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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Experience wine more

First appeared in The Columbia River Reader

I’m a big fan of learning. I spent twenty years in education and most of that time working with at-risk youth. What dawned on me after a few years in the classroom was that what most kids needed was a guide—someone who would listen to them in order to find out what motivated them. Before that, I spent too much time telling them what they needed to learn in order for them to be happy and successful. I believe everyone wants to learn innately, but natural curiosity is often killed by systems that are tailored to benefit the delivery system, not the individual. But isn’t the goal of education to cultivate individuals who think, grow and develop all life long? So what does this have to do with wine?

In our tasting room, I meet many people everyday. It is really a lesson in human behavior. There are two kinds of people- for sake of this argument. There are those who want to learn new things about wine and those who believe in what they have been told about wine. Past experience also plays into the latter’s mentality. For example, they tried some really bad wine, so all wine must be bad. We are all influenced by media messages, but learners are more resistant to those messages because their education included opportunities to explore on their own. Where I’m going with this is that there is a great need for educators, including wine educators, to challenge each others assumptions about learning. You can teach an old dog to do new tricks if you can partner with them in the learning process!

One of my goals for 2017 is to do more in my role as a wine educator. This means first I must ask lots of questions in order to find out what people think and believe, so I can understand where their curiosity lies and, if possible, offer help in moving them toward understanding (education). So it is my assumption that everyone wants to learn. If it appears that someone doesn’t want to learn, we must find out why and met them at their point of resistance, nudging them, using stories, humor, and knowledge. It is not my job to tell you what wine you should like or buy; it is my job to pique your interest, give you answers to your questions about wine, and to provide a template for understanding and enjoying wine.

Here are some comments that I often hear:

Wine is a drink of snobs, women, and liberals. I only like ………….wine (sweet, white, red, dry) Wine gives me headaches.
Wine is so expensive.
I can’t pick out the flavors in wine
Wine tasting is intimidating

I’m not saying that everyone should care about wine. But if you do care, even a little bit, I can guarantee that your enjoyment of wine will increase if you are open to learning more about it. So the next time you visit our tasting room and say “I don’t like red wine”, don’t be surprised if my response will be “try this anyway-after all, you haven’t tried my wine.” This usually opens the door to further conversation.

I hope 2017 will be a year where you will open your mind and heart to new knowledge and, for wine drinkers, new experiences with wine.

Review: 2013 Passing Time Cabernet Sauvignon $75

Very elegant and focused with herbal aromas. Lots of black fruit that dominates, but well balanced and structured. Aged 20 months in French oak releasing rich chocolate, plum, and black current flavors.

Passing Time Winery is a collaboration of Dan Marino, Damon Huard, and Longview native, Doug Donnelly.

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