I recently had the pleasure of attending the Celebrate Walla Walla Wine Festival from June 17-21, 2014 in beautiful eastern Washington. I was invited by Duane Wollmuth and Heather Bradshaw of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance (www.wallawallawine.com), with this year’s fest specifically focused on the town of the same name as well as syrah, one of the many wine grapes that grow so well within this expansive area. Thanks to all of you who followed along live with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Foursquare (I used @WWValleywine and @WinesofWA as handles in addition to my own @WineOnTheROad, and also the hashtags #WAUnfiltered and #WAWine).
What follows is my recap of the event. I include my tasting notes at the end of the column in shorthand that goes like this: appearance (if relevant)/aroma/taste/acidity & finish. If I can find a retail U.S. price then I list it, with “N/A” meaning that the wine is not generally available in the U.S.
One of the recurring themes of my visit was that there seemed to be much more travel friendly infrastructure in place than on prior tours, with a lot more planned, including a new Marriot Hotel that has the natives quite excited (scheduled to open later this year). In my opinion, this sort of construction is the only way to begin to take the “next step” as a wine region, in order to move from a rustic, seasonal business model to one that works year-round and allows, in turn, for further development of the wine business as part of a virtuous circle.
On Monday, June 16, after my arrival at Pasco Regional Airport, I grabbed a rental car and headed out to Blue Mountain Lavender Farm, open only six weeks each year (early June to mid-July) while its namesake aromatic plant blooms. This is about three quarters of the way from Pasco to Walla Walla and makes a nice diversion during its admittedly abbreviated season.
Dinner that evening was in Walla Walla at the Whitehouse Crawford restaurant alongside Ron Peck of Tourism Walla Walla, Elio Agostini from the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, and the aforementioned Duane Wollmuth. The restaurant’s beautiful space, next to the iconic Marcus Whitman Hotel and sharing a building with Seven Hills Winery, has the largest Walla Walla-based wine list in the world, as well as great selections from most other famous terroirs, including France and Italy. The food is also excellent, with the deep fried sweet onion slivers a signature dish.
Tuesday morning brought a tour of Eritage Vineyards by Justin Wylie, also of Va Piano Winery. This impressive project combines several hundred acres of grapes with rentable cottages and a hospitality center. It is still at least five years from providing hospitality but is still quite a sight.
Then came a whistle-stop tasting at Leonetti (the first winery in Walla Walla, it opened in 1977) with Amy Figgins, where I also tasted a Bordeaux blend from Figgins Winery (Figgins is the family name of the founders of Leonetti). That afternoon was spent at Northstar Winery, of which I’ve previous written quite a bit. This time I participated in their “blending experience,” where I created my own Bordeaux blend and received a quickly made bottle of that exact mixture.
That afternoon was spent with the faces behind Watermill Winery and the Blue Mountain Cider Company, a rambunctious group of rogues that’ve been involved in agriculture in Washington for a long time (as Andrew Brown, Director of Operations for Blue Mountain, said, “we’ve long grown grapes on the hills and apples on the flats”). After my tasting we all headed back to Walla Walla proper for a terrific dinner at Saffron, owned by the same family that runs next door Pho Sho.
Wednesday began with Heidi Witherspoon of Precept Brands, who took me to breakfast at the Maple Counter Café and then quickly showed me Waterbrook winery, one of their top labels. Heidi then dropped me back at the Marcus Whitman for the start of the Celebrate Walla Walla festival, specifically a press lunch where I ran into quite a few old friends, including Ian White of Modern Luxury and Sara Schneider of Sunset Magazine. After lunch we piled into our van, home for much of the next few days, and headed off to Les Collines Vineyard, where we tasted wines amidst the best view in the entire AVA.
Dinner was at Cadaretta Winery’s Glass House, a glass enclosed structure in the middle of the Southwind Vineyard. There we dined with winemakers and winery owners and discussed another of the week’s themes, that of Oregon being integral to the Walla Walla AVA, which is one of only a few U.S. viticultural regions that straddle more than one state.
Thursday dawned in the Mill Creek area, where we again tasted with a group of Walla Walla vintners. This part of the AVA is dry farmed, unusual in a desert environment, and contains many of the more famous vineyards. The soils here are very rich and relatively high in elevation, which leads to a later harvest but lower alcohol and higher acidity than in other subareas. Figgins Estate Vineyard, our last stop of the day, was planted in 2004. Other nearby Leonetti vinyards were planted in 1997 and contribute 95 percent of Leonetti’s reserve juice.
