Monday, October 25, 2010

The Tasting Room Shuffle or Watch out Latah Creek and Arbor Crest!

The Washington wine industry never ceases to amaze me. First, Walla Walla moves to Woodinville to the point that Woodinville is overcrowded with wineries - so many in fact that the established Woodinville wineries are upset that they no longer enjoy the foot traffic they received in the past. The number of wineries definitely grew faster than the number of visitors.

So what is a Woodinville winery to do? Well, while the rest of the state in moving in, they are moving out; trying to find new locations that are not congested with sandwich board wineries. (Remember the picture that was worth more than a thousand words.)

A friend of mine has three (adult) children in the wine business. They were among some of the earlier Woodinville crowd. They just opened a tasting room in Ballard after seeing visits drop in Woodinville. I talked to their father last week and I understand they are doing quite well.

Where else to go? How about the capital of Northern Idaho, Spokane. Yep, Woodinville wineries are opening a tasting room in downtown Spokane. It will have live music and be a wine bar scene.

It must really be bad over there because one Woodinville winery is opening a tasting room in - get ready for this, sit down and take a deep breath - Zillah.

So, if you are planning to open a tasting room in Woodinville, you might think again. Clarkston has not been taken yet.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Harvest Update in the Rattlesnake Hills

We picked Malbec last Thursday. 23.4 brix and a pH of 3.4. By the end of fermentation the alcohol should be around 13.6 and the pH near 3.6. These numbers are perfect for a winery that makes table wines (under 14% alc.) as opposed to dessert wines (14% and above.) We didn't have to bring out the Jesus Machine and perform a miracle. The fruit was perfectly ripe (no vegetative flavors) and after a cold soak, the fermentation has started on schedule.

We will finish Chardonnay today and probably move on to our lower block of Cabernet Sauvignon tomorrow. We had a light frost Sunday night that toasted some leaves in the lower areas, but most of the vineyard is nice and green. The forecast is for warmer nights and cooler days. That's fine.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mid October Harvest Update

We are into harvest in earnest now and sugars and acids are perfectly balanced, but we are not to the more difficult varieties yet. Already off is Merlot, Chardonnay, and Gewürztraminer. Other than a weekend of rain, the weather has been benign to almost helpful. Grapes always taste better harvested in sunshine. Chardonnay 23.2 brix, pH 3.4 with tons of tropical fruit. Some of the best I have ever seen. The Merlot is fermenting nicely and you'd swear we put sweet cherries into the bins. The fruit is incredible. Malbec comes off tomorrow. It tastes great on the vine. What with 2581 growing degree days, I think we are already beyond veg and we still have 17 more days in the season.

Although there has been frost between the rows, the temperature at vine height has been in the high 30s. We don't have wind machines in our vineyards, so we depend on the benign weather of the Rattlesnake Hills. We are forecast for the mid to lower 30s with lots of sunshine for the next seven days.

I noticed on another blog that Elephant Mountain and Dubrul both have harvested Merlot, but listed it as Yakima Valley fruit. Not a good year to ally yourself with Prosser Flats. Both vineyards are in the Rattlesnake Hills. I am not aware of any Merlot being picked down in the valley yet. We purchased some grapes in 2005 from the Faire Acre mother block above the Roza Canal east of County Line Road just east of Bouchey Vineyards. Sagebrush Ridge had 2514 growing degree days in 2005. The wine was so vegetative that we could not bottle it under the Bonair label, so we sold it to Joel Tefft for his box wine. He complained it was the worst vegetative bulk wine he had ever purchased, but he was able to blend it away and we are still friends.

With all the wet weather, bunch rot has cut the crop, but is not a problem since we selectively hand harvest. It has shown up in Riesling (always), Chardonnay (rare), and Pinot Noir (rare in eastern Washington). Pinot Noir is a thin-skinned, tight cluster variety. I wonder how the boys down in the Willamette Valley are faring?

Here are the Growing Degree Days:





Rattlesnake Hills




Yakima Valley




Horse Heaven




Red Mountain




Walla Walla




Ripening Bordeaux Reds in the Yakima Valley is going to be problematic.

There was fog in the foggy bottom today. Without wind, it can get deeper every day. We have wind in the forecast so it should remain sunny.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What Does Costco Really Want?

Costco sponsored I -1100, but what is the hidden objective. Stay tuned, I'm gonna tell ya. (You knew I would.)

You would think after a year of blogging I would run out of topics to be grumpy about, but so far that isn't the case.

Costco sued the State of Washington (Granholm) to break up the three-tier system. After all, Costco is a wholesaler. It says, right there on the outside of the store, "Costco Wholesale." So what's the prob Rob? Well, Costco is really a retailer. Can't be both in the wine biz in Washington State. Well, Costco kind of won Granholm, but didn't really. You have to be an attorney to understand it all.

They killed the three tier system in Washington, sort of. Now any winery in the country can become 'self-distributed' in Washington in a pseudo-three-tier system.

But the big prize is killing 'three tier' altogether. Costco wants to become importer, distributor, and retailer all in one slick Kirkland Signature operation. Why you ask? Well, look around any Costco. Where is all the stuff made? If you guess France, you are mostly wrong. French yes, 'fabrique au chine.' Oui!

Costco wants to bring in cheap wine from China without the middleman. If you think 'Two Buck Chuck' is cheap, wait for 'One Buck Yuck.' The ultimate goal is to bring Chinese wine (or anything else cheap) into the country and sell it at rock bottom prices.

Now, the Costco twist. Will you be able to buy a bottle for one dollar? No way, José. A case for $12. Not in your lifetime. Costco will package it in a 16 pack 4X4 box weighing 48 pounds. Since they love packaging so much, each 16-pak will contain four cardboard four-packs. (Remember 24 pack cases of Coke - 30 pack cases at Costco.) Yep, a cube of wine for just $15.99. One Buck Yuck.

How long will it be before Wal-Mart introduces their Chateau Doublewide for $1.88.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Auditor: Washington Wine Commission Wastes Public Money

How in the hell did this one slip under the radar? I knew I wasn't getting my money's worth from the Wine Commission, now I can see why. They were spending my money on lavish travel by the executive director and on parties for staff.

Rather than rewrite the story, you can read it here from KOMO News. Or, read the actual audit report from Brian Sonntag, State Auditor. Or my favorite Seattle Newspaper, the Stranger.

As you know, I am no fan of the Washington Wine Commission. I have quoted Paul Portteus many times, "We in the Rattlesnake Hills have become successful in spite of the Wine Commission."

The (Tacoma) News Tribune picked up the story, but not the Seattle Times, the state's largest newspaper chain which includes the Yakima Hairball Repulsive and the Walla Walla Onion Bulletin. (Motto: we only reprint the news we find on AP.) Even the Dry Shitties Herald didn't catch the story and they are usually up on things. Maybe it is their ties to Wine Press Northwest.

The Wine Commission recently brought a tour of wine buyers to the state. Did they visit the Rattlesnake Hills. No way. We are their Moriarty.

Basically, the Wine Commission is an advertising arm of Ste. Mickey's. Yes I know my paltry thousands of dollars don't compare to the millions poured in by Ste. Mickey's, so don't comment on that. Just let it be known that the small wineries are being screwed by the Wine Commission.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Let the Crush Begin

Wow, the weather gods have smiled upon us with daytime temperatures in the 80's and warm nights. The warm nights are essential in reducing acid. I noticed Hyatt was picking Merlot here in the Rattlesnake Hills on the 29th. Our Merlot in the Rattlesnake Hills tested over 24 Brix today and we are picking on Monday.

