Sunday, July 31, 2011

Château Ste. Michelle & Various Tasting Rooms: June 2011

After a trip to Pullman in March, I was dying to get back to the best, er west coast, I hadn't seen the fam since Christmas and it was just so relaxing to be away from DC. I began mulling over the idea of heading to Seattle in late June for the rock 'n' roll half-not quite sure why I can't just go someplace to visit, but my brain makes me rationalize trips highlighting a list of all the things I could do on one trip: the whole kill 2 birds with 1 stone scenario. Well sadly my great grandma passed in May; she went peacefully a couple of months after her 102nd birthday and a call from my aunt indicated that the service would be June 4 in Seattle. She was a funny little lady who once accused me of stealing her teeth and thought for a long time that I was going off to the war in Iraq instead of the Peace Corps in Moldova-she finally got the Peace Corps thing straight after I'd been there for a year. I did a quick search for tickets and found that they were reasonable and after chatting with my sisters figured if they could come up I could definitely make a long weekend out of it.

I arrived on Thursday night and kicked off Friday with Amy, Mike, Nate & Colin. Thanks to Mike's influence things may have gotten a bit carried away, but I had a great time with great friends and that night really set the tone for the rest of my summer. By the time Sunday rolled around Mom, Jenny, Jodie and Dave had to head back to Boise, but I wasn't taking the redeye until Monday night. After a great brunch they hit the road and I met up with my good friend Jen for some Washington wine tasting.

Jen is a wine club member at Chateau Ste. Michelle so that was our first stop since she needed to pick up their monthly selections. We tasted 2 or 3 wines that she was getting then headed over the the regular tasting room for standard tasting. For $10 you had your choice of 4 wines from a list of 8, a bit steep compared to Virginia, but it was a well established vineyard and we ended up getting ours for free since Jen was a member. When we started Jen made sure to note that it was in fact my birthday (hers was the following weekend) and they added a bit of bubbly to the tasting. The wines were pretty good and we ended up walking out with several. Chateau Ste. Michelle was very large, the tasting room wound around and was half gift shop half wine bar. Outside the grounds were very expansive and great for picnicking.

After this tasting we perused the free tasting cards Jen had picked up at the Taste of Seattle and the one our waitress had given me at brunch. It turned out all of the tasting rooms were in the same industrial business park in Woodinville. The first sight of said tasting rooms was a definite turn off, but once inside each was very unique. It turns out that most of the wine grown in Washington is in the Columbia river valley, no big surprise there. Many of the vintners purchase grapes from several different growers and blend their wines. Very different than Virginia, as some vintners will buy their grapes from one other vineyard, yet each winery is set in the middle of the their own vineyards which is one of the reasons I enjoy visiting them so much.

Our first stop was Kestrel Vintners, the tasting room was light and airy, not at all what we expected coming in  and their furniture was made from old barrels. Next up Patterson Cellars, I remember thinking the wines there were not too impressive, but I was also very distracted by the large, green four-leaf clover tattoo on the chest of our middle aged server. After that we stumbled to Woods Lake Winery, I don't remember this one at all and the only reason I have added it is because I still have a bottle of their 2007 Cabernet Franc on my shelf compliments of Jen. The last stop was Barrage Cellars and I do remember slipping into this one just before closing. We had a great time chatting up the owner, checking out their cork border in the bathroom and trying wines they brought in from other wineries. While chatting and sipping at Barrage with an adorable little old lady who was clearly a regular we asked about where to go for dinner. This lady was too cute and not only instructed us to go to Russell's , she acted as our personal guide and lead us all the way there! With no corking fee and the most amazing lobster bisque and filet minion it was so worth it. I highly recommend it to anyone in the area. Suburb!

I still have my 2008 Cab Franc from Barrage and also made it home with a bottle of Ste Chapelle Huckleberry wine from Idaho thanks to Mom. Many people think Washington is all about the Riesling and while they have a lot of that, one could tell from my weighted suitcase they have a lot of the Cabernet Franc as well. The next time I'm in Washington I would love to get out to the actual vineyards throughout the Columbia & Yakima Valley; perhaps that means I'll have to plan a week long trip meandering that great state, stopping to see old friends and catching a football game while I'm there.

**Update 8/18/11, upon further inspection of the Woodslake wine I found that it is actually a Patterson Cellar wine, not sure how they go together, but that would be why I don't remember that winery at all.
Having a great time with Jen!

