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WSET Diploma Unit 5: Let’s Pop the Cork on this Already!

My Unit 5 exam is Wednesday (tomorrow!) and I feel like a bottle of bubbly that’s been aggressively shaken.  The pressure is building and I just want to let all this information about sparkling wine fly out of my brain like CO2 frantically escaping its glass bottle.  I’ve been studying for this exam for three months now – I am ready to be DONE.

Champagne corks

I’ll admit it – I’ve hit a wall.  But I’m not overly worried about it because the exact same thing happened back in June near the end of my Unit 2 studies (which I ended up passing with Distinction – woot!).  I’m not hitting a wall because I’m disinterested in studying wine (God forbid) – it’s just that my brain is full and I cannot cram in any more information.  However, what DOES worry me a bit, is that my upcoming Unit 5 exam is maybe 1/10th the size of the ginormous Unit 3 (which covers all wines of the world – except for sparkling and fortified) which I’ll tackle in early 2020.  So, before that time, either my brain has to get bigger or I’ve got to study smarter.  I’m hoping for the brain enlargement, but I’ll table officially panicking on that until a later date . . .

Asti outlineI realized that even Hubs is done with my Unit 5 studies when he begged me this past weekend “can we please have something to drink besides bubbles?”  This coming from a guy who used to frequently complain that we didn’t have enough sparkling wine in the house.  And I know he’s tired of me saying “studying” when he asks “what’s the plan for tonight”?  Plus, he’s probably as sick as I am of my outlines laying all over the house – Argentina in the kitchen, Vouvray in the office, Asti in the bathroom (I swear this isn’t an implication of its quality!)

For those of you readers who are interested – I’ve added Unit 5 specific outlines on Asti, Champagne – Subregions  and South Africa to the Outlines pages.

Last Sunday, Hubs & I took a break and went over to a friend’s house to watch our beloved Seahawks.  I brought some “leftover” sparkling wines with me (read: ones that I’d opened the night before to study/taste).  When the host commented that he didn’t usually like Champagne, but he liked the Champagne that I brought, I promptly informed him that what we were drinking was in fact NOT Champagne, it was sparkling wine from New Zealand – a completely different beast due to climate, varieties used and production method.  I’m sure we’ll be getting an invite back to his house soon.  Perhaps I should revisit the lesson I JUST learned at my MW tasting regarding humility and how nobody likes a know-it-all.

So – what am I going to do after my exam on Wednesday?  Well, for starters, I’m looking forward to catching up on some non-wine reading.  You know I’m buried when I let something as pertinent as my subscription to People magazine lapse!  I’d also like to finish “nesting” (Hubs’ endearing term for my habit) in our new home . . . which we moved into seven months ago.  And I can’t wait to get that fucking “Martini & Rossi – Asti Spumante” jingle out of my head.  I’m just excited to look up from my laptop, put away my outlines, and get outside of the house and into this beautiful Southern California weather.

But before I get to all that, I need to go see what the UPS driver just left on my doorstep.  It might be my Unit 2 materials for the Italian Wine Scholar exam I’ll be taking in a few months . . .

 

 

Lessons Learned from Tasting with a MW: Part 1

I recently attended my first in a series of blind tasting classes with Lindsay Pomeroy – newly minted Master of Wine (MW).  With the recent cheating scandal surrounding the blind tasting portion of the Master Sommelier exam (a completely separate organization from the Institute of Masters of Wine), some people outside – and even inside – the wine industry might wonder why this is even a part of certain higher level certifications.  I get it. Blind tasting seems like a rather amusing party trick: here’s a random wine – now guess its varietal, region and vintage!  But there’s more to blind tasting . . . at least, there should be.

From my (albeit limited) understanding – the tasting portion of the MW exam focuses a lot on the WHY as opposed to the WHAT.  For example – if you believe the wine in your glass is a Barolo – why do you think this?  What is it about the color, aromas, structure, complexity, etc. that leads to you Barolo?

