Woodinville Wine Honors (3rd vintage, 2011)

Welcome and greetings from the historic Woodinville Ballroom for this, the third renewal in celebration of the best of Woodinville’s bustling wine country, circa 2011!

Let’s begin with a wrap-up of the wine news, which ominously started on January 5 when the Mariani family of New York purchased Pacific Rim Winemakers (271,000 cases/year) to headline its VinMotion subsidiary as they make inroads to America’s hottest wine region. Quickly following was the purchase of Trio Vintners (1500 cases/year) by Walla Walla resident (and owner of Patit Creek Cellars) Karen La Bonte. The biggest shock of the year turned out to be the default on a $2.66 million dollar bank note by the owners of Whitman Cellars (also of Walla Walla). A few months later, in an 8am email by owner Bob Betz, one of Woodinville’s most prized jewels in the Betz Family Winery was sold to a couple of South African natives with the promise that Bob would stay on for five more years before walking off into the sunset (with his grandchildren). Good move! There were a few more smaller wineries that changed hands, but nothing like what was predicted by wine pundits who cited the economy would lead to “devastating” amounts of closures and reduce the number of wineries in the State. Um yeah, that explains why we averaged adding a new winery every week this year. Good one, wine bloggers!

For you stat geeks, the USDA reported that the 2010 harvest was up to a record 160,000 tons grown on over 35,000 acres, with riesling for whites and cabernet sauvignon for reds leading their respective fields.

The 2011 vintage continued to buck the “global warming” trend by producing an even colder summer than 2010 before an overdue and prolonged heatwave led to a fast and furious harvest that led to some quirky crush schedules and, for winemakers, many sleepless nights next to the crushpad. There were more than a few wives who threw a jealous tantrum upon hearing, “I’m spending the night with the forklift again.”

Then, there was the mother of all initiatives, I-1183. Some bloggers wasted hours upon hours debating the issue of privatization, with a long held grudge against “corporate America” even though the initiative would benefit consumers with lower prices and greater access and subsequently recommended voting against it only to have the voters stick a crusty middle-finger in his face with a 58.7% passing vote. What’s that crumbling sound? Oh, it’s the antiquated three-tiered system of 1933. Yes Martha, we can hold our liquor without government baby-sitting (and we can buy it at a neighborhood warehouse store, too). Victory goes to Washington residents and a slap in the face is handed to industry-supported wine bloggers. Suh-weet!

And did I forget to mention? Washington welcomed its 12th American Viticultural Area on December 14 with the announcement of approval of Naches Heights AVA within the northwest section of the Yakima Valley AVA, to take effect on January 13, 2012.

Around Woodinville, the pace of newbies to the ‘hood slowed to a trickle as our neighbor to the north, Snohomish, explosively added tasting “rooms” for over 20 wineries in a bid to become the “Walla Walla” of the west.

Enough useless banter… let’s get on to the awards!

Retired wine word of 2011: AUSTERE. This has been frequently used by wine bloggers to sound sophisticated, like it’s some poetic adoration for the wine being described. Once and for all, here’s the lowdown: a wine that is ‘austere’ means you do not notice the fruit flavors up front. It’s all that chemistry-stuff like tannins (“bitter”) and acid (“bite”) that overwhelm your palate, which pundits claim (no scientific proof) is good for aging the wine. In other words, it’s a BAD WINE, folks. Noobs hate this kind of wine. It should be the winery’s responsibility to cellar their wines until they are at ‘peak’ performance. Why in the world would anyone pay to have wine sit in some dusty, moldy old corner of their abode for years on the premise that it will “taste better?” Wine is made for drinking. Now. So remember, AUSTERE = BAD WINE up front, good wine if you want to be like your father.

Rookie of the Year: Trust Cellars. True, the competition was not bountiful but add ’em all up, from Snohomish to Redmond, and this entry had the best overall lineup of wines, red-to-white. From riesling to syrah, this winery adds new color that really cannot be found anywhere else in the region. A welcome addition to the wine-roundabout in the Schoolhouse District.

Winery of the Year: Barrage Cellars. Spacious tasting room. Wonderful owners as hosts. Cool wine club members. Great stories. And, oh yeah, the wines rock, end to end. The best return on a $5 tasting fee. And, if you’re nice, you might even get a tour of the barrel room and a sample from an upcoming bottling, as well as a sip of a NLA wine. It’s good to be nice to your local winemaker! As for the wines, how about a chardonnay from the State’s unquestioned number one chardonnay vineyard in Conner Lee? Or a dicey sweet Washington dime in the Dineen Vineyard riesling? No? Then, try the knockout syrah from Les Vignes de Marcoux Vineyard and understand why the western part of the Yakima Valley AVA should be on your “terroir” radar. Won’t need to mention the Boushey Vineyard syrah and cabernet franc or the amazing vineyard blends after that but NEVER underestimate them either or you’ll be looking down a Double Barrel of a Secret Weapon held by a renegade Nuclear Blonde, Alias the Outcast, should you diss even the Trifecta of single vineyard offerings. Bee-yatch.

Red Wine of the Year: Barrage Cellars 2008 Eclipse syrah. Yeah yeah, “but you didn’t try Joe Blow’s Walla Walla Rocks syrah”… yeah, and you didn’t even try to take back your man-card. I’ve had plenty of syrah this year and this is the one. Tiebreaker was the price (for you Tenor fans). Enough said.

White Wine of the Year: Guardian Cellars 2010 Angel sauvignon blanc. No one, and I mean NO ONE, makes a sau blanc this good for a Jackson. Yeah, you could have paid $48 at another joint, but who does that??

Value of the Year: Columbia Winery 2005 syrah. From the best vintage of the decade. From the winery that vinted Washington’s first syrah. Just the thought that Master of Wine David Lake may have even glanced at the barrel should have been enough. Then, for one glorious week at the end of November, ANYONE could have purchased this bottle at the supermarket, filled out the rebate form, and effectively been out only a meager five bucks for what tastes like a twenty-dollar wine that everyone will enjoy. Probably the best Washington wine deal… EVER.

Happy holidays and enjoy the rest of that rib roast with all the fixuns!

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