Category Archives: Appellation

Washington State Wine Month: Let the celebration begin!

Go north my friends! Each August, members of the Washington State Wine Commission celebrate the countdown to harvest with Washington State Wine Month, an interactive set of wine events and promotions designed to showcase the unique characteristics of the wide range of flavorful offerings made with premium grapes grown throughout the state.

In keeping with the theme, SawyerSomm decided there was no better time than the present to do a series of wine education posts focused on lessons learned from my visits to Seattle, Woodinville, Walla Walla Valley and the greater Columbia Valley appellation over the past year.

To get you started, below is a quick summary of the winegrowing areas of Washington State. Stay tuned for The Sommelier Files reviews on some of their hip new white wines, red wines and dessert wines; reports on the progression of the up-and-coming appellations; introductions to the people behind the brands; food and lodging tips for your next trip to the state of Washington; and much more!

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(Left to Right) A view from the fountain at Hedges Winery; Map of the Red Mountain Appellation; Paired wine dinner with Januik & Novelty Hill; Vineyard expanse at Hedges Winery

Exploring the Pacific Northwest: Compelling info on Washington State Wines

Atop the Pacific Northwest, Washington State has a rich history of growing wine grapes dating back to 1825. Many of the original grapes were American native varieties or hybrids planted along the Puget Sound between Seattle and Olympia and the more isolated Walla Walla Valley in the southeast part of the state. Consequently, it wasn’t until the 1960s that the first wave of the modern-day winemaking pioneers began putting more emphasis on planting popular varieties like Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.

The largest appellation is the Columbia Valley, which covers 11-million acres east of the Cascade Mountains. Within these borders are the sub-appellations of Yakima Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Horse Heaven Hills, Wahluke Slope, Red Mountain, Columbia Gorge, Rattlesnake Hills, Snipes Mountain, Lake Chelan, Naches Heights, and Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley. Together, the region represents 99% of the premium vineyards planted in Washington.

A very special Syrah block in the Rocks AVA of Walla Walla Valley.

With dry, high desert conditions, the region averages less than ten inches of rainfall per year. So instead, the critical water supply for the vineyards is generated by the melting snow caps from the mountains. The combination of an icy winter and a high concentration of sandy and rocky soils also make the conditions ideal for naturally defending against phylloxera, a lethal vine louse, which commonly requires the use of special root stocks in California and Oregon. Therefore, a large percentage of the vines in Washington are own-rooted and many of the vineyards are farmed with state-of-the-art machine harvesters.

On the western side of the state near Seattle, the Puget Sound appellation is a much cooler and wetter area which specializes in more unique grape varieties like Madeleine Angevine, Siegerebbe and Muller Thurgau, as well as promising newer plantings of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.

With over 50,000 acres of vineyards planted, Washington now ranks second in the United States for premium wine production. It’s a huge step forward over the past two decades—especially when you consider that there were only 17,100 acres planted in 1997. As a result, the state now features over 900 wineries and 350 vineyards that are home to world-class grapes.

But make no mistake, Washington cannot be defined by a single grape or even a group of grapes. Therefore, while it’s true Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Riesling and Chardonnay account for over 75 percent of the vineyards and wine production in the state; there are currently more than 30 varieties planted and experimentation continues.

“Diversity is what it’s all about here in Washington State,” says winemaker Scott Moeller, who works with Pacific Northwest wine legend Mike Januik and his son Andrew at Novelty Hill-Januik and the winery’s cutting-edge tasting room and production facility in Woodinville, which is just 25-minutes northeast of Seattle.

…Stay tuned for more SawyerSomm details about what is hot in Washington State in 2017 and beyond!

Enjoy More Zin at the Simply Summer Celebration, August 13th!

Follow up the Zin Zin Din Din with a cool (air-conditioned) weekend outing! Head to Trentadue Winery in Geyserville for the Simply Summer Celebration to continue celebrating Zinfadel of Northern Sonoma County, pairing the widest range of foods, while showcasing the unlimited expressions of taste.  Mark your calendar for this coming Sunday, August 13th, from 12:30-3:30.

