Reflections on Reflection Vineyards and wine clubs

IMG_1031A long snowy drive over the pass was adequately rewarded with a visit to Reflection Vineyards. Holly was as entertaining as ever. The biggest revelation was that their reds are about as good or better than anything we have ever tasted; the Viognier that first attracted me last summer was just as good. There are a couple of our other wine clubs, yes we joined Reflection, that may not make the cut.

In the current edition of Wine Spectator, James Aube’s column addresses when it is time to leave a wine, time to try other tastes and vineyards. This visit to Reflection sparked that discussion for us, and then a discussion of why and how we are going to choose wine clubs in the future. We are currently members of 8 yet I anticipate that will drop a bit before the spring shipments.

So we needed a criteria to begin the sorting process:

  1. The wine must be above average
  2. The terroir of the tasting room, the staff, and the club is as important as the wine
  3. The wine must not be readily available at the local grocery store.

The first point is obvious, if the wine is average then why bother, part of the reason for a club is to keep good wine on the table. There are plenty of good wines at Trader Joes and Total Wine, we buy our fair share of those and always will. Wine club wine needs to be a notch above.

Secondly, a wine club is more than just a way to make a purchase. It includes the experience of place, and people. The wine clubs that I enjoy most offer pleasant surroundings and people, along with the glass of wine. Reflection does this well. Their tasting room is a small house looking building with a patio as big as the building. It sits on a hill overlooking grassy field with a hammock, fruit trees, and vineyards. The owner and winemaker, Kent VanArnam, was easy to talk to the one time we met, and Holly’s wit makes it work; she also knows wine and what is behind the wine making.

2014-09-14 16.29.45Another benefit of club membership is having a place to visit where you get free tastings, and a place to hang out for a glass. Some wineries even have private rooms for club members, but I am learning that many of those are the larger operations that may conflict with my desire for more boutique wines. Last summer I sat on the deck at Reflection and did a quick sketch over a glass of their Viognier, a pleasant hour for sure.

Clubs are structured in various ways; do be sure that the requirements are compatible with your taste and budget. Reflection’s wine club is one of the easiest of all that we have seen, and great value for this quality of wine. (91 in Wine Spectator, American Wine Society awards)

The third criteria for selecting a wine club is availability, Reflection is only available through direct orders or their club, so if you want to drink it at home, you get it there. There is of course the feeling of exclusiveness; we have a wine that is not on every table. But more than that is the chance to expand your cellar beyond what the grocery store offers.

So we are glad that we stopped by, I am pleased that I stumbled on to Reflection in August when Dineen Vineyards was closed, I still hope one day to get there, I have missed them 3 times now. We tasted some good wine, we found a good club, and it motivated me to consider how to decide to join wine clubs in the future. Wine is a major hobby, and wine clubs are part of what makes it fun.

TheWinesketcher says, “Join the club!” If you are new to wine, find a winery you like, then join the club.

Bunnell Winery has my art on display and for sale.

So thrilled! Bunnell Winery in Woodinville, WA has a display of a new acrylic on canvas of mine, and matted prints and cards for sale. Bunnell is one of my favorite wines, their Lia, Via, and Syrah are always the best. Stop by, have a sip, and take a peak.

See more sketches and art at theWinesketcher.

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Big Bold Red’s are not a right of passage

big bold redDundee, Oregon is one my favorite places, it is in the center of the Yamhill Wine country. On multiple intersections there are signs encouraging those who are seeking “big bold reds” to visit some winery. At any quality retailer in Washington State the refrigerated section dedicated to domestic beer is likely to be heavily stocked with IPA’s challenging you with their hoppy bitterness, the stronger the better. Less obvious, but just as prevalent to those who are lured by good Scotch whisky, is the proclamation of peat and smoky taste.2920783.deschutesbrewery

Flavor, and taste are pleasures to be savored in all of their diversity, yet I fear that in our current propensity for competition and unisex-machismo we have turned drinking into a contact sport. “I drink white wine but have not worked my way up to reds,” is a frequent reply when I inquire if a person likes wine.

Let’s be clear, if you like wine of any color, you like wine. Some of the finest wines of Burgundy in France are from Chardonnay grapes — white. There are more Pilsners and lagers consumed in the world than ales, hoppy or not.

