Summer Fun

First Published in The Columbia River Reader June 2017. Read Marc’s latest article in the current issue of CRR free at locations around the greater Longview area.

There are three things you definitely need to do this summer to enhance your enjoyment of wine. Stock up on what I call summer fun wine, go to a summer concert at a winery, and share your wine discoveries with friends over an al fresco meal. Summer wine? A bit of a misnomer because I’m not familiar with any winemakers that set out to make wine only for summer consumption. There are some wines that do make sense as the weather improves and our cuisine becomes fresher and lighter. The farmers markets are open and we can get an array of local ingredients that will delight our taste buds. With the exception of barbecue, we gravitate to fresh pasta salads, tomatoes, fish and seafood, and the bounty of fruits and vegetables. Are you always in a habit of grabbing a glass of red wine with that juicy hamburger or steak? Think again. Many red wines go through a process called malolactic fermentation, not really fermentation, but a bacterial conversion of malic acid to lactic acid. Think of the acid in milk, mellow and smooth. Great for sipping but not so good for bringing out the flavor in food. For this we need a wine, white or red, that has more fruit forward acidity. For summer I go for whites or rosé which tend to have more acid that makes them crisp and refreshing, exciting the taste buds and cutting through spicy barbecue and creamy condiments. As a winemaker, my palate gets exhausted tasting wine, especially my own; so when I find a wine that is different and exciting, I’m all over it. Let me suggest a few good white wines that will please your palette and your pocket book. We’re talking sauvignon blanc from Australia and vino verde from Portugal. See reviews at the end of the article How about a summer concert at a winery! Three of the best venues around to hear world-class artists are within 3 hours from here. They are all open-air, with small, intimate settings where you can buy a seat or a spot on the lawn. My two favorites are Chateau St. Michelle in Woodinville, WA and McMinimums Edgefield near Troutdale, OR. The third is Maryhill Winery in the Columbia Gorge. I have visited the Maryhill and viewed the venue, but haven’t been to a concert there. But everything I have heard is that it is a great venue for music. The view is spectacular and the wines are very good. Maryhill was picked the best winery in Washington in 2009 by Wine Press Northwest and the best winery of year in 2014 by the San Francisco wine competition. So concert or not you should make the drive. It’s worth it. If you haven’t been to Woodinville, a concert is a great excuse to visit this mecca of Washington state tasting rooms. Places to stay are scarce in the city, but try out-lying areas for hotels near town. For a splurge, the Willows Lodges is located close to Chataeu St. Michelle and the Barking Frog restaurant is reasonable and good. Nancy and I like the reserved seats because they get you up front and center and you can focus on the music. But the lawn looks fun for a group and most folks are polite like all good wine citizens. It seems to me that Ste. Michelle has more mainstream artists than the edgier Edgefield near Portland. We had a blast at the Wilco concert, not the store, but the alternative band we saw a few years ago. At Ste. Michelle we have seen Bonnie Rait, Boz Scaggs, Michael McDonald, Amos Lee, and Donald Fagan. I waited too long to get tickets to Santana this season because the ticket prices seemed way to high, but now I’m regretting it. Santana is an icon of rock music. But most ticket are reasonable at around $50. At press time, seats are still available to see another legend, Stevie Winwood at Maryhill. Now that you know what wine to serve and have gotten out to wine country, it is time to have your friends over. This is the best part of summer. No excuses. Nancy and I don’t entertain like we used to because we are so busy with work and family. Our house never seems ready with endless repairs and maintenance, but there comes a point where it’s good enough. Your friends don’t care. They aren’t looking at all the things that are undone. They will be impressed that you cared enough to invite them, and when it’s all said and done, it will be a highlight of your summer. All reviewed wines were purchased at Cost Plus World Market in Vancouver, WA Four Sisters Sauvignon Blanc. This Australian wine is great with seafood. Boxwood is revealed on the nose, while the palate offers hints of white grapefruit. This medium-bodied wine finishes with a bright acidity, with garden vegetable flavors. 86 points in Wine Enthusiast. $12.00 Gazela Vinho Verde. Wine from Portugal that has a light green color, with a little sparkle that enhances its flavors and freshness. Aromatic and engaging, tropical fruit flavors, and stimulating acidity, very well balanced by a slight touch of sugar. $7.99 Exquisite Collection Côtes de Provence Rosé, earned a silver medal at the International Wine Challenge as the best rosé under $8.00. It has ripe summer stone fruits with a generous acid palate and crisp bright finish.”


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Taste From The Barrel

 

First published in the Columbia River Reader March 2017.

