Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dusted Valley-- 2010 Washington Winery of the Year!

When self-proclaimed Wisconsin "Cheeseheads"/winemakers Corey Braunel and Chad Johnson chucked it all and moved their families to Walla Walla in 2003, little did they know that seven years later their dream, Dusted Valley, would be named Washington Winery Of The Year by Wine Press Northwest. I had never heard of them until a few months ago when a general e-mail announcing the accolade graced my inbox. It must have been a good sign. I was curious and wanted to know more. Who were they and what were their wines like? A couple weeks and a couple sample bottles later, I am sitting here beside myself and extremely impressed with my finding! Thank goodness for e-mail!

Dusted ValIey is a small production winery located in Walla Walla, Washington. Most of you have probably never heard of them as they have limited distribution. However, I urge you to discover them through their website because their wines will woo you and find a special place in your hearts. As stated above, in seven short years they have become a force to be reckoned with! These are gutsy, edgy wines with emphasis on big taste. Something unbelievably great has evolved from such humble beginnings...

The vision for this winery is a combination of the winemakers' love of Washington wines, an agricultural background and education. Corey came from a farming background eventually moving into the sales and marketing area. Chad started in the hospitality industry and also studied food science and chemistry at school. Together, their love for the Pacific Northwest and the wines produced in this region was enough for them to uproot and move. They now have a 4000 case production, sustainable-practice winery dedicated to producing high quality wines in an affordable price range. Everything they do goes back to their roots, even the oak they use comes from Wisconsin! Their idea is that wine should be enjoyed as an experience with friends and family. These two make wines that they would want to be drinking and that is a great philosophy!

I recently had the chance to sample two of their wines and can't wait until next month when I get to sample more out in Washington! The two I tried are perfect examples of their dedication to taste and quality... (And the awards just keep coming!)

The 2008 Dusted Valley Yakima Valley Old Vine Chardonnay was clean, refreshing and flavorful. None of that overly-oaked nonsense as this one seems to be done in a very Burgundian style, keeping true to the flavor of the Chardonnay grape. What exactly is an "Old Vine Chardonnay"? The vines were planted in 1971. In Washington state terms, that is "old" because the industry there is so young. (It didn't begin hopping until shortly before that!) I really enjoyed this wine and unfortunately for my readers, so did everyone else! The winery is officially sold out of all 217 cases of this wine. Good for them, not good for us. Hopefully they will be releasing the 2009 sometime in the near future. $30.00.

The 2007 Columbia Valley Stained Tooth Syrah is amazing! (And yes, I can see why they named it "Stained Tooth"! You will have purple teeth after this one!) If I could use the word "Wow" in every sentence of this description, I'd certainly try to get away with it! I took this bottle over to a friend's wine shop and tasted it with him and we were blown away. This wine is a precision blending of Syrah and Viognier with some Grenache and rare varietal Counoise mixed in. There's absolutely none of that Rhône "funk" (although it's fashioned in the Rhône style). Just a lot of huge dark jammy fruit up front and firm tannins. Like I said, "Wow!" Fortunately for everyone they made over 1200 cases so you can still get some of this. $28.00 (yes, that's it--so much flavor and value!)

And as if this all wasn't enough, they have added a second "value" label, Boomtown, featuring other wines from the area. These wines are available in supermarkets and restaurants as well as their website. I haven't tried these yet but but hope to in the near future.

If you happen to live in Washington or are visiting Washington soon (2010 Wine Bloggers Conference attendees should look into this!), there are two places to enjoy these wines. In the Seattle area, they can be found at the Woodinville Wine Gallery and they also have a tasting room in Walla Walla. Please check them out on their website,, to learn about their other wines, all the awards and how you can obtain some of their wines for yourselves. I'd like to thank everyone at Dusted Valley for allowing me to sample such great wines! You are truly deserving of this accolade and I'm looking forward to meeting you in June!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

An Inspiration Worth Having...

I've been really busy lately and sometimes I get so caught up in the whirlwind I call my every day life that I neglect to do what I love best--writing about my favorite wines and wineries. We bloggers all have our moments like this I'm sure! Sometimes all it takes is one special glass of wine to change all of that...

