WBC15, Anyone?

Dear Fellow Wine Bloggers,

The Wine Bloggers Conference is in 2 ½ months and I am really looking forward to it for three reasons. First, the rock star of wine writing and a personal hero to all of us, Karen MacNeil will be speaking. Last March, my friend, Rebecca and I got to hear her speak (as well as meet her!) at the Women for WineSense event in Napa, and it was no surprise to either of us that Ms. MacNeil is as poised and eloquent in public speaking as her graceful, sophisticated writing would lead one to believe. We were debating whether or not to make the trip across the country for the WBC15. Once we heard that KM would be there, there was no more debate. We’d rather not think of ourselves as stalkers. We’re more like roadies, bandies, MacNeil-heads if you will. So, thank you Ms. MacNeil for giving us the impetus to sign up for the Wine Bloggers Conference.

I am, also looking forward to exploring the upstate New York wine region. We don’t see a lot of New York State wines out here in the west. I am excited to taste the wines (especially the Rieslings) and get to know the vineyards of the area.

But, mostly, Fellow Wine Bloggers, I am really looking forward to meeting some, hopefully, many of you. I hope a lot of you will be there. Let me know in the comments if you are attending and I will look for you. But I promise, I won’t stalk you.

Cheers!

Happy Mother’s Day

2007 Nevada Desert

It’s not that I only think about this one week-end a year.  I, as I’m sure many of you, frequently think about what is the most important responsibility of parenting.  One of the obvious goals is  to teach our kids to be good citizens.  We want our kids to be kind to other people and to contribute in some positive way to society in a way that makes them happy.  But I don’t think that that is the most important job of being a mother.

Hand versus land is the wine equivalent to nature versus nurture.  Some wine makers produce their wine through practices such as adding tannins or acids or chaptalizing the wine to increase the alcohol.  Some grape growers take a ‘hands off’ approach to the wine.  They harvest, press and bottle the wine, but do very little else to alter how the wine will taste.  Great wines can be made in both scenarios.  But imagine a wine maker growing a delicate grape like Pinot Noir, then being dissatisfied with the lower tannins and the red fruit aromas and using additives to give the wine denser tannins and aromas of blackberry and currant to make it more like a Cabernet Sauvignon, all the while missing the nuanced complexity that the Pinot Noir has to offer.  Imagine a winemaker mistaking the soaring acidity of a great Riesling for a fault, and diluting the wine to soften its crispness.

That I think is the most important job of parenting; not just to raise our kids to be good citizens, but to let them see their best qualities and give them the confidence to embrace who they are.

Happy Mother’s Day!Oregon, April, 2015 075

Columbia Valley Gorge Wines; Small Production, Big Variety

Oregon, April, 2015 049In the 1980’s and 1990’s the Columbia Valley Gorge was just beginning to be planted with vineyards. The grapes of those vineyards were used in other regions to be made into wine. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that wineries began to appear in the gorge. Today there are 17 wineries on the Oregon side producing wines from a variety of grapes including Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Barbera, Grenache, Syrah and Zinfandel to name a few. They are small production wineries, making under 10000 cases annually. Many of the wines from this region are only available in Oregon and Washington shops and restaurants and through the wineries’ websites. It is both the exclusivity of the wines and the newness of the region that make the Columbia Gorge such an exciting area to explore.

Founded in 2004, Mt. Hood Winery is situated within view of its namesake mountain, the snow-cap a stunning contrast to the green vineyards. Owned by the Bickford family their production is a modest 2500 cases annually overseen by Rich Cushman who is also the winemaker and owner of Viento Winery.Mt. Hood Winery Pinot Noir

The 2014 Estate Dry Riesling is light and crisp with fruit, floral and citrus aromas. The 2014 Estate Pinot Noir Rosé has aromas of sweet and tangy strawberries with an earthy finish. The 2013 Estate Pinot Noir has spice and red fruit aromas with undertones of mushroom. The 2012 Zinfandel, aged in French oak, has aromas of dark cherries and coffee. The 2012 Barbera is tangy red fruit, dark cherries and anise. The Summit Red is a blend of 80% Pinot Noir, 10% Tempranillo and 10% Syrah. The aromas are dark fruit and spice. The 2010 Syrah has smoky blackberry and leather aromas.

