Friday, April 15, 2016

PSST! Wanna Buy a Winery Cheap?

Seller orders 30% reduction to $625,000.  Bank-owned winery and vineyard in the lower Yakima Valley. (Technically, it is in the Central Yakima Valley, but most people are geographic idiots.)

Well, here is another sad story from wine country. Everybody wants to get rich in the wine business, but very few do so. The original selling price was around $2 million, but at that time the winery had some inventory as well as a good reputation. I think the bank loaned about a million and the owner carried the rest as a low interest/balloon payment scheme. My accountant told me if you accept these sales terms, be happy with the down payment, because that is all you are going to get. Since the bank has the first lien on the property, they get the property.

Making money in the wine biz is tough. They did the magical thing; they opened up a second tasting room in Woodinville. There was more overhead and apparently the magic that was Woodinville has worn off. They stopped paying suppliers. Word gets around real fast about that. When you can't get grapes, bottles, etc. you go out of business in short order.

There are about 15+ acres of land available, two houses, (one is a B&B), 9726 square feet of production area, plus some equipment like tanks, press, crusher/stemmer, and bottling equipment.

Here is your big chance to own what used to be, you guessed it, Tefft Cellars. Sealed bids due May 26, 2016.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Wine Tasting in New Zealand

We just returned from a wine tasting trip to New Zealand. My wife and I were primarily interested in the wine tourism aspect – more than winemaking, although I was interested in why Sauvignon Blanc does so well there and is so bad here. I am happy to report that tourism and wine tourism, in particular, in New Zealand is alive and well.
Wine picnic in Marlborough
 What struck me most was how organized tourism is in New Zealand. Each city of several thousand residents has a tourism office that is prominently identified by the big i. Not only can this office direct you to the nearest wine trail, it can book accommodations for you in nearby B&Bs, hotels, and motels. Never mind that the population of the whole country is only about 4.5 million people. These tourism centers are elaborate with large murals and displays, tons of information racks and are staffed by knowledgeable people.
Tasting room in Waipara
The population of Washington State on the other hand is over 7 million and we don’t even have a tourism office in Olympia. Some cities, through local effort, have big is, but mostly in larger cities like Yakima, Tri Cities, and Seattle. The Washington Wine Commission doesn’t deem tourism to be that important. I have never seen a wine/travel writer in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, although it is the closest real wine country to Puget Sound, just 2.5 freeway hours away. Judging by the press, they go elsewhere. The New Zealand Wine Growers actively promotes the multiple regions in the country which is a little larger than Oregon. New Zealand has about 700 wineries, on par with Washington and Oregon.
I must say I was quite impressed with the quality of our visit. None of the wineries were snobby like some here in Washington. Most had a $5 NZ tasting fee which I didn’t have topay because I usually bought a bottle of wine. (Hey, after driving on the wrong side of the road all day, I needed a bottle of wine!) At a few, I preferred to pay the fee either because the wine was overpriced or not well made, or both.
The tasting rooms were packed with visitors mid-week and crowed on weekends. Many had full-service restaurants with beautiful indoor or outdoor dining. Those that didn’t usually had a short tapas menu. We at Bonair Winery have a tapas menu on summer weekends. We started out with a chef and about 12 menu items, but serving only about 100 items per weekend made it hard to stock 12 items. Mathematically, you would have nine of each on hand, but that isn’t the way it works. You can never guess which item will be popular on any given weekend. We have since limited the menu to about five items and let the chef go. The few number of visitors to Washington wineries makes operating a full-service restaurant uneconomical. Wine tourism in Washington is pretty much dying out. I’m not sure if it is the lack of promotion or the poor experience many have in tasting rooms. Maybe it is a little of both.
Many of the visitors I talked to in the tasting rooms had visited Napa and Sonoma, but most considered Washington to be too rainy for serious wine production. Yeah, those six inches (16 cm) of annual rainfall keep us ‘evergreen’ in the vineyards.
Wine grapes can be grown all over New Zealand, except in the extreme southern fjord country. We visited five major regions, Hawke’s Bay, Martinborough, Marlborough, Waipara and Central Otago. I will cover each region in a separate post, so stay tuned.

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