Would you drop everything?

Renuka and Bob Dayal
Renuka and Bob Dayal.

When I realized we had two tons of Syrah coming in last week with neither winery wanting to claim it there was a revelation that with some fast planning and good luck in getting supplies locally this could be a fun project.  I decided I was ready to make this happen.  Half of the wine will go to the owners of the vineyard, Bob and Renuka Dayal.  This week I was able to meet them and see their two acres of Syrah for myself.

Originally from Fiji, Bob grew up on a large farm planted with peanuts and sugarcane.  Renuka, his wife of 30 years, was born in Fiji but raised in Oregon and California.  They moved from California to Walla Walla in 2004 with three children and no plans to grow grapes.  A year after arriving, Bob took classes from Stan Clarke at WWCC’s EV program; Stan eventually helped put their vineyard in.  Grapes would be the least water intensive crop over time, same with workload, heavy in the beginning then maintenance, and besides, they love wine.  In 2010 Renuka took a few classes from Jeff Popick and Tim Donahue.

Dayal Estate Vineyard

They have had many wineries make them wine, something they don’t want to do themselves.  I feel fortunate to have an opportunity to play with these grapes this year.  The local supplier had just what I wanted in stock, my family has stepped in to help make this wine (juggling schedules and making sure everything got done), and this coming weekend we will press the wine from the skins with the Dayal’s on-hand.

Making Syrah grapes into wine:

Dayal Syrah, nearly finished fermenting.
Primary fermentation is done, secondary fermentation is underway in the Dayal Syrah.

Yup, I was ready to drop everything to make this wine.  I topped the barrels again this week, which I did when we first began harvest two months ago.  As we began sampling grapes and anticipating their arrival at the cellar I had no idea there would be such a prize at the end of the season.  With a bit more patience we will see how this wine comes together.  Cheers!

A Joy Ride

For three years a friend, Jackie, and I have been talking about her visiting us here, but it just wasn’t happening.  I wrote her asking if she would like us to come get her in our plane and spend a few days; her response was instant and positive.  I hoped her time with us would be as exciting as she anticipated it to be.

Friday afternoon, as she was checking out the parking situation at Midstate Aviation, Bowers Field, a fire broke out in the CWU Flight Program’s maintenance hangar!

Saturday morning we flew into the windy Kittitas Valley to pick her up; the flight back was a bit bumpy but beautiful.

Wine was not on the agenda as she doesn’t drink alcohol – she is even more a light-weight than me!  No problem, Walla Walla has lots to do and see.  Nature and History provided the primary points of interest.  Wheat fields, vineyards, and Bennington Lake Reservoir and all of the pastoral charm of the Walla Walla Valley put on glorious displays of color and texture.  She and I spent an hour touring the Marcus Whitman Hotel’s second floor gallery of paintings depicting the history of the Whitman Mission before enjoying a wonderful lunch at T. Maccarone’s.

Bennington Lake, Walla Walla
Storms in the Blue Mountains looked pretty threatening over Bennington Lake.
Lunch at T Maccarone's.
Jackie and I enjoyed a delicious lunch and lots of talking at T Maccarone’s.

I met Jackie when I lived in Ellensburg with my children.  As my teenage son’s life seemed to unravel due to his Bipolar Disorder and other diagnosed mental illnesses I reached out to the local NAMI Chapter; Jackie was the point of contact.  Having local, personal, understanding was my saving grace.  All the professional care we had was as challenging as understanding my son’s needs.  She and several others helped me navigate and stay afloat during that time.

Our Tuesday evening flight to Bowers Field was more beautiful than Saturday morning.  We flew over the Yakima Valley and north, west of the Yakima River Canyon, into the Kittitas Valley.  So much terrain and alternating irrigated farmland and desert  meant some bumps were inevitable.  We just might see Jackie in Walla Walla again as she enjoyed her visit.