Mt. Hood Winery is located at 2882 Van Horn Drive in Hood River, Oregon. Their website is www.mthoodwinery.com

The Pines 1852

With over 75% of the vineyards planted in Pinot Noir, it is no wonder that Oregon is known primarily for that grape. But this state is no one-hit wonder. Nowhere is that more true than in the Columbia Gorge where variety is the way of life.

Downtown Hood RiverThe town of Hood River was incorporated in 1895, growing out of a farming community that began to develop in the middle of the century. Like most of the Columbia Gorge, Hood River is located between two very different climates, a rain forest to the west and a high desert to the east. In this cross section of climates, fruits such as apples, cherries and pears have been grown for over a century. Grapes, too, were planted, but mostly for personal use. The first wineries didn’t spring up on the Oregon side until the early 2000’s .

The Pines 1852 began as a dairy farm with a few grape vines for family use. After planting vineyards throughout the 1980’s, the owner, Lonnie Wright established the winery in 2001. Now, with 20 acres of vineyards in the Columbia Gorge, The Pines 1852 produces several varieties including Pinot Gris, Viognier, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir and over-100 year old Zinfandel.

The 2013 Pinot Gris is very clean with pear and apple aromas and very little minerality. The 2012 Viognier, made with grapes from the Dalles, has Oregon Wine 011aromas of apricot, nutmeg, and flowers with a mineral finish. The 2012 Pinot Noir is smooth and tangy with bright fruit flavors of raspberry and cranberry. The grapes are from vineyards in both the gorge and the Dalles. The 2013 Big Red is a blend of 40% Merlot, 20 % Syrah, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Zinfandel. It tastes of creamy cherries and oak. The 2012 Merlot has aromas of rich dark cherries. And the Old Vine Zin made with grapes from vines planted in the 1890’s, the oldest vines in the northwest, has deep, spicy dark and red fruit aromas. It is quite rich and elegant.

The Pines 1852 Tasting RoomThe Pines 1852 tasting room is in downtown Hood River at 202 Cascade Avenue. Their website is http://www.thepinesvineyard.com/

Tasting and Contemplation

RoxyAnn 2011 TempranilloPalate fatigue is a common experience in the tasting room. After several tastes, even when spitting, it becomes more difficult to define each wine clearly on its own merits. But, palate fatigue aside, there is something else missing when tasting wines by the dozens. A brief few minutes with one wine among 30 or more can’t do most wines the justice they deserve.

RoxyAnn’s 2011 Rogue Valley Tempranillo in the tasting room had aromas of leather and oak with undertones of cherry and blueberry. It felt full-bodied and rich. At home, over the course of the evening with a plate of chorizo and tomatoes, and later, on its own, the Tempranillo presented aromas of leather, mineral, and dark cherries with a coffee aftertaste. The wine felt deep and rich with soft smooth tannins and a crisp acidity. But something I noticed while spending time with this wine that wasn’t as clear to me in the tasting room was how well integrated the wine is. The elements of the wine, the alcohol, acidity and tannins are all well balanced. But beyond that, the flavors of the wine are in perfect harmony with each other, as if leather, mineral, dark cherry and coffee were all holding hands and leaning backwards with equal amounts of tension, each flavor offering perfect balance to the others.

Many things in our environment can effect how we taste and experience wine; music, mood, the people we are with, the weather. But many wines demand and deserve more than a quick sip. Some wines’ complexity can’t be appreciated in the fleeting minutes we give them in a tasting room. There are some wines that deserve and are worth an evening of contemplation.

