Monday, November 12, 2018

I published a book on modern grapes for the Pacific Northwest!

After researching, collecting, and testing many different grape varieties over the past 23 years, I turned all those testing notes into what I hope is a useful book for anyone considering growing grapes in the Pac Northwest. It is also useful if you want to read about farming, winemaking, and general nature-based philosophy.

You can buy the book (printed paperback or Kindle version) here.

The photo is of my own Leon Millot grapes. Thank you for checking out the book!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Orin Swift 2016 "Fragile" Rose - Can't live up to its hype

It was with a sense of excitement that I opened this bottle, after several customers told me that "you can never go wrong with anything made under this label." It's about $17-$19 retail, though I found it on a great sale and was able to sell it for just $10.

It's a deeply-colored rose. I am NOT one who likes only faintly-tinged rose wines. Why penalize a wine for having pretty color? Why turn away from a bigger-bodied rose (which a deeper color suggests may be present)? My Epona rose wine looks much like this one. It's a pretty bottle and label, which present well.

Nose: Not much going on. Sad. Our noses can distinguish thousands of different sensations, whereas our tongues can manage only six. Why winemakers don't pay attention to extracting a great bouquet, is beyond me.

Palate: Huh. A little disappointing. This wine is fine--it's got fruit and good acid. Certainly not a revelation or anything like that. There is a fairly pronounced bitter orange peel note that is too strong for me. The wine's definitely drinkable, and it's fine, but not quite super-enjoyable. Give me the $10 Barnard Griffin Rose of Sangio (a repeat Double Platinum winner up here in the NW) anyday over this. Give me an Epona rose (also $10) over this.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Italy's winegrapes suffer from climate change

Check out this article about how climate change is harming winegrapes in Italy. European winegrape production is way down lately, due to harmful weather patterns.

I think grapebreeders need to be making new grapes that feature the red and purple fruit flavors. Any grape that tends to express black fruit flavors will, if exposed to more heat than is ideal, develop flavors of tar, licorice, etc., which I don't like. This has long been a problem in parts of Australia, and is becoming a problem in the hotter parts of California and, now, Europe.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Making Noble Wolf Malbec!

403 lbs of gorgeous Malbec grapes from Adolfo's "Noble Wolf" vineyard near Dallesport WA (high in the mountains above the Columbia River--about 1000' I think). 23 Brix; pH 3.2. Fantastic boysenberry jam flavor. Well-tended vines (a really pretty site, actually). Lucky to have sourced this fruit.

"Mal bec" in French means "bad mouth," meaning the wine tastes green when young. Right now, the juice is pure and rich, with great body and deep flavor, with no greenness, but that may come soon. The secret to good Malbec appears to be aging the wine for a long time, which lets the wine soften and mature into its final richness. Will do.

THANK YOU to Andrew who helped me crush this fruit in very high heat (for so late in September).

Saturday, September 29, 2018

2015 Hors Categorie Syrah

Lucky to be on the mailing list for this one Each of us gets just two bottles. Another spectacular achievement by Christophe Baron:

100 points, The Wine Advocate The 2015 Syrah from Hors Catégorie is spectacular, bursting from the glass with a stunning bouquet of smoked charcuterie, blackberries, licorice, dried violets and rich forest floor. Structured around beautifully velvety tannins on the palate, the wine is full-bodied, layered and immensely concentrated, yet it manages to remain weightless. While there's plenty of fruit here, it's this Syrah's mouthwateringly savory qualities that define the protracted, penetrating finish and make the wine so exciting. Cropped at a mere 0.8 tons per acre from a steep hillside vineyard that's trained on stakes à la Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie, this was matured in neutral oak, with the exception of one second-fill puncheon that was eliminated after the first racking, demonstrating that when it comes to new oak and Syrah, less is emphatically more..."
-- William Kelley of The Wine Advocate

98 points, International Wine ReportChristophe Baron first discovered this site in 2004, as the Syrah was planted on extremely steep slopes (60% grade at some places) near where the north fork of the Walla Walla River meets with the Walla Walla River. The 2015 Hors Catégorie Syrah is an absolutely stunning effort that shows a wonderful stony character along with smoked meats, raw meat, blood orange zest and red cherry candy on the nose. On the palate the silky mouthfeel and percision is simply incredible. The range of flavors continues to entices the senses with red cherry preserves, blood orange, white truffle oil, black pepper and green olive tapenade. The mouth-watering acidity and wonderful lifted character makes this nearly impossible to resist. This is another untterly captivating effort by Christophe Baron in this vintage.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Alloro 2012 Pinot Noir

Enjoying this great Pinot with Andrew, who just helped crush 403 lbs of Malbec from Noble Wolf Vineyard in Dallesport.

