Producer/Winery: Chateau Vaissiere
Varietal Composition: 100 % Syrah
Aging: 12 Months new French Oak
Winemaker: Olivier Mandeville
Imported By: Vinum Importing & Distributing LLC
Bottle Value: $21 USD
Production: < 700 cases
Where: Home- Walla Walla. WA When: September 15, 2009 With whom: Raff, Ron-dinner party.
Perspective: I was craving an old world wine that was copasetic for a meager harvest intern’s budget. I picked this wine up at a local gourmet shop the Salumiere Cesario. The place is owned by Damon Burke, a fellow wine and food enthusiast and through his recommendation discovered this wine. It was everything that I was hoping for and more. When did Minervois get this good? This is what us wine geeks dream of a wine for this price that really delivers. Rustic black and red fruits with tons of herbaceous and mineral notes that complicate and excite the long complex yet simplistic finish. Bad ass little wine and also built to last.
Appearance: Clear clarity. Opaque garnet core. Deep ruby rim. No sediments detected
Nose: Clean. Medium intense, youthful aromas of black cherry, rubber, tar, charred oak, tobacco, and sweet hickory.
Palate: Dry. Medium acid, tannin, body and alcohol. Medium plus flavors of chalk, dusty gravel, ripe bramble fruits, black cherry, cedar, and sweet vanilla layers with smoke, pencil shavings, plum, prune and raisin. Smooth old world texture Drying fruit, lively acidity, supple tannins, generous alcohol, and juicy well defined fruit. Silky tannins, supple viscosity and medium plus length.
Conclusion: Good to very good quality for balance, complexity and length. Ready to drink now or over the next 10 years.
Producer/Winery: Dusted Valley
Wine: Stained Tooth Syrah
Appellation: Columbia Valley
Varietal Composition: 89% Syrah, 5% Viognier (Co-ferment) 5% Grenache 1% Counoise
Aging: 30 % New French and American Oak
Alcohol: 14.7 %
Winemaker: Chad Johnson & Corey Braunel
Bottle Value: $28 USD
Production: 1,150 cases
Where: Home, Walla Walla When: September 3, 2009 With whom: Ron
Perspective: This was a fun wine to drink. Incredibly juicy with layers of sweet and spicy aromas and loads of black fruit flavors. Everything that you get on the nose you get on the palate. Good extraction, balance and for the price, a top class wine. These guys are making some interesting wines and I will be posting more tasting notes on more of their selections.
Appearance: Clear clarity. Deep garnet core, medium garnet rim. Opaque with purple highlights and medium viscosity. No sediment detected.
Nose: Clean. Pronounced youthful aromas of blackberry, pepper, vanilla, gravel and leather.
Palate: Off dry. Medium acidity and tannin. Medium plus body and alcohol. Pronounced flavors of blackberry, plum, black liquorices, mint, sweet vanilla stony minerals and leather. Creamy texture, lively acid, supple tannins, generous alcohol and soft juicy fruit. Well balanced aromas, flavor and structure. Medium plus length.
Conclusion: Very good quality for balance, complexity and length. Drink now and over the next 3 years.
On Thursday September 3rd I started my job as a harvest intern at Bergevin Lane Winery in Walla Walla, Washington. This is my first time in the state of Washington and my first time working in the production side of the wine industry. In preparation for the WSET Diploma Course I need to have a complete understanding of wine production, so in addition to reading David Bird’s “Understanding Wine Technology,” I wanted to see things first hand. I tend to learn things better when I get hands-on experience and this venture will contribute skills and knowledge that the book simply cannot. This opportunity will allow me to see what is really done on the production side of an almost mythical business that transforms the simple juice of the grape into an art that intrigues millions of people and for some, like myself, evokes a passion to pursue every aspect of wine and never stop learning.
My first day at the winery was the first of many long and hard working days. I was the first harvest employee to start at the winery so I was immediately tasked to begin the prepping all of the equipment for crush. The first thing that I learned was the surgical-like sanitation requirements that everything has to go through in order to be used for making wine. Everything has to be rinsed with water, then scrubbed with a solution called proxy clean (an oxidizing cleaning solution similar to the well known oxy clean), rinsed again, then rinsed with citric acid (which neutralizes the proxy residue), rinsed again with cool water and then rinsed with ozonated water. Ozonated water is created by an ozone generator that converts cool water into ozonated water (H2O →H2O +O3). Normal oxygen that we breathe has two oxygen atoms, whereas ozone (O3) contains an extra oxygen atom that makes it unstable and when released into the air it disperses as a gas. Ozone is the second most powerful sterilizer in the world and can destroy bacteria, viruses and odors, so when applied to our equipment it ensures that all harmful micro-organism that could contaminate the wine are destroyed. This six step process is tedious and very time consuming. Imagine if you get to the last step and then you touch the ground or something else with a piece of equipment, guess what? YOU START ALL OVER! Nothing touches the ground, water hoses, valves, brushes, I mean nothing or you screw the whole thing up and have to re-sanitize everything.
