Wine loves good company


If I have learned one thing in the wine business, it is that the best wine pairing is the company it keeps. Much is written about wine and food, wine ratings, wine tasting, and wine accessories, but little on the relationships of wine. Most of us don’t really think about why we enjoy wine. When folks come to our tasting room they don’t spend most of their time talking about wine They try the wine and make a decision about which one they like. The more sophisticated palettes may describe the flavors and ask some questions about where the grapes come from or ask about the winemaking process, but this conversation is mostly just cursory and secondary to the pairing that they are really looking forward to, which is the conversation. For example, I love wine and I talk about it everyday from an evaluative, scientific and artistic standpoint. However, when I come home from work and sit down (doesn’t happen very often these days) Nancy and I will invariably have what we call a ‘little repas’—a glass of wine and some cheese and crackers. We recap the days events and as the wine kicks in, we could fly to the moon and back. We talk about how much we love the grandkids, we make travel plans (in theory, of course), and we try to solve the worlds problems if only we were in charge.

We are in the middle the so-called holiday season, a term invented by those who hope to make a killing by selling us things we don’t need. They call it a season because they want us to focus on spending for a very long time. I propose that we counter this emphasis by doing another kind of spending. How about spending the most precious thing we have. Time, of course. And what better way to do it than to pair it with those we love? These days we can get great wine for under $20, and memorable wine for $30. Whether you invite someone to your house or meet them at your favorite hangout, you can be sure that wine will add to the experience, and if it is good, it will stay in the background as a silent partner in your conversation. That’s what it’s all about.

So what makes a good conversation wine? The short answer is one that doesn’t demand attention. Too much of anything can be interesting for awhile, but balance is what makes a good wine. Too much acid, tannin, alcohol, and dryness may get in the way. My three go-to wines for celebrating holidays with friends are sparkling wine like Prosecco or champagne (if you want to splurge), or Washington Merlot, and Oregon Pinot Noir. All three taste good with food. Don’t bring out your fancy older wines that you have been saving for awhile because they may try to hog the conversation. Save those for special wine tastings or occasions. The holidays are for relationships. Here are a few of my favorites all available locally.

Mumm Brut Rosé $24 Soft fruity flavors with just the right amount of acid to taste great with Thanksgiving dinner

Ruffino Procecco $12 Crisp, clean and delicate with fine bubbles. Intense apple and peach flavors slide into floral aromas on the finish. Wonderful addition to holiday conversations.

Columbia Winery Merlot, Columbia Valley $14 Its aromatic profile shows freshness with red-toned fruit of cherry and cranberry backed by accents of blueberry. An easy going wine that will taste great with holiday meals or sipping with friends

Erath Pinot Noir $16 Delicious and approachable! Bursting-with-berries aromas. A silky mouthful of bing cherry and pomegranate are woven together with a smooth caramel flavor. Won’t get in the way of the important things in life.

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Several months ago we hosted the Donnelly family at the winery and were so blessed to meet many of the family members, including loving grandchildren who were so sweet to the elder Dr. Donnelly. Many of you remember this beloved physician in Longview. In the entourage, was Doug Donnely, who was a classmate of my brother, Kirc Roland. I had a great discussion with Doug, and came to find out that he loves wine and to my surprise, was an investor in a new winery called Passing Time.

Passing Time Winery is one of several in Washington state founded by former professional athletes. So, yes, there are a few football players who prefer wine over beer! I can understand the fascination and interest in these enterprises because, after all, they are famous and hopefully still have some of the cash they made during their careers. But for me, I ask how’s the wine taste and how did they learn to make the stuff?

Let’s start with Passing Time. As it turns out the star duo of Dan Marino and Jason Huard are a part of a team that includes Doug Donnelly, Kevin Hughes, and winemaker Chris Peterson. Everybody knows hall of fame inductee, Dan Marino, who led the Dolphins to the playoffs ten times in his seventeen-season career. Jason Haurd met Marino as a player in Miami, but we all know him as a quarterback with Washington. These guys are not in a hurry. Passing Time is committed to cabernet sauvignon, which they blend with merlot and cabernet franc. Their minimal approach emphasizes the fruit, not fancy cellar tricks. They use new oak to compliment the fruit sourced from top vineyards in the state. I’m sure their celebrity has opened some amazing doors for them. I’m not jealous.

