Thursday, January 21, 2016

Wine on a Food Stamp Budget - But No Caviar

Gwyneth Paltrow made headlines by trying to live off food stamps for a week. This is what happens when a washed-up actor tries to get publicity. She got it all wrong. First she claimed that a 'family' was expected to live off $29 a week. Wrongo Buckwheat! The allocation for food stamps is $45.27 per week for a single person. Families get more based on the number of members. You are expected to contribute 30% of your income to make up the $45.27, so the person she emulated was expected to contribute $16.27 from his/her own income - something she failed to take into account.

Second, Ms. Paltrow knew little about shopping and cooking. For example, one does not shop at Whole Paycheck Market on food stamps. Furthermore your grocery basket does not include limes and cilantro. What was she thinking? Scratch that, she wasn't.

I think that food stamps, when wisely spent, can be sufficient. I'm not going shopping, but instead talking in generalities about buying and preparing food. (A head of lettuce, for example, might last well over a week. How do you figure the cost of the one leaf used in a sandwich.)

 What would you eat for $6.47 per day? Well, first there goes your morning latte at Starbucks. Buying in larger quantities and freezing the rest for the future saves money as does checking the 'marked down for quick sale' bins. Most people think hamburger when they think cheap meat, but it turns out the chicken and pork are a less expensive choice. I can get both for under $1.00 per pound. Follow the old rule: "shop around the perimeter of the market."

Here are some ideas for a daily menu:

Breakfast: $1.00
Dry cereal - $.12
1 egg - $.13
Milk $.25
Toast with butter and jam -$.10
Coffee $.15
Juice or fresh fruit  $.25

Lunch: $1.00
Tuna or chicken sandwich  $.45
Bread $.20
Small bag chips $.35 (this is a splurge. You get more mileage from a large bag divvied  up in baggies.)

Dinner: $2.00
Gourmet Salad $.65
Pork or Chicken (6 oz serving) $.40
Rice or Potatoes $.20
Vegetable (broccoli, corn, etc) $.40
Bread $.10
Fruit $.25

Okay, so I have spent $4.00 for food. Remember, $2.32 of our budget of $6.46 was from our own pocket, so it can be spent anyway we like - and we have $2.46 left.

First things first. There are staples that have to be bought like sugar, salt, butter, mayonnaise, flour, catsup, spices, lettuce for that tuna sandwich, etc. Let's allocate $.96 per day for those things. That ought to be more than sufficient.

That leaves $1.50 unspent - and it's my money, not food stamp money. I can find a decent Washington wine for $7.50 on special. There are five, 5- ounce servings in a bottle of wine or $1.50 per serving. I think I'll have a glass of wine with my food stamp meal!  Bon appetite.

Note: Prices have been gathered from multiple sources including Safeway, Wal-Mart, Amazon, Costco, Fiesta Foods,  and Harvest Foods. Serving sizes are based on recommended sizes or greater.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Another One Bites the Dust or Playing Winery Just Ain't Fun Anymore

The wine business is one tough bitch and she is hard to let go (think the Stones and 'Honky Tonk Women'). Ramseyer Vineyards was the dream for a family of West Siders or Wet Siders as they are locally known. Being thus, you might say it was a wet dream to spend weekends in a nice cottage tending the vines and drinking the fruits of your labors. You will be a celebrity in wet-side circles and respected by the Wine Expectorator with rave revues. I can relate to that - well, not really. I have never been there. I'm just the grumpy winemaker trying to make a living selling good wine at reasonable prices. No story here.

We will plant a Walla Walla-style vineyard, they declared, not the typical one in the Rattlesnake Hills where they start irrigating when the water comes on and do so until it goes off. We talked to people in Walla and they don't irrigate until August - if at all. We will show those Zill Billies (as the locals are called in the Rattlesnake Hills.) how to grow ultra-premium, award-winning wine grapes.