There you will find. . .
~More than 60 wineries from all over California
~A chance to meet celebrity winemakers
~BBQ meal selections available for purchase by Cochon Volant
~Free dessert samples by Sonoma Cake Creations
~Ticket includes admittance, wine tasting, and ZAP logo wine glass

See you there! Christopher

Oregon Pinot Noir with a French Twist

Based at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, the International Pinot Noir Celebration has brought joy to wine fans who love drinking world-class wines made with variations of this noble grape grown in Oregon, California, Burgundy and other special regions around the globe. This year’s festivities in late July marked a chance to learn about where Pinot Noir has come over the past three decades and how the special combination of French soul and Oregon soil helped make the Willamette Valley one of the top wine growing regions of the world.

It is a journey that began four years before “Papa Pinot,” the young American adventurer David Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards, planted young samplings of the first Pinot Noir grapes near Corvallis, Oregon in 1965; another early pioneer to see the potential to plant world-class vines in the region was Frenchman Joseph Drouhin, who came to the region to sell his family’s wine from Burgundy in 1961. But it wasn’t until 25 years later that Drouhin’s daughter Veronique laid the foundation to accomplish this dream when she visited the region and interned with upcoming wineries Adelsheim Vineyards, Bethel Heights and Eyrie in 1986.

The following year, Veronique and her family established Domaine Drouhin Oregon. Today, the majestic winery in the Dundee Hills represents a signature French accent that helped put Willamette Valley and other segments of Oregon on the world wine map to stay.

To celebrate the 30-year anniversary of these accomplishments, the Grand Seminar at this year’s festival, moderated by wine critic Eric Asimov of the New York Times, was aptly titled The French Adventurers: Burgundians Making Pinot Noir in Oregon. Here is the SawyerSomm synopsis of the seminar and the a few Domaine Drouhin wine reviews.

Veronique Boss-Drouhin, Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Dundee

Like her father Joseph, who originally visited the Willamette Valley in 1961, Veronique Boss-Drouhin immediately saw the promise of the region primarily located west of Highway 101 and the Pacific mountains between Portland and Eugene, when she first visited the area in 1986. Although the region did not have the limestone soils of Burgundy, Drouhin loved the cool climate and the various forms of basalt and volcanic soils that make it a prime region to grow the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris grapes she studied while attending the University of Dijon in the mid-1980s. However, it wasn’t until 1986 that the family’s dreams of planting vines in the region started to become a reality.

When the first 96 barrels of DDO wines were made the following year, the family didn’t own a winery or had to source the grapes they worked with. But after the original Pommard and Wadenswil clones of Pinot Noir were planted and the winery was finished a few years later near Dundee, the winery has become one of the most celebrated Pinot Noir producers in the United States.

In the words of John Paul, proprietor of Dundee-based Cameron Winery, who spoke briefly at the IPNC seminar, “Veronique and her family brought the legitimacy that the Oregon wine industry really needed.”

Domaine Drouhin 2014 Roserock Zephirine, Eola-Amity Hills / $60 – 97 pts
Although it’s a relatively new planting on the southern edge of the exciting Eola-Amity Hills appellation, winemaker Veronique Drouhin-Boss loves the possibility of this new DDO estate vineyard. The quality of the fruit shows in this new release, which is from the warm vintage of 2014. Rich, supple and concentrated, the wine starts with attractive aromas of dark fruits, potpourri, fresh tea leafs, blood orange peel and licorice. The flavors are equally deep, with deep notes of black plum, raspberry, wild strawberry, red cherry, mineral, chewy tannins, structure and layers of savory spice on the finish.

Domaine Drouhin 2012 Cuvée Laurene, Dundee Hills / $70 – 96 pts
Soft, subtle and graceful. Lovely aromas of ripe red fruits, cola, earth tones and baking spice. Lively flavors of dark cherry, wild berries, plum, cocoa, fresh sage and forest floor. Overall, elegance and finesse from start to finish, with the structure and natural verve showing with more time in the glass. A classic signature of the DDO style.

Taste of Mt Veeder: August 5th at Hess in Napa

Join me for this rare opportunity to TASTE and ORDER Mount Veeder wines…many of which are not open to the public and are difficult to acquire (See the full list below).

