Happy New Year!

Oh, hi! Happy new year! Yup, I’m still here. Thanks for checking in 🙂 I hope you had a grand holiday season and had some tasty wines. You know I did.

If how you spend your new year’s eve is an indication of what the following year will be like, 2014 is going to be absolutely fabulous for me. I spent the days leading up to the new year in the Willamette Valley in Oregon and Woodinville in Washington.

Anxious to taste Willamette Pinot Noirs, we booked a two night hotel in Portland arriving the evening before and sampled the Valley’s wines for a day. In short, we weren’t disappointed.

Willamette Pinot Noir Glasses

Riedel makes specific glasses  for Willamette Pinot Noir.

While talking to a the personable and knowledgeable guys at Dobbes tasting room in Dundee, we discovered we weren’t saying Willamette the way they do. Theatrically, they exclaimed, “It’s the Willamette, damn it!”

Dobbes Family Estates

Make sure to visit Dobbes when you’re in the Willamette Valley.

Although Portland is a pretty city and only about a 40 minute drive north of Dundee, my next visit will have me staying in the actual wine region. It’s easier to discover so much more of the region that way!

When we visited Woodinville, we stayed at the Hyatt House in Redmond, WA, just a short 15 minute drive away. To give you an idea where that is, Woodinville is about half an hour north of Seattle. Known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay, we spent two full days walking from tasting room to tasting room. I love the concept of a bunch of tasting rooms in a concentrated area.

Columbia winery

Outside the Columbia tasting room in Woodinville. Next to it are other tasting rooms.

The vineyards aren’t in Woodinville. There are wineries and there’s a good concentration of just tasting rooms in the centre of town. What a great concept having tasting rooms to expose the region’s wines to a greater population (in this case Seattle). Would love to see something like this in the Vancouver area!

This year, I want to visit more wine regions, combining my passion for travel and wine. And I want to keep with this blog going. Are you guys enjoying my posts? What else would you like to read or learn about?

Make sure you come back next Wednesday as I dive further into my travels in the Willamette and Woodinville.

8 Things I Learned About Wine from Walla Walla

Walla Walla was fan-freaking-tastic! It took us a long time to get there (Google Maps said 7 hours, but with a slight detour to Seattle to eat at our favourite pizza place and being stuck on interstate 90 for at least an hour because apparently everyone on the west coast of Washington heads east on long weekends, it was a 10+ hour journey. It was one with beautiful scenery though and that made the long drive much more bearable.

Seattle to Walla Walla

The changing scenery from Seattle on our way to Walla Walla.

I really liked that there were numerous tasting rooms downtown, where you’d likely stay so you don’t have to go far or drive at least for a good portion of the day. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to check out the ones downtown, occupying ourselves instead in the east side, south side and a little bit in the west side over the two full days we had there. I loved that you can just pick an area and not have to drive too far, if at all (the east side is the most condensed). To get from one area to the next is not too far either.

Walla Walla wineries are interesting and the wines oh-so-tasty. Here are eight things I learned about the region.

1. Walla Walla was put on the wine world map by Chateau Ste. Michelle, Washington state’s oldest winery.

2. Most wineries source their wines from vineyards in the larger surrounding area. Having really only experienced two regions — the Okanagan a few years ago and Niagara-on-the-Lake (NotL) earlier this summer — I was surprised that the majority of wineries we visited don’t have have their own vineyard.

Walla Walla Washington

Vines are here for show at Tamarack Cellars. Actually, they could be used since they’re Merlot grapes, we were told.

I’m going to take a moment to explain the difference between winery and vineyard as they may be used interchangeably by those who don’t know. A winery is where the grapes are fermented into wine (the actual facility) and a vineyard is where the grapes are grown. Mission Hill in the Okanagan, for example, grow their own grapes and make their wine from those grapes. They have complete control over their wine from start (grapes) to finish (wine). And to introduce a new term, Mission Hill therefore is an estate.

I’m used to visiting estates, where we get a tour of the vineyard followed by the winery and finally, sampling some of the wines. It’s a great way to see the difference in how a small winery (about 2000 cases or less if I remember correctly from what I learned in NotL) operates versus a medium (about 9000 cases) versus a large.

3. The Syrahs in Walla Walla are not just good, they’re amazing! We bought a 2005 Syrah from Morrison Lane. Every Syrah we tasted was a kickass one.

4. They also make fantastic Bordeaux style reds which is a blend of some and only the grapes grown in the Bordeaux region of France: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petite Verdot, Merlot and Carmenere.

5. People in the trade are passionate! You’re not going to come across a summer student just there to earn a few bucks (like the sort of experience at the Jackson Triggs tasting room in NotL. The girl serving us couldn’t tell us anything about the wines except what was already written on the labels. We quickly left). In Walla Walla, everyone we spoke with knew their shit.