We don’t anticipate ferrying friends and family by plane, but we enjoy having visitors.  Hubby has been studying and practicing to renew his Flight Instructor Certification.  That is scheduled, weather permitting, as the next journey this plane has in store.  Just another step toward our dream.  Cheers!

First W2 Food Truck Night 2016

April 4 Walla Walla food truck night weather.The first Monday of each month, April through October, the Incubators at the Port of Walla Walla host a Food Truck Night – and we go as often as possible!  Last year I think we missed one as we were out of town.  For the last few weeks we have anticipated the first of the season that took place this week.  It was brisk and windy, but turn out was great anyway.

Due to the wind, we made our food selection quickly and looked for a protected place to sit. Inside Palencia Winery we were able to sit at a table, order wine and enjoy our meals. Hubby chose a fish taco plate (paired with Cabernet Sauvignon) and I went with my go-to choice of Gyro (with Malbec), both came from the Andrae’s Kitchen truck.  Supper consumed we took our wine to the patio where we visited with friends as we sipped.


Horte with tamales.
Lovely Horte serving delicious tamales at Horte & Mamita’s Mexican Food during Food Truck Night.

Nightlife Walla Walla‘s Horte (#lovelyhorte) is serving Horte & Mamita’s Mexican Food now too.  Very happy to see them so busy.  My dairy allergy keeps me away from the tamales, but they smell heavenly and everyone that has them says they are terrific.

Onion World tent at Food Truck Night.
Sweet onion sausage rounds out Food Truck Night dinner choices for April 2016.

As we walked out Hubby got a sausage from the Onion World Restaurant tent; on a stick, with a bit of mustard and his dinner was complete.  They used to have a small space downtown, but it seems they are doing the food truck and Farmers Market thing now instead.  Good to have them mobile!

Walla Walla has fabulous restaurants, but there is definitely something about the festive, family-friendly atmosphere that beckons us to Food Truck Night each month: fifteen or so trucks, a brewery, and three wineries make for lots of choices. Cheers!

Soup and Salad: it’s for dinner

Have you had enough winter yet? I am usually pretty good about appreciating the season we are in, but this week’s below freezing mornings, hail, rain, and blah skies have me down a bit. Groundhogs Day was mostly cloudy here; do I believe this large rodent? Do you pay attention to Punxsutawney Phil?  The bulbs are showing their tight green shoots, the buds on the magnolia and lilacs are beginning to swell, and the wheat fields are deep green carpets because we have had rain; those harbingers I can believe. To help placate my seasonal blues, I purchased asparagus. This is as much ‘Spring’ as Robins are to me. Although the Robins have been around nearly all winter this year, go figure.

Walla Walla is hosting “February is for Foodies” events with loads of exciting food options in the local restaurants.  With Fat Tuesday next week, Valentine’s Day the following weekend and our industry event on the 22nd this month is destined to be full of incredible gastric opportunities.  All the more reason to enjoy eating healthy meals at home in between.

Salt cellar and pepper grinder.
Salt and pepper, basic seasonings, but such personal taste.

Asparagus Soup and Jicama ‘Slaw’ were quick and easy and delicious! I wanted the soup to be somewhat creamy without dairy since I don’t do dairy, so I used new potatoes. The salad was all root vegetables and a tahini-ginger dressing. Hubby and I each salt and pepper to our own tastes as I don’t cook with added salt, ever (a soap box for another time).

Asparagus Soup

1 pound asparagus, chopped into two inch pieces

2-3 cups broth, I used my homemade stock with no added salt

2 cups potatoes, diced into 1″ pieces (I leave the skin on)

1/2 cup scallions, chopped

For two good-sized servings, easy to expand for the number you are needing.

Place the broth, asparagus and potatoes in a medium soup pot and cook to soften the vegetables. When fork tender, remove from heat, purée to smooth. You can reserve some of the vegetable pieces before you purée if you want something to chew on. Serve, garnishing with the scallions and salt and pepper to taste.

