Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Where Have All the Wineries Gone - Sung to the tune of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone."

Some folks came into the winery the other day wondering if there were any wineries left in the Yakima Valley. Granted, they chose very well in finding those who no longer exist or are on very limited hours, but it got me thinking about bygone wineries; ones who are no longer with us. Everyone is focused on the new wineries (ones of a thousand) and forget those bygone ones. Let's have a quick review:
Stewart Vineyards Winery was started by Dr. Stewart and his wife Martha. After he and Martha separated, the Doc lost interest in the winery.  After Mike Januik left as winemaker, the quality of the wine went downhill pretty fast. I first met Mike at the winery, admired his work and hired him as a consultant to start Bonair Winery. Some things you do right in the wine business. Mike consulted for us for about a year before moving to Idaho. Stewart Vineyards Winery closed in 1997.
Who remembers M. Taylor Moore, known to his friends as Mike, who operated Blackwood Canyon? When Mike died, the winery died with him although I think it was closed prior to his death. People still tell stories of him pouring them vinegar as a last sample before sending them off to another winery. I miss people like Mike. Most of the people in the business today are here to make a fast buck (i.e. turn a large fortune into a small one) or to make 'award-winning, hand-crafted, ultra-premium over-priced wine; oh and yes did I mention they have a passion. These people are not a story.
Then there was Quail Run Vintners owned by some Yakima businessmen and a grape growing family. They got sued for trademark infringement by Quail Ridge Winery of California and decided it wasn't worth the fight and changed their name to Covey Run. That label exists today, but the tasting room is now occupied by Silver Lake Winery. Quail Ridge is now defunct, but Bronco bought the brand - you know Bronco - Fred Franzia of Two Buck Chuck fame.
Staton Hills is gone. Started in 1985 by Dave Staton with the help of local investors. It may be one of the wineries that actually sold for a profit. After selling, the name was changed to Sagelands, locally known as Sagebrush. The building is now occupied by Treveri Cellars.
Two of Yakima Valley's iconic wineries are now closed, Hinzerling and Yakima River. I remember sitting in meetings with Mike and John when the Yakima Valley AVA was formed. Mike Wallace was the father of the AVA and John Rauner was his chief competitor at that time. Mike passed away and John, I suppose, is off shooting animals. Both had stories to tell.
Remember Oakwood Cellars, operated by Bob and Evelyn Skelton? They were excluded from the boundaries of the Red Mountain AVA. Maybe that was their demise. Bob died and Evelyn eventually closed the winery.
Speaking of Red Mountain, remember Seth Ryan? It was started by Jo Brodzinski and her husband, Ron, in 1986. After Ron's death, Jo continued to operate the winery with the help of family. Eventually, like many of the first generation, she gave up.
Eaton Hill Winery was started by Ed and JoAnn Stear in 1987. Upon wanting to retire, as most of the first generation want to do, it finally sold to the Chinese in 2012. Marketing in China turned out to be more difficult than expected. When their winemaker, Marty Johnson, left, production stopped and they put it up for sale. It remains for sale.
And then there is Piety Flats. It never was a real winery. It started out as a mercantile selling wine when the owner, Jim Russi, decided to put a barrel in the back room and call it a winery. The wine was made by various real wineries. When his wife Chris' health started to deteriorate, the winery went up for sale. Eventually, it just closed. The building now houses a pizza joint.
Tefft Cellars is an interesting story. Started by Joel and Pam Tefft in 1991, it was one to the 'go to' wineries in the valley. Joel and Pam separated and later divorced. Joel wanted to move on to better things and sold the winery, name and all. The new operators were not as adept as Joel at making wine and selling it. After opening a second tasting room in Woodinville (a very expensive proposition), they ended up in bankruptcy. The Homestreet Bank  is still trying to sell the property. (Last I heard the property did sell at auction. No word on the new owners.)
Linda and David Lowe established Wineglass Cellars in 1994. They were mid to late comers to the Yakima Valley. They had hopes that David's son would take over, but that didn't work out. Eventually they sold down their inventory and vacated their license. The building is being leased as a production facility, but the tasting room is closed.
Zillah Oakes Winery was an offshoot of Quail Run Vintners. The building was built at exit 52 from I-82 hoping to draw visitors off the freeway. It was bonded around 1982 as a warehouse, but opened later with a tasting room. After Zillah Oakes went away, the building was purchased by Claar Cellars in hopes of having a visible tasting room in the Yakima Valley. Claar Cellars has since retreated to White Bluffs.
Still hanging in there is Windy Point. The property is for sale and I hear there are some good buys on close-out wine.
Well, that's quite a list. I'm sure next year I can add a few more names to this list. The interesting note is that wineries in the Yakima Valley do not seem to have a life beyond the original owners. The exceptions being Washington Hills and Covey Run - both of which were larger operations.
What advice can I give the new startup wineries? Have fun and have an exit plan that doesn't involve selling the winery.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