With wine certification exams, getting the wine “right” certainly helps – but you also need to be able to explain your answer (remember this with math tests?  Show your work!)  So when I saw that Lindsay was offering these classes through her business, Wine Smarties, I signed up immediately because I wanted to get an MW’s perspective on blind tasting. WineSellar and Brasserie

The classes are held in The WineSellar and Brasserie in San Diego – the epitome of a “hidden gem” as it’s tucked away in the back of a very non-descript industrial/business park.  Lindsay herself was warm, welcoming and wearing her trademark pink fanny pack (which she claims is coming back in fashion).  I liked her right away. 🙂

Our first class focused on identifying the “Classics” – wines such as Burgundy, Brunello, Bordeaux (and no, they don’t all need to start with the letter B – although Hubs did offer up Budweiser and Bud Light to help out further).  Although this was only a two hour long class, I can already tell that I am going to learn a ton of invaluable information from this lady.  Here’s what I came away with just after the first session:

Make sure ALL your evidence backs up your conclusion.  As mentioned earlier – show your work.  If the wine in front of me is red with lots of cherry and red berry aromas, some white pepper notes and heat on the finish – does this support a conclusion of Pinot Noir?  The berry flavors might, but that white pepper and heat doesn’t.  The totality of evidence (good grief, I feel like I’m back in law school!) is more indicative of Grenache.

Put your blinders on and don’t second guess yourself.  I have a horrible habit of doing this!  In class, we were poured two white wines blind and when the gentleman next to me started to read his notes on the first wine – “lighter bodied, higher acidity, herbal notes, white pepper – I’m guessing it’s a Grüner” . . . I panicked.  Because this is what I had written for the SECOND wine.

I immediately assumed that I was in error, or that I must have mixed up my wines.  So when I was asked my thoughts on wine #1, I read my description for wine #2 (including “it reminds me of a green salad”) which garnered some odd looks.   Because as it turns out,  I HADN’T mixed up my wines, my neighbor was just off base.  And I didn’t trust myself enough to stick to my own notes – where I had called the second wine a Grüner (which it was).  The first was a village level Chablis – which should not remind anyone of a green salad. :-/

Blind Tasting with an MW

Don’t jump to conclusions based on one (or even two) facts.  I took a deep inhale of the last red wine and got aromas of tar and asphalt.  Right away this led me to Pinotage.  I hung onto that assumption and didn’t let go.  Despite other evidence to the contrary – like extreme depth and complexity and higher than normal tannins.  I also ignored the fact that to put Pinotage in a blind tasting flight of Classic wines that Lindsay would have to be a complete psychopath.

The wine ended up being a 2013 Brunello – which made a lot more sense.

Humility.  I’m getting to the point in my wine education where more and more obnoxious know-it-alls are rearing their ugly heads.  And this is coming from someone who went to law school – so I’m incredibly well versed in this particular species of jackass.  I’m looking right at you, guy on Facebook who called the WSET Level 3 “ridiculously easy” and claimed to have passed with distinction after not studying for it at all! (Perhaps I need to put my blinders from above on when it comes to these sorts of people as well).

Lindsay is one of 380 people in the world to have achieved the MW certification(!!!).  Her depth and breadth of wine knowledge could run circles around us students.  Yet during our class, she never spoke above us and she barely mentioned her MW achievement.  She has a quiet air of confidence about her, but there was no ego or bragging.  I think the wine world could use a few more Lindsays.

More lessons to follow . . . my next class is later this month!

 

 

 

 

The Thief: Bringing a World of Wine (& Beer!) to Downtown Walla Walla

Oftentimes when you visit a smaller wine region, you’re hard pressed to find wine from anywhere outside of said region.  And that’s totally understandable — they want to highlight the wines of their area.  However, after a day of sipping delicate Pinots in the Willamette Valley – you may want a big, bolder Cabernet with your steak dinner.  After hours of tasting 14+% abv wines from Santa Barbera, a lighter & crisper Riesling from the Mosel might sound good.  Or, if you’re in the Champagne region, you . . . well, never mind.  If you’re in Champagne, you likely don’t want anything else!

So when Hubs and I were in my beloved Washington state last week, as much as I love Walla Walla wines, we were thrilled to see a recently opened bottle shop that sold wine and beer from outside the Walla Walla region.  I’m talking waaaay outside the region . . .

Thief - Store signage

Taking over a large 4,000 square foot space on Main Street, The Thief Fine Wine and Beer officially opened on May 4, 2018. (“May the 4th be with you”?  I don’t know if there was any Star Wars connection to their opening date, but I do know one of the owners is a serious Harry Potter fan as he was sporting the trademark mustard and burgundy striped scarf when I met him.)

