Categories
Press/Blog

Chardonnay: A Blank Canvas to Explore a World of Terroir

Chardonnay

When we released our first Underwood Mountain Chardonnay back in 2017, we heard a lot of comments to the effect of, “I don’t like Chardonnay.” This was especially true amongst younger drinkers and considering how diverse and plentiful Chardonnay is around the world, this surprised us.  Perhaps Chardonnay was too mainstream to the younger generation, who wanted to explore wines that were more expressive and obscure?  There is certainly a trend (or at least more acceptance) toward natural wines and wines that would be considered in more snobby circles, “flawed.”  

Over the course of several vintages of our Chardonnay, we began hearing more “I USUALLY don’t like Chardonnay, but I like this one.”  We ascertained that American taste buds have been exposed to a very limited style of Chardonnay.  In fact, ever since Chateau Montelena won the prestigious Judgement of Paris back in 1973, California has dominated sales of Chardonnay in the US.  The particular style of Chardonnay that befits its warm, marine climate was higher alcohol, low acidity, ample use of new barrels, and full completion of the secondary (or malolactic) fermentation that gives the wine a creamy flavor and voluminous mouthfeel.  This is what most Americans consider Chardonnay, and so it is no wonder that Millennials and younger drinkers in general have rejected this Chardonnay as “mommy juice.”  

Unbeknownst to many of them, there is a whole world of Chardonnay out there to explore, and we are here to set the record straight. In fact, we would argue that, of all the places where Chardonnay is widely planted, California’s climate is LEAST suited to making high quality Chardonnay.  Yet that’s what the consumer has been drinking, decade after decade.  We believe the tyranny of the buttery Chardonnay is at its end, and we have some mouthwatering alternatives for you to explore.

As we explore this world of Chardonnay, we imagine the grape as a blank canvas, ready to absorb the influences of various regional terroirs, akin to the palette of famous painters, allowing for a vibrant exploration of the diverse expressions found in each wine-growing region.

Burgundy, France: Chardonnay’s Birthplace 

When I visited Burgundy in 2015, I was fairly certain that I had no interest in making Chardonnay.  By the time I had left Burgundy a week later, my opinion of Chardonnay was completely transformed, and I was determined to make a Chardonnay from Underwood fruit that could compare on some level to what I had been tasting in Burgundy.

Often regarded as the birthplace of Chardonnay, Burgundy epitomizes the grape’s elegance and complexity. Here, Chardonnay thrives in limestone-rich soils, producing wines that are often described as refined, nuanced, and expressive. The cooler climate imparts high acidity, allowing for a balance of flavors ranging from citrus and green apple in youth to richer notes of hazelnut and butter with age. Sub-regions like Chablis offer lean, mineral-driven Chardonnays, while those from Meursault or Puligny-Montrachet showcase greater richness and depth.

The canvas inspired by Burgundy’s terroir portrays a delicate yet intricate masterpiece. Imagine a canvas painted with soft strokes of pale gold and hints of green. The strokes represent the elegant acidity, mineral undertones, and layers of flavors—subtle citrus hues merging seamlessly with whispers of hazelnut and buttery richness. The overall painting exudes refinement and sophistication, akin to a Monet masterpiece.

California: New World Elegance

Alright, enough with the Cali bashing. There are millions of Americans who still love a lush and fruit-forward style Chardonnay. So let’s give Napa and Sonoma their due. And give me a top-notch Russian River Chardonnay any day and I’m happy. It is true that California crafts Chardonnays that embrace a fruit-forward style. The warmer climate results in riper grapes, yielding wines with flavors of tropical fruits like pineapple, mango, and ripe peach. These Chardonnays often undergo malolactic fermentation and oak aging, contributing to a creamy texture and notes of vanilla and toast, adding complexity to the fruit-forward profile.

In painterly terms the Californian canvas is bold and vibrant, swathed in rich golden hues with splashes of tropical colors. Picture a canvas where ripe golden fruits like pineapple, mango, and peach intermingle, creating a vivid and expressive artwork. It’s textured with strokes of creamy vanilla and toasty oak, akin to a vibrant, impressionistic piece by Van Gogh.

