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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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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