Thief - Vallee d'AosteLining the store’s back wall is an impressive selection of local Walla Walla wines (priced the same as what you’ll find in the wineries themselves) as well as beer and cider from around the globe.   And in the center of the room . . . truly, a wine geek’s paradise.  Pinot Noir from Valleé d’Aoste, Zweigelt Rosé from Niederösterreich, and a Sassicaia from Bolgheri (I spied this bottle one day, the next – it was gone).  Having worked in a wine retail store, I can attest to the fact that The Thief’s prices are incredibly reasonable and there is a bottle for every budget.

Besides a fabulous selection of wine, The Thief also carries – and I’m quoting Hubs here directly – “an absolutely kick ass beer selection.” It was clear to him that the beer was on par with the wine and was similarly from all over the globe.  Of the new owners, clearly one of them has a penchant for top shelf beer.

Thief - Beer and Cider

In addition to taking a bottle home with you (or popping it open on premise for a nominal corkage fee), The Thief also has several glass pours available.  On our visits (true confessions: we went there 3 times – but we can explain!), these offerings included an Alsatian Sylvaner and a Canaiolo Rosé from Tuscany.  Now, I’ve been in my fair share of wine bars and stores (another true confession), but I have never seen these wines offered by the glass.  I love an adventurous by the glass program – it’s a perfect way to introduce people to some lesser known grapes and regions!

Thief - Bar and non-curly Matt
Lots of seating at the bar

Their handwritten tasting notes are some of the best I’ve seen. And nary a critic’s score in sight – which also gets a huge thumbs up from me.  But if you need a recommendation – look no further than The Thief’s knowledgeable and friendly staff.

On our first visit, we met “Curly Matt”.  Not to be confused with “Non-curly Matt” (or another employee named Matt whom we didn’t meet).  We also chatted with two of the owners, Emily Riley and Kyle Pottroff when they hosted a lunch for some of the Wine Bloggers Conference attendees.  And they did not scrimp on the wines they served that afternoon – starting us off with a Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc!

Thief - Curly Matt
Curly Matt

Since opening, The Thief has had several wine tasting events ranging from Bubbles Galore (aka Everything BUT Champagne!), to Rosés to Tour of Tuscany.  Future plans include a wine club, temperature controlled storage lockers for members and a myriad of wine related events – including wine classes.  In fact, my favorite wine instructor – the fabulous Reggie Daigneault – will be doing a seminar on Bordeaux at the Thief later this month!

We don’t get to Walla Walla as frequently as we used to, but Hubs and I will definitely be visiting The Thief next time we’re in town.  Oh yeah, and as a follow up to my previous post with Hubs – WE FINALLY FOUND THE ROSÉS!!

Thief - Roses
HUGE Rose selection at The Thief!

She Said/Hubs Said: “Live” White & Rosé Wine Blogging

As mentioned in a previous post about the Wine Bloggers Conference, one of the highlights for me was the “Live” Blogging sessions.  Lately when I drink wine, I’m usually in full exam mode, so I sit down with my trusty notebook and – slowly and methodically – take notes via the WSET “systematic approach to tasting” method.  In other words, I take time to analyze every element of the wine – structure, aromas, flavors, finish, quality, etc.  WSET Grid 1

In contrast, the “Live” Blogging sessions pushed me outside of my wine tasting comfort zone since we had, at most, five minutes to hear about the wine directly from the winemaker, taste it, and make notes of our impressions.  I keep putting “Live” in quotes because, while I tweeted the Red Wine session in real time, for the Whites & Rosés Hubs and I waited and compared our notes afterwards.  We read them aloud to each other over a beer(s) and, after I heard some of his comments, decided we had to put together a post.  I love his notes because they are so damn entertaining, honest and unpretentious.  Just like him. 🙂

So without further ado, here are the unedited She said / Hubs said tasting notes from the White & Rosé speed dating event” (his phrasing, not mine)….

1. Otis Kenyon 2017 Roussanne, Columbia Valley, WashingtonOtis Kenyon Roussanne

  • She Said: Med+ bodied, ripe yellow fruits – apple, pear, longer spicy finish (with a bit of heat). A perfect, richer fall/winter white wine. This might even sway some “I only drink red wine” people. I am such a fan of Rhône whites and wish more of these varieties were planted in WA!
  • Hubs Said: White.   Not very complex.  Citrusy lemon/zest.  It’s hard to give my opinion when the wine pouring people are talking about it – I just want to write what they are saying and pass it off as my own.   Amazing story behind this wine.   I like it but wouldn’t seek it out.   Again, really cool story (look it up).  I would drink on a hot summer day but that’s about it.  Nothing really unique – other than an awesome story. If stories sell wine, this one has an amazing story.   Love the matchsticks.  I would drink this wine just to tell the story.  Have I mentioned the story?