Australia: Sunshine in a Glass

Australian Chardonnay, notably from regions like Margaret River and Adelaide Hills, displays a spectrum of styles. Cooler areas emphasize acidity and minerality, showcasing citrus and stone fruit flavors with a crisp, refreshing finish. Meanwhile, warmer regions yield fuller-bodied wines with ripe tropical fruit flavors, balanced by oak influences, creating rich, buttery textures.

The Australian canvas is diverse, capturing a range of styles within its frame. Imagine a canvas with dual personalities: one side showcasing bright, sun-soaked tropical colors—ripe pineapples and lush peaches; the other side featuring cooler, mineral-driven strokes of green apple and citrus. This canvas evokes a sense of duality, reminiscent of an abstract artwork by Picasso.

Chile: Emerging Chardonnay Players 

Regions such as Casablanca Valley and Limarí Valley benefit from cooling influences, allowing for slower ripening and preservation of acidity. Chilean Chardonnays often exhibit vibrant acidity, accompanied by flavors of green apple, pear, and citrus. Some producers opt for stainless steel fermentation, resulting in fresher, fruit-focused wines, while others use oak to add layers of complexity and creaminess.

Chile’s Chardonnay canvas mirrors Frida Kahlo’s earthy palette. Imagine warm, terracotta hues representing the rich soils, overlaid with strokes of vibrant greens reflecting the lush vineyards. Subtle tones of azure blue signify the cooling influences from the ocean, while hints of gold and amber represent the sun’s influence on the ripe Chardonnay grapes.

Underwood, Washington | Columbia Gorge AVA: An Under the Radar Hotspot

And what to make of our own backyard? We can say without hesitation that our climate is cooler than any of the regions described above. So our Chardonnay has fruit profiles ranging from green apple to pear and citrus. The high acidity and minerality is similar in character to a Chablis, yet we ferment and age in oak to promote the softening of the acids and add some sweetness and texture to the wine.

Imagine the canvas for Columbia Gorge Chardonnay akin to Georgia O’Keeffe’s artistic fusion. The canvas begins with sandy hues representing the arid landscapes, while strokes of pale greens and blues symbolize the cooling influence of the Columbia River and the higher altitude. The canvas is punctuated by bursts of golden yellows, akin to the sun-kissed Chardonnay grapes thriving in this unique terroir.

Similar to O’Keeffe’s ability to blend simplicity with vividness, Columbia Gorge Chardonnay captures both the elegance of a cooler climate and the vibrancy of ripe fruit. It’s a canvas that marries earthy subtleties with bursts of brightness, crafting wines that harmonize complexity with a crisp, refreshing nature.

Bottom line: Chardonnay exhibits remarkable versatility and adaptability to various terroirs around the world, yielding wines that showcase a spectrum of flavors, textures, and aromas. Its widespread cultivation in diverse regions across the globe has led to an intriguing array of Chardonnay styles, each expressing unique characteristics influenced by climate, soil, winemaking techniques, and regional nuances.  Come taste our newly released 2022 Underwood Mountain Chardonnay and see where our wine fits in the broad landscape of Chardonnay.

 

Categories
Events Featured

Wine Club Events

Club Cuvée Quarterly Schedule 2024

March

  • March 7th:  Wine Club open for edits on club account, Available to edit wines from March 7th-March 12th

  • March 13th:  Club processed and cards on account charged for quarterly order

  • March 15th:  Wine Club orders available for pick up starting today.  Tasting Room Open Fri-Sun 12-5pm

  • March 18th:  Wine Club Shipping Orders sent out

  • March 15th-17th:  Spring Wine Club Release Weekend

June

  • June 6th:  Wine Club open for edits on club account, Available to edit wines from June 6th-June 11th

  • June 12th:  Club processed and cards on account charged for quarterly order

  • June 13th:  Wine Club orders available for pick up starting today.  Tasting room open Wed-Sun, 12-6pm

  • June 21st-23rd:  Summer Wine Club Release Weekend

  • June 17th:  Wine Club Shipping Orders sent out

September

  • September 12th:  Wine Club open for edits on club account, Available to edit wines from Sept. 12th-17th.

