Cellar Rat at Patton Valley Vineyards

It was 2018 and Patton Valley Vineyards needed heavy things moved around, stuff cleaned and wine put into bottles.  You can’t just have any idiot help out with that, you need a very special idiot, and that’s where I come in!

Here’s Derek getting the bottling line set up.

It’s true, half the fun is a beautiful place to work.

Portrait of a cellar rat. Again, this is the glory you miss out on by having a cushy desk job, you fat old people, you.

Hey, these casks won’t top themselves, pumpkins!

Hey! Who’s got blue eyes and no hair?

Patton Valley Vineyards

The Harvest Hand Workout, or How I Learned to Love Pinot Noir

If you’ve been reading this blog as long as I have, you may remember a couple years back when we launched an amphibious assault on the Wineries of the Willamette Valley, and just didn’t enjoy it as much as the places we’d visited in the Columbia Gorge. At the time we thought that perhaps the Pinot Noir wasn’t for us, but on further discussion it wasn’t so much the liquids, but the high tasting fees (compared to the Columbia Gorge) and just the feeling that we weren’t as warmly received as we were in other wine regions.

Frequent readers will know by now that our research seems to indicate that wine is sold more on an emotional connection, than what is specifically in the bottle.

Did we not know how to enjoy Pinot Noir, or was the situation where it was presented less than what we’ve learned to expect?

So why bring this up now? Fall of 2017 cracked over our heads like an egg into a hot skillet. What do you do if you’re 48 and need a job? Hey, why not be a harvest hand?

Here we are in a quiet moment on the deck behind the Torii Mor teahouse:

Torii Mor harvest crew 2017

Can one be a harvest hand at 49? Well, it didn’t kill me. In fact, at the end of harvest I was so fit I could do pull-ups again.  The thing is, no one single task is too hard during Harvest, it’s the marathon aspect – 12 hours sorting grapes and you’re back at it again at 8am the next day and the next day and the next day and the next day and the next day.

That’s the hard part.  Standing up and doing every day, day after day until it’s done.  Here’s Steph doing a great job of Taking Care of Business:

Torii Mor 2017 Harvest season

Here’s the thing: making wine is mostly about cleaning things and moving heavy things around.  Endless respect to Jon for putting together a stellar crew.  Not one whiner, not one shirker, not one bum in the group.  If you needed something, by the time you turned around someone was handing the tool you needed almost before you asked.

Here’s Diane Nemarnik getting hands-on with Steph barreling down the wine she made with her grapes in the Torii Mor facility:

We also made wine for Dr. Mike. He’s a good guy, he had no qualms about getting his hands dirty helping us clean the equipment at the end of the day. However, he was a little confused. I don’t have a photo of this, but he generously brought some of his wine for the harvest crew to taste, and the guy with the good-paying day job asked, “So, what part of this is the best?” We looked at each other, and had to answer, “This part – the sitting down and tasting wine.” Why? Because there’s nothing fun about 12 hours of sorting grapes unless you’re touched in the head.

It’s just bloody hard work.  It’s rewarding, but it feels best when you stop.

Look, I’m going to tell you that  my favorite part of the work was throwing the punch-down stick over my shoulder and walking down to the cellar to work over the fermenters, feeling strong and vital and part of a thousands-something year old tradition of making wine.  Here’s what it looked like:

Hey, shall we flip some casks and steam the heck out of them? Of course!

Yes, I can run a forklift now.

Here’s a rare photo of Jon almost standing still.

As I mentioned before, making wine is mostly about cleaning things. I know, how romantic!

I was usually taking the photos, so here’s a rare one of your author proving that he wasn’t making this stuff up.

I hope I don’t have to tell you that this whip-thin set of grrlz did every physical thing us grunty/sweaty man-men did without complaint, if not straight out putting us to shame with their abilities.

Here’s a rare photo of our winemaker Jacques actually standing still. The rest of us had the easy jobs – just follow orders. The ultimate success of our efforts fell on his shoulders and he was one very busy man. Outside of the knowledge he carries around about turning grapes into something you might want to drink, I am still in awe of how he’d fill a five-gallon bucket full of bentonite and zip up an 80′ ladder with it like he was taking a sandwich to kindergarten.

Torii Mor

Here’s Jacque again, schooling us on how to take care of the casks.

Torii Mor

So, Pinot Noir? Yes, I’ve learned to love it. You have to watch out for it’s subtlety. Stand back and wait for it to come to you. It wasn’t easy, but I’ve had a chance to taste it at every step of the process and now I have that emotional connection spoken of at the start of this missive. Mayhaps you can have a journey half as rewarding as the one I’ve had.