After lunch at Brasserie Four (another local hot spot), which featured lesser-known varietals, we departed for a “Vintage Pour” at Garrison Creek Cellars, tasting Walla Walla wines that were from 2007 and older. The Cameo Heights Mansion, a luxury lodging located in the dry, hilly country between Walla Walla and the small town of Touchet, was our dinner destination.
Friday brought the official Celebrate WW Kickoff at the Power House Theater, followed by a tour of The Rocks Vineyard with the esteemed Kevin Pogue, perhaps the best known of Washington’s agriculturally focused state geologists. Kevin also took us to several other vineyards that showed why this sub-AVA has the word “rocks” in its name.
The biodynamically farmed Cailloux Vineyard, which is not grafted, is over 400 feet deep in rocks! It’s also 99.99 percent basalt, which leads to superhot conditions during the day. The Cayuse Tribe Vineyard is horse tilled and thus has the densest vine plantings in the U.S. (horse power means the vines don’t need to be spaced far apart for mobile machinery. This also leads to more competition among plants and demonstrably more intense wines from the resulting grapes). The SJR Vineyard, by contrast, is mostly transitional soil and loess (windblown dirt).
Next up was another tasting and a food truck lunch with the students of Walla Walla Community College. This is the only community college food truck in Washington and a great opportunity for the students, whose responsibilities range from yogurt tastings for six-year-olds to ten-course dinners in vineyards.
Saturday, the final day of the Celebration, was first spent at Cayuse, which uses 100 percent estate fruit from many of the rock-filled vineyards previously mentioned. Lunch was on the road at the Worm Ranch, unfortunately named but home to some tasty, authentic Mexican food. This was followed by a tour and cheese tasting at Monteillet Fromagerie, whose owners are nuts about their cheeses. These are all made of mixed goat and sheep milk. They bottle honey, as well, and there’s even a vacation rental on the property.
The final winemakers’ dinner was back at The Marc, the top restaurant at the Marcus Whitman Hotel, and suitably wrapped up a tremendous, very educational tour of the Walla Walla AVA. Next year’s Celebration festival is dedicated to Merlot and, if you like or are merely curious about Washington wines, I heartily recommend you attend.
WE HAVE A WINE WINNER!
The results of Wine On The Road’s preferred destination survey are in and I want to thank everyone who participated. The results were informative and will definitely have consequences for our upcoming tour destinations. As promised, one lucky responder will receive a perfectly stored, ready to drink bottle of 1999 Mastroberardino Taurasi Riserva Radici, the most famous red wine to hail from Campania. This fortunate soul is Lynne Clarke. Congratulations, Lynne!
To celebrate, I’ve also listed my notes for some of the best Mastroberardino bottles that I’ve recently tasted, at the end of the column in a sort of shorthand that goes like this: appearance (if relevant)/aroma/taste/acidity & finish. If I can find a retail U.S. price then I list it, with “N/A” meaning that the wine is not generally available in the U.S.
BEN’S WINE COUNTRY PICTURES ARE NOW FOR SALE
Have you ever read one of Ben’s columns and wondered how it would look to have one of his incredibly vivid, high resolution pictures of wine country framed on your wall? We’re now offering various size prints of his quirky photography at Pixels.com, where you can also add his images to smartphone cases, greeting cards, and many other items. Pictures can be ordered loose or matted and framed in various sizes. Go to http://pixels.com/art/all/benjamin+weinberg/all to take a peek.
UPCOMING COVERAGE: BEN IN CROATIA
Wine On The Road’s Chief Wine Sherpa Ben Weinberg will be spending September 1 – 5, 2014, in Croatia prior to heading to France for a client tour of Champagne and Burgundy. Be sure to follow Ben on Twitter (@WineOnTheRoad), Facebook and Foursquare (Wine On The Road), and Linked In (Benjamin Weinberg) as he travels from Dubrovnik to Zagreb to Paris.
WINE, BEES, AND CHEESE IN PIEDMONT, ITALY, WITH FARM-TO-TABLE EXPERT JILL PARADIS AND WINE EXPERT BEN WEINBERG
This seven-day “Wine, Bees, and Cheese” tour of Piedmont, Italy, is an intensive travel experience punctuated by frequent tastes of the region’s best food, wine, and culture. Traveling with farm-to-table expert Jill Paradis and Wine On The Road’s Ben Weinberg, you’ll receive warm welcomes from each iconic producer and enough face-to-face time to discuss the history of each product as well as plans for the future. All represent generations of commitment to quality and respect for their lands and communities.
Price is $6,995 per person, paid in U.S. funds ($), based on double occupancy for between eight-and-twelve paid attendees, land only, excluding airfare, gratuities and other optional activities. Maximum group size is twelve adults of legal drinking age. For additional information on this extraordinary touring opportunity, or to download the Preliminary Itinerary and Booking Form, go to www.wineontheroad.com/winebeesandcheeseinpiedmont.php.
