Columbia Crest 2010 Grand Estates chardonnay

It’s official! Congratulations to Don M. for winning yesterday’s quiz bowl and becoming the latest winner on the WAwineman Quiz Show. Keep checking the post where you entered your correct answer for instructions on where to claim your prize! Oh yeah. Can you handle what’s coming your way, Dood?

Made it to Day 5 and I was nudged into an early rise just so she could attend the 7am lectures about the Hoonah culture from a native interpreter. They call themselves “Indians” which I thought was un-p.c. but he was down with it. We also listened to a Park Ranger with Glacier Bay National Park in full view behind her in the Crow’s Nest. Despite the clouds, the dark, partially snow-covered mountain ranges were a heady sight to see and the audience was at rapt attention, dialed in to the ranger’s every word as we tried to absorb as much as we could of this pristine wonderland of America. We later aborted to search for a prime viewstand of the glaciers we would be o-facing later in the morning.

Common thought would be to head to the bow to see everything ahead of the boat; however, my crew buddy (who has been working this cruise all summer) hinted that the best view for the glaciers would be back in the aft section on the port side. I doubted this at first but understood once I got to the back side, near the pool and just under a protective ceiling from the periodic rain systems we passed through. I setup the trusty tripod and waited as the crowds grew bigger to the point the entire railing on the port side was occupied with fellow gawkers. We passed a few low-lying bald islands surrounded by a soup of what was slowly evolving into an opal-colored sea. Other than the sound of the humming boat engine, the sound of solitude was deafening. Nothing but sheer cliffs with progressively desperate foliage as the mountainsides breached the cloud cover. Every now and then, plateaus between the 2000-foot mountain peaks would house a patch of white that, upon closer zoom inspection, revealed these specks to be highrise-deep glaciers, unnamed on the National Park Service map. Incredible natural beauty! All of the observable glaciers were on the port side so I began to understand why it was a good idea to secure a pure-left-side-of-the-boat claim as we sailed deeper into Glacier Bay National Park.

Protip: you know those rinky-dink wafer-thin veggie bags you get in the produce section? After buying some fresh fruit, since all you followers eat a healthy diet and will live as long as I will, save that sheer bag (or two) and pack it with your D-SLR camera gear. When inclement weather threatens your valuable lens and camera body, bust it out and poke a small hole wide enough to allow the opening of the lens to peek through while using the rest of the bag to wrap around the lens and camera housing. It’s the cheapest form of weather protection for your thousands-of-dollars setup and it works. Of course, it helps to screw in a protective filter to seal the front of the lens, but you knew that. Not all lenses are created equal and once moisture invades that lens housing, kiss it goodbye as it coaxes those microscopic fungal spores to wake up and take root on the inner lenses. And, that’s not mentioning the water vapor spots that will eventually destroy the computer chip that assists in autofocusing as well as fogging up the internal glass. All avoidable with a free veggie bag.

Initially, the thought was that the clouds would not allow enough light to get good pictures, but that was not true at all. Even from a moving boat, with the shutter-priority set at 1/500th second, we captured our first tidewater glacier, Reid Glacier off the Brady Icefield. Imagine after seeing nothing but steep mountainsides with low-growing vegetation, out from a cove in the distance arose the dying remnants of a once-mighty glacier that is only now exposing the deep valley it has cut into Glacier Bay. That glacier-blue is unmistakable and still an awesome sight to behold. Well worth the entire price of the cruise.

The grand glory of its gargantuan size was not realized until a smaller cruise boat passed between the glacier and our grand boat. Just the face of the glacier was estimated to be about ten stories high of poorly oxygenated blue ice and moraine.

A few minutes later and we see in the distance, yet another glacier. This time, it was the Lamplugh Glacier. Although far flatter in elevation, this gem was surrounded by a few high-elevation glaciers and a deeper inlet (Johns Hopkins Inlet) that enticed my camera with the intrigue of what lied beyond. And, to think, in 1879, all of this was under ice and the early explorers like John Muir were not able to see what we were witnessing.

