Hello all loyal blogaphiles--
We're sorry the Trio Vintners blog hasn't been as regular as we hoped it would be. We wanted it to give you an idea of what's involved in the day-to-day process of running a winery. I guess we found out that we were really busy and the blog was the first thing to be sacraficed. Anyway, here we are and, as we head into our second harvest, we will have lots of report. Please check back weekly for updates.
I was unblogged there for a while but I'm back. Now there's so much to say I think I'm going to explode!
First, I was asked to get blog thoughts out there. Fellow Walla Walla wine blogger Catie at Through the Walla Walla Grape Vine tagged me to reflect on the topic of why I blog about wine. Here goes:
Why did I start wine blogging and why blog about wine?
The blog really grew out of the weekly radio show that Steve and I were doing at KWCW at Whitman College called 'Wine Matters'. The show was all about introducing various aspects of winemaking to listeners from a student winemakers perspective. We usually set a theme and invited winemakers or growers on the show for an interview. We had some amazing guests; The great Stan Clarke of the Center for Enology and Viticulture, Ron Coleman of Tamarack Cellars, Marie-Eve Gilla of Forgeron, Paul Gregutt of the Seattle Times, Dean and Verdie Morrison, of Morrison Lane, Gilles Nicault of Long Shadows and a many, many other talented winemakers and growers. Our musical 'break' half way through the show was a song that our guest selected, a pairing of music with a particular wine they enjoyed.
At the time I was attending the Center for Enology and Viticulture working toward getting my degree. Wine Matters was originally meant to be a podcast but I never got savvy enough to make that happen so I just stuck with the live, weekly, half-hour broadcast from the studio on Whitman Campus. I really loved being in wine school and turning all the amazing stuff I was learning about Viticulture and Enology back out to the community via college radio. If any of you have ever done a show out of a College station you know what I'm talking about. It's a great energy source.
But in truth, I don't think I was a very good broadcaster. It's really, really hard to have a conversation (intelligently) live, on-air, manage the control board (which I was awful at), and keep my kids from making annoying sounds in the background (which happened way too many times!) I decided that it might be much easier to write.
Now please understand that I'm not suggesting I'm any better at writing about wine than talking about it on the radio! But this is why I turned on the blog....to continue giving people the education focus that truly inspires me and keeps me going. Really, the learning never stops, even now that we have our own winery here in Walla Walla. Just like wine in the barrel or bottle, it's an evolving process.
Check out these other wonderful wine blog written by much better writers than myself!
Good Wine Under $20 - I don't think this blog needs much explanation, but it's great if you live in the LA area because this is all about getting a hold of these wines and drinking them!
Wine Hiker - It's a wine blog. It's a hiking blog. Yes, it's a wine hiking blog!
Tokyo Through the Drinking Glass - A wine blogger living in - Yep, Tokyo!
Cheers! Posted by Denise
Bottling Day at Trio Vintners started at 6:00 am didn't let up until 10:00pm. What a long, exhausting and exhilarating day! Tim was there from the minute the truck showed up until we ended--he definitely gets the employee of the day award!
For this tough job, we hired Custom Bottling as the the on-site bottling truck. It's a company that specializes in bottling needs for small lot wineries and is prepared to handle the myriad of problems that arise when moving wine into bottles, not to mention corking and labeling. It begins with the arrival of their fully self-contained semi in the wee hours of the morning . Bill Hamm and his team begin to put the operation into motion - working with us to move our prefiltered wine from our tanks, through final filtration and into the bottle filler on the truck. Once again, we have to take the utmost care to keep all the lines clean and everything very sterile. The machinery inside of the truck is a tightly orchestrated contraption that fills, corks, capsules and labels about 150 cases of wine per hour. Tim, Steve and I were familiar with this kind of operation having worked for other wineries during bottling season, but this time it was OUR wine in the line and OUR name was on the bottle! Yikes!
Everybody fell into their positions, taking on various tasks; pulling empty bottles out of cases and 'feeding' the line, slipping capsules on the bottles as they came out of the corker, eyeing the fill line, managing quality control, placing finished bottles into cases and stacking pallets. We had plenty of fits and starts - all due to factors related to the size and shape of our labels, the temperature inside and outside the truck as it affected the adhesive capabilities of the label, imperfections on bottles ...you name it. There were a few comical " Lucy and Ethel" moments , when the line got ahead of us...but it went pretty smoothly overall. Next time we'll be pros!
Once again, we had lots of great help from friends who pitched in: Our ever helpful Enology and Viticulture student (also know as our cellar rat) Kevin Uhl, Bob Shafer, Jim and Regina Vandersloot, Doug Simmons from the soon-to-be open Elegante Cellars, Devin Stinger from Adamant and his wonderful parents, Tim's wife Arlene and, of course, the lovely and talented Hannah Israel. Finally, thanks to our bottling tech, Mr. Bill Hamm we rocketed through 550 cases of our 2007 releases. Another glamorous day in the wine biz! Pass the Motrin!
