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 Gew├╝rztraminer. 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:

AVA

8/31

9/30

10/14

Rattlesnake Hills

2264

2475

2581

Yakima Valley

2044

2241

2321

Horse Heaven

2410

2629

2736

Red Mountain

2428

2643

2735

Walla Walla

2220

2432

2536

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, Jos├ę. 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. http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2010/09/23/1180242/grape-harvest-gets-late-start.html. 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.

AVA

31-Aug

Sep-10

Rattlesnake Hills

2264

2475

Yakima Valley

2044

2241

Horse Heaven

2410

2629

Red Mountain

2428

2643

Walla Walla

2220

2432


 

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.