My, I have been quiet. Friend Ron posts ~25 times a month. My 2012 average is ~1. Need to do better. (And as I think about posting this, his production values are high…when I haven’t given links just google or bing or whatever).
What better way to renew than add a few notes to Ron’s excellent discussion of our visit to Walla Walla wine country in late July. I can’t thank Gail and Ron enough for including us.
I had been moving rapidly. To Whistler for a week with my brother and his family, except midweek I visited New York for a meeting. I left Whistler very early on Sunday to pick up Tobae at home and make our way to Walla Walla. On the way we listened to KIRO 97.3 FM, Seattle Kitchen with Chefs Tom Douglas and Thierry Rautureau. We were able to insert some wisdom regarding X in conversations in Walla Walla. With good luck Tobae will remind me of what X is! But in total, I drove 9 hours that day.
We left Snohomish on Sunday in time to visit Portteus on the drive, outside Zillah on Rattlesnake Ridge. A favorite of ours, but inexplicably we hadn’t been in a long time and were out of their many food-friendly and tremendous value wines. Our first visit we arrived at the winery a good hour before tasting opened based on some bad information. But owner Paul Portteus was extraordinarily gracious, stopped what he was doing, and gave us a full tasting. At that time we found that Rattlesnake Red was a tremendous bargain. Coupled with a terrific reserve Merlot (and I usually don’t like Merlot) and some good Zins. This time we mixed two cases…pretty sure those contained Rattlesnake Red, Bistro Red, Reserve Merlot, Reserve Zin, Petite Sirah, their first Pinot Noir (strange hot country for this), and Old Vine Zin. At the winery Rattlesnake Red (29% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese, 14% Petite Sirah and 14% Zinfandel) is $8/bottle in case quantities. Can’t go wrong! Nearly all (all?) of the fruit is grown on his expansive vineyard. (I wish I could remember the name of the not quite family member who took very good care of us. And it was great to see Paul come in while we were there and take a strong taste…I wish I had caught of which wine.)
And so we continued on and arrived in Walla Walla perhaps five minutes ahead of Ron and Gail. We made dinner plans. I regret I didn’t quite explain to Ron that the menu at Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen looked fantastic and the result on arriving without a reservation was a full house. But we agreed to sit outside as the sun was setting and it was delightful. Much more quiet than the booming interior and the service was top notch despite the extra distance from the kitchen. I will yet figure out how to make blackberry gazpacho, odd looking from the blackberry color, but with eyes closed worthy of the name.
Day One was full of learning for me, perhaps the most I’ve learned in a single day of tasting ever. As I contemplate my own very small vineyard (Pinot Gris certainly should work, and Pinot Noir continues moving northward), I paid considerable attention during our vineyard tour at Walla Walla Vintners. I now have a vast store of pictures of how their trellising system works and equipment I’ll need; I’m looking forward to cutting down on mowing of the once “soccer field” as the vineyard goes into production. The beauty of stop two at Buty was that our host had a legal background. Many new insights into the lasting effects of prohibition as well as the new distribution system in Washington State. Wasn’t sure how the stop at Waters would work out, until it became clear there was a bottling truck on site. I’d seen one before, but nobody else had. And it was a treat for me to get inside and up close. Followed by a very special tour at Forgeron hosted by Marie-Eve. Most of our third case came from Forgeron: I’m certain it contains their Primitivo. (Followers of this Wine Country thread know that I love D-cubed Primitivo from Napa Valley.)
Day Two was right up there on the learning scale. Rasa was easily the geekiest winery ever. QED, Occam’s Razor, Principia among wine names. It wouldn’t be obvious without personally hearing Billo talk about their wines, but especially with Car Talk going out of production these brothers should create Wine Talk. Like Ron I agree Northstar was a disappointment, but essentially from contrast with all our other visits in terms of intimacy. Interesting idea to be a Merlot house, just as the Duckhorn’s staked out Napa Valley. But as I mentioned earlier, Merlot is almost never my thing. (Must say compared to Northstar, I prefer Portteus Reserve Merlot by far and at a better price.) Garrison Creek had an extraordinarily beautiful and green physical plant and some fine wines, but way (way!) too much oak for my taste. Greener, certainly greenest I’ve seen, is Pepper Bridge. An extraordinary tour from Walla Walla legend Norm McKibben. Fascinating to hear and learn of his depth of knowledge that brings together production, quality, economics, and care for the environment.
Now to my central point. Ron acknowledged multiple times our fantastic host/guide Phillippe Michel. What he missed was this incredible blog post from the owner of Walla Walla’s Shady Lawn Antiques. Phillippe not only sells barrels, he fixes barrels. Forever. And most charming he is dressed in the pictures exactly as we first saw him. And that he is from Belgium, not France, opened a world of humor.
Thanks too to Imbibe Tours. Our tour was arranged separately; they donated the transportation. But very, very clear that they would be great hosts taking you to quality, mainly by reservation, wineries off the beaten track. Many thanks Jay.