Washington State wine country with Hogue Cellars: Pictures and lessons learned

washington state AVA mapIn my Diary of a Wine Junket post, I copped to accepting a trip from Hogue Cellars, whose wines I admire. Bought and paid for, wined and dined, etc. And now I find myself respecting them even more, but for all the right reasons.  The pictures and lessons herewith:

– Hogue makes around 18 different wine labels, from their “Hogue” series to “Genesis” to the more boutique-y, winery-only “Terroir” line. When I asked co-founder Gary Hogue why they produce so many different wines. His answer became the quote of the week: “We can’t help ourselves.”
– One thing surprising that I learned was that Hogue’s owner, Constellation Wines — the largest wine company in the world — mostly keeps out of Hogue’s and Winemaker Co Dinn’s way. I imagine it will stay that way unless the profits dry up. Of course, that also could have been the party line. I naturally pressed, but Co insisted he’s autonomous.
Co Dinn– The reason why Washington wines rarely taste over extracted and jammy like some California juice? The climate in eastern Washington — where all the grapes are grown — is extremely hot but it also plummets into the 50’s at night, allowing the grapes recovery time. That happens down south too but during harvest in Washington, it’s cooler (high in 50’s) — September is when their warm season begins to taper off and many grapes don’t fully ripen until October. The growing seasons are fairly short but intense in Eastern Washington, so the fruit doesn’t get too ripe (like jam… get it?). The main problem they face with the fruit, according to Co Dinn, is tannins levels. Frost is also an issue.

– “No farmer drank wine 25 years ago.” – Gary Hogue. A lot of grape growers evolved into growing grapes, pulling up cherries, apricots, hops and apple trees to plant vines. But there remains a balance between all those crops now. It’s very bucolic.

– 85 percent of Washington wine, by volume,  is under $15. Shazam… no wonder I love the wines here… I can afford them. 700 wineries now.

Tipple!– Many Eastern Europeans immigrated to the eastern Washington region in the late 1800’s to mine the land (and they brought their vines with them). “Tipple” is the mound of dirt left over from digging out these mines (that should really be a cocktail name: “Tippletini”). Swiftwater Cellars is a new multi-million dollar winery and event center opening in the eastern foothills of the Cascades. This picture is the historic “tipple” next to their building. Small production wines that we probably won’t ever get to try but it was fascinating to see what money can buy these days. A lot of money…

– Snipes Mountain is a brand new AVA in eastern Washington (what is an AVA?) and there are four growers on the 665 acre plot. Although, frankly, it looks just as desolate as all the other brown, non-descript hills throughout the lowlands of eastern Washington, Snipes is deceiving. We climbed to 1,100 feet and it’s higher than it appears. It’s a pretty warm pocket of land but some parts of the AVA are too warm for what is planted there now. Co said Pinot Gris and Chardonnay aren’t doing well but Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are producing good fruit in the gravelly soil. By the way, Snipes is named after a cattle baron who lived in the 1800’s and this area is home to the oldest surviving vines in Washington.

Washington Syrah on Snipes Mountain– A lot of vineyards started out as hop farms, according to Colin, Hogue’s Director of Viticulture. He strongly believes in the diversification of crops and “there’s a spot for every crop.”

– During a really cool Washington AVA comparison of 2009 Syrah barrel samples, I learned Yakima and Horse Heaven fruit tastes more feminine and flirty in style, whereas Snipes and Wahluke Slope come in more peppery and robust. My preference, in the end, was the Wahluke Slope Syrah — seemed more balanced. When the winemaker agreed with me, I was feeling pretty proud of myself.

– Co Dinn also presented a vintage vertical screwcap seminar, where we compared Rieslings from 2004 – 2009 and several reds from 2003 that were bottled under screwcap. The results = shocking… enough for a separate blog post. Stay tuned.

– Great places to eat in Prosser, Washington: Wine O’Clock. Try the wines from the Bunnell Family, who own the place. Top ten pizzas of my life. Really. With a dearth of great restaurants in Prosser (their words, not mine), the chef Frank Magaña could slack, but doesn’t for a second.

– Favorite wines of the trip (and I will post reviews of these this week): Hogue 2008 Genesis Viognier, 2008 Genesis Riesling, 2007 Genesis Meritage, Hogue 2008 Red Table Wine and 2007 Genesis Syrah. All of these cost under $20.

– Least favorite: Hogue 2009 Genesis Chardonnay (kinda flat), Hogue 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, (far too much oak), Hogue 2009 Pinot Grigio (too sweet).


One Comment

  1. I have always been a big fan of Amavi and Pepperbridge. Amavi is mostly Rhone varietals while Pepperbridge is Cab and Merlot. These are teeth stainers but they spectacular wines. Pretty good distribution as well.


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