Hospices du Rhône. Day 2. What happens when you take several hundred (probably hungover, definitely tired) wine writers, bloggers, lovers, and somms, and throw them in a conference room at 9am with eight glasses of wine in front of them ? Lots and lots of champagne. that’s what happens. wait…strike that. Reverse it. But you can’t! I was pretty well baked by my Cold from Hell, but to be up bright and early so as not to miss the Walla Walla sneak peak, I was given a delicious treat of several glasses of some damn tasty grower champers that Chaz brought in at his own expense to wake us all up. YUM!
Ok enough of the 9am drinkfest. On to the syrah.
K Vintners was started by Charles Smith, who used to manage rock bands and lived in Copenhagen for 11 years before moving to Walla Walla. Always having passion for wine, he’s an innovator, a marketing genius, and loud. Roll all that together with walla Walla wine, and you get a larger than life character who defies the rules. The winery is located at the base of the Blue Mountains, and opened to the public in 2001, producing wines from Wahluke Slope and Walla Walla Valley, primarily syrah as well as field blends.
Smith believes K is about KOMMUNICATION and, bad puns aside, he says that people should use language that people can communicate with internationally; that language is wine. Smith feels that too much of wine is making beauty where there is natural wonder; he focuses on showing off the unique fruit of Washington, and uses subtle oak influences as to not overpower the natural beauty of the wine. He is, in some ways, the ultimate terrorist. wine should be about a feeling, and here in Walla Walla, Rhone producers are small. Wine is what they live for and they are passionate enthusiasts.
K focuses on syrah for several reasons; first, it has a distinctive quality that no other wine has. Additionally, the high steep slopes in the Walla Walla area are difficult to work, which makes for more interesting wine and a challenge. Syrah is global, with France representing the old world and ancient vines. Australia shows us the AC/DC of the varietal, with a new world fruit bomb style (think Angus with the flaming red hair) that is indicitive of the passion and terroir of the Barossa. Finally, when you get to Walla Walla, you have the geology of tumbled river rock, salty soils, and a long growing season o the high desert plains of Walla Walla. There is a pioneer and rogue belief system in Walla walla, which allows them to do anything the want to with little thought about if anyone did it before them or was previously successful.
2006 Syrah Pheasant Vineyard Wahluke Slope – was a chewy caramel dusted in mocha bramble berry, with baked plums and bittersweet chocolate. I tasted black cherry, dried orange rind as well with just a slight hint of herbal flavors. This is a very dense wine, but it was smooth and mellow with a plush finish. It was quite refined and let’s just say I struggled to spit this out at 9am. This vineyard was planted in 2000 along the Columbia River, on sandy loam and peaty gravel in the Wahluke Slope AVA. This sandy soil makes for a more floral and herbaceous wine.
2006 Syrah The Deal – Sundance Vineyard Wahluke Slope – shows a meaty smoky wine with blackberries and tar. The refined tannis show notes of tangerine, and while it was a bit gamey at first int he glass, that soon blew off to a smooth long finish and nice mouth feel. The Deal is all about respect, integrity and doing what you want to do in the vineyard. The Sundance Vineyard has a slight northerly slope which creates a cooler site, in a very warm region. This wine tastes of cool climate syrah, and is grown in sadny loam over coarse sand which provides excellent drainage. Only two miles from Pheasant Vineyard, it was planted in 1997 and creates a very different wine profile.
2006 Syrah Cougar Hills, Walla Walla – has more minerality than the first two wines, with lots of lavendr and orange marmalade, followed by graphite. the Couger Hills Vineyard is located in the southern region of the Walla Walla valley, and has loamy soil with river rock and gravel, as well as a layer of volcanic ash. This ash adds complexity to the vines which were planted in 2000 and are sustainably farmed.
2006 Syrah Wells, Walla Walla – With only 1.5 barrels made of this wine, we were in fro a rare treat. that’s about 35 cases in the world, and it was made as an experiment in 100% whole cluster fermentation. the Wells vineyard is half an acre that sits 1500 feet up on the south fork of the Walla Walla river, and has rocky cobblestone soil. I tasted fresh cherries, strawberries, and vibrant red and black fruit. This was brighter and fresher than the earlier syrahs and just lovely.
2006 Syrah Phil Lane, Walla Walla – is the estate vineyard. Three barrels of this wine were made from 1.5 acres of grapes planted in 2001, which produces a highly aromatic wine with bright raspberries, rose petals, and flavors of mole sauce.
Chief Mutineer Alan Kropf "moderates" the champagne bottle
2006 Syrah Motor City Kitty – Stoneridge Vineyard, Royal Slope Columbia Valley is created from a resurrected vineyard which lay fallow on the ground for years before Charles Smith rescued it. The Stoneridge Vineyard has very rocky soils, and with six different rocky types, produces very different wines. It is windy up there on the hill, and the the thick skinned fruit creates inky black juice with robust and smooth wines. I found a very dense, sweet cherry wine with flavors of cough syrup. The wine sits for 23 months in neutral barrels and is then hand bottled, to produce 50 cases of a powerful and rich wine with whole berry fermentation.
2006 Syrah Royal City – Stoneridge Vineyard, Royal Slope Columbia Valley – includes some of the Stoneridge Vineyard fruit and had flavors of coffee, milk chocolate, and black cherries. It was chewy and dense but well balanced and had some lovely spice notes on the back end.
In closing, ALL of these wines that were poured were rare and small production. They were all amazing and each one shows a slightly different slant ont he Walla Walla terroir and what is going on in Washington wine. I am very much looking forward to tasting more Walla Walla wines in a few weeks at the Wine Bloggers Conference!
Special thanks to the Hospices du Rhone team!