2. L’Ecole 2016 Semillon, Columbia Valley, Washington

  • She Said: 86% Semillon/14% Sauvignon Blanc. Lots of honeysuckle on the nose with some white flowers. Viscous, oily texture – reminds me a bit of Viognier. Glad they put some SB in here for some acidity – might be rather flabby without it. Another richer/fuller bodied white perfect for fall/winter drinking. And at $15 this is incredibly priced.
  • Hubs Said: White / Golden.   I’ve heard this story about the L’Ecole schoolhouse at least a hundred times.  I don’t know shit about Semillon.   I like it.  Why?   Some heat/spice on the mouth afterwards.   Again, not super excited about this one.   OK – not bad.

3. Peter Yealands 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand

  • She Said: I’m not usually a New Zealand Sauv Blanc fan, and this one is no different. Very herbal and grassy. Loads of tropical fruit on the palate. Med+ acidity, v. grassy palate. Intense aromas and flavor – it’s really just too much in your face/over the top. Some people love this stuff though. Maybe pairing with a salad or veggies would calm it down a bit for me, although – I don’t eat a lot of veggies.
  • Hubs Said: This is SUPER fragrant.  Gas?   Reminds me of the stuff my parents drank when I was a kid.  WOW!   Crazy fragrant.  Non-normal fruit.  Not sure what I mean.   Melon?   Super unique.   Higher acidity.   I would have to get used to this type of wine – not an everyday drinker but I could see pairing it with something fun.  It sticks with you forever.   Crazy flavors.

4. Desert Wind 2017 Chardonnay, Wahluke Slope, Washington

  • She Said: Definitely smells like Chardonnay – vanilla, oak, baking spices. Fuller bodied, creamy texture (full Mal-O).  Smells like a Madeline sugar cookie. Medium length finish and then . . . I’m left with the oak. I know I’m a boob when it comes to oaked Chardonnay. But to me, this is a little unbalanced because the oak dominates and overpowers the other flavors.
  • Hubs Said: Pretty color.   Tough to follow the Sauv Blanc – that aroma is still there.   Nothing wrong with it.   Maybe some vanilla and citrus?   Medium acidity.   Nothing particular exciting – it’s Chardonnay – not bad, just kind of there.

    Live Blogging
    Noelle writing her “she said” tasting notes.

5. Bouza 2017 Albariño, Uruguay

  • She Said: Citrus and salty sea spray aromas. Seems a little fuller bodied for an Albariño – maybe the 6 month lees aging is a factor? Riper apple and pear, and more salinity on the palate, crisp acidity. Would be perfect with seafood. Not bad for my first foray into Uruguayan wine.
  • Hubs Said: Uruguan wine.   Effervescent.  Zippy.   Lemon zest.   Low/Med. acidity.  Poolside wine.  Summer wine.   Well balanced (I’m not sure what the hell that means, I think equally acid and tannins).  Happy mouth.   Would be awesome w/ shellfish.   Could I find Uruguay on a map?  No.   Stays on the mouth/palate for a really long time.

6. Hard Row to Hoe 2017 Riesling, Lake Chelan, Washington

  • She Said: OMG – beautiful aromatics! Floral and stone fruit (peach, apricot). If I had this blind, I don’t think I would’ve guessed it was a Riesling. Smells more like a Viognier. I really like it, but it lacks the zip I expect from this variety.
  • Hubs Said: Eggs.  Weird.   Rocks.   Not traditional Riesling.   Great / fun story (note the flags on the label) – naughty.   But what do I think?  I would go with other Rieslings.

