I recently took a trip over to eastern Washington, the heart of Washington wine country with my lady friend Susie, who has never walked in a vineyard or visited a winery. It was refreshing to spend time with someone who was eager to learn about something that means so much to me. Here are a few bits & bobs about our trip.
We stopped by Sleight Of Hands Cellars in Walla Walla and Trey Busch graciously gave us a tour of one of his new projects in the Blue Mountains, a vineyard he calls Ziggy Stardust. When we got there, I understood his exuding excitement. This vineyard sits on a 35% slope facing south/southwest. He’s planted Marsanne, Grenache and Syrah in an area that reminded me a lot of the Douro in Portugal. He is going to get grapes out of it this year, so keep your eyes peeled, this s@^t is going to rock it, especially with the wine making skills of Mr. Busch at the helm.
After admiring Ziggy Stardust, we trekked over to the “Rocks” district and met up with Rich Funk from Saviah Cellars to visit with him and tour Funk Vineyard. Bud break is about 3 weeks ahead of schedule in 2016 so Rich is looking at an August harvest which might be the earliest ever if Mother Nature continues in the same direction.
Rich and Trey talked a bit about the rocky soil in the area and how it affects the fruit. Because of the heat that is retained in the rocks after a hot day, the grapes literally ripen in the night as the heat radiates from the stones. Rich allowed a ground cover this year between the rows to stave off some of the heat spikes that the vineyard had to deal with last year.By doing this, he will be able to have more control on the ripening process. If the grapes get too warm, they will shut down into survival mode…Something that can delay the ripening process.
We had a chance to meet the Funk family at Saviah Cellars as they were deeply immersed in bottling some of their 2015 wines. We were impressed with their kindness and hospitality. Rich makes some amazing wines at Saviah Cellars and I would suggest you get in their wine club if you want some of the wines that are not available in stores. As an example, the 2013 Saviah Tempranillo. This juice is stunning, and it is flying out of the tasting room. They only made 151 cases of this wine, and at $38 bucks, it’s a steal.
After Walla Walla, we made or way to Prosser and stayed at Dessert Wind Winery. They have a few rooms that you can stay at and Susie and I were deeply impressed with the facility and the wonderful service there. A big shout-out to Bree who was about as friendly and accommodating as a person can be. I am a fan of Desert Wind Wines and their Merlot is something you have to experience (get off that hate Merlot train please).
We made a quick trip to Red Mountain so Susie could see one of my favorite appellations in the state. We stopped in at the Fidelitas tasting room, a very cool modern feel. Charlie Hoppes has always impressed me with his wines. I scored a bottle of the Ciel Du Cheval Merlot and as you might have guessed, it was stunning.
Our next stop was in Mattawa to visit Wahluke Wine Co. and Milbrandt’s wine makers Josh Maloney & his assistant Emily. We did some barrel tasting of some of their vineyard designate Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a new project for Milbrandt so stay tuned, you are all in for some amazing cabs. They are also embarking on a new white wine portfolio that is still in its infancy. We had a chance to taste a couple of the wines for this project which is headed up by Emily. I am very excited to see what they come up with because the whites are exceptional.
One new little fun fact I learned on the trip… Walla Walla has less vineyard acres planted than Red Mountain…Something I never really thought about. For as long as the appellation has been around, Walla Walla has a little less than 3,000 acres planted, whereas Red Mountain (a younger appellation) has just over 4,000.
Stan The Wine Man