Wine for sale! Come and get it!
2006 Riesling / YakimaValley- $12.00 per 750 ml
2006 Rose of Mourvedre and Sangiovese - $14.00 per 750 ml
2004 Syrah / Columbia Valley - $24.00 per 750 ml
2005 Sangiovese / Wahluke Slope - $18.00 per 750 ml
Posted by Denise
Here's a series of photos showing how we bottled our 2006 Riesling. We made this wine at at College Cellars, beginning way back in September before our own winery was ready for operation. We had a lot of great assistance from our former Enology Instructor, Mike Moyer and a group of his students. Thanks to these wonderful folks we got through 200 cases in just a few hours.
Normally the labels and capsules are applied at this time as well, but we saved this step for another session.
Bottling white wine begins with filtration. Because it's a white wine it's more subject to spoilage so we used a series of very, very fine filtering pads (final finishes down to .45 microns ) to get rid of the "bugs" (spoilage bacteria) that could later cause the wine to go bad. White wines also require perfect clarity, so filtering cleans it up. Here, we used a plate and frame filter system. The 'frame' houses a series of plates, 25 or so, which in turn holds the filter pads. 500 gallons of finished wine is pumped from the chilled tank where it has been stored and settling for the past few months, through the filtration pads and into the bottle line filler. This is all done in one step - and once it's set up it goes quickly, it's just setting all the lines and filter pads. Everything must be very, very clean during this entire process!
Water is flushed through the filter pads first to clean out the cardboard taste that the filters will impart. It's important to continually taste the water as it flushes through the pads and wait for a 'clear taste'. Once the water has pushed out any weird flavors from the pads, we're ready to go.
Once the wine is in the filler, it takes a team of people to work the line. One person fills six bottles at a time, passing them off to the corker, foiler, and labeler. In this case we saved the foiling and labeling for bottling day at Trio Vintners. More on that exciting day in my Next Post!
The first of 200 cases of wine is filled!
Awards accolades goes out to our Graphic Designer - Therese Randall. Already, the design for our wine label and idenity system is winning awards. Read on...
The American Advertising Federation (AAF) ADDY Award Competition is an annual event. It is three-tiered system of judging: local, regional, national. Trio Vintners packaging, identity and collateral materials have been recognized with one Gold and two Silver ADDY Awards at the local level and now moves on to compete in the Regional ADDYs. We'll keep you posted on the outcome. Congratulations!
In case anyone was wondering... we're using cork to seal our wines, as opposed to a synthetic closure or a screw cap. Not that there's anything wrong with those materials. But we think the cork is, quite frankly, a superior product. Later we want to introduce alternative closures but for now, cork is the way to go.
The first reference to cork dates to 3000 B.C. in China where it was used as a fishing apparatus.
Cork is harvested from the bark of the cork oak tree. No trees are harmed in the making of this product. It's quite sustainable.
The average lifespan of a cork oak varies between 170 and 200 years - which means it can regenerate cork suitable for manufacturing about 17 times.
80% of the world's production comes from Portugal and Spain.
Cork is a natural, recyclable, renewable and reusable product.
5,000,000,000 (that's billion, people) natural cork stoppers are produced every year!
And just for fun - if you are looking for an after-market use of all those corks you pull (especially Champagne corks), perhaps you will be inspired by this very entertaining contest that Design Within Reach sponsored. Check out the winners of their annual Champagne Chair contest.
Posted by Denise
As a erstwhile Californian and wine lover I'll be honest with you. Zinfandel is my favorite wine. Not all Zins--I like the ones that have acid and moderate alcohol levels--but give me a homemade pizza and a nice bottle of Seghesio Old Vines and I'm in heaven. So when we moved to Washington I missed a couple of things (earthquakes, traffic...) but mostly those Zins. It is pretty rare to find a Washington State Zinfandel and most of the ones I have tried have fallen far below the bar set by our water-starved neighbor to the south. On the other hand, most of the other wines (Merlot that I have had up here by and large make California wine look weak. And I'm saying that as a wine fan not as a Washington Vintner....mostly).
But when we got a call from a very respected grower at harvest time last year telling us he had 1.5 tons of Zin we forgot about our budget and our plans and jumped at the chance. We are all Z fans and wanted an opportunity to produce a great wine in an unfamilar place. The Wahluke Slope where the grapes are from is a gravel bar miles long formed by our friend, the Bretz floods. It is a couple hours from Walla Walla up on the Columbia River near George, Washington. Theoretically it should be a great place to grow Zin--warm and dry with cool nights.
Anyway, our Zin is coming along nicely and showing some very concentrated berry flavors. It is too early to tell if it will come out on a level with the great Zins of California but hopefully it will be a great Washington Zin. We probably will release it in the fall of 2007 or the spring of 2008.
