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'06 Washington Trip Notes - Printable Version

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- dananne - 08-16-2006 07:16 PM

We split our stay between Walla Walla and Prosser, where we stayed with CCK.

As with the Oregon post, this runs long, so feel free to jump to the end for the highs/lows and inquire if you want greater detail about any wines/wineries. Since we visited or tried wines from about 25 wineries, detailed tasting notes are not in the immediate plans, though they can be provided if anyone is interested in them.

General thoughts/observations:

OK, so part of it can be attributed many producers not being open for visits on the day we visited, but Red Mountain can produce some very lousy wines for such a well-regarded AVA. Seth Ryan and Terra Blanca were, to put it politely, not good visits. Kiona seemed downright great in comparison.

Some wineries have some issues with consistency. There were a select few places where we enjoyed every wine we tried, and two of those are very small places -- Two Mountain (Matt Rawn's place) and Willow Crest (Victor is doing great things). Forgeron does a pretty good job, though can be lavish with the oak. Frankly, I expected a bit more from some folks based upon reputations, such as Dunham (the '02 Cab VIII being a noteworthy exception).

Some of the consistency issues with Walla Walla might be attributed to the severe winter of '04, which obliterated their fruit and left many scrambling for scraps from the Columbia Valley. Thus, they weren't working with their own fruit, and also it left some production gaps to be filled by leftovers from past vintages or pouring newer wines probably a bit earlier than they should.

Finally, we tasted and/or purchased several very good wines from grapes not normally associated with Washington, particuarly Sangiovese. Their style with that grape is pretty unique, with more body and fleshiness and less acidity. Interesting to watch the trend.

Anyway, on to the visits.

In Walla Walla, we visited the following:

Waterbrook -- We stopped in because it was near our lunching location, and we were famished from the drive up the Gorge from Willamette. Nothing special here, I'm afraid, though I picked up a cheap Sangiovese rose for consumption during the trip.

Walla Walla Village Winery/Patrick M. Paul -- Pretty good lineup of reds, particularly the '03 WWVW Cab from Columbia Valley fruit and the '03 Paul Walla Walla Cab. The former tended for more oak, while the latter was just pretty darned good, and priced reasonably in the mid $20s. We bought both.

Forgeron -- The folks here knew customer service. They stayed open well after closing time to accommodate us, they called a great little restaurant to make reservations for our dinner, and they even gave us an additional shipper box because of our change-of-plans with carrying on wines due to the sudden change in airline policies. As stated above, they make a pretty consistently good slate of wines, and we particuarly liked their Columbia Valley Syrah from '03. Also bought a late harvest Gewurtz that we drank late one night with Kathy. All of their wines show a good deal of oak, so if you don't like that style, be forewarned.

Dunham -- As stated, a bit of a letdown overall, but the aforementioned Cab VIII from '02 was stellar -- one of the wines of the trip. The girl working the tasting room wasn't very friendly, as well, which goes a long way in deciding how enjoyable a visit is.

El Mirador -- This was our surprise of the trip. We had never heard of this small production winery located in the "airport wine ghetto," but we tasted, enjoyed, and purchased both wines we tried -- the '03 Merlot and the '03 Cab, both using Walla Walla fruit. Exceptionally reasonable prices -- we got a case of the Merlot for $99! The Cab only ran about $20. When it comes in October, the Merlot will become our house wine until it disappears from our cellar. The Cab needs some time, and we'll sit on it accordingly. Good stuff.

Russell Creek -- Another slight disappointment, the only high point of the tasting was the Sangiovese, which we bought.

Ash Hollow -- This was another pleasant surprise. They are making some pretty good wines, in our opinion, and the girl at the tasting room was very friendly and knowledgeable (she's a student in the Walla Walla CC wine program). The best wine we had there was the '03 Walla Walla Cab, from vineyards just west of town off Hwy 12 (incidentally, vineyards that recently only barely escaped a wildfire from across the road).

Amavi -- This Pepper Bridge spinoff makes some good juice. My only complaint is that the wines lack a bit of character, and taste like they could have come from anywhere (they didn't have that indescribable something that I can always use to tell a Washington wine). We bought their '04 Cab and '04 Syrah, both from Columbia Valley fruit. The part owner took time out to have an extended visit with us, and he was very forthcoming about the difficulties posed by the '04 winter for Walla Walla wineries.

Zerba Cellars -- Located south of town across the Oregon line towards Milton-Freewater, this may be one to watch. They make some neat wines (we tasted almost 10), but the ones that stood out were an '04 Sangiovese (lip smacking fruit, with a body more like a Bordeaux blend) and an '05 genuine Syrah ice wine from Columbia Valley grapes. Despite the everpresence of fruit flies, an enjoyable visit.

Leaving Walla Walla, we visited the following in Red Mountain:

Kiona -- We can find them on the shelves down here, so we weren't really excited to stop, but they were open unlike some others, so we visited with the grandson of the founders. He was home for summer break from Gonzaga, and we talked about Zags basketball while we tasted. Nice kid. Anyway, the highlights were a Sangiovese and a huge Zin, more of a late harvest dessert Zin with 17%+ alc.

Seth Ryan (I always want to call it Seth Green, but I may have watched too many episodes of Greg the Bunny) -- Horrible stop. Dreck, IMHO. We felt like we had to buy something out of politeness, though, as we tasted with the winemaker, so we ended up with a '99 Cab that cost $28, but under most circumstances I wouldn't pay $8 for.

Terra Blanca -- Massive investment has left them with a colossal and staggering winery and tasting room atop Red Mtn (it makes Hedges look puny in comparison), but they should have the wines to back it up. They don't. The only thing marginally decent was a Malbec, but I wasn't in a buying mood after the Seth Ryan experience.