Double Back Wines was started by WSU standout Drew Bledsoe. He
played fourteen seasons in the NFL. Bledsoe is best known to us as a standout quarterback for WSU, but he went on to be the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots from 1993 to 2001. Owning a winery has always been a part of his vision because of his love of fine wine. Drew grew up in the Walla Walla Valley and in 2007, he planted an estate vineyard. Here lies the main difference between Double Back and Passing Time. Drew wants to grow his own grapes and follow them through to the finished wine, whereas Marino and company want to focus on the wine and leave the growing to the long established growers. Both are passionate about cabernet sauvignon and both have already won high marks from Wine Spectator. Drew and his wife, Maura hired Josh McDaniels as winemaker in 2007, to assure that only the best viticulture and winemaking practices are followed.

Back to my conversation with Doug Donnelly. When the Donnelly’s were about to leave the winery that night, Doug took me aside and said he would bring to a bottle of the sold out Passing Time wine. Frankly, I wasn’t about to hold my breath at getting a $100 bottle of wine, but sure enough, about a month later, he fulfilled his promise. He not only brought the wine, he brought me two bottles. Haven’t opened it yet. Review to come.

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The Joy of Harvest


I woke up late at night, not able to sleep, heart pounding in anticipation of timg_0323he upcoming grape harvest. It may seem strange to most of our readers that someone so far from the vineyards of Eastern Washington would have such things on their mind. But believe it or not, most of the delicious wine made in our lovely state is indeed made here on the Westside. It’s the perfect storm because our climate here on the coast is mostly moderate to cool during the year, making for ideal conditions in the wineries for making and aging wine. I feel sorry for the wineries in Yakima who need to run their air conditioners while the grapes ferment in the fall. Temperature control is always an issue and the energy bills must be enormous. We will be crushing our first grapes on September 14th, Merlot from famed Red Willow Vineyard, and our last grapes the end of October. The ritual of hitching up the truck and trailer, cleaning and loading the bins, and getting up in the wee hours of the morning to head out over White Pass is exhilarating. The ritual is happening all over the Northwest right under your nose. From Vancouver to Linden, small boutique winemakers are bustling around in their rigs, traversing the mountains to the sacred vineyards, whose alluvial soils brought about by volcanic events and spread out over the valleys of Eastern Washington by the Missoula floods long, long ago. One harvest fact that really got me was that 70% of all the grapes harvested in the state are crushed by one winery, the first in the state-Chateau Ste. Michelle. Now that is impressive. All the other grapes go to the other 900 wineries who create an economic impact of over 10 billion dollars and provide 30,000 jobs. The good news is Washington wineries provide us with 16 million cases of wine to drink; well, not just us, but people all over the world who are starting to recognize the quality and variety of Washington wine. People ask me all the time about the crush and especially whether we crush with our feet. They always bring up the infamous crush seen in the classic I Love Lucy episode . The inquirers are alway surprised when I say “we do crush some of the grapes with our feet”. It is still the most gentle form of crushing. Machine crushing is the norm in modern winemaking but there are some famous wineries who still make some of their wine using this method. The only difference is they usually wear hip waders! As for dirty feet and its effect on wine, if you have ever been to a crush, you know that plenty of MOG (materials other than grapes) find their way in to each batch. Not to worry, all the MOG is filtered out through the winemaking process. Plus, our foot crushers thoroughly wash their feet first! I’m finishing this article at home as the first fall rain is pattering down on the deck. It is a magical time for me. I’m so fortunate to be connected with the agriculture of our great state. It harkens me back to a time when all of us were in one way or another living by Mother Nature’s clock, where life was dictated by the ebb and flow of the seasons, planting and then harvesting. A necessity, not just an occasional garden. How life has changed. It’s encouraging to know, though, that someplace somewhere, someone is still doing it.

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