18th Annual Mt. Veeder Appellation Tasting
Saturday, August 5, 2017
1:00 – 4:00 p.m.
The Hess Collection Winery
4411 Redwood Road, Napa

Walk Around Wine Tasting, Gourmet Food Pairings from Hess Executive Chef, Chad Hendrickson, Silent Auction, Prizes and Live, High-Energy Blues from The Hummingbirdz!

Single Vineyard night in Sonoma County June 30th

Join Russian River Valley Winegrowers for an amazing tasting experience of Russian River Valley single vineyard wines. More than 40 wineries will be pouring small-lot, single vineyard wines from the Russian River Valley, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc. Guests will dine on delicious appetizers, including a grill station with sausages, hanger steak and sliders.

Friday, June 30, 2017
VIP Tasting: 5:30 – 6:30 PM
MAIN EVENT: 6:30 – 8:30 PM
Vintner’s Inn, 4350 Barnes Road, Santa Rosa
TICKETS!

Take a trek Behind The Cellar Door: March 4-5

Seriously!  This is an opportunity to go taste some of those foothill wines I keep telling you about.  In fact, I have 2 FREE DAY PASSES to this one, Behind the Cellar Door, for the first person to write a note to wine@sawyersomm.com with their mailing address.  What you get in return is a weekend of touring the lovely Amador County wineries, towns and landscape. The caveat?   I just ask you to report back here for all of SawyerSomm with your favorite wines from the tour.  Believe me, you will thank me for this!

For those that aren’t quick enough on the draw, you can still
purchase tickets HERE until Feb 28th.  Have fun everyone!

Wine Education: In depth with Napa Valley!

Flavor! Napa Valley is just six weeks away, March 22 through 26!  Make sure to get your tickets for my seminars now.  Many are already SOLD OUT, so get them while you can!  To get both your palate and cerebellum ready, enjoy this article I wrote about Napa Valley below for BuyWine.com.  

Napa Valley, California

Mention Napa Valley, and most people have a story to tell about a memorable wine they’ve had from the region. It’s an interesting point when you consider that the valley is only 30 miles long, a few miles wide, and represents roughly 4% of the amount of grapes picked in California. But despite being a relatively small area, the big reputation is built on making world-class wines with fruit grown on family-owned vineyards.

Squeezed between the Mayacamas and Vaca Mountain ranges, 45 minutes north of San Francisco, Napa Valley was the first American Viticultural Area or AVA to be designated in California in 1981. Back then, there was only a handful of wineries in the region. But today, there are 500-plus wineries and a shared dedication to growing premiere vineyards in diverse soils and warm, arid climate conditions that are similar to those found in the famous winegrowing regions along the Mediterranean. The end result is an elaborate matrix of vineyards varying in elevation from sea-level to 2,600 feet that produce low yields and high-quality fruit used to make some of the most prolific wines enjoyed in America and around the globe.

Grape Expectations

Whites: Sauvignon Blanc is the dominant white grape planted in the gravelly soils on the valley floor, particularly in the warmer segments in the northern part of the valley. Whereas, ….In the more clay and sandy-based soils stretching from Yountville to San Pablo Bay at the southern end of the valley, Chardonnay is the most widely planted white grape at the southern end of the valley. Smaller offerings to look for include: Semillon, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling.

Reds: For red grapes, Napa Valley is best known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Bordeaux-style blends made with smaller portions of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Other specialty plantings in the region include: Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Grenache, and Pinot Noir.

Tasty Sensations

White Wines: The diverse styles of Sauvignon Blanc vary in style from racy and tangy to elegant and complex. Some are aged entirely in stainless steel tanks to preserve the purity of the grape; some have a portion of the blend aged in egg-shaped concrete fermenters; and others have a touch of neutral or new oak. The Chardonnays tend to be riper and more full-bodied than those from the more coastal regions of California. And in addition to being blended with Sauvignon Blanc to make a more complex, Bordeaux-style white wine; Semillon is also used to make aromatic sweet wines with flavors of ripe tropical fruits.

