Tag Archives: North America

Where the vineyards are (Yakima Valley, Washington)

The Tri-Cities area is one of the least interesting places I have been to on my trip so far. It is a very functional area, as the gateway to the South East, and there are many new communities that have blossomed in housing estates. But it is generally a city without much heart and soul. I was fairly glad to be heading off along the Yakima River towards Seattle, as it would take me through areas where a third of the fruit is grown in Washington. After trying many wines from the Yakima AVA I was keen to see how the environment influenced the wines. The most South Eastern sub-region of the Yakima Valley is Red Mountain, where many of the best reds come from. Whilst it is at least a quarter of the size of the Walla Walla Valley, it amazingly grows more fruit. It is very dry, and probably gets very hot in summer. In a way it reminded me of the Barossa Valley, so naturally Rhone varieties like Shiraz do very well here. This is certainly not white wine country, otherwise it would be called Red & White Mountain.

Red Mountain AVA

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Writing the rule book (Walla Walla Valley, Washington – Day Two)

As I mentioned in my previous post, the wine industry in Walla Walla is nothing if not progressive. A region that has really only been around for 15 years, they aren’t so much in a revolution as an evolution, not a renaissance but a birth. As Charles Smith said to me the previous day, there are no rules here. They are all just trying to figure out what does well here, and they are so far ahead of the curve it isn’t funny. Much like the winemakers in southern NSW these guys are getting access to amazing fruit in new viticultural areas and expressing wines that are both impetuous and yet refined. Is it any wonder that wine critics in Washington and the rest of the US are so excited about this place?

The Walla Walla Valley

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I’m so excited and I think I like it (Walla Walla, Washington – Day One)

Way down in the cocoon of Melbourne there isn’t a lot of North American wine available. It’s mostly either Californian, Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, or Inniskillin. So in this environment I had no idea that the Walla Walla Valley is the most exciting place for wine in the entire United States. In doing research just before I came across I found a video of online wine phenomenon Gary Vaynerchuk stating that Walla Walla is the best region for wine, angering many in the Napa Valley. Having visited for the first time yesterday I am tempted to agree with him. The Walla Walla Valley had grapevines introduced by Italian migrants back in the mid-1800s but like everywhere else, the first bonded winery wasn’t founded until after prohibition in 1950. The Pesciallo family who founded Blue Mountain Vineyards were certainly way ahead of their time, as they didn’t survive and vines weren’t then planted until the 1970s. Walla Walla went unnoticed for almost thirty years until the mid ’90s when there were less than 10 wineries, and a number of wines started to get rave reviews. This started a serious boom in the region, to the point that there are now about 160 wineries sourcing fruit from the entire Columbia Valley & Walla Walla AVA. This is a region seriously on the move, so pay attention.

L’Ecole No 41 Tasting Room

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Dramatic landscapes (Columbia Gorge, Oregon/Washington)

I’m starting to get used to the disappointment that I can’t spend more time in all the places I am going, and Portland was one of the hardest to leave so far. It’s much nicer staying in the hostels because you are around people more and there’s stuff to do in the evening. It’s nice having some space and quiet in the motels, but it’s pretty boring and lonely. It does give me a chance to catch up on things and look ahead for arrangements, but I do waste a bit too much time flipping through the thousands of channels on the television.

Columbia Valley, Oregon to the left, Washington to the right

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Variations on a theme (Willamette Valley, Oregon – Day Three)

One of the major things I’m going to take away from my time in the Willamette Valley is that there are so many variables in wine that can influence style. Even though pinot noir is the king of grapes in Oregon, there is such a wide variety of styles due to site, clone, vintage and winemaking. In one day today I saw such a range of wines that it was hard to believe they all came from the same grape variety.

Pinot noir fruit at Domaine Drouhin Oregon

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Sub-regional revolution (Willamette Valley, Oregon – Day Two)

It’s safe to say that wine regions in the USA, much like in Australia, are big. This makes it difficult to categorise a region as having a certain style or characteristic. This is partly because there are differences in approaches to winemaking, but mostly because there are countless micro-climates and differences in appelation and site within a broad region. The size of the region also means you are covering a large distance when you are visiting, and getting from one appointment to another in time can have complications.

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Come on down to pinot town (Willamette Valley, Oregon – Day One)

I think that Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor richly deserved the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for Sideways. Having finished Rex Pickett’s sequel to the novel Sideways, and seeing how poor not only his prose is, but also his proof-reading, I can only imagine how badly written his first book must have been. It’s been interesting to discover what happens to the characters, and it might make an interesting film sequel. It has also proved interesting to read it as I have travelled up the west coast, following almost the same route as Miles and Jack. I have now arrived at the zenith of the novel, and the primary wine region the characters reside in. That region is the Central Otago equivalent of North America; the Willamette Valley. Steve Naughton from Pinot NOW had given me a detailed list of wineries to visit, and over the past few weeks I had contacted most of them, and most had got back to me. Much like the rest of my trip up the coast so far, my timing was a little off as vintage was fast approaching and the much smaller wineries in the Willamette Valley were tentative to set anything up until closer to the date. They were very positive about me visiting, which was a lot more than I had gotten out of some Californian regions.

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Oh, the scenery! (Rogue Valley & Eugene, Oregon)

What a change, to drive from Ukiah in Northern California into Southern Oregon. Once you get past Redding, California the scenery becomes a lot more dramatic. You start to see a lot denser pine forests and heading up into more mountainous climbs. The highway becomes steeper and more curvy, and before long you see the snow-covered Mount Shasta approaching. And not long after that, you are in Oregon, without any fanfare at all. It’s a pretty long drive from Ukiah to Eugene, so I broke it up by stopping in Medford at the heart of the Rogue Valley.

I called into the second largest winery in the region, named Roxy Ann Winery. Historically the estate was covered in orchards, but was converted to wine grapes just over ten years ago. They are best known for their pinot gris of which they make quite a bit, but I thought the standout in terms of value was the Honour Barn Red. I got the chance to try their pear wine, which was very dangerously easy to drink. The other winery I dropped in on was Del Rio, the largest in the region. Unfortunately owing to the fact I didn’t have a business card “proving” that I worked in the wine industry (something I have since remedied thanks to Staples’ four hour turnaround) I could only try one wine. Both wineries had a Claret, a term that apparently can be used as long as it was before the watershed imposed by the EU.

RoxyAnn tasting room

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California – what I’ve learnt

Wines born of sunshine and heat are fruit driven and higher in alcohol. They tend to be richer and fuller in fruit, particularly the chardonnays and Bordeaux varieties. This does not mean they are simple wines, as in most cases they have a higher acidity to balance out the fruit and alcohol. Winemaking techniques are fairly universal. They don’t do anything different in the winery or out in the vineyards that distinguishes them in particular. What speaks volumes is the quality of the fruit and the expressions of terroir. The problem is when winemakers do too much to interfere with the fruit, attempting to exert their influence on the finished product.

Los Olivos market

Los Olivos market

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Alsace or Burgundy, you be the judge (Anderson Valley, California)

The Anderson Valley suffers somewhat from isolation, as every road into it is very windy and narrow (which makes for great driving, actually). There isn’t a large population living there either, so drawing people in is very important. Luckily they are blessed with some of the best fruit in California, both wine grapes and table fruit like apples. Post-Prohibition this region was established until the early ’70s and so they are younger than most regions in the state. The key varieties here are pinot noir (the best in California in my opinion), and gewürztraminer.

Tasting at Goldeneye Winery

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