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Predicting When Mt. Rainier Will Erupt!

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Since my past post on September 19th (one week ago), weather predictions for the Yakima Valley have significantly changed. At that time, indications were that temperatures would be in the low to mid 70′s. Certainly not ideal ripening weather.

I’m very happy to announce that as viewed on the N.O.A.A. weather website, we’re now looking forward to temperatures hovering around 79 to 82 degrees for the upcoming week depending on location.

This will most clearly cause the vines to “jump” rapidly in sugar (and hopefully bring up pH’s as well). Now, it could be “scramble like there’s no tomorrow,” as when this occurs, grape vines will rocket up the fruit development as they seem to intuitively sense the season is nearly over.

No doubt next week we’ll begin crush in spades! Clearly, the Tempranillo at both Sugarloaf and Two Coyote will have to come off the vines. As of Saturday the 25th, Grenache has even moved nicely, now in the low 23 brix range. Mourvedre is still a concern but I have a feeling that it will take a good leap as well.

I think predicting Pacific Northwest weather is similar to predicting when Mt. Rainier will erupt. You know something’s gonna’ happen sooner or later, but suggesting anything specific in advance is merely speculative. What they have in common however, is that essentially, both are unpredictable!

Well, that’s farming … you have to roll with it. Regardless, it’s best to be well prepared for both events, whether it’s grapes or a plume of ash. In either case, it’s always wise to have a good supply of wine on hand.

It’s back to the Yakima Valley in a day or two. Time to munch some grapes, see how crispy the seeds crunch, and feel for that balance across the palate.

The Little Summer That Almost Was

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Here we are now, September 26th, and there’s roughly no more than four weeks of viable time to bring in all of the fruit. This is the absolute latest I’ve ever waited and there’s no “Indian Summer” in sight if you look on the weather websites. The forecast for temperatures over the next two weeks in the Yakima Valley are predicted to be only in the low to middle 70′s with an occasional upper 70′s.

These conditions are a compelling example of the necessity to carefully match a given grape varietal with the appropriate vineyard site, or mezoclimate. In the case of the Rhone grapes there is a poignant difference between syrah and grenache. Syrah, being a “chameleon grape” can adapt to a wide range of climates, but grenache must have a long and warm summer to fully ripen. Mourvedre also falls in the same category. After all, both are indigenous to Spain where the climate of their origin rarely behaves in the manner we are experiencing in Eastern Washington this fall.

But … TA-DA! Enter stage left … TEMPRANILLO! Being an early ripening grape, by its name alone (implying “temperate”), the great red grape savior looks to be coming through this half-baked summer in spades!

So, happily, we announce the first pick of the 2010 vintage this Tuesday the 21st from the original planting of tempranillo at the Two Coyote vineyard. Phil Cline, vineyard manager, called a day or two ago to tell me that we had made it to 24 brix and still climbing! So, it’s “over the hill” for me tomorrow to check out the fruit prior to picking.

The success of this small block is also due to another important consideration when planting grapes in a region where there’s little track record. This is clonal selection. The first planting of tempranillo at Two Coyote is simply called the #1 clone. There is truly a significant difference between the two current clones in Washington known as #1 and #2.

Clone #1 seems to produce a rather small cluster with berries about the size of merlot, while the #2 clone’s clusters are much larger, longer, cylindrical, and with a bigger berry. It’s no surprise that the second planting of tempranillo at Two Coyote, the #2 clone, is at least two brix behind the original planting. However, the tempranillo at Sugarloaf vineyard is rapidly approaching 24 brix as well and it’s the #2 clone. So, this would substantiate that the rather steep hillside site where it’s planted encourages earlier ripening.

The outlook for both grenache and mourvedre is still a concern, but between Ciel du Cheval on Red Mountain and the steep hillside of Sugarloaf, we may pull through. Counoise, also of Spanish origin, may present difficulties as well, for several times in year’s past, it simply “gave up” and shut down.