Another PNW gem

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Château O'Brien Winery & Fox Meadow: May 2011

This time Debbie, Kelly, Jon & Dan piled in and we headed due west from DC towards Front Royal and Linden.   I mapped out a sandwich shop in Haymarket on our way out there. The 5 of us inundated this poor guy at his shop right as he was opening and getting his ice cream delivery, it was a small town and he obviously wasn't ready for an 11am rush on a Saturday; though he did whip up some good sammies under pressure.

Our westward drive was very nice, that route is very green as it heads up the into the mountains and there was hardly anyone else on the road. When we got to Chateau O'Brien the tasting room sat just above the level of fog, it was a beautiful view. O'Brien had a lot of bold reds, one of which I still have on my shelf. It was spicy and strong and would be best served with a really good steak, any takers? O'Brien had a small tasting room and there were about 6-8 wines on the standard list, they also had a reserve tasting in a separate room that we passed on. Outside they had a great covered patio that looked out over the vineyards and hills so we opted to eat our lunch there. I really enjoyed this winery, the staff was friendly, they have a mascot "Buddy" the bulldog, its just off the main road, but feels a world away from anything. I think it would be great to go back to in the fall for the view and their rich reds would be more enjoyable then.

Stop number two was a few miles up the road at Fox Meadow Winery. I picked this place and weekend for two reasons, one Jill's boyfriend lives right up the road so they could join us and two they were hosting a vertical wine tasting. Unfortunately Jill was sent to Florida to work for a few months, but Brad was still able to meet up with us at Fox Meadow. The drive was windy road weaving up the mountain that almost reminded me of driving up to McCall in Idaho, but much foggier. Once there we did the standard and vertical tastings. The vertical tasting was great, when you start you have 4 of the same wines from different years in front of you. In this case they were all Le Renard Rouge from consecutive years 2005 to 2008. The owner walked us through the different years and had us taste each then go back to compare. 2005 and 2007 happened to be drought years and you could definitely taste the difference, these were my least favorites. I think I liked 2006 the best, but was outweighed by the crew when purchasing time came around as everyone else voted for the 2005.

The standard tasting included 5 wines with pairings. The most interesting was the Pinot Gris served with a rice crispy treat! It was a good combo, but the Gris was not my fav. They had a Viognier that I liked the best, go figure, and the grapes were actually grown at Berryhill Vineyard and then processed at Fox Meadow. I did like that they told you where the grapes were from, which were grown onsite and which were purchased from other vineyards. I'll probably head back to this for a visit because the fog was so thick we didn't get the mountain top view and Dan & Debbie, the little devils that they are, added my name to their email mailing list so I keep getting info about their upcoming events.
The Crew at Chateau O'Brien
Ladies lunching!
Dan posing for the perfect portrait
Looking out over O'Brien
Vertical tasting in the cellar at Fox Meadow
Sipping on the deck
Looking out over the deck
Walking past the vines

Friday, July 22, 2011

Gray Ghost Winery & Narmada Winery: April 2011

Marlene came for a visit, yay! Every time she's here I try to think up something fun to do because plain old DC can't compete with the Big Apple and her live shows, I mean you don't see me on any stage! Lucky for us she was able to come down on a great wine touring weekend. We, Marlene, Lori, and I, headed out to Warrenton, VA, first stop Gray Ghost Vineyards. The tasting room was very spacious and airy, like it was in an old barn. While sipping we asked about the man on their labels and it got interesting. "Gray Ghost" is the nickname given to Colonel John S. Mosby of the Confederacy during the Civil War for his ability to infiltrate the Union lines. The vineyard is located along one of Mosby's routes and "naming the winery and the vineyards Gray Ghost is our way of recognizing Mosby's contribution to history as well as all the other Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy."  Mosby never referred to himself as the Gray Ghost, but the label was made with his handwriting lifted from letters. Way to start a tasting with some Civil War history and the fact that some Virginians still cling to the Confederacy.  As for the wine, they had a lot of light, sweet whites which Marlene and Lori took to much more than I did.