A lot of people are picking Merlot. I saw this article. Gary Figgins harvested their Merlot at 24.5 Brix and talked about the old days of low alcohol. Man, am I getting old. I have been in this business way too long. I remember the old days of 'low alcohol' too. 21 brix yields 12.2% alcohol and was considered enough. 22 brix yields 12.8% alcohol and was considered perfect, and 23 brix would result in 13.3% alcohol - a little high; the resulting wines would be judged too alcoholic. Using the .58 conversion factor, 24.5 brix yields 14.2% alcohol. Oh well, I guess 'low alcohol' is relative in Walla Walla where 16% is the norm.

Here is the scorecard as of September 30, 2010.




Rattlesnake Hills



Yakima Valley



Horse Heaven



Red Mountain



Walla Walla




It appears that all AVA's in the state have passed the magical 2400 GDD, except the Yakima Valley at 1199 feet elevation on Sagebrush Ridge. (Sorry to report, the higher you go on Sagebrush Ridge, it doesn't get warmer, even if you have a PhD from Yoo Cee Davis and think it does.)

Barring an early frosts like last year, it is stacking up to be a really good year for red wine regions and not bad for the white wine regions like the Yakima Valley.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dan Berger Says Spit - I Say Gross

I just got the new issue of Winepress Northwest and read Dan's article on wine touring. While most of his advice on touring wine country is very sound, I disagree with one point - SPIT.

Dan and I have judged 150 wines in one day on a professional tasting panel and spitting is de rigueur. No ifs, ands, or buts. The absorption through your oral membranes may put you over the limit, but, we're professionals.

Tasting at a public tasting room is different. First, take Dan's advice and only visit four or five wineries in a day. MAX. Each winery should pour about 5/8 oz. unless they use those ridiculous muhungous Riedel glasses, then to get appropriate color, the winery must pour about 1.5 oz. Regardless, swirl the wine, sip, inhale over the wine, slurp, swish, gargle or whatever, sip again and pour out the rest. Don't spit in public! It is f*cking gross to the staff and your fellow visitors. Your total intake of alcohol for the day, given four wines times five wineries and only sips, not drinking the whole sample, will be no more than ten ounces. Way under your impairment limit for the whole day. (Woodinville might be different where you can see five wineries in five minutes.) Remember Dan, not only do we spit, we never finish a sample!

In order to limit your alcohol intake, in addition to limiting the number of wineries, is to limit yourself to four samples MAX. Sample only wines of interest to you (that day) and ignore the other 15. We have a $5.00 charge at Bonair Winery for our reserve tasting, but if you say, "I'm only tasting Merlot today," I'll bet your sample will be free - if you don't change your mind!

Speaking of wine snobs and spitting, Bonair Winery is not on the Connoisseurs' (remember my definition of Connoisseur and city sewer? Basically the same, they are both full of sh*t.) list for visits, but occasionally we get them. This weekend we had two groups of sewers.

The first tried the Pinot Noir. Really bad, so my wife opened a second bottle. Ugh, a little better, but it tastes like port. Hum, dry Pinot Noir in 100% new French oak tastes like Touriga with 12% residual sugar aged in neutral barrels. I would have laughed them out of the tasting room. The problem here is that most wine tasters in Washington don't know sh*t about non-Bordeaux reds. Please don't impress me with your ignorance. I know Bobby Parker says all wines should taste alike - basically micro-oxygenated Bordeaux reds, but I disagree.

Group two, rattled their glasses vigorously down on the counter around and around then lifted them two feet to their noses and made really stupid comments about the wine, like, "it must be bottle shocked." Swirling your wine on the counter and then raising it to your nose will guarantee that all aromas are blown off by the time you get it up to your snot source. I have never seen a professional wine taster do this (unless they have a Petri glass covering the wine until it reaches the nose.) In professional tastings, the wine is gently swirled near the nose and smelled several times - quietly and unobtrusively.

People who know wine will not make stupid statements. I know because I have poured a lot of wine for people who know wine. They will make intelligent observation, not derogatory comments meant to impress their equally stupid friends, and ask questions. I have even had people question politely that a wine might be corked - by God, these people are usually right. (FYI, we open many bottles on a weekend and since our cork taint is so low, they are not individually evaluated.)

If you don't know sh*t about wine, keep your Butwiper trap shut!

And you wonder why I am grumpy.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Initiative 1100 or 1105 or To Booze or Not to Booze?

The Washington Wine Institute (aka Ste. Mickey's Good Ol' Boys' Club) is supporting the distributor sponsored bill 1105. The Family Wineries of Washington State (FWWS) is supporting 1100 (The Costco initiative.) (Truth in blogging: I am a member of the FWWS, mainly because I don't qualify for Ste. Mickey's Good Ol' Boys' Club. I'm a Bad Ol' Boy!) Frankly I don't know why either organization is supporting either bill. I think I will vote 'NO' on both.

I am in favor of getting the state out of the booze biz, but why tie wine to a booze bill? I don't buy a lot of booze anyway, so I don't care who sells it. If I ever decide to drink booze, I will buy a still.

Quantity discounts (1100) are a good thing. The state has no business in regulating the sales price of wine. We, at Bonair, just passed our state audit (with flying colors) and one of the things the auditor was looking for was consistent pricing of wine to all wholesale accounts. Since we use distributors, it was a no brainer. But, why not give someone a break when you drive 200 miles to deliver ten cases as opposed to one case?

Is charging for shelf space going to put Washington wineries out of business? A vintner was on TV the other night stating that if 1100 (or was it 1105? Even I get confused.) passes he will out of business in three months. It is probably true that he will be out of business in three months, but the real reason is that Washington has more wineries than it can support.

Here is an interesting (at least I think so) historical view of shelf space.,5851849&dq=safeway+wine&hl=en

John Cartales, a staunch neoprohibitionist, was the district manager of Safeway stores in the Northwest. He was promoted to head the Northern California region for Safeway. Scanning software had just been installed in stores and managers had new information. John Cartales led the charge to get devil rum off Safeway shelves.

Northern CA Safeway stores had the largest selection of wines at the time, but the problem was that the major brands were scanning better than lesser known offerings. So, as the article states, Johnnie C. (Go Johnnie, Go) removed wines that weren't scanning. The wine section shrank and you could only find brands like Gallo, Franzia, and Almaden. (What ever happened to Mad Al?) You want Napa Valley? Hey we got Napa Valley right here. CK Mondavi. It says St. Helena right on the label. California Hardly Burgundy? St. Helena is in the Napa Valley and the Napa Valley's in California, right?

So, as the wine section shrank and the remaining brands scanned well all should be right with Mr. Cartales and Mr. Safeway. A funny thing happened on the way to the grocery store. When people wanted a good bottle of wine they had to go to a different grocery store. While they were there, they tended to fill up their carts with stuff on the regular grocery list, the one that resides on the refrigerator door. (Unless you have (sigh) stainless steel (sigh) appliances, but that fad hadn't started back in 1994.) Overall sales (groceries, soap, and dog food) dropped at all Northern California Safeway stores. Mr. Cartales had to bring back non-scanning wines so the shoppers would return to shopping at Safeway.

The point? Costco wants to charge for shelving wines. So be it. Only large brands will pay stocking fees and the selection will dwindle. Costco, now the largest wine retailer, will find itself in the same place Safeway found itself way back in 1994. Our Costco in Union Gap has a lousy wine selection already. I can't imagine it getting any worse. (Imagine the worst. You will never be disappointed.) One whole wall is dedicated to Yellow Tail and the good wines are all overpriced - nothing under $11. Trader Joe's and Grocery Outlet have much more interesting selections.

Back to Safeway. As I write, our local Safeway store in Toppenish (take the 'h' off the end of Toppenish and you have TopPenis - go Wildcats! #1 in the league!) is in the process of reducing SKUs (Stock Keeping Units). Combine that with overpriced produce and I have basically stopped shopping there. Zillah Food Center, the local grocer, has added SKUs (dry salted capers - go Big John!) and has hired a new produce guy who sells the same or better produce for about 1/3 the cost of Safeway.