Our boat kept trudging on in the now milky opal water of Tarr Inlet as we noticed an increasing presence of bergie bits floating by and an uptick in obnoxious seagull and pelican noise, along with puffin sightings on the far cliffs. About 20 minutes later, we hit our destination at the shallow end of the still forming Tarr Inlet– the ginormous Margaret Glacier and the silty termination point of the once mighty Grand Pacific Glacier.

This was a mostly quiet glacier as our boat crept slowly up to about 1/4 mile from the imposing face of the glacier that dwarfed our 11-deck boat. It’s a haunting scene to take part in as the boat engines became silent so as to not create man-made vibrations against the fragile face of this half-mile wide termination point. All we could hear were the distant cacophony of those opportunist birds in the far distance, not unlike what we hear from lazyass wine bloggers when we get a scoop on a winery.

For most of the half-hour we studied the deep fissures embedded in the glacier and listened to the thundercrack music orchestrated by the ages-old ice as it created more fissures deeper in. It is an odd and captivating sound to hear the glacier “talk back” to our stunned-silent gathering.

As the boat began it’s slow 180-degree turnaround, we noticed the oddly level mound of dark-gray silt, some ten stories high, that was left on the shoreline where the Grand Pacific left its connection to the water some fifty years ago. The camera captured an unusually striped and twisted path behind the curtain of virgin dirt that disappeared ominously into what was the Canadian border. As the boat straightened for its return voyage, there was a sudden snap-crack sound coming from an area that had fresh, deep-glacier blue indentations and we kept the secondary video camcorder rolling to cover the entire calving of a fairly large spire of striped glacier-blue ice crumble to its destiny into the bright opal milk. The collision with the water led to a few giant waves that traveled in all directions and we watched it engulf a large chunk of iceberg resting lazily near its “mother.” We had just borne witness to watching a tick move on Mother Nature’s clock.

As we left Tarr Inlet, the view from the back of the boat was easily the best view overall as the boat’s engines churned up the fine brown sediment on the bottom that cut a scar into the milky sky blue waters of the two-mile-wide inlet. the sun fought to break the cloud cover and we were able to grab a few black-and-white shots of the deep valleys that were carved into the mountainsides of this primitive-looking landscape. Captain George Vancouver would be incredulous at what our own eyes recorded.

Our cruise ventured into Johns Hopkins Inlet and we were able to view more virgin land with distinct demarcations of where vegetation now grew that were once the property of hundreds of years of ice. The Johns Hopkins Glacier was, perhaps, the most striated of all the glaciers we viewed. We couldn’t get closer than a few miles away as the inlet was littered with fragments from the calving of several clustered glaciers. Suffice to say, the Johns Hopkins Glacier was the most photogenic of all the glaciers.

As more clouds dissipated and let in the sun, we arrived at Lamplugh Glacier that, although mostly flat, had a length that rivaled the mighty Margaret Glacier, although its position between two steep mountains, one of which nurtured a few glaciers from heaven’s elevation, diverted our attention spans. This glacier was noted for the lateral striations of moraine it carved on its way to the inlet as well as a prominent water-level cave with a river of glacier water departing its home.

As if right on cue at high noon, the Polar Bear plunge in the outdoor pool began with about thirty nutless souls in swim fashion surrounded the edge of the pool and all-together, they took a shrinkage-inducing dive into the chilly water and stayed there for a minute before getting back out then waiting a minute and then brazenly jumping back in for an encore.

For lunch, the big party was at the Lido deck midship pool where the chefs were grilling salmon and steaming pots of mussels and clams. The line was about 20-minutes back but worth the wait as it was self-serve so I piled the shellfish high in my bowl and stuck a fork into a side of grillmarked salmon. Divine!

If you’re not the type to be enamored by crowds and watching ice melt, then you could have attended the classes in the gym, played cards in the casino area, drink mulled wine for six bucks a glass, taken an acupuncture class, or even bidded on some Thomas Kinkade paintings at auction. There’s something for everyone on board.