As May and June passed, as well as those big clouds that rolled by and lodged against the Blue Mountains giving Walla 20 inches annual average rainfall, the vineyard started dying for lack of water. You see, the Rattlesnake Hills AVA only gets 6 inches of rain - mostly in the winter months. You can grow Walla-style grapes here, but not by copying their viticultural practices.

Walla is more of a 'school of winemaking' than a region that can grow distinctively better grapes than the rest of eastern Washington. In fact most Walla labels are Columbia Valley because Walla grapes are expensive and hard to come by. The grapes can be sourced from any of several warm AVAs in the state (including the Rattlesnake Hills) as long as you restrict tonnage and go for high sugars and overripe grapes. (Remember that Walla restaurant '26 Brix'? Well, probably not. Things come and go fast in the Washington wine industry.). Think lack of varietal character, high alcohol, some RS, soft tannins, and boatloads of French oak. The Wine Expectorator goes ape shit and Parker is in heaven - if you put it in a five-pound bottle. -and Ramseyer did it all right!

Pat Rawn of Two Mountain Winery to the rescue! He replanted and revised the vineyard property and made it a winner! Ramseyer Vintage Five 2009 - 93 points in the Wine Spectator! (Yeah Rattlesnake Hills - which grows the best Yakima Valley grapes.)  Compass Wines "2012 Washington wine of the year". Ramseyer Vineyard Vintage Six 2010, - Wine Spectator 91 Points. This vineyard is headed for stardom! (I love it because my vineyard is less than a half mile away! I can see it from my house!)

A sad day at Ramseyer Vineyard. Grape vines are stacked in front of the cottage for burning.
This vineyard shares some pretty impressive neighbors. To the southeast is Dineen Family Vineyard which supplies most of the Woodinville industrial park wineries. To the northeast is Two Blondes Vineyard, one of Andrew Will's properties, and nearby Sheridan Vineyards. Not far away are Cultura and Agate Field vineyards.  Antolin shares the opposing slope of the little canyon. This is one primo site!

Fast forward to 2015. The family is tired of playing winery, (you can read the obituary here) as are Eaton Hill, Wineglass Cellars and Yakima River Winery. RIP. The Ramseyer property is sold to Washington Fruit which promptly removed the vineyard, making way for apples.

So what happened. Here is a highly successful vineyard with a 'to die for view' of the valley, Cascade Range, and Mt. Adams that in the Napa Valley would bring over $100K per acre and it is sold to a fruit company for scrap. It's the dirty little secret the Wine Commission doesn't talk about. They are out to promote Washington wine (meaning big brands like Ste Mickey's and 70 fingers - aka 14 middle fingers to the rest of the industry), but not Washington as a wine country and a place to invest in the future of wine. As of now it appears that the future of Washington wine is in the under $15 bottles that taste like a $50 bottle. (I dare you to publish an article that says I'm wrong - et tu Andie?) (Read my rule of 100 and that translates into $750 per ton for grapes or a gross of $1500 per acre at 2 tons per acre - nothing near the $30K apples bring in.)There just aren't enough Microsoft millionaires to support an industry based on $50 cabs. Oh for the good old days when Steve Burns said, "There is no limit to the amount of wine you can sell if you just charge enough."

I miss you Steve.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Growing Degree Days 2015 - This Was the Year that Was Warm

The results are in, thanks to WSU AgWeathernet. And the winners are....well just about everybody. It was a really warm year and in the northwest warm years are good years. Even the Yakima Valley eked out over 3000 growing degree days, although their harvest was two weeks to a month behind the warmer AVAs. At Bonair Winery, it was a wrap on September 30. We continued to process Yakima Valley grapes through October for other wineries.
Red Mountain
Rattlesnake Hills
Horse Heaven
Walla Walla
Yakima Valley
Wahluke is always the winner, so no news there. Red Mountain was significantly warmer than the next three AVAs which were almost identical at around 3175 GDD. Red Mountain usually is not that much warmer, but this year it was almost 500 GDD warmer. Go figure that one.
The rain prize goes to Walla Walla which lies up against the Blue Mountains and the drought prize goes to the Rattlesnake Hills, usually the driest AVA in eastern Washington. Summer storms seem to avoid the AVA by going north, south, east, or west of the AVA.
The bulk of the state's wine grapes are produced in these six AVAs. If you are interested in the other AVAs, the data can be found at