After sipping a glass outside we crossed the street, er highway, to Narmada Winery. This is the site of the previous company parties where things got crazy. Lucky for us it was a lazy Saturday so there were no miscellaneous shenanigans, just some nice wine and good Indian food. We went from the Confederacy to India in 5 minutes, quite a difference. Having been to Narmada pre-tasting room, the tasting room was quite impressive, very modern, but cozy (with a fireplace I think) and lots of art. My favorite part would have to be the peacock feathers embedded into the counter top and the little peacock logos.  I came home with a bottle of Reflection and may have even liked the Yash-Vir better.  As for that afternoon, we opted for a bottle of the Viognier with some butter chicken and other good bites on the patio as it turned out to be a really nice day. Definitely recommend checking it out and saying hi to the Patil's as they are the nicest people, its been fun to see the changes out there with all the work they've put into the winery.
Lori & Mar imbibing at Gray Ghost
On the deck at Narmada
Inside at Narmada

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Horton Vineyards (part II): April 2011

Well its been a few days, er weeks. So I left you at Autumn Hill and on the road to Horton Vineyards. From the view Horton is stunning, its like a little castle surrounded by picturesque vines. Because the storm was clearing when we got their, the gray skies contrasted with the sun and greenery to make a gorgeous view. Once inside it was everything that Autumn Hill was not. There were bedazzled t-shirts, souvenir nuts & chocolates, aerators, every wine accessory possible crowding the entry with a tasting table practically in the middle of everything. This wasn't the only tasting table, this was the reds, the "L" shaped bar had the whites, fruit and chocolate wines. Oh you read correctly. This place had 40 wines and for something like $8 you got to try 12 or 15. Crazy! The reds, not so hot, they had one red table wine that was alright. None of the whites really stood out to me either, but what we all did enjoy were the fruit wines, specifically the peach and pear. They were a little sweet, but not too much so, a good refreshing summer sipper that could also mix with champagne or sparkling water.  Yum! The chocolate wines were odd, I think the regular chocolate tasted like real chocolate, which was really odd and the white chocolate was way too sweet. After all of us meandered through the excessively over crowded room to finish our tastings I think we almost all left with a bottle of the peach wine. After sitting on site drinking the peach with a red things got a little bit crazy.

We decided to enjoy the rest of the bottle outside, but on the way out someone spotted some Swisher Sweets (yes the same ones you tried in high school with the plastic tips) and picked them up. They were promptly doled out to each member of the crew. Kelly, Dan and Adam had wandered into the vineyards or someplace away from Debbie and I when I spotted a little blue ball sitting in a puddle. It almost looked like a mini Easter egg, a solid bright blue. After a few glasses I was curious so I picked it up under Deb's close eye and shook it to see if it was hollow or not, nothing. I looked for the seam to see if I could pop it open, no dice. So I shook it again and squeezed it lightly, still nada. Now I'm really getting curious about this funny ball, so I sqeezed harder...then POP! The little blue egg that it was burst all over my face and sweater! After my initial shock wore off we couldn't stop laughing about it. Meanwhile we found the others in vineyard and had a little photo session.

As photo session ended and hungry tummies got a little feisty we opted to go to Charlottesville for dinner since it was much closer than DC. What followed was dinner at Miller's (the bar where Dave Matthews got his start) where we made fun of a snoring server on break, who wasn't a server at all, but in fact the owner! Then we wandered down to a little Greek place where we sat outside and listed to the Drive By Truckers play in the amphitheater as our host had his new bartender whip up amazing mojitos and the feisty ones continued to be feisty even after their meal. Awkward. The concert was great, and once it finished we, the girls, stared in awe as we watched tall, cute guy after tall, cute guy in flops, ripped jeans and/or shaggy hair leave the concert. We were so ready to move to Charlottesville after that! The drive back was quiet as I was very sober and everyone else dozed off. Tip of the day: if you get feisty on my tour you probably won't get invited back, so stick to the happy drunk and its fun all around!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Autumn Hill Vineyard (part I): April 2011

The Meeting Spot: Chinatown Arch
The Day: Dark and Rainy
The Crew: Debbie, Kelly, Dan & Adam
Destination: Charlottesville-ish

I'm pulling up to the meeting spot, I see the boys running over with their coffees in hand, Kelly joins the crew; but where is Debbie? Did we miss her? She is always so prompt, always (inadvertently) making me feel terrible about arriving 15 minutes late to everything, which I always am because she is always 15 minutes early. Did she get lost? Is she ok? As she texts Dan status updates we find it was the bus, of course, I've used that one before.