So will slotting fees destroy the wine industry. I think not. Anyway, don't Washington premium wineries only sell to "upper-end wine shops and restaurants, or is it upper-end restaurants and wine shops?" This whole boondoggle could be a godsend for wine shops who carry special wines!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Harvest without Al Gore (September 15 update)

After a cool start, September has had a few warm days near normal. Growing Degree Days still seem to be on the short side. On the bright side, the birds have arrived and we are getting some good sugars. If we were making a dry Gewürztraminer this year we would be picking today. Acids need to drop a little and pyrazines need to give way to ripe flavors and we will be ready to pick reds in the Rattlesnake Hills. We still have six weeks left in the season.

The Horse Heaven Hills and Red Mountain seem to be the place to be this year with the Rattlesnake Hills following. The Yakima Valley (Sagebrush Ridge) and Walla Walla Valley seem to the places not to be.

All of those people who said that the Rattlesnake Hills has the same climate as Sagebrush Ridge are just plain wrong. Sagebrush Ridge is only at 2044 GDD, good for Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir, but definitely not Cab Sauv country.

Walla Walla is a great school of winemaking, but it is turning out to be problematic as a growing region. They have accumulated only 2220 GDD, making gains in the last several days. The big problem with Walla this year is rain. Unseasonable thunderstorms have hit northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington this year. Rising 30,000 feet or higher in the air, these storms are visible from the Rattlesnake Hills AVA. Tracking them on Nexrad radar shows lots of rain and hail. In comparison, the Rattlesnake Hills AVA has had 2.47 inches of rain the growing season while Walla has had 6.40 inches. Rumor has it that the grapes aren't even through veraison and are showing signs of rot.

For those into numbers, here are the GDD accumulations to September 15.



Rattlesnake Hills


Yakima Valley


Horse Heaven


Red Mountain


Walla Walla



This might turn out to be a good year for food friendly wines. It is definitely going to be hard to make desert wines (Any wine over 14% alcohol is classified as a desert wine by the TTB) the kind the wine expectorators like. Wine drinkers rejoice. Wine collectors take a sabbatical.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Congratulations to Madsen Family Cellars

I'm not grumpy all the time, but I think I do a good job of staying grumping most of the time. But, when good things happen, I get happy. Case in point:

We recently got an email from our friends Dana and Sandi Madsen, owners of Madsen Family Cellars. We have known Dana and Sandi since before they opened their winery and they have become good friends. We have even done some custom work for them since we have all the expensive toys and they were just beginning. They started the winery so Sandi could quit teaching and run the winery while Dana still worked in construction. We all know how construction is going what with Osama bin Obama stimulating the economy. (Finger f***ing might be a more appropriate description for stimulation.) (The newspapers report a rosy picture, but insiders say you bid a "shovel-ready" project at cost, subtract 20%, and you will come in third. The people creating "jobs" are losing money and eventually will lose their businesses. See, I can still be grumpy.) Short story: Sandi is still teaching.

Seems Dana and Sandy submitted their wines to the Wine Commission for the judging by Jay Miller for Bobby Parker's Wine Advocate. Bonair Winery had the same opportunity, but, being from Zillah Zillah, we knew we didn't have a snowball's chance. The Wine Commission would probably hide the bottles. They outwardly admitted, not all wines would be tasted. Duh, no wines from Zillah will ever be tasted by a national writer. They don't want to endanger the image of Washington wine.

Anyway, I hope Sandi doesn't mind me sharing part of her email. It is great!

"Dana and I find ourselves in another small puzzle. Last spring we received a mass email from the WWC inviting us to submit wines to some guy they'd come up with who was a reputable judge and who'd give some kind of feedback. It was free, and we thought, "Hey! we might get some useful input on our wines!" so we sent several wines off, and then time passed and we forgot all about it.


So Friday, we got an email from somebody in California wanting to know who our Florida distributor is, and we emailed back that we don't have one. And he emailed us and said he would like FOB on our entire portfolio (and what the heck does that mean?) and his interest was based on our recent review in Parker's 190 for the 07 Destiny Ridge Cab.


We thought ???????. What is Parker's 190? What's an FOB on our portfolio? Who IS this guy? So I googled Parker 190 and found out it was Robert Parker and issue 190 of the Wine Advocate. Yikes! Deeply curious as to what was said about our cab, we hopped into the car with the dogs and drove to Barnes and Noble, and Borders (first stopping to walk the dogs along the Percival Landing boardwalk bordering the marina) and of course, neither store carries the Wine Advocate.


So this morning, we betook ourselves to our winery and there we received an email from the Red Mountain grower who's selling us Cab Franc this year with our contract, but also congratulating us on our scores (plural)from Parker. Curiouser and curiouser.


So we've asked around and no one over here seems to be into Parker. We certainly don't want to subscribe either, but we would like to know what this reputable judge (who turns out to be named Miller, and apparently is Parker's reviewer here in the NW, but we wouldn't have recognized his name anyway)said about us. Probably would have been too intimidated to submit wines if we'd known who he was. I know you aren't into Parker either, but do you happen to know anybody over there who does follow him who might be persuaded to divulge what was said about us?


We're feeling a little Red Riding Hoodish right now--two dweebs out toddling in the woods, and who'd have thunk that that big wolf was lurking behind the tree? Dana in retrospect thinks maybe the Wine Advocate was mentioned but he thought Parker was the Wine Speculator. or Spectator. Or whatever. We didn't think we were submitting wines to be scored in a national magazine. Pretty scary. And kind of exciting."

Kind of exciting? It couldn't happen to nicer people. Oh, and where is their winery? Walla? Nope, Woodin'? Nope. It is in Olympia. I wonder if Paul Gregutt included them in his new book? (Love to hear from you Paul, I know you follow this blog.)

It is sooooo cooool when the small guy makes it big! Congratulations to Dana and Sandi! Today I am not grumpy! I am very happy. The little guys won!

Ps. I don't subscribe to the Wine Advocate either.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Washington's Fading Wineries

Bloggers are following the Washington wineries for sale, or those that have just closed their doors like Yellow Hawk, but there is a disturbing number of 'fading' wineries. I personally know of four - maybe five. What, you ask, is a fading winery? It is a winery that is neither for sale, nor closing, nor in bankruptcy.

Fading wineries won't crush this fall, or if they do, they will crush a minimum, maybe just whites in order to have a full line of wines while the reds sell down. They can use the cold weather to cancel grape contracts. (How convenient is that?) They will continue to be in business until the inventory is depleted. Then they will simply close their doors. "Hey, wasn't there a winery here last year?" "Yeah, we stopped, but we didn't buy any wine."

Why would a winery fade? Simple. The federal government requires a bond on all wine stored at the facility. Federal taxes have to be paid when the wine is withdrawn from bond. State taxes need to be paid when it is sold, also. Winery owners simply do not want a 4000 case personal wine cellar. Only 200 cases per year may be withdrawn for personal use tax free.

Another reason for fading is the fact than many wineries have little value other than used equipment and maybe a building. They have no distributor relations, are self-distributed to a few retail accounts (you know, the usual upper end restaurants and wine shops), and the owner is tired of playing winery.

Many of the first generation winemakers are getting ready (or would like to get ready) to retire. Wineries require a lot of work. The hours are long, the rewards few, and the money is scant. Sure it is a good living for an owner/winemaker/tasting room worker, but there are other things they would like to do other than clean up crushed grapes at 1:00 AM.

One big winery is just picking up its toys and moving back to Oregon. Their vineyard is up for sale. One mega corporation is trying to get out of the wine business altogether focusing their energy on their forte, spirits.