7. Rodney Strong 2016 ‘Chalk Hill’ Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California

  • She Said: Like wine #4, there is no mistaking this for Chardonnay.  This one seems more fruit driven though – baked apple, pear. Seriously – I am totally getting spiced apple pie on the palate. And this is on the back label – YAY ME! I think Hubs just rolled his eyes at me. Not my particular style, but I prefer it to the WA Chardonnay. This one is more balanced between fruit and oak aromas, plus it has more acidity and a longer finish.
  • Hubs Said: A little bit of fuel smell on it (or am I still smelling that crazy Sauv Blanc?).  On first taste I thought it was boring, but it really gets more interesting.  A little heat on it for a Chardonnay.  Not a huge fan but that’s because I think it has more to do with the varietal.   Noelle just said it tastes like “apple pie”.   Fuck that.  She’s going to kill me at this exercise.   Upshot:  It’s fine.  I just don’t like Chardonnay unless it’s a butter bomb.   Sidenote:  Where the hell are the Rosés???  We haven’t had a single Rosé yet.
Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay
“Apple and pie spice aromas”! 🙂

8. Cadaretta ‘SBS’ 2016, Columbia Valley, Washington

  • She Said: 67% Sauvignon Blanc, 33% Semillon. Stainless steel fermentation. Herbal nose, citrus (lime skin) jalapeños, tropical fruit. Med bodied, med+ acidity, med+ finish. Grassy notes on the finish. I MUCH prefer w/the Semillon then the stand alone New Zealand Sauv Blanc. This is so much better balanced, easier to drink and refreshing.
  • Hubs Said: Melon + Petrol.   What the hell is the fruit I smell on these Sauv Blancs???    Blog idea:  Wine words I misspell the most (bordo, Semillon, sauvignon).   I imagine that the Semillon calms down the Sauv Blanc.   It has such a unique smell.   We need to go to the glass house.

9. Frank Family Vineyards 2016 Chardonnay, Carneros, California

  • She Said: Much more subtle on the nose than the other Chardonnays.  Getting evidence of lees here too – yeasty, rounder mouthfeel.  MalO textures. Hint of oak – vanilla, spice along with some apple and pineapple.  Overall, aromas are pretty medium – I’m not getting a ton.  On the palate to me its more about the texture then the flavors. Vanilla crème.
  • Hubs Said: WHERE THE FUCK ARE THE ROSÉS?????  THE AGENDA SAID WHITE AND ROSÉS!!!!  Gotta say it’s really a beautiful color.  Unique smell for a chardonnay.   Way more butter on this one.  Maybe some vanilla and spices.  That’s a general statement.  This is what I want my chardonnay to taste like.  I want to eat a bowl of popcorn with this and not share it with Noelle.   The tasting may be getting to me at this point.  I really like this one and it would be interesting to compare it to other Chards.

10. J. Bookwalter Winery 2016 ‘Double Plot’ Chardonnay, Columbia Valley

JBookwalter Double Plot Chardonnay
Winner of the White Wine Blogging!
  • She Said: Medium aromas of white flowers, apple, and ripe lemon.  Hint of vanilla.  This smells (& tastes!) like an Oregon Chardonnay.  The oak is so restrained.  This might be my favorite of the lineup. Best balanced of the Chards – oak and fruit compliment each other and there’s a nice dose of acidity that was lacking in the others. Yay – ending on a high note from a hometown winery!
  • Hubs Said: Light color.  A little more acidity on this chard.   Butter w/ some stone(?).  Apple.  I seem to describe every chardonnay on the “butter scale”.  The more butter, the more I like it.   Otherwise, Chardonnay is a total commodity to me – it’s all the same.   I need to work on this.    Or maybe I don’t.  I just don’t like Chard, it’s so boring.

So there you have it.   In the light of day, what I really liked about having done this with Hubs is that it shows how wine means different things to different people.  While his “tasting notes” (and I use that term incredibly loosely) made me laugh out loud, they also reminded me that there are no absolutes –  no “right answers”.   Wine means to you what YOU taste and feel.  I think that’s what makes wine such an amazing pursuit.

Now….where the fuck are those Rosés?!  

 

 

#WBC18: Highlights from a Blogging Newbie

My head is spinning (and not just from all the wine I consumed) since returning to SoCal from my first ever Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, Washington.

I signed up for WBC18 way back in February after I found out it was going to be held in my beloved Washington state.  And I can’t recall exactly how I managed to talk Hubs into going with me . . . I think I just said “Walla Walla” and “Wine” and he was in (he’s easy that way).  Nevertheless, he’ll be providing his own highlights and thoughts on the conference in an upcoming post – and has already given the world an incomplete overview of the host city.

