Operation: Yakima Valley Spring Barrel Tasting
Report: Field Observations, Day 1
Covert Agent: Joshua G. Gana
In early April 2010, Agent Gana intercepted wire traffic on the twitter machine alluding to a bootleg gathering of winos in Eastern Washington. Early reports indicated a weekend of tacos, red wine, fire, and general carousing in the Yakima Valley area, under the guise of "Spring Barrel Tasting". Gana, with more than 10 years experience and specialized training as a wine palatification expert, recognized this as mere cover for what truly was sure to take place: a clash of twitterati, cougars, phenomenal wine, and down home hospitality. Courtesy of the fine folks at Wine Yakima Valley, Agent Gana dispatched himself to the scene to infiltrate the winos, posing as a "Wine Writer" with "The Oregon Wine Blog," whatever that means. What follows is Gana's narrative of day 1.
Friday was a gorgeous day for wine tasting, unfortunately, most of the day was spent traveling in the german carmobile to get from Corvallis to the oasis of the Tri-Cities. Upon arriving, I was welcomed with the warm hospitality of the staff at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites in Pasco, a connection made through the graciousness of the staff at the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau. Now I'm a man of habit and have extreme loyalty to another hotel chain across the river in Richland. I'll tell you what, though, the HIEx in Pasco has it going on and gives them a run for their money. An all-suite property next to a convention center and right off the highway, the accommodations were spacious and well-appointed, the staff wonderful, and the breakfast...well you'll just have to wait until day 2 to hear about that. Literally a hop, skip, and a jump from I-182, I was in the heart of wine country minutes after leaving the hotel.
Barnard Griffin was the first stop on this fine Friday evening as I worked my way into the valley. After sipping some of their 06 Cabernet and peeking at the new bottling facility, I was on the road. There were bigger and better things on the docket for this particular evening. Next stop, Thurston Wolfe Winery in Prosser's Vintners Village. After picking up my Premiere Pass for the weekend, allowing access to reserve and special tastings at nearly 30 wineries in the region, I wandered around observing the sheer brilliance of the event organization. Take the vintners village, for example. A whole day's worth of wineries within walking distance, great wine, and porta-potties set up on the road to boot. What more does a wino need? Thurston was a nice surprise, with a fabulous petite sirah in the barrel and tempranillo that made me swoon.
Next up was a brief jaunt to Alexandria Nicole Cellars, where there was a noticeable buzz in the air as the crowd got larger and the winemakers had less time to chat. Great wine, great setting, and I had to keep reminding myself it wasn't a race to see how many wineries I could get to before the end of the day. I had to drive home, after all. ANC closed at 5, the "main event" of the evening wasn't until 6 PM at Red Mountain...can you say Picazo 7Seventeen? I could, and did. So did the cherry chipotle pork shanks I had as an appetizer. Yep. Frank, you are the man.
Main event time. Due to the generosity and kindness of one Neil Cooper, I found myself on the guest list for the Fidelitas Taco Wagon Dinner. Did you catch that? Fidelitas, Cooper, Tacos, and Wagons. So the technical name of the event was the Feast of St. Fidelas, but there was legitimately a delicious taco cart carving pork off of a spit and serving up some gourmet mexican delight. Paired with Champeoux merlot, I was in taco wine heaven. Frequent Blog readers know that Clive (@clivity) has been firmly planted in the Washington Twitterati Hall of Fame. Me (@OR_Wine_Blog), on the other hand, didn't meet many of the regular tweeters in person until the 'wagon dinner. Coop (@coop_cwc) introduced me to @divatink, @heyjenk, and @littlebluest; icons on the machine. And yes, we introduced ourselves by twitter handle. A riveting conversation on social media and wine ensued.
The evening capped off with a soft opening of Cooper Wine Company, Red Mountain's newest winery. The event was a veritable who's who in the Eastern Washington Wine Industry. In the old Seth Ryan facility, Coop has made some significant transformations in the property and the wine, which is crafted under the tutelage of Charlie Hoppes. Cooper wine is for real. We tried three of his four offerings during our fabulous dinner at Picazo 7Seventeen in February, and this particular evening Coop was proud to share the fourth: a Walla Walla Cabernet. Amazing. I tried to stick a bottle in my jacket to take back to the hotel, to no avail. Can't wait until he opens in a few weeks. Oh yea, there was also a large bonfire.
Agent Gana, signing off. Report on Day 2 of "Yakima Valley Spring Barrel Tasting" forthcoming.