Friday, June 26, 2009


Our existence is thick with interconnected layers. Some are physical, like geologic blankets on an Earthen bed. Some are incorporeal, but no less momentous, as when our slightest actions weave a most complex web of effects upon others. The complexity of these effects is so startling, the more you think on it, that it almost makes one afraid to exhale. Each of us drives the entire world. The bee dance seems primitive, random, until you understand its utility and beauty, and then you see that a single bee drives its entire world. If the bee does not perform its dance properly, the other bees will not find the blooms. If the far-flung flowers are not pollinated, then there is no fruit. If there is no fruit, then the village goes hungry. If the village goes hungry, then the young people leave. If the young people leave, they make revolution in the city . . . and this all springs from the ability of a single honeybee to do its dance?

The simple view of my wine business is that I recommend wines to friends, who may or may not buy them. But that ignores a universe of complexity that lies beneath. If you buy a wine, enjoy it, and comment favorably, that reinforces my belief in the wine. and I may tend to recommend similar wines. If you don't like it so much, that affects my view, too. Our puny West Portland wine buzz might be picked up by a wine writer somewhere, and suddenly our little-known darling wine is in the national spotlight. And so much of this is random. The most amazing thing can happen, but is anybody listening? Wine scores are silly. What do you like? And if you don't buy a wine, is that just the weak economy, or full cellars, or should I change my recommendations? Is it the frailties of our language, which is so utterly unable to describe a wine? So many questions. Should the artist make what she sees as beautiful, or should she make what will sell? Ah, the layers.

And yet all our palates are ever-changing, layered in ever-swirling strata affected by our mood, by the weather, by a glass. We are not machines--our senses' sensitivity ebbs and flows. Today just might not be a good nose day. There are so many variables that a supercomputer could not be programmed to account for them all.

Thinking of three very good wines offered this year, one sold like hotcakes for $8.75, one sold darn respectably for $25, but the third one-heartily pumped thrice by yours truly--hardly sold at all for $8.50. Explain that to me.

We humans are so impressionable. If we notice what we see and hear and feel, it makes us either more assured in our beliefs, or more curious about changing them. As much as we revel in each other's unique personality, as much as we love to buy land (what? own the Earth?) and construct boxes of our own on it, in which we take refuge from others, we are still community animals. We affect each other in ways we cannot imagine. Simply occupying the same space makes us all brothers and sisters, in an incredibly intimate sense. Sharing air, sharing future memories, sharing wine.

Sharing layers of meaning that enrich our lives.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Quick Trip to Willamette Valley Wineries

I took a business friend (from New Hampshire; he's an ex-MIT inventor who chairs the school board; his wife is a judge) to Dundee yesterday. We went to:

1. Duck Pond (photo on left): Surprisingly good wines; "smoothness" describes all of them except for the ones trying to be French, which are much more acidic and crisp. This winemaker is skilled. I didn't know much about DP. Very pretty landscaping and comfortable tasting room. Very friendly pourers (may I say "good ole girls"?). Take a date or spouse to this place and you won't be sorry!

2007 P. gris: OK; too tart. $10 retail

2007 Chard: Very nice; well-made $10 ret

2006 Pinot noir: Good nose and very smooth and fruity; this is a definite buy! Good Oregon pinot character and cheap! $20 retail

2005 Sangio: Good; balanced. But nothing to write home about. $12 ret

2007 Syrah: no, no, no. $12 ret

2006 Syrah, Desert Wind Vineyard: Still no. $28 ret.

2004 Port (Cab franc): Very good; super balance; smooth; rich. Rings the bell. $40

Duck Pond's "Desert Wind" label:

2008 Viognier: Very French; crisp, minerally, almost clear. Enticing. $15ret

2006 Semillon: Very nice, but that's it. $12 ret.

2006 Merlot: No. $18 ret.

2006 Cab (Desert Wind): Oh, yeah! Leather nose with desert minerals and spice; super fruit; well-made; fulfilling. Only $18 retail. This is a must-have wine.

2007 Barbera: Nope. $20 retail.

2. Argyle. Rollin (winemaker, from Texas) is a master, at least with the sparkling wines. One should never go to Dundee without visiting Argyle. It is a true Oregon gem.

a. 2005 Brut: good; silky; impressive. $30 retail

b. 2000 Blanc de Blancs: Great. Awesome. Fabulous. 100% Chardonnay, and for my money this is the best way to drink that grape. Come up with a reason to celebrate, with this stuff! 92WS but I'd give it 94. $40 retail and they're almost out of it.

c. 2006 Black Brut: Dark red sparkler, Australian style. Very spicy. Strange, frankly, but good. Black currant is VERY dominant, which I love, but again it's weird for a bubbly. $30 ret.

d. 2008 Riesling: 1%RS. Good nose; warms to fields of honeyed flowers. Zesty. $25 ret.

e. 2006 Willam Valley Pinot noir: Just OK. $25 ret.

f. 2005 Nuthouse Pinot noir: No nose. Disappointing. 93 points in WS, but I don't see it. It is more concentrated than the cheaper PN, and it's fun to drink, but still . . . $60 retail.

