Robert Smasne has made a name for himself in the Northwest for producing wines that show good character, varietal integrity and body. This 2010 “Ancient Stones” blend is no different.
A Rhone-style blend, it is a wine that can easily tame everything from a pot-roast to lamb shank to wild game. A good-drinking wine that shows well now and should improve over the next 5-7 years.
Vineyard: Upland Vineyard
AVA: Snipes Mountain
Varietals: 52% Grenache, 26% Mouvedre, 19% Syrah and 3% Viognier
30-percent ferment, on-stem
Cooperage: 17 months on 100% French Oak
On the nose: Gorgeous notes of peppered rhubarb, raspberry, strawberry, toasted peppercorns, allspice, charred kale, tanned leather and a hint of cola.
On the palate: A nearly sublime blend of red berries, cherries, leather and spice. A very complex blend that showcases how good Washington State Rhone-style wines can be. A near-perfect combination of fruit, acid and tannin that all lead into a finish that make your tongue its bitch and demand that you keep swallowing more and more.
WALLA WALLA, WA- Originally created to highlight several of the leading wine varieties produced in the Walla Walla Valley wine region and provide an opportunity to learn more about these varieties and how they compare across some of the world’s leading wine producing regions, the 2013 Celebrate wine event drew 472 attendees from throughout the continental United States and Hawaii. Attendees purchased 905 tickets to six different events throughout the weekend.
Event organizers revealed that over 65 percent of the attendees were visiting from more than 50 miles away. According to Duane Wollmuth, executive director of the event’s organizer, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, “we saw visitors from all parts of the U.S., including Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas, Tennessee, Hawaii, California, the Pacific Northwest states, and elsewhere. This is a great testament to the attraction of not only the Celebrate event, but also our wines and the Walla Walla community.”
Although the 2013 Celebrate weekend had a focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, attendees also had an opportunity to taste many other Walla Walla Valley wines at three wine receptions. In addition, they were afforded a unique opportunity to learn more about and compare how Cabernet Sauvignon wines differ between the Walla Walla and Napa Valleys. This comparison was made possible at a panel presentation and tastings of 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon wines provided by three Walla Walla Valley winemakers (Rick Small – Woodward Canyon, Chris Figgins – Leonetti Cellar, and Jean Francois Pellet – Pepper Bridge Winery) and three Napa Valley winemakers (Phillip Corallo-Titus – Chappellet, Jeff Ames – Rudius, and Landon Donley – Spottswoode Estate Winery). Another highlight of the weekend was the appearance and presentations by Patrick Comiskey (Wine & Spirits Magazine) and Paul Gregutt (Wine Enthusiast Magazine), two of IntoWine.com’s top 100 most influential people in the U.S. wine industry, and Dr. Kevin Pogue, geologist and noted wine industry consultant.
“We believe the weekend’s format was a big draw,” stated Wollmuth. Over 95 percent of attendees felt the weekend’s schedule was unique and that it provided something new. One attendee described the Celebrate weekend as “Awesome.” Another summarized their Celebrate experience as having a “Great topic, great venue(s), fun town and terrific weather.” Other key findings of the attendee survey were that 92 percent rated the weekend as Very Good or Excellent, and over 93 percent said they were Very or Extremely Likely to recommend the event to a friend.
Headline sponsors of the 2013 Celebrate event were Banner Bank and Wine & Spirits Magazine. Principal community sponsors included the City of Walla Walla, Port of Walla Walla, Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, and Tourism Walla Walla.
The Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine event will continue next year with a focus on Syrah, and a comparison of the Walla Walla Valley to the world’s other leading Syrah producing regions. Guest Syrah winemakers are expected to be announced by early fall, 2013. Next year’s Celebrate weekend is scheduled to take place on June 19 – 21.
A sister winery of Pepperbridge in Walla Walla – Amavi allows winemaker, Jean-François Pellet, to have some fun with other varietals of grapes that don’t fall under the model of Pepper Bridge. This Syrah from the Walla Walla Les Collines vineyard is showing very well right now – let’s dive into it.
Varietal(s): 100% Syrah
Vineyard(s): 52% Les Collines, 35% Seven Hills, 15% Pepper Bridge
Appellation: Walla Walla Valley
Oak Program: 100% French oak;
14% new, 86% used
Harvest Date(s): October 4-27, 2010
Finished Alcohol: 14.5% by volume
Total Production: 1,281 cases
Bottling Date(s): February 16, 2012
Release Date: May 4, 2012
On the nose: Blackened plum sauce, peppercorn, bacon fat, violet, a hint of pencil lead, licorice and a match stick.
On the palate: A nearly sublime Syrah experience in that it does a splendid job of combing fruit, acid and tannin in a tremendous way. I love the mix of dark fruit, a hint of blueberry and smokiness that comes across on the palate here. It’s an easy pick for marinated beef or wild game. Beautiful mid-palate transition with a finish that hangs out for quite awhile.