There is one rule about what to drink — drink what you like, with people you enjoy. Wine Spectator ratings are helpful, but only a guide; a wine in the 80’s is not vinegar, in fact it may be downright enjoyable. Yes, you often do “get what you pay for,” but price is only an indicator. I remember a $60 limited Oregon Chardonnay that we saved for a special occasion. It was good, but we both felt that the $20 label from the same vintner was just as good.

Should you try a big bold red, yes, absolutely! Because it is part of the pleasure to experience as many as you can, you may like it, but to drink it because you are supposed to, or because it is seen as some higher calling, not a good thing. TheWinesketcher loves bold reds, and hoppy brews, but for the flavor, not as a right of passage.

In the summer I drink less red wine than in the winter, rosé and white just work better on the sunny deck. Hoppy beers and pilsners work in the summer but when Fall arrives stouts and doppelbocks are a perfect match, along with a Barbera or a Malbec. (Oregon Pinot Noir is good year round.)

TheWinesketcher never tires of reminding the world that wine is a blessing from God, bringing people together, adding to the mystery we call taste. If you see me with my sketchpad at some winery, grab a glass of whatever you like most, sit down and join me. We may discuss taste and terroir, but I will toast whatever is in your glass and be grateful for making a new friend. Then tell me you read my blogs and I will do a sketch just for you, on the spot.



“Beer is made by men, wine by God.” Luther

The view from Torri MorSo how did this fascination of mine with wine develop? I remember the days of Annie Green Springs wine (last produced in 1977). Or Almaden jug wine, it comes in a box today; but a box would never work for a candleholder, which graced many of our tables, alongside concrete block bookshelves, and kerosene lamps, in the late 60’s. We thought Blue Nun was for special occasions. Growing up under the cloud that “good Christian boys don’t drink” added a cavalier mystic about the whole thing.

Somewhere along the way tastes and availability changed. In the late 60’s and the 70’s wine was either a cheap drink that tasted cheap, or the beverage of the hoity-toity. Us commoners drank beer; Bud or Miller, or spirits, mine was Black Velvet. We drank either for social status or for the buzz; thankfully my goal was rarely for the buzz, but I did fit in with the crowd.

Today I drink beverages for one reason, the enjoyment of taste. I drink San Pellegrino because I like the carbonation, wines of all types because of the tastes and experience, beers and whisky. The whole idea of intoxication is revolting, but the pleasure of taste is wonderful. And of course Martin Luther got it right when he said, “Beer is made by men, wine by God.”

1986-1987 marked a turning point in my life. Divorce, new job, new marriage, new city – all resulted in a new relationship to food and wine.

Pre-1986 my culinary repertoire included Hamburger Helper, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and dehydrated Potatoes Au Gratin. Special occasions might produce steak, baked potato, and broccoli. Beverages were usually beer.

On my own, living on a houseboat at Hayden Island in Portland, I began to cook, nothing exciting but less out of a box. Sautéed mushrooms, and some experiments that turned out badly, but I have not had Hamburger Helper since.

A new lady in my life who drank wine, liked good food, and listened to jazz changed it all; add a new boss who frequented fine restaurants, ordered wine I would never have known of let alone been able to afford, produced the climate for change. I developed a taste that my mother tells me I had when I was in the 7th grade experimenting with gourmet cooking; it just needed the right environment.

Our first wine club was Sunset Magazine, a grand adventure in each shipment for one such as I who had tasted so few. The dates and times get cloudy looking back all these years, but we visited a winery one day in Dundee, Oregon; there was a trip or two to Sonoma in California, the interest was growing.

Then Trader Joe’s came to Lynnwood. Wine from all over the world, at prices we could afford. Two-Buck-Chuck (Shaw) never did work, but there were plenty of wines that did. We tried new labels, asked for advice, all the while I was attempting to act as if I knew what I was talking about. In those days we splurged on $8 bottles for special occasions.

More trips to Sonoma, returning from each one with many bottles in the trunk, we actually had extra bottles in the house, a wine cellar! So sophisticated. The final push happened when our daughter went to George Fox College in Newberg, Oregon. It is located in the heart of the Oregon wine country. We quickly became regulars at a few of the wineries and restaurants.

Torii Mor was our first winery-based club, the rest is history; many more trips to wine areas, more wine clubs, lots of reading and tasting. Wine is more than the liquid in the glass; there is a style of life, the ambiance of the tasting rooms, the beauty of the vineyards, the pleasure of fellowshipping with friends and food.