Winery wannabes don't have any money, so they plan to be garagistes until Paul Gregutt makes them rock stars - or maybe they will just fade away at some future time if Parker doesn't discover them. 500 cases of ultra-premium, hand-crafted, award-winning wine can be stored in your garage pretty easily if you park your car outside.

What with all the wineries for sale, the sanest exit strategy might just be to fade away. Here today, gone tomorrow.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Did Global Warming Go Away?

Okay, Al Gore cheated on his wife and is no longer flying around the world in his private jet exhausting greenhouse gases and hot air speeches. Growers up and down the Pacific Coast are wondering if we will even ripen grapes this year without old Algore.

Growers are concerned that they won't be able to produce those 27 brix raisins the wineries use to produce 16% dry wines with residual sugar that Parker likes. Wineries could care less. They are taking the year off and not buying grapes to adjust inventories of overpriced parkerized wines.

Here is the view from the Rattlesnake Hills AVA and the Yakima Valley AVA. (Note to wine bloggers: this article is scientific and involves numbers (OTHER THAN YOUR OPINION BETWEEN 80 AND 100)and demands comprehension. It will require more than your 40-second attention span, so click off now.)

1993 was set to be the coldest year since grapes have been widely grown in the Yakima Valley. I remember going on vacation in September and finally giving the order to pick the last two weeks of October, bringing in the grapes as fast as we could process them. We were still getting grapes from Sagebrush Ridge (Roza AKA Prosser Flats) back then and the wines were quite vegetative, although the Morrison Cab (Rattlesnake Hills) was quite good. On August 30, 1993 Buena Station (the coldest in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA) had accumulated 1842 degree days. The Morrison Vineyard is quite a bit warmer, but there were no comparable stations in 1993. Roza Station had accumulated 1748 degree days. It takes at least 2400 degree days to properly ripen Cabernet Sauvignon. By October 31 Roza had reached 2752 degree days, which is above average. Buena reached 2797 which is also above average. A long warm fall saved our butts.

1999 was truly the coldest year in recent history and the year all Yakima Valley reds were dissed by the wine expectorators. The wines from Sagebrush Ridge were noticeably vegetative. It was this year I started thinking about forming the Rattlesnake Hills AVA to separate our grapes from the vegetative Prosser grapes. By August 30, Buena Station had accumulated 1992 degree days while Prosser only accumulated 1724. By the end of the season Buena reached 2394 and Roza accumulated 2204. Even though it was warmer at the end of August, by the end of the year, 1999 was actually worse than 1993.

2009 was a fairly average year with the heat coming late in the season. The wines were pretty typical for the region. By August 30 Buena Station had accumulated 2453 degree days and Roza had only accumulated 2151. In 2009 the Rattlesnake Hills was the warmest AVA in the state, beating Red Mountain, Wahluke, and Horse Heaven Hills. This chart summarizes the confusing numbers.







Aug. 30

Oct. 31

Aug. 30

Oct. 31





















So where are we in 2010? Buena Station has accumulated 2029 degree days and Roza has only accumulated 1842. We are pretty optimistic about the chances of having nice ripe flavors and non-vegetative wines from the Rattlesnake Hills. As you can see by looking at 1993 and 1999 a lot can happen between the end of August and the end of October. It is not a year to label your Bordeaux reds with the Yakima Valley AVA. If you object to Rattlesnake Hills, opt for the generic Columbia Valley.

Monday, August 23, 2010

One Picture is Worth 1000 Words

Welcome to Washington Wine Country!

Woodinville looks like the place to be. I could be winery #10 and cash in on all the free publicity from the Washington Wine Commission.

I don't know about you, but I would go with the balloons or maybe even a big helium wine bottle.

Does the first guy in the morning get the sidewalk for his reader board or did he slip that in later?

Are the trucks in the background full of grapes from Walla Walla?

The sky looks gray. What is that all about?

Are the vineyards just behind the fir trees?

Woodinville wineries make hand crafted, award-winning, ultra premium wines - big deal, so does everyone else.

With a $10 tasting fee, that is a $90 visit with nothing to take home but a hangover.

With this much wine, who needs skid road. No wonder the Washington State Liquor Control Board is getting very strict about samples. Let's see, 4 one-ounce samples times 9 wineries equals…… Oh hell, who's counting?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

An Open Letter of Thanks to Robert Parker, Jr. and the Wine Spectator

Thank you for believing all that propaganda from the Washington Wine Commission and determining that great wine cannot be made in the Yakima Valley. I owe the success of Bonair Winery to you.

Why? You ask. Well, I didn't become a 'rock star' winemaker and the winery didn't gain a cult following so we didn't price ourselves out of the market. Our customers are wine drinkers, not wine snobs. They are Boeing employees - including some senior vice presidents - but all wine drinkers, not wine collectors. They are the working class people of Puget Sound who know what they like and don't have to chase some impossible-to-get overpriced jam-juice in a bottle. They don't need an expert to tell them what to drink. Thank you also to our loyal customers in Puget Sound who come back year after year to buy cases - not collector bottles.

When we planned our winery back in the early '80s, we did not plan on becoming rock stars or getting rich. I was a school administrator and tired of the rat race. I wanted to raise the kids in the country. I loved wine and making wine. No one was getting rich in the business back then. (Sebastiani and Almaden, are faint memories) We just wanted to make a simple living with a simple life-style. I only applied for jobs as an elementary school principal where I could grow wine grapes. I applied in Paso Robles, Sierra Foothills, Sonoma County, Willamette Valley, Southern Oregon, and the Yakima Valley. I was lucky to land in the Yakima Valley and especially the Rattlesnake Hills. When we started, we self-distributed Riesling in Seattle for $3 per bottle, which Pike and Western sold for $4. Leonetti cab at the time went for $12. Imagine, a bottle of Leonetti Cab for only 3X Riesling price (and I'm not talking Dr. Loosen!) Wine was much more affordable back then - before the investment bankers, Parker, Wine Spectator et. al. got involved. The only wine writer of significance was Jerry Mead - Mead on Wine.

I got a call from my friend Harry Alhadeff, founder of many Washington brands like Apex, the other day and we discussed the future of the Washington wine industry. Harry is a firm believer that the good times will again return and it is important to cut production and hold on to price point. I, on the other hand, believe the wine business in entering a new (old) reality. Winemakers will no longer be rock stars. Wineries will not have waiting lists to get on the waiting list to buy wine. And because of worldwide competition, wine prices will remain low.

I saw this ad on the web and it started me thinking. $20 to $50 bottles of wine and a $3 million dollar inventory. At $20 per bottle that is a 12,500 case inventory in a 3000-4000 case production winery. That looks like a four-year back up to me. There is no equipment or real estate listed. I'm sure no reasonable offer over the $3 million for the inventory will be refused. Reason Selling: Other interests. It seems to be easy to lose interest in owning a winery these days.

I think my neighbor up the road has lost interest in playing winery and rumor has it his winery is for sale for $1.1 million.

Remember the new economy, where you didn't have to make money, you just needed investors with lots of money? Sorry, the new economy went south and probably took a lot of overpriced wines with it. It, like overpriced wine, is not coming back.

You heard it here, folks, the new paradigm is here and it's the old paradigm. If you don't have a viable tasting room (and ones in Walla Walla and Woodinville are looking dicier each day) and you can't compete at the under $15 (preferably under $12) price point, you better not be in the business. A few cult wineries will remain, but if you aren't one already, you ain't gonna be one.

But, if you love hard work and the smell of the cellars, you can still make a decent living as a winery owner. I do.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Give the Wineries a Break

Truth in blogging statement: I belong to the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. (WAWGG). These comments do not necessarily (hah, not at all) reflect those of WAWGG or other members.