3. Dobbes Family Estate: This also includes the lesser "Wines by Joe" label (but unless marked "WBJ" below, it's Dobbes label). Nice landscaping and tasting room. Worth a visit.

a. 2007 WBJ P.gris: Euro style; very crisp and tart. $14 ret.

b. 2006 Viognier: Rogue River; volcanic soil. Nice complex nose. One of the better wines from S. Oregon grapes that I've ever had, and that includes all of Abacela except for their Reserve Tempranillo, which is King of the Umpqua/Rogue. Dry. Juniper berries predominate, which is kind of cool. When you're drinking this, you're standing on bone dry, gravelly soil, with bright light on the hillside across from this stark gully before you, as the sun sinks behind you, and the only scattered plants are the tough ones that can make it in this harsh landscape . . . This keeps up to five years. $22 ret.

c. 2005 Cuvee Pinot noir: Great Oregon nose. Strong cherries. But $52 ret; whoa!

d. 2005 Grand Assemblage Syrah: Rogue Valley. Has 2% Viognier, for aromatics. Nose is earthy, like a desert. Wine is tart. $26 ret.

e. 2005 Fortmiller Syrah: Strong port aroma, which suggests raisined grapes--I bet there was tons of heat on the vineyard. A heavy, dark purple wine. Pretty good, but give me Walla Walla for this price. $45 ret.

I can get any of these at wholesale by driving back to Dundee, and some of these are available at Portland distributors. Let me know if you're interested. Your price would be about 15% less than the above retail prices; let me know if interested, and I'll tell you.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Thoughts on Wine Collecting


Many of us collect unintentionally, as our inventory of wines accumulates faster than we consume it. Some of us intend to build a collection. Either way, we need to plan, and we need to work towards a goal.
Your wine goal might be only to buy wines today that will be perfect for drinking in a few years' time. The inherent disappearance of fine wines from the market over time makes this a commendable plan. And likely future price increases for a given vintage of a given fine wine also make this form of collecting very smart. Just don't buy more than you will need, unless you are pretty certain you can sell any excess on acceptable terms.
Another worthy collecting goal may be that you want some great wines that you can take to restaurants. Even when paying a $15 or even a $30 corkage fee, you can save a lot of money in a year's time by taking your own bottles to the dining establishment. Until restaurants cease the offensive practice of marking up their wines 200% to 300% from retail (and this is particularly offensive, because they buy at wholesale, as I do), we all need to rebel by taking our own wines, and telling the staff why we are doing so. Also, in a bid to reduce cost, many restaurants no longer maintain enormous wine cellars that were so much more common decades ago, and as a result most of the wines offered by eateries today are very young, sometimes so young that they should not even be consumed. (A tip: Some places ask that you not bring something that they have on their winelist, so you can bring a couple of wines that you think are fairly obscure, and that way you can bring one out that you see is not on the winelist.)
Another goal worthy of small-scale collecting is the purchase of fine wines for some future event, such as a 25th or 50th anniversary, or a child's 21st birthday. In almost every year, there is a vintage wine somewhere that is worth holding onto for years. And if you decide 21 years from now to buy a great 2009 wine, you will pay through the nose. So collecting those now can be a very astute move.
Finally, you might be as crazy as I am, and think that you can make money someday by collecting fine wines over a long period. Here are some some tips, borne from painful experience:
1. Some wines are just not very collectible. For example, few if any Oregon Pinots will realize higher prices at auction down the road. Even most of the better California cabs are in that category, too. These wines should be bought only for drinking or as gifts, so don't buy more than you need for those purposes.
2. However, the CA "cult" cabs do very well at auction--Screaming Eagle costs about $750 per bottle if you are on the mailing list, and it auctions for $1200 and up, immediately; after some aging, it might sell for $2500.
3. And the great Bordeaux wines (first and second growths, from great years) have generally proved to be good investments. After all, once the 2005's were bottled, there will never be any more of them made, and over the years they will be drunk off, making the survivors more and more rare and valuable. Those Chinese and Indians who are reaching the middle and upper classes are now buying fine wines, which is making them more rare and expensive. If that trend continues, you will be glad to have some wines in your cellar that you bought when prices were lower. The dollar's continuing decline in the face of our giant deficits also augurs well for purchasing now, rather than in the future, when prices for imported goods will be much, much higher.
But sometimes a year is initially seen as good, but later is re-cast as a more-average year. So, this is not a riskless enterprise.
To sell collectible wines, you must either find a private buyer, or pay a substantial commission to an auction house. Your bottles need to be in good condition (good fill into the neck, or if the wine is very old, high shoulder is acceptable; label in good condition, cork not pushed out). Some firms will buy your wines but offer such an abysmal deal that it makes you sorry to contact them: Brentwood Wines is a local firm that holds online wine auctions; they say they offer 75% or so of recent auction prices, but I have received many quotes from them which indicate this number is more like 50-60%, which means you are likely giving up all your profit, and more, if you sell to them.
To collect, make sure that you are choosing wines that will improve in bottle long enough that they will still be good when you, or your children, or your grandchildren (I'm not joking) sell them someday. Although certain Bordeaux and cult cabs qualify, so also do the better vintage ports and madeiras, which can last a long, long time with good storage. And some sparkling wines are well worth aging.
You also will need an adequate storage space. Without it, wines held for more than year or two will plummet in value and drinkability. Many people convert a closet or a part of a room or a crawlspace to a wine cellar. This may require only some insulation and a vapor barrier, with some interior-finished surfaces, or you might need to put in a cooling system (many models, in different sizes, are available, and are fairly easy to install). Wine wants darkness, stable air (no sudden temp changes) in the range of 55-65 degrees F, and humidity in the range of 60-75% (any lower, and the wine will evaporate past the cork too quickly, lowering the fill level and the wine's value, and any higher, and the cork and label may get moldy and the label can come off). Or, you can rent wine storage space, where temp and humidity are controlled, and access is secure.
I provide wine cellar and wine collection consulting services, and I can sell you most wines at a small markup from wholesale prices. If you are a good purchase customer, I'll gladly come check out your cellar or possible cellar space for no charge on the first visit. (And if you want to put in a small vineyard, I have one and can help with that, too.) Give me a call or email!
Kenton Erwin Consulting
Portland OR
h: 503-622-8181