In effort to take the high road, growers are using phrases such as “bright fruit flavors.” “good acidity instead of flaccid texture,” and “finally, lower alcohols.” Well, I’m all for lower alcohols, but high acid goes hand in hand with low pH. This can seriously effect the completion of malolactic fermentation, or the conversion of malic acid in the grape must to lactic acid. Without it, red wine is terse, abrupt and thin as opposed to round, supple and smooth.

Undoubtedly, this will be a vintage radically unlike almost all others in Washington. It could be one with wines that possess great aging potential and it could also be a failure depending on the vineyard location. It will definitely challenge winemakers who are unfamiliar with processing grapes of high acid, low ph and lower sugars.

I certainly appreciate wines with good aging potential, but for purposes of perspective, here’s an old adage: “95% of all wine purchased in the United States is consumed within 72 hours.” Funny, that sounds like the total number of degree days with good heat units this year in the vineyards.

Oh well, c’est la vie. Opps, this being a website about those things Spanish, rather:
“esa es la manera en que se!”

Salida 2008 ‘Tres Vinos’ Debut

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We’re very proud to announce the inaugural release of the 2008 Salida ‘Tres Vinos’ to kick off the Labor Day Weekend at our downtown Olympia Wine Tasting Bar this coming Saturday, September 4th.

‘Tres Vinos’ is a spicy, complex, medium bodied wine made from Tempranillo, Garnacha Tinta (Grenache) and Monastrell (Mourvedre), the three primary red grapes of Spanish origin. It’s a tasty melange that can accompany a wide range of foods, from grilled meats to pastas, or just good ol’ hamburgers.

Priced to sell at $19 a bottle, it’s quite a bargin, considering that only 48 cases were produced! ‘Tres’ is a fun red wine, intended for simple pleasure but with a touch of “grip” giving it depth and focus.

The Olympia Wine Tasting Bar is located in the New Caldonia Building at 116 – 5th Ave. SE in the heart of downtown Olympia. We’ll be open on Saturday from 1 to 6 pm and 1 to 4 on Sunday. So head on over this weekend, join us in the fun and celebrate the first of three 2008 Salida reds!

2010 Vintage ‘Slow Cooker’

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Here we are with now two-thirds of August past. Veraison, the French term for “the turning” or the time when the grapes begin to show color, is about as late as we’ve seen for quite some time.

The protracted late spring coolness, and even some rain, have significantly delayed grape maturation in many of the varietals. The good news is that since just past the 4th of July the weather in the Yakima Valley has been very supportive of grape development. Prior to the 4th, things were not so good.

A significantly bright spot is our Tempranillo. Named for it’s relatively early ripening characteristic (the term “temperate”), it promises to be fully mature when we typically harvest, around the final days of September or just into October. Thank goodness for that attribute of the grape!

My greatest concern is for Grenache, as it requires a long and warm growing season. Currently, it’s pretty far behind, probably around two weeks or more. The Mourvedre is somewhere in between, but I believe it should ripen fully, particularly if we have a warm September and early October.

With farming there’s no guarantees, but on the whole, Washington State’s late season weather has typically been very impressive. So, we cross our fingers and hope for a classic Indian Summer.

Olympia Wine Tasting Bar

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It’s been a long time coming! On Saturday, August 14th we’re opening our first tasting “room” at noon in downtown Olympia, featuring both Salida and McCrea Cellars wines.

The space is located in a very classy building called ‘New Caldonia’ in the heart of the downtown at 116 – 5th Avenue East on the north side of the street, between Capitol Way and Washington Street. The early 20th century building is beautifully renovated, featuring a lovely central courtyard with a large skylight and a big magnolia tree below … just like home back in New Orleans!

Although pretty small (about 500 square feet) the tasting room is cozy and warm with three clerestory windows allowing for a soft natural lighting. A beautiful floor to ceiling radius window “wall” in the front looks out into the building and affords a greater feeling of openess. Tuscan orange walls and a soft cork flooring seem to give a feeling of being transported to a boutique European salon.