  • September 18th:  Club processed and cards on account charged for quarterly order.

  • September 19th:  Wine Club orders available for pick up starting today.  Tasting Room Open Wed – Sun, 12-6

  • September 30th:  Wine Club Shipping Orders sent out

  • September 20th-22nd:  Fall Club Release Weekend

December

  • December 5th:  Wine Club open for edits on club account, Available to edit wines from Dec. 5th- Dec. 10th

  • December 11th:  Club processed and cards on account charged for quarterly order 

  • December 13th:  Wine Club orders available for pick up starting today.  Tasting room open Fri-Sun 12-5pm

  • December 13th-15th:  Winter Wine Club Release Weekend

  • December 16th:  Wine Club Shipping Orders sent out

Categories
Events Featured

Live Music in Underwood

Live music outdoors on our lawn with a mountain view and tasty wine! 

Join us every Friday for Happy Hour from 4-6 pm at our Underwood tasting room and rock out while sipping in the sunshine.

Reservations are highly recommended. Please reserve your seating HERE. We offer glass pours or bottle purchases during live music. No wine tasting flights available, if you would like to come in for a wine tasting, please schedule at another time. 

June 14th: Amber Skies

Amber Skies is a delightfully entertaining duo performing originals and familiar covers. Amber Nelson and Mark Daly bring a uniquely diverse set of musical influences including folk, jazz, americana, and alt-indie. Their soulful harmonies and song arrangements are uniquely their own blend of fun.

June 21st: Al Hare

Born and raised in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge, singer-songwriter and guitarist Al Hare draws inspiration for his music from the majestic views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams, the incredibly scenic waterfalls along Interstate 84 through the Gorge, and from the green and gold hills that surround The Dalles, where Eagle Caves look down upon “Little Music City”.

Al’s performances display a comprehensive mastery of a very broad range
of styles. You will hear classic 90’s and newer Country, Rock from the 80’s to today, all colors of Blues spiced with modern Pop, and everything garnished with touches of Bluegrass, Jazz, and Reggae.

June 22nd: Scot & Rebecca

Wine Club Release Party, Saturday, 12-3 pm.  Members Only and Reservations Required.

Longtime Columbia Gorge residents, Scot Bergeron and Rebecca Stonestreet perform classic folk-rock songs with a lively and energetic sound. The duo synergistically reaches audiences with toe-tapping and sing a long songs spanning four decades by favorites like John Denver, Neil Young, Eagles, Cat Stevens and more. Scot plays rhythm/lead guitar, harmonica and is the lead vocal while Rebecca backs him up with bass, percussion, and background vocals.

June 28th: Heart and Hammer

Julianna Waters and Barry Crannell – award-winning seasoned songwriters who pull the audience into a quirky, intimate world with rich lyrics, engaging musicality, honest emotion and ribald humor. Guitars, clawhammer banjo, and ukulele give their lyrics life, and offer a glimpse into the hearts of this very special duo. Frequently joined by master mando picker, Kerry Williams – “the Nail.”

July 5th:  Willy & Nelson

Willy & Nelson will be playing as a duo. They are a “cover band” that plays the best music from the old “classics” to the “top hits” of today. A band with smooth harmonies.

July 12th: Tyson Huckins

Tyson is a soulful, unique musician whose crafted songwriting, melodic instrumentation, and dynamic vocals guide us through lyrical journeys of loss, triumph, life, and shared human experiences. His captivating work is proven to connect to audiences with an eclectic fusion of Soul, Folk, and Americana that retains timelessness and familiarity.

July 19th: Chic Preston

Chic Preston is one of the Gorge’s favorite and best known musicians, appearing in local venues solo or with various groups. He is fluent in many music styles from folk to jazz and is known for his highly personalized book of original songs.

