Monday, August 14, 2017

Cayuse Release Weekend in Walla Walla

Trip date: April 2016

April means Cayuse Release Weekend, the annual pilgrimage to collect my only cult wine and taste around the charming town of Walla Walla. This time I was also on a mission to bring home a few cases of rosé for the arrival of summer.

My friend Chris and I headed east, his first time, and we decided to drive across the Columbia Gorge as it was a brilliant spring day. It was interesting to see that the makeshift campground where I spent much of my late 20's partying at is now all paved with proper fire pits, picnic tables, and tent pads.

We arrived in town and immediately stopped at Gramercy who always has a member's party that same weekend. I've been a fan of Gramercy wine for years now, the quality is amazing. If you haven't been I really recommend a visit (ask if they have any Picpoul!)

However lovely Walla Walla is, it is not without a few flaws; one of them being the lack of good, affordable hotels close to downtown. In years past I have always stayed at the Holiday Inn Express- not posh but well priced. This time we chose to stay at the newly opened Courtyard Marriott. For the same price as the HI we were within walking distance to the wineries, bars, and restaurants downtown. Very nice!

We checked out the bar and although the service was great, the drinks were made with overly sweet mixers. Stick to whiskey neat or on the rocks here I'd say.

We walked to Brasserie Four, one of my favorite restaurants, and had an excellent meal complete with escargot. I really love their escargot!
The next morning we drove over the state line into northern Oregon and onto the Cayuse property. This is the only time Cayuse does any type of tasting, and it's only for members. My friends know that I don't roll out with handcarts of Cayuse, just a few bottles to keep things interesting, such as my 2014 Cailloux Vineyards Syrah which The Wine Advocate just gave 100 points!

The folks here put on a great party and now that the new cellar is open there are beautiful views of the vineyards and much more space for everyone. They had an awesome spread of both passed small bites and stations of hand carved Iberico ham and cheeses. And of course, there was a lot of wine to taste!

Taking advantage of the warm and sunny day we headed to Sleight of Hand, got a few glasses and sat outside while listening to winemaker Trey's rock music play on vinyl from inside.

We dropped the car back off at the hotel and set out to go tasting at some new (to me) wineries.

First up, Trust. I really liked the wines here, very solid Syrahs with excellent QPR! Recommend giving them a taste!
Seven Hills, which is a classic in Walla Walla, but I had never been to a tasting there. We loved everything and ended up buying a lot! And good thing as the winery was sold in 2016 so upcoming vintages will be different. Their rosé was especially lovely.

DaMa. Nope. Overpriced, underdone. And the tasting came with some serious high-pressure sales pitch. YMMV.

Final stop at Otis Kenyon left us on a high note. Lovely wines, some which came home with me, and a fun staff and tasting room. Another one I'd recommend!
It was time for dinner and we had reservations at Whitehouse Crawford. I absolutely love the space here and my meals are always good, not fantastic but good. Walla Walla also needs more restaurants.
The next morning I had a nice visit with my friend Abra who moved to Walla Walla from Seattle to study wine making. We were able to sit outside in her garden with our tea in the sunshine and catch up. The weather can be so great over there in the spring!

Before leaving town Chris and I had a fantastic breakfast at Bacon & Eggs which is now on Main Street in downtown! So handy!

We had one more tasting, at Kerloo as I had been told they were doing a good rosé and indeed they were. Rosé goals were achieved and the trunk was just about full.
We got on the road heading west, this time going through Tri Cities and Yakima, but made a little stop at Owen Roe's new tasting rooms high on a hill in Union Gap.

This is another winery I've been a fan of since first tasting them in Willamette Valley, Oregon. The new Washington space is awesome and I had a chance to taste some wines I am familiar with as well as some new ones. Absolutely make a stop here if you are passing by!
I missed this year's Release Weekend as I was in Palm Springs soaking up some vitamin D with friends. I will most likely miss next year's as well because of the same. First world problems and all that. Here's looking to 2019!

Pssst... If you're in Seattle you can taste Walla Walla greats such as Sleight of Hand, Kerloo, Rotie, Waters, and more at SoDo Urban Works!

All wine weekend photos here!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Cellar Dwellers Do Napa

Trip date: January 2016

A few years ago my friend Lorraine invited me to sit in as a guest at her Cellar Dwellers wine tasting. They were a group of 12 who got together regularly to eat, drink, and discuss delicious things. I knew most of the people in the group, though not well, and also had the pleasure of meeting some new friends; John, Amanda, Benson & Kel. That was June 19th, 2013.