This lovely young lady at Dunham Cellars could spit out facts about the winery and Walla Walla like she owns it.

This lovely young lady at Dunham Cellars could spit out facts about the winery and Walla Walla like she owns it.

6. The Walla Walla Valley extends into Oregon. A winery could be located in Washington and grapes grown in Oregon. As long as the vineyard is located in the Walla Walla Valley which is an American Viticulture Area (AVA), then the bottle can be labelled as Walla Walla Valley.

Walla Walla Valley Wine Region

Map courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

7. College Cellars has a two year wine program where students make the wine they put out in the market. After learning the basics the first year, in the second year, students get to decide how they want to make their wine. So tasty what students produce that one of their wines won Best Carménère at the 2012 San Francisco International Wine Competition. 

College Cellars

The knowledgeable woman showcasing the winning wine students made.

Most students at College Cellars have already had a career, being in their mid to late 30s; they enroll in the program after deciding to pursue their interest or passion. The College’s graduate career placement rate is 80%.

8. The average winery in Walla Walla makes about 2500 cases a year. Of the wineries we visited, the smallest, Kontos, produces about 900 cases a year while the largest, Tamarack, does about 25,000 cases a year. 

Two full days almost wasn’t enough time to explore Walla Walla’s wonderful wine. I definitely would not have minded another day or two.

Have you been to the Walla Walla region? Tell me what you learned if you have. If you haven’t, is this somewhere you would want to go?

Combining Two Passions: Travel and Wine

I’m a traveller and I like to drink wine. Yet, I haven’t visited as many wine regions as I’d like. When I was younger while travelling western Europe, I didn’t have the same level of appreciation for the wine making process or the curiosity as I do now. So this year, I decided that since I’m staying close to home (travelling within North America), I’d try to visit as many wine regions in Canada and the US as possible and combine my two passions, travel and wine.

In June, we explored Niagara-on-the-Lake, wine country in southern Ontario about a 90-minute drive from Toronto and 30 minutes from Buffalo. The region has been producing great whites for years and is particularly known for ice wine. I believe it’s gaining a decent reputation with its reds as well.

Ice wine fact: Grapes must be picked at “a sustained temperature of -8 C° or less” in order for it be called ice wine in Canada.

The city Niagara-on-the-Lake (NotL) is a well-preserved historic town and even if you live nearby, like I did while growing up in Hamilton, you should take at least a weekend trip there and step back into the 19th century.

Niagara on the Lake

This perfectly preserved town is almost too perfect to be an actual town.

A bed and breakfast in Niagara on the Lake

A 19th century home converted into a business.

NotL is surrounded by vineyards and a wine tour here is super easy as vineyards are literally side-by-side.  We loved visiting the small wineries, and one of them, Riverview Cellars told us that the small wineries in the area help each other out by referring visitors to each others’ tours.

Riverview in Niagara on the Lake

Riverview Cellars winery. A family-run vineyard and winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Photo from wineriesofniagaraonthelake.com.

It’s a tight-knit community and every September, there’s a big festival. I liked the quaintness of the area and the camaraderie among the smaller wineries.

But I won’t be returning to NotL for the festival in September. Instead, you can catch me in Walla Walla for four days. Walla Walla, what? By now you know I didn’t make a typo. I have this strange urge to get up and dance while saying Walla Walla repeatedly. Walla Walla, what? Walla Walla. 

Located in southeast Washington, Walla Walla is known for not only wine, but onions, too! Here’s what Wikipedia had to say about it (I edited parts out for conciseness):

Walla Walla is the largest city in and the county seat of Walla Walla County, Washington, United States. The population was 31,731 at the 2010 census. Walla Walla is in the southeastern region of Washington, approximately four hours by car from Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, and thirteen miles from the Oregon border.

Walla Walla is famous for its sweet onions. Many wineries are located in the area.

In July 2011, USA Today selected Walla Walla as the friendliest small town in the United States.

The region makes very tasty Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots and Syrahs, apparently. Based on what I’ve read, people not too long ago were saying that it’s the next Napa. The rolling hills are reminiscent of the California region and I think it has experienced rapid growth like Napa did in the 70s and 80s. I’ve gleaned from other articles, though, that they don’t care to be like their California cousins. Good for them! Walla Walla today has over 180 wineries and plenty of tasting rooms, even in the city. Needless to say, I’m excited!

A trip to Napa Valley seems to be the next obvious place to go, but to tell you the truth, I’m more interested in Sonoma and Russian River. I will eventually make my way to all three. Another obvious is the Okanagon. I spent a summer weekend in 2009, but it’s time to go back, you know, with my newly acquired WSET level 2 knowledge and all!

Which wine regions in Canada and the US have you visited and where do you think I should head to next?