel winery but still sell the majority of their vineyard’s fruit to an all star roster of Washington wineries such as Andrew Will, Betz, Cadence, DeLille, Fidelitas, Force Majeure, Januik, Mark Ryan, McCrea, Quilceda Creek and Seven Hills.

What Makes Ciel du Cheval Fruit So Highly Sought After?

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

A sample of the sandy loam and rocky soils of Ciel du Cheval featured at Betz Family Winery which uses fruit from Ciel du Cheval for several of their wines including their La Côte Rousse Syrah and Clos de Betz Merlot-based blend.

The soils on Red Mountain were formed through a series of cataclysmic floods and glaciation during the Ice Ages which left an uneven dispersal of soils and cobblestones across the vineyards and even rerouted the ancient Columbia River around the contours of Red Mountain.

The soils that were deposited on what is now Ciel du Cheval are different from neighboring vineyards with more than 12 feet of sandy loam on top of a layer rich in calcium carbonate. The very high pH levels of the soils due to the calcium carbonate keeps a lot of the nutrients in the soil insoluble and inaccessible to the vines. This encourages the vines to struggle and dig their roots even deeper in search of nutrients.

This results in much smaller canopies and berry sizes compared to vines grown elsewhere. In Washington Wines, Holmes notes that while a typical grape berry grown in Napa Valley will weigh around 1.3 grams, from Ciel du Cheval the average weight is 0.88 grams.

These smaller berries develop fully ripe and intense flavors from the 2950 average heat units that the vineyard receives each year but maintain fresh acidity due to the wide diurnal temperature variation that can drop as much as 40-50 degrees from the day time highs in the 90s.

The balance of fresh acidity with intense flavors and ripe tannins is a trademark style of fruit from Ciel du Cheval.

The Grape

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

A cluster of Sangiovese from Alder Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills.

Widely known as the dominant grape of Tuscany, one of the earliest commercial plantings of Sangiovese in Washington State was at Red Willow Vineyard in Yakima Valley in the 1990s though it is likely that Italian immigrants to Walla Walla in the late 1800s brought cuttings from their native land for personal cultivation.

By 1999, there were around 100 acres of Sangiovese planted in Washington. After jumping to 220 acres in 2002, plantings dropped to around 134 acres in production as of 2017.

As a red wine, the style of Washington Sangiovese is noted for its combination of red fruit flavors like cherry, currant and cranberry paired with spicy anise and herbal tobacco leaf notes. As a rosé, those cherry and cranberry notes are often complimented with strawberry aromatics. The grape’s trademark high acidity lends itself well to rosé production with a good portion of Washington’s approximate 75,000 cases of Sangiovese based wines being rosés.

One of the distinctions of Sangiovese is its propensity to develop clonal mutations when it is grown in different environments.

At Ciel du Cheval there are two clones of Sangiovese planted, VCR 6 and VCR 23, that were cultivated and studied at the Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of north east Italy.

Photo by Francesco Sgroi. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Sangiovese grapes growing in the village of Certaldo outside of Florence in the Chianti zone.


The VCR 6 clone was sourced from vineyards in the Brunello di Montalcino region of Tuscany while VCR 23 was sourced from Vecchiazzano in Romagna.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose. Lots of strawberry and cherry notes with a little subtle spice that almost seems black pepper like.

On the palate this rosé has a lot of weight–more so than the WT Vintners Pinot noir rosé sampled the same night. Some noticeable residual sugar but amply balanced by the high acidity that gives the fruit a mouthwatering juiciness. Moderate length finish brings back the subtle pepper spice from nose and adds an intriguing savory/sweet element.

The Verdict

While no one would would confuse this for a bone-dry and minerally Provençal rosé, at around $18, the Davenport 2017 Rosé of Sangiovese is a refreshing and easy to drink rosé that is very crowd-pleasing and food friendly.

Quite enjoyable on its own, the bold flavor and touch of sweetness in this rosé would particularly shine with foods that have a hint of spiciness like ethnic Thai or Indian.

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60 Second Wine Review — W.T. Vintners Rose

A few quick thoughts on the 2017 W.T. Vintners Rosé.

The Geekery

W.T. Vintners was founded in 2008 by Seattle sommelier Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen and his wife Courtney with George and Casey White.

An advance sommelier working on his Master Sommelier certification, Lindsay-Thorsen is currently the wine director at Michael Mina and Rajat Parr’s RN74 in Seattle. Prior to this, he built highly acclaimed wine programs at Cascadia Restaurant (now closed), Wild Ginger Bellevue and Holly Smith’s Cafe Juanita.

100% Pinot noir with around 55 cases produced, the rosé is sourced from the Underwood Mountain Vineyard. Planted on the volcanic and clay loam “Underwood Series” soils of an extinct volcano, the vineyard is part of the Columbia Gorge AVA.

