Blackwood Canyon Vintners 2005 Whitewood gewürztraminer

Another WAwineman classic, 1st posted on Sept. 15, 2010:

Grounded contrarian. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines grounded as “admirably sensible, realistic and unpretentious” and contrarian as “a person who takes a contrary position or attitude.” Others have called Michael Taylor Moore in more generic terms such as “passionate” or “nuts.” And these beings have disturbingly noted the appearance of Michael’s uncovered feet, observing “dirt caked into his toenails” and “walks around barefoot and has for some time,” possibly revealing some sick fetish by such authors.

Michael started his wine career working for such California winemakers as Louis Martini and Gino Zepponi before enrolling in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, under the auspices of Dean Charles E. Hess, and graduating with a Bachelor of Science in fermentation science on March 21, 1980.

The bottle that converted him toward a lifetime in winemaking was a 1964 bottle of Vosne Romanée (pinot noir). That style of wine was the model for how Michael approached wine crafting. Through his exhaustive research, both in literature and interviews with winemakers he highly regarded, Michael found the indomitable key to making great wine was the soil. This was not consistent with his college’s teachings of climate as central to outstanding winemaking. And, this would not be the only instance where Michael challenged “the establishment” in regards to wine.

Mr. Moore arrived on Red Mountain in 1981 and established Blackwood Canyon Vintners in 1982, with help from fellow UC-Davis attendee, Tom Campbell (creator of Darighe, the flagship Bourdeaux-style wine of Woodhouse Family Cellars). Michael’s knowledge of the vineyard and the soil was later utilized in managing Ciel du Cheval Vineyard and consulting for other vineyards. His 1982 Ciel du Cheval chardonnay is still available (released in 1985), although at a prohibitive price ($495), making this 750mL bottle among the most expensive in Washington. The winery’s original dwelling burned to the ground in October, 1985, but Michael not only rebuilt the winery, he became the largest individual landowner on Red Mountain. The winery’s reputation is immortalized in the novel, Tom Clancy’s Net Force, State of War (2003). Clearly, Michael has reached heights (and depths) far beyond that of any other winemaker in the country.

Michael’s winemaking is described as in the Burgundian-style from the 19th century to the Vietnam Conflict. He is a fervent advocate of sur lie aging, specifically on the grape lees as opposed to yeast, and letting the wine sit on them for years, some as much as 14, whereas conventional winemaking counts in months. He also believes in high acid content as the backbone for long-term aging, and proselytizes vineyard management as the foundation to the production of “world-class” wines. Decanting is the final step considered mostly essential in his philosophy to maximizing the potential of enjoying a great bottle of wine, and again, the time unit is days, not minutes or hours.

My experience with Blackwood Canyon Vintners first began with knowledge that a Washington wine was still for sale from the 1982 vintage. Further research showed he is selling 1986 “futures” on his late-harvest riesling! A recent trip out to Red Mountain made this a must-stop for me. At first, the turn off Sunset Road to Blackwood Canyon Vintners led to what appeared to be some vineyard service road and I almost missed the swift left in the road and ended up-close-and-personal with the vines. I turned back thinking the winery vaporized but I returned, determined to follow the path to its end.

After a hairy, slow drive along the lip of a canyon (fyi, the bottom of that canyon is not technically “Red Mountain AVA” as the approval in that area is elevation-based) and past more than a few rows of weedy vines, the road came to an end at a dilapidated shack with sun-aged wine barrels fronting the abode. The entrance was guarded by three guard dogs, of which I must have startled one of the weimaraners and he took a soft bite out of my leg (is this what is meant by the sign “visitors welcome”?) just as Michael yelled at it to stop. No blood, no harm. There were 28 bottles occupying the bar counter, some opened with the cork re-stopped. Flimsy, warped pages of paper were taped haphazardly off the front edge describe not his wines, but his recipes and menus that are paired with his wines. The wine labels have a weak pattern but most notable is the artwork for the “Black White” lineup of $10 recent vintage wines. However, I knew this was not the lineup that made the winery.

After paying the $10 tasting fee, Michael generously poured some of his rather odd-looking wines and proceeded to give his spiel about his outlook on winemaking and other war-stories. He also pulled out of his pocket a bag of cheese and proceeded to slice and offer me some, which I graciously accepted. He also offered some grilled meat from his unique “grill”. His most shocking wine that he poured was a deeply canary-yellow chardonnay, aptly named ‘Yellow Canary’. He should have named it something else, but “FD&C Yellow No. 5” was taken. As for tasting like chardonnay, I must say it tasted nothing like every other chardonnay that passed through my chops.

