Washington state ranks second in the US in wine production, behind only California. Washington has twelve federally defined American Viticultural Areas (AVA) with all but one in Eastern Washington. The largest AVA is the Columbia Valley AVA, which extends into a bit of northern Oregon and encompasses most of the other Washington AVAs. These include Walla Walla , Horse Heaven Hills, Wahluke Slope, Lake Chelan, Naches Heights, and Yakima Valley, which in turn also encompasses Rattlesnake Hills, Snipes Mountain and Red Mountain. In our short trip to the area, we traveled through the majority of these locations!
Grapes were first planted in Walla Walla by Italian immigrants a very long time ago – it was in the 1950s and 1960s, the precursors of the state’s biggest wineries (Chateau Ste Michelle and Columbia Winery) began. While many grape varietals thrive throughout Washington, the dominant ones are Rieslings, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. In our opinion the big boy is the Merlot with bright intense flavor and lush texture. It is said that in California, Merlot is added to Cabernet Sauvignon to soften it, but in Washington, Cabernet Sauvignon is added to help soften the Merlot.
Columbia River Valley
Grapes ripening in Horse Heaven Hills
95 points of yum!
Barrels at Columbia Crest
L’Ecole converted school house
2011 Ferguson – sold out
Wino Crossing sign at Va Piano
Lavender in bloom
Blending classroom at Northstar
Adamant team – he makes wine, she does the artwork
Cute winery dog at Adamant
Horse Heaven Hills
Besides the wine, the state has gorgeous scenery. Check out our videos at Snoqualmie Falls and Mount Ranier below.
Today we are in iconic Napa Valley. Our first stop is not the usual tourist hot spot. We have an appointment at Tamber Bey.
According to their website: “Vintner Barry Waitte founded Tamber Bey Vineyards in 1999, when he purchased a 60-acre vineyard in the Yountville Appellation and an 11-acre property in the renowned Oakville Appellation. This marked Waitte’s entry into the wine business as a grower. He immediately hired vineyard manager Josh Clark to plant and farm the properties with the goal of growing premium Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Dijon Chardonnay.”
The winery itself is located at the Sundance Ranch (an homage to Robert Redford – friend of the owners) in Calistoga, a world-class, 22-acre equestrian facility that is dedicated to training top performance horses. . The tasting room is located in the original barn clubhouse. The 16-stall barn surrounds the courtyard, where guests can taste wine and mingle with the horses. A spectacular view of Mount St. Helena and the Palisades frame the setting. The wine barrels are currently stored in what was originally a horse show ring.
The wines were great and the setting was awesome! Sue’s favorite was the Dijon Chardonnay and Paul’s was the Rabicono red blend. This is a great setting for a stop with our Napa winery group with Vino Etcetera . We are still looking for a few dedicated wine enthusiasts to get the group on it’s way!
Everything you need for horses
what looks like beer barrels are the juice for topping off the barrels as they age
We recently had the privilege to take a group of friends on a trip to the French regions of Burgundy & Provence. First we all met up in the gorgeous town of Beaune and began our adventures by taking a custom tour through Burgundy Côte d’Or, home of some of the greatest names of Burgundy wine and where all the Grand Crus vineyards are located. Burgundy is by far one of the most terroir conscious areas in France.
From our friends at Wikipedia “The wine-growing part of this area in the heart of Burgundy is just 40 kilometres (25 mi) long, and in most places less than 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) wide. The area is made up of tiny villages surrounded by a combination of flat and sloped vineyards on the eastern side of a hilly region, providing some rain and weather shelter from the prevailing westerly winds. The best wines – from Grand Cru vineyards – of this region are usually grown from the middle and higher part of the slopes, where the vineyards have the most exposure to sunshine and the best drainage, while the Premier Cru come from a little less favourably exposed slopes. The relatively ordinary “Village” wines are produced from the flat territory nearer the villages. The Côte de Nuits contains 24 out of the 25 red Grand Cru appellations in Burgundy, while all of the region’s white Grand Cru wines are in the Côte de Beaune. This is explained by the presence of different soils, which favour Pinot noir and Chardonnay, respectively. ”
You’re in Burgundy, you will drink either Pinot Noir or Chardonnay – that’s pretty much it, cause really what else do you need? Not a fan of either of these grapes? Well then you probably haven’t had the Premier and Grand Crus. These are some of the most outstanding wines on the planet!
Still not convinced? Well these guys in Burgundy are really serious about their wines – so much so that they have an order of about 12,000 knights worldwide that are devoted to it.
Our lucky group’s first stop in Burgundy was on the Routes des Grands Crus in the well-known town of Pommard at the cellars of Moissenet-Bonnard.
WIth 8 generations of grape growing and wine making, you could taste the passion and feel the enthusiasm that goes into every bottle they produce.
The favorite for our group was the Pommard Premier Cru “Les Epenots” 2007. You should go get some to enjoy with our next posting!
Overlooking the valley on the way to Moissenet
Village of Pommard
8th generation and going strong
A fantastic white
No winery is complete without a dog!
Look good? Well we can do the same thing for your group as well!
Situated on the eastern coast of the north island, Hawkes’ Bay, New Zealand is the oldest and second largest wine region in the country. It was one of the original colonial provinces when New Zealand was colonized by British settlers in the mid-nineteenth century. This flat fertile land is perfect for farming: dairy, sheep, beef, orchards and of course one of our favorite crops – grapes! It has an ideal warm, sunny and dry climate for vineyards. This is the largest premium red wine-producing region in the country with over 80% of the national vintage for Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. Within Hawke’s Bay, the vintage is divided evenly between red and white.