OREGON WINE COUNTRY WITH DAVIDSONS LIQUORS: MAY 15-19, 2015
Davidson’s Fine Wine Specialist Aaron Maher, who leads this tour with his special knowledge of Oregon wines, and Davidsons Liquors have partnered with international wine writer Ben Weinberg and Wine on the Road to offer this extraordinary opportunity. This is the ultimate in wine-focused, behind-the-scenes wine country experiences, combining award-winning wines and exquisite dining and lodging with uniquely local flair and flavor.
Price is $2,995 per person, paid in U.S. funds ($), based on double occupancy for between 16-and-24 paid attendees, land only, excluding airfare, gratuities and other optional activities. For additional information on this extraordinary touring opportunity, or to download the Preliminary Itinerary and Booking Form, go to www.wineontheroad.com/oregonwithdavidsons.php.
SEATTLE AND EASTERN WASHINGTON WINE COUNTRY: MAY 22-26, 2015
Wine on the Road’s Chief Wine Sherpa Ben Weinberg offers this extraordinary opportunity as the ultimate in wine-focused, behind-the-scenes wine country experiences, combining award-winning wines and exquisite dining and lodging with uniquely local flair and flavor.
Price is $2,995 per person, paid in U.S. funds ($), based on double occupancy for between 16-and-24 paid attendees, land only, excluding airfare, gratuities and other optional activities. For additional information on this extraordinary touring opportunity, or to download the Preliminary Itinerary and Booking Form, go to www.wineontheroad.com/washingtonunfiltered.php.
PORTLAND AND THE WILLAMETTE VALLEY WITH THE VINEYARD WINE SHOP
The Vineyard’s Wine Consultant Jordan Garcia, who leads the tour with his special knowledge of Oregon wines, and The Vineyard Wine Shop have partnered with international wine writer Ben Weinberg and Wine on the Road to offer this extraordinary opportunity. This is the ultimate in wine-focused, behind-the-scenes wine country experiences, combining award-winning wines and exquisite dining and lodging with uniquely local flair and flavor.
Price per person is $2,995, based on double occupancy for between 16-24 paid attendees, land only, excluding airfare, gratuities and other optional activities. Maximum group size is 24 adults of legal drinking age. For additional information on this extraordinary touring opportunity, or to download the Preliminary Itinerary and Booking Form, go to www.wineontheroad.com/oregonwiththevineyard.php.
WINE ON THE ROAD’S LUXURIOUS, BEHIND-THE-SCENES WINE TOURS
With Wine On The Road (www.wineontheroad.com), my wine-focused touring company, you can enjoy the ultimate wine country excursion with special access to top winemakers and their incomparable wines. Wine On The Road offers intimate wine country tours that combine award-winning wines and exquisite dining and lodging with uniquely local flair and flavor. We lodge at excellent and luxurious wine country estates (in the past we’ve occupied ancient yet completely restored castles as well as five-star resorts, all with modern amenities). We eat at amazing local restaurants and visit wineries that embody the best, most authentic expressions of local wine grapes.
In addition to the Spring 2015 tours described above, we’re also heading out in the Fall of 2015 to Champagne in France in conjunction with Corridor 44 Restaurant (www.wineontheroad.com/champagnewithcorridor44.php), Spain from Madrid to San Sebastian including Ribera del Duero and Rioja with world-famous blogger Joe Roberts (www.wineontheroad.com/spainwith1winedude.php), and Oregon’s wine country in conjunction with Table 6 Restaurant (www.wineontheroad.com/oregonwithtable6.php). You can learn more about these trips, book private groups in wine country world-wide and request more information on any of these extraordinary travel experiences by visiting www.wineontheroad.com, emailing me at email@example.com, or calling me at 303-522-6738.