Red Wines: There’s no denying that Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of Napa Valley. The styles of the region range from earthy, tangy and spicy with emphasis on red fruits; to bolder styles with notes of dark berries, cherry, chocolate and varying levels of oak; to the more full-bodied opulent flavors, and the potential to age for decades in the cellar. Most of the Merlots are medium to full-bodied with emphasis on ripe red fruits, milk chocolate, and spice. The Zinfandels and Petite Sirahs are mainly from old vines—many of which are still farmed by the families who planted these vineyards before the focus of the valley shifted towards Bordeaux varietals. For that reason, many of the wines made with these grapes have distinctive fruit flavors and layers of spice.

Food Pairings

As a rule, many of the Sauvignon Blancs from Napa Valley match perfectly with a wide range of cuisine, including oysters on the half-shell, goat cheese, gourmet salads, sushi and lighter meats on the grill, to spicier dishes that fall under the categories of Mexican, Vietnamese and Thai cuisine. For Chardonnay, the lighter styles pair nicely with appetizers and starting courses; while the more full-bodied offerings are fantastic to pair with seafood, poultry, pork, pasta, and white sauces.

In the red wine category, the more elegant styles of Cabernet Sauvignon are very compatible with daintier dishes like grilled vegetables, seared Ahi tuna, roasted chicken and Asian cuisine with plum sauce. For the bolder and more complex styles, rib-eye steak, lamb and blue cheese are great choices. For Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Bordeaux-style blends; think wild mushrooms, quinoa, salmon, quail, and meats seasoned with herb-based rubs. While Zinfandels and Petite Sirahs are sassy, savory, and ideal for pairing with grilled red meats, veggies, and elaborate pizza.

 

Mt. Veeder Tasting on Saturday, August 6th

mtveeder080616Here is a great opportunity to taste amazing wines from 25 Mt. Veeder wineries!  There will also be food pairings from Hess Executive Chef, Chad Hendrickson and live high-energy blues from The Hummingbirdz. More fun to be had when you peruse the Silent Auction and participate in the Raffle.  Best of all, take home limited production Mt. Veeder gems from participating wineries!

Mt. Veeder Appelation Wine Tasting
Saturday, August 6
1:00 – 4:00 p.m.
The Hess Collection Winery
4411 Redwood Road, Napa

Purchase $75 tickets at MtVeederWines.com
or call 707-266-1296 ($100 Tickets at the Door)

PARTICIPATING WINERIES
Anthem Winery & Vineyards
VGS Chateau Potelle
Fontanella Family Winery
Godspeed Vineyards
HALL Wines
The Hess Collection Winery
Howell at the Moon Winery
Lagier Meredith
Marketta Winery
Mayacamas Vineyards
Mithra Winery
Mount Veeder Winery
Mt. Brave
O’Shaughnessy Estate Winery
Paratus Vineyards
Progeny
Random Ridge
Robert Craig Winery
Rubissow Wines
Sky Vineyards
Vinoce Vineyards
Y. Rousseau Wines
Yates Family Vineyard

Jean Arnold Sessions new Exec Director of SVVGA

A hearty congratulations to my friend Jean and the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Association for making their relationship formal!

My fun photo of Jean Arnold Sessions with Alexandra O'Gorman of Ramey Wines and Summer Kostik Jeffus of Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits at the Sonoma County Barrel Auction in April.
My fun photo of Jean Arnold Sessions (center) with Alexandra O’Gorman of Ramey Wines and Summer Kostik Jeffus of Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits at the Sonoma County Barrel Auction in April.

“It has been a long-held dream of mine to be a leading voice for our wine community. The vintners of Sonoma County have many stories to tell. These stories bring to life the challenges of working with such diversity of land, dedication to sustainable grape growing for the highest quality of winemaking, while working together to care and support our agriculture and our community. This is an exciting time to be part of the Sonoma County Vintners.” — Jean Arnold Sessions.

You can read details about their joint venture HERE!

The Return of Lake County!

lakecoAfter the devastating Valley Fire last autumn local organizations and citizens have been collaborating in  a multitude of ways to help support the recovery and redevelopment of Lake County.  It seems the efforts are making a difference, particularly in regards to their wine industry, with events in addition to ample tourism.

Read this recent Press Democrat article by Bill Swindell to find out more and perhaps think about ways we can continue supporting our neighborto the North:

Lake County Wine Industry is Ready for Takeoff!