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Let's Go Swimming Continued, Time to Fill the Pool

I guess the answer is 'NO'. We cannot sell all that wine.
A winery, which I will not name, just got permission from the TTB to dump 10,000 gallons of Riesling. It reportedly was offered at as little as $2.00 per gallon (approximately 40 cents a bottle) with no takers.
I wonder how many other wineries have received the same permission. It is not something you advertise.
What is the Washington Wine (C)Omission doing to help us?
Now the quandary. Where in the hell do you dump 10,000 gallons of wine?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Go West Young Man or How to Get out of the Cold

 When we started our vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills in 1980 the wine grape guru for the state was Jack Watson, WSU extension agent in Prosser. In 1980 very little was known about wine grape growing in the state, but Jack knew more than anybody – except perhaps Dr. Walter Clore who was still alive at the time. When we asked Jack about planting grapes in Zillah, he was skeptical that it would be successful, after all, Red Mountain is warm and Prosser is cold, and the further west you go toward the Cascades, the colder it gets. So went the conventional wisdom.
Dr. Walter Clore visits Bonair Winery
In 2004 Sagebrush Ridge or Prosser Flats as I call it was the center of Washington viticulture with over 11,000 acres of wine grapes. It was and still IS the Yakima Valley. This area was so notoriously cold that in the 1990s the Washington Wine Commission held ‘cold climate’ wine symposiums. In retrospect, this seems crazy considering that the important AVAs in the state are as warm as the Napa Valley.
Then Ch. Ste. Michelle cancelled red wine contracts in Prosser Flats much to the chagrin of the growers there who thought their grapes were fine – 23o brix and some pyrazines. (Pyrazines cause vegetative/weedy aromas in red wine.) No problem.
The Rattlesnake Hills AVA was an outgrowth of Bonair Winery trying to make non-vegetal reds from the Faire Acre Vineyard mother block at 1150 feet elevation (just above the Roza Canal) on Sagebrush Ridge. It was obvious these grapes were different from Rattlesnake Hills grapes but all had to be labeled Yakima Valley so the consumer couldn’t distinguish.
At that time the cold climate of Prosser Flats was a mystery, but I think I have solved it. It is caused by two features of geography.
First, it sits under Rattlesnake Mountain 3500 feet tall and having the dubious distinction of being the tallest treeless mountain in the United States. At 3500 feet, it is tall enough to generate weather and cold air. This cold air drops into the shallow valley that sits between Rattlesnake Ridge and Sagebrush Ridge. It easily slides over and through Sagebrush Ridge (the gap) filling the constricted valley between Sagebrush Ridge and the Horse Heaven Hills.
Second, the valley between Sagebrush Ridge and the Horse Heaven Hills is very narrow and fills with cold air easily up as far as the summit of Sagebrush Ridge.
The Rattlesnake Hills AVA, on the other hand, is bounded on the north by the Rattlesnake Hills which at their western end are less than 2000 feet in elevation, not high enough to generate gobs of cold air. The valley below, the Central Yakima Valley, is 14 miles wide and never fills very full of cold air.
To further dispel the myth of it getting colder as you travel west, Red Willow vineyard is on Autanum Ridge (an extension of the Rattlesnake Hills west of Union Gap) and it is warmer than Prosser Flats.
As of this writing, the warmest AVA in the state is Red Mountain followed by the Rattlesnake Hills. Maybe the Rattlesnake Hills AVA’s identity is obscured by the fact that the area is great for all wines, red and white, not just red like Red Mountain, but it is definitely red wine country.