Thursday, September 26, 2013

Do you want me to hate you? or what not to say in the tasting room.

Our tasting room 'wine wench' was seeking a partridge in a pear tree when she fell from the ladder and shattered her forearm, so I have been working tasting room a lot lately. Most people are nice and considerate and fun to talk to, but the few that aren't drive me to go into the back room to look at the sign that says, “My face hurts from pretending to like you.” Here are some of the things not to say.

“I'm just tasting today. I'll be back tomorrow to buy.” You are lying. You are an outright liar. Tomorrow, you won't even remember the name of the wineries you visited today, let alone drive all the way back out here from Yakima, Prosser, or the Tri-cities to buy a bottle of wine. Are you trying to make me feel good? Well, you are not. You are making me hate you. Oh yes, it did happen once. The person did come back and buy, but it is better to surprise me than make me hate you for 24 hours.

“We're just getting started, so we're not buying now.” Oh, I get it. You are going to taste Chardonnay flavor, Cabernet flavor, Riesling flavor, and Cola flavor and you are going to buy a bottle of the flavor you like best at the last winery you visit at the end of the day. Thanks for nothing. Why not just say “thank you” for wasting the last hour of my time and get out of my face.

“I didn't find anything that turned me on.” Am I missing something here? Are you looking for an aphrodisiac or wine? There are some hookers on First Street, why don't you find one and see what she can do for you. I doubt if she will give samples away for free like I did. Or just stop by a porn shop and save me time to work with real customers.

“Well, that's really different.” No, it really isn't. I have judged hundreds of wines and that wine is not 'really different.' It is varietally correct and not flawed. Perhaps you had a wine with high volatile acidity at the last winery or perhaps a lot of brettanomyces. Maybe it was the gum you were chewing when you walked in. I guess then it might be really different, but your comment shows more ignorance than insight.

“We're from Canada and can't take anything home with us.” Yes you can. If you go into BC, you can take two bottles without paying tax and duty. You can declare your purchase pay tax and duty. If you go into AB, you can take about 3 cases with you and pay minimal tax. You can also drink it here in the 'Sunny Soothlund.' Drink it in your hotel room. Take it to dinner and pay the corkage fee (Yakima has a corkage-free zone for locally purchased wine). I think you really meant to say you are a cheapskate. Lots of Canadians do buy wine.

“What's your best wine?” Well, our only good wine is the Sunset pink table wine. The rest is just crap we bottle. I was suckered on this one a long time ago. I poured our Cabernet. The woman puckered up badly and exclaimed, “don't you have anything sweeter?” The answer is always the same, “The wine you like best is our best wine.” so don't ask or I might just pour you Sunset, our answer to White Zin. It might be a good guess or a bad one if you expected our $40 Cab Sauv.

“I'm looking for big reds.” You just ran your finger nails across the blackboard. So what does that mean? You want alcohol over 15%? You want no noticeable tannins? Flabby, with no acid? A sweetness on the palate? Lack of varietal character? Overripe raisin/jammy flavors? Sorry, we don't make cocktails, we make wine - a food product that is made to go with food. What you should have said is, “I haven't a clue, but I think I'll impress you by saying 'big reds.'” or “I only drink wine Robert Parker says is good.”

“Well, I didn't like that!” Keep your trap shut and your opinions to yourself. I'd rather not know than hate you. I'm going into the back look and look at the sign.

The people who don't pay the reserve wine tasting fee of $5 up front and walk away from the counter like they are going to select a wine to buy, then sneak out the door when you aren't looking. You are basically a shop lifter, a crook, I'd like to see you rot in jail.

If you work in a tasting room, please share your 'favorite' customers.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Veraison in the Rattlesnake Hills

July 22, Veraison in the Rattlesnake Hills! Yep, with perfect weather, veraison is starting here. The forecast is for continuing temperatures in the low to mid 90s. Disease pressure is low. This is shaping up to be a banner year. Hard to be grumpy about this.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Drought in the Rattlesnake Hills


A customer came through last weekend who was returning from Walla Walla. A tasting room employee there said they felt sorry for the Rattlesnake Hills because our grapes weren't going to be any good this year because of the drought. Drought? We get six inches annual rainfall – less than Phoenix, Arizona. We wouldn't recognize a drought even if it didn't rain for months. Saying there is a drought in the Rattlesnake Hills is like saying it rains in Seattle. Who starts these rumors anyway and why?
Hardly drought stressed. Note the large leaves and long node spacing.
All the grapes in the Rattlesnake Hills are irrigated either by wells or the Yakima Basin Water Project. The only drought that somewhat affects us is a drought in the Cascade Mountains and there isn't one this year. Snow pack is near normal and the reservoirs are full. Water is plentiful.
Even this old Cabernet vineyard planted in 1968 is alive and well.


 We had some temperatures over 90 a couple of weeks ago and we got two weeks of growth in two days. The grapes are in full bloom this week - a week early. It is starting out to be a banner year.

