Last week, I attended a wine event in Walla Walla, Washington, designed to highlight the quality of the area’s wines and naturally help increase their renown (and price!) as the Napa Valley Vintners have done so spectacularly well over the years.
The area, which is becoming an important wine destination, doesn’t specialize in cheap wines. Prices for their cabernets and other wines tend to mirror the majority of Napa’s in the $40 to $100 range, with some higher if not reaching the prices here.
Land is much cheaper there, too. Excellent vineyard land is perhaps one-tenth the cost of that here, which is why Duckhorn and Cakebread are moving into that area and other wineries are looking there, too.
Washington, in general, is on a roll with top wine critics praising its wines, particularly those of Walla Walla Valley and Red Mountain.
As a result, Walla Walla vintners don’t have much Napa envy, unlike some in Sonoma County and Paso Robles who understandably resent the reputation and prices of Napa wines when theirs are excellent, too.
The people I met in Walla Walla were universally welcoming and happy that I had traveled there to try their wines, even though an ordeal because the airline connections are lame.
With that in mind, I was surprised — and amused — to read an opinion piece by Jeff Popick, viticulture instructor at Walla Walla Community College’s Center for Enology and Viticulture, in the local Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. He wrote in the third person, like the royalty he envisions:
“As a long-time resident of (Napa Valley) until his departure for Walla Walla at the end of 2010, he feels particularly well-qualified to offer his observations on winedom’s Disneyland. And he will state unequivocally that the reigning king of domestic wine appellations is gravely ill and beset by a host of problems — any one of which could easily topple it from its throne in a quick minute.
“Overrun by tourists almost year-round maniacally searching for overwrought and overpriced wines, the place is so full of its own reputation after having gorged for decades at the trough of relentless self-promotion that it sees itself as above even the slightest whisper of criticism. And those who might even suggest that there are places in the U.S. as yet spoiled and untainted by the lust for money and notoriety where better and lower-priced wine is produced are being met with the haughtiest of looks combined with an acerbic reply designed to stifle the merest hint of such heresy.”
Funny. I suspect the Walla Walla vintners also lust for money and notoriety. That’s why they invited us writers to visit.
I note that the paper hasn’t posted the comments to its website. Maybe the editors realize that they don’t reflect well on the paper or the region.
The only other negative comment I heard was from a Paso Robles vintner speaking at an industry panel. I’d heard similar thoughts when I visited Paso Robles a few weeks earlier.
A tasting of Turkish wines
Last week, Tarla Restaurant’s owners, who come from Turkey, hosted an excellent meal to introduce a Turkish winemaker and show off his wines.
Enis Guner of Sevilen Wines is a third-generation vintner and winemaker brought up on vineyards near the Aegean Sea in Turkey. He completed his wine education at UC Davis in viticulture and enology.
He now has two vineyards totaling 400 acres, one near the sea and one in the mountains.
He poured an excellent fresh sauvignon blanc and a tasty syrah, plus an interesting native red, Kalecik Karasi and a 2011 white that included both sauvignon blanc and what they call sultaniye (sultana) and we call Thompson seedless. The latter was a little tired to my taste, but the red had intriguing aromas that seemed, well, foreign at first but then perfectly matched the Middle eastern food.
Turkey has made wine for millennia. But unfortunately for Turkish vintners, while nearby Christian Romania and Georgia are rapidly developing and promoting their wine businesses, an Islamist government is overturning Turkey’s long history of moderation and tolerance.
A Turkish law last year banned all advertisement and promotion of alcoholic products, including shop signs that included alcoholic brands. This included cancelling the annual Masters of Wine Weekend in Istanbul, which promoted Turkish wine.
That’s a shame, for the area could obviously produce wines equal to the rest of the Mediterranean. While their future seems uncertain, the wines are worth trying now.