Top Northwest wine stories of 2011

It was a busy and exciting year for Northwest wineries as they battled Mother Nature as well as political and economic winds. The industry lost some giants to death, and the heads of Washington’s and Oregon’s industries left their positions.

Here are the top wine stories of 2011.

1. Washington voters pass Initiative 1183. In November, voters did away with Washington’s state liquor stores by passing the Costco-backed Initiative 1183. Many wineries, wine shops and groceries are still trying to sort out the full effect of the new law, but the bottom line is that Washington’s largest wine retailer — liquor stores — are going away.

2. Dean of Northwest wine writers dies. Bob Woehler began covering the industry in 1976, and he never stopped. He was the Tri-City Herald’s wine columnist from 1978 to 2010 and was Wine Press Northwest’s tasting editor from 1998 until his death in August, just a few days after he turned 78. While he focused his efforts on Washington, where he lived, he also covered the Oregon wine industry in its early days and greatly enjoyed writing about British Columbia and Idaho.

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Occupy Wine Spectator

Wine Spectator’s annual top 100 list is out, and it’s almost embarrassing how many Northwest wines are there.

Can you say 11%?

Here’s the list:

  • No. 6: Baer 2008 Ursa, Columbia Valley, $35
  • No. 15: Efeste 2008 Jolie Bouche Boushey Vineyard Syrah, Yakima Valley, $36
  • No. 18: Januik 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $30
  • No. 25: Owen Roe 2009 Ex Umbris Syrah, Columbia Valley, $24
  • No. 30: Sineann 2009 Resonance Vineyard Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton District, $42
  • No. 32: Andrew Will 2008 Sorella, Horse Heaven Hills
  • No. 38: Rex Hill 2009 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley
  • No. 39: Tamarack Cellars 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $32
  • No. 41: L’Ecole No. 41 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $37
  • No. 51: Evening Land 2009 Seven Springs Vineyard La source Chardonnay, Eola-Amity Hills, $60
  • No. 85: Domaine Serene 2008 Grace Vineyard Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, $125

Quick-hit thoughts:

  • Baer’s Top 10 pick is cool, just a few years after the young owner died.
  • No Quilceda? It’s been the darling of the Spectator and Advocate for the past decade.
  • No Ste. Michelle Wine Estates? Just a couple of years removed from naming Columbia Crest’s 2005 Reserve Cab as the best wine in the world? Weird.
  • No Leonetti? No Woodward? Is this a changing of the guard? (Well, Andrew Will is at No. 32, so probably no).
  • Combined, Washington and Oregon make just a bit over 5% of the wine in the United States, and the United States makes about 7% of the wine in the world. So the fact that the best wines in the world according to Spectator include 11% from a tiny area on the world wine map speaks volumes about our quality.

This week’s edition of Fresh Press

This week, we review wines from Convergence Zone Cellars, Dakota Creek Winery, Dusted Valley Vintners, Eliana Wines, Fujishin Family Cellars, Goose Ridge Estate Vineyard & Winery, H/H Estates, Holmes Harbor Cellars, Koenig Vineyards, Open Road Wine Co., Pend d’Oreille Winery, San Juan Vineyards, Sol Duc Wines, StoneCap Wines and Wedge Mountain Winery.

Download PDF here.

Or read the e-edition version here.

Northwest wines score big in L.A. International

Pacific Northwest wineries brought home 31 gold medals - including 15 deemed “best in class” - at the United States’ most prestigious and important wine competition.

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery in Oliver, British Columbia, won three best-in-class awards, and Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Kelowna, B.C., won another two at the Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition.

The competition was conducted in May in Pomona, Calif. The results were released this week.

Wineries winning gold and best in class were: Abacela, Calona Vineyards, Columbia Crest, Gamache Vintners, Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery, Hester Creek Estate Winery, Kiona Vineyards Winery, Red Rooster Winery, Sandhill Wines, Snoqualmie Vineyards, Sozo and Summerhill Pyramid Winery.

Also winning gold medals were: Chateau Ste, Michelle, Cougar Crest Estate Winery, Foris Vineyards Winery, Hogue Cellars, Hyatt Vineyards, JoieFarm, Moon Curser Vineyards, Nk’Mip Cellars, Peller Estates Winery, Red Rooster Winery, Sandhill Wines, Silver Lake Winery, Sozo, Summerhill Pyramid Winery and Tsillan Cellars.

In all, Northwest wineries won 200 medals in the competition.

See the complete Northwest results.

Bargain whites abound in Pacific Northwest

Last week, we reviewed red wines under $15, so let’s take a look at inexpensive white wines.

Historically, the Pacific Northwest was first known as a region for white wines. In fact, Washington still produces more white wine than red. Last fall, Washington wineries crushed 80,100 tons of white wine grapes, just ahead of the 79,900 tons of red grapes. Oregon, on the other hand, is dominated by Pinot Noir, though nearly 7,000 tons of Pinot Gris were crushed last fall.

Idaho also has been a big producer of white wines, with Ste. Chapelle one of the largest Riesling makers (and at great prices). And British Columbia is crafting many superb white wines from typical (Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris) and atypical (Ehrenfelser, Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc) varieties.