Michael has a plan for the future and it will surprise many. That huge “bald spot” on the left of Sunset Road, from Kiona up to Tapteil is (or was) mostly owned by Michael. He sold a chunk of acreage to Corliss Estates to establish its Corliss Vineyard (along with the purchase of Sandhill Winery). Those proceeds were likely used to purchase a hilltop with sweeping views of the surf at a southern California location I will not disclose, which may be his retirement estate. He also is developing a major concept restaurant/bakery as a nod to his high-achieving gourmet chef skills. Again, I will not disclose the name or the in-depth plans as that is his business. While his wines are not exactly value-priced, I surmise the bulk of his fortune was made from his brilliant land purchases and a hefty inheritance. For you gold diggers, he is quite disappointed with his offspring, which is not a surprise as he takes a hard, pessimistic view of the world around him. Just remember, there are two sides to every story.

Michael, wearing his grimy Bleyhl Agronomy Farm Service baseball cap, could have talked me into the night but I had commitments and had to leave after only 40 minutes of tasting. All of the wines tasted were truly unique in profile. I left with this bottle, autographed by the man.

Trivia question: in the Tom Clancy novel, what Blackwood Canyon wines were mentioned?

What to do with a $45 Spätlese gewürztraminer was my first ordeal. For those of you not familiar with the Spätlese term, it is a German Prädikatswein classification system similar to the French AOC system. Spätlese literally means “late harvest” but we’re talking more about 7 days later versus a month. Thus, the wine is sweeter (3-6% residual sugar) and more concentrated in flavors than a Kabinett. Chaptalization, or the addition of sugar to unfermented grape must, is not allowed for Spätlese wines. There are off-dry (Spätlese feinherb or halbtrocken) and dry (Spätlese trocken) versions, as well as versions made from riesling, pinot blanc (weißer burgunder), and pinot gris (grauer burgunder). A minimum alcohol level is 7%. Notice how there are multiple restrictions attached to the terms, unlike the American AVA classification.

My second dilemma was “What the hell was I thinking?” Spending 45 bucks on a gewürztraminer? There went my pinot noir money. Or a bottle of Aix, Dead Horse, or Klipsun Vineyard merlot. I just chalked it up to “this is one of those times when ya gotta say, (wtf).” Besides, just like my many Las Vegas trips, I got my money’s worth from the entertainment. This is so painfully true.

What is also painfully true is the lack of a decent review of Blackwood Canyon’s wines. Some winos cowardly sum up their lack of understanding of the wines with no description whatsoever, probably too intimidated by Mr. Moore’s methods. I just call them gutless bedwetting dwarfs… kinda like what freeloading, wine blogging moochers are, only they are also heavily in-debt, unemployed, and steal my Tweets.

I followed the winemaker’s advice and paired this wine with some hot-nasty spicy Thai curry along with a tray of pud thai, fried rice, and sautéed veggies in oyster sauce from the best south Snohomish County Thai joint in Talay Thai. Read on.

Pulling the cork revealed this wine was about to escape as the ‘wet crawl’ nearly reached the top of the cork (drink this now). In the glass at 38-57 degrees on the IR gun, this wine had the color of clarified butter with dark orange/copper reflections. Aromas of white flowers on steroids jumped out, predominantly Ahnold honeysuckle and Barry apple. Thick and full on the palate, flavors of intense clover honey and apple brandy broke through the strongest acid-backbone found in a Washington wine and leaving an extraordinarily long 5-second tail and a clean finish. No lychees found here…and that lack of familiarity will fool even the most-trained of palates. And, the acid and concentration of flavors did cut effortlessly through the strong Thai curry. A formidable pairing and a lesson to all: sometimes the winemaker’s notes are truly dead-on accurate. Note to millenials: it’s better to be a visionary follower than a blind leader.

Alcohol: 13.3%. Vinted and bottled by Whitewood. Highly recommend visiting the website to witness Washington’s most expensive wine, a $1200 1987 ‘reserve’ estate cabernet. Also, highly recommend a visit to the winery—it is truly unique and will make for an unforgettable experience on your visit to Red Mountain. Hurry, before it disappears and with it, another essential piece of Washington’s early modern wine history. Don’t tell me you’re a local wine ‘expert’ until you experience Blackwood Canyon Vintners. Columbia Valley AVA. Rated: 93. Value: $40. Paid: $45. Music pairing: “Big Man” by The Four Preps. This is WAwineman…uncorked, uneducated but not uncouth.

Answer: 1988 dry riesling, a 1989 cabernet sauvignon estate reserve, and a late-harvest Penumbra (Italian dessert wine)

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