Friday, May 22, 2009

It's About the Place

We are into dirt here. Not sure why; maybe for me it was the mud pie making as a kid, maybe it was seeing strangers walk up to our secluded yard to admire my mother's flower garden because they heard about it from someone else or maybe it was the time I spent on my grandparents’ farm with the cows, chickens, timothy hay and creek to play in. In all likelihood, the fact that both Rick and my grandparents on both sides were farmers probably has a lot to do with it. Rick himself was raised on and drove combine on the Woodward Canyon farm where our Estate Vineyard now grows. One of my favorite cinematographic moments is in “Gone with the Wind” when Scarlet holds up a handful of her beloved Tara to the heavens and essentially declares "Bring it on, I have my dirt!"

The dirt here is unique. That was one factor in the government's approval of our Walla Walla Valley appellation. Not only is there the wine appellation, but there is also an officially designated growing area for Walla Walla Sweet Onions – Walla Walla Sweets grown elsewhere are not Walla Walla Sweets. There is a taste of place here.

In addition to our dirt, we love the Walla Walla Valley. It too is unique and has a sense of place. Walla Walla is an authentic small town with character and history. It and the wine industry have developed organically over time - not part of some master plan or by trying to imitate Tuscany or Bordeaux.

Those places have developed the same way over time. That is what the "romance of the vineyards" is all about. It is more than the wine; it is about the landscape, the people and their culture. People make pilgrimages to wine country to drink the wine, eat the food and soak in the atmosphere. Bordeaux is not Burgundy and Napa is not Paso. This is what makes wine different from other agricultural products. How many people have ever collared you at a dinner party and told you of their amazing trip to Kansas where they ate this fabulous corn and how different that corn is from the corn they recently sampled in Pasco, Washington? My guess is not many.

So, where the heck am I going with this you ask? We recently have been receiving offers to open a tasting room in the Puget Sound –which is another appellation. In fact, during Spring Release a very nice woman asked me if she could get a brochure about a "wine village" being built there out of her car for me and informed me that a number of other Eastern Washington wineries were interested. I did not say it, but the first thing that came to my mind was my mother repeating the old adage that "you don't have to jump off the bridge just because everyone else is". I just began shaking my head "no".

I told her that we are a Walla Walla winery and while not all of our fruit is grown here, we grow an increasing proportion and we produce all of it here. We are defined by being a Walla Walla winery. We are not here just to use the name; we are a part of the fabric of the Valley and it of us. The Bordelaise do not have tasting rooms in Alsace or Champagne – they are Bordelaise. Stag's Leap wineries do not have tasting rooms in Carneros – they are not of Carneros. We don't want to become a mere storefront, minus the romance and essence of wine country. I politely declined the nice lady's offer.

It all comes down to the fact that this is our "place". We are a Walla Walla winery and we are damn proud of it.

Darcey / Woodward Canyon

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A windy day at Woodward Canyon Estate Vineyard!

I just got back to my desk after checking the vineyard and the wind is blowing as I hard as I can ever remember. And I’ve lived here all my life! While spring is a fabulous time to be in the vineyard, with new shoot growth of green and pink, it is also the time of year when the wind can blow incessantly, especially after rain. It once again reminds me how appreciative I am of our vineyard crew and how hard they work even on days such as this.

Well, the vines are truly growing now and I believe that we will probably have our first application of organic sulfur (mildew prevention) on by the third week in May. It is also going to be a year where a great deal of hand work will need to take place. In fact we will probably start this process tomorrow if the weather is better. Shoot positioning, leaf stripping, lateral removal and finally cluster thinning is all part of the seasonal process leading to perfect physiological vine and grape maturity. The flavor of grapes grown this way is superb; complex, purity of fruit and with vine age, minerals. One bottle of wine per vine is our reward and yours.

Here’s to a great 2009 vintage!


Friday, May 8, 2009

The Woody Team Rocks!

We always knew that the Woody crew rocked but let me tell you, they really ROCK!
Getting ready for and executing any event like Spring Release Weekend always takes coordination and a lot of work, but this year we also had a new building (our Reserve House - pictured above) to get open for the tasting and then the following Wednesday we hosted the Washington Wine Commission's export tour – 8 members of the foreign trade for lunch and then a tasting for 60 with 15 other wineries present.

The week of Spring Release we were pretty ready for the usual tasting, but due to the finishing of the floors we could not get into the new building until Tuesday – meaning no furniture was in place, appliances were still being installed and the building was very dusty.

Zero landscaping was in place too. Monday, Kiko and Manuel from the cellar and I hauled and spread gravel for the new garden and Jorge and Hermenegildo from the vineyard laid the gravel paths and prepped for the sod.

Tuesday morning dawned and it was raining cats and dogs, so absolutely nothing was accomplished in terms of moving into the building or installing the landscaping. Things were getting a little tense since the clock was ticking.

