Wineaversary 2015: Pre-Trip Prep

On Thursday morning, we are handing off our darling babies and running away.  Picking up some good friends along the way, we are headed east to Walla Walla and Red Mountain for some Washington Wine Country grown-up time.  I have had Red Mountain on my AVA Bucket List for a while now and I am excited to experience it for myself.

For the last two years, we have celebrated our loving bond nestled among the grapevines and chic restaurants of Napa Valley.  This year, we are staying “local” and re-discovering the vineyards and wine makers of Eastern Washington. Given that our first trip to Walla Walla was done without a lot of direction or a plan and I wanted to make the most of our short time on Red Mountain, I needed to do some research.

In addition to my usual fumblings about on social media and referrals from friends and helpful people, I wanted a more in-depth view on the histories of these places and the influencing factors and people who make it what it is today.  A quick Amazon search brought forth a surprisingly short list on Washington Wine Country.  Maybe we are all expected to find our info on the interwebs these days?  I was able to find these two books to help me patch together a bigger picture of the area and the industry.

Washington Wine Country by Judy Peterson-Nedry, Judy Nedry, and Robert M. Reynolds

This book provided a really good overview of the development of the grape growing industry, the key leaders who influenced the shift from table grapes to wines grapes and wine making, and an overview of some of the key winemakers and wineries.  Unfortunately, it was published in 2003 and a lot has happened in the last 12 years.  I needed something newer.

Wines of Walla Walla Valley: A Deep-Rooted History by Caite McIntyre Walker

Published in 2014, I really wanted to read this book cover-to-cover as an in-depth historical narrative and love it deeply.  And while the history is wonderful and detailed – exactly what I was looking for – the narrative jumps around a lot, making it the reader’s job to tie all of the stories together.  This is a great reference piece, but I wouldn’t recommend it as an easy read.  I did learn more about the wineries on our itinerary for Friday’s Walla Walla tour, so that will enrich that day’s activities with some historical perspective.

I am sure I will come home on Sunday afternoon with some discoveries and maybe a new book or two to add to my Wine Nerd Library.  I am curious about The Rocks District of Milton–Freewater AVA and whether or not I need to add it to my AVA Bucket List.

Wineaversary 2013: Our Maiden Voyage to Napa Valley

I am deep in the throes of planning our 2015 Wineaversary trip. We are travelling with some friends to Eastern Washington. Once more to Washington Wine Country, armed with a wee bit more knowledge this time and completing our pilgrimage at Red Mountain to see the birthplace of some of our favorite wines.  It promises to be loads of fun and I will share details of our adventure for your enjoyment.  But for now, I can’t stop thinking about Napa.

For our 15th wedding anniversary, we went to Napa and those four days changed our lives.

This was five years after our clueless rambling around Walla Walla. Since that time, we had developed our palates a little and discovered some of our Woodinville favorites.  We even exited a few wine clubs that no longer fit what we enjoyed.  It had become harder to fill our wine rack from only the supermarket.  We needed the good stuff.  Tasting room visits became part of our weekend errands.

Now was the time to see what the heck all the fuss was about in California.

We were married on September 12, but that is always a hard time to get away due to kids and school and general back to work craziness, so we chose to celebrate early and go in August.  Because this was another milestone anniversary, I went all out for the four days we had planned.  I booked a 1-bedroom apartment with our timeshare points, made spa appointments, researched restaurants, rented a convertible and booked us a photo shoot in a vineyard.  But when it came time to figure out the wine part, I was completely overwhelmed.   I had no idea where to start, so I got on the internet and started searching.  Six hours of research later, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.  I knew then it was time to call in a professional.

In the past, when we had travelled to a new place, we usually took a tour of the city on our first day so we could get our bearings, discover stuff we didn’t know was there, and then choose our own adventure for the rest of the trip.  I figured I could do the same in Napa Valley.  Having a driver would also be a bonus because a good part of our day would be about drinking wine.  I chose Napa Valley Wine Country Tours.  I can’t remember what selection criteria I used, but I was brilliant.  They were a great find.  About a month ahead of our trip, Bashar, contacted me to talk about what kind of day I wanted to have.  I answered his questions and left the itinerary up to him. Perfect. My travel planning was done and all we had to do now was enjoy it.