Monday, June 8, 2009

Over Memorial Weekend I visited Anderson Family Vineyard. It was great to see Cliff and Allison and their family again. Cliff is a great scholar of all things grape and wine, and is a great teacher, too. Allison is so warm and friendly and also very knowledgeable. Their vineyard is on a very steep, rocky hill, spread out over three of the major compass directions. Their winery and barrel house, atop the hill, are perfect, classic Oregon architecture, fitting in perfectly with the trees and vines. The Chardonnay tends to the crisp French style, with nice balance between fruit and minerals. The Pinot noir usually sports a great Oregon Pinot nose of red or black fruits and a hint of earth, and is rich and full on the palate. They converted some Chard to Pinot gris, by grafting--a fascinating process that isn't as harsh on the plant as it looks--and have added that grape to their repertoire.
They sell fruit to the likes of Bergstrom, Lemelson, JK Carriere, GC Cellars, Boedecker Cellars, and August Cellars, but I for one am very glad that they also make wines under their own label. If you visit the winery, they offer very nice discounts from their retail prices.
Come Thanksgiving and the twice-annual winetasting pilgrimage, you should go to AFV and taste their wines! Oh, and the view is to die for. Go west of Newburg on Hwy 240; turn left onto Red Hills, then right onto Herring Lane.
Anderson Family Vineyard
20120 NE Herring LaneNewberg, Oregon 97132
(503) 554-5541
Tasting:By Appointment and Memorial Day and Thanksgiving weekends

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Strawberry Wine Redux: Dreams of Summer

You should smell my wine cellar: I have 3.5 gallons of Oregon Albion strawberries (and some chopped golden raisins and bananas, for body) fermenting. The smell is divine; I wrote a Sociology paper once on the power or aromas, and in that I wrote about a poet who got his inspiration from "smelling a bowl of over-ripe strawberries." If this is good, you should bug me to try some of it. I'm hoping it will scale up to commercial quantities, someday, if it's good enough. Some s'berry wines are too thin; that is why I macerated these before fermenting (such a rich, wonderful beyond-red syrup!) and used apple and pear juice instead of water. Fingers crossed!

Oregon Liquor

Check this out: The OLCC has a website that allows you to enter your address and the kind of hard liquor you want, and the site will tell you which stores carry it, and how much it costs:

How Climate Change's Extreme Weather Events Affect Grapes and Wine:

  We (Epona) joined the Porto Protocol a year or two ago; it's a collaboration of grapegrowers and winemakers, worldwide, who are focusi...