Today I am often sipping wine with pen ink and paint; sketching a winery over a glass of wine is one of life’s great pleasures. These last 27 years I have been privileged to eat some wonderful food, taste some fantastic wines, and see some incredible sites. I am grateful to God every day for the blessing of travel, taste, and friends. Sante!

Milbrandt Vineyards – you feel like family.

IMG_1060My first visit to Milbrandt Vineyards tasting room in Prosser, Washington was on a birthday trip in August. How was it? Well even though we have, OK had, an agreement to not sign up for any more wine clubs we are now members. The tasting room is located next to Wine-O-Clock, one of our favorite restaurants. From the moment we entered we felt welcome, Jan sent us out to the deck to find a table.

Most tastings take place standing at the bar in the tasting room, a few will come to you if you sit at a table, but Milbrandt’s weekend tastings are a bit different. Jan brought us two “Flight Carriers” holding 5 glasses each, with a descriptive tag on each glass. She checked on us often, in fact I am sure we dominated her time. We loved that we could taste at our pace. It was the Viognier that won me over. Readers here know it is my favorite white these days. I thanked Jan by doing a quick sketch for her of a topiary that is on the patio.

IMG_1035This last week I went back, I was in the area doing seminars and had some time. With summer coming to an end a few hours on the patio, in the sun, with a glass of wine and my sketchpad sounded like the perfect prescription. The family welcome must be part of the culture because Shelly and Angela made it wonderful; we talked about travel, art, and wine. A glass of Viognier, and I was set.

Milbrandt Vineyards is a fourth generation operation, headed now by Butch and Jerry. I have not had the pleasure of tasting all their offerings, and of course I love the Viognier. The Mourvedre is a red with just enough body to not be overpowering, and smooth, no puckering feeling in the back of the mouth. We have a bottle in the cellar. Their Petite Sirah 2010 is fruity “with juicy vibrant flavors.” Both are destined for some good food and conversation.

I have written before that the ambience of the winery is almost as important as the terroir of the vineyard for my enjoyment of a wine. Milbrandt has done that. The deck and the tasting room, and especially the staff all make for a vineyard worth checking out.

Reflection Vineyards, thanks for a wonderful September afternoon

One of the great joys of wine is discovery. Today in the Rattlesnake Hills wine region of Washington, the winery I was headed for was closed, so I went exploring. An easel sign near an orchard pointed the way to Reflection Vineyards, up a gravel road through the trees, and it was open. What a find! Holly made the tasting room a pleasant experience, when she is not at Reflection she works with Ron Bunnell, another of my favorite wine makers. I knew I was in for a treat.

2014-09-14 16.47.23My primary goal was a glass of white and a place to sketch, the setting was right for sketching; now all I needed was wine. Their only white is a Viognier, and what a wine. If I could only have one white wine I would be tempted to make it a Viognier, so I was pleased.

Kent and Allison bought the 40 acres now known as Reflection Vineyards in 2007, most of the land was in cherries, but they wanted to grow grapes. Their first planting was 16 rows of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. They did however keep some of the cherries.

They practice what is known as “free run” in the production of their reds. With free run the grapes are crushed but not pressed. Most wineries crush the grapes, which extracts the best of the juice, and then press the remaining skins and pulp to extract more of the juice. While pressing produces a higher yield the juice from free run is the highest quality possible.

Free run wines tend to be fruitier, less acidic, and lower in tannins. Tannins are what give some young wines that “pucker” feeling in the back of the throat. Free run reds are easier to drink young, and the fruit is enhanced; I never forget that wine is liquid fruit first of all. Reflection Vineyards currently produces a Mélange, Cabernet, Syrah, and the Viognier. I love a winery that focuses on what they do well.

The Viognier was just right, it has more body than a Pinot Gris, which of late I have been finding too thin for my taste. I have overcome my bias, illogical of course, of Chardonnay, but these days find the Viognier more enjoyable. Viognier is less buttery than a California Chardonnay, none of the citrus of a New Zealand, yet not as heavy as some Chardonnays can be.

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Reflection’s Viognier is the perfect balance in a white wine; enough fruit to make it fill the mouth, just dry enough to finish nicely, and a round enough feel to let you know you are embracing more than fruit juice. Sitting on their deck, sipping a glass, pen and paint in hand, made for a perfect afternoon.