We are happy to note that we've been blogged! It's nice to know that the blog-o-sphere is a real thing. I know you can do all sorts of neat things, like link to other peoples' blogs and whatever - and I'm so very grateful that people will read what we have posted...because for God's sake you all certainly must have something better to do! But since you have professed some kind of interest in wine - then by all means read on. Blog on! Tune in! Synchronize your ipods! Or for something really novel - read a newspaper. No, I was just kidding! Anyway - we have a friend in Walla Walla who is much more prolific in the blogsphere than ourselves - and writes about wine and all the happenings here. I'm really delighted that Catie McIntyre Walker who keeps a blog called Through the Walla Walla Grape Vine has written about Trio Vintners. Catie follows all the developments here and has a very insider perspective as she works in one of the very best wineries in the Valley, the award winning Forgeron Cellars. At any rate, It's cool to see a little ink about Trio Vintners (rather, bytes and bits) somewhere other than our own domain.
That said - we also have some postings regarding our winery in a couple of key locations on the good ol' world wine web (remember that thing that Al Gore made possible!) Again, it was a kind of thrill for us to see our winery listed amongst ranks of all the Washington state wineries. OK, this may not be as meaningful for our dear blog reader as it is for ourselves - but afterall, we are here to share our love, glory, shame and stardom. Check out the links below and please peruse these two sites for a really informative tour of our absolutely stellar competitors. It's great company to be sure.
Posted by Denise
There was a lot of governmental shuffling when the Homeland Security Act passed a few years ago. Alcohol producers no longer report to the ATF division (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms). You know, those mellow dudes who lay siege to the Koresh compound in Waco. Instead, we now deal with the much more friendly sounding TTB, or Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau. Please do not ask why the TTB does not include the A for Alcohol. It makes no sense. But neither does most of the other minutia of detail that the Feds require you to track as a wine producer.
If you have ever wondered why wine labels look like they do and have certain information in certain places - well, those fun, lovin' folks at the TTB have it all mapped out for you. All the information that's on a wine label is governed by law. We have had to learn all this on the fly and after some trail and error - and many calls to the main office of the TTB (in Cincinnati of all places) we are somewhat the wiser.
As we speak our wine labels are on the press at the printer. There's a lot riding on a 4" x 7" piece of paper. Let's just hope it sticks to the bottle...More later.
Posted by Denise
Here's another in our occasional series, 'The Grapes of Trio'.
What is Rose`? (I can't figure out how to make the accent mark work on the computer so from now on even tho it's pronounced 'Row-ZAY, I'm typing Rose. Live with it). The simple answer is that it is a wine done in the white style but made from red grapes. However, the wines that you end up with are anything but simple. They can be complex gems that offer the best of both worlds.
Rose wines are very respected in Europe, especially France, where the summers are too hot to drink heavy red wines all the time. The Frenchman, doing whatever he can to avoid drinking white wine, turns to the chilled Rose as a refreshing summertime alternative. Here in 'Merica they're just starting to gain in popularity and a few valley wineries offer them now.
We decided before harvest that we would do a Rose at Trio. We were working with two traditional Rose grapes, Sangiovese and Mourvedre, and thought it would be fun to compare them side-by-side. We decided to do them in the Saignee` method where you crush the grapes and let them sit in the fermenter for a while (in our case they each had about 24 hours on the skins). Then you remove only juice and transfer it to another fermenter where it is fermented at cooler temperatures like you would a white wine. This helps preserve the aromas and the fruit central to the Rose.
The other way to make Rose is to take the red grapes and press them whole-cluster right away so the juice gets almost no contact with the skins. We chose the former, saignee, method for a few reasons. One, we like the extra flavors, colors, and aromas the wine gets from spending more time in contact with the skins. Two, when we drain juice from the grapes it actually concentrates the flavors of the grapes you took the juice from and when that wine is pressed it is, theoretically, more intense. Third, we didn't have our press set up yet so we couldn't have done it the other way even if we wanted to. Sometimes decisions are made that way.
Anyway, as is often the case in the winery, we had leftover wine from both the roses and no container small enough for each so we just combined them in one keg. Later we went back to taste all the wine as it finished fermenting and the keg that had the inadvertent blend tasted better than the two wines by themselves! We were surprised but elated that the accident created a very distinctive wine.
The wine was dubbed 'Tres Rose' and it is coming along very nicely. The color is beautiful, lighter red than Pinot Noir and very distinctive. The aromas are of citrus and cherry pie and whenever we go to taste it I can't stop drinking it. The Sangiovese didn't get 100% dry so there is likely to be a tiny, tiny bit of detectable sweetness that will make it even more refreshing. Hopefully there will be some left for you all. We are going to blend it and bottle it the first week of March. I think it will be a popular wine, especially on the hot days we have here in July and August.
We spent this past weekend, Tim, Denise and I, up at the winery tasting the barrels of wine that we crushed this fall and it was a lot of fun. There is a lot of business stuff that we have to deal with on a daily basis and many of the growing pains of a young business that must be slogged through. It was relief to put that stuff aside and focus on what we started this all for: the wines.