We hit the road heading southwest from DC. In my search for wineries I found one that was only open 2 weekends in the spring and 2 in the fall with pairings and one just happened to be on a weekend we blocked for wine tasting. Here we come Autumn Hill Vineyard! It was really rainy and once we got within 10 miles of the winery, the roads dissipated into gravel which quickly became mud.  All the while I'm thinking this place must be good if they are very limited in their public tastings and its quite the hike to the rural hillsides near Charlottesville. We arrived and the place practically looked deserted, but we drove almost 2 hours in the pouring rain, might as well check. Sure enough it was the right place and it was open for business. It was quite the rural experience, very, very rustic. It was like we had walked into an unfinished barn, particle board floors and an unfinished loft. This sight and the fact that when I asked the proprietress why they were only open 4 times a year she said "because we have lives and grandchildren," pretty much turned me off this place; at first.

The pairing we found was just cheese, but they did have quite a bit of cheese and crackers which was a good thing since they were also holding a cellar tour and tasting after the standard tasting. We all bellied up to the "bar" and began our tour which included about 5 wines and finished with 3 mystery wines. That was pretty fun, guessing what you were tasting based on what they grew and when.  After purchasing a few bottles and munching in the loft it was time for the cellar tour. The proprietor gave the tour and he was warm, engaging and had a definite passion for wine making. A few barrel tastings with him and my attitude quickly changed. He had us sample 2 young wines from the barrel, not quite ready to be bottled. He also gave us a lesson in French & American Oak barrels. The average French oak toasted barrel runs about $950 and is only good for I want to say 3-5 years (?) depending on the type of wine.  After that the barrel can still be used, but the wine won't be getting any of its flavor from the barrel so at Autumn Hill they use the more cost effective oak sticks so they can reuse the barrels.  As I've learned I'm much more of a steel chardonnay fan than an oak chardonnay fan so if I ever have a winery my whites are going in steel.

I'm super sleepy and losing creativity so I'll finish this one up later...have a good weekend! And if you are reading this, please sign up to follow me or at least leave a comment or something! Thanks! 'Nite!
The cramped cellar at Autumn Hill

Thursday, July 7, 2011

David Bruce: October 2010

Silly me, I skipped right over a California tasting in October of 2010! The sole purpose of that trip was to run the Nike Women's Marathon (pun intended), so the wine tasting memory fell almost to the wayside. As you may know I was prepping for my second marathon, but life happens and I had to switch to the half. What a run, not a PR, but not my worst either. The views of San Fran were breathtaking and I'm glad I ran that brutally hilly course, although I doubt I'll do it again. I'll probably avoid future women's races unless bringing a new runner into the fold. I'm definitely not on my way to Boston, but I like to keep my pace up and it was impossible with so many walkers and ladies who I'm sure didn't start in the proper corrals. It was like dodging tourists on the metro escalators!  Perhaps I should start planning for another full or maybe I'll just start looking into a tri; that is if I can overcome my fear of biking in the city.

Oh wine, right! Well I was lucky enough to spend the better part of 4 or 5 days in San Fran with Karena, my original running buddy from our '07 TNT days. She has a fab spot on Russian Hill and it was so accessible to everything, phenomenal! Such a great hostess too! After the expo, finding my name on the Nike Town wall, race day and a leisurely weekend Karena had to go back to work and I meet up with some Cougs. First up, a catch up lunch with the Dobels-Trisha, Andy and their little one, who is quite tall, Micheal. It had been ages since I saw them! Wait first I met up with Christina, for beers, but I don't remember which day that was, too many fun people that weekend.

Next up was an afternoon with Ainslie; I was already down near San Jose for lunch with the Dobels so I met Ainslie at the park and we headed out on the winding hills of Santa Cruz to David Bruce Winery.  My experience was different from most the VA wineries. It was much more industrial looking, very beautiful but built as a business rather than a home and the standard tasting was only 4 or 5 wines instead of 7-8. The tasting was also very professional, very much to the point, not much leisurely conversation with who ever poured for us. We had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Bruce and his wines-primarily Pinot Noir-were quite enjoyable. I think I was trying to up my game and threw in some tasting words like "tannins" or something which worked to our advantage and got us some extra sips of the reserve wines. After coming down out of the mountains we went back to San Fran for some crabs on the warf. Oh the buttery goodness! I was dying for some Old Bay, but nobody even knew what that was, not even the chef! Crazy!

Caught running', I miss eucalyptus trees! 
Yes, I ran for my bling that came in a little blue box
Oh right, here is David Bruce