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 Gew├╝rztraminer 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.