We were anxious that things were progressing well--wine is essentially a chemistry experiment and is constantly evolving and changing. All the decisions we made about which grapes to buy, which yeasts to use, when and how much to press, and whether to put the wine in new or used, French, American, or Hungarian oak barrels were all behind us and we were more or less stuck with those decisions. As we dipped the thief in the first barrel we were kind of holding our breath.
I'm glad to say that, by and large, we are overwhelmingly happy with the way the wines are turning out. The Sangiovese is tasting great, the two Syrah lots are very different and both very interesting, the Mourvedre is looking like it will be a monster wine and the Zinfandel is a fun wine that we look forward to watching grow up. We all breathed a collective sigh and started talking about which wines will blend well with others and which might stand on their own.
It is exciting to have made it past the first big tasting and, although we have a very long way to go before they are finished wines, we are very encouraged by the results so far.
The big excitement of crush is long over and our first public weekend is behind us. So, what do winemakers do until the next harvest? Well, some of us (with employees) vacation on Ibiza, drink fabulous wines and flirt with the waitresses but most of us get down to the important work of making the wine.
Our red wines are finished with the primary fermemtation and are currently undergoing Malo-lactic fermentation, a process whereby a bacteria called Oenococcus oeni changes the tart acids (malic acid, like in apples) in the wine into the softer acids (lactic acid, like in milk). It's not really a fermentation in the strictest sense of the word but we won't pick nits. During this process the wine snaps, crackles and pops and gives off a little Carbon Dioxide as a by-product. You have to keep the barrels warm since the reaction is dependent on the temperature being above 64 degrees F and you usually have to inoculate the barrels with the bacteria in order to start things off. Some of the older barrels that have been through this process still have the dormant O. oeni living in them and when the wine is added the bacteria wake up and start eating. The ML process can last a week or up to 6 months or more, depending on the chemistry in each wine.
So we look, listen and taste and wait for the ML to finish. One sign that things are progressing is the smell of artificial butter. Diacetyl is the natural ketone is added to microwave popcorn and other foods to make you think you are eating the real thing. It's a natural by-product of the ML bacteria. Learning how to tell when ML is finished is a skill that winemakers learn. Of course you could always just send samples to a lab when you think it is done but that is expensive. If, however, you guess wrong and you find out later that it is not done then your ML will restart and CO2 will build up in the bottle and, BOOM! the cork pops and you lose.
Most white wines (like our Riesling) are prevented from going through ML so that they retain the tart acids that are characteristic of those grapes. It is a stylistic choice that the winemaker makes and we have all had those buttery Chardonnays that have gone through the process.
So, December and January are busy months for winemakers but in a more laid-back way. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, preparations are under way to get our labels approved by the TTB. We are also busy buying our bottles and corks in preparation for our first bottling project to happen in late January.
It's time for another installment of 'Steve's Wine World', musings from Steve Michener about the grape varietals selected at Trio Vintners.
Riesling gets a bad rap in the wine world. At least it does here in the U.S. and A. Over in Europe it has long been considered the most noble of grapes. However, winemakers in Washington are working hard to change the public perception of the wine made from the Riesling grape and we are right there with them. Here at Trio Vintners we are making it our primary white wine grape. And here's why:
I think the main reason people turn up their nose at Riesling is the dreadful jug wine that flowed into this country in the latter part of the 20th century. Liebfraumilch and Blue Nun were sickly sweet blends of German wines and they turned a lot of people off to the idea of Riesling (ironically, both of those wines were mostly made from Muller-Thurgau grapes). The high-quality German Rieslings rarely made it across the ocean. Much like thin Chianti bottled in the straw fiasco bottles, the thought of Riesling left a bad taste in American consumers' mouths.
Recently, however, there has been a move here in the U.S and especially in Washington and New York States to produce wine that compares favorably with the great German wines. Our climate in Washington allows us to compete--we have warm days with cool nights which combine to give lots of flavors to the fruit and then seal in the acids at night. The soils here are well-drained and there is little rainfall so the grower can moderate the amount of water the vines take up. One interesting note about Riesling from a farming standpoint: while most quality wine grapes give the best flavors when cropped to about three tons of fruit per acre, the Riesling grape seems to give its best flavors at about five to six tons. That's a more profitable position for the grape-growers and grape-buyers alike.
So now you're saying, "Sure, but the Rieslings I've had are all too sweet". I think that most of the Rieslings today are done in a sweeter style (where the fermentation is stopped before the wine is dry leaving a fair amount of residual sugar ) but there are also the off-dry and dry styles that are worth seeking out. These leave just enough sugar to balance the bright acids or no sugar at all, leaving you with just the tart, tropical fruit the varietal is known for.
Our grapes come from the acclaimed Lewis vineyard in the Yakima Valley. Although it is better known for its Syrah we think it is a pretty special place for this varietal as well. The fruit came in with a pH around 3.0 which is very acidic for wine grapes. As we crushed it at Buty Winery we couldn't stop dipping our glass into the press-well for another taste. I would love to just filter and bottle this juice without letting it ferment sometime. It makes the supermarket juice made from Niagra and Concord grapes taste sick. After we crushed it we put it in a tank and trucked it over to WW Community College where our erstwhile instructor Mike Moyer had agreed to lend us a tank to ferment in. With this wine it is important to keep it chilled to about 50 degrees during fermentation so that you don't lose any of the delicate aromas in the grapes.