This post wouldn’t be complete without this great portrait of Jeromy.

Torii Mor

Treveri Cellars – Yakima

Well kids, this is a place that does it right.  Treveri Cellars, outside of Yakima WA.  They make enjoyable and very affordable sparkling wines.

Treveri Cellars

Why do I say these gals and guys do it right? This place is a dang fine time.

Ok, it’s true, this isn’t a great photo, but their building and tasting room will surprise you by having a German twist instead of a French twist like you’d expect.

There’s no charge for the tasting flight, but as you can get into one of their bottles of bubbly for only $15 so you might as well go for the full meal deal. Speaking of which – the food is good. We quite enjoyed their sausage plate.

It was a bit breezy out and October. Hey, guess what?  They keep a basket of blankets around so you can stay comfortable while enjoying the outdoors.

The staff was great too. Here’s our server, a gent who goes by the nom de guerre of “Dr. Bubbles”. Appropriate! He made sure we had a warm welcome and everyone there did a lovely job taking care of us and the other customers.

Four thumbs up!

Owen Roe Winery, out by Yakima

If you’re a fan of this blog (and I know I am) you may have read out post about Col Solare which we visited earlier on this same day.  Here we are at Owen Roe Winery, out near Yakima, WA.  As you can see, it’s another dang beautiful place.

Owen Roe Winery

So, why bring up Col Solare? Well, we felt it had no personality.  Not true here, look to the right as you walk in the front door and you’ll see stuff like this:

That isn’t to say the place isn’t professional with a nicely polished experience that anyone could enjoy, here we are doing just that.

It’s just a friendlier place a person can feel comfortable in.

If I recall correctly they had a sheet of paper on the door to the winery office totaling up the harvest volume and I believe it came to something like 520 tons of grapes. That’s twice what we did at Torii Mor last year, and just looking at all the barreling down they did here makes my arms itch.

Owen Roe Winery

And they have a Pinzgauer!

 

Col Solare Winery, Yakima area

Col Solare, Red Mountain area outside of Yakima is, I think a good example of what we like to talk about here.  We are very fortunate to find that almost every place we go has pretty good wine that you’ll probably like.  What you don’t find every time is a place that convinces you should take it home with you – and that has a lot to do with what some old researchers would call “set and setting.”  How does the theater of presenting the wine change how you feel about it?

Here’s a photo of me, sitting before a lineup of red liquids.  It’s kind of clever how they serve, actually.  She brought out all three at once, with a placard of descriptions, water and some crunchy things so you can sit, enjoy and get down to business.

Col Solare

And, as you can see below, it is a beautiful location, so what’s not to like?

Col Solare

Well, it’s run by a corporation and it really feels like all the personality has been boiled out of it. The wine itself tastes like technical excellence, there are no flaws, but it also feels like it lacks character.  There’s no rough edges, but maybe a rough edge or two is a good thing.  I’ve done my share of sorting grapes and punching down fermenters and to me this wine tasted more like high-end wine making equipment than wine itself.

Does the wine actually taste that way, or is it a reflection of the almost overly polished showroom that makes it feel that way?  Or was it the weather, cold and bleak, when we pulled in to the parking lot?  To be fair, we’d have to visit again to get a better read.  (It didn’t help that I gave Joyce the wrong directions and it took us an extra 20 minutes to get there.  That’s my fault.)

But it’s more than that.  It’s fine that their wines are expensive, about $75/bottle.  However, if you want your tasting fee waived, they require you to spend $100 – but you can’t spend just $100, you have to buy two bottles, which is $150 + WA tax.  WTF?  As if the customer doesn’t notice that little bit of math which seems intended to jack us around.  (Or maybe we’re just peons too poor to afford this place, maybe?)

Also, once you go to pay your $20 tasting fee – we’re not against tasting fees, we’re drinking their wine after all, and Col Solare did not skimp on the tasting pours – but then unlike every other winery they don’t build the sales tax into the $20.  You can’t just slip them a fin and get on your way ya gotta stop and dig through your pockets for the extra %.

It just feels rude and inconsiderate.  These kind of little unthoughtful details can really rub a customer the wrong way and leave, as you’d say, a bad taste in their mouths, which isn’t something you’d want when you’re selling things intended to be put in the mouth.

Capel Pisco Reservado

Here’s a big shout-out to my friend Alex for bringing this prize back from his recent trip to Costa Rica.

Yes, this is a bottle of Chilean Pisco in an Easter Island head.  How cool is that?