While there were several enjoyable and informative parts to the conference, there were five that really stood out to me.  And, using some of the tools I learned about in Digital Firefly Marketing’s awesome seminar on Google Readability, here are my WBC18 highlights:

Force Majeure Excursion – Visit to Their (Future) Production Facility & Estate Vineyard

Coming in hot!!   What a way to start the conference – this half day tour was a wine geek’s dream!  So much so that I’ll post a more corkdorkily detailed post HERE for those readers interested in a deeper dive of this outing.

Upon boarding our bus bound for the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater (aka “The Rocks”), owner Paul McBride told us about the history of Force Majeure and the winery’s focus on single vineyard designated sites within the Red Mountain AVA.  His enthusiasm multiplied exponentially though as he turned the topic to Force Majeure’s future . . .

Force Majeure production facilityOur first stop was to check in on progress of the winery’s future production facility and tasting room in Milton-Freewater – both of which will (hopefully!) be operational by mid-March, 2019.  After this, we piled into several SUVs for a jaunt outside of town and up about 2,000 feet to see the site of Force Majeure’s future estate vineyard.  Located in an area referred to as the “North Fork” – geologist, Washington wine champion and AVA aficionado Dr. Kevin Pogue described this area as a “sweet spot” because it checked so many of the right boxes for vineyard site selection: elevation, rain levels, soils and aspect (more detail on this in an upcoming post!)  Plus, while I don’t believe this is a factor usually considered when deciding vineyard site, it’s absolutely fucking gorgeous.

Force Majeure North Fork vineyard
Future vineyard site in North Fork area of Walla Walla Valley

Introduction to the Walla Walla Valley Wine Region

This was a fantastic start to the seminar portion of the conference.  The panel was composed of  four dynamos in the local wine industry: Annette Bergevin, Nina Buty, Muriel Kenyon and Ashley Trout.  Although, this was not to be considered a “women in wine panel” per the moderator . . . these ladies just happen to kick ass at what they do.

The panel discussed several issues related to the Walla Walla wine region – from history (the Otis Kenyon background story has got to be one of the most scintillating tidbits!) to the future (how to market Walla Walla beyond Washington state).  There was an overall theme of community and comradery.  However, as with many wine growing regions, the ongoing labor shortage was also discussed.  And while there’s no definitive answer to this problem – Ashley Trout’s Vital Wines project that helps to provide healthcare to those in need, is an awesome start.

Speed Tasting (AKA the Exact Opposite of What I Do For My WSET Studies)

While this wouldn’t be my favorite way to taste wine on a regular basis, it was a hell of a lot of fun to try a couple of times.  At the end of both days, 25 winemakers poured into the conference room (pun possibly intended).  They each had five minutes to pour their wine for a table, give their “elevator speech”, answer questions, and then move on to the next table.  Interestingly enough (to me anyways), my favorite red and white were both from the same winery: J. Bookwalter.  Which just happens to be located in my hometown . . . so, I guess I might be guilty of a little local bias after all. 😉

Stay tuned for a “He Said/She Said” post where Hubs and I compare our tasting notes from one of these sessions.

Mystery Dinner Excursions

After Friday’s live blogging session, attendees were separated into groups based on the color of their “mystery winery” ticket.  Hubs and I piled into a van with the other bright green ticket holders and headed off into Walla Walla.  Now, this goes against one of Hubs and my hard and fast rules: Always Have an Exit Strategy.  (This rule might be why we’ve never gone on a cruise).  Thankfully – we didn’t need to worry about this rule since our bright green ticket led us to one of Walla Walla’s quintessential wineries – Dunham Cellars.

Dunham was one of the first wineries I ever visited in Walla Walla back in the early 2000s and has held a special place in my heart since.  We were served a delicious, waistband straining six-course meal paired with a variety of Dunham wines.  My favorite was the 2014 Dunham Cabernet Sauvignon XX while Hubs loved the 2016 Late Harvest Riesling.  It was an unforgettable evening with new friends, great food, and classic Walla Walla wines.

 

And Finally, Connecting with Other Wine Bloggers . . .  in Person.

While social media is a great way to meet other wine bloggers, nothing can compare to chatting face-to-face.  It was wonderful to finally be able to geek out with fellow wine enthusiast Amber (aka SpitBucket), see my former Northwest Wine Academy classmate Nancy with VinoSocial, talk WSET Diploma studies with Terry and Lindsay, and share some Pacific Northwest wine love with Pat the Wine Guy.

