Friday, October 16, 2009


Wednesday (October 7) was a busy day for us Road Trippers. Today, despite a later wake-up call (7 a.m.), we were spending most of the afternoon driving from Yakima Valley to Woodinville, a 3 hour trip (feeling a bit like Gilligan). Our day began though with some winery exercises (a reverse of the previous day), with my group hopping the bus aptly named “Truckin’” to sojourn off to Hogue Cellars.

When we arrived at Hogue, we were initiated into the surprisingly fascinating art of data collecting regarding the phenolic content of Hogue’s wines. It is apparently a really big innovation in winemaking, so much so that after a ten-year study, this manner of statistical analysis is being sought after by winemakers around the world. I have always known Hogue’s red wines were particularly big and tannic – I still have a few older vintage Reserve Merlots in my cellar. Now I know why. The research they have spent a decade compiling has yielded dramatically powerful, forceful wines with enormous tannic grip.

The day became a bit convoluted itinerary-wise when we met up in the parking lot of Airfield Estates to switch buses and go off onto our vineyard exercise, which saw me board “Low Rider” and head out to the acclaimed Bouchey Vineyard, source for wines from Betz Family, McCrea, DeLille, Long Shadows, Three Rivers, and many more. Dick Bouchey took us on a tour of several vineyard lots before coming to rest at a particular plot, where we met up with his wife, and a view of numerous grape varieties and a few examples of their finished wines. Tasting the grapes and then tasting the wines made from these grapes was an interesting exercise, one that gave us a more complete perspective of what it takes to create these beautiful wines. Of course, it wouldn’t have been complete without some food to ease the imminent afternoon buzz, topped off by Mrs. Bouchey’s amazing chocolate truffles (I think I have a cavity from the four I ate).

From there, we stopped off at a general store, where one of my fellow roadtrippers picked up some homemade fried chicken, and we headed out to what I feel was the highlight of the trip, a visit to the venerable Red Willow Vineyard.

Red Willow Vineyard can be found at the northwest corner of Yakima Valley, on the southern slopes of Ahtanum Ridge, near the Yakima Indian Reservation. Mike Sauer, the legendary vineyard manager there, oversees some of the most hallowed ground in Washington State, something akin to La Tache, Richebourg, or La Chapelle. Indeed, atop one of the hilltops on the property, sits a small chapel, similar to the one found in Northern Rhone’s La Chapelle vineyard. On this site, Mike Sauer, longtime Columbia winemaker David Lake, Washington viticulturist Dr. Walter Clore, and others, planted the very first Syrah vines here, and as legend has it, buried bottles of Hermitage and other Northern Rhone reds to edify the vines, show them what they were to grow up to be.

It was there that we attended a Comparative Syrah tasting, led once again by our Education Director, along with speakers Mike Sauer, Gramercy Cellars winemaker Greg Harrington, and our fellow roadtripper, Jason Smith M.S., the wine director for the Bellagio in Las Vegas. It was a bit somber due to the fact that Washington State wine pioneer David Lake has passed away earlier in the week, succumbing to a long illness. Mike was still reeling from the loss, and offered up a touching toast to his dear friend along with us. I would say that my visit to Red Willow was almost a religious experience.

Leaving Red Willow, we boarded the buses and headed off for Woodinville, where we hit the hotel, what would be our final night’s stay in Washington, before venturing off to Chateau Ste. Michelle for a magnificent dinner with such terrific winemakers as Bob Betz – another Washington wine luminary, John Bigelow (of JM Cellars) and Brennon Leighton of Efeste.
After dinner, we returned to the hotel, where I decided that the mass quantities of wine were not enough, and exercised some of my homesick demons with a few glasses of Jack Daniels and cola. The hangover gods would have something marvelous in store for me in the morning.

Next up, the finalé!

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