Apex -- Better hunting at this little Sunnyside outfit 15 minutes from Prosser. They have a nice '02 Columbia Valley Cab that we bought. Even better was their Cab Chocolate Sauce. Decadent dessert fixin'.

Snoqualmie -- Generally consistent wines at good prices, but nothing was special for us in this go-round, though the rose was still nice. We didn't buy anything, however.

Two Mountain -- We loved the wine Matt Rawn brought to dinner for our offline last year, so we were excited to visit and taste through the lineup. They had the best Riesling we had on the whole trip, and Anne even had a Chard that she liked (which, knowing how much Anne loathes Chard, says a lot). The Lemberger was yummy stuff, the red blend was great value, and the Syrah and Cab were dynamite. Great visit in Zillah.

We missed the Willow Crest stop last year during the offline, but we now know what all the fuss was about. Great, innovative juice, particularly the CdP-style blend called XIII and a great take on a Super Tuscan called Collina Bella. Unfortunately, however, the funky bottle shape of the XIII didn't fit our wine shipping boxes, so we had to reluctantly pass. We did, however, buy a stunningly good Cab Franc that was one of the best wines we had on the trip. I have no idea what made us pass on the Tuscan-styled one. We regret that.

For some reason (probably that they saw us with Kathy the day before), we were feted like royalty at Kestral in Prosser, and we liked most of the wines we tried. In fact, a Syrah was Anne's favorite from the trip. If we ever get the credit card bills from the trip paid off, we'll probably put together an order from them. Nice stuff.

At the Prosser Wine and Food Fair, we tried wines that we'd never have the opportunity to try otherwise. Marchetti from Olympia prides themselves on having no added sulfites, no chemicals, organic yeasts, etc., but their Malbec rated only a "drinkable" from us. WInd River Cellars from the Columbia Gorge AVA (technically they are an Oregon winery) made a pretty good Pinot, which was somewhat of a surprise. Waving Tree Winery in the Gorge showed pretty well: we had a Sangiovese and a Cab from them. Vin de Lac in Chelan uses Columbia Valley fruit to make a decent Syrah and a nice white called Les Amis that is a blend of Reisling and something else (memory fails me). We had a middling Malbec from Marshal's Winery.

Finally, we tasted the wares of Coyote Canyon, the winery of Matt Gray from last year's offline gathering and the place where Kathy is doing some work currently. They are having some issues with a misbehaving rose at present, though it was still fruity and easy. They do better work with a red table blend and a Syrah -- the latter is their best wine. As before, Matt was a great guy -- very enthusiastic and welcoming, and we enjoyed being able to see him again. They have good vineyards in Horse Heaven Hills, and I think the wines will get better each year as they get more established.

OK, on to the lists:

Favorite Wines (Dan):
1. '03 Ash Hollow Walla Walla Cab
2. '02 Dunham Cabernet VIII
3. (tie) Two Mountain's '03 Cabernet Sauvignon and Willow Crest's '03 Cabernet Franc

Favorite Wines (Anne):
1. '03 Kestral Syrah
2. '02 Dunham Cabernet VIII
3. '03(?) Willow Crest Collina Bella

Honerable Mentions:
Amavi's Syrah, El Mirador's Cab, and just about every other wine from Willow Crest

Best Dessert Wine:
Zerba's Syrah Ice Wine was liquid heaven

Pleasant Surprises:
El Mirador, Walla Walla Village Winery/Patrick M. Paul

Worst Wines/Visits:
Seth Ryan or Terra Blanca

Favorite Winery Visit (overall tasting room experience):
Oddly, we had really nice times at Forgeron and Kestral.

Little Wineries to Watch:
Two Mountain, Willow Crest, Zerba

Well, there you have it. Again, if you want more specifics, just ask.


- Innkeeper - 08-17-2006 06:30 AM

Thank you very much for both of your reports Dan. They were very complete, and I'm sure helpful for those heading in that direction.


- wondersofwine - 08-17-2006 07:55 AM

I remember wanting to have a Kestrel red (don't remember if it was the Syrah or a blended red) shipped to me last year but Kestrel doesn't have a license to ship to North Carolina. Two Mountain Riesling was one of the four bottles I took home on the plane with me last year. It is nice. And I also liked Matt's Lemberger (better than the one I tried in the Finger Lakes although that one was also pretty good). I was impressed with the wines at Willow Crest but not necessarily the same ones you favored. I do remember thinking that all of them were quite good. It sounds like you didn't get to Saviah. Their Red Mountain Syrah was one of my favorites last year and I may order 2 or 3 bottles from them this fall. You listed some interesting wineries that were previously unknown to me. Good report. Greetings to you and Anne. I'm not doing much traveling this year with my move and with the trip back to Nebraska concerning my mother. Maybe next year I will get to California wine country again.


- Bucko - 08-17-2006 08:28 AM

I smiled as I read your notes. They pretty much mirror my experiences.

Seth Ryan and Russell Creek have long been dreck -- I wrote them off years ago.

I am surprised at Terra Blanca. I've had some wonderful wines from them -- maybe an off year?

Forgeron makes terrific wines, but they do push the wood. Dunham has actually toned down the wood some, to their credit.

I've not been to Ash Hollow, El Mirador or Two Mountain.


- Findnfish - 08-27-2006 10:56 PM

I am also suprised to hear that you had a bad experience with Terra Blanca. Did you talk to the winemaker or just a few or the tasting room help? I was at a fundraiser last winter and found their wine quite good. They were very friendly and forthxoming with info. I would give them a second try in the future.


- TheEngineer - 08-28-2006 09:02 PM

Nice! Thanks for the notes. I've copied and catalogued them for future use!