I like what I do.  And to say that our most recent blending trials at the winery have been anything less than really, really fun would be irresponsible.   A good friend (who is my sounding board for blending trials) and I have been tasting through the eight different lots of 2009 Boushey Vineyard Syrah in an effort to finalize the blend. It was during these trials where we discovered a few bbls (barrels) with mind-blowing aromatics and density of flavors that were just begging to be blended on their own. Rest assured, the rest of the bbls still meet the high standards of our previous Boushey Syrah wines with wonderful aromatics, depth of flavor and a silky palate to match.  But this is why we make small lots of wine:  so we are able to identify and isolate what’s going on in each barrel and highlight those that stand out from the rest and in turn, offer you something truly unique.  As we don’t yet have an official name for this wine to distinguish it from what we’ve done in the past with our Boushey Syrah, we’ve decided to make it easy and just call it ’12.06 to Liestal’. 

THE PROCESS:

We start by going through each bbl and noting the pros and cons of each one: great Syrah nose and palate, but missing some finish; not a lot of aroma, but has flavor and a finish that just won’t end.  You get the picture.  In this process, we identified two 350L bbls (a standard one is 225L) each of a different clone, as well as two 225L bbls that seriously kicked ass.  Now, depending on what that final blend looks like we may blend in a bbl from the 174 clone. You’ll find out sometime after I know.  It’ll also be after Ali and I raise a glass to toast yet another vintage making it to bottle and to making something delicious for your empty glass.

Pinot Noir

Our blending trials continued as we tasted through our first Pinot Noir bbls from the 2009 harvest.  The fruit comes from the Lachini Vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains Appellation of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  From the beginning, this wine has caused me a fair amount of stress.  As you may, or may not know, Pinot Noir can be a very fickle beast and it is very unforgiving.  That said, the main thing that has caused me much stress is the color of the wine.  It has this beautiful, red, transparent color but it is nothing like our inky, purple/black Boushey Syrah and I have to keep reminding myself that this is the way it’s supposed to be.  The wine is beautiful.  The aromatics stunning and the palate is full of spice and slightly dried strawberry and cedar.  I’m blown away by this wine and can’t wait to get it bottled and resting deep in our cellars awaiting an early Fall 2011 release.

That’s all for now.  Bottling of these wines is scheduled for next week, so they’ll have plenty of time to relax in bottle prior to their release.  And there is a good chance we’ll have a few magnums.  We’ll keep you in the loop and post some images of bottling day.

Until next time…    

By Brandon Arnold

Special to The Times

WINE aficionados celebrated the fifth anniversary in May of a landmark Supreme Court ruling that helped to open up direct-to-consumer wine shipping for many Americans. But if a special-interest group gets its way, these liberties will soon be in jeopardy.

The instrument is the Comprehensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act, an innocuous-sounding bill with a positively heartwarming acronym, the CARE Act. Really, who could oppose such warm and fuzzy legislation?

In reality, the CARE Act would shut down and probably reverse the growing trend of legalizing direct wine shipping. Even worse, it would essentially eviscerate an important part of the Constitution as it pertains to alcohol.

The history of this story is long and complicated and stems from the post-Prohibition era when state governments created so-called “three-tier” systems for alcohol distribution after the passage of the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition. Such a system mandates a “middleman” for alcohol transactions by requiring producers of alcohol to first sell their products to wholesalers, who can, in turn, sell to retailers, like bars, restaurants and liquor stores. The original purpose of the three-tier system was to get the Mob out of the alcohol business.

Obviously, things have changed quite a bit in the nearly 80 years since the repeal of Prohibition. And slowly but surely our nation has begun to modernize alcohol laws to reflect today’s culture.

For instance, more and more states have passed laws allowing producers to skip over the middlemen — the wholesalers — and sell limited quantities of alcohol (usually just wine) directly to consumers. This trend was accelerated in 2005 when proponents of direct-to-consumer wine shipment — a group that includes most everyone except wholesalers and anti-alcohol zealots — scored a significant victory in the Granholm v. Heald case.

This U.S. Supreme Court ruling cited the Constitution’s Commerce Clause in striking down discriminatory state laws that favor in-state winemakers at the expense of out-of-state winemakers. This meant that if states like Michigan and New York wanted to allow in-state wineries to ship directly to residents, they had to open up the state and allow out-of-state wineries to do the same. Since the ruling, 10 states have modified their laws to allow some form of out-of-state direct wine shipping.