Emphasizing the curved theme of the front windows, the tasting bar is also a radius, reflecting the window’s graceful look in an opposite curve. Over the bar hang three distinctive pendent lights, and pin spots arranged among the open-beamed ceiling illuminate the walls which will provide an on-going display for regional artists to feature their works. Scattered about the room are four mini-bar tables for our customers to gather around as they sample the variety of wines.

Speaking of wines, they will be available in several offerings, including individual tastings of each, several flights of three wines, and wines by the glass. Of course, customers may purchase any of the wines being poured on a given day.

Another special feature of the Olympia Wine Tasting Bar will be a monthly gathering called “Third Thursdays.” On that evening of the month, we’ll be offering select small plates paired with our wines and served in the courtyard which comfortably seats 30 to 40 people. Each of those nights, we plan to explore a host of topics of interest in the wine and food genre as well as having guest appearances from local artisans and Olympia merchants. Discussions could range from pairing asian foods with wines, or Northwest geology and vineyard mezoclimate, to contemporary jewel crafting, or native American culture in the South Sound.

Our tasting bar will be open Thursday through Sunday in the afternoon from 1 p.m. until 6 p.m except on Sundays which will be a 4 p.m. closing time. We’re very excited to launch this new adventure in the history of McCrea Cellars and the new Salida wines! Please join us in the festivities! We hope to see you soon!

A Prayer For Tempranillo – Part 3

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These are my closing thoughts to the wine writer. “A Prayer For Tempranillo” could really apply to any wine grape. It’s disconcerting that syrah has reached the pinnacle, the virtual “Poster Child” of Washington, then collapsed so rapidly. We saw this happen to merlot in the 90′s but today, it seems to have made a reasonable rebound. There’s hope that syrah will also, however I believe that all of us in different walks of life in the wine industry will need to learn a lesson from this “overabundance,” whether a grower, winemaker, wine critic, retailer or restaurateur.

The wine critic will often express various merits of a syrah from the perspective of its production, using terms such as “well-made, good structure, great balance, clean finish,” etc. Then there’s the plethora of descriptive terms applied, often in an attempt to give the consumer some insight as to its attributes and distinctive components. Unfortunately, the great majority of them are cookie-cutter offerings, sometimes with a bit of “sprinkles” to achieve delineation.

Is it unfair to suggest that, in part, there’s a responsibility among those who critique the wine to apply a criteria addressing the inherent signature that clearly identifies the wine as a “syrah?” If it’s appropriate that “big, jammy, powerful and concentrated” are equally valid for the grape, versus “spicy, meaty, peppery and smoky bacon,” then is it not likely that confusion will continue to abound? Have wine consumers been led to believe that “bigger is better,” the unfortunate mantra of too many pundits? Imagine if this was applied to pinot noir!

I’m not suggesting that new-world syrah must literally emulate those of Hermitage or the Cote-Rotie. There’s certainly the potential that something new and exciting may be discovered right here in our backyard. But will it likely be achieved with thousands of acres of the grape planted wherever convenient? No doubt, the bottom has dropped out of the market and the wine has become increasingly difficult to sell, so the question is: “What’s gone wrong?”

In my estimation, there are several culprits, but I believe that the abject lack of typicity is the primary cause. In other words, it lacks identity. Remember in Part 2 Asimov’s describing it as often “dreadfully generic red wine of little character.” I believe several underlying causes would include, “massive hopping on the bandwagon,” overplanting and overcropping, picking the fruit over-ripe, the science and methodology of winemaking overshadowing creativity, excessive price to value ratio, and a disturbing ignorance of the grape’s morphology.

Even after 20+ years of working with syrah, I’m rethinking my objectives as well as reducing syrah production in deference towards seeking microclimates which support its potential excellence and typicity. Hopefully, in time we’ll experience a resurgence of the grape, but I believe that it’s not in the near furture unless some serious effort is made to discern an identity, a responsibility for all of us in the industry who promote the grape.