Last week we got an unprecedented two inches of rain, so we can skip an irrigation cycle or two. It looks like deficit irrigation will start early this year since we have so much cane growth already.
Don't feel sorry for us. My rain gauge says we've had 8.05 inches in the last 365 days. Mushrooms are growing in the sagebrush. With no spring frosts, we will have plenty of high quality grapes for the Walla Walla wineries.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Top 10 Reasons Robert Parker Quit




All of the real wine bloggers have had their take on this subject, so I just thought I would add my take based upon no knowledge whatsoever.
 
10. He got tired of making up nonsensical phrases like “burnt Macaoan oak sliding like velvet on the tongue.” In fact the word 'horseshit' seemed to keep popping up more often than not.

9. The sheer number of wineries (over 775 at last count in Washington State alone) made selecting a few to review meaningless. In fact, even owning a winery is getting to be meaningless.

8. Circulation was down. He could see the writing on the wall. Not only did the recession cut into wine buyers discretionary spending on unnecessary items like the Advocate, they didn't have the big bucks to blow on overpriced wines that Parker reviewed. $6.87 at World of Wine? Hell, I can't tell the difference.

7. People don't care anymore. They don't need self-appointed professionals to tell them what they should be drinking. Wine drinkers in America have come of age. In fact, all wine publications are in trouble. Same old boring stories, same old boring reviews. Was it the '05 or '06 Shithouse Creek Cellars Merlot that got a 98? Hey, here is a '04 in the bargain bin. Must not be selling.

6. He got tired of free junkets to Bordeaux and having his boots licked by the Chinese. Chinese? Yes, it's a fact, the Chinese are buying up Bordeaux. Sacra Merde!

5. The insurance on his nose went up. Insuring his nose was going to cost more than his membership in the bar. He could make more by chasing ambulances.

4. He really prefers cocktails. (with hints of crème de Cacao, vanilla extract, and sweetness on the tongue.) (Read The Billionaires Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace.)

3. It got too hard to sort wine by bottle weights. Many wineries in their effort to 'go green' are using light-weight eco glass. It took too much effort to sort through all those wines in light-weight glass. You could no longer just pour out the wine and weigh the bottle.

2. Tax laws changed in 2013, so he got more in 2012 even if he took a hit on price.
And the number one reason:

He got a pile of money he couldn't refuse.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Annual Growing Degree Days




Each year since the approval of the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, I have reported the Growing Degree Days (GDD) for the major AVAs in Washington State. By major, I mean the ones where most of the grapes are grown – not discounting the importance of others. This all started because a group of people insisted that the area north of Prosser (Sagebrush Ridge) was the same climatically as the proposed Rattlesnake Hills AVA. Well, we proved them wrong and are still doing it.
Funny, one of our detractors who said he would ‘never put Rattlesnake Hills’ on his label, is planting ten additional acres of grapes in the AVA. He already has a vineyard here. Well, just keep putting Yakima Valley on your label and nobody will know where you grow your grapes. They could come from the Fort Road west of Toppenish for all anyone knows. Ah, but that would be too cowboy.
After a slow spring, it was a very good year for everyone. Rain was a factor in Walla Walla (as usual) and everywhere toward the end of the season. Those who sprayed for bunch rot were fine. Our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir came off before the rains, but the Riesling needed the extra spray.
Here is the summary:

2012

AVA
GDD
Rain
Rattlesnake
2990
2.76
Red Mountain
3008
4.38
Sagebrush Ridge
2559
4.98
Walla Walla
2693
10.76
Wahluke
3501
3.61
Horse Heaven
2990
3.34
As usual, Wahluke is the workhorse AVA of the state. With a solid achor in Region III it is a consistent producer for wineries large and small.
Red Mountain, Horse Heaven, and Rattlesnake Hills all tied for second in a three-way tie with no statistical difference. These three AVAs are the major producers of top Bordeaux Reds, but also workhorses of major wineries like Ste. Michelle, Gallo, and Constellation. Gallo bought everything they could get their hands on in the Rattlesnake Hills.
Walla Walla suffered spring and summer thunder storms and fall rains. With about 2700 GDD, they ripened all their grapes. This is a tough place to grow grapes, but those who succeed get well rewarded.
Sagebrush Ridge (not an AVA, but could be one if anyone cared) came in barely in Region II with 2559 GDD. With less the 5 inches rainfall, this is a prime area for Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling and other cool climate whites that benefit from the dry climate.
This was a vintage year all over the state. Can’t wait? Bonair Winery will be releasing the 2012 Riesling in January!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Edible Seattle – Hard to Stomach


Edible Seattle is a rag that has no real purpose other than to generate advertising revenue. The editor, Jill Lightner is light on the facts and heavy on the opinion. Maybe it's one of those magazines you buy in the airport to read on a long boring flight. (Five minute down, three hours and forty seven minutes to go.)

In the the July/August 2012 issue they published an article by Ron Holden about the Rattlesnake Hills AVA. Mister Holden makes numerous errors and assumptions in this article that was intended to put down the Rattlesnake Hills as an AVA. (He loved the Snipes Mountain AVA in the previous edition.) He neither understands the AVA process nor the facts surrounding the establishment of the Rattlesnake Hills AVA. Paul Gregutt, on the other hand, took a tour with me of the Rattlesnake Hills and the somewhat far away Sagebrush Ridge before he wrote about it. Mr. Holden did not, so he has no idea how far away and how different Sagebrush Ridge is. (Lots of wind machines is a clue.)