The WAWGG suggested price list and estimate crop size just came out. Since this is a confidential publication for members only, I cannot divulge the contents, but I will comment on trends.

If you follow this blog, you already know that the pipeline is backing up for wineries, many of which are downsizing or going away. Many wineries are still trying to sell the 2005 vintage. I doubt if they want to buy a lot of grapes to sell in 2015 - or later.

Wineries must crush something to keep their small producer credit, so everyone who plans to stay in business must crush a couple hundred pounds. Get it: a couple hundred pounds, not a couple hundred tons.

So, with wineries cutting back on production, it looks like the crop is predicted to be up a modest 4%. This translates into about 375,000 cases more wine to sell (not counting the cutback). I assume the Washington Wine Commission is working hard on selling it in Tokyo for $36 per case - that is what we have been offered for export wine.

Many suggested prices remain the same, although a few have gone down slightly - Pinot Gris is down over 5%. Cabernet Sauvignon continues to climb, up by over 3%.

At the current price, a winery must get $10 for a bottle of cabernet sauvignon, just to make a minimum profit. Through the three-tier system, that puts the wine on the shelf at $20 - a price point that isn't moving very fast these days.

It seems like in this market, where the world is dumping its wine on Washington consumers, that the WAWGG would take a more, uh, conservative view to pricing. But, I already know of urban wineries who have signed contracts for grapes at prices way above WAWGG. God, we love those suckers over here in eastern WA. They don't have a clue. They only know what they read in Paul Gregutt's book. Everyone over here knows where you can find good grapes for a good price. I had a winery friend who paid 50% of WAWGG on delivery and the balance to state average when the final figures came out in January. In years of glut like this, he made out like a bandit. State average tends to be about 70% of WAWGG.

WAWGG pricing is merely a suggested price, although many contracts use it as the standard. I know when we were buying grapes - before becoming an estate winery - we agreed to pay WAWGG prices. Of course Ste Mickeys doesn't pay WAWGG, but you have a contract with them it is worth real money year-in year-out - and if you have a lot of grapes, only Ste. Mickeys can use a lot of grapes. Garagistes use, at most, ten tons. It's hardly worth the hassle - well, unless you con them into $3000 a ton.

My advice to urban wineries and wannabes, negotiate a fair price, but if you need some grapes at WAWGG prices, I have some to spare. Just email me for availability. We'll even through in a custom crush.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Buy Washington Wine or Else!

My dire prediction is that if the people of Washington don't start buying Washington wine, the industry will be the shadow of its former self in three years. Only one bottle in six sold in the state was made in the state. (The Washington Wine Commission is feebly working on that this month, but I haven't seen a surge in sales.) Wineries are going broke, many are for sale, and some just don't have anything to sell, so they will just quietly go away. Mike Lempriere somewhat follows the history of the Washington wine industry and here is his list of defunct wineries in the state I'm sure the list is not up to date since Mike is a busy guy, but it shows you that owning and operating a winery is not an easy business.

Okay, so the wine industry was oversold here in Washington; as well as California and probably Oregon - not sure who drinks all that expensive Pinot Noir. Everyone wanted to be the next Leonetti or Quilceda Creek. The wine market has become a lot more realistic in the past year and I'm sure those two wineries are doing fine, but the wanabees who priced their first ever, over-oaked, VA-coated, oxidized Cab at $50 a bottle because Parker just doesn't bother with reasonably-priced wines, are sucking gas. Their friends still have that $600 case in their cellar, hoping like you said, it will get better because it can't get any worse. They aren't buying any more.

Many wineries will just go away. After all, they have a few hundred cases in inventory, a bunch of amateur winemaking equipment, and a garage or rented ministorage unit. Others, like E.B. Foote with a long history, will try to sell. Olsen Estates with little history is for sale for $3.4 million which includes a nice new building in the Prosser Autopark.

Even with Paul Gregutt's new book, Walla Walla is fading away. The first question people ask at the Yakima Valley Visitors center is, "How much farther is it to Walla Walla?' When told it is another two and a half hours, most opt for staying in Yakima and visiting the Rattlesnake Hills. Sure, Walla Walla is pretty and quaint, but the AVA is nothing to write home about. It is far eclipsed as a serious growing area by the Horse Heaven Hills, Rattlesnake Hills, Wahluke Slope, and Red Mountain. The generic Columbia Valley produces most of the grapes in the state, and fine grapes they are.

Yellow Hawk is for sale. Canoe Ridge and Sagelands are up for grabs - look for those listings real soon.

Right now, the number of new wineries in the state pretty much equals the number of wineries shutting their doors, keeping the number around 700 - give or take 50 wineries on any given day.

A winemaker friend was just told by his agent that the new $9.99 wine in Seattle is now $6.99 or $3.50 a bottle to the winery. It's hard to make any money at $42 per case - especially if you are buying grapes at WAWGG price or above. I mean, you can bring out the Jesus Machine, but for only about a 10% addition. It was a miracle back in Canaan and it still works, but not enough of a miracle to sell wine at those prices.

So, I implore all you bloggers (bloggers conference people) to buy Washington wine. Help save the industry! You could do something positive for a change.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Magic of Woodinville

I was reading the Summer issue of Wine Press Northwest and in the unread ads in the back, I noticed that a lot of the Walla Walla wineries now have tasting rooms in Woodinville. I guess when Steve Burns left the Wine Commission he left Walla Walla high and dry.

How magic is Woodinville? It is hard to get a handle on. I hear of wineries having $30,000 weekends every weekend and I hear of wineries having $500 weekends and wondering how they are going to pay the high-priced rent. Chateau St. Mickey's is of course the big attraction with its château and manicured grounds. I was told by an inside source (a big inside source) that this winery did over one million dollars a year in the tasting room in the early '90's - before they separated the tasting bar from the cash register. Things go downhill rather rapidly from beautiful Ste Mickey's to garage doors in industrial parks. How romantic is that? Or even the more upscale non-winery storefronts in a mini-mall - next door to Pan Gucks Wok and Chinese takeout. Does your wine smell of sesame oil or is that from next door?

I guess I am old school. I learned to love wine tasting in the Napa Valley in the early '70's. I have purchased a case of 1971 Cabernet Sauvignon from Joseph Heitz himself. Louis Martini has poured samples in my glass while sharing the experience behind the bar. Those old Italian guys were great!. No flaccid blonde broads saying, "This is our ultra-premium-hand-crafted-award-winning Cabernet." Unfortunately, I never met Robert Mondavi, but I toured his winery in 1970 when it first opened .I have had picnics at Robert Louis Stevenson State Park with fresh crab from Fisherman's Whorf, artisan bread, Marin County Cheese (Camembert to be exact), and local Napa Valley wine. I guess I just don't get the 'park your car and get shit-faced' wine tasting mentality of today. (Wine bloggers, here is your mention in order to up my hits. I know the only people who read wine blogs are wine bloggers. Please understand fully the content of this paragraph. Wine tasting is not about the wine, it is about the experience. Since mentioning the Bloggers Conference, I have had 89 visits and your average attention span is 41 seconds. Your attention span is pathetic, but on par with any twit on Twitter. How can you consider yourself a writer if you cannot take time to read? In addition, all of you were too chicken to comment. In case you don't get it, I am reaming you a new orifice.)

Now addressing the wannabe winemakers. Yes, those people who still want to get into the wine business as a 'life style.' If I were to do it over again what would I do differently? Remember, I have 25 years of experience in the business. I can't name all the wineries that have come and gone in those 25 years. Flaming supernovas that burned out fast. They listened to the Washington Wine Commission (Steve Burns), the Wine Spectator, Robert Parker, et al. They located their wineries in Seattle, Walla Walla, Prosser Flats, and the Dry Shitties - all the places that these people promote. Follow the crowd and it will follow you. Wrongo Buckwheat.