So now, with a retrospective concern, I offer “A Prayer For Tempranillo.”

“Dear Father of all grapes, conceived by your intelligent design.

We ask that you spare Tempranillo from the way of the past,
That you bestow upon us, the guardians of this recently transplanted entity,
A sense of wonder and a craving for knowledge.

We ask that you lead us first to introspection and sound judgement,
So that we apply careful selectivity and thoughtful acts, void of
The desire to place remuneration before substance.

We ask that you guide us to the understanding that
Creativity is an act of passion, the driving force of all great deeds,
And that we never loose our sense of mystery and intrigue.

We pray that Tempranillo will never want for a place in the sun
Where its abundant qualities are misunderstood and misguided
And that most importantly, it sings of an expression all its own.

Amen.

A Prayer For Tempranillo – Part 2

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This is my second blog on the subject of syrah’s current demise, the following text having been written in an email to a leading wine writer.

In the June 1, 2010 issue of the New York Times, Eric Asimov, the newspaper’s chief wine critic, wrote a deeply troubling article regarding syrah. It begins like this: “There’s a joke going around West Coast wine circles: What’s the difference between a case of syrah and a case of pneumonia? You can get rid of the pneumonia.”

He goes on to quote Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyards. “It appears to have crashed and burned in this country.” Then, he quotes Ehren Jordan, proprietor of Failla Vineyards. “There has been a collective running into a brick wall by people who make syrah.” This is personally pretty troubling for it was with Randall’s inspiration that I began to embark on my syrah journey back in 1990. We had a great lunch together in Santa Cruz and talked extensively about the grape and its potential in Washington State.

Asimov goes on to say, “It’s fair to say that much of the syrah produced in California is dreadfully generic red wine of little character.” Back in the 1970′s and ’80′s, the early efforts of American syrah pioneers … intended to emulate Rhone wines. Later entrants to the game had different ideas. In 1990 … only 164 acres of the grape were planted in the state. Then came an explosion. By the end of that Rhone-mad decade, more than 10,000 acres were planted, and since then even that number has doubled …”

“As syrah production was beginning to take off, some American wine critics were starting to award their highest scores to big, broad, powerfully fruity wines that displayed richness and opulence. The desire for critical approval … caused many American syrah producers to emulate this intensely ripe, jammy style.”

“Contributing to the confusion is the fact that a good deal of California syrah is simply planted in inappropriate places. ‘If you want it to actually have character, it needs to be grown in a very cool climate,’ said Mr. Grahm … and most top syrah producers would agree. Syrahs from warm areas lack the syrah signature of pepper, olive, meatiness, iron and mineral … from warm areas they just have this monochromatic blueberry and oak quality.”

Asimov does go on to present a guarded optimisim for syrah’s future, pointing to several winemakers who have focused on creating wines having the classic components of the Northern Rhone wines. He suggests several bottles to seek out such as, Copain Wine Cellars vineyard designated wines, Edmunds St. John, Qupe, Ojai Vineyard, Failla, Bonny Doon, Peay Vineyards, and Wind Gap.

I doubt that he would find most Washington syrah to display the characteristics he deems desirable for the grape to survive it’s downward spiral. However, I believe that taking Grahms position on climate is a fundamental requisite. Over my twenty years of having planted the grape and worked with it from a large number of locations throughout the State, I’ve instinctivly focused on cooler relms, particularly towards the central and western regions of the Yakima Valley at elevations of 1,000 feet or greater.

It’s also been clear that soil plays a primary role, and that the “typical” Washington alluvium loess-basalt conglomerate may not be very desirable. After all, the great vineyards of the Cote-Rotie and Hermitage are primarily limestone and granite with elemental schist, white and black mica, gneiss, and so on. Some of these qualities do exist in our State, but not in the same geological formations, nor in the same climate.

