Trey Busch plasters Sleight of Hand Winery’s walls with Pearl Jam posters and blares “Neko Case” from an honest-to-God record player. His merch T-Shirts proclaim “Punk Rock Wines for Punk Rock Minds.” I toured the Pacific Northwest last week with our distributor, Free Run Wine Merchants, and it occurred to me I may be living on the wrong coast.
My first wine-buying trip for Unwined was a whirlwind of amazing wine, food, and education. My memories of the stunning Columbia Gorge are rivaled only by the beautiful relationships shared by the winemakers throughout Washington’s 13 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). With 43,000 acres planted, grape growers in Washington focus on Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. The region also produces a wide range of other white, red and as I discovered, some spectacular sparkling wines. This is a true community, and I’m hooked.
It’s a daunting task to share all that I experienced and learned over my seven day adventure- geography, culture, the craft of wine growing. Having been home only a few days, I’m still trying to process it all myself. As much as there is to offer and understand, I remind myself that at its core, the enjoyment of wine is about people and the way it brings us together. So I’ve decided to focus my quick recap on the folks (winemakers), with whom I spent the most time. Additionally, since it was a “buying” trip after all, I committed our resources to few new projects and old favorites worth mentioning.
I met Trey, the aforementioned winemaker for SOH and Pearl-Jam-fan, when we visited Basel Cellars, his Walla Walla neighbor. Trey dropped by with samples for us to taste, but stayed to enjoy Ned Morris’ wines. I thought it odd, tasting Trey’s wines while sitting poolside at Basel Cellars, but very soon I understood the camaraderie and support among contemporaries.
A personal highlight was Treveri Cellars in the Yakima Valley, located west of Walla Walla, and due north of the Columbia Gorge. I wished Renée was with me for this visit: it was all about bubbles, and it’s no secret that we’ll do most anything to quote Dom Perignon: “Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!” German-transplant Juergen Grieb, who started his Washington wine career in 1982, is responsible for these memorable, well-priced traditional method sparklers. We’ll have them on the shelves soon, probably by summer’s end. I loved them all, but the sparkling Gewurztraminer stole the show. None of us in the group had ever had one, and we all became big fans after the first sip.
With only two days remaining on our itinerary, we said goodbye to Washington and headed south to the Willamette Valley, to meet some of Free Run’s most recognized partners, including Peter Rosback of Sineann, Byron Dooley of Luminous Hills, Mo Ayoub and Michael Lundeen. If forced to single out my favorite Oregonian, I pick Jimmy Maresh, 3rd generation winemaker for Willamette Valley’s Arterberry Maresh (say Marsh). Jimmy’s grandpa planted the vineyards, and his old vine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are world class. They are unfined, unfiltered pure, quality wines which truly represent one of the world’s most exciting climates for Burgundy varieties- the Red Hills of Dundee, OR. Look for his new vintages on our shelves next month.
Suzanne’s Pacific Northwest White Wine to Beat the Heat
2011 Basel Cellars White Blend: If you are a Sauv Blanc fan, we have a new offering from Basel Cellars. They added a little Semillon, and if you taste this with your eyes closed it’s easy to imagine you are in Bordeaux. $17.99
2011 Sineann Oregon Pinot Gris: Apricot, peach, melon, green apple and striking minerality combine to make this a delicious wine for a hot day. Production is very limited and we got the last of the vintage. $22.99