Well, I wouldn't do anything differently. I would still locate in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA near Zillah, the nearest REAL
WINE COUNTRY to Puget Sound. We are the pariah of AVA's to the Washington Wine Commission because as Paul Portteus says, "we have become successful in spite of the Wine Commission." We are two hours and fifteen minutes from Issaquah - about the same time it would take you to get to Woodinville on a clogged freeway. And, the sun is probably shining over here. It is the only AVA where you can experience the early '70's Napa Valley atmosphere where the owner pours the wine and the ambience is amazing with, yes, the grape vines that grow the wines. Duh, we have our vineyards around our wineries.

Do I want you to locate your wannabe winery here? Probably not. We already have over 20 wineries in the AVA, although some still want to designate their Bordeaux reds as vegetative Yakima Valley reds. (yes, I love weeds, green beans and asparagus - just not in my Cabernet Sauvignon.) There are 17 wineries in the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail Association. When it gets to 20, I will vote 'no' to all new applicants. In a weekend, you might realistically see 10 wineries. Twenty wineries in the organization still gives me a 50-50 chance of being visited. Get over 50 wineries like Wine Yakima Valley and you are so diluted you don't have a chance in hell of being visited - about one in five.

So, what are your chances of being visited in Walla Walla? Less than one in ten. (10/100 = 1/10) What are your chances of getting visited in Woodinville? About one in six, but it is hard to count the number of wineries in Woodinville (over 60) - and there are more every day. You do the math. I will go with 1 out of 2 in the Rattlesnake Hills.

I don't know why success makes me grumpy. I should really be happy, but I really hate to see people fail because of someone else's stupidity. I also hate hearing the same old story from the same old people over and over.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Want to Make Your Blog Popular?

Hey, it's easy. Forget about wine, because nobody reads wine blogs except wine bloggers and to my knowledge they don't actually drink wine, they just speed taste and get drunk on hard liquor at night. What if a blogger actually talked about wine, something in the way of "it smells like burnt Macaoan Oak." Actually, a wine steward said that to me before wine bloggers existed. I was really impressed. I was in Macao last year and didn't see a single oak tree but it still sounds cool. Paul G. has my permission to use it in his next review. Pardon the digression. Wine bloggers write for each other. It is a mutual admiration society. If you don't believe me, read the comments to the posts. It is a bunch of blogger bragging about who they know and telling inside jokes. Have you ever seen a comment, "jeez, thanks for the wine recommendation. I'm going down to the Zillah Food Center and pick up an $80 bottle of Chateau Walla Squared and have it with Foie Gras tonight. You know the Toppenish Safeway has it on special this week."

If you don't believe me, check this out. I particularly liked numbers 6 and 8. I think I am violating #6, but I did mention Walla Walla, so I am okay on #8. But, if you still don't believe me, read the comments. I think it was Abraham Lincoln (who, by the way, used to blog on the backs of envelopes) who said "blah, blah, blah and that blogs of the bloggers, by the bloggers, for the bloggers shall not perish from the internet!"

So, to up my hits and make Google Analytics light up, the blog was about the Walla Wall Wine Bloggers Conference and wine blogging in general. If you don't believe me, I will report my analytics next week. I'm going to have one of the hottest wine blogs on the web - just talking about blogging - not wine.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Wine Boogers Conference aka Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC to insiders)

Well, the big Wine Bloogers Conference is over and it looks like everyone is pretty well done congratulating each other and posting about how great their friends are. It seems to be a large mutual admiration society that gets together once a year - in the meantime, they read each other's blogs and comment. No one else would read that boring trivia.

The Rattlesnake Hills, Washington's neglected AVA, didn't get any coverage, although they visited DuBrul Vineyard which is in the AVA, but since Wine Yakima Valley was operating the tour, they didn't mention that the big wines coming from this vineyard are not representative of 'Yakima Valley' (read Prosser Flats or Sagebrush Ridge) wines. From wines labeled Yakima Valley, you should expect excellent crisp whites like Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot Gris as well as cool-climate Syrah and Pinot Noir. Expect vegetal character in Bordeaux reds. They picked DuBrul because it is in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA and produces great wines.

So, it was a non-event for Bonair Winery. I spent the weekend in the tasting room serving about 400 paying customers and selling few thousand dollars worth of wine. (15 cases of our Pinot Noir blend called Bung Dog Red which sells for $78 per case.)Beats the hell out of standing behind a table pouring free wine while talking to dumbasses who have never heard of you. Trust me, the Washington Wine Commission has determined long ago who is important and who is not. It is a waste of time and money for non 'in' wineries to attend any of these events be it the WBC or Taste Washington, or the Children's Auction.

Bloggers are so obscure and there are so many wines, it just isn't worth the effort. There is no chance of a payoff "The Bonair Sunset was an outstanding replacement for insipid white zin," The Booger for the Paducah Gazette. Wow, great, of course it will never be available in Paducah. Worse yet, someone could really sabotage you. "The Yakima Valley Cabernet tasted of green asparagus, under-ripe bell peppers with overtones of horse sweat," Yakity Yak self-appointed wine blogger.

The only way to get recognized is to sell wine under $10 and get shelf-space in QFC, Fred Meyer, and AG stores. Forget the "wine shops and upper-end restaurants." I don't think social media will ever have the sway print media used to have. Today's wine drinkers are smarter and know more about wine. They know if they pay over $20 they are not getting more value. Plus, there a so many wines nobody cares. Wineries need to get used to the fact that wine is a food product and winemakers are not rock stars. It is a business. How many canned bean bloggers are there? Bush's - yumm, my favorite!

Paul G. has an interesting forum going, but most of the responses are as boring as the blog writers own blogs. It's sort of a Point Counterpoint, but not as funny as SNL.

I love Chinese Glass

Every morning my wife asks me what I plan to do today. The answer is simple and always the same, "I plan on getting drunk." Ever since I was demoted from winemaker to vigneron, I don't plan my days. Work always finds me. I don't have to look for it. I actually thought I was getting a promotion until I found out 'vigneron' is a fancy French term for flunky.

This morning at 7:45 I received a call from Bill, my winemaker, that the foil dispenser was not working and he needed me, le vigneron, to hand apply the foils on 4600 bottles. Thank god for short-run days.

It was our first run with our new Chinese glass and it gave me a chance to examine the quality up close, one fu©ƙ1ng bottle at a time. I was amazed. The glass was beautiful with a nice full punt and polished finish. The light reflection on every bottle was mirror perfect. (I remember watching St. Gobain 9952 go down the line. It was like watching life in a fun house mirror.) All the corks seated perfectly and the boxes from our supplier, Saxco, actually closed perfectly. We probably saved 50% on case glue alone. Trying to seal boxes from California Glass, Saint Gobain, and Consumers takes gobs of glue -and more gobs of glue.


Doing menial jobs gives the Grumpy Winemaker a lot of time to think - probably a bad idea. I wondered about the US wine industry as our American wine was put into a Chinese glass by an Italian monoblock, followed by me placing French foil capsules on the Chinese bottles before the Australian labeler put - you won't believe this - US-printed labels on the bottles. I guess you can say we make 'world-class' wine.


We tried a Seattle printer who gave us a good price, until we bought all the dies only to find the price double the next year - thinking we would be too dumb to switch. Plus their 'rubber stamp' labels can't compete with offset. Flexo sucks. Label One in Portland still treats us well.


My son, Joseph, does catalogs for an outdoor company. All of the catalogs are printed in Asia. I wonder how much longer we will have our labels printed in the Yoonited States? $4.55 per case is a lot of money when you have to sell wine in Seattle for $9.99. Every penny counts for the wineries as bottle manufacturers are finding out the hard way. The wine industry is not a cash cow ready for milking. I think I said that before. Grumpy people tend to be repetitive.