July 20th: Alicia Viani

Hawkins Open House Party, Saturday, 2-5 pm. Everyone welcome!

Alicia Viani (vocals, guitar, and songwriting) and Mark Karwan (vocals, acoustic bass) comprise a duo, drawing on earlier professional music careers in other mediums (Alicia, classical oboe and Mark, classical, jazz, and rock bass). Their version of indie folk weaves in jazz, funk and americana influences with personal and provocative lyrics. Alicia and Mark play listening rooms, house concerts, music festivals, weddings and private events regionally in the Northwest and locally in Bend, Oregon. They deliver a rich, jazzy, funky, eclectic-folk listening experience.

 

July 26th: John Bunzow

Portland Oregon native John Bunzow’s mix of eclectic musical influences – melding blues, country, rock and even jazz – have helped establish him as an original artist of heartfelt depth, substance and style.

He’s as likely to draw on his love of the music of country legend Merle Haggard or scuffling barroom bard Tom Waits, as he is the smooth R&B and soul of Marvin Gaye, the iconic folk wisdom of Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Ry Cooder or the blues of Albert King.

After beginning his musical career in the Northwest scene playing in popular all-original bands the Cowboy Angels, X-Angels and more for over two decades, John set his sights on songwriter heaven – Nashville – scoring a songwriting contract with EMI Nashville/Famous Music and a recording contract with Liberty/Capitol Records. He quickly found his services in big demand with Nashville recording artists and had the opportunity to write for and perform with some of country and rock music’s biggest names.

August 2nd:  Minda Lacy

Minda Lacy is a lyrically driven singer songwriter originally from the high desert town Silver City in SouthWest New Mexico. She currently resides in Portland Oregon where she is immersed in the unique, and rich music scene of the Pacific NorthWest. Minda has a preoccupation with time, death, and bugs. She toys with the balancing act of silliness and seriousness, and often approaches topics like mortality and suffering from a place of light hearted wit. She may spend too much time thinking about time, and is trapped in a perpetual paradox that she periodically digs herself out of through song writing. 

August 9th:  Megan Alder

Hailing from the Columbia River Gorge, Megan Alder is a vocal powerhouse performing upbeat swing and Americana music. She delivers her original songs with raw grit and soul.

Influenced by artists like Billie Holiday and Bonnie Raitt, Alder performs as a solo artist with live loops and kazoo flare. Her latest release, Quittin’ Time, features six original songs recorded live in Portland, OR. Quittin’ Time is available now on all platforms.

August 16th:  Brian Koch

Leo Moon is the solo incarnation of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Brian Adrian Koch. California born and Oregon raised, Brian has been active in the Portland music scene since arriving in 2000. He is a current and founding member of indie rock band Blitzen Trapper and psychedelic folk duo Dead Lee. Appearing now as a solo acoustic performer, his minimal and haunting tunes are stripped down paeans to the glorious absurdities of life; harmonica spattered psalms to the void

August 23rd:  TBD

August 30th:  Willy & Nelson Trio

Willy & Nelson is a 3-piece “cover band” that plays the best music from the old “classics” to the “top hits” of today. A band with smooth harmonies.

August 31st:  Hwy 14

Labor Day Weekend Music Event, Saturday, 2-5 pm.

Hwy 14 is a trio that plays an eclectic mix of rock, blues, honky tonk, and an occasional ballad

 

Categories
Press/Blog

Syrah: From the Rhone to the Columbia

Syrah: From the Rhone to the Columbia

When I started making wine back in 2007, I quickly realized that Syrah and I would form a lifelong connection. Of all the classic Rhône wines like Grenache, Mourvedre, and Viognier, Syrah grapes provide unmatched versatility and character. Syrah is a true “winemaker’s wine,” producing dramatically varying wines despite all coming from the same grape. Variables like climate, geography, and time of harvest, along with winemaking decisions like the use of newer or older oak barrels, whole cluster fermentation, and length of aging mean two winemakers using grapes from the exact same vineyard can produce vastly different wines. Today, Hawkins is proud to offer three separate Syrah expressions, each reflecting and highlighting the diversity of this spectacular grape. 

