Friday, August 28, 2009

Harvest Time!

Today we kicked off the 2009 harvest at Woodward Canyon. Rick and the guys brought in two loads of chardonnay grapes from our Estate Vineyard this morning and sent them through the whole cluster press. This is where the entire grape clusters are pressed very gently to extract the juice. Whole cluster pressing is often used in the production of high quality whites and minimizes the amount of malic acid and tannins that are naturally found in the skins and stems. From there we will move all the juice into stainless steel tanks overnight before it is moved again into new French oak barrels and neutral barrels where the yeast is added and fermentation is started.
And our first day of harvest coincides very well with the pre-harvest party put on by the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance for all the members in celebration of the upcoming harvest. So we’ll get together one last time before winemakers’ wives become harvest widows for another year.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Woodward Canyon's Vineyard Tour

Can you believe it’s August already? And, can you believe that we are going on almost 10 straight days of pushing into triple digits on the thermostat? I remember, what seems like only a month ago, sitting around thinking Mother Nature had forgotten us and dreaming about sunny weather. I’m not complaining though, I’d much rather have 100 degree weather than the rain and snow that seemed to drag much farther into the spring than I would have liked. The one day I wouldn’t have minded the weather being a little cooler was last Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Rick took the tasting room staff on a tour of some of Woodward Canyon’s primary vineyards. At 7:00 AM, with coffee in hand, we headed out for the Charbonneau Vineyard, which is located just East of the Snake River and about 12 miles East of Pasco, Washington. Started in 1981, it is roughly 40-acres of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, riesling, chardonnay, semillon and sauvignon blanc. We source cabernet sauvignon and merlot, from blocks that were planted in 1981, that we blend together to make our Charbonneau Red (sorry, currently sold out) during select years.

Leaving Charbonneau Vineyard, we drove around Pasco heading for Sagemoor Vineyard. Sagemoor was founded in 1968 by Alec Bayless and is one of the oldest producing vineyards in the state. It is just North of Pasco and overlooking the Columbia River. We source a large amount of our “Old Vines” (sold out of our current vintage, older vintages available in magnums) and “Artist Series” fruit from Sagemoor. We made a quick stop to look at the grape clusters and the vines, where on some of our older blocks, Blocks 3 and 9, planted in 1972, the trunks looked more like little trees than vines. I was pleasantly surprised to see the first signs of veraison (where the grapes turn from green to purple) on some of the clusters in Block 3, which is primarily used for “Old Vines” Cabernet.

Next on the tour was the Champoux Vineyard in the Horse Heaven AVA outside of Alderdale, Washington. The original, older blocks of Champoux were planted in 1972, making them some of the older vines in Washington. Rick, a partner in the Champoux Vineyard along with Quilceda Creek, Andrew Will, Badger Mountain/Powers and Vineyard Manager Paul Champoux, started using fruit from the Champoux Vineyard, known then as Mercer Ranch Vineyard, in 1977 for his own personal wine. Today, we pull fruit from Block 1 and 2 and from Circle Block for the “Old Vines” and from Block 3 and Baby ‘Poux for the “Artist Series”. My favorite part of Champoux was the Circle Block, named for the method of irrigation for that one particular block. It is a form of overhead irrigation with a central pivot that rotates over the crop to irrigate.

Then it was an hour and a half drive to White Salmon for lunch before heading up to the Celilo Vineyard. Celilo was probably the most impressive vineyard on the tour because of the view. Looking out East was a spectacular view of the Columbia River Gorge and to the West, on a clear day, you can see all the way to Mount Hood. Unfortunately for us, it was a bit hazy and the view to Mount Hood wasn’t as clear as it normally is. The vines, themselves, were much taller than the other vineyards we had visited, having been trained that way using the Scott Henry trellising system. Scott Henry, from Henry Estate Winery, designed this method to help encourage his vines to ripen more fruit rather than more shoots and leaves. Rick has been using Celilo fruit for close to 20 years, sometimes bottling a single vineyard designated chardonnay but more often blending it with fruit from our Woodward Canyon Estate Vineyard to produce the Washington State Chardonnay. Celilo, which is normally much cooler than our Estate Vineyard and sees more rainfall annually, produces fruit with higher acidity that blends well with our Estate fruit to produce a wine that is beautifully balanced.

Leaving Celilo, we then trekked the three hours back to Woodward Canyon. I have a new found respect for Rick and Kevin who take turns making that drive to check on the vineyards numerous times throughout the year. Stopping at all the vineyards made for a long day, and we didn’t even have to do any grape sampling. But it was fun to get out of the tasting room for the day and to actually see the vineyards that we talk about all the time and use in our wines. I now have a much better understanding of where our wines come from before I ever lay eyes on them. And a quick thanks to Bob Pruett, our weekend tasting room associate, for all the great pictures throughout the tour!