Day One

On the first morning of our grand tour, we took a short flight from Seattle to Sacramento, picked up our convertible and made our way down to the The Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa.  Once we checked in, we had a leisurely lunch on the restaurant patio, unpacked our suitcases and discovered the foam-noodle-free joys of an adults-only pool.  We then lolled about in our sun dappled cabana with a few mojitos, secure in the fact that the resort provided regular shuttle service to downtown Napa for dinner.

And what a dinner it was.  I found Cole’s Chop House on Trip Advisor and Open Table.  Nothing says “I love you” like a steak dinner, so that was an easy choice for us. Two years later, I still remember that our server’s name was Mike.  The food was great, but Mike made that meal an event for us.  He suggested the Round Pond Cabernet, the brick ice in Matt’s scotch, and that we visit Prager Port Works if we could fit it in.  All excellent suggestions.

The shuttle ride back to the resort was a bit more festive, with disco lights and a Neil Diamond sing-along.  Day One was a success and I was looking forward to the next day full of vinicultural discoveries.

My toes on the party bus!
My toes on the party bus!

Day Two

Our big Napa tour day started at 10 a.m. when Bashar met us at our hotel, presented us with a bottle of champagne to celebrate and bundled us into the car.  As we headed towards the Silverado Trail, he told us more about wine and vineyards than we had been able to learn for ourselves in the previous five years.  He was a wealth of information, personal perspective and just a little local industry gossip.  I loved him immediately.

William Hill Estate Winery was our first stop.  They have amazing views of the valley and strategically placed Adirondack chairs to sip and enjoy it.  We tasted everything, including some of their library Petite Verdots they happened to have open.  It was lovely and we joined the club.  As we walked back to the car, Bashar scolded us a bit.

“We were here for the view. If you join everywhere we go I am going to have to limit where I take you!”

I promised to be more discerning as we headed to our next stop.

View of Napa Valley from William Hill
View of Napa Valley from William Hill

Stop number two was Bell Wine Cellars where we met Maggie for a private tasting and cheese pairing.  We learned about Cabernet clones, the distinctive characteristics we love about Rutherford dirt and tasted Anthony Bell’s amazing Clone 6.  It was a mini vertical tasting, where we learned what a difference a little cellaring can make.  This is the epiphany that transformed us from interested imbibers into hobbyist collectors.  With Bashar’s blessing, we joined the club, added on a magnum of 2006 Clone 6 to ship home and took a half bottle of the 2007 for later that night.  We couldn’t wait to share our findings and our new knowledge with our friends.

Merlot grapes at Bell Wine Cellars
Merlot grapes at Bell Wine Cellars

The third stop took us north to Chase Cellars in Saint Helena.  As we sat outside and sipped Zinfandel at the edge of a 100+ year-old vineyard, we learned about the history of the vines and the area.  Ship Captains and Gold Rush success stories made for a fun tale of adventure.  We then walked out into the vineyard and tasted the fruit warmed by the sun right off of the gnarly old vine.  I felt connected to history at that moment and I always think of those vines when I drink their amazing Zinfandels.

Out among the vines at Chase Cellars
Out among the vines at Chase Cellars

At this point in our day, lunch needed to be the next stop.  Bashar introduced us to Oakville Grocery Co. We ordered fancy sandwiches and shopped through the tasty treats like onion fig jam and truffled almonds while we waited.  I wanted one of everything, but my darling hubby reminded me that would cut into our wine budget, so I left it for another day.  Refueled, we were ready to hit the road again.