 

Roxyann Winery is located at 3285 Hillcrest Road in Medford Oregon.  Their website is http://www.roxyann.com

 

Variety Carved Out in a Gorge

Route 35 to Hood RiverWe left Welches Oregon driving through a misty rain. As we climbed north toward Mt. Hood, the rain turned to light snow. Once we headed down the mountain toward Hood River, the skies cleared and the road down the mountain was dry. Within 35 miles we drove through a 20 degree change in temperature and a stark change in terrain, from wet and snowy Alpine forest, to the sunny, dry, rolling green farms of the river valley.Hood River

Columbia Gorge on the Oregon side is a combination of three climates; maritime, continental and alpine. As with the San Pablo winds in Napa Valley and the Mistral winds in the Rhone Valley, wind is a major factor in the Columbia Gorge valley as well. The Gorge acts as a funnel for cool ocean air creating a constant wind of about 10 miles per hour. Within a 40 mile stretch from 60 miles east of Portland to the Deschutes River, rain accumulation ranges from 50 inches to 10 inches decreasing by 1 inch for every mile traveled east. Altitudes of the vineyards range from just above sea level to 2000 feet. The soils are silt, sand and loess from the Missoula Floods and volcanic mud and ash from ancient and still active volcanoes. With so much variety of climate, rainfall, altitude and soil, it is no wonder that the Columbia Gorge does not claim any single grape as its specialty. Like its terroir, the Gorge specializes in variety.

Cathedral Ridge Winery VineyardCathedral Ridge Winery was founded in 2003 by Robb Bell. He, along with Michael Sebastiani of the famous Sonoma family, serve as wine makers. With over 100 vineyard acres in the varying terroirs of Columbia Gorge, Cathedral Ridge grows many different varieties of grapes including both cool climate and warm climate grapes.

The 2012 Pinot Gris is clean and crisp with a lot of fruit aroma and a subtle minerality. The 2013 Chardonnay made in neutral oak has creamy pear aromas with a hint of citrus. The Halbtrocken is a Pinot Noir and Riesling blend. It is tart and crisp like a rosé with aromas of cranberry and strawberry with a clean, dry finish. The 2012 Riesling has aromas of petrol and crisp apples with a juicy finish. The 2012 Necessity Red is a blend of Pinot Noir, Merlot and Zinfandel. It is earthy with spicy berry aromas. The 2012 Tempranillo has aromas of leather and tobacco with hints of juicy cherries. The 2012 Cabernet Sauignon has aromas of cedar, herbs and blueberries. The 2012 Bangsund Pinot Noir, grown in the rainy vineyards of the west has aromas of rose water and red cherries. The 2012 Dampier Pinot Noir, grown in dryer vineyards to the east has aromas of spicy red fruit with smooth as satin tannins.

 

Oregon Wine 003

With so many terroirs and so many grapes, it is no wonder that the Columbia Valley Gorge has not honed in on any one variety as its specialty. It is a young region still finding its place in the wine world. That variation and experimentation is what makes the Gorge such an exciting area to explore.

Cathedral Ridge Winery is located at 4200 Post Canyon Drive in Hood River.  Their website is http://www.cathedralridgewinery.com

 

Honor in Southern Oregon

Southern OregonWhile Oregon is known for its Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, southern Oregon excels in Bordeaux and Rhone Valley varieties as well as in Spain’s Tempranillo. Rogue Valley’s warmer temperatures are the key factor to the success of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Viognier and Tempranillo.

RoxyAnn Winery was founded in 2002 in Medford, Oregon on 20 acres of limestone and clay soil terroir. Formerly Hillcrest Orchard, tastings are held in the Honor Barn, a 1917 remnant of that orchard.  The structure was given its name while the property was still operating as an orchard.  Customers would take their fresh fruit and leave payment in an honor box.  During my visit the tasting room was fully staffed.RoxyAnn Tasting Room

RoxyAnn is a small production winery with about 15,000 cases per year. But that small production garners some high point ratings including a 90 point from Wine Spectator Tempranillo.

The 2012 Viognier has tropical fruit aromas with soft acidity and a musky heat. The tropical fruit flavors of pineapple and banana linger on the finish of this full, round white wine.

RoxyAnn 2011 TempranilloThe award winning 2011 Tempranillo has leather and oak aromas with undertones of cherry and blueberry. Full bodied and well balanced, it is a rich and satisfying wine.

The 2010 Syrah as deep, dark cherry and mocha aromas with a hint of pepper and iron. It is smooth, dark and juicy.

Roxyann is located at 3285 Hillcrest Road in Medford, Oregon.  Their web address is www.roxyann.com    The Honor Barn is open daily for tastings from 11 am to 6 pm.