Sunday, January 3, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I miss you Steve.

No comments:

Post a Comment