It had a long slow fermentation in the tank and we also had a carboy of about 5 gallons that fermented itself using the natural yeasts in the vineyard (as opposed to the laboratory-made yeasts we added to the big tank) and that tasted great too, in a different way. When the sugar level got down to about 2 brix we stopped the fermentation by moving it to another tank and adding SO2 and dropping the temperature down to about 40 degrees. The purpose of those 3 manuevers was to remove a large amount of the yeast that had settled to the bottom of the tank, shock the yeast with SO2 so it couldn't eat any more sugar and chill it to make the temp inhospitable to the yeast. Then we added bentonite to the tank to help with the fining of the wine. The bentonite works to bind to the floating proteins and carry them to the bottom of the tank. Before you add this the wine is cloudy and afterwards it is (mostly) clear.
Now the wine will sit in the tank for about a month and then we will filter it to remove any other impurities in the liquid, blend it with another lot of Reisling we are working on and bottle it. If will finish in a slightly off-dry style that will give you just a hint of sugar to balance out the acids. We are going to be sharing the wine with our friend Joe Forest, the assistant winemaker at Dunham Cellars. He is launching a new venture of his own and this will be his debut wine. He helped us source the grapes, Caleb at Buty helped us with pressing and Mike at the College gave us the space and chilling capability we needed. This is pretty typical of WW wine making: lots of folks helping out and everyone really concerned about the quality of the finished product. We are very lucky to be working in such a supportive environment.
We will start selling this in our tasting room starting in April. Come by and taste a Washington State Riesling. I think we will change your mind about the grape.
Here's a great quote I picked up via a piece in today's NY Times Mag:
"The taste and the sense of smell form but one sense, of which the mouth is the laboratory and the nose is the chimney" - so says Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the noted french politician and gourmet who wrote the book on fine dining way back in 1825.
There are so many skills required of a wine maker that it seems impossible anyone could be good at it - but perhaps the greatest, most useful, most mysterious skill to possess would be that of being able to precisely define what you are smelling and tasting in wine as it progresses. It's a neat trick. Wine is a living thing and what you are smelling and tasting in a wine as it ferments and ages is the essence of its aliveness. There are names for all this of course, and you can identify things based on off-odors (microbial spoilage, oxidation, volatile acidity) or pleasing odors and taste (esters, balanced acids and tannins, ripe fruitiness). But the two-step process of smelling then tasting completes the definition and brings the experience into focus. Wine makers have a fantastic vocabulary when describing what they are tasting and it's really interesting to see how easily their definitions can swing from scientific to emotional. They lead with their nose and finish with their hearts.
Posted by Denise
Noticeably absent from the blog-o-sphere, I was really busy these past few weeks getting us ready to throw open the doors at Trio Vintners for our soft 'Grande' opening. Trio Vintners took part in the 10th Annual Walla Walla Valley Holiday Barrel Tasting event. For us, it was a great opportunity to work out the kinks of operating a tasting room before we go full throttle in April and to give folks a sample of our yet-to-be-bottled 2004 Yakima Valley Syrah. This is a well-staged, highly-promoted affair that attracts wine-lovers from all over the Pacific Northwest to our tiny town . There's over 85 establishments that can be dipped into - all offering exquisitely hand-crafted wines. Some outfits are more polished than others, but trust me, no one offers anything less than a stellar bottle and a pretty cool experience. All the wine makers are on hand to meet and greet and walk people through all the particulars of their process. It's a thrill for wine geeks and very fun for the rest of us.
So how did we fare? To begin with, we hosted about 300 people at our new winery over the course of three days. The incubator wineries, as our location is referred to, is so new to everyone and not so easy to find in foggy weather so this was a great turn out. We set up an lovely display of all our future releases (once again - kudos to Therese Randall for the excellent graphics and collateral) Well even we sold some futures - that is we have sold the wine before it has been bottled thus guaranteeing the purchaser an allotment - so that's very good news for us. We are feeling pleased that people want this wine enough to pay up front for it. Wow! It was so fun to greet people and talk to them about our wines, wine making style, and tell our 'story'. Tim, Steve and I fell into very comfortable roles - alternately taking turns pouring and chatting. Tim and Steve are completely wonderful with people - they're both very knowledgeable and charming. I feel very lucky to have them as partners! What a blast.
Also big, huge thanks to our beloved cellar rat, Kevin Uhl. Kevin, as some of you may know, is the 'gentleman suitor' of Steve's niece, Hannah Israel. Kevin has been on hand at Trio since harvest and was particularly helpful during the opening weekend running the glass-washer, helping direct people etc. Kevin starts the enology and viticulture program at the CC in January so he's getting his practicum in early!
We will be officially opening in April so plan your visit now!
