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.

Adventures On the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer’s Tour of France

A few years back, I was travelling for business and our darling children were voted to the island to stay with their grandmother. So my hubby was batching it for a few days. He treated himself to dinner and a movie at one of our local fancy theatres and that is where he discovered Kermit Lynch.  This was a regular date night spot for us, so for quite a while, we simply enjoyed the nice little cuvée from the guy with the funky name.

You must admit, the name is memorable.  So when the Amazon algorithm recommended Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer’s Tour of France by Kermit Lynch, I tossed it on my Kindle.  I like wine, I love France, and there was that name again.

I really enjoyed this story. Starting with his first trip in the early 70s, Lynch traveled all throughout the wine regions of France, discovering the terroir, meeting the people, learning the history, and tasting the wine. Like me, his philosophy seems to be more about “I like what I like and I prefer my wine less messed-with” instead of drinking what the wine smarty-pants folks tell us we should like. It is a fun travelogue with colorful detail. I could almost see the smooth round stones that cover the hillside vineyards of Côte Rôtie.

I read the 1988 edition with Richard Olney’s forward where he notes that Lynch’s father was a preacher and Kermit himself likes to evangelize his vinicultural and viticultural beliefs.  I think this is an apt comparison. I appreciate someone with an informed perspective and it was fun to learn about things I didn’t even know I should form an opinion about.

Old World Wines feel a bit more approachable for me now.  They were once a pretty daunting topic that I avoided in favor of the nice knowable wineries down the street.  This is both a fun expansion of my wine palate and an exciting whole new area of dirt to explore. I like how wine and travel pair together so well and am now planning Wineaversary 2018 in France for the big 2-0.

After finishing the book, I checked out Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant on the web and found a few local distributors so I could further my investigations.  On Mother’s Day we went to the glassybaby hot shop in Madrona and strolled down the street to meet Mark at Madrona Wine Merchants.  He has a shop jammed full of interesting wines and stories. I walked out of there with a nice little Tintero Rosato. I like pink bubbles, so that was a fun find.

Closer to home, I visited Bothell’s own Rain City Wines. Santo of the glorious moustache proudly drinks rosé all year round and has a fun “Daily Drinkers” monthly wine club – 3 bottles for $13 apiece.  Old World research at a bargain!  His tasting notes are a bit like Thug Kitchen with less f-bombs.  Straightforward, fun and right on the money.  His strong opinions led to my interest in all things Bandol. I look forward to visiting his shop often in the future for both the wines and the witty banter.

Thank you Kermit Lynch for opening up the wines of France and Italy for me.  I look forward to forming my own opinions about them.

I blame the kids

Has this ever happened to you?  I am embarrassed to admit that it has happened to me more than once.  So much so that my kiddos now know to check exactly which bags they have before we leave the house.

Wine bags are a good thing.  Make sure to keep a few in your car for spontaneous tastings to carry home your newest finds.  This also prevents your accidental collection from growing any larger.  My collection is truly ridiculous.

Are you taking your wine bags out and about this weekend?  I am hoping to get a quick tasting in on Sunday afternoon and I would like to try someplace new to me.  Maybe Gorman Winery.  We are heading out to Red Mountain for our 2015 Wineaversary weekend and I am working on locking in our itinerary by previewing wine makers.  Fidélitas is definitely on my list and it is a list heavy on reds.  Any suggestions you may have for us are welcome!

Ultimate Wine Nerd: Father’s Day Edition

As I have mentioned before, our family strives to focus on experiences and not stuff when it comes to gift giving.  My husband made it clear that he really wanted to relax at home on his Father’s Day.  So, I planned a lazy breakfast and Sunday dinner he didn’t have to grill.

For the rest of the day, this happened.

WP_20150531_13_14_05_Pro

You may have figured out that I am a bit of a nerd.  What you may not know is that I am a happily married to a nerd and we are raising two delightfully nerdy sons.  Part of our nerdy-ness is our love of board games, particularly the complicated European ones with eight different types of cards and 27-page rule books that take seven hours to play.

On a recent family adventure, we discovered Mox Boardinghouse in Bellevue.  We spent an afternoon looking at all the games and checking one out for a test run over lunch in the restaurant.  There was even a Magic The Gathering event going on in the Tournament room.  The boys can’t wait to go back.

What surprised me is that we found multiple strategy games based on wine.  I picked up Viticulture because I figured it would be a fun way to share the wine experience with our kiddos.  It is a worker placement game where you go through the seasons and the key elements of wine making.  You need to build the right structures (a trellis is needed to plant most grape types), plant the right type of grapes in your fields, harvest them to your crush pads, decide what kind of wine to make (red, white, blush or sparkling), and sell the right wine out of your cellars at the right time to earn victory points. If you like Settlers of Catan, I think you might enjoy this one. (YouTube has some great game play run through videos.  This one helped jump-start our knowledge so we didn’t have to fight over our own interpretations of the rule book.)

It was fun to play and the kids liked it too.  In fact, they liked it so much so that Tuscany: Expand the World of Viticulture magically showed up on our doorstep a few days later.

So yesterday we played at wine making, tried out the first of the Tuscany expansions and enjoyed being together as a family.  It was just the experience we wanted.  I hope you too were able to toast the men in your life in your own special way.

I like my summer hot and my wine chilled

Hooray for pink wine season!  I love rosé in the summer.  I love it all year round, but there is something special about a warm lazy afternoon with a chilled rosé.  What can be a drag is when that specific wine you have a hankering for, is the one that didn’t make it into the chiller and what is in the chiller is not quite what you want. Yes, I do realize these are first-world problems.  And for them, there is this handy-dandy, first-world solution – the Quirky Icecap Wine Chiller.

It is hard for me to resist kitchen or wine gear, especially when Williams-Sonoma personally presents it to me on every web page I visit.  This little gadget caught me a few weeks ago.

Yes, it does take a bit to maintain.  Rinse it out and let it dry for an hour or more before you freeze it, so you don’t clog up the aerator path.  Yes, you also have to freeze it like you would the insert for an ice cream maker, so you had better make room.

Once it has frozen, you simply set it on top of your glass and pour slowly.  It chills and aerates at the same time.  We recently purchased our first EuroCave and my darling hubby is now spoiled and wants all of his wine at 54°F. This little device does a nice job of taking the edge off of a room temperature wine, while you quick put the bottle in the chiller before the second glass.

So bring on the Sunday afternoon sippers.  I am ready.  Cheers!