I've been an advocate of the small family winemaker for years! My fascination with their passion and hard work to handcraft special wines from the ground up just amazes me! One such winemaker is Jon Phillips, who along with his wife Barbara, owns Inspiration Vineyards, a small family winery in the Santa Rosa area of Sonoma County. Jon began his road to a career in wine during the 90s working at Mirassou Winery tasting room. He had always had an interest in wine as his great-grandparents were owners of a vineyard in San Martin in the early 1900s. Jon continued his journey by teaching wine appreciation classes and expanding his own education through UC Davis. In 1999, Jon and Barbara produced their first wine--a barrel of Contra Costa Zinfandel made with grapes they purchased from Rosenblum Cellars.

In just a few short years, they took their "home" winery, expanded it and turned it into something really special. In 2001, they were able to finally achieve their dream. They purchased a six-acre property in Sonoma County and began getting the permits to build their own winery. Since then, they've worked hard turning their vision into a thousand case production winery. Jon is such a nice, down to earth guy and the wines really speak for themselves. I truly believe more people out there should discover these wines. Jon had wanted me to sample the wines for quite awhile but somehow I just could not make a meeting work on my last visit out there. So, he was gracious and sent me a few bottles to sample. I'd like to share some words on some of my favorites...

2008 Zinspiration--I had the chance to try a style of wine one doesn't find a lot of and after trying it, I'm not really sure why. This wine is a dry Rosé made from Zinfandel grapes from Muzzin Vineyard in the Alexander Valley. Dry Rosé is not to be confused with White Zinfandel, which is the much taunted sweeter version. They are two different animals! The Zinspiration is fantastic, refreshing and the perfect beverage for sipping wine on the patio in the Summertime. It explodes with strawberry and citrus flavors and has a crisp dry finish! I love it! I want more...I wish more Zinfandel producers out there would make one. Get it while you can! $15.00.

2007 Viognier--Made with grapes sourced from Jacobs Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, this unfiltered Viognier has unique characteristics. Usually with Viognier you get the floral aromas and flavors, but this one is different. It is full of stone fruit--lush with apricots and peaches. Medium-bodied and delicious! The perfect accompaniment for Asian and Indian foods or anything spicy. It will cool your palate with its breezy flavors. Very nice. Viognier is starting to become a favorite of mine. $29.00.

2007 Pinot Noir--Ah, cool climate Carneros Pinot Noir! The grapes for this 2009 Sonoma County Harvest Fair gold medal winner came from Martin Ranch is Los Carneros, a region on the southern end of Sonoma County (also sharing area with Napa County). With this you get a lovely cranberry-strawberry flavor with hints of earth and tobacco. Aged in French Oak for a lovely, smooth and not overly-oaked finish. I really enjoyed this one! $30.00.

2007 Zinfandel Russian River Valley--I am a Zin fanatic but most of you already know this! I love Zinfandel for its rich, lush fruit flavors and sometimes high alcohol content making for a large, jammy, over the top wine. With this Russian River Zinfandel, Jon has introduced me to a different style of the beautiful varietal. With low alcohol and a ton of flavor, this wine came up and surprised me! I never knew I could enjoy a Zin with low alcohol. (Under 14%) It is refined, elegant, spicy and warm with blackberry, dark cherry and cinnamon spice but none of that familiar burn. It's not hot, just enjoyable. An added note, Jon also makes a killer Zinfandel from Alexander Valley! Check them both out! $23.00.

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon--Jon even makes a Cabernet Sauvignon with grapes from the Callaway Vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley-area of northern Sonoma County. This is a very straight forward Cabernet with dark cherry, blackberry, cassis and toasted oaks. Soft tannins make this wine food friendly and drinkable alone. I enjoyed the big up front flavors and smooth finish. Another award winner! Bravo! $30.00.

Jon and Barbara both have a lot to look forward to! With award-winning wines and a passion for their craft, I know they will do very well! The wines are very affordable and worth a lot more than their price tag reveals. I am looking forward to tasting more and visiting them on my next trip out to Sonoma County! They have what it takes and I hope you will take the time to discover their wines as well. The winery is located at 2040 Olivet Road in Santa Rosa. They welcome visitors by appointment which can be made through their website, They don't distribute their wines nationwide yet but do ship to many states and have an online store. Please check the website for new vintages and current availability as these are very small production wines and they go fast! Thank you, Jon, for allowing me to get a glimpse of your world and your wines! You have truly been an "Inspiration" to me!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Say YES To Willamette Valley Vineyards!