I will be back, that is for sure, more of the reds next time. The real question is how long I can fight of the urge to sign up for another wine club, a battle I fail at too easily.logo

A good bottle of wine, what’s that?

We were staying at Nash’s airBnB  in Rubion, a small village in the South of France. (Actually our hostess was Corrine, Nash was her dog that we fell in love with). At the local market we bought wine for about 3 Euros, then had a picnic while sitting on a bench in front of an old chateau. It was wonderful -local cheese, bread, and fruit – with the bottle in a small stream to keep it cool.

The wine for the picnic-in-the-room with this view was from a tiny grocery store in Moustier St Marie, it was from the Cote de Rhone and was also 3 Euros, about $4.50 in US dollars. I cannot think of many glasses of wine that I have enjoyed more, at any price.

I am sure that Wine Spectator never rated either of these two, and have no idea how they would rate, nor do I care. What mattered is that they were good wine.

So what does makes a good wine? A good wine is one that brings joy, gladdens the heart, and often is shared with friends.

But why is any particular bottle better than another?

Tastebuds are strongly influenced by the nose, thus a wine that does a bit of aromatherapy on us before we even taste it is already winning us over. I may not be able to describe every nuance of fruit, tobacco, figs and such, but I know when a wine entices me as it whispers “this is going to be good.”

Of course the color of the wine, and even the bottle and the label might hint that I will like what I am about to taste. Strong tannins, that puckering sensation you get just below your ears, is not a big plus for me; a bit softer works better. And “food pairings” are way overdone.

Price is no guarantee of taste, yet the Shaw wine at Trader Joe’s is almost undrinkable for my palate. I have enjoyed $100 bottles of wine for sure, yet have had $60 bottles that were not that amazing.

The factors that contribute most to a wines enjoyment scale are not what are printed in the tasting notes or on the label. The three most important components to a great wine experience are


Wine has a history.
The story of where the grapes were grown, the winery, and the wine maker may influence the experience more than the terroir; they trigger fond memories that enhance the taste of the wine.

Quivira is a wonderful wine, made better by the vineyard, the winery and the tasting room in Sonoma. We went on a tour, saw the vineyards, tasted grapes right off the vines, saw the famous fig tree, the pigs, the chickens and the gardens, while sipping wine along the way. Every time I open a bottle from Quivira it takes me back to that wonderful day; the wine just tastes  better because of the history we have with Quivira.

Then there is Torii Mor in Oregon, wonderful Pinot Noir, made all the better by memories of warm summer days on their deck overlooking the hills of the Dundee wine region. History truly does enhance the flavor of the wine.

I will always be partial to Cote de Rhone wines in general simply because of my times in Provence. Spanish Cava triggers memories of hidden plazas in Barcelona.

The Ambiance makes a difference
Sitting on our deck on a warm summer day, snacking on wine and cheese makes any wine taste better. I remember some rather plain wines that were wonderful because we drank them with a picnic on the train from Melbourne to Sydney, as I saw my first kangaroos on the hillside, it was my 20th trip to Australia so I was overdue. I don’t remember the name of the wine, but I do remember that wine was part of the experience.

Glasses are part of the ambience. It does not really make all that much difference to me if I drink my reds from huge glasses, my rose from tulip shaped glasses, or Sauvignon Blanc from a smaller white wine glass. But I do love the Italian style glass I bought at the Coppola winery in Napa.

Food adds to the taste, but again too many folks get crazy on the perfect pairing. Visit various web sites looking up the right wine for a certain food and you will quickly discover that there is no consensus on the “right” wine; the experts all have their own opinion. My guideline is if it tastes good it is paired properly. If you really are enjoying that Pinot Noir with the delicate fish, then go for it. And if white wine sounds good with a steak, then you have the perfect wine.

Food adds to the ambience, not because it is meticulously matched, but because you enjoy it. There is something about cheese, bread and wine or a bit of salami, a piece of fruit, a cracker. When you pour the glass, grab a snack and the wine will thank you for it.

Wine is best when you have companions.
Who you drink your wine with is as important as anything to make a bottle of wine a good one. The best wines I have had are those I have had with Tricia. We have had some good wines with friends and enjoyable conversation.

A good wine may be an 80 instead of a 95 on the Wine Spectator list, but if it stands out, puts a smile in your heart, brings you closer together with friends, adds to the enjoyment of the place then it is a good wine.