On Wednesday and Thursday it was all hands on deck! The cellar crew and vineyard guys laid sod like pros, moved plants from their temporary homes, mowed, trimmed, weeded and then got the tank room ready to great visitors on Friday. Rafa, our Cellar Master and Kevin took on preparing for bottling as well as moving furniture and doing whatever else was asked. Kellie, Tasting Room Manager, deadheaded daffodils all morning and then started in on cleaning the new building. Thomas, National Sales, helped assemble shelving, packed stuff around and stocked the buildings with wine for the weekend. Shari, Guest Services, cut cheese for hours, readied glasses and helped organize the new building as well. Marlene, Marketing/Web, held down the tasting room and handled the organization of the weekend while the rest of us ran in 50 different directions. Sue and Lori in Accounting/Compliance answered phones and Sue planted our barrel planters.

Friday morning, we were ready and open for tasting in both buildings; plants and lawn were in place and art was hanging in the new building!

Then we all poured wine for 3 days. Except for Kevin who poured wine for 2 days, flew to Chicago on Sunday, did a trade tasting Monday and flew back on Tuesday to finish preparing for bottling. Bob and Kelsey joined us on the weekend to haul and wash glasses and to pack up sold wine.

This Monday, the guys broke down the tasting tables and they and Tasting Room ladies got everything cleaned and put away. Sue crunched numbers for the weekend and Kevin resumed getting ready for bottling. On Wednesday, the tables went back up, glasses were set out and Thomas and the Tasting Room staff shopped for, prepped, and made wood-fired pizza lunch for 8 foreign trade members and our staff. More clean up, and then preparation for a tasting for 60, followed by working the tasting and more clean up.

WHEW! These guys are "awesome" to use Kellie's favorite word. They work their tails off, are willing to do a whole lot of things outside of their job descriptions and are fun to be around. Rick and I are lucky, lucky dogs – thanks everyone!


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Busy, Busy, Busy!

Whew! This is going to be just a quick update. It was a crazy busy weekend for Spring Release and then with the WSWE (Washington State Wine Experience) buyers here last night. And with Balloon Stampede here this weekend I can already tell that it’s going to be a crazy summer. But I just love when it starts to get busy around here. Makes things move that much quicker.

We all made it through Spring Release this year. We had some awesome customers come through, like always, both new and old. It is always fun to see new faces mixed in with some of our longtime friends. We did our normal tasting in our production building, where we were pouring our 2007 Dry White Riesling, 2007 Estate Barbera, Non-Vintage Red Wine, 2007 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet, 2006 Columbia Valley Merlot, 2006 “Artist Series” Cabernet and our new release the 2006 Estate Red Wine. What a fun line-up of wines. We also held our first event in our brand new Reserve House, where we poured the 2006 “Old Vines” Cabernet and the 2002 “Old Vines” Cabernet from a magnum as a bonus. We were so excited to get in there after all this time. The building is going to be a great addition to the Woody grounds.

Right after Spring Release we got to turn around and get things ready for the WSWE, which we hosted here yesterday afternoon. There were 16 different Walla Walla Valley Wineries pouring and around 60 buyers. Talk about a crazy event. I met Rick at the WWCC Enology and Viticulture Center at noon and we brought 8 of the buyers out to Woodward for wood-fire pizza lunch after a quick trip through the Estate Vineyard. Then it was off to Walla Walla Wine Works for their next session before all 60 buyers were back here to taste with the 16 WW Valley Wineries. Due to Mother Nature not cooperating with us, we had to do the event in our production building. We had more wine flowing than I’ve seen in a really long time. It was crazy. It reminded me of a swarm of bees at the speed everyone went through and tasted everything. Then it was off to L’Ecole #41 for a bbq dinner.

This weekend brings us the Walla Walla Balloon Stampede. We’ll have balloon enthusiasts coming to the valley as early as today to start taking trial runs and getting ready. As a local in this valley I’ve always enjoyed this weekend. I remember as a kid getting up early in the morning to see if I could spot any balloons in the sky. Though, if the weather stays like it is today, I’m not sure if we’ll see any this weekend. With the wind blowing like it is, who knows where the balloons would land if they ever got up.

For those of you in Seattle, check out Daniel’s Broiler this month. They are showcasing Washington wines and one of their features is Woodward Canyon! Also, if you’re in the Coeur D’Alene area, Rick and Darcey will be doing a winemaker’s dinner at Beverly’s the Coeur D’Alene Resort on May 17th. Call Beverly at 208-765-4000 directly for more information. And here’s a sneak peak of the menu if anyone is interested. Looks like they are pairing some great food with some older vintages of Woodward Canyon wines, which we're sold out of here at the winery.

Amuse Bouche: Tuna Nicoise – 2007 Estate Sauvignon Blanc
Salad: Tropic Salad – 2006 Washington State Chardonnay
Appetizer: Smoked Copper River Salmon Carpaccio – 2006 Columbia Valley Merlot
Intermezzo: Washington Apple Granite’
EntrĂ©e: Veal Osso Buco, Seared Yellow Fin Tuna and Roasted Squab with Smoked Tomato Compote – 2004 “Old Vines” Cabernet, 2001 “Artist Series” Cabernet and 2005 “Artist Series” Cabernet
Cheese: A trio of the world’s fine cheeses – 2003 Charbonneau Red
Kiss Goodnight: Chocolate Chipotle Cupcake

See you all in the tasting room!

Shari / Woodward Canyon