First established as an AVA in 2004, the Columbia Gorge is unique in being an Eastern Washington AVA that is technically outside the large Columbia Valley AVA that encompasses most of Washington’s wine regions. Extending into Oregon, the AVA includes the foothills of the Cascades that is bisected by the Columbia River with cool fierce winds following the river and creating a wind tunnel effect.

This creates cool climate terroir that can be dry farmed with annual rains ranging from 18 to 30 inches a year.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose. Very floral with orange blossoms and rose petals. Underneath the flowers is some bright cherry.

Photo by LauraGh91. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Really gorgeous orange blossom notes in this rosé.

On the palate this is a very weighty rosé, almost Tavel-like, which is pretty remarkable for a Pinot rosé made in what I presume was the short-maceration method. Medium-plus acidity, though, gives plenty of freshness and balance to the fruit and lets the lovely floral notes persist through the moderate-length finish.

The Verdict

At around $20, this is an exceptionally well-made and character-driven rosé that was a joy to drink.

The weight and texture of the rosé opens it up to more robust food pairing possibilities (like some of the one’s Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan mentions in her book Rosé Wine) but it is quite delicious on its own.

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Geek Notes 6/26/18 — New Wine Books for June/July

Photo by Serge Esteve sce767. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-Zero A look at some recently released and upcoming wine books that intrigue me for various geeky reasons.

For last month’s edition looking at some of the new releases from May and early June check out Wine Geek Notes 5/9/18 — New Wine Books to Geek Out Over.

How to Wine With Your Boss & 6 Other Tips To Fast Track Your Career by Tiffany Yarde. Released June 19th, 2018.

While not necessarily a wine book, the description and “look inside” preview caught my attention. Unlike other career advancing self-help books that tell you how “think rich”, “lean in” and develop habits of highly effective people, Yarde looks to be taking a different approach in utilizing wine education topics on tasting and varieties to apply them to business principles.

At least that is what the intro is describing, though the title How to Wine With Your Boss also seems to be advocating wielding your knowledge and confidence in the social lubricant of wine as a tool to advance your career. That is an approach that could be fraught with pratfalls with the associations of alcohol in the workplace in light of the #MeToo movement. While we, wine geeks, know that the point of sharing a glass of wine is not about nefarious intentions, I can’t begrudge a male manager or coworker from being reticent in accepting such an invitation.

Still, the idea of book teaching wine enthusiasts how to take their passion and knowledge of wine and apply it to business is intriguing–if that is such a book that Yarde has written. She does have a blog and website, Motovino, that describes more of her philosophy though, unfortunately, the blog is not frequently updated.

Practical Field Guide to Grape Growing and Vine Physiology by Daniel Schuster, Laura Bernini and Andrea Paoletti. To be released July 2nd, 2018.

This looks like some hardcore viticultural geekdoom here written by New Zealand wine grower Daniel Schuster, Tuscan viticulturalist Laura Bernini and winemaker Andrea Paoletti that will combine a mix of New World modernist and Old World traditionalist approaches to grape growing.

Oldies but goodies.


When I passed Unit 2 of the WSET Diploma level on Viticulture and Winemaking with Master of Wine Stephen Skelton’s Viticulture, Jeff Cox’s From Vines to Wines and the old school classic of A.J. Winkler and crew’s General Viticulture (under $15 used) were my primary study aids in the vineyard.

At around 146 pages, I can see the Practical Field Guide being an easily digestible compendium to the books I mention above and another great study tool for wine geeks seeking certifications in the WSET or Court of Master Sommelier programs.

Wine Marketing and Sales, 3rd Edition by Liz Thach, Janeen Olsen and Paul Wagner. To be released July 2nd, 2018.

I’ve had this book pre-ordered since February–so, yeah, I’m pretty excited.

While I was doing researching for my article Under the (Social Media) Influence, I realized that there was a dearth of resources for wineries and wine business students about how to effectively utilize social media. A huge reason for that is how quickly the industry and technology is changing so this updated edition of Wine Marketing and Sales was desperately needed. With how in-depth and perspective-driven the previous two editions were, I have no doubt that this and other modern topics and challenges of the industry are going to be addressed.

Dr. Liz Thach, MW is one of the most brilliant minds in the wine business whose writings in Wine Business Monthly and other publications are must-reads for anyone wanting to keep a pulse on the happenings in the wine business. In addition to Wine Marketing and Sales, Thach’s Wine: a Global Business is another resource that I’ve thoroughly gobbled up in highlighted notes and annotations.

The New Pink Wine: A Modern Guide to the World’s Best Rosés by Ann Walker and Larry Walker. To be released July 19th, 2018.

Has the “Rosé Revolution” jumped the shark yet? Who knows?