With our weather finally warming up, we are thinking more about crisp, delicious white wines and how they’ll taste with fresh seafood, picnic fare and backyard dinners.
Here are a few delicious Northwest white wines (and a rosé) priced at $15 and under.

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Looking for a Northwest bargain? Try these recession reds

Who doesn’t like a bargain, especially in this economy? Wine lovers for certain. While there is talk around the American (and global) wine industry that wine drinkers’ wallets are loosening up ever so slightly, the sweet spot for wine remains under $20 — and that’s good for those of us who love a great bottle of wine that tastes like twice the price.

While Northwest wines are not at the low, low end of price scales (box, jug or Two Buck Chuck range), there are plenty of good bargains that will help you keep your dollars — and regional pride — close to home. We’ve tasted these wines recently, and all are delicious. They are in the right price range to keep you from feeling guilty about opening them any night of the week.

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Fresh reviews of Northwest wines

We have posted the newest issue of Fresh Press, Wine Press Northwest’s new weekly online publication. It focuses on fresh reviews of recently released Northwest wines.

Fresh Press is available as a convenient and freely downloadable PDF, perfect for viewing digitally and formatted to be easy to print.

Wineries featured in this week’s edition include:

  • Brooks Wines
  • Cathedral Ridge Winery
  • Challenger Ridge Vineyard & Cellars
  • Columbia Crest
  • Corvus Cellars
  • Daven Lore Winery
  • Desert Wind Winery
  • EMVY Cellars
  • Gard Vintners
  • Gordon Brothers Family Vineyards
  • Henry Estate
  • JoieFarm
  • Kathken Vineyard
  • Kramer Vineyards
  • Koenig Vineyards
  • Kitzke Cellars
  • LaStella Winery
  • Martinez & Martinez
  • McKinley Springs Winery
  • Melrose Vineyard
  • Pura Vida
  • RiverAerie Cellars
  • Waving Tree Winery
  • Westport Winery

Oregon’s Erath Winery thrives under Ste. Michelle ownership

In May 2006, Oregon pioneer Dick Erath shocked the Northwest wine world by selling his successful operation to Ste Michelle Wine Estates. A half-decade later, Erath Winery is thriving, producing some of the state’s greatest and most consistent red and white wines.

Erath moved to Oregon in 1968 after learning to make wine in California, purchased land and began to grow wine grapes. In 1972, he launched his winery, producing fewer than 300 cases of wine. By 1975, he joined forces with Cal Knudsen, and they changed the name of the winery to Knudsen-Erath (some 13 years later, Erath bought out his partner and changed the name back to Erath). Since 2002, Gary Horner has been the winemaker at Erath.

Ste. Michelle’s purchase of Erath marked the Washington giant’s entry into the Oregon wine industry, and it has provided Horner with the resources to craft great wines while at the same time giving him the space to be creative. One of Horner’s most remarkable projects involves Prince Hill, a vineyard Erath planted in 1983. Using grapes from the vaunted 2008 vintage, Horner crafted no fewer than four Pinot Noirs from Prince Hill, three of which are rare clonal-designated wines. (A fifth wine, the Estate Selection Pinot Noir, also uses Prince Hill grapes.)

Meanwhile, founder Dick Erath has moved to Arizona — not to retire but to pioneer grape growing and winemaking again.

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Zerba Cellars tops Northwest Wine Summit

This year’s Northwest Wine Summit concluded with a banquet over the weekend to announce the top awards.

Finishing at the top of the Summit was Zerba Cellars with its 2007 Bowlus Hills Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s all from estate fruit on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley - and it is only $20! It’s a remarkable red wine at just about any price, but at $20, many folks can afford to make it their house wine with a case or two.

Here are the rest of the top awards from the Northwest Wine Summit, which was held at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel.

Best of categories

  • Best red: Zerba Cellars 2007 Bowlus Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley
  • Best white: Jones of Washington 2010 Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley
  • Best rosé: Jones of Washington 2010 Rosé of Syrah, Columbia Valley
  • Best sparkling: Domaine Ste Michelle NV Blanc de Noirs, Columbia Valley
  • Best fortified: Westport Winery NV Shelter from the Storm, Washington
  • Best ice wine: Koenig Winery 2009 Riesling Ice Wine, Snake River Valley
  • Best fruit wine: Heymann Whinery NV Apricot, Washington
  • Best dessert: Mount Baker Vineyards 2007 Late Harvest Viognier, Yakima Valley

Best of regions

  • Best Washington: Jones of Washington 2010 Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley
  • Best Oregon: Zerba Cellars 2007 Bowlus Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley
  • Best British Columbia: Mission Hill Family Estate 2006 SLC Riesling Icewine, Okanagan Valley
  • Best Idaho: Coiled Wines 2009 Sidewinder Syrah, Snake River Valley
  • Best Alaska: Alaskan Wilderness Wines 2009 Blueberry, Alaska
  • Best Montana: Ten Spoon Vineyard and Winery  Flathead Cherry Dry
  • Best Oregon Pinot Noir: Erath Winery 2008 Estate Selection Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley

We will post the full medal list as soon as we receive it from the competition coordinators.

Earl Jones, founder and director of winemaking for Abacela, talks about the new vine and wine center at his Roseburg, Ore., vineyard and winery. He plans to open the doors later this spring.