And, after a minor stumble (literally), I’m thrilled to have met one of the original members of the wine blogging world: Tom Wark.  He’s incredibly approachable if you get him talking about golf (just ask Hubs!) and passionate about consumer rights to access wines without being at the mercy of distributors.  As a recovering lawyer turned wine enthusiast, this is a cause I can definitely get behind.

 

Walla Walla – A Totally Incomplete Visitors Guide (by Hubs)

I’m on lunch break on Day 1 of the Wine Bloggers Conference and it dawned on me that many of you reading this blog have probably never been to the host city of Walla Walla.  Having lived for several years in the (somewhat) nearby town of Spokane, Washington, I’ve spent some time in Walla Walla and wanted to share my thoughts.   First things first, Walla Walla is located in the Southern corner of Eastern Washington.   Second things second, Eastern Washington produces some of the toughest people I’ve ever met in my life.  I mean like eight seconds on a bull tough and tractor accident tough.  I would never have survived growing up in Eastern Washington.  So while I’ll go on to describe the charming quaintness of this wine producing region, it’s important to understand that beneath that recently laid veneer lies an amazing community that built this city well before the doctors and lawyers started flying in for weekend tastings (yep, that would be me).

Until wine hit the mainstream consciousness, I imagine that Walla Walla was probably best known for one of three things: (i) Pretty damn cool name; (ii) Sweet Onions; and (iii) Drew Bledsoe.  If you know Bledsoe as the winemaking entrepreneur at Doubleback rather than an NFL quarterback, then you’re likely relatively new to the Walla Walla scene.

I started going to Walla Walla in the mid-90’s on hunting trips with friends to the base of the Blue Mountains.   At that time, you could count on one hand the number of wineries – almost all of which seemed to be located in trailers on grounds near the airport.   Those wineries are still there and I highly recommend touring them on a Schwinn (Noelle was  introduced to Five Star Cellars very early on in her wine education and still swears by their Sangiovese).  I understand that they have even added several breweries and even a distillery out there as well.

So what’s the status of Walla Walla today? Well, imagine if Charlie Daniels and Norah Jones sang a duet. With the proliferation of wine production in the area came the vinophile tourists, which has in turn changed the landscape to include higher end restaurants, a smattering of art galleries, etc. I can guarantee you that you will hear visitors say the line “this is what Napa was like 50 years ago” almost reverentially when you visit. And maybe they’re right – I have no frame of reference. Of course, Napa had the benefit of nearby major cities of San Francisco and Sacramento. As one speaker stated this morning “Walla Walla is on an island – five hours to the closest metropolitan area” (I’m sure Spokane won’t take offense). I can tell you however that you will find an amazing community that embraces both their position as an up-and-coming wine producing region along with its proud farming heritage.

With no further ado, here are a few of my favorite spots in Walla Walla, a list which is so spectacularly incomplete that I was required to change the name of this blog post:

  • Wine Division:   You don’t want Walla Walla wine recommendations from me (you want them from Noelle).  Nonetheless, be sure to check out Gramercy Cellars (our favorite), Sleight of Hand (best party atmosphere, seriously, I really want to share a bottle with these guys),  and L’Ecole (best school house).  Hot PoopMy apologies to Drew Bledsoe – I just haven’t been to Doubleback yet – but I promise I will on this trip.  Honestly, there are so many amazing wineries in the Walla Walla Region that you simply can’t go wrong.  Oh yeah, Rotie Cellars as well!!
  • Non-Wine Division:  Be sure to check out Olive (best informal meal), Hot Poop Records (best business name – ever), Whitman College; Public House 124; and a VRBO House Rental that converted a huge wine barrel into an extra bedroom.   Seriously.  I’ve slept there – it’s awesome (assuming you’re not claustrophobic).
    Barell
  • No Longer In Business Division:  I admit that it makes no sense whatsoever to tell you about these places that are no longer in business.  But alas, we can always hope for their return:  (i) Salumerie Cesario (Noelle once got kicked out of the cheese closet for making a mockery – true story); and (ii) Chillville – a collection of Airstreams that you could rent for a few nights next to the Airport district tasting rooms.  Of my great regrets in life, not staying at Chillville before it was shuttered is definitely top five (but still pretty distant from my ill-advised bolo tie phase in the early 90’s). Cheese Closet

 

Anyways, that’s my two cents on Walla Walla which is truly a kick-ass town that I highly recommend visiting to anyone with an interest in wine (or seeing the “Hot Poop” business sign).