This has wonderful boysenberry fruit nose, is super-smooth, ripe and ready.  What an atypical Oregon Pinot, in that the fruits are rich and forward, and there's no barnyard aroma at all. (The barnyard would be welcome if present; it's just not there, and that's fine, too.)

As it ages in-glass, the end-palate and the finish tend to tar and black fruits. Not my favorite part of the experience. But still a fascinating wine. Andrew says there is often a hint of eucalyptus in Alloro's wines, and we thought this one had a hint of that as well.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Epona 2017 Cayuga white wine with grilled no-preservative sausages and a cabbage saute:

Highly recommend butcher boys (butcher shop) in vancouver. Killer good, no-preservative sausages. Simmer, then grill. With this saute of cabbage, shallot, havasu hot pepper, garlic, and our apples, and vinegar and sugar. With mustard of course. And my Epona Cayuga wine. Yum!

Slab 3 finished and for sale!

Slab 3 finished and for sale! Sitting bench or low table. 30"L x 16"W x 16"H. Single slab of walnut. All the wackiness you see in the grain is natural, except for spots where I filled cracks and holes with epoxy. From a fallen dead tree. (It's in Woodland WA now, but I can bring to Vancouver WA.) Custom steel legs with felt floorpads, from a blacksmith I like in NY.

This took about 50 hours of work, starting with a rough chainsaw-cut slab. Sanded by hand through six grits, with five rounds of epoxy fill, and interim sanding. Tung oil finish. Stamped "KLE 3" on the underside. The top is mirror-smooth; the edge is live and semi-rough. 

Next up (slab 4) is a twin of this slab--same size, shape, and grain. If you want a pair, I can't guarantee the finish color of slab 4 will be an exact match.

Check it out! The market will tell me if this is good or not; 3 and 4 are my last slabs unless they sell to enthusiastic buyers, in which case I'll go hunt for slab 5. If interested, pls contact me at . Thank you!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Review: Five Star Cellars 2012 Supernova

I have long loved the wines of Five Star. They're in one of the WW2 army air force pre-fab buildings at the Walla Walla airport. This wine has 60% Petit Verdot and 31% Cab Franc, both from Walla Walla Valley. It's a great wine. Dark purple fruits; smooth; rich. Recommended.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Phelps Creek 2013 Pinot Noir - Review

I usually write how much I like a wine, but lately there've been a string of bad wines. The latest disappointment is the Phelps Creek 2013 Pinot Noir. It's awful. My distributor gave me a bottle to taste, for which I was grateful.

Bouquet: There's no red fruit, no fruit of any kind. Just hot alcohol. Later, the nose picks up some adverse chemical smell. Yuck. I suspect, from the bouquet, that this vineyard was either too hot, or was overcropped (for which Pinot Noir suffers horribly--it loses all of its varietal character).

Palate: From bad to worse. No pleasure at all in this drink. There is not a single thing in the flavors to point to and be positive about.

Not sure what the price is on this one but please don't buy it. Pinot Noir is a great grape, but it is difficult to grow and difficult to make good wine from, and even then it can be frustratingly changeable in the bottle. So much so that we tend to eschew Pinot now. Why waste the money, when so many of them are so uninspiring?

It could be that it's difficult to make a good Pinot Noir in the Columbia Gorge. But I suspect this one was from the wrong vineyard and made in the wrong way. Stay away.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Finally. That's more like it: Burnt Bridge Cellars 2013 "Couve Cuvee" (Columbia Valley WA)

How funny, that a low-cost local wine (made from Columbia Valley fruit) would outscore, BY A HUGE MARGIN, such supposedly-great wines as one from K Vintners and one from Beresan and one from Cascade Cliffs. All of those other wineries are well-known, and K Vintners is one of the great ones. But this red from Burnt Bridge is far better. Sharp purple fruits; good acid backbone; nice finish. It is a pleasure to drink with a mushroomy-beef-onion-garlicky-cream sauce dish.  I'd score it a solid 90. The others scored far worse. You really have to be careful, when you pay up for wines. So many times it is a poor decision.

Way to go Burnt Bridge!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Tasting note: Beresan 2012 Merlot

I've had a run of unsatisfying reds lately. Cursing the luck.

