Thursday, October 15, 2009


Monday (October 5th) was an early one. After sleeping off the middle-aged pain I just had to encounter my first trip to Seattle, I awoke at 4:30 a.m. (well, it was 7:30 back home, usually when I was already in the car and on the way to work), to shower and collect myself before heading back to Sea-Tac to fly to the wee-little town of Pasco, WA (part of the Tri-Cities area). All was good, and the WWC was keeping us on schedule until we arrived at the gate and discovered our little plane was delayed nearly an hour.

After touching down in Pasco, we boarded our appropriated buses (I ended up on the one called “Born To Run”) and headed out to our first vineyard exercise in Walla Walla. I was lucky enough to go to one of my favorite wineries, Spring Valley Vineyards. Hanging out in the vineyards (after a really brief breakfast – something had to be abbreviated to put us back on time) with winemaker Serge Laville, we got our first lesson in canopy management, or how we keep from turning the grapes into raisins 101. Serge walked us through row after row of beautiful Merlot and Cabernet Franc vines, as well as demonstrating the various stages of a wine’s evolution by tasting some wines in varying stages of ferment.

Once done, “Born to Run” headed to the Marcus Whitman Hotel in downtown Walla Walla, where we met up with the rest of the group for a Comparative Riesling Tasting, to be led by our Education Director, Shayn Bjornholm, and a panel of Riesling experts. Washington prides itself on being a world leader in Riesling, and I believe (if memory serves) the Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling is the top selling Riesling in the world. I may be wrong there, but you get the idea – Washington is a big player when it comes to this noble grape. The format for this tasting was simple: we tried 3 Washington State Rieslings, and then tasted 6 more Riesling blind, to determine which ones were Washington State, and which ones were of more international origin (Australia, Germany, Austria, Alsace, etc.). It was a very fascinating exercise, one that I know opened many eyes (and palates) in that room.

After the tasting, lunch was served in the parking lot, via the Taco La Monarca taco truck, which serves up the best f-n tacos on earth. It was dine-on-the-run, as we were scooped up by our Walla Walla winery hosts, and transported to various wineries for our afternoon exercises. My small group headed out with Chad and Corey, winemakers for Dusted Valley Vineyards, to do a few chores in their facility such as “punch-downs” and “pump-overs” and we even went all Bill-Nye-Science-Guy by working a bit in the lab (my Liberal Arts background really helped in that part of the exercise).

Dinner was precluded by a tasting of nearly 20 producers from the Walla Walla, all conducted at L’Ecole Winery’s tasting room. Some of the best wines from Abeja, Beresan, Bergevin Lane, Buty (pronounced Beauty), Cougar Crest, Dunham, Dusted Valley, Gramercy, L’Ecole (of course), Long Shadows Vintners, Nicolas Cole, Northstar, Pepper Bridge, Reininger, Seven Hills, Sleight of Hand, Spring Valley, Walla Walla Vintners, Waterbrook, Waters, and Woodward Canyon were present. I was looking forward to Tamarack Cellars being there, but alas they were a no-show.
Some of the standouts were everything from Abeja and Buty, the Beresan Cabernet Franc, the Nicolas Cole wines, the Seven Hills Pentad, and the Apogee and Perigee from L’Ecole, although I must say I didn’t have a bad wine all night.

We were served dinner just a walk down the road at L’Ecole’s next door neighbors, Woodward Canyon, and were plunged into an evening of debauchery and reverie, with several of the local winemakers joining us. It was a very communal spirit that permeated the day, with the strange feeling that we were more extended family than mere guests. Day two had truly been an amazing day.

Next stop, the Tri-Cities!

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