Perhaps the best known region within Hawkes’ Bay is Gimblett Gravels, named after the gravelly soil type laid down by the old Ngaruroro River, which was exposed after a huge flood in the 1860’s. Gimblett Gravels is home to some fantastic wineries including a couple that we visited during our trip: Te Awa and Craggy Range. We had a tasting and lunch nestled within the vineyards during our visit at Te Awa. Te Awa makes a range of outstanding wines including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah and a Cab/Merlot.
Craggy Range has one of the most amazing views from a winery tasting room that we’d ever seen. It’s pretty easy to see where the winery got its’ name from. Here’s what Anthony Rose of The Independent Newspaper, UK had to say about Craggy Range. “If you don’t know Craggy Range, get acquainted, because I can’t think of another wine company that’s managed to roll Bordeaux, Burgundy, Loire and Rhône styles into one harmonious group of wines so successfully.”
But this is not a post about either of those wineries..
This post is about a winery that we were not even looking for, Eskdale Winegrowers.
During our New Zealand trip, we had just spent the previous day exploring the “thermal zone” between Rotorua and Taupo. We had even visited the spectacularly underwhelming Lady Knox geyser! From the guidebooks, we knew that Lady Knox erupted on a daily basis at 10:15 am. What we did not know is that the Lady is “induced” to erupt by dropping a surfactant (aka soap) into the opening of the vent. At the appointed time the head geyser inducer person grabs a microphone to talk to the crowd and then strolls over to the geyser vent and tosses some soap down the hole and voila within minutes an eruption occurs! The story goes that this “secret” was first discovered when a gang of prisoners used the hot water at this location to wash their clothes. After adding soap to the mix they had one incredible surprise! OK, maybe it is not fair to call this underwhelming, but after you’ve visited Yellowstone and seen Old Faithful, this seems to be cheating … just a bit.
Upon leaving Taupo, you take the Thermal Explorer highway (route 5) to Napier and the Hawke’s Bay region. You’re now arriving in another of New Zealand’s world class wine growing regions. Before turning off of route 5 and onto the main road which heads into Napier, we stopped at Eskdale Winegrowers. As mentioned above, we were not looking for this particular winery. We we’re actually looking for another winery that starts with “Esk” as part of their name, but once we saw the beat up old sign for Eskdale we thought maybe this was the place we were looking for. It wasn’t, but it was so much more.
Once you turn off the main road, if you’ve never been there before, it’s hard to tell exactly where to go. It’s not a large commercial operation with a paved parking lot and a designer tasting room. There is a gravel road that winds around some overgrown apple trees just a bit until you reach what looks to be a barn. But it is not just any barn, it is the unique, boutique and amazing Eskdale Winegrowers winery.
Looking at the picture above, we were not quite certain that we made it to the right place, but the stainless steel tanks do speak to the fact that someone is fermenting something here. And really that is what we typically are looking for during our travels.
So we parked the car and headed inside. Now we knew we were in a winery because there was a sign leaning against an old barrel with some bottle prices listed, some wine bottles looking like they were ready to be packaged, some wine barrels and some fantastic brick cellaring bins. This is definitely a winery,and a rather charming one at that, but at the moment the only thing missing was the people. We had the place to ourselves. The old sign did say open from 9-5 and we were there between those times, but there was nobody to be found.
Not thinking it right to just start helping ourselves to the wine we called out loudly a couple of times to see if anyone was around. After a few minutes we heard a response that indicated there were people here and they’d be present in a moment. To our delight a women appeared along with a frollicking naked little girl. She explained that she was babysitting her (i think I recall correctly) granddaughter and they had been taking a nap in the yard under the trees. The little girl went to play outside and the woman asked if we would like to taste some wine. Of course we would.
Here’s is what we learned that day. The woman, whose name is Trish Salonius and her husband Kim started planting grapes here in 1973 – long before all of the other wineries in this area started. They find that the area has gotten too commercial, but will keep making wine as long as they can. All of their wines are estate grown, and they do not have always have a particular vintage every year – they just have what they have. Kim was not there that day, but Trish told us he says will make wine forever and that he will need to be buried in a wine barrel before he stops.
They did not have a frig for the whites so everything was sampled at room temperature. One thing about wine tasting is that while whites are normally best served with a chill on them, but when you taste them warm, the wine cannot “hide” any of the flavors. So a rule-of-thumb is if a white wine tastes really good warm, then it will taste quite fantastic when it is chilled. To grab a wine to taste, Trish grabbed an unlabeled bottle from the brick cellar, declaring that she thinks this is the Chardonnay, glued a label on it and opened it for us to taste. Cool – you don’t always see that everywhere!
This amazing Chardonnay was from 2006. It had spent a year in new French oak, and about 4 years in the bottle before we grabbed one. It poured with lots of deep yellow color and tasted big yet refined. Despite all the other world-class wineries we visited during our trip to New Zealand we felt that this was our greatest find. Now one might argue that the wine scorers of the world may not have given 90 or more points to this bottle, but they would be missing the point. Combine our accidental stumbling upon Eskdale Winegrowers, with the ramshackle charm of the Cellar Door, the genuine warm hospitality of the owner, grandma and granddaughter sleeping outside in the shade on a hot day when we arrived, along with the bottle labeling just prior to sampling and we’d say this baby was a 100 pointer! In fact this may be the greatest winery you’ve never heard of. During our trip, we told everyone else we talked to in the area to stop by. Even folks who lived and worked there did not typically know of Eskdale Winegrowers. We told them to hurry and go snatch up the Chardonnay before others find out.