St. Gobain will continue to make glass in Seattle as long as they cut great deals with St. Mickey's. They have pretty much said they don't want our business of 7500 cases a year. But sooner or later, even St. Mickey's will discover the quality and price of Chinese bottles - if they haven't already.

One thing was a little suspicious about the bottles. They looked a lot like St. Gobain 9432 (Mister Rogers, "Can you say 'identical'? I knew you could. I like the way you say 'identical'.") - only cheaper. If I worked for St. Gobain in Seattle, I would be looking for a new job real soon.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Gov'mint Warnin'

Are you aware that the Government Warning: in bold and larger than 2mm on US wine bottles is illegal on wines sold in Europe? Why? Well, Europe has a 'truth in labeling' requirement. No opinions or false statements can be placed on European wine labels.

What you say? The US Gov'mint is always right. Well, not in this case. Let's examine the Gov'mint warnin'.

ACCORDING TO THE SURGEON GENERAL:' at 2mm or larger pint all in caps making it less readable, states that this is not scientific fact or evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. It is one person's opinion. And to top it off, I don't think that person is either a surgeon or a general. What war did they fight in? Would General Petraeus qualify? Who do they cut up in their spare time? Would you let them operate on you?

'WOMEN SHOULD NOT DRINK ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES DURING PREGNANCY BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF BIRTH DEFECTS." I knew there was an explanation for the French. Just kidding. Fetal alcohol syndrome is caused by massive ingestion of alcohol - usually vodka - by brain-dead whores who ingest more than a bottle a day. I do not recommend drinking while pregnant, but unless you want your kid to turn our French, it doesn't seem to make that much difference if you drink in moderation - and why wouldn't you only drink in moderation ALL THE TIME.

Here is a test. Read the following list of words:


Okay, so you might be sober enough to catch the last word.

"CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES IMPAIRS YOUR ABILTY TO DRIVE A CAR OR OPERATE MACHINERY." I definitely don't drive after I think I have imbibed a little too much, but I have been known to try to operate MacHinery and he doesn't work as well as he does when sober. So my best advice is to get her drunk and stay somewhat sober so you can still operate MacHinery.

"AND MAY CAUSE HEALTH PROBLEMS." And may not. Wine drinkers are healthier than T-totallers. They are also smarter, but that may be a confusing demographic. Wine is an historic beverage and has basically lead to civilization. Look at places where wine is not regularly consumed like Kentucky and Saudi Arabia.

I'll bet you never thought you would see those two places in the same sentence!

Now do you know why I am grumpy?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Website Designers Suck

About once a week, someone wants to make Bonair Winery famous by redesigning our website. I admit it, I do our web design and I am not a professional web designer - if there is such a thing. It's the age old problem of people thinking wineries have money to burn and they really don't know the business.

Do you want to become the next (name omitted famous Walla winery)? We just designed their website and you can be as famous as they are if we design your website. Hasn't (name omitted famous Walla winery) been famous since before the internet? Isn't one of the oldest winery websites on the internet? Anyway, I looked up (name omitted famous Walla winery) website to get some ideas. On my DSL connection, granted, not the fastest in the world, but not dial up either, it takes a full minute to load a curtain going up on a window. Then, I get to click to enter the site. Most of my visitors tracked by Google Analytics only spend about a minute on the site - the maximum attention span of the average American idiot. Why would I want an intro that lasts longer than a person's attention span?

Do you want your site to be in the top ten on Google search? Tell me, what key word are you talking about? I am already number one for 'Bonair Winery.' If you are so good, if you have eleven winery clients, whose site becomes number 11? They can't all be in the top ten.

Do you want to sell more wine on the internet? Well, I can ship to Washington, Minnesota, Alaska, and Florida. Why would I want to invest in a lot of money in generating more business which is illegal to sell to? How dumb is that?

Do you want more people to attend your events? Well, no, our events are by invitation only, so changing the website doesn't change who gets invited. In fact, if they really did their research, they would find our events page refers you to which lists all the events in the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail.

What do I want my website to do? Not a whole lot. It is there for people who know us and have questions like, when are we open, what wines are available, and yes, if you live in our selected few states, you can order on line. If you are new, it has a map and directions - ones that actually work, not like Tom Tom which routes you to a dead end. It is easy to update, because I have the programs to do it. I can add pictures, change pictures, and rewrite text. Websites are for conveying information, not for entertainment. Go to You Tube for that. The quicker they answer a question, the better they work.

So, don't try to sell me something you don't know about. That makes me grumpy. The wine industry is not a cash cow ready to be milked.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

US Bottle Manufacturers Try to Go out of Business - and Will Probably Succeed

Enron took a cue from the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973. During this trumped-up crisis, oil became scarce and prices soared. Oil companies made a killing because oil consumption in the US actually rose during the 'embargo.' There never was a real shortage of oil, just the perception created by the oil companies and President Nixon. The saying, "Oil crisis means higher prices," became common vernacular.

During the California Energy Crisis of 2000 and 2001, Enron took the lesson from the oil embargo of 1973 and closed down a lot of generating plants for 'maintenance.' This phony crisis created a shortage of electricity and as we know, "Energy crisis means higher prices." Enron made a killing - for a while.

Not to be outdone, in 2006 the glass bottle manufacturers of the United States decided they wanted a bigger cut of the rising world of sky-high wine prices, so they shut down half the furnaces in the US for phony 'maintenance.' After all, "Bottle crisis means higher prices." Wineries were required to preorder their glass one year in advance to be assured of deliveries. Wineries received monthly notices to buy now because the surcharge on the surcharges was going up next month. The glass companies made a killing -for a while.

This seemed a good strategy at the time. Remember, US corporations have no long-term vision. They are into short-term profits only. Chinese glass at the time was clunky, not very round, and the corks sometimes didn't fit. Canada was in on the scheme and Mexico couldn't produce enough glass to meet demand. We were able to get Mexican glass that year.

In the US, it takes ten years to build a factory. Five years to fight the Sierra Club, Audubon Society, and the Democratic Party. Five more years fighting local petty bureaucrats for permits and building code design. So, the only new glass plant in the US, Cameron Family Glass, failed.

In China, things are different. Drive down a boulevard in Shenzhen on Monday and you will see a vacant lot. Drive by on Tuesday, and you will see heavy equipment. Drive by on Wednesday, and you will see cranes erecting a building. Drive by on Friday and you will see people working at the brand-new state-of-the-art bottle factory. No bullshit environmental impact studies or NIMBY neighbors.

Because they tried to stick it to us, I have no loyalty to American bottle manufacturers - most of whom are French-owned anyway. Our next shipment of bottles will be all Chinese. We save $2 per case. On cases that sell for $56, that $2 goes in my pocket. They are nice looking bottles with a slight punt - much nicer than the flat-bottom overpriced low-end US bottles. We have run Chinese glass on our line for other wineries and it works fine. US industries take note: the Chinese don't try to sell shoddy products at inflated prices for short-term gain. Their goal is to create world-class products at low prices and eat your lunch.

I think American bottle manufacturers deserve to go out of business because of their greed, just like greedy wineries that charged exorbitant prices for wine deserve to go bankrupt. Enron got what it deserved. Unfortunately, BP, Chevron, and Exxon* are still screwing us and they aren't even using petroleum jelly. (Okay, so they are using lubricant to screw the Gulf Coast, but that is different.)

And you wonder why I am grumpy.