Jicama Slaw with tahini-ginger dressing

1 jicama, medium size, peeled

1 celery root, medium, peeled

3 carrots, medium size, peeled

Grate all and toss to mix up before adding the dressing below.

Dressings: (basis of the dressing has been lost to me, but I tweaked it to my preferences over time; the salad is my own concoction)

1/4 cup tahini

2 tablespoons sesame seed oil

3 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice

1-3 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce, to taste (I use <1 as it is still too salty)

2 tablespoons honey

1 large clove garlic, finely minced

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely minced

1/2 teaspoon fresh turmeric, finely minced

Put all dressing ingredients into a tall jar with a lid and shake hard to blend. Pour over the grated vegetables, stir in and set aside for the flavors to blend for an hour before serving. This makes a large salad and keeps in the fridge for several days.

Although we didn’t imbibe with dinner, this would have been an interesting wine pairing evening.  A dry or low residual sugar, acidic white (my favorite) would have been best: Locati’s Pinot Grigio or Sangiovese Rose or Lagana’s Sauv Blanc or Riesling would have been something from our fridge that would have gone well with both soup and salad.

Come on Spring, as much as I am loving snow shoeing on the weekends, I am ready to get into the garden again. Cheers!

2 trees and lots of decorations

November closed with a blanket of snow and below freezing temperatures; thankfully we had frost so the vineyards and gardens were dormant and as safe as they can be.  It was lovely decorating the Locati Cellars tasting room, Jason decorated the Lagana Cellars tasting room, as well as my own home.  It took two days to put up the three segments of the tree in the tasting room as I tried to work on it between visitors the first day; I decorated the big window before we opened so I wasn’t a spectacle to be observed once 2nd Street got busy on Friday.  It seems I spent five days decorating and pouring wine right after Thanksgiving and I enjoyed it.  Two trees, windows and horizontal surfaces offer a festive welcome to all wishing to wine taste.  The snow flakes inside replace the snow that melted today in our Chinook winds; December seems to be more wet than cold now.  It was delightfully busy Thanksgiving weekend with so many wonderful visitors to the tasting rooms.  Are you decorated, have you written your cards? Started or finished your shopping?

For the next few days Walla Walla wineries participate in Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend, if you are local, we would love to see you.  Locati Cellars is pouring 2013 Dolcetto!  Of course, we are pairing Locati salami and cheese with our wines.

For those that are shopping for wine lovers, we have gift boxes for three bottles of wine.  Purchase three bottles of your choice with a 10% discount on the wine and the box, including a shiny gold bow if you would like, for a fun surprise.  We have some other wine related trinkets for sale, come in to see us!  Lagana has similar boxes on offer.

Are you still eating leftover turkey?  What is your favorite leftover meal?  Coveting your leftovers, we have purchased some ground turkey for taco salads and baked some Russet Burbank potatoes, the real baking potatoes, to stuff.  Ok, enough about leftovers.  Tell me what you can’t live without on Christmas – a particular candy, cookie, meal or tradition?  We are just getting prepared for the baking we want to do: ginger cookies, Mexican wedding cookies, and a smattering of fruit and nut filled cookies, rounded out with some chocolate cookies.  Raises my blood sugar just thinking about it – but it is only once a year and we try to spread the wealth with family and friends so we justify it.

I will leave you with a few photos of the German Christmas Markets that weren’t yet open when we were there.  The store fronts with signs and those that were open our last day there, were for fresh fruits, nuts, floral arrangements and wreaths, Gluhwein (hot spiced wine) and roasted Maroni (chestnuts); refreshingly traditional and meant to be shared with those closest to you.  The pyramids are my favorite, reminding me of the one we place on the dining room table each year.