In the mid-afternoon was our second presentation on wine. This one focused on Washington wines and this wine was one of five poured at this session. The others included: sauvignon blanc, Saggi 2007, Kennedy Shah 2005 Reserve cabernet franc, and Domaine Ste. Michelle bubbly. The pairing plate featured fruits, cheeses, crackers, cured meats and shelled-shrimp in a balsamic dressing. Our tasting group was limited to twenty lucky souls. Again, the notion was brought up about judging a wine by its “legs.” And, again, I had to bite my lip and give a cursory smile in agreement. Overall, I felt like this was being held at the Chateau Ste. Michelle tasting room after a busload of ignorant tourists were paroled and allowed to annihilate all sensibilities of Woodinville tasting room etiquette. I gave up Cupcake Tea Time for this???

Tonight’s dinner was “formal night” so I treated it like prom night with my new friend and took some fun pictures with all the cruise ship paparazzi. My choices for dining were: escargots bourguignon, chilled apple vichyssoise, and filet mignon and lobster tail with herb garlic butter on mushroom basmati rice and sautéed veggies. Dig the dessert: poached pear with chocolate fondue. I ordered a glass of California pinot noir and it was so gut-wrenching horrid that I summoned the wine waiter to take it back and he quickly replaced the offending glass with a new bowl of box-worthy-quality chardonnay for $12. The bottle offerings were less-than tempting: Villa Maria sauvignon blanc ($49), Mission Hill reserve merlot ($64), and Moet and Chandon Imperial brut ($89). I had another choice to close: ‘The Master Chef’s Sundae’ consisting of vanilla ice cream topped with mashed tropical fruits, whipped cream, and sprinkled with roasted macadamia nuts… or a bottle of Alaskan Amber. Well, no duh!, I got the beer for only $5.

The evening’s entertainment was a dandy with world champion magician, errr… illusionist. While he put on a great show, I swear, his skin-wrapped hot assistant looked like Twitter handle heyjenk. Let’s just say I had to keep ‘the big horse’ saddled as I lost track of the magic acts and kept my eyes glued to that brunette Barbie doll on stage.

About to Ken-up and hit the 70’s night in the Crow’s Nest so ta-ta for now…

I don’t get this wine being here. Why THIS chardonnay? Why not Arbor Crest’s ebullient and blissful version? This is the most polarizing varietal in wine so it is important to make a unique and firm statement that Washington chardonnay is a straight-up killer value against California’s mass me-too chards. Skip the oak as that’s the only way California can uplift the rather blah-fruit from chardonnays in this price range. But no, we get a mostly generic, wallflower effort that won’t win any small-town fair awards anytime soon. Sure, this wine is sound but it’s easy to tell this came from some cookbook.

Tasted at 53-60 degrees on the IR temp gun. Color: straw. Nose: peach, lemon tart, and pear blossoms. Mouthfeel: medium. Tail trail: 5 seconds. Flavors: pear, green apple, orange oil, nectarines, lemon zest, melon, lime twist. Paired with Icy Strait views to add vibrancy.

Alcohol: 13.5%. pH 3.57. TA 0.60%. Oodles of cases. Columbia Valley AVA. Power: 2/5. Balance: 2/5. Depth: 2/5. Finesse: 2/5. Rated: 88. Value: $16. Paid: $8. MSRP: $12. Cruise ship glass pour: $13.50. Music pairing: “Rock The Boat” by Hues Corporation. This is WAwineman… uncorked and cruising Alaska. Suck it, beeches!

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2 Responses to Columbia Crest 2010 Grand Estates chardonnay

  1. Winemaker of Mass Destruction says:

    This was a great recreation of the glaciers experience! Well done. I really do feel like I’m there.
    Oh and please get me one of those infamous vacation t-shirts.

    W.M.D

  2. wawineman says:

    Hey, thanks W.M.D.!

    You are quite the masochist but I will see what I can do. Ketchikan’s shops had everything on “sale” so I didn’t think they were interested in a custom t-shirt, no matter how brilliant the idea. Maybe I’ll ask the folks at Archie McPhee’s to help me out…

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