Avennia Winery is a relative new-comer to the Washington wine scene and specializes in what I feel is one of Washington’s strong-points and that is red blends. It does make a Sauvignon Blanc and straigh Syrah as well but those are for a different review, in this one, we take a look at the 2010 Avennia Gravura Red Wine.
Appellation: Columbia Valley
Blend: 54% Cabernet Sauvignon
40% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc
Vineyards: 31% Red Willow Cab, planted 1985
24% Bacchus Cab, planted 1972
24% Red Willow Merlot, planted 1985
15% Klipsun Merlot, planted 2000
6% Bacchus Cab Franc, planted 1998
Ageing: 50% new French oak for 20 months
Release: February 2013
On the nose: Violet, bing cherries, raspberry, black licorice, black currant, allspice, old leather glove, dark cocoa and peppercorns.
On the palate: Good complexity of flavors mentioned on the nose but I’m also getting a bit of nice tartness, sort of reminds me of a little rhubarb action and I appreciate that quite a bit. Good acids and tannin structure should help this wine lay down for 8-12 years and go well with beef, blackened salmon, bison or an herb-crusted lamb-chop.
Let’s face it, American Viticulture Areas are a “brand” – they’re a brand of a geographical area that grows grapes. They help customers become familiar with the various regions and sub-regions of vineyards all over the country. The reason wineries love them is because they can bottle wine, stamp a specific AVA on the bottle and assuming the potential customer knows the “brand” of that AVA, it could help sales.
There’s a strong argument that consumers around the USA and perhaps the world, know the “brand” of Walla Walla better than Columbia Valley – it’s cool to say and it’s a way cooler city to visit then the seemingly lifeless towns that litter the Columbia Valley. I know, personally, of many wine lovers who, when given a bottle of wine from Washington, will ask “is this from Walla Walla”? I can’t recall – ever – having someone from out of Washington State ask, “is this from Columbia Valley”? So I guess in that regard, the brand of the Walla Walla AVA is well on its way.
They say that the “devil is in the details” and when it comes to telling the story of the Walla Walla AVA, nothing could resound more true. While it’s true that the AVA bears the name of a Washington State city, the truth that’s not really being told per se is that 60% of the fruit from that AVA comes from Oregon and closer to 70% will be coming from there in the next year or so – how is that you ask?
AVAs are not at all bound by man-made boarders – they follow geographical areas and the Walla Walla AVA is only one of two in the entire USA that crosses state lines. So why is this a big deal? Well if you’re a grower or winery in the great state of Oregon then you’d want to make sure that people realize what’s going on in the northeast corner of that start and can hopefully rid themselves of the notion – once and for all – that Oregon only does great Pinot Noir.
Having the tremendously huge “brand” of the Willamette Valley is a blessing and somewhat of a curse in that the Pinot Noir produced there does in fact seem to overshadow all the great things Oregon is doing with other grapes – Bordeaux and Rhone varietals to be a bit more specific.
There are a couple of things to bear in mind when thinking of the Oregon side of this AVA – “the hills” and “the rocks” – if you ever hear those terms when speaking of wines made from the fruit of this region then you should know that “the rocks” is the area where wines such as the famous Cayuses Vineyards are made – i.e. tons of fruit, silky smooth but not very high acids. To the contrary, the grapes that come from the southern-most vineyards have higher elevation and low rock-counts have higher acids and tend to be a bit more food-friendly.
Here’s a quick run-down of some of the players who are helping to make this such an incredible wine area:
Seven Hills Vineyard Site:
Norm McKibben is one of the most prolific people in the Washington wine business – he’s been at it for longer than most, has invested millions of dollars and countless hours into making northwest wines better – he’s an owner in Pepper Bridge Winery as well as being often referred to as a “founding-father” of Walla Walla wine. But more importantly to this story is his backing of the Seven Hills Vineyard site just outside the town of Milton-Freewater.
Sitting at 235-acres, one of the things that makes this site so incredible is the various soil types and many micro-climates it encompasses. As you can see from the two pictures below, it starts out with an incredibly rocky, basalt-laden form of the earth near the top of the vineyard and as it drops down towards the valley floor turns into much softer soil.
Of course the views from up top are great, however, they also can help provide a sense of what the greater part of this AVA looks like from a topographical standpoint. One can easily see all the lush, green, almost endless land that abounds here so I hope it helps imprint a nice visual of what things look like the next time you sip on a wine from the “Seven Hills Vineyard” in the Walla Walla AVA.
This view is looking down the hill in a northwest direction towards the Tero Estate Winery (located just to the direct west of those grain silos).
Looking back up the hill of Seven Hills Vineyard, one can sort of get an idea of the levels of elevation we’re talking about here – anywhere from 850-1050ft.
Here we see one of the Estate Vineyards of Zerba Cellars – Cecil and Marilyn Zerb started this winery years ago, right near the heart of Milton-Freewater. Today it produces wines from a massive selection of varietals, many of which are sourced from their fruit on the Oregon side of the AVA. Just a few short years ago they hired winemaker Doug Nierman and have been winning tons of awards for his careful handling of their tasty fruit.