Mustard Seed Cellars: seek and you shall find

Walla Walla, world recognized wine destination, is also a recognized winemakers destination.  There is something to be said for arriving in this small, friendly town with a significant winery per capita ratio and making a name for yourself within the local wine industry.  Some, like me, come here specifically for the industry, others find themselves lured in, captivated and driven to take part, like my friends Gary and Dawn.  They came to Walla Walla for reasons totally unrelated to wine and found within a few years the desire to grow grapes and make wine; this has manifested in Miracles Vineyard and Mustard Seed Cellars.

Gary attended the WWCC EV program, graduating June 2013; the same program I will graduate from next month.  Both he and Dawn have been working at established wineries, learning more about the business of the industry while taking the necessary steps to launch their own label and grow their own grapes.  This March I helped bottle their first wine: 2013 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  This wine will be released for sale in early August, just a few months from now!

Participating in their experiences, cheering them on where we couldn’t help, and knowing that each step toward success has obstacles and hurdles to overcome.  It has been enlightening, exciting and educational as my graduation looms large and we look at the next few years to determine what path we want to take through the same course, what other lessons will we need to learn to reach that goal of being recognized in the Walla Walla wine world.  Look for it: 2013 Moving Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon this August!


Morrison Lane Winery

Last weekend, during our quest for a local Nebbiolo, we spent time with the Morrison’s, owners of Cottonwood Creek Vineyard and Morrison Lane Winery (http://morrisonlane.com).  With roots in the Walla Walla Valley since 1904 and family wine making in the old country it is not surprising that they chose to grow wine grapes in this valley.  The winery came several years later; after Dean retired from railroad work.

Verde took the WWCC EV certification classes that I am taking now; naturally we had lots to discuss.  As we talked and sipped I was trying to decipher what plants were inside the frames on the wall beside the bar.  Low and behold, Verde’s pressed wild plants (weeds to some) from her class are framed.  She, her sister, Barbara (whom we met), and her daughter put the book together to sell in the tasting room.  I am the proud owner of a signed copy.

One of the early vineyards in the Walla Walla AVA, Dean and Verde Morrsion planted the first four acres of Syrah in 1994 on ground that has been in the family since 1918: Cottonwood Creek Vineyard to supply local wine makers with fruit.  Each subsequent planting through the years diversifying the grape varieties to see what would grow well, best, or not well.  Currently there are Counoise (1.5 acres – the first of this varietal in Walla Walla), Cinsault (0.7 acres) , Carmenere (1.9 acres), Dolcetto (0.6 acres), Nebbiolo (0.6 acres) and Barbera (0.4 acres) besides 13.8 acres of Syrah, 2.1 acres of Viognier, and 1 acre of Sangiovese.   This willingness to plant what is/was not a top-selling varietal, to continue with the pioneering spirit that brought Walla Walla to World Class Wine Destination status, is at the root of the profusion of wines available through the tasting room and the winery.

Dean and Verde made the first wines, opening the downtown tasting room in 2004 in a charming old building on Main Street.  The space has a collection of Spanish Cordoba guitars hung on the walls and on various surfaces; I will have to revisit to pay closer attention to them.  Currently their son Sean is the wine maker for Morrison Lane as well as Something Big Cellars (http://somethingbigcellars.com) for which you can have custom labels made and two none-vintage reds in an Artist’s Series.  (Click on the link above to see what they might have for your event!)

The wines, primarily Rhone style, are delightful, complex, and true to varietal.  Cinsault was a wine grape planted in the Walla Walla Valley before prohibition; the vines planted in the Cottonwood Creek Vineyard are cuttings taken from these original family plants.  The 2012 is rose and lavender, berries and red-licorice finish.  Delightful!

The 2003 Syrah is earthy, mushroom and dried fruit on the nose with blackberry on the palate and a smooth finish.  I apparently love aged Syrah.

A 2005 Counoise is a tart fruit, rhubarb and red currant on the nose and palate, acidic, crisp and perfume with a rich fresh leather finish.