History of Syrah

Syrah’s roots trace back to the ancient vineyards of the Rhône Valley, where it gained prominence in the northern Rhône regions of Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie. The grape’s journey across the globe began in the 18th century when French explorers and settlers transported Syrah vines to various corners of the world, including South America, Australia (where it’s called Shiraz), and most importantly from our perspective, the Pacific Northwest. 

Washington’s viticultural history dates back to the mid-19th century, but it wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that the wine industry in the region really began to flourish. Syrah found a foothold in the hot and dry Columbia and Yakima Valleys, and winemakers soon recognized the state’s potential to produce high-quality wines due to its diverse microclimates and fertile soils.

Washington State Syrah

Washington has become a notable player in the global Syrah scene, with its diverse terroirs and climatic variations contributing to the unique expression of the grape. The state’s key Syrah-producing regions include Yakima Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Red Mountain, and Horse Heaven Hills. The Columbia Valley, encompassing many of these sub-regions, serves as a broad appellation known for its versatility and ability to produce a range of grape varieties, including Syrah.

Yakima Valley:

Yakima Valley, one of Washington State’s oldest and most diverse wine regions, is home to numerous vineyards and wineries specializing in Syrah. The warm days and cool nights of the Yakima Valley contribute to the development of ripe, fruit-forward Syrah with a good balance of acidity.

Horse Heaven Hills

Horse Heaven Hills, situated in Southeast Washington near the Oregon border, has gained acclaim for its Syrah characterized by intense flavors, robust structure, and excellent aging potential. The region’s well-drained soils and distinct temperature variations contribute to the concentration and complexity of Horse Heaven Hills Syrah.

Red Mountain:

Red Mountain, known for its warm climate and rich, red soils, produces Syrah wines with deep color, bold fruit flavors, and a firm tannic structure. The small size and unique terroir of Red Mountain contribute to the distinct expression of Syrah from this region.

Hawkins’ Syrah Offerings

Reserve Syrah: This is the wine that started it all: the first bottle of Hawkins Cellars wine ever produced was a bottle of Reserve Syrah. Over 15 years later, this is still the backbone of our winery and a personal favorite of your winemaker. The theme of this wine is richness. Generous with aromas and velvety tannins, this wine improves for a full 24 hours after pulling the cork, proving it to be a great wine for the cellar. We employ around 20% new French and American oak and use between 50 and 75% whole cluster during fermentation for all our Syrah wines. Whole cluster means that we do not take the stems off when we start fermenting the wine.  This process tends to take Syrah from a fruit forward offering to something with more structure and tannin.  Often whole cluster Syrah is defined by notes of tobacco and clove.

Coyote Canyon Vineyard Syrah: Experience the essence of Horse Heaven Hills AVA with our Coyote Canyon Vineyard Syrah. Grown in the sun-drenched hillsides of Southeast Washington, this single-vineyard Syrah reflects the region’s unique terroir. Savor bold notes of blackberries, dark cherries, and a hint of dark chocolate. With bold, structured tannins and balanced acidity, our Syrah is a refined expression of craftsmanship, capturing the spirit of Horse Heaven Hills in a bottle. This is one of our most age-worthy wines, as the bold tannins soften over time to create lush and complex notes of leather, meatiness, and smoke.

Boushey Vineyard Syrah: Legendary grape grower Dick Boushey first planted his vineyard in the Yakima Valley over 40 years ago and was one of the first people to grow Syrah in Washington post-Prohibition. Today, the Boushey Vineyard produces some of the finest grapes grown anywhere in the world. Hawkins’ Boushey Vineyard Syrah captivates with a symphony of flavors, including dark plum, blackberry, and subtle notes of white pepper. The vineyard’s high elevation and well-drained soils contribute to a wine with impeccable structure and a velvety texture.