I really wish I could say I was more up to speed on Oregon wines and wineries. But I'm not. I'm barely starting to tap into this wonderful area for wines. I'd like to learn more...A few months ago, after posting a note about the upcoming Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, I received a message from Christine Collier, the Social Marketing Coordinator at Willamette Valley Vineyards in Oregon! She was interested in having me sample some of their wines. A few weeks later, I received three samples and a nice set of information.

Willamette Valley Vineyards is a beautiful winery located in Turner, Oregon. The estate site was purchased in 1983 by founder Jim Bernau and he had a lot of work to do. The land was once the home of an old plum orchard laden with blackberry vines that needed to be cleared away before anything else could be planted. With some diligence and hard work, he began planting Pinot Noir (Pommard and Wadenswil) and Chardonnay clones (Dijon and Espiguette) along with Pinot Gris. The vineyard he had started to plant had no irrigation system, so Jim began by watering everything by hand using a garden hose! In 1989, the land finally was ready for Jim to begin realizing his dream! The vineyards are now tended to carefully and with much attention to detail. From using the highest quality fruit to responsible vineyard management, Jim and his team are committed to sustainable practices in their vineyards and all of their vineyards are certified sustainable. Their Estate Pinot Noir block is certified organic.

Seems Jim has a come a long way since those days and the winery slowly grew into one of the region's leading wineries earning many accolades along the way. The Wine Enthusiast Magazine named Willamette Valley Vineyards "One of America's Great Pinot Noir Producers." Rightly so. I understood this point immediately when I sampled the wines. Rich, balanced and handcrafted, these are very classy and elegant--- wines of distinction.

The first wine I sampled was the 2008 Willamette Valley Vineyards Riesling. Now mind you, I am used to the almost bone-dry but still flavorful Rieslings so this one caught me off guard. It is stylistically similar to a lot of the semi-sweet German-style Rieslings out there. It had some tropical notes such as pineapple and peach and not so much of the apple flavor I notice in this varietal. It was really refreshing and had quite a long finish. I would pair it up with Asian dishes such as sushi and spicy stir-fry. I would also recommend this wine for novice white wine drinkers who are not quite ready to sample anything very dry. Delicious! $12.00.

There is a lot of Pinot Noir out there now and some of it is questionable. Sometimes, all it can take is a magazine article, word of mouth or even a movie to turn something into a cash cow. I have been shying away from Pinot Noir for this reason. Pinot Noir can be pricey and you must have your facts in line before spending the money these days or you may end up with something not so good. With Oregon wines, there is no need to panic! I sampled two of Willamette Valley Vineyards' Pinot Noirs and both were exquisite and great buys for the price point.

The first one was the 2007 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir. This one is what I call their "Entry-level" Pinot Noir. This was a light and very juicy wine--bursting with red fruit. Cranberries and tart cherries, spiciness and earth. Very nice long finish. Really enjoyable. I paired mine up with roasted salmon and it fared nicely. $25.00.

The next one I took with me to a restaurant one evening. The 2007 Willamette Valley Vineyards Tualatin Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir. What a beautiful wine this was! This was single vineyard Pinot Noir at its finest! I close my eyes and smile when I think of the experience! This was a full-bodied melange of raspberry, cranberry and pomegranates, smoky and spicy with toasted graham cracker and cinnamon flavors. So heavenly! Lush but tough enough to stand up to my grilled filet mignon. This wine will pair well with pork, lamb and gamey meats. So rich and powerful.$40.00.

With such handcrafted wines and careful attention and commitment to excellence, this winery has it all! They will continue to strive to be the Best of the Best! I have to say, I am pretty excited and impressed by them and am really looking forward to meeting with Christine at the conference. I hope to sample some more of their wines and maybe actually visit the winery in the near future. Thanks to Christine Collier and the winery team for bringing such nice wines to my attention!

For those of you who are interested in purchasing these wines, the first two are generally available in fine wine shops and markets nationwide. The single vineyard Pinot Noir is currently available for order. Please check them out!