Posted by Denise
As promised (or threatened) we are going to give you a little background on the grapes we have chosen, the vineyards they came from and the wines we hope to make from them. I'll start, in a very biased move, with a grape that I suggested we feature, Mourvedre (pronounced more-VED-drah)
This is a relatively obscure grape in the U.S. It probably was first cultivated in Spain, near the village of Murviedre, where it is known as Monastrell. At home it is second only to Grenache in plantings, followed closely by Tempranillo. Red wines from the Jumilla appellation are usually mostly Monastrell. The plants were brought to southern France in the 1600's and flourished as the dominant grape until they were mostly wiped out during the great phylloxera epidemic during the late 19th century. It managed to survive in the sandy, phylloxera-free, soils of Bandol where it is still the dominant grape today. In fact, it was the great Domaine Tempier wines that made me a Mourvedre fan.
It was brought to California where it acquired the name Mataro and became a widely-planted blending grape. I'm not sure who brought it to Washington State but I believe it can do well here in certain spots. It is a late ripening varietal (ours came in in mid-October, well after the harvest of most of the Syrahs but before many Cabernet Sauvignons) that loves the long, hot days that we have here.
We had to look for quite a while to find anyone with any Mourvedre to sell. I put the word out in May and we met many a dead-end until we found Art den Hoed in the Yakima Valley in mid-July. Art has a lot of grapes up in the hills above Sunnyside, just east of the Rattlesnake Hills AVA. The spot where our grapes were grown is pretty much the highest spot on the hills up on Hwy. 241 before the irrigation ends. I especially loved being in the vineyard and being able to see the beginning of the Cascades in the near-distance. The elevation is 1100 feet and the south-facing slopes just soak up the sun all day. At night, the high elevation gets low temperatures that help seal in the flavors and give the fruit nice acids. Grapes love the warm days/cool nights thing that we have here in Washington--it's called 'diurnal flux' and I'll bet you that any grower in California would give his John Deere for our temperature swings. Of course, we have a greater chance of a killing frost but these vines are way off the valley floor and pretty much immune to that problem.
Anyhow, this is the first fruit off of these vines and, judging by the results we have seen so far, this is going to be a great vineyard. This is a thick-skinned grape with very dark juice. From the minute we crushed it we could tell it would be a special wine. It smelled so different from the other reds we had crushed. There was a nice black pepper bite to the juice along with an intense blackberry nose. We gave it a long maceration (left it on the skins even after the fermentation was done) to extract all the flavors and pressed it pretty hard without getting any harsh tannins or bitter flavors. Mourvedre can have a very meaty and earthy character with some nice spiciness. It is not unlike Syrah in that regard but it is a little more 'sauvage'. I'm willing to gamble that the adventurous folks who like Syrah will go for its' cousin as well.
Our plan is to blend some of it with the Syrahs that we have in a traditional Rhone-style blend as well as do some bottlings of the grape by itself. I believe this would make us one of the few wineries in the state (and probably the country) doing a varietal bottling of Mourvedre. We also took a page from the winemakers in Provence and drew some of the juice off the fermenting wine (the Saignee method) to make a Rose (not sure how to put the accent over the 'e' but it is pronounced 'Ro-say'). About 24 hours after we crushed the grapes but before we added the yeast we strained about 70 gallons of juice off the Mourvedre and put it in a stainless steel barrel. We did it the old fashioned way with a shovel and our sump-strainer and my shoulders hurt for days. It was truly a labor of love. These wines make fabulous summer-sippers, perfect for a picnic or a hot-weather lunch.
We added a different kind of yeast and started a cool fermentation. With Rose the process is much more like a white wine than a red. The wine is nearly dry (all the sugar having been eaten by the yeast) and then we will soon thereafter filter and bottle it for sale in the spring. We may blend it with our Sangiovese Rose or we may keep them seperate. We are very excited to be working with this unique and intriguing grape. My hope is that Mourvedre will become a signature grape at Trio Vintners for decades to come.
Posted by Steve
Hello! Denise has asked me to write a little about the grapes we have chosen to make wine with this year. There is not a lot going on in the winery right now except moving barrels around and doing lab tests so we thought it would be a good time to back up and look at the foundation of our winery: the grapes.
I'll begin by going into some of the thoughts we had while we were choosing varietals. Obviously this is one of the most important decisions a winery can make since it will go a long way towards defining the quality of the wine and ultimately our style of winemaking. After much deliberation (well over an hour) Tim, Denise and I selected Sangiovese, Syrah, Mourvedre, Riesling and Zinfandel. In addition we agreed to try a Rose of both Sangiovese and Mourvedre.
