A Day In The Vineyards, #WBC10!

Quite a Saturday, Walla Walla-style; a day beginning with a fleet of yellow school busses drawing into the lot outside the ol’ Marcus Whitman … 

The Wheels On The Bus Go 'Round & 'Round, 'Round & 'Round ...


Rather mysterious methodology to the day; just like in summer camp, we were herded somewhat unceremoniously onto the big yellow taxis, with no knowledge of our destination; this was to be revealed once we were installed on our personal slab of chalkboard-green naugahyde; odd, I must say, that they let the bus driver explain how to kick out a window in the case of a roll-over BEFORE the announced which wineries we’d be heading to … 

Anyhow, fortunately the destinations I was transportationally allocated to were quite fine options; first on the list? Abeja! 


Had a fabulous visit with the very gracious, committed, humble, and talented John and Molly, who have built sensitively-maintained, ecologically-sound vineyard and winery practice; the results are on visual display, and in the bottle … the 2008 cab out of barrel promises tremendous rewards to come … 



In The Abeja Vines


View From The Abeja Clock


A Taste Of Abeja


 Next on the day’s journey was Woodward Canyon, which turned out to be an excellent visit for any number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that we actually had two additional producers on hand for a three-producer panel and tasting … 


In addition to Woodward Canyon head honcho Rick Small (one of the first and most well-regarded producers in the area), we had the pleasure of listening to, and tasting with, owner-operators from two up & coming regional producers: Stella Fino and Castella de Feliciana. 


Across the board, the wines were very pleasurable, and as with many of the Washington wines I’ve been tasting, impressive for their full-on display of crisp, bright acidity and distinctive, integrated minerality. Quite an interesting array of offerings, and well-presented as regards flow; the Woodward Canyon wine was a 100% Barbera, loaded with bright red fruit, succulently tart cherry pie character, and as noted above, saliva-inducing acidity. The Stella Fino offering was a 100% Sangiovese, and as disclaimed by the winemaker, quite young (a 2007); he posited it as both an excellent wine for the table, and a wine capable of great development over time. I certainly agree with the former, though my personal jury is still out as to the latter; the afore-mentioned acidity was certainly present and accounted for, but I’m not sure the accompanying architectural components and firmly balanced enough to still be relevant with evolution; hopefully, I’ll get a chance to taste this again in five years! Third on the flight was the Miercoles from Castella de Feliciana; the name being Spanish for Wednesday, and as per the winemaker, the goal was to craft a “Wednesday Wine”; a colloquial version of the everyday wine. And to my palate, this blend of Cab and Syrah would make any Wednesday a wonderful day; I really enjoyed this … 


Our final stop of the day was Va Piano, a producer I wasn’t actually previously familiar with, and as this was to be the stop that would include lunch, I had my fingers crossed! Fortunately, the visit was a more-than-fine one, rich with hospitality, narrative, and wine … the lunch had us out in beautiful little picnic area outside the tasting room, benefitting from a cool breeze that quite pleasantly mitigated the already intensifying heat; the lunch, I’ll confess, seemed to be greeted with a bit of suspicion across the tables at first, but in the end, I think everyone actually quite liked the salami, cheese, and dried fruit ciabatta sandwiches; I for one certainly did, and it was extremely pleasurable with the crisp, bright white we were tasting; the Bruno’s Blend I Sauv Blanc … 

Va Piano, Picnic On The Green


The vineyard walk portion of the affair was utterly fascinating, comprising a storyline of one man’s single-minded devotion to building a vineyard and winery; the man in question being owner Justin Wylie, who recounted for us, as but one example, the ten row posts a night he put in himself, inch by inch, row by row, every night after a full day in the office, until a full 2o acres worth were in the ground … 

Va Piano, Justin In The Vineyard


Probably the most interesting thing I learned about was the cane burial program; this is a methodology deployed as a protectionary gesture against the intense frost that the region is prone to suffering from, the idea being that, every year, on one acre worth of every varietal, the vines are allowed to grow an additional cane (which begins as a sucker that accordingly does not get pulled), which is eventually buried under the earth beneath the vine. This is done so that, should a frost hit, the plant doesn’t die; the cane below the ground is still functioning, and can be unearthed to launch a new season. Just an utterly fascinating viticultural improvisation; here’s a shot of a vine trunk that underwent this process during the 2004 freeze, not the pruned stump next to the now-vibrant and active trunk: 

Va Piano, Can Burial Vine


Justin has a very unique approach to wine production, which he credits to his marketing background; its somewhat controversial, probably not for everyone, and there are probably some who won’t like it, but I rank it as savvy, well-thought out, and one of any number of perfectly reasonably, albeit disparate, approaches to the question of, fundamentally, how to sell art. Essentially, Justin has sort of broken up his portfolio into three different tiers; an entry-level, multi-vintage, easy-drinking line, a mid-level primarly-but-not-all-estate line, and a hi-end 100% estate array of offerings. Not so revolutionary per se, and of the top two tiers, they work without controversy; the top-shelf estate line apparently sells out before its  even released, and the mid-line is doing well at retail. The controversy, oddly enough, resides within the profile of the entry-level line; basically, Justin makes the wines by focus group; he polls the hoi polloi, and makes wines the way the way he thinks they want them … provocative, sure, and a method probably not for every producer, but as I said, it’s well thought out, he knows what he’s doing and why, and his is a fully completed circle accordingly … and the wines were good! My personal favorite was the 2007 Syrah, which is sourced from 4 Columbia Valley vineyards; 14% of the fruit is estate, from right about here: 

Va Piano Syrah


 And that was our day in the vineyards, Walla Walla style! Cheers to all our lovely hosts for your good works, and your good wines!

Categories: Events & Photographs, Vineyards and Oenology, Viticultural Salmagundi, Wine Blogs, Wine Tales, Winemaking

Tags: , , , , ,

1 reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: