Memorable Winery Visits of 2014

A warm summer evening, a serendipitous encounter, a surprise birthday party, a missed release event, and some much needed winding down, each produced one of five memorable winery visits in 2014. One was in Woodinville in early summer, three were in Eastern Washington in August, and the last was Oregon in December.

Torii Mor Winery, from the Dundee Hills of Oregon, opened a tasting room in Woodinville, Washington in 2014; one of  the first Oregon producers with a tasting room in Washington. They bring excellent offerings of the Pinot Noirs that have made the Yamhill wine area famous to Washington, a bold move for sure.

A few weeks after opening they held a party, Washington club members, of which there are many, brought friends, and other folks to whom Torii Mor was unknown joined them. It was a simple affair that showcased why I am enamored with wineries – great wine and interesting people. We met new friends, even discovered that some old acquaintances were Torii Mor fans. The party was a success, and the evening memorable.

Visiting wineries while on business trips is one of the advantages of being theWinesketcher. August 2014 took me to Toppenish, Washington to teach communication and time management, the schedule was such that I had two half-days to explore the Rattlesnake Hills Wine region east of Yakima. My objective this day was Dineen Wines, I had met one of the owners while sketching at Bonair the day before and she invited me to stop by the tasting room. When I got there it was closed, but being in the mood for a glass of wine and my paints I set off exploring.

2014-09-14 16.47.23A mile or so down the road I spotted an easel-sign pointing up a gravel road through an apple orchard, Reflection Vineyards, and the tasting room was open. I spent an hour or so sketching while sipping their Viognier. I wrote a blog, you can read it here. Reflection Vineyards is one of our favorites these days.

Just days later my wife and I were on a trip to the Prosser area for my birthday. We planned to stop at Kestrel’s Prosser Tasting room to pick up a club shipment, and to have a picnic on their patio. We were just settling in by the fountain when our simple picnic turned into a surprise birthday party with the arrival of Brian and Anita, they made a special trip just to join us, they are great friends.

imageWhile I was traveling that month, Tricia attended a release event at Bunnell in Woodinville. She was so impressed that she took me back the next Friday. We had what amounted to a private tasting, in part because they forgot to turn the sign from closed to open until we were about done. The wine was amazing, the cheese and olives fit, and the conversation entertaining. The best part, they decided to show some of my artwork.

By the time Christmas is over each year I am tired and ready for quiet, and intimacy. Catching up with family and friends is fun, but draining, always lots of energy and emotion. We drove to Canby, Oregon to see my granddaughter and her new husband, exchanged presents, and had a spirited Nerf gun battle. Then Tricia and I headed for Ponzi. We had a club shipment to pick up, which was actually just a good excuse to have some Chardonnay and cheese. Their new tasting room is comfortable, with an amazing view; it was just what theWinesketcher needed to close out the year.

I am sure I have quoted my uncle Farquhar before, and probably will again but it fits this year. His opinion on pie was that, “It’s all good, but some’s just better than others.” Well most wines and wineries are good, but some’s just better than others.” For me in 2014 these are a few that stood out.

“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!

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.

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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

History
Ambiance
Companions

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.