This week, the Wine Bloggers Conference (#WBC18) returns to Walla Walla, Washington, having first visited the region in 2010. I was fortunate enough to visit the appellation for the first time just a few weeks ago, ahead of the conference, where I received an incredible overview of the AVA from the fine people at the Walla Walla Wine Alliance.
My intention for the week, upon the suggestion of the aforementioned Alliance, was to spend a few days in Walla Walla, visit the region’s wineries, and ride my bike for an hour or two each day in n area that is purportedly replete with stellar rides and stunning topography. The Wine Alliance has a program called #WWander Walla Walla with ten different itineraries to explore the AVA, each designed by the winemakers themselves.
In the first two iterations of this saga (HERE and HERE) I chronicled how inept I am at packing my bicycle. I first realized that I forgot to pack my saddle and seat post, and, after theoretically solving that issue, I discovered that I had also forgotten my skewers, another vital component to riding a bike. I do have a fairly good excuse: it had been a long while since I had packed a bike and I was also preparing dinner for my wife–she was having a “significant” birthday.
At least that is my story.
After a wonderful day of visiting wineries and tasting fantastic wine, I returned to the hotel, skewers in hand, finally ready to get my together and hit the tarmac (which is also the name of the model of my bike). As I once again tried to re-assemble my trusty carbon fiber steed, I realized that there was yet another issue: without going too far into the weeds, the seat post clamp (that which holds the seat post in place) was missing. And since my bike costs more than the GDP of many small countries, it required a very specific part to make it work.
And it was nowhere to be found.
I looked in the bike box. Nope. I shook the frame, hoping that it had fallen in. After a moment or two of shaking and cajoling, it pinballed out and on to the floor. I was ecstatic.
OK, maybe not ecstatic, but relieved.
I inserted the seat post clamp and then the seat post that the kind people at Allegro Cyclery loaned me, and I tightened the clamp with the specific wrench that I had remembered to bring (I was pretty proud of my self at that moment for some moronic reason). Once I let go of the saddle, the seat post slid all the way down as if there were no binder bolt at all.
You have to be frigging kidding me.
After several more tries and getting the exact same result (yes I know that definition of insanity), I texted Liz and told her… we had to go back to the bike shop. While I expected her to say: “You have to be frigging kidding me” she gleefully agreed, but I asked if we could go to the other bike shop, the Bicycle Barn instead, since I wanted to avoid appearing as a complete and utter moron to the kind folks at Allegro (although that ship had likely already sailed).
That was a bit fortuitous since the Bicycle Barn carries my bike’s brand (Specialized for those wondering). After a bit of discussion about the seat post, it was determined that part of the seat post binder bolt was missing, and of course they did not have that piece in stock (my bike is a few years old and Specialized has evidently realized how poorly engineered my model of the bike was).
I eventually returned to my room, determined to find the missing piece. I shook may frame, pounded it on the floor, rotated it dozens of times. Nope. I got down on the floor of the hotel room, crawling around under the bed. Nope. I scoured my bike box, hoping I would find the tiny piece in one of the recesses of the case. Nope.
I did find, however, a notice that the kind people at the TSA had inspected my bike box.
You have to be frigging kidding me.
Did the piece fall out when as the TSA was looking for what ever they thought they would find in a box that clearly contained a bike? Who knows? What I did know, however, was that the bike gods were telling me that I shouldn’t ride, and I should listen.
And I did.
But that is too bad since the cycling around Walla Walla looks simply amazing. From the hills of the Palouse to the Blue Mountains, there is plenty of beautiful roads to explore. Not for me, at least not this time.
Luckily, the wine gods were not raising any such objection, and there was still plenty to try.
The Walla Walla AVA is divided up into five relatively distinct areas: Eastside, Westside, Southside/Oregon (roughly 2/5 of the planted acres in the AVA are in Oregon), Downtown, and the Airport. Over my four days in Walla Walla, I visited at least a couple of wineries in each region (with the exception of the Airport, which is apparently a bit of a warehouse district of wineries).
At the turn of the millennium, there were roughly 30 wineries in the Walla Walla AVA. Today, there are more than four times that many, and here are some of the wines that stood out from the “newer generation.”
Mike and Melissa Berghan originally hail from Idaho, and moved to Walla Walla to start a winery in 2000. They spent a brief period in Napa, but turned north after they realized that starting a winery in Napa would be a tad too expensive.
The first vintage of Gifford Hirlinger (two old family names that had come across the country in covered wagons) was in 2003 and they opened the winery in 2005. Total production is usually in the 3,000 case range, but that varies (60% of last year’s crop was lost due to a harsh winter).
2017 Gifford Hirlinger Pinot Gris, Walla Walla: Retail $20. There are only four acres of Pinot Gris planted in Walla Walla. Mike has one. He was looking for a crisp white for the tasting room and he wanted Albariño but could not find the vines so he bought Pinot Gris. Good thing. Yet another example of why there should be more white in Walla Walla. Fruity and spicy with some honeysuckle. Great weight and fruit really fantastic. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2014 Gifford Hirlinger Obligatory Syrah, Walla Walla: Retail $40. From Mike’s leased vineyard which is the second oldest vineyard in Walla Walla. He had not made a Syrah, despite its popularity in the region, but finally gave in two years ago. Wow great nose, really great fruit. Rich and spicy, tasty. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2014 Gifford Hirlinger Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla: Retail $40. Mike blends three different clones of Cab, leading to plenty of blackberry and cassis on the nose. Yet another stellar wine with good fruit (blackberry pie) initially, followed by a bit of oak and smoke. Lengthy finish. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
Even before I entered the tasting room at Sleight of Hand Cellars on the Southside of the Walla Walla AVA, I knew there was going to be a different vibe than what most other wineries exude. For as the door opened, the sound of Roger Daltry of the Who belting out the last few lines of “Can You See the Real Me” cascaded through the air. Moments later, as I sidled up to the tasting bar, I met Jerry Solomon, part-owner and rock music lover.
Before tasting my first sip of wine, Jerry shuffled over to the turn table and swapped out the Who for the Rolling Stone’s Sticky Fingers. Once back behind the bar, Jerry started pouring a few wines, and filling me in on the Sleight of Hand philosophy.
Jerry and winemaker/co-owner Trey Busch believe in “making serious wines without the serious attitudes” and it clearly shows, on both ends. They currently make between 8-9 thousand cases every year and receive accolades for many of the wines. Here are a few that stood out for me:
2015 Sleight of Hand Cellars Chardonnay The Enchantress, Yakima Valley: Retail $28. Nice tropical nose with just a hint of oak, this is lovely with good fruit and acid. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2014 Sleight of Hand Cellars The Illusionist Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley: Retail $52. Left bank style. Cassis and blackberry the nose. Tasty and chewy with crazy fruit and structured. Close to a Whoa. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2015 Sleight of Hand Cellars Levitation Syrah, Columbia Valley: Retail $45. 100% Syrah. Aromas of lavender and brambly fruit. Sweet and spicy with plenty of verve. This is one of the better Syrahs I have had this year. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2016 Sleight of Hand Cellars Sorceress Grenache: Retail $45. 100% Grenache. Tight on the nose but fantastic on the palate with spice, red fruit, and tobacco. Holy cow. This was just released, and needs a good decant, but Whoa. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
I am back in Walla Walla this week, without my bike (too soon), but I am determined to get back here again with a properly packed bike, all parts included, to ride on some of the beautiful roads and to taste more of the wonderful wines.