The first priority, we agreed, was to make wines that we, ourselves, enjoyed drinking. One of the things that brought us all together during our studies at Institute for Enology and Viticulture is that we all seemed to have the same general taste in wines. We liked wines that were fruit-forward, higher in acid, with some, but not too much, oak. We then thought about how to differentiate ourselves in the Walla Walla wine market: there are over 75 wineries here and it helps to have a niche. The folks who had early success here made their name in Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and most of the winemakers who followed have tried to emulate their success. Walk into any winery in Eastern Washington and you are likely to encounter a Cabernet, a Merlot and......a Cab and Merlot blend! We all love those wines but it didn't make sense to try and open a new winery and compete directly with places like L'Ecole no. 41 and Woodward Canyon who have been making Cab and Merlot since we were all in Junior High School. We decided to concentrate on lesser-known but more food-friendly wines.
When I talk about food-friendly wines I am referring to wines that have a good amount of acidity which can help cut through the richness of many foods. This can provide a little palate-cleansing between bites. We chose grapes that have a high natural amount of acid like riesling and sangiovese. There is also a trend in winemaking to use a lot of new oak barrels which imparts many pleasant odors (vanilla, coconut) and a little sweet taste from the sugars in the toasted wood. A hint of this is nice but it's like perfume or make-up; too much and that's all you taste or smell. We decided on a program of about 1/3 new oak per wine in order to fully allow the natural flavors of the grape to show through.
Posted by Steve
We are pleased (no, make that thrilled) to unveil the label design for Trio Vintners. We asked my pal and dear friend Therese Randall (aka Therese Brimmer) to design an identity for Trio. We shared with her our ideas and what we wanted to see and Voila! Or should I say Walla!
We wanted the label to incorporate an image of Wallula Gap - a very significant geological region on the Columbia River nearby here, we also liked the idea of three very natural and beautiful colors that would work together and we wanted our name to really stand out. We also were looking for a design that could be flexible - and we think the design works well when you swap out the picture of Wallula Gap for something else, art, other photos etc. We're happy with this stand-out design and know that it will work for us for a long time. A big thanks to Therese for doing such an incredible job. Here are variations for our first releases:
Posted by Denise
In my last blog I touched on the topic of shipping wine direct from our winery to customers out of state. We realize that once we get our wine in bottles our friends all over the country are going to want a case or more for their very own, right? Of course!
Here's a little primer on the topic. Ever since the Supreme Court ruled last year that it was illegal for states to treat out-of-state wineries different than in-state wineries the states legislatures have been working to re-write their laws to comply with the ruling. Some places (usually those with a real wine industry like New York) have adopted a reciprocity policy, meaning our wineries can ship to your state and your wineries to ours, albeit with volume restrictions. A few places (Mississippi) decided that no one could ship in their state thereby nipping in the bud the huge potential for wineries in that state. Not. But seriously, If our friends in Maine want us to ship a bottle of wine to them we have to say, 'sorry'. New Jersey or Massachusetts? Out of luck. Kentucky and Utah? Well, no surprise there. Some states like Maryland are 'felony states' and if you ship wine to someone in that state you go to jail. Fun! My point is, it's a real dilemma for the producer and consumer alike and quite frankly all these restrictions are undemocratic!
Many of these local legislations couch it all in moral terms by making it all about preventing shipping to under-age drinkers-"Somebody think of the children!" Of course that is a load of crap because any kid who wants to get drunk is not going to order a case of Ravenswood Zinfandel over the internet to get the job done. No, he or she is going to stand in front of their local liquor store and look for sympathetic souls to buy them a pint of Southern Comfort. Besides, the carriers like Fedex and UPS are required by law to check ID when they deliver packages marked as alcohol. Mostly, as I pointed out before, it is all about protecting the distributors. These folks usually do great work for the million-case Kendall-Jacksons of the wine world but when it comes to two cases of Trio Vintners Sangiovese sitting in their warehouse they really don't have a financial incentive to sell that to the stores. That is why most of the wine ling the shelves in the supermarkets are all made by large producers who are not really making wine so much as moving units. But I digress. The point is that direct shipping is an essential selling tool for small wineries like ourselves and we are fighting an uphill battle against the moneyed forces of corporate greed! So write an angry letter to your local representative and tell them to free the grapes!
Click into this web page at the Wine Institute for a detail on not only which states allow direct shipping but which carriers may transport the wine!
My name is Denise Slattery and I approved this blog post.
Personally, I'm breathing a sigh of relief over the results of the elections yesterday. Maybe this reorg in the House and Senate will turn some of the awfulness the Bush regime has brought upon us around. Where to begin???
The state of Washington is narrowly Democratic, and primarily as such because of the West Side population. East of the Cascades it's mostly red. Walla Walla is by and large a Republican voting populace. It was culture shock to move here from the Bay Area and to ease in to such a conservative place. But we found a really fantastic circle of friends who are hard core liberals and pissed off so we mostly feel at home.
What does any of this have to do with wine? Well, for starters a Democratic Congress may be more open to easing up on the laws that restrict wineries from shipping direct to consumers in so many states in the union, like Michigan and Maine for instance, forcing small, family owned wineries like ourselves to sell through a third party distributor. These are restrictions that are left over from Prohibition era times, when the mob ran distribution of liquor. When Prohibition was overturned the mob stayed in and got their 'market share' written into legislation. It's a system that is choking the industry and yet remains intact to serve and line the pockets of a very few. Check out this web site called freethegrapes.com for more in depth view on what's up with these crazy laws.