The title of the article, 'Snakes on the Plains: Rattlesnake Hills,' is misleading. One of the major differences between Prosser Flats aka Sagebrush Ridge and the Rattlesnake Hills is the Hills – many of them, according to Dr. Alan Busacca, soil scientist, giving us a large choice of terroir.

Crank up Dick Boushey and you will always get a put down of the Rattlesnake Hills. Quote, “I know of no regional style, specific variety or type of wine that is unique to this proposed area.” In reality, the reason that we wanted to distinguish this AVA was specifically the fact that Paul Portteus and I both noticed that Bordeaux varieties grown in Prosser flats had a distinct vegetal character in all but the warmest years. I purchased Cabernet Franc and Merlot from the FaireAcre mother block for years. The FaireAce mother block is adjacent to Boushey's vineyard. One year it was so vegetative I sold it to another winery to be blended into box wine. We wanted people to know that wine labeled Rattlesnake Hills would not be vegetal. (Yes, I know the quote is from Decanter Magazine from 2006. Odd that it showed up here since a search of Decanter Magazine does not reference it. Want to guess who is behind this? I think I know and it's not Dick.)

Mr. Holden refers to the “Snake in the Grass” party. I'm sorry, it is the “Snake in the Glass” party. Where was Ms. Lightner on this fact check?

Mr. Holden must have been a little confused in our telephone interview. The Morrison Vineyard was planted in 1968 for Ch. Ste. Michelle, but when I started using the fruit in 1987 it was already going to Quail Run Winery. I'm not sure when Ste. Michelle stopped using the fruit and Quail Run took over. Bonair Winery started using half the fruit in 1987 and purchased it all by 1989. Bonair Winery purchased the vineyard in 2002 but maintains the original name for historical reasons and to differentiate it from our Ch. Puryear Vineyard.

Last, but not least, is that picture of Pinot Noir. Less than 1% of the AVA is planted to Pinot Noir and I thought I had it all located. That picture also showed up on Wikipedia about six years ago with no credit other than 'the Rattlesnake Hills.' Well, mystery: solved. The one-acre vineyard is in the Rattlesnake Hills (surprise) and belongs to Windy Point Vineyards. Finally, credit can be given where credit it due. Liz says all you have to do is step out of the car to take the picture.

In summary, very poor journalism.

Friday, November 4, 2011

How Cold Was This Year and How Does the Winkler Scale work

The Winkler Scale was developed to classify grape growing regions to help farmers and wineries plant the appropriate varieties for the climate. In summary, it looks like this.
<2500 GDD – Region I – It is similar to Burgundy, Champagne, Rhine, and the Willamette Valley. Recommended grapes include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Riesling.
2500-3000 GDD - Region II – It is similar to Bordeaux and the Napa Valley. Recommended grapes include all region I grapes plus Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot.
3000-3500 GDD – Region III – it is similar to the Rhone Valley, Lake County, and Lodi. Recommended grapes include Syrah and Zinfandel.
The growing season ended October 31, even though harvest is still going on. Here is the scoop:
Wahluke
3070
Red Mountain
2715
Mattawa
2680
Horse Heaven
2662
Walla
2562
Rattlesnake
2545
Prosser Flats
2199
Wahluke claims 3070 degree days, which puts it into California Region III (Lodi and Lake County) even in a cool year. Nearby Mattawa registered 2680 – somewhat cooler near the river. Wahluke consistently ranks in Region III and is the warmest AVA in Washington.
 Red Mountain did well in this cool year with 2715. Horse Heaven came in next with 2662 and Rattlesnake Hills and Walla are virtually tied at 2554 and 2562 respectively. All of these AVAs consistently rank in Region II, just like the Napa Valley and Bordeaux.
All the major AVA’s did okay in this cool year and should produce good wines and in particular Bordeaux reds without vegetative flavors.
Sagebrush Ridge as usual was quite cool with only 2199 growing degree days. Here is the data for the last five years:
2011                2199
2010                2331
2009                2665
2008                2400
2007                2364
It is clear that the Yakima Valley (most of the grapes are grown on Sagebrush Ridge) should be classified as Region I.  Unlike what some folks with PhDs from UC Davis say, Sagebrush Ridge is NOT the same climate as the Rattlesnake Hills. It is definitely cooler down there in Prosser Flats. This was not a good year for Yakima Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Rain was a factor this year with bunch rot with rot-prone varieties like Riesling, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. The rain award goes to Walla with 1.31 inches during the fall ripening season (September 1 to October 31.) Red Mountain received the least with only 0.33 in.
The first day of frost was almost uniform across the region occurring either October 24 or 25 with the exception of Red Mountain and higher areas in the Rattlesnake Hills. As of November 4 it has not frosted above 1100 feet in the Rattlesnake Hills.