The oak persists, but the fruit is mostly gone; what remains is a undercurrent of black fruit; not my favorite. No finish and almost no bouquet. Maybe it was better a few years ago, as this is a good winery. Disappointing. We had it with a good vegan dinner at Elements (formerly Willems) on Main in downtown Vancouver.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Tasting notes: 2015 K Vintners "The Boy" Grenache

This is a difficult review to write. For years I've stated that K Vintners is one of the three best wineries in Washington state (the others being Cayuse, and Barnard Griffin's white and rose wines only).  I called those three the "First Growths" of Washington.

But something has happened to K Vintners. We went to their Spring release party, and 80% of the wines weren't good to me. Who am I you ask, and it's a fair question. I'm a wine retailer and a commercial winemaker, and I've made wine for 23 years and grown grapes for longer than that. I've collected fine wines and resold them on the international market for over 40 years now. So I'm entitled to have an opinion.

Which brings us to this wine by Charles Smith. 95 points by Robert Parker, and 94 by Wine Enthusiast. Etc, etc. No doubt, Charles has reliably high reviews by the pros. Parker said:

"The 100% Grenache 2014 The Boy is a ripe, wild, peppery, meaty, rose petal and olive scented effort that has full-bodied richness, with a sensational, layered and silky texture, as well as ripe, polished tannin and a great finish. It's difficult to find a better Grenache from the New World."

Friends, I am here to tell you that, even with perfect cellaring, at four years old this wine is nowhere close to being worth $50. It has a good cherry nose, and it's rich and silky, but it's fleeting. The palate is meh. The finish is meh.  My spouse is a very tough critic on wines; she wouldn't drink this one. Wow. I gave it two days in the fridge, but it was no better, so I didn't rob the cradle with it. There is very little to commend it at this price point. Just another example of "experts" being wrong. 

Here is what you need to know: Every fiber of our imperfect mind wants to believe that a more-expensive wine is a better mind. But you need to retrain your instincts to rebel against such mistaken thinking. Italy and southern France and northern Spain and Argentina give us GREAT wines that cost from $9-$13. So why would you overpay $50 for this one? It is not ethereal. Yes, some expensive wines CAN be ethereal, and the search for them is worthwhile. But in general, any fool can overpay for wine--it is the easiest thing to do. What is very difficult is to find great wines at lower prices. That is what I've spent my years trying to master, with much success I think.

Now, understand: Charles is still a wine god to me. He can do amazing things with grapes. But I can no longer expect all his wines to be great. His Kung Fu Girl Riesling is one of the best lower-cost wines in the world. His higher-end Syrahs can be mesmerizing. But do not assume that all his wines are great. They are not. My suspicion is that once a winemaker achieves fame and fortune, it becomes exponentially more likely that their quality will slip. Just my opinion. 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Maryhill Winery to build a wine tasting room on the Vancouver waterfront!

This is good news. That development is exciting--close to our Vancouver house. It will continue to drive Vancouver forward economically.

I view Maryhill as a sound winery in a great location and with a great business plan. Their "Reserve" wines can be very good.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Hybrid wines continue to draw hatred and fear in Europe

This article explains just how much fear and hatred the vinifera world of Europe feels towards modern grape varieties. The animosity is the result of a century of carefully-fanned flames of prejudice. Modern varities of grapes (hybrids) are the answer to Europe's dirty little secret: Growers there are killing their vineyard workers and sterilizing their soil (killing earthworms and beneficial nematodes) with nasty sprays for fungus. But the modern grapes don't need fungal sprays--due to their partial American heritage, they have resistance!

And the flavors are good, too. I win blue ribbons with these new varieties.

But Europe has millennia of well-honored tradition, and resists change.

Let's all please drop the prejudice and the hate, and start saving lives.

(photo credit Google images)

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Moderate drinking correlates wtih a lower risk of mental degradation

This British study indicates that both nondrinkers and heavy drinkers have a higher risk of developing dementia, which those who drink from 1-14 servings of alcohol per week see a lower rate of dementia.

So, drink up! But in moderation!

(photo credit:

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The ugly truth about the USA's western forest fires

This article explains how we have caused the massive, destructive California (and Oregon and Washington and Idaho) wildfires: In nature, about a quarter of that area's forests would see a fast-moving fire every year, which cleared out the brush, pine and fir needles, and understory plants, while sparing the large trees. Those are relatively "cool" fires, which pass through an area quickly. But they still do cover the area with smoke and haze.