SeaTac Airport - The Showcase of Washington or NOT

Wow, I'm flying into SEA (Seattle Tacoma International Airport). It's 9:30 at night and I have a two hour layover before my next flight. I'll have a chance to try some great Washington seafood paired with local Washington wine. I've been anxious to try some of the state's fine wines, which are nearly impossible to find out of state.
WTF, all the restaurants close at 10:00 PM. Is this really an 'international' airport? Only the fast food places remain open in the food court - the very same food court that was rated in the top ten in the nation. (Some food courts must really be bad.) And furthermore, all the seafood comes from somewhere else. The fish is from Alaska, although flown in fresh each day by Alaska Air Cargo. The shrimp is from the sewers of Bangkok and is frozen, so it arrives via container ship to the Port of Seattle. Oh well, nice thought.
I was able to snatch two wine lists before the restaurants closed. What a disappointment. One Washington wine on each list, and the very same one I can find most everywhere in the US.
I'm sure the Washington Wine Commission is not even aware that Washington wine is not served in our largest airport. They hang out in Seattle and fly in and out without a layover.
These restaurants obviously don't care about their food or wine. The Port of Seattle, which operates the airport doesn't have a clue about wine, and the Washington Wine Commission is oblivious to f the problem since they don't see it.
You see, there are still things to be grumpy about!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Degree Days for 2016 or a Nice Warm Year

I decided to give a broader picture this year of the various AVAs that produce the majority of the wines in the state. I included various sites within the AVAs because they are not entirely homogenous.
degree days
rainfall at harvest
Red Mountain (Old)
Rattlesnake Hills (West)
Horse Heaven Hills (South)
Red Mountain (New)
Horse Heaven Hills (West)
Walla Walla
Rattlesnake Hills (Centeral)
Horse Heaven Hills (North)
Rattlesnake Hills (South)
Yakima Valley

Red Mountain was the warmest AVA in the state this year, beating out the old champ Wahluke by a large margin. New to our list at number 2, Rattlesnake Hills (West) was not significantly cooler than Red Mountain. Owen Roe Vineyards are located in the Rattlesnake Hills (West). No Virginia, the Rattlesnake Hills AVA does not get cooler the further west you go. Owen Roe had already picked these vines as Red Mountain was just getting started.
Alder Ridge represents Horse Heaven Hills (South) and things were quite toasty there along with the new Red Mountain station.
I can't explain why Wahluke was so much cooler than normal. It was still plenty warm to ripen grapes.
Horse Heaven Hills (West) is represented by McKinley Springs at 1081 feet elevation, was still in lower region III as were Walla Walla, Rattlesnake Hills (Central), and Horse Heaven Hills (North).
The Rattlesnake Hills AVA gets cooler as you go south along the Sunnyside Canal on the Warden Silt loam soils. The Rattlesnake Hills (Central) is the portion of the AVA that is on the Ellensburg Formation aka the ancient cobbles and is slightly warmer at higher elevation.
As usual, the Yakima Valley (Sagebrush Ridge), home to over 11,000 acres of wine grapes, was the coolest of the regions. Harvest there is still going two weeks after everyone else is done.
Rainfall during harvest is important - especially for rot-prone varieties like Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. Horse Heaven Hills (north) and Walla Walla share the record rainfall during September and October.
It might be noted that since the soils are cooler in Washington than California the region classification does not translate directly. Red Mountain grape quality does not compare directly with Lodi or Lake County. 3500 GDD more closely translates to high Region II on the cool soils found in Washington.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

You Can't Ship Your Wine Home or How Fucked Up is This?

The names and places in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.
Recently, two customers travelling together came to a winery. One couple was from Bumfuck, Egypt and the other was from Nofuck, Vagina. They liked the wine and wondered if the winery could ship it home for them. So happens, the winery was not licensed to ship to either Egypt or Vagina, but the customers were told that they could check the wine as luggage on the plane - which is cheaper and faster than shipping anyway.
They purchased six bottles each and two twelve-pack shippers and went merrily on their way to other wineries where they filled up their twelve-pack shippers.
One of the couples, I think it was the rocket scientist, not the CIA intelligence officer, figured it would be easier to travel if they just dropped the wine off at the Office Despot and had it shipped home - regardless of cost. They informed the Despot that it was art (liquid art, get it) and $123 later they are at the airport, through security, and on their way home when they get a phone call from the Despot.
Seems the UPS driver from Yakima recognized the UPS-approved wine shipping boxes and refused to pick them up. Due to the number of wineries in the Yakima area, drivers are quite familiar with these boxes. Now what to do.
They called up the winery where they bought the shipper for help. Yes, the winery would claim the wine from the Office Despot and they in turn would authorize the Despot to refund the $123 shipping to the winery which would somehow decide what to do with it in the name of customer service. (Pull out concealed weapon and shoot yourself at this point!)
Now we get into the crazy part of US law. Wineries are required to have a federal basic permit and without it, you are shit out of luck. Thanks to Moron Hatch (R-Utah and member of the Moron Church which not only believes in talking snakes, but also believes that an Indian named Moroni buried some tablets in upstate New York and an alcoholic named Joseph Smith dug them up and translated them into King James English) you can lose your basic permit if you violate any law in any city, county, or state in the US.
Retailers, on the other hand, are not required to have a federal permit and therefore are not subject to the US law, only state law. It also seems easier (cheaper) for retailers to get individual state shipping permits than wineries.
Problem solved. Find a friendly retailer who is licensed to ship to Egypt and Vagina and have the retailer ship the wine for you. After all, you do have the refunded shipping from the Office Despot to pay for it.
Let's now examine the idiocy of this scenario. You can take wine on an airplane to any state if it is properly packaged even if you legally can't take wine into that state. (Believe it or not, there are states where it is against the law to take your case of wine from the Napa Valley home with you in your car.) You can't ship that wine to yourself via UPS or FedEx or God forbid, USPS. Most wineries in this area don't bother with expensive state permits and monthly reporting. It's a real pain in the ass. (See Why We Don't Ship to Texas) But a retailer can ship your wine to you. It's the same wine for God's sake. How stupid is that. So the wine is on its way.
Some day we will live in a country where you can legally smoke weed and ship wine to yourself. Grumpy will not live to see that day.