My first big project was to clean fifty something picking bins using this process and it took me two days. These are the bins that will go to the vineyard and carry the fresh picked fruit back to us at the winery. The inside of the bins have to be completely sterile so the fruit is not contaminated. After each bin gets the full sanitation, it’s left to dry and then right before it goes out it gets rinsed with 180° water and ozoned so that it is pristine when the fruit gets dumped in. The entire operation from the equipment to handling the fruit revolves around a complete sterile environment. I quickly learned that 75% of my job is sanitation. All of us interns are now officially an obsessive compulsive cleaning crew.
Producer/Winery: Long Shadows Winery
Wine: Feather Cabernet Sauvignon
Appellation: Columbia Valley
Aging: 22 months new “Vicard” French oak
Alcohol: 14.2 %
Winemaker: Randy Dunn
Bottle Value: $60-$70 USD
Production: 2,238 cases
Where: Home, Walla Walla When: September 6 , 2009 With Whom: Bud
Perspective: After finishing the 2004 Three Rivers Champoux Cabernet
Appearance: Clear. Deep garnet core and medium garnet rim
Nose: Clean. Medium plus intensity. Youthful aromas of smoky black cherry, red currant and sweet vanilla.
Palate: Dry. Medium plus acidity, tannin, alcohol and body. Pronounced flavors of leather, earth, vanilla, black cherry, fresh plum, kirsch, toasted oak and spicy clove. Drying texture, lively acidity, well integrated powdery tannins with supple viscosity. Well-structured, balanced with long length.
Conclusion: Very good quality for concentration, length and balance. Drink now but could age 10 years.
Producer/Winery: Three Rivers Winery
Wine: Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
Appellation: Horse Heaven Hills
Varietal Composition: 92 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot
Alcohol: 14.7 %
Winemaker: Holly Turner
Bottle Value: $50 USD
Production: 320 Cases
Where: Home, Walla Walla When: September 6, 2009 With Whom: Ron, Raff & Bud
Perspective: My neighbor Bud Stocking, one of the founding partners of Three Rivers Winery, stopped by the house to say hello and share this elegant Cabernet with Ron and I (Thanks Bud!). This was the first wine that I’ve tasted from Three Rivers, and I am intrigued. Rustic old world characteristics mixed with juicy new world black fruits. Silky smooth black cherry and dark chocolate with hints of earthy mineral defined this elegant wine that I would like to taste again in a few years to see how it develops. The current release from the winery is the 2006 vintage which I will taste very soon.
Appearance: Clear & bright. Deep ruby core, pale ruby rim.
Nose: Clean. Medium plus intensity with developing aromas of black cherry, black currant, graphite and hints of eucalyptus.
Palate: Dry. Medium acidity, body and tannins. Elegant texture, silky viscosity, refreshing acid, and juicy fruit. Flavors of black cherry, dark chocolate, raisin, baked plum and dried mushroom with earthy mineral and hints of forest floor. Medium plus length.
Conclusion: Very good quality for balance and length. Drink now, or over the next 3-5 years.
Over the summer I had the pleasure of visiting Pax Wine Cellars and meeting the new winemaker, Tyler Thomas, an enthusiastic and knowledgeable character who is sure to become a rising star in the wine industry. Before my tasting appointment, I was unaware that winemaker Pax Mahle had left the winery and was pursuing his own project to be called Wind Gap. Sometimes a fresh start is what everybody needs to create a little personal success. Of course the story is a little more complicated, but I’m not here to talk about that, I’m here to introduce you to Tyler.
Tyler Thomas was born in St. Louis, Missouri and graduated from Colorado State University with a Masters in Botany and then attended UC Davis where he received his second Masters, this time in Viticulture & Enology. His career in the juice biz started at Fiddlehead Cellars where he worked for two years as what he calls a “Jack of all trades” position. After Fiddlehead, he joined the team at HdV Cellars – a high end California winery known for Burgundian style Pinot and Chardonnay – as a harvest intern. After the harvest season, Tyler was asked to stay on as assistant winemaker. Tyler spent the next four years fine tuning his skills as a winemaker including a trip to work the 2005 harvest in New Zealand. As the result of an award for his graduate research paper on grape berry physiology at UC Davis, Tyler was invited to the Geisenheim Grape Breeding Institute for winegrowing and horticulture in Rheingau, Germany where he spent the next few months refining his knowledge. In July 2008 the opportunity to sail his own ship presented itself and he started work at Pax Wine Cellars as winemaker. He blended and bottled all of the 2007 vintage as well as many of the 2006 wines that underwent longer oak treatment. The 2008 vintage will be his first release and from what I could tell from barrel sampling and learning of his meticulous approach, it is definitely something to look forward to.
Tyler is a guy with lots of great energy with a fresh and exciting outlook to winemaking. If you ever meet him you’ll see how his excitement doubles as a lithium battery. Once he starts discussing wine his energy level soars through the roof. Our appointment started at 10:00am, (these things tend to last an hour or so) but after the two of us started talking and tasting it was nearly 2:00pm before we were done. This was by far one of the best encounters I have ever had with a winemaker. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I learned about the science of wine as well as all the different wines at Pax. The occasion to meet a talented, humble and creative winemaker is quite the experience, so I asked Tyler a few questions so that you could get to know him like I did. Take a look:
In what direction will you be taking Pax Wines and what changes can fans expect to see?