Ironically - the lead attorney arguing in favor of easing restrictions on direct shipping from wineries is none other than Ken Starr. Remember him?
Posted by Denise
Ok, folks - we have wine in the house! We pressed off all the juice we fermented and have barrels (and tanks) of wine ready to be attened to. Yiiikes! This is exciting. Filling the barrels with wine is just the beginning. The wine will continue to evolve and take shape in the individual barrels we have chosen for each of the varietals. The red varietals such as Mourvedre, Syrah, Sangiovese and Zinfandel still need to undergo a secondary fermentation so we have to induce and monitor this stage. The Riesling and Rose's of Mourvedre and Sangiovese are finishing off in stainless steel tanks, barrels and kegs.
Work in the winery will now revolve around topping off barrels to keep them full. Barreled wine naturally looses a certain amount of volume to evaporation through the oak and keeping the barrels full to the top keeps O2 out and prevents oxidation and spoilage. Essentially we have shifted gears from a fruit processing plant to more of a laboratory setting.
We rack the wine by moving it out of the barrels and tanks occasionally to get rid of the accumulated solids in the bottom of the barrel (this is also called 'getting the wine off the lees') and monitor SO2 levels. Keeping a certain amount of sodium dioxide in the wine prevents microbial spoilage. When you read 'contains sulfites' on a wine label, this is in reference to that. SO2 is maintained at very, very low levels - usually around 30 parts per million. There's plenty of work to do!
And we need to get ready to market the wine...of course this is a 24/7 process. Always Be Selling!
We have three weeks to go before we open our doors officially! Stay tuned...
Posted by Denise
I don't have pictures to document an amazing winemaking moment that I would like to share with you - so please bear with me. Skip this post if you need the visuals, I will not be offended.
I just returned from picking up wine that Steve and I purchased from Cayuse Vineyards. This is an annual allotment that we receive because we are on the Cayuse list. OK, I know what you're thinking. List? Well, allow me to explain. Cayuse wines are pretty darn good. They are lovely to be exact. This is an estate vineyard that is biodynamically farmed - which in and of itself makes it a very unique and worthy of our attention. I should remind our readers that we are wine drinkers first and foremost. So, if we want to be good winemakers we believe we should experience great wines. (Tough job, eh?) And the wines made at Cayuse are superb. They reek of terroir.
Christophe Baron is a Frenchman, who grows his vines 'in the rocks' in the southern part of the Walla Walla AVA and produces his wines according to the principals of biodynamic agriculture.
Biodynamic agriculture is an interesting and worthwhile discipline to explore. Lifted from a post on Wikipedia I give you: "Like biodynamic agriculture in general, biodynamic grape-growing stems from the ideas and suggestions of Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925), who gave his now famous "Agriculture Course" in 1924, predating most of the organic movement. The principles and practices of biodynamics are based on his spiritual/practical philosophy, called anthroposophy, which includes understanding the ecological, the energetic, and the spiritual in nature."
I'm personally fascinated by all the debate that rages over whether it makes a difference in the quality of the wine. From tasting what Christophe produces, I can tell you there must be something to it. But I digress.
What blew me away about Christophe's winery (although he doesn't refer to it as such, he calls it a studio) was the beautiful equipment, the layout, the colors! To start, the walls are painted a very vibrant yellow and all the pipe plumbing is bright red. Wow! It's so different. It's a very exciting space to make wine in.
The other amazing thing is the unusual tanks he uses to ferment his wines. They're huge cement containers, some shaped like giant bee hives, others look like a kiln. (All made in France, of course.) According to Stephen, the assistant winemaker whom I spoke with, stainless steel is inert and they prefer to ferment the wine in a container that has 'life'. OK, I never thought of cement as having life, but it is just a bunch of rock and dirt when you think about it. The press they use is fantastique - an enormous basket press - glorious, bright red, the outer casing made of glass - not wood as most are. I was in awe.
Back at our own humble winery setting I was cheered to find our 'team' (Steve, Tim and Kevin) hard at work pressing off the last or our Mourvedre and barreling the Zinfandel. Trio Vintners may be small by Cayuse standards, but we are no less fanatique!
As crush gears down here in Walla Walla, December barrel tasting gears up. Most of the wineries in the area will open doors for local and out of town visitors to pre-taste, right out of the barrel, wines to be released in the spring.
Barrel tasting takes place over Dec. 2, 3 and 4. It's a wild weekend and we're throwing our selves into the mix. Trio Vintners will be open to the public for the first time, but we're thinking of it more as a 'soft' Grand Opening. Paul Gregutt, wine 'advisor' for the Seattle Times, gives a good overview of what the weekend has in store and Trio Vintners gets a mention waaaaaaay down there in the article. Check it out! It looks like we are actually a blip on the radar....
More on the weekend and participating wineries can be perused at wallawallawine.com. Needless to say, please come and visit!
Posted by Denise