Holy hell, can I just tell you how hilarious a wine speed blogging session is? I recently attended my first Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, WA and one of the craziest parts was “speed blogging.” Here’s how it worked: bloggers are at tables with each other, focused on their laptops or phones, in position to sniff, sip, swirl, write, snap photos, ask questions and post as quickly as humanly possible. Ready? Set? GO! Here come the winemakers! Each had a fast five minutes to pour, talk and answer questions and then the “ROTATE!” call went out, and another winemaker appeared. In one hour, we tasted 10 wines from 10 winemakers. Holy what the wine?
And while some say this is no way to seriously taste wine, you know what? It was hysterical fun and the winemakers like it because it forces them to condense their “elevator speech,” honing in on what’s important. You want to talk about your 40 acres of scenic rolling hills? We don’t care! We need cold, hard facts and figures about your wine, STAT!
As you can see from this picture taken by my friend Rob Frisch of Odd Bacchus, it was fast and furious – I couldn’t listen, taste or type fast enough! Of course, at one point, I just took a huge breath and collapsed laughing, but not for a long, because here comes another winemaker! Stop! No, keeping going! Wait, what did you just say?
There was a lot of yelling of questions at the winemakers:
“Before you say a word, what’s your Twitter handle?” “Vintage! What’s the vintage?” “What are the grapes? Wait, can you say that again?””How old are the vines?” “Did you say the retail price?”
Thanks to all the winemakers who braved the chaos and shouting to let us taste and talk about their wines. Here’s a slightly edited (for grammar!) version of what I wrote in real-time during the merry go round:
Woodward Canyon 2014 Artist Series Cabernet, oldest winery in Walla Walla, since 1996. 3000 cases per vintage. Artist Series started in 1992, this wine is the 23rd vintage. Every year a local artist in the Pacific Northwest creates an original piece of art. 92% Cab plus some Petit Verdot and Cab Franc. Always a Cab-dominant blend. $59 Distributed in 25 states. I even got some tasting notes in on this one:
Dark red/black color black fruit, a tempting Nabisco Fig Newton appeal. Slow, sexy legs say a little high on the buzz-factor (ABV 14.8%). But: YUH-MEE! It’s huge and delicious. No one seems to have a steak in their pocket this instant — which would be so delicious — but it’s fresh, elegant and deep. Up to 60% new French oak, the rest is one or two-year old neutral oak.
Mullan Road Cellars, Columbia Valley 2015 Red Blend. Fourth vintage of the entire winery. Founded by Dennis Cakebread, son of Dolores and Jack Cakebread of Napa Valley’s famous Cakebread Winery. To note: the grapes are right on the front label: 49% Cab, 34% Merlot, 17% Cab Franc $45. Mullan Road leases blocks of vineyards at Seven Hills Vineyard in Walla Walla and Columbia Valley AVA. Fruit on the front, really juicy black cherries, leather, black tea, a little cocoa. Me likey!
Maryhill Winery 2014 Columbia Valley Malbec Earthy, stewed prunes, super-ripe cherries, tobacco, tea. Screams for a plate of charred fatty meat, like brisket. Maryhill makes over 50 wines from 35 grape varieties, and they produce 80,000 cases a year. $26 SRP. Owners Craig and Vicki Leuthold broke ground in 2001. Have a tasting room in Spokane and opening a second tasting room in Vancouver, WA. Sits on 80 acres of estate fruit. This fruit is from Tudor Hills Vineyard in Columbia Valley, near Yakima Valley. (Note: I got to visit this winery on a post-excursion and it is beautiful – if you get a chance, go – on a nice day, I could sit on their patio and drink all day – and have my chauffeur drive me home.)
Columbia Winery 2015 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon (owned by Gallo since 2012) Started by a group of 10 friends in 1962. First winery to plant Syrah, Pinot Gris and Cab Franc in Washington. First to make a right-bank Bordeaux style, leading with Merlot. Diurnal shift on Red Mountain makes this wine special. Tasting room only, but order online, they ship to some states. $38 SRP. DELICIOUS! Big, structured, long finish. Juicy and fresh with deep, dark red fruit — cassis, cocoa.
L’egende Pauillac 2015 Made by Domaines Barons de Rothschild. Ooh, a French wine – this is a surprise! Grapes come from Chateau Lafite and neighboring vineyards. Meant to make Bordeaux more accessible. The wine is 70% Cabernet, 30% Merlot. $49.99 FREAKING DELICIOUS! Definitely evokes Old World characteristics — earthy, but juicy and fresh, over-flowing with cherries, black raspberries. Delish now; could age for 10 years, too.
Frank Family Vineyards 2015 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Made from 86% Cab, 9% Merlot, 4% PV, 1% Cab Franc from estate vineyards in Rutherford and Vaca Mountains. So good. Great marriage of powerful black fruit Cab and happy yet assertive red fruit and kissed by a little eucalyptus and cedar, with a quick swish through a bag of dark chocolate chips. Just released, so it’s young and sassy, but would be even better after some time (I’d put it down for a year). $58 SRP. Rich and Leslie Frank came from the entertainment industry (former Disney) and are now celebrating the 25th anniversary of the winery. Next!
J Bookwalter Chapter 8 2015 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Old vine (1988). Six or eight clusters on each vine; they tightly control the yield. One bottle per vine, to get maximum concentration but not over-ripe characteristic. Mmm mmmm GOOD! $100 SRP Made only 10 barrels of this wine! Winery owned by John Bookwalter in 1983. Winemaker is Caleb Foster and he is cute!
J. Christopher 2015 Pinot Noir Volcanique Dundee Hills, OR. Jay Christopher is a big Burgundy freak and Dr. Ernie Loosen is his buddy and they became friends over a bunch of Burgundy. Next thing you know, they teamed up to make this wine. YUMMERS! Classic Pinot personality – earthy, fall leaves, cherries. Like a Twizzler taco wrapped in a crisp fall leaf “tortilla.”
Cuneo 2013 Columbia Valley Ripasso Owner and winemaker Gino Cuneo has to first make an Amarone wine (whole clusters, laid out on a mat, and dry them for 3 1/2 months, then crush them and make the wine). Then they take the left-overs, the solids and ” re-pass” — ripasso – the Amarone wine through those solids and bingo – you have Ripasso. Grapes are Barbera, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo. $45 a bottle. It’s good. Light-bodied, a little sweet. I like aroma better than flavor. (Note: the next day I re-tasted this wine and I loved it, so possibly my palate was a little past its prime here.)
Artesana 2016 Tannat, Merlot and Zinfandel from Uruguay Delicious. $20 Oopsies … this is where the whole show fell apart and all I could register after an hour was “delicious.”