The blend 331/3 is equal parts Syrah, Viognier and Counsoise co-fermented: cherry pie, butterscotch… delicious.

We came home with a bottle of 2006 Nebbiolo, 2004 Nebbiolo, a 2012 Viognier and a case of non-vintage, Syrah-based, Charming Red for our ‘everyday’ drinking… should we ever stop looking for something different or new we will have a lovely wine to open.

As we continue to compare Washington wines with Old World and other New World wines we will revisit Morrison Lane, so I will write more about these wines in time.


Spring Release weekend in Walla Walla

Floral arrangements to decorate a serving table during Spring Release 2014 Walla Walla.
Floral arrangements to decorate a serving table during Spring Release 2014 Walla Walla.

Spring Release weekend here in Walla Walla is an insanely busy few days.  The preparations on the part of wineries, restaurants and catering businesses in the week preceding is nothing short of exhausting.  Shifting barrels in the cellar to make room for wine club members and potential wine club members, moving tables and other furnishings in the tasting room to be sure nobody misses a tasting unless they choose to.  Make-shift outdoor areas to accommodate more bodies; our weather was perfectly lovely for this.  Plate after plate of finger foods, platters of delectable meats and exquisite cheeses beside carefully chosen crackers, mouth-watering dessert items on tiered carriers and flower arrangements of all shapes, sizes and colors.  Member brunches and member dinners began and ended Saturday around town for a festive atmosphere.

Sign says: 'Walla Walla, wine a bit, you'll feel better!'
Sign says: ‘Walla Walla, wine a bit, you’ll feel better!’

Visitors have to make hotel and restaurant reservations at least six months in advance, sometimes a year.  Many have been to Walla Walla repeatedly through the years, remembering when there were very few restaurants and hotels but really good wine brought them back for each activity anyway.  Some didn’t know their inaugural visit would put them smack into a Disneyland-type-line at the wineries they were interested in trying; most say they plan to come back and know to make plans earlier.  I worked Friday and Saturday, the two really big days.  Working in a tasting room for a winery that has been around for twenty-five years, out of the thirty that the AVA has been around, we were pleasantly busy as we were well staffed and well prepared.

Mannina Cellars, award winning wines!
Mannina Cellars, award-winning wines!

Sunday we decided to find a few places we have never been and try them, always a fun endeavor.  We discovered Mannina Cellars in this way.  Small scale family vineyard and winery named for the winemakers maternal grandmother.  A rose’, a couple red blends and several red varietals on offer only in the tasting room.  This is typical of most Walla Walla wineries, minimal to no distribution but available via tasting room or website ordering.  Don, owner and wine maker, was in the tasting room for a short time while we were there. He is a down to earth, and a talented winemaker that exchanged a salary, retirement and benefits at a large corporation for a vineyard that had to be babied through a couple of cold years until he could finally harvest fruit to use in his winery.  Cali Vineyard, as of 2012, is now providing estate fruit – truly a gratifying experience I am sure.

Maddily, 2012 Mourvedre' Rose' from Mannina Cellars in Walla Walla.
Maddily, 2012 Mourvedre’ Rose’ from Mannina Cellars in Walla Walla.

The 2012 Mourvedre’ Rose’ is dry with red fruit on the nose and palate.  With its charming label drawn by a daughter and named for both girls, ‘Maddily’, will be a delightful summer sipper.

Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah varietals and the two blended reds that balance the first three (couple of different vineyards) into two different, but equally lovely wines.

Great line up, check 'em out at: http://www.manninacellars.com
Great line up, check ’em out at: http://www.manninacellars.com





We are glad for we made it into this winery today.  Great showcase of Washington, specifically Walla Walla, wines.

VSP: Vertical Shoot Positioning

The sun broke through late one afternoon while I was out in the vineyard; refreshing.
The sun broke through late one afternoon while I was out in the vineyard; refreshing.
A row of pruned Merlot vines in Stan Clarke Vineyard.
A row of pruned Merlot vines in Stan Clarke Vineyard.