With a few ingredients (many of which are shown here) it makes a dang fine Pisco Sour.

Say “Hello” boys!

Pisco
Alex was told that the Easter Island Moa head bottle has been discontinued, so if you are a Tiki Nerd like me, do not turn down the chance to buy one if you manage to find one.

The Pisco itself can be found in a boring old regular bottle. https://www.winemag.com/buying-guide/pisco-capel-reservado

Aluvé Winery

Today’s Most Interesting Story Award goes to Aluvé Winery.  Please say hello to Kelly and JJ:

Kelly and JJ served our country in the Air Force piloting the gas tankers in the sky and F-16’s.

Aluvé Winery

As of fall, 2018 you won’t be much impressed rolling up to their facility after being at Walla Walla Vintners, but after walking up the stairs to their kitchen tasting room the warmth of their welcome will more than make up for the fancy stuff we all enjoy elsewhere.

JJ tells us they are working on a more formal building for the wine tasting theater stuff frequent visitors to this blog knows I go on about… by the time you read this, you may have missed out on visiting with JJ and Kelly in their kitchen. Get on it people!

Regular visitors to this font of our wisdom, such as it is, will know that we are students of the perception and experience of visiting these places. Any number of other outlets will tell you what you should believe tastes good and will give you numbers and whatnot etc etc. Instead, we are here to tell you what’s likely to make you feel good.

What delivers the experience of feeling loved, fulfilled and part of the universe?  It’s so much more than the fermented juice in the bottle.  Comments?

àMaurice Cellars

Winning the award for most spirited Tasting Room Associates is àMaurice Cellars.

As you can see, we are suffering horribly here.

àMaurice Cellars

Are their wines good? Yes, yes they are.  What’s more important?  Your authors could relax and take in the view, contemplating synergy and their friendly staff enjoyed leaving the shady tasting room to deliver a sip of our next tasting.

So, the kids were a lot of fun, definitely the highlight of our visit here.  (HINT: got a tasting room?  Keep your Associates chipper!)  In the “small town” vein, the gent with the golden hair says he was a server at a group dinner we enjoyed Thursday evening.  Just goes to show what it takes to make a life in this world.

Since we have to back up our reputation for not pulling punches on this blog, for my winery picnic money, I would absolutely choose Walla Walla Vintners as a place to sit and enjoy, which is only walking distance away.  Sorry, that place was frickin’ Winery Disneyland(tm) when we were there.

Meanwhile, there’s really no way around it. Those of us of a certain age can’t hear the name “Maurice” without this earworm.  It’s worse for Joyce and I because we bought a Ford Explorer from good friends who they’d named “Maurice”.

Somehow, when it came down to it, I wasn’t able to determine the “Maurice” angle here.  Pretty sure it doesn’t have anything to do with Space Cowboys.

Walla Walla Vintners

Wow, talk about a perfect afternoon.  What is there even to say about the wines at Walla Walla Vintners that wouldn’t be overshadowed by the sheer beauty of a perfectly crisp October afternoon sandwiched between the visual joy of mountains, vineyard, winery…

Walla Walla Vintners

Makes you just want to roll it up in a warm burrito and snuggle with it all.

Winery dog, OF COURSE.

On the right you can see two kids coloring in the sun.

Ok, I left out the photos of the smiling winery crew cheerfully punching down and forking casks back and forth because it makes my palms itchy since working a harvest season last year.  After that, it’s hard to sit down when others are doing work.

One thing you may notice about experiencing the Walla Walla region, is they are fond of breadsticks as tasting room palate cleansers, which is great as they are delish and fun.  WWV shared with us their secret: Safeway Select is the best.   Slightly salty and a touch of butter, I’d have to agree.  They got the yum.

 

Mark Ryan Winery

When in Walla Walla, do as the visitors to Walla Walla do – drop in on the Mark Ryan Winery tasting room.

Will you enjoy the wines here? I think so. What I think is most interesting is the message the visual design of space sends. It’s decorated with prints of Grunge and 90’s era Indie Rock posters of Seattle bands.  Why do I think that’s interesting?

This stuff was supposed to be transgressive!  We were bitter Gen-X’rs, punk rock souls railing against a world we didn’t fit into and didn’t seem to want us.  I assure you, we were not drinking fine wine.

And so, our past identities are recycled and fed back to us as a luxury consumer product.

Keep hitting the “random comic” button on Cat and Girl and eventually you’ll find something that explains exactly what I mean.

Hey! We ran into Mike and Liz!  Cool!

Drink up, big boy.

Mark Ryan Winery