We finished our day at Grgich Hills Estate.  Earlier in our travels, Bashar had educated us about Mike Grgich’s history.  He had recently celebrated his 90th birthday and served as an elder statesmen of Napa.  He made the historic 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. This is the wine chosen by a panel of French judges as the finest white in the world at the famous 1976 Paris Tasting event and helped put Napa on the world map of great wine producers.   We had enjoyed his Fumé Blanc with lunch the day before and the Violetta late harvest dessert wine was a fun find in the tasting room.  Bashar made sure we had our picture taken with Mike and his ever-present blue beret, but I will damned if I can find it anywhere.  What a charmer!  It was a memorable to way to cap off a day packed with vibrant memories.

Grgich Hills History in the tasting room
Grgich Hills history in the tasting room

It was now time to take a break before dinner, so Bashar took us back to our hotel and we reluctantly said our farewells.

Day Three

We began Day Three at the spa.  We were ridiculously relaxed after body wraps and hot stone massages, so we headed back to our favorite cabana by the pool for a bit.  I am sure there was snoring.  It was glorious.

After lunch, we finally tired of being lazy, so we headed out to discover Prager Port Works, at Server Mike’s suggestion.  Their rustic tasting room had chandeliers and plywood walls papered with visitors’ currency.  It was unpretentious and the variety of ruby, tawny, and white ports were fun to learn about and taste through.  We also memorialized our trip with a little graffiti of our own and joined their club.  I thought Bashar might approve.

Memorial graffiti at Prager Portworks
Leaving our mark at Prager Port Works

The last big event I had planned for our trip was a photographer.  A girlfriend of mine had recently started a nifty little company called Flytographer, where you can book a local photographer to take high quality photos of you on vacation.  Since having kids, I was not in the picture as often, as I had become the family photographer.  I was looking forward to having some pictures of just the two of us as we remembered why we married each other in the first place.  After we drank the wine, I would still have the pictures of us strolling in the vineyard.  My hubster was accommodating and we had a fun time laughing together.

Smooching in the vineyard
Smooching in the vineyard

Our last full day was ending, so we hopped back into the convertible and headed back to the resort to get ready for dinner and the party bus.  Celadon provided a lovely meal and Journey was the homeward-bound musical selection for the evening.

Day Four

Sadly, on the fourth day, we had to depart our newly found wine-soaked dreamland.  After breakfast, we packed up the car, took a few last photos, and made our way back to the airport, enjoying the wind in our hair.  At a quick stop for gas, I checked in on my phone and was able to upgrade us to First Class for a small fee.  It extended our pampering just a bit more and made re-entry into “real life” a bit less jarring.

Look how happy we are in the convertible
Look how happy we are in the convertible

Home Again

We came home and eagerly awaited the three cases of wine we bought.  We hosted a fun, end-of summer dinner party with friends and family, serving some of our new favorites.  I am sure we may have told our stories one too many times in our desire to share the experiences we had with the people we care about.  I started researching wine cellaring options and began my campaign for a EuroCave.  We talked about other wine regions we would like to learn about and travel we would take.  Wine had become something that was more central to our daily routine, enriching our day with flavors, history, interesting people, and the promise of a new adventure.  And there will always be a special connection for the two of us through our anniversary, which I have renamed “Wineaversary” in honor of our new tradition.

Now I am ready for the next adventure.  Red Mountain awaits!  I can’t wait to lay eyes on Horse Heaven Hills for myself and share that with the love of my life and our dear friends.

Venturing on to the Bramble Bump

If you are local to the Woodinville area, you may have driven the winding road through the tress up the hill from Chateau Ste. Michelle and thought that it was undeveloped land, just waiting for some developer to rip it all out and build a neighborhood of Merlot McMansions.  I know I did.  Until Wednesday.

Earlier this week, I took the leap of faith and made the only left turn on that stretch of road.  I did not drive off into a forested ditch, but up onto a spot known as the Bramble Bump.  And there among the mature trees and fairy lights is a lovely, secluded winery with some seriously cool doors – JM Cellars.