Dunham Riesling 2012 (Walla Walla, Washington) $19
Gold/petrol, lime/sweet pineapple, nectarine, flint/hilong
Amaurice Cellars Viognier Sparrow 2013 (Walla Walla, Washington) $36
Greenish yellow/honeysuckle, lime/pineapple, ginger/hilong
Lullaby Winery Rosé de Virginie 2012 (Walla Walla, Washington) $N/A
Salmon/peach, ginger/pink cherry, honey/medmod
Cayuse Syrah The Tribe 2011 (Walla Walla, Washington) $110
Blue-red/sage, blueberry/dark chocolate, red cherry/himod
Cayuse Syrah Bionic Frog 2011 (Walla Walla, Washington) $70
Black purple/black pepper, cola, mint/soy, blackberry/himod
Reininger Syrah 2011 (Walla Walla, Washington) $42
Blue-red/fruit punch, red currant/milk chocolate, cola/hilong
Adamant Syrah Artisan 2011 (Walla Walla, Washington) $40
Violet/blkberry, mint/dark chocolate, pomegranate/hilong
Va Piano Syrah Lewis Vineyard 2012 (Walla Walla, Washington) $65
Bold purple/pomegranate, bacon fat/mocha, granite/hilong
Spring Valley Syrah Nina Lee Vineyard 2011 (Walla Walla, Washington) $50
Dark red/boysenberry, dark chocolate/red cherry, vanilla/himod
Dunham Syrah Lewis Vineyard 2005 (Walla Walla, Washington) $80
Purple/blackberry, bacon/cinnamon, black raspberry/hilong
Skylight Cellars Syrah 2010 (Walla Walla, Washington) $N/A
Ruby/garrigue, red cherry/dark chocolate, strawberry/hilong
Tamarack Cellars Syrah Ciel du Cheval 2006 (Walla Walla, Washington) $40
Blue-red/cinnamon, red raspberry/coffee, red cherry/hilong
Dusted Valley Syrah Reserve 2006 (Walla Walla, Washington) $N/A
Blue-red/pine, red raspberry/blood, bacon/hilong
Seven Hills Syrah 1999 (Walla Walla, Washington) $N/A
Rust red/menthol, red cherry/black pepper, ash/hilong
Walla Walla Vintners Syrah 2011 (Walla Walla, Washington) $N/A
Black red/black pepper, black cherry/red licorice, pine/hilong
Va Piano Syrah Les Collines 2012 (Walla Walla, Washington) $66
Electric red/strawberry, pepper/dark chocolate, strawberry/hilong
Adamant Syrah Les Collines 2006 (Walla Walla, Washington) $N/A
Red brown/strawberry/cola, chocolate/medmod
Kontos Syrah 2010 (Walla Walla, Washington) $36
Black red/gravel, dark chocolate/hilong
Watermill Pinot Noir 2011 (Walla Walla, Washington) $42
Ruby/clove, red cherry/strawberry, ginger/hilong
Cayuse Grenache God Only Knows 2010 (Walla Walla, Washington) $65
Brownish ruby/toffee, black licorice/brown rice, mace/himod
Isenhower Malbec A Block 2012 (Walla Walla, Washington) $34
Black red/black cherry, lanoline/espresso, blackberry/himod
DaMa Merlot 2012 (Walla Walla, Washington) $N/A
Purple red/cedar, red currant/mint, dark chocolate/hilong
Leonetti Merlot 2012 (Walla Walla, Washington) $75
Black red/clove, red cherry/cedar red strawberry/hilong
Seven Hills Winery Merlot Old Block 2012 (Walla Walla, Washington) $27
Violet red/sage, black cherry/black currant, cola/hilong
Buty Rediviva Red 2011 (Walla Walla, Washington) $52
Dark red/vanilla, strawberry/almond, red strawberry/himod
L’Ecole No. 41 Perigee Red Blend 2012 (Walla Walla, Washington) $50
Blue-red/gravel, blueberry/blackberry, dark chocolate/himod
Cadaretta Springboard Red Blend 2012 (Walla Walla, Washington) $N/A
Dark red/black raspberry, red licorice/red cherry, vanilla/hilong
Mastroberardino Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio White 2012 (Campania, Italy) $19
Mastroberardino Greco di Tufo 2012 (Campania, Italy) $23
Mastroberardino Falanghina Morabianca 2011 (Campania, Italy) $20
Mastroberardino Taurasi DOCG 1952 (Campania, Italy) $N/A
Mastroberardino Taurasi Riserva DOCG 1961 (Campania, Italy) $N/A
Mastroberardino Taurasi Riserva DOCG 1970 (Campania, Italy) $N/A
Mastroberardino Taurasi DOCG 1985 (Campania, Italy) $85
Mastroberardino Taurasi DOCG 1996 (Campania, Italy) $N/A
Mastroberardino Taurasi Riserva Radici DOCG 2006 (Campania, Italy) $N/A
Mastroberardino Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Red 2012 (Campania, Italy) $15
Mastroberardino Aglianico 2010 (Campania, Italy) $23
Mastroberardino Taurasi Radici 2007 (Campania, Italy) $50
Mastroberardino Taurasi Riserva Radici 1999 (Campania, Italy) $70
Mastroberardino Fiano Passito Melizie 2010 (Campania, Italy) $N/A
Mastroberardino Aglianico Passito Antheres 2009 (Campania, Italy) $N/A
Mastroberardino Aglianico Passito Halconero 2008 (Campania, Italy) $N/A