Bottom Line

Syrah’s journey from the vineyards of the Rhône Valley to the farthest reaches of the wine world is a testament to its adaptability and allure. The grape has flourished in diverse climates and soils, producing wines that captivate enthusiasts with their complexity and depth. We invite you to explore the world of Syrah with us by tasting one of our unique expressions of this charismatic grape.

Categories
Press/Blog

Best in Class: 2022 Caldera Red

Our much loved Caldera Red, a harmonious fusion of Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Syrah, has clinched the coveted Best of Class at the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Awards!

With over fifty judges, blind tasting over 5,500 wines from nearly 1,000 wineries for the 2024 competition, this is North America’s largest wine competition

With only 12 barrels produced, order yours today.  Drink now or cellar and sip for tomorrow.

Read more about the Art of the Blend for our Caldera Red and how we found our passion for this wonderful wine.

Categories
Events Press/Blog

We Are Hiring!

Join our team on scenic Underwood Mountain! We are seeking Full, Part-Time, and Seasonal Tasting Room Associates.

Hawkins Cellars is an established and growing winery, focusing on award-winning premium quality wines matched only by our commitment to outstanding hospitality.

Job Description:

The Tasting Room Associate is responsible for ensuring that guests to the tasting room receive impeccable customer service, while guiding guests through wine tastings and discussing our history and winemaking practices. It is important to maintain an outgoing and positive experience while sharing your wine knowledge, and to develop lasting relationships with guests and club members. The responsibilities of the Tasting Room Associate include, but not necessarily limited to, the following:

ESSENTIAL DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES: Work the Tasting Room and help with other winery tasks. 

Tasting Room Duties:

  • Greet all visitors with enthusiasm
  • Lead guests through wine tasting flights – educating them about the winery story, wines, and brand. Ensure a fun and memorable customer experience
  • Work towards developing relationships with guests to convert into Wine Club members
  • Effectively suggest and sell wine, offer wine club membership, and upsell
  • Set up / break down all indoor and outdoor tasting room spaces.
  • Open and verify condition of wines
  • Open/Close POS system/registers.
  • Manage cash drawer
  • Stock wine and merchandise on Tasting Room floor and store rooms
  • Perform sales transactions
  • Maintain clean and organized guest spaces at all times
  • Provide warm, engaging and professional customer service and go the extra mile for all guests
  • Actively continue education in wine production, viticulture, and winery history
  • Strong ability to sell wine and various club memberships to all types of customers
  • Represent the winery at outside functions when necessary
  • Quickly recognize the signs that a guest should not be served alcohol and take appropriate action to professionally address the situation.
  • Behave in a professional and mature manner at all times

Winery Tasks:

  • Recycling of bottles and cardboard
  • Wine transfers from wine storage to tasting room
  • Fill propane tanks when needed for heaters
  • Pick up supplies for tasting room as required

EXPECTATIONS AND OTHER REQUIREMENTS:

  • Must be able to lift 40 lbs.
  • Must possess or have ability to acquire a Wine service and Food Handlers Licenses
  • Must be able to work in a standing position for long periods of time
  • Must be able to work in a fast-paced hospitality environment
  • Educational certification such as WSET1 or WSET2 a strong plus
  • Must have some knowledge of wine and food with enthusiasm to expand knowledge base and learn new information
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills (via telephone, e-mail and face-to-face) are required
  • Enthusiastic, passionate and dynamic communication style
  • Comfortable speaking in front of crowds
  • Must be a self-starter and able to work independently
  • Must have a positive attitude and outlook with the ability to work within a team atmosphere
  • Must be able to work weekends
  • Access to a vehicle a plus
  • Must be 21 years of age

Hourly compensation $18 to $22 per hour depending on experience, plus tips and commission. Please email your cover letter and resume to [email protected] with Tasting Room Associate Position in the subject line. We look forward to hearing from you!

Hawkins Cellars is an EEO employer.

Categories
Press/Blog Vineyards

Let’s Talk Pruning

Pruning decisions made in the late winter and early spring affect vine canopy and grape ripening throughout the year.  In this video our winemaker demonstrates how we take the previous year’s growth and turn it into the foundation for this year’s harvest.