A vineyard is a peaceful place to be, especially in late winter when sounds carry a long way and there is hardly anything to break the stillness – oh yeah, the horns of the power company trucks during the late afternoon on weekdays.  Not sure what they are ‘saying’ but that is the noise pollution disturbing my revery as I observe canes, pick my preferred spurs and rid the sleeping grapes of their tangled masses.  It is a pleasing sight to look back down the row at the tidy spurs poking up from the cordons.  Presently the flash of the red flicker wings are the only sign of wildlife as it is cold and damp with intermittent snow, freezing rain, wind and an occasional parting of the clouds.  The early robins are sheltering in warmer places with more food available.

Prunings left in the row for mulching.
Prunings left in the row for mulching.

Both Stan Clark Vineyard, the WWCC teaching vineyard, and a private vineyard north of town in the Palouse Hills are VSP.  There are a few exceptions in the Stan Clark Sauvignon Blanc, but we are beginning in the red grapes, so we haven’t dealt with them yet.  I have a couple of rows in the Merlot Block, which is the source of the wine I made with my group during crush.  Differences in vigor are noticeable along the rows; my least vigorous row has a few plants missing since the 2010 freeze.  I believe I will have the opportunity to put in new plants this spring if all goes well; exciting thought.

Training a new cane to be a cordon.
Training a new cane to be a cordon.
A cordon with three active spurs and a long inactive section.
A cordon with three active spurs and a long inactive section.

Last weekend I spent most of my Saturday in the private vineyard doing some of my practicum work.  It was an adjustment as the elevation doesn’t do the grape vines any favors.  I had to retrain some canes to cordons where there were too few spurs to provide sufficient grapes.  It adds a dimension to the pruning that has to be puzzled through to be sure the roots are not taxed unnecessarily but that there are new shoots to train as trunks and cordons next spring while still having a useable harvest this year.  Removal of dead limbs keeps the vineyard neat.

Negroamaro, another southern Italian grape variety

My husband has been traipsing around the west for potato conferences while I have stayed home, going to school all during January.  So when we have time together we try to maximize the quality of the time.  January/February in Walla Walla can be tough for wine geeks as most of the tasting rooms close shop after the holidays for a much-needed rest and regroup.  Alas, we had a fabulous day at a winery, which will be documented in another blog, and we went to dinner at Brasserie four on Main St.  That was a great decision!

Although there was no bottle, the menu was full of good information!
Although there was no bottle, the menu was full of good information!

Despite not having reservations (we gamble that two of us will be accommodated most of the time) we were treated to a delicious dinner and yet another wine with a new grape variety: Negroamaro!  That wasn’t planned, really.  I enjoy lamb and the meal I chose was the best lamb I have ever had, bar none.  Hubby chose a beef dinner and the 2011 Tormaresa while I chose a local wine that I knew I loved to go with my dinner.  After one sip, I knew I should have ordered the wine he chose… and he felt compelled to drink our local wine with his meal.  Wow, am I lucky!

The menu says ‘swarthy and robust’ and that is a great summation.  Rich, velvety, dark fruits and berries with gentle tannins and pleasant acid to balance the wine.  With the lamb and reduction sauce I knew I found a ‘perfect pairing’.  Upon finding it available for $7.99/bottle on the internet and the shipping about $2/bottle I will be ordering a case soon.  Even though I have never made a meal with lamb at home, I think I could enjoy drinking this wine with just about any of the winter dishes we can think of.

Ok, your turn, share your experiences with this grape or this wine – or if you have been to Walla Walla and eaten at our authentic French restaurant brasserie four.  We have well over one hundred licensed wineries in the valley and the quality of most restaurants is on par with the quality of the wine.  Recently it has been lauded as a great wine and destination place – hopefully this won’t swell the collective ‘head’ and ruin a good thing!  I am enjoying my newly adopted town.