*Exxon is a combination of Esso (the original name) and Nixxon, as a thank you to the president for the oil crisis and obscene profits.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Organic Farming Involves a lot of BS

It's Sunday. I know it is Sunday because my neighbor is spraying his organic nectarines. Organic farming requires weekly spraying. I'm not sure what he is spraying. It might be sulfur, oil, or copper sulfate. Copper sulfate is extremely toxic to fish and animals, but since it can be mined from the earth, it is an organic pesticide. Buy it at Whole Paycheck market.

City people think of organic as braless hippie chicks in long dresses and their bastard children picking bugs off the vines. Who hasn't picked tomato worms from their backyard tomato vines? Well, modern organic agriculture is big business and the 640 acre organic block sits next to the 640 acre convention block. My neighbor had a good thing going. He is a good farmer and puts out a quality product, but last year the largest grower in the state came on the market with 1100 acres of organic nectarines. The market went caput. Organic farming is no longer for hippies living off the land - or small farmers trying to find a niche market. Organic farming is big agribusiness. I suggest you read The Omnivores Dilemma, by Michael Pollan.

I think conventional farming is safer. Remember the parents who bought their child organic apple juice because it was safer? The child died from e. coli that came from the manure spread on the organic orchard. Synthetic fertilizers don't pose that hazard. My fear is that when I buy conventional lettuce I might be getting organic, because when the organic market is saturated, organic produce is simply diverted into the lower priced conventional market. Maybe we need a 'certified safe conventional' label.

We don't use copper sulfate on our vineyard because it will eventually poison the soil, but if our vineyard were classified organic, we would be spraying Bordeaux mixture which contains copper sulfate. Sulfur also changes the pH of the soil. Our soil is alkaline which limits the vegetal growth of the vines. Using sulfur over long periods of time in large amounts will acidify the soil and act as a fertilizer to the grapes, lowering the wine quality in return.

Pesticides got a bad name back in the 1950's when DDT (synthetic) and lead arsenate (organic) were used without regard to the environment. Today, in the Yakima Valley we suffer from poisoned soils from apple orchards that would have been classified as organic because they used lead arsenate as a primary pesticide. These heavy metals are poorly water soluble and are persistent in the soil for years. Just because it comes from the earth, doesn't mean it is safe. Mother nature, by nature, is very toxic. A list of all organic chemicals can be found here. I find it interesting that synthetic chemicals are organic and organic chemicals are inorganic. Go figure.

I calculate that it would take three times the diesel to farm our grapes organically. First there is mechanical weeding under the vines. One tractor can do about 1-2 acres a day. We have 35 acres, so one tractor would be dedicated to weed control, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Synthetic chemicals have a spray interval of 14 to 21 days and are sprayed at rates of ounces per acre. Organic chemicals have a spray interval of 7 days and are sprayed a rates of pounds per acre. Using this much diesel is not earth-friendly. Sustainable farming involves making the most earth-friendly choices by balancing all factors.

Hence, we farm sustainable, but not organically.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Pet Peeves part deux

People who want to 'just go down the list' of 12 wines. (and don't spit.) 'Start me at the top. I don't give a rip because I ain't buying anyway.' Drinking and driving is illegal. So is being drunk in public. The winery can, should, and will cut you off.

People who 'refresh' their palates between wineries with mint gum. Mint only destroys the sensitivity of the palate for about two hours. Eat a jalapeño while you are at it. Have a cinnamon latte to wash it down.

People who sneak out the door when you aren't looking and leave without even saying thank you. Canadians are notorious for this, eh. If there is no charge for tasting, common courtesy suggests you buy a bottle of wine at each winery to keep tasting free. If you really don't find something you like, at least say "thank you" before leaving. Don't tell us you will look for our wines in Bumbfuck, New York. You won't look and we won't ever be there.

People who say they are 'just tasting' and will be back tomorrow to buy. Sometimes this is true, but most times it isn't. To not sound like a jerk, just don't say it. Say "thank you" instead. When you show up later to buy, the tasting room employee will be pleased to see you and he/she will not have had a single bad thought about you.

People who think they can get all wines cheaper in Seattle. Large wineries have this problem where grocery stores will use their wines as a "loss leader" in order to get you to buy over-priced items while you are in the store. The store doesn't let you taste every wine on the shelf. Tasting rooms are expensive to operate. You probably won't even find the wine in Seattle. Buy it on the spot or say "thank you." before you leave. If you really like it, you can buy more later in Seattle. Actually, some of our wines are cheaper in Seattle. We will tell you which ones are. Our best wines are not available in Seattle.

People who pretend to be 'wine writers/bloggers' or otherwise take copious notes. We will treat you like any other customer - well, maybe not quite as well because you are announcing you are not buying. There are about four wine writers that count. They don't go wine tasting secretly to discover new wines for you. (Sorry to burst your bubble. The Easter bunny doesn't exist either.) Steve Heimoff isn't going to show up at Bonair with a notepad. These guys arrive on paid junkets and most wineries only get to 'kiss the ring' (isn't the Latin word for ring, 'anus?') and present their wine at a central location. Nowadays we don't even do that. We just submit them to the Wine Commission which uses them to party.

People who brag about what expensive wines they drink/own. Wine is food. Get over it.

Three men is business suits that burst into the tasting room who only want to taste the most expensive wines, but are afraid to buy anything because they don't know anything about wine and don't want to look foolish in front of their colleagues. This usually happens at the end of the day after a conference or meeting. I always admire the guy who buys a bottle of Sunset because he likes it. He has balls.

Uncontrolled children who proceed to dismantle the tasting room while their clueless parents taste wine. We have threatened to give away free goldfish to the children for being so 'good.' Hopefully, the parents will see the irony. Who will be the ogre when they have to flush the damn thing down the toilet?

People who drink beer (if you can call Buttweipper beer) between wineries. Admit it, you are an alcoholic. Get help.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sagelands, You Read It Here First

Now the story is starting to come out of the closet. The Wine Spectator picked up on it (probably by secretly reading this blog) "Diageo Shutters Rosenblum Winery, Moves Production to Napa" The article goes on to state, "The company declined to comment on specific brands or facilities potentially for sale, but its U.S. wine division also includes labels such as Sagelands, Echelon, Canoe Ridge, Jade Mountain and Dynamite, as well as a partnership with Edna Valley Vineyard."

What with Covey Run teetering on the edge of collapse it could be a dismal year for wine grape growers in Washington State.

But that doesn't seem to make a difference to people. Everyone still wants to get rich in the wine industry as indicated by this article What are these people thinking (or smoking.) Haven't they heard the old joke?

How do you make a small fortune in the wine industry?
Start with a large one!

Fred Franzia continues to run his bottling line day and night. When he runs out of Bakersfield wine, he pumps out wine from Australia. I predict a significant shrinkage in the Washington wine industry in the next few years. Most Washington wineries are not big enough to get out-of-state distribution, yet the Washington Wine Commission continues to ignore the home crowd in favor of national and international distribution. A few years ago, only one bottle in six consumed in the state was produced in the state. I think the WWC now says they have it up to one in five.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Sagelands Saga Continues

The repairs to Sagelands tasting room are complete. (Remember, my cousin did the work.) It is ready to open, but it is not. Word has it the winery (not the tasting room) was open for wine club members during Spring Barrel Tasting.

Now the street talk is that Sagelands and Canoe Ridge are both for sale. If Diageo is pulling out of Washington, maybe it is time for real 900 pound gorilla to move in. How about some Columbia Valley Hardly Burgundy? There is going to be a glut of grapes on the market this year. It would certainly be better than California Hardly Burgundy. Walla Walla could become Modesto North, or the new Sonoma. Gallo Walla Walla has a certain ring to it, well, at least a lot of l's.

I don't make this stuff up, I just report what other winemakers are saying here in the Rattlesnake Hills. This is strictly gossip. Maybe the nice PR man from Diageo will clear things up again for me or tell me the asking price.