It looks as if I may have to postpone my “Prayer For Tempranillo” to the next installment, as this is getting pretty lengthy. But you may be beginning to “get my gist” as we used to say in Texas. Shouldn’t we “early pioneer” winemakers consider taking a more introspective view and consider the importance of what we’re attempting in order to elevate our State’s wines and of our love of the vine? Or should we simply invest roughly 15 to 20 thousand dollars per acre and see what happens?

“Hey, I’ve got a great idea! Let’s start a winery! ‘Ya know ‘hun, we’re a lot of fun to be around and we’ve sure drunk enough wine. That’s most of the battle won right there, eh what? After all, it’s easy to find grapes to buy.”

Really?

A Prayer For Tempranillo – Part 1

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This is the text of a recent email I sent to a prominent wine writer with whom many of you would be familiar. Although it isn’t specifically about Tempranillo, it brings to the forefront my great concern for what could eventually happen to the grape as has been the case with syrah.

Dear Winewriter,

I read your column recently in the “newspaper” and thought I’d share some concerns as to why I believe syrah has, to a great extent, “fallen from grace,” not only in our State but in California as well.

This actually came up in a discussion I had with Lance Cutler (once winemaker at Gundlach-Bundschu in Sonoma), or “aka” Jake Lorenzo at a tasting we were doing for an article Lance is contributing to the Wine Business Monthly magazine in an upcoming issue.

Essentially, my position was that syrah is suffering from an identity crisis, or maybe a “lack of identity” crisis. It was poignant that even one of the panelist’s syrah’s was in the tasting, contributing precisely to the problem. It wasn’t a flawed wine as actually, it was well made. However, it was blended with so much cabernet sauvignon that it hardly represented syrah as a grape, yet was labelled “syrah.” The winemaker’s position was that he was emulating the Australian style, and that it was a common practice “downunder” to blend the two.

In your article you pointed out, and justifiably so, that many young winemakers are attempting to produce wines from other less common varietals such as barbera, zinfandel, carmenere, etc. Those “many young winemaker” are also attacking syrah with the same degree of inexperienced gusto, and to a great extent, lack any understanding of the “grail” itself; that of Northern Rhone syrah.

Syrah has been planted across Washington much in the manner of Johnny Appleseed. Its capacity to adapt to a very wide variety of micro-climates is an admirable trait for growers, but also has contributed to its decline. Often, the result is like that of the chameleon, replicating its enviornment so precisely that it lacks an identity, causing the consumer confusion, frustration, and ultimately, indifference.

Couple this dilemma with the unbridled explosion of Washington wineries, of which far too many produce syrah, and the stage is set for a sea of ubiquitous redundancy. It’s said that we now have roughly 4,000 acres of syrah in production, and possibly 400 individual wines. Similarly, this has also happeded in California where also, very few distinctive syrahs are produced.

Gradually the consumer has been left wondering, “What is syrah? How should it taste? What aromas express the grape’s inherent characteristics?” How can I know what I’m actually going to get?” From the perspective of the media, critics, restaurant wine stewards, shop owners, etc., this lack of identity compounds the problem even greater as they attempt to define the wine due to its illusive progression.

When asked by a customer in a restaurant to describe a given bottle of syrah, the sommelier will offer so many descriptive terms that it practically sounds like an encyclopedia of the “wine wheel.” Confusion abounds with the myriad sea of styles and flavors, resulting in difficulty distinguishing the product of one winery from that of another, yet alone defining the grape and its noble attributes.

In the next blog, I’ll offer you my “Prayer For Tempranillo!”
For now, Hasta Luego!

Espana ha llegado a Washington!

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It’s been a truly rewarding week, as a little more of Spain has come to Washington. On Wednesday the 26th and Thursday the 27th, our new block of GRACIANO was planted at the Two Coyote Vineyard, the same location where we sourced our first two vintages of Tempranillo.