TT - The focus to produce the best vineyard-designated syrah and other Rhône style varietals from the North Coast of California will remain unchanged. I have a mandate to elevate the quality of Pax wines, this can only be done by continuing to source unique and spectacular vineyards that produce inimitable wines. One thing I bring is an understanding of vine physiology, i.e. how vines are responding to any changes in micro-environment and climate. In other words I look to capture variance in the vineyard to isolate the best of the best from the least of the best. This will require stringent blending even of single vineyards and difficult choices of what to leave out to keep quality high, however we are not interested in making the average of any place (even if that is very good), but we want to parse out and discover the best of every place and only produce that.
How would you describe your philosophy and style when it comes to winemaking?
TT – In the vineyard, of course. But who doesn’t say that?!? My goal is to discover and distill what truly makes an impact to the governing components of great wine, and only do those things. This is minimal winemaking at its best: find the best fruit which is in part defined by needing little attention. I also like to question paradigms under the idea that tradition is birthed from experiment (particularly in the vineyard!). There are many commonly held “truisms” in winemaking, but some of them seem to be no more than unquestioned answers, as opposed to answered questions. I like to challenge those unquestioned answers.
What are some of your favorite styles of cuisine and dishes that pair well with the wines that you make?
TT – I love French food, perhaps because I grew up with a French Grandmere. In all my travels I think I enjoyed Thai and French food the most, with French cuisine barely edging out the southeast Asian delicacies. Grilled meats are wonderful with most of Pax Syrahs, but I like to experiment as well. I just tried our Grenache based 2007 Cuvee Moriah with Gazpacho and it was truly delicious. The spice and freshness of the wine was well balanced by the sweetness and fruity nature of the gazpacho (tomatoes are in full swing here right now so the tomatoes weren’t too tart). The experience of not only the flavors but the textures of the two were terrific.
Who or what are some of the influences that made you want to become a winemaker?
TT - In hindsight I’d have to say my Dad because he is obsessed with aromas. When I was a kid I remember my dad scouring a room sniffing like a dog trying to find the source of some peculiar aroma. I’ve realized that this taught me early on to pay attention to and consider aromas and tastes at a very young age (and yes I do the same thing now). Of course Grandmere must be credited with infusing our family with French culinary traditions and early exposure to wine as a beverage with a meal. Then I became enraptured with Rhone wines and this generated a desire to investigate wine more and more. What I learned was that wine is analogous to life, full of things we know and understand, but even more laden with mystery. And part of the enjoyment is reveling in the mystery of wine. It always leaves an opportunity for discovery and this appeals to my curious nature; after all our proprietor says “wine is a journey, not a destination.”
Name some of your favorite wines to drink?
TT – Riesling from Alsace and Germany is a serious weakness and I find no occasion that cannot be paired with such wines. Of course Rhone wines. I’ve always enjoyed the prettiness of St Joseph wines but really enjoy the general diversity of the Northern and Southern Rhone. The first wines I began collecting were from Bandol. Working for HdV I developed a great appreciation for White Burgundy and some CA Chardonnay. Pinot can be so…great!
Do you have a wine collection and if so what is it made up of?
TT – Yes, a small one and mostly made up of the varietals I listed above. I probably mostly treasure my Pibarnon, Moreau (Chablis), and HdV (because the wine is great and I “grew up” as a winemaker there).
What are some of your favorite varietals to work with and why?
TT – Syrah because of its palatable diversity. It can be grown in so many different terroirs and produce such a diversity of styles that are delicious. I love Pinot for its delicacy, and Chardonnay for its beauty birthed from simple winemaking (when from great vineyards).
Do you have a favorite wine out of the Pax lineup, if so which one?
TT - I must refrain, grower relations is a big part of my job Really though I drink different wines on different occasions and with different cuisine. We have such a spectrum of what Syrah can be that there is an extraordinary opportunity to learn about Syrah’s unique qualities.
Out of all the wines produced by Pax, which one is the most difficult and time consuming?
TT – Great questions! Each presents its own challenge. Obsidian is tricky because it is the warmest site, the most variable site, and is at the most risk for settling for over ripe mediocrity. The vineyard must be monitored very closely and so must the weather around harvest! Most of our vineyards are in such cool areas that they are immune to many of the heat spikes we see in August and September, but Obsidian Syrah does not have that luxury. Richard’s Family Vineyard is not necessarily difficult as it is worrying. It really does need the 30-36 months in oak because when it is young you are wringing your hands with anxiety over its profile. But in the end patience wins and it produces one of the most interesting and compelling Syrahs in Sonoma.
Can we expect to see any new blends or new AVA wines from Pax in the future?
TT – I cannot reveal my secrets.
Are there any plans to change the name of the winery at this time?
TT – Not at this time.
For information on scheduling an appointment with Pax Wine Cellars visit their website at www.paxwines.com