Now the wholesalers are striking back with the CARE Act, which would effectively overturn the Granholm case. The bill would block lawsuits that challenge unfair state laws, regardless of their constitutional merit. Several such lawsuits are currently working their way through the judicial system, but would likely be tossed aside if the CARE Act passes.

What’s worse, some states would likely take the bait and, in a misguided attempt to help protect in-state wineries, erect barriers that prevent out-of-state wineries from shipping to their residents. These blatantly unconstitutional laws would be virtually immune to any legal challenge.

Wholesalers are pushing this bill in the name of “states’ rights” and claiming that by undermining the Commerce Clause, the CARE Act would empower states to better control their alcohol laws. While shifting power out of Washington, D.C., and to state governments is generally preferable, the Commerce Clause serves an essential role in the devolution of power. Its purpose is to prevent states from passing protectionist measures that unfairly disadvantage out-of-state entities. In short, the Commerce Clause makes the United States a large, prosperous free-trade zone.

Shuttering that is not only an affront to the Constitution, but a disservice to consumers, who in the absence of direct-shipping laws would lose access to many wines and would be permitted to drink only what wholesalers allow them to.

That’s because in truth, the CARE Act cares little about the Constitution, states’ rights and consumers. It cares about only one thing: lining the pockets of alcohol wholesalers.

Brandon Arnold is Cato Institute’s director of government affairs.

Bring your dad out to the Tasting Room today and celebrate with a glass of wine (or five!)  We will be pouring our new 2006 Columbia Valley Cabernet and 2009 Celilo Vineyard Pinot  Gris.  We’re also offering a Father’s Day Weekend Special at the tasting room: we will be pouring our 2006 Syrah~Cabernet Sauvignon blend at $22.00 a bottle or $240 a case.  It’s the perfect red to have on hand for all your Summer BBQ’ing!

Last Friday morning I jumped in the car about 5.15am and headed down I-5 toward Portland, OR and after making a few wrong turns finally found my way to Dundee, OR where we’re making our Celilo Vineyard Pinot Gris, MEADOW and Lachini Vineyard Pinot Noir, the newest member of the RA family.

I pulled a couple tank samples for Erin and me to try at the tasting room that afternoon.  Here are our thoughts:

2009 Celilo Vineyard Pinot Gris:

Still nicely fermenting and sitting somewhere around 2 brix (or roughly 2% sugar).   We’ll be stopping fermentation on this in the next couple of days, depending on how things progress.  With all the CO2 in the wine, it’s pretty difficult to accurately assess just how sweet the wine really is, but looking past that, there is a wonderful weight and flavor of this wine, akin to the 2007.  Fermentation can give off some crazy, interesting and funky aromas and we’re getting all of those at this point:  white pomegranate, grapefruit and fresh soap (the bar type).   While I really like where this wine is going, I saved about half the bottle in the fridge to see how it would change overnight.  18 hours later the soapy aroma has totally blown off and what remains is signature Celilo:  Bosc pear, ginger, lemon and a dash of mineral.  The palate is right at home with orange peel, grapefruit and wet slate.  I love how much more expressive it is day two.  Additionally, with the CO2 blown off, the sweetness is much more clear and present.  While I thought we were close to stopping fermentation, this morning’s tasting suggests that we have at least another week if not two.  We’re not looking to craft a totally dry wine, but we don’t want it sweet either.  By leaving just a hint of residual sugar (rs), it gives the wine extra dimension, weight and complexity on the palate.  And given the brighter acidity associated with this vineyard and variety, the wine will come across even less sweet.  Thankfully we will have slightly more of this wine than we did of the 2008, so for those of you that loved the 2007, stay tuned…

2009 Pinot Noir

What am I thinking making a Pinot Noir?!  I’ve asked myself this question a number of times, but after tasting the sample fresh out of tank yesterday afternoon I knew we’d made the right decision.  The wine will be sent to barrel this morning, so what we tasted was pure, unadulterated Pinot Noir.  I loved it.  It was what I expect Pinot Noir to be like:  bramble fruit, fresh cigar box and black current.  There is also a hint of Black Tea on the nose.  The palate had great texture and length for not having any oak at this point.  The acidity is bright, but balanced.  We’ll be ageing this in 50% used oak (from the 2007 vintage) and 50% new burgundy barrels from Seguin Moreau which we’ve tried on our Boushey Vineyard Syrah with great success.  We’re looking to preserve what the vineyard gave us and not slather it with oak; our barrel selection should do just that.  Over the next year we’ll develop more aromatic complexity and weight on the palate.  We’ll update you with tasting notes on this wine in the coming months, and will release it either Spring or Fall of 2011.