Located in downtown Milton-Freewater is the Watermill winery owned by the Brown family which got its start decades ago, growing apples in the local area. Today they have a cidery which produces around 80,000 cases of cider and of course the Watermill winery which is churning out around 4,000 cases.
Watermill’s passion, know-how and “get er’ done” mindset has placated very well for this relatively newcomer to the wine scene. Andrew Brown is the winemaker and as you can see from the video above, is about as down to earth as anyone gets.
Tero Estate Winery:
Another winery in the greater Milton-Freewater area is Tero Estate – started just a few short years ago by Doug and Jan Roskelly, this is a winery that has been garnering a ton of high praise for its ability to produce wines that reflect its own Windrow Vineyard and really showcase the terroir of that area just right down the hill from Seven Hills Vineyard.
I had the chance to sample their wines produce from their estate vineyards with Ashley Trout and can tell you, first-hand, that they are doing an admirable job on their wines and I’m excited for what their future holds.
Don Carlo Vineyards:
Tim and Lori Kennedy started this small winery not too long ago and have really done a great job making headway – yes, that is Tim of “Tim’s Cascade Style Chips”. This duo has Lori making the wine and Tim helping in the vineyard and in the sales. They produce only four wines at this time – a Cab, Merlot, Cab Franc and Chardonnay – all estate-grown.
Wrapping it up:
The next time you pick up any bottle of wine that is stamped with the “Walla Walla Valley” AVA you should get a hold of the winery and find out a bit more of where the fruit came from. Doing so may help give better insight to its origin and ultimately help everyone understand that the great state of Oregon is far more than just world-class Pinot Noir.
I’d encourage everyone to try a bottle from the wineries mentioned and make sure to ask if the wine is from the Oregon side – and ultimately anyone serious about Walla Walla wine owes it to themselves to visit the Milton-Freewater area and get to know the fruit and the people who are directly responsible for helping the Walla Walla “brand” look as good as it is.
All too many people outside of the Rogue Valley / Applegate Valley in southern Oregon know about the great wines that are coming out of that region. Viognier – when done well – is one of my favorite white wine varietals as I’m a huge sucker for aromatics.
RoxyAnn is a small-to-medium-sized winery in Medford Oregon and produces quite a wide variety of wines from grapes which would be off-limits to the Willamette Valley. This Viognier has gone though barrel fermentation on mostly neutral oak so it retains a nice roundness on the palate without being too oaky.
Blend: 100% Viognier
Vineyard Source: 100% Estate
Cooperage: 100% Barrel fermentation, 33% New French and American Oak Barrels, 50% Malolactic Fermentation
Production: 1294 Cases
Nose: Gorgeous floral pop right off the bat – notes of violet, lavendar, peach fuzz, kiwi, pear, blood orange, white pepper and roses.
Taste: I get beautiful notes of jasmie, lavendar and peach right up front – this is closely followed with a creamy grapefruit and apircot action that’s been lightly hit with white pepper. An insanely good mid palate thanks to the full ML and oak program – it’s a Viognier that has the mouthfeel of a well-made Burgundy Chardonnay. Rounded, smooth and sexy without losing any of the beautiful floral notes that still tell you it’s Viognier.
Some wine lovers out there haven’t even heard of the grape, Petit Verdot so that alone makes them somewhat intrigued. What is it? Well, it’s one of the six red Bordeaux varietals that for the longest time was only used for blending. The reason for this is because it generally has a longer ripening time than the other Bordeaux grapes in France so it sort of fell out of favor there. However, in the New World, where hotter temperatures can help it ripen faster, it has attracted a lot of winemakers.
Richard Funk, owner and winemaker of Saviah Cellars in Walla Walla Washington has fallen in love with this wonderful grape and his current 2007 release totally reflects that love and passion.
Appellation: Walla Walla Valley
TA 0.54 g/100mL
Alcohol 14.7% By Volume
Fermentation: 36-hour cold soak; Open top fermenters with cap punched down by hand three times per day. Secondary fermentation finished in barrel.
Barrel Aging: 100% New French oak barrels
Aged 21 months
Cases Produced: 190 cases
Bottling Date: June 11, 2009
Release Date: October 1, 2010
Nose: Smells like a blackened prime-grade New York Steak – very “meaty” on the nose. Good aroma’s have charred wood, plumsauce, boysenberries, blueberry and blackberry jam.
Taste: First off, this wine kicks some major ass – it’s like a Slip-N-Slide flavorama of black licorice, blackberry jam, squid ink, plums and beef. The mouthfeel couldn’t be better and the overall “hang time” of the finish is obnoxiously long – in a good way. Easily the best Petit Verdot I’ve had anywhere at anytime. Would pair well with grilled steaks, veal meatballs or game.