I work for a large technology company that has a fantastic culture of giving. Every October there is online auction with interesting experiences and things.  Last Fall, I won a slot to make wine with our executive leadership team.  While the opportunity to have face time with our executives was very valuable and a lot of fun, my favorite part of the event was to meet John Bigelow and learn about his wine.

With all love and respect, John Bigelow is a wine nerd.

He shared the history of the area (um, did you know about the ghost of the brothel Madame that haunts the upper floors of the Ste. Michelle Manor house?), some details of their beautiful property (they have five of the tallest trees of their kind in the state), and his love for his vineyards.  He described Margaret’s Vineyard (the M of JM) and his 2,716 vines there (I hope I got that number right).  The bold second year cutting to the ground of their vines to drive the roots deep into the broken basalt for minerality in the fruit.  The way he personally trains his team each harvest with exacting demands on what qualities are needed in a cluster to pass muster for his wine and what is dropped to the ground in the vineyard benefitting the soil for the future.  Here is a guy who is in it from dirt to vine to table.  He is my kind of dude.

He gave us a tour and bragged on his wife’s design skills in making it a beautiful place.  She is Peggy, the Margaret of Margaret’s Vineyard.  I too appreciated the design details of the winery.  It was like I had stumbled into a secret garden, just like the book I loved when I was little.

The lovely setting, the stellar Bordeaux-style reds and the perfect summer Cinsault Rose of JM Cellars make it a place I intend to visit more often.

If you want to experience it for yourself, the tasting room is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Here is where you can find the details.  Enjoy!

Wineaversary 2008: My Weekend Wine Nerd Origin Story

While a proud Pacific Northwest native now living quite close to Woodinville Wine Country, my Weekend Wine Nerd origin story begins back in 2008 on my 10th wedding anniversary.

My mom always taught us that life is what you make it, and you should make it pretty awesome. So I looked for a memorable trip to mark our ten years of legally wedded bliss. Armed only with the knowledge our local Fred Meyer’s wine buyer could spare me on a Saturday afternoon, I decided that eastern Washington, where the grapes are grown in the desert climes would be the spot. We could relax in the sun, have some nice meals, go to the spa, escape our children and maybe drink some wine.

We spent five lovely days snug in our little Cliff House at Cave B. It was gorgeous. It was relaxing. It was quiet.

Gorgeous. Beautiful. Wish you were here.
Gorgeous. Beautiful. Wish you were here.

And then we got bored.

On Day 3 we were ready for an adventure so we decided to drive the 2 hours to Walla Walla where we had heard there was some wineries. We had no idea what we were doing.

Our first stop was Three Rivers Winery.  This is wine we knew. The tasting room was big and lovely. We tasted. We liked. We joined the wine club. Hey, this could be fun.

We were familiar with Dunham Cellars, so we went in search of them. Housed in a funky old WWII era airplane hanger with a wine maker who also created custom art for the labels. Tasted. Liked. Joined. And realized that not only is wine yummy, it all has an interesting story.

While we were over in the industrial district by the airport, we looked for Tamarack Cellars. We had enjoyed their Firehouse Red. Unfortunately, they were closed.

At this point in the day, we had exhausted our winery knowledge. So sad.

I don’t know how, but we stumbled across Isenhower Cellars. Glad we did. The Indian Paintbrush was memorable and the Bachelor Button reminded me of gardening with my mom when I was young. More stories about the names of the wines and the family that makes them. I was hooked. Don’t know if it was my curiosity or flat out nosiness. If I like a wine, I want to know why I like it. Backstory adds to the enjoyment.

Then on to the lovely grounds of the Northstar Winery. We drank, we learned, we liked, we joined and we are still members to this day. I know they are known for their Merlot, but I always give a little “squeeee” when there is a Petit Verdot in my shipment

It was a fun day spent together exploring something new that we both enjoy. We came home with a case of wine and felt a bit more comfortable picking wine out at the grocery store.  Like Spiderman, I had been bit by the nuclear spider but I had yet to understand my powers and wield them for good.  The full-blown nerdery was yet to come.