My sincere thanks to the vineyard owners, the Chiles’ and the Stroshal’s, and particularly to Phil Cline who manages Two Coyote, for all of his effort and focus making this possible. Phil sent me photos of the planting, and “los pequenos bebes” look very healthy and strong.

Graciano is a very special Spanish grape, hailing primarily from the Rioja Alta region where Tempranillo rules. Primarily, it has been used as a blending grape with Tempranillo, and as Jancis Robinson describes is “… characterized by a very strong aroma and good lasting ability and colour.” It’s unfortunate that the grape is low yielding, and as a result, has slowly declined in the region with virtually no plantings in the last fifty years.

Robinson states that the ” … absence in modern Rioja blends helps to explain some of the qualitative difference between the great Riojas of then and now.” In Duijker’s, The Wine Atlas of Spain, he echos Robinson’s lament, commenting, “It is sad that this high quality variety has almost disappeared from Riojoa’s vineyards. Low yields have made it unpopular although it makes fine, powerful wine that ages well.”

Well … their loss, our gain! We gonna’ make the phoenix rise in Washington State! So down the road in a couple of years, we should harvest our first Graciano, and find out for ourselves how aptly it blends with its big brother Tempranillo. Also, expect a stand-alone version to be included on the Salida label, as this grape deserves some serious attention.

Salud! Doug

WINE PILLOW TALK

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She:  “It’s so good to get in bed, and to relax and snuggle.  What a long day.”

He:  “I brought you a special surprise!  The new 2007 Salida Tempranillo!”

She:  “You lit the candles!  I’ll bet you think the wine will taste better that way.”

He:  “It may later on when …”

She:  “Wow, when I hold the wine against the light, it has beautiful, slow legs that remind me of a tango dancer.  Very clever Honey, since Tempranillo is a Spanish grape.”

He:  “Yes, I’m really happy about the glycerides.  You know, when you wrap your legs around …”

She:  “Hush!  I want to sip it.  Oh my, it’s really a big and expansive mouthful!

He:  “That’s actually what I was trying to achieve when I …”

She:  “It’s like velvet in my mouth, but really firm too.”

He:  “Did you know that there was a recent medical study suggesting that tannins may help a man to …”

She:  “Stop!  Oh My Word!  I can feel it just trickle down the back of my throat.  Oh gosh it kind of tickles.”

He:  “Yes, again it’s those glycerides.  They give the wine …”

She:  “Sensual!  That’s it!  No, maybe sexy!  Gosh, I remember those days when my girlfriends and I would go to Girls Night Out at the Purple Turtle.  The guys would dance on stage and begin to take … “

He:  “Honey!  I though we were talking about the wine!”

She:  “Wow!  It smells just like a fresh-baked cherry pie, or maybe like one of those chocolate covered cherry candies.  No, now I’m getting something like leather.  When I was riding last weekend … “

He:  “That’s kind of what I had in mind tonight, but …”

She:  “Really good job, Honey!  ‘Ya know, you’re very talented.”

He:  “Oh incidentally, Brian and I are thinking of going fishing early tomorrow morning.”

She:  “Thank goodness, I don’t smell any of that briney-like thing.”

He:  “Yeah.  That would probably mean there’s a problem with …”

She:  “Wait!  Now I’m getting a kind of smokey aroma.  Remember when we went camping last summer.  It was so romantic.  I can smell the campfire in the wine!”

He:  “I thought the best part was when we got into the back of the truck and …” 

She:  “Honey, didn’t you lite the candles for a special reason?  Not to talk about going fishing or camping.”

First blog everyone!  Hope you enjoyed it!  And don’t forget to get a bottle of the new ’07 Tempranillo before it’s gone! 

Just a reminder:  Mars and Venus taste wine too, but that women, by far, make the most wine purchases in the U.S.  And don’t forget to blow the candles out.  Alegria!

www.SalidaWine.com