I got to keep my seat and over the last 4 years these friends have been there for me in so many ways. And so many times. They are full of love, laughter, amazing taste, extraordinary skills, and are just all-around-great people that I feel so lucky to know. This week Kel passed away unexpectedly and now I am reeling from the sudden void he's left. I know the others are feeling it as well.

I only knew Kel a short while but I had so many awesome times with him both as part of the group and separately. Last January Cellar Dwellers (missing Sandra & Travis who were on a round-the-world-trip) decided to take our wine tasting on the road to the Napa area; I started this post before Kel left us, it seems fitting to finish it now.  

Our flight was delayed out of SeaTac so it was later than we planned when 6 of us finally touched down in Santa Rosa, got our rental van, and drove to The Retreat where we were meeting 4 other Cellar Dwellers and Sarah's parents, who were all cooking a gorgeous dinner for us. Each of us had our own bottle of the olive oil that the Lawers produce at our table setting.

Sarah's parents, David and Betsy, own Lawer Estates winery and vacation rentals in Calistoga where the 10 of us would be staying. After dinner we split up with 6 of us going to The Lodge, and the other 4 staying at The Farmhouse in the Vineyards. All of these properties are absolutely wonderful and I couldn't recommend them more!

The next morning was cool and drizzly, but we weren't too bothered as we were heading to the Culinary Institute of America to take a wine class called "Tasting Like a Pro". The 2 1/2  hour class was super fun and our group will forever disagree over the flavor charactistics of oak.
CIA Greystone has a lot of courses and if you're into food and/or wine it's a great thing to do while in the Napa area.

All that wine drinking, I mean tasting, had us ready for an afternoon cocktail and some lunch. We chose nearby Goose & Gander. There were many orders of Fried Chicken Sandwiches and the house burger outfitted with gruyere and bacon.
Main Street was perfect for window shopping, loading up on Model Bakery English muffins for the house, and doing a little wine tasting at Orin Swift before hitting the grocery store and heading back to The Lodge.
Lorraine and I made cocktails that night, Sonja and Gavin cooked a delicious dinner, and the others tried to conquer a giant puzzle. Afterward, Kel baked chocolate chip cookies, including gluten free ones for Sarah and Sonja taught us all to play a dice game. It felt like one big happy family!
We were up and out of the houses early the next day (minus Benson who was stuck in bed with a cold) to make our tasting appointment with the winemaker at Lioco, Kai Kliegl.  Pretty much everything here was fantastic including the Pinot Noirs. I think Lioco has become a CD fave and I know a few of us get very excited when we see their rosés in our shops in the summer.
Sarah's parents kindly invited us to have lunch with them at the Mayacama Country Club in nearby Santa Rosa. And because David is super generous, he brought both a 1999 and a 2003 Silver Oak for us to enjoy with lunch. Those Cabs definitely called for a burger!
We stopped for a little shopping at the Bottle Barn, which has great prices on booze and some things you can't get in Seattle. The back of our van continued to fill as we went to our afternoon tasting at Two Shepherds Wines. Our group was very divided on the wines here, they're pretty high acid, even for this girl. But they did have this super cute dog!

Before dinner we had the chance to stop into Lawer Estates and do a little wine shopping! Back at The Lodge, Lorraine and I mixed up some more drinks while Benson and Kel made a fabulous dinner served with lots of wine. There were more tipsy games at the dinner table as well. So fun!
The next morning was absolutely gorgeous so Sonja and I walked to The Farmhouse property and through the woods and vineyards. Everything was dormant as it was January, but it was still so beautiful!
It was our last morning and back at The Lodge the final pieces were laid in the puzzle, the last of the English muffins were toasted, we packed our bags and checked out of our lovely house.

Our final wine appointment was an over-the-top private tour and tasting at Ridge Vineyards. Ridge is one of the oldest vineyards in the Sonoma Valley and is very famous for coming in 5th at the Judgement of Paris.
The tour took place both in the vineyard and in the cellars and was quite interesting. We were then led to a private room and tasted through 5 wines. It was absolutely excellent. And then we all pulled out our wallets and did some more shopping!
We had a bit of time to kill before our flight so we drove to Healdsburg and walked around the quaint town. Pre-flight meals at In-n-Out Burger were obtained before unloading our van at Santa Rosa airport. Alaska Airlines allows each passenger flying out of STS to check a case of wine for free and boy did we take advantage of that!

Kel I love you and will miss you so damn much. I'm so lucky to know this group of wonderful people and I look forward to recounting many memories of you, continuing to learn about you, and hopefully coming to terms with the loss of you. But I'll never forget you. xoxo

All trip photos here.