2009 Wine Bloggers Conference

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend the North American Wine Bloggers Conference, or the WBC, which is the second annual conference that is attended by wine bloggers, wine industry, wine media and those just interested in wine. And, I am still trying to catch up on sleep from my weekend in Sonoma. It was three fantastic days of nothing but food, wine and blogging about food and wine. And the good news for those who have not heard yet, is that the WBC is coming to Walla Walla next year, June 25th through June 27th. I can’t wait to introduce some of the bloggers to our wines for the first time.

I started my journey to Sonoma Thursday evening, by flying out of Walla Walla and through Seattle on my way to San Francisco. It turned into quite the trip when I just about missed my connecting flight in Seattle because the boarding gate had changed from what was printed on my boarding pass in Walla Walla. A quick ride on the airporter and an even quicker run through the airport got us to the gate just in time to board for our final destination. Two hours later, an hour and a half flight and thirty minutes of circling, and we were in one of my favorite cities, San Francisco! Too bad I didn’t have a free day to spending roaming the streets.

It was up early the next morning so that I could catch my shuttle that would take me the two hours to Santa Rosa and the Flamingo, where the conference was being held. Upon checking in, it was time to meet and greet, catch lunch and do some wine tasting. Then, it was time for live wine blogging, which is basically sixty seconds to taste a wine and blog or “tweet” about it to the online masses. Next up was the 2009 American Wine Blog Awards and then dinner with Chris Alden as the keynote speaker. The day ended with the after-hours party hosted by the Russian River Valley Winegrowers. The after-hours party was really just Russian River Wineries showing up to pour their wines for us to taste. Every where I looked were pinots. It’s always fun to try something different and that we aren’t producing anymore.

Saturday morning was a fantastic day to be at the WBC. It started off with breakfast and seminars by Barry Schuler of Meteor Vineyards and Jim Gordon of Wines and Vines Magazine at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, or as it was called that morning, the Original CIA. Then it was time to play the lottery and board the shuttle for the days travels through Napa. I really do believe that it was playing the lottery, because each shuttle had a different route for the day. I think I lucked out when I got on to shuttle #2! I really don’t know how anyone’s day could have beat ours!

Lunch, for us, was at Stags' Leap where we had a beautifully catered lunch around their fire safe pond, while listening to Vineyard Manager Kirk Grace speak on “Napa Green.” After a quick walk through the vineyard we hopped back on the shuttle for our next destination, Palmaz Vineyards, where Palmaz, Madonna and Viader hosted us to a nice tasting and covered the topic of family-owned and generations in the wine industry. The facility at Palmaz is pretty spectacular. Carved out of the side of Mount George, the height of the wine cave is equivalent to an 18 storey building. Next stop on our day was at Quintessa for the Napa Grand Tasting, where 40 wineries showed up to pour their Cabernets for us. Thankfully, there were a few whites and bubbles mixed in, that helped me refresh my palate.

Final stop on the tour was dinner at Domaine Chandon, in the Etoile Restaurant, which was hosted by Parry Cellars, Louis M. Martini, O’Brien Estate, Newton and of course Domaine Chandon. We had a wonderful three-course meal paired with eight different wines. The meal was amazing! We were greeted at the door with a sparkling cocktail, made from their dry sparkling wine, ice and a little lime. Our first course was the corn chowder with Dungeness crab and paired with the O’Brien Chardonnay and the Newton Chardonnay. Next we moved onto the roasted beef tenderloin with summer legumes, chanterelle mushrooms and Umbrian black truffle all paired with the Domaine Chandon Pinot Noir, Louis M. Martini Lot No 1 Cabernet, Louis M. Martini Cabernet, O’Brien Merlot and the Parry Cellars Cabernet. We finished off dinner with a Valrhona chocolate pate with summer berries paired with the Domaine Chandon Pinot Meunier. I was so full I was afraid that they were going to have to roll me out to the shuttle. After the bumpy and curvy two hour ride back to the Flamingo, I must admit, that I had to skip the after-hours party which was hosted by ViniPortugal and the European WBC.

Sunday, I spent the day traveling back to Walla Walla, which I finally got in at 9:00. It had been a really long day, but well worth the trip! It was great to see the difference between Napa and Walla Walla. As much as I loved being down there though, it was so nice to see home. It made me really appreciate my little comfortable tasting room and lack of traffic on the roads. It was also good that I got to see how the WBC ran and what we were going to have to do to make WBC10 a success in Walla Walla next year. I know that I, for one, can’t wait until we are invaded by bloggers!