I should have known that the vintage of 2009 wouldn’t be as smooth as previous years; that would be too easy.  With a fairly wet spring, Mother Nature had us tethered to a Kenworth truck.  Luckily for us the truck wasn’t moving, but then neither were we.  As we moved into July and August the truck started rolling, so we jumped on and never looked back…

Something on the Whites

As I’ve mentioned in the past (to those that will listen), one of the many luxuries of working with vineyards  for our white wines in the Columbia Gorge AVA and the Willamette Valley AVA in Oregon is how much later we are able to harvest our fruit than the Columbia Valley.  The cooler temperatures give us longer hangtime with lower Brix and higher acidity (bing!) at harvest.  While the majority of Washington Vineyards are harvesting their white grapes in late August and early September, we aren’t even sending our pick bins to the vineyards; we don’t pull our Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer or Riesling until mid to late October.  This gives us a few extra weeks to get things set up and prepped for harvest (which is one of those things that seems to sneak up on us).

The Reds

While we didn’t have to worry about the whites in early September, I was in the vineyards a couple times a week checking on flavor development and the health of the canopy.   If you arent’ in the vineyards regularly, it’s impossible to really know how the fruit is progressing and thereby to know when it’s the right time to make the harvest call.  That said, we pulled the first of our Merlot from Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain on the 18th of September, just a day before we pulled in 2008.  We really paid attention to crop loads, canopy and stayed on top of watering during the week to 10 days of 100+ degree heat.  It’s actually hard to breath when it’s that hot, but that’s why I am in the vineyards about 8 am.

Our next harvest came about 9 days later when we pulled our Klipsun Merlot.  This is our first year working with Merlot from this fabled site and it looks promising at this point.  It’ll give us additional depth and concentration to complement our flagship Cabernet Sauvignon as well as our red blend.  A quick aside on Merlot:  I’ve never been a big fan of domestic Merlot on it’s own, but I really like what it contributes to wine in small percentages.  It’s that chocolate and orange peel aromas paired with a softer, silkier palate than Cabernet Sauvignon.

From here the grapes flowed in with our Klipsun, Ciel du Cheval and Alder Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon arriving the first week of October.  Syrah came in about 5 days later.  We’re doing some fun experimentation with syrah this year, but I’ll go into that after we get the wines through ML and resting in the cellar.

On the morning we harvested our Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (yes, I said Pinot Noir), I stopped of at Celilo Vineyard to pull some samples of the Pinot Gris.  I’m sure glad I did as all the flavor and acidity were there.  This was the earliest that Pinot Gris has ever been harvested from this site, but don’t let that fool you into thinking there was a compromise in flavor or depth.  I really think this wine will be another stunner.  Stay tuned.

While this is just a quick summary of harvest, be sure to check back in to see our thoughts on the wines’ progression.

Ok, so it’s been a while since I really had to use my college degree (English), but I have high hopes that as I delve into this new blog, it’ll all come back to me and I’ll be waxing poetic with more 4 syllable words than James Mitchener while showcasing my mastery of parenthetical phrases. 

For those of you that don’t already know, Ross Andrew Winery (yup, that’s me) now has a great new tasting room in the heart of Woodinville, 1/4 mile East of Ch. Ste Michelle immediately north of the historic (read:  brick) Hollywood Schoolhouse.  We’re right next to Mark Ryan Winery’s Tasting Room and Bookwalter’s Tasting Studio.

With harvest on the horizon, there is an incredibly long list of things to take care of, none of which I will bore you with at this point.

I’m hoping to keep you up to speed on harvest, bottling, new releases, tasting events and other delicious little details.  This won’t be a daily blog, but at least monthly.  Thanks for staying tuned…

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