I’m looking forward to 2017, but I will never forget the 2016 harvest. This was the year we crushed 20 tons of grapes in a very short window of time, breaking our earlier record of 8 tons. Harvest started out normally, meaning the new normal, with early bud break and a fairly normal growing season. Not too hot but plenty of sun in wine country. In Longview, it was a pleasant summer. Not as hot as 2015. The grape yields were near record numbers in Washington and we got our fair share of those grapes. 2016 proved to be a challenge for most producers. With the opportunity to get amazing grapes, the temptation was too much to resist and wineries were hard pressed to find room in the cellar for the bounty. According to wine writer, Sean Sullivan, “the most shocking growth was in Cabernet Sauvignon, which increased from 47,400 tons in 2015 to a whopping 71,100 tons in 2016. Overall, Cabernet Sauvignon accounted for 26% of the state’s production, an indication that the variety is increasingly seen as a calling card for the state”.

No sooner were the grapes picked and at the winery, that the rains came, and came, and never let up. So began an epic winter here in Longview. We were lucky in that we had room outside under a tent and later under the eve of the winery, to stack bins, 4 high, of fermenting juice. This year we were forced to ferment the juice at a much lower temperature than ever before. I like to get the must (crushed grapes) up to 80 degrees at the peak of fermentation in order to extract plenty of color and phenolic flavors from the grape skins. We did manage to move the bins inside for a few days to warm things up, but we had to move them back out so we could keep the tasting room open to satisfy the thirst of our customers.

The good news about the cooler fermentation is we were able to extend the time that the juice was on the skins which I believe will give us softer tannins and fuller bodied wines. The joy of being a small producer of wine is that our wines showcase the variations of Mother Nature’s work because we don’t have the equipment or technology to manipulate the wine like bigger producers. This is a blessing or curse, depending on how you like your wine. If you like it the same and predictable, it is a curse. But it’s a blessing for those who find it interesting to discover the differences in the vintage.

As Spring approaches, it will be interesting to see how much damage this harsh Winter has had on the grape vines. There are reports of severe damage in some Washington AVA’s (American Viniculture Areas). I believe that we can expect lower yields in the 2017 vintage. Not a bad thing, except there will be more competition for available grapes. However, the fruit we do harvest will have greater potential, smaller more concentrated flavors, a result of the struggle to survive.

Speaking of survival, like nature, it is in the struggle that new life springs forth and with it, new possibilities. Have hope my friends. Without the struggle we become weak and complacent; the full flavor of life is locked in the skin, so the crushing is nature’s way of releasing the best in everything. Longview is a beautiful place to live. We are so lucky to have such distinct seasons because they teach us about the cycle of life, birth, growth, struggle, death, and rebirth—all contributing something valuable to our quality of life, not to mention the grapes.

 


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What is the wine lifestyle?

 

 

Much is written these days about lifestyle. When I was younger, the show everyone loved was called Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Until that show, I don’t remember much talk around our house about lifestyle. We just lived our lives, not giving much thought to it. Television was our only window into the way other people lived and even that wasn’t reflective of ‘real life’. Media has taken a larger portion of our time and attention lately and social media has exposed more possible and alternative lifestyles than ever before. Because there are so many lifestyles portrayed wherever we look, it is now common for us, who were previously contented with our lives, to become dissatisfied. This leads us to an array of choices that we either consciously, or subconsciously, take on in the hopes that our lives will be better. So it is a fact of modern life that we are influenced by the abundance of information and visual images. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just means that we should examine from time the value of this information and how it influences our particular lifestyle. For me it means that my relationships, my activities, and my values are influenced by a overriding vision of the good life.

We all know someone who is defined by a particular lifestyle. For example, the sports fan. She wears the official sports team jersey at every opportunity. He frequents sports bars, and engages in sports talk at the water-cooler. A large portion of the weekend is devoted to watching sports on the television, retrieving scores on their mobile device, or driving to college games and participating in a tailgate party, if possible. Many of my friends are into this and I think it is a fun and family-friendly lifestyle. There is also the shopping lifestyle, the runner lifestyle, and the foodie lifestyle. Lifestyle is promoted everywhere we look. Our consumer society is fueled by lifestyle promoters. Something to think about the next time you are tempted to buy another Seahawks jersey.

My business is wine, so it is obvious that I would live a wine lifestyle. But even before I became a wine geek, the wine life appealed to me. There always seemed to be a bit of mystery to it in its use as a holy sacrament. Wine drinkers seemed a bit more reserved and thoughtful in their partaking, if not a bit snobby sometimes, but the liquid mostly evokes conversation and discussion— talk about flavors, vineyards, trips to wine regions all over the world. The wine lifestyle is subtle. I don’t see a lot of swag, even among the rock stars of the wine world. What also is enchanting to me is the interconnection between wine and the place where it is made—the vineyard. The wine lifestyle always involves visits to different wine regions. Northwest vineyards and wineries are springing up everywhere, so no matter where you travel you will find a place to taste wine, which in turn leads to an enjoyable experience and meeting new friends. Of course the wine lifestyle includes imbibing in wine often. You are not living the wine lifestyle if you only partake during special occasions or when you go out for a nice dinner. The wine lifestyle demands that you drink often—in moderation of course—because it is good for you. It makes every meal taste better, it slows you down, it’s good for your heart, it encourages conversation, and frankly, it makes you feel better.

 


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