But The New Pink Wine is here to join a chorus of recently released rosé wine books in the last year and a half that includes Master of Wine Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan’s Rosé Wine (you can check out my review of it here), Victoria James and Lyle Railsback’s Drink Pink, Katherine Cole’s Rosé All Day, Master of Wine Elizabeth Gabay’s Rosé: Understanding the pink wine revolution and Julia Charles’ Rosé Cocktails that I highlighted in last month’s Wine Geek Notes.

If you want to go “old school hipster”, there is also Jeff Morgan’s 2005 work Rosé: A Guide to the World’s Most Versatile Wine which was on the Pink Train way back when Brangelina were still filming Mr. & Mrs. Smith.

What will the Walkers’ The New Pink Wine add to the conversation? At 224 pages, it’s not aiming to be a pamphlet. Both the Walkers do have lots of experience in the food and wine industry with Ann as a chef, educator, writer and frequent judge for the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Larry Walker has written for various food & wine magazine and is the editor for several of Williams-Sonoma’s Wine Guides.

I suppose as long as new bottles of rosé keeping hitting the wine shelves, we’ll keep getting new rosé wine books for the book shelf.

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Wine Geek Notes 5/9/18 — New Wine Books to Geek Out Over

Photo by Varaine. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0Summer’s coming which for me brings visions of lounging in the sun with a nice glass of rosé and something geeky to read.

As I get my summer reading list in order, here are a few new wine books that are being released in May and June.

Rosé Cocktails: 40 deliciously different pink-wine based drinks by Julia Charles. Released May 8th.

Speaking of rosé, I must admit that I shudder at thought of “frosé” with its syrupy sweet slushie take on the Provençal classic. Soda-pop wine cocktails have never been my thing. But my curiosity is piqued at what talented bartenders can do crafting serious wine-based cocktail recipes. The popularity of Sherry cocktails has helped sparked new life and interest in the phenomenal wines of Jerez–taking Sherries out of your grandmother’s decanter and turning them into Adonis.

I fret that with the flood of really crappy rosés on the market, we may need to hit rock-bottom first with our brosé, frosé, 40 oz bottles and gummy bears before we’ll get a “renaissance” of taking rosé seriously again. Judging from the book’s description, Rosé Cocktails may not be a rudder steering us towards that seriousness (compared to say Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan’s Rosé Wine and Elizabeth Gabay’s Rosé: Understanding the pink wine revolution which have thankfully less liberal mentionings of “frosé”) but I’m hopeful that Charles’ book will at least offer the bros 39 other options apart from turning their rosés into wannabe frozen margaritas.

A Short History of Drunkenness: How, Why, Where, and When Humankind Has Gotten Merry from the Stone Age to the Present by Mark Forsyth. Released May 8th.

Considering this is written by the same guy (The Inky Fool) who wrote the uber-geeky The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language, I have a feeling that there will be a lot of fun word play and nerdy trivia in this 286 page “short history”.

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

Frankly a couple glasses of Madiera puts me in the mood more to cuddle with dogs than anything else.


In fact, I would LOVE to see a book focusing on the etymology of grape names and wine words. You can find bits and pieces of things in various books (like Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes) but even that doesn’t go quite into detail about things like how did the Esgana Cão (Sercial) grape of Madeira and Bucelas DOC get the name “dog strangler”?

Wine Grapes suggests that it was because of the grape’s “fiery acidity” but that makes more sense as an explanation for the Friuli red grape Tazzelenghe (tongue cutter) than it does for “dog strangling”. Then you have Mourvedre which has a similar synonym “Estrangle Chien” that is instead attributed to the grape’s high tannins and tough skins.

I’m not expecting A Short History of Drunkenness to clear any of that up but mostly I’m just excited by Forsyth’s foray into the world of wine and hopeful that he’ll keep applying his sharp wit and geeky gifts to more vinous volumes.

Tasting the Past: The Science of Flavor and the Search for the Origins of Wine by Kevin Begos. Release date June 12th.

Wine wasn’t necessarily “invented” but its ancient origins and how civilizations accidentally discovered it, time and time again, is a fascinating topic. Two must-reads for those wanting to geek out about wine’s origins are Patrick McGovern’s Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture and Hugh Johnson’s Vintage: The Story of Wine.

From the book’s description, it looks like Tasting the Past is going to focus on Begos’ personal journey through the modern remnants of ancient wine cultures in the Mediterranean, Middle East, Caucasus and the Americas–probably intermingling with historical details of wine origins in those places. That is an interesting approach that will be different from McGovern and Johnson’s work or even Paul Lukacs’ 2007 book Inventing Wine: A New History of One of the World’s Most Ancient Pleasures.

I’m particularly intrigued by Tasting the Past’s promise to explore “distinctive wines from a new generation of local grapes” which suggests plenty of geeky fodder involving unique grape varieties and characterful wines that depart from the “same ole, same ole”.

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