But we fight the fires, preventing them from doing what nature wants, and allowing the understory brush to thrive, until a fire comes along that is so hot and fast-growing that it can overpower our firefighting efforts, and then there is so much fuel that even the large trees burn, which makes the fire linger over any one particular place and burn much hotter. And of course our homes and barns burn then, also.

What we should do is allow the frequent fires to keep the forest floor clean, and design our rural homes to survive a fast-moving "cooler" fire (large no-plant buffer around the homes). That is the price of living in the dry West--a very sparse yard, and a house made of fire-resistant materials.  Then, we could save many billions in firefighting costs, and lives. But the dry West would be smoky every summer.

But smoke is not good for grapes. It taints the flavors. Hot fires can even kill the grapevines.

So maybe we shouldn't be growing grapes in the dry West, you say? Hmm. Maybe that's right.

I have been saying "dry West," because there is a "wet West"--it's the area west of the Cascades in OR and WA. However, smoke blows wherever the wind takes it, and often lately, therer's been too much smoke and haze in the wet West for ideal grape conditions. So it's an issue in the entire west. But in most years, the wet West has enough good onshore winds, blowing from the cool, clean Pacific, that the grapes here do fine.

Lots to think about. I believe a wise government would start requiring homes to be built (and retrofitted) to be more fire-safe, and then let the forests burn, and fight the fires only to protect designated "safe areas" that are small towns and large cities. We are unable to defeat these megafires, so we need to let their awful destructive power occur once, and then perhaps the frequent cooler fires that keep the floor clean won't be so difficult to deal with, as we let them burn.

(photo credit: Google images)

Saturday, August 4, 2018

New Winery Sign - best use found yet for a wine barrel (no, they are not very good for holding wine)

I made this from the end of a French wine barrel:

1. Cut off end of barrel, keeping about 5" of the staves
2. Hammer hoops tight, then drill and screw them to the staves
3. Stain the sign
4. Take your winery name and logo in a digital file to a woodworder skilled in CNC routing, to carve those into both sides of the face, 1/4" deep
5. Take the sign to a signpainter, to have her paint the name and logo a contrasting color
6. Apply marine spar finish (multiple coats) to every side
7. Caulk the spaces between the hoops and staves
8. Drill and attach eye bolts with washers and nuts, 11" apart
9. Drill and attach hook screws to underside of hanging beam
10. Make and attach, by nails to the top side of the hanging beam, an 8" wide x 3 long cedar roof, painted with marine spar varnish, to keep some of the rain off of the sign
11. Hang the sign

Voila! Because, marketing.

Monday, July 23, 2018

2015 Pra Vinera Reserve Cab - WOW!

I can't recall who gave this to me, but WOW! If you ever wanted to find out what a true Cab Sauv flavor is (it's black currants), this wine has it in spades. So smooth. Liquid velvet. The sensation just rolls. Perfect body. Perfect balance. THIS is how it's done.

Napa at its best. Wow.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The bottling season is upon us

We've bottled almost all the 2017 Epona wines now, starting with the whites and roses, and finishing with the reds and pourt wines. ("Pourt" is a common-law trademark owned by Epona, LLC, and Kenton Erwin of Woodland WA. I invented that made-up word, using a "u" to keep it from upsetting our friends the Portuguese of the Douro area.)

Everything has a season (turn, turn, turn). The mowing season is winding down (we don't irrigate our field grass--why would we? why would you?). The watering season has not quite appeared in earnest. This is the bottling season, to make room in tanks and other liquid-holding vessels for the coming Fall crop of winegrape juice. At this time, you and your racking wand are on very intimate terms. And, once corked, the work is not nearly over: You bottle, and adjust the fill levels in the bottles. You cork the wines. You rinse and dry the bottles. Then, for three days, the bottles sit upright, to bleed out the compressed air caused by pushing the corks in. Then they are capsuled and labeled, and laid down to age (for a short or a long while, depending upon the wine's character and the strength of your resale market).

In the photo (credit to Merry Edwards Winery), this is how they, and we, and countless others, do it. The Italian floor corker is a key component for any small-to-medium sized winery.

There was a guild of winemakers in the Middle Ages, just like the guilds of blacksmiths, millers, coopers, etc. In Italy the winemakers are called "Vinari," and I have a little terra cotta plaque with "Vinari" and a wine bottle on it (from northern Italy), to remind me of the long history of my craft, and how much others know and knew, compared to me.

Winemaking is a great way to keep in touch with your humble side, to sharpen up on Murphy's Law, and to, just sometimes, just occasionally, maybe impress yourself with what you can do with some great fruit and a couple of years. Sometimes ;)