Categories
Awards Featured Press/Blog

The Art of the Blend

The Art of the Blend

GSM. Rhône-style Blend. Châteauaneuf-du-Pape. Cote Rôtie. If you’ve spent any time in the wine world (which, if you’re reading this, you have), you’ve heard these terms liberally sprinkled around, especially when talking about blended wines.

Centuries of practice, of trial and error, have taught winemakers in the “old world” a thing or two about whether to blend or not to blend.  In Burgundy no one is messing with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  These two varietals are perfectly grown, harvested and produced with only as much human intervention as is needed to correct anything the vineyard or weather flubbed up in delivery.  Subtle and supple, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir deliciously whisper.

The Rhône varietals that make up the GSM blend (shorthand for Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre), on the other hand, SHOUT.  They are daring, dynamic.  Syrah is a hot wind, a warm blanket, purple on the teeth, on the pallet, down the throat.   Firm Mourvèdre, terrifically tannic, crackles with black pepper, roasted meat and cocoa, earth wind and fire.  While lithe Grenache is all crowd pleasing personality, holding a bouquet of fruit forward lusciousness, smelling of warm strawberries or candied cherries.  Each of these three varietals can stand strong all by their lonesome.  But bring them together with care, and they harmonize. They blend.  A fourth dimension is discovered!

In most of the Rhône region of France 18 red varietals are grown and blended, a veritable alphabet soup of outsized personalities.  Little vineyards, small plots, small farms, multi-generational grape growing and wine making.  Practice practice practice.  In the cooler northern Rhône regions, white wines are more prevalent.  In areas such as Cote Rôtie, the dominant theme is blending of Syrah with smaller amounts (20% or less) of Viognier.  Other northern Rhone regions may replace Viognier with Roussanne or Marsanne.  The enzymatic reactions that occur when these aromatic white wines are blended with Syrah provide a softening and olfactory lift to the meaty and peppery Syrah, as well as enhancing color stability.

In the most famous regions of the southern Rhône it’s all about Grenache.  While the number of small AOC’s (the equivalent to AVA in the US)  and the blending rules within are too complex to even begin to untangle here, the one constant is that Grenache is the anchor.  The star of the show, with a rotating cast of characters to surround its star.

The Stone “Galet” vineyards of Châteaunneuf du Pape

Jump to the “new world”, the wild west; to California, Oregon and Washington.  Blend it all, blend anything.  Cruise Safeway, Costco, the big names abound even if they look like little names.  Charming names like Sea Glass and Little Bunny are there in that big box store, and they are owned & operated by the Big Guys. Consistency of product (wine) and craft is Manna.  No wonder the consumers’ eyes glaze over when they are looking for a nice blend to drink with their pork chop.  A blend in the hands of a conglomerate-owned winery generally means a boozy soup made of leftovers, nothing that resembles the intention from the Rhône region.

The ideal way to make a beautiful, balanced, blend is to bring together the perfectly ripe, carefully hand sorted fruit together.  But who will be the star of the show? In Napa, it’s Cabernet Sauvignon.  And while all of those high scoring Cabs often don’t want to admit they had any help, a sneaky little fact- that any Napa winemaker will tell you after a few glasses- is that Merlot is the key ingredient to making the whole thing pop!  That much maligned varietal (let’s move beyond Sideways already) provides just the right amount of softening effect to round out the rough edges.  State laws do allow 10 to 20 percent of blending while still allowing the wine to be designated as a single varietal.

Beyond that, in the new world we have no guard rails- very few rules- especially when it comes to planting vines.  In many vineyards in California, southern Oregon, and eastern Washington you could have Cabernet planted next to Syrah, with Sauvignon Blanc just across the street.  What?  Talk about confusion!  Finding the right site growing the right varietal is tricky.  First rule of thumb: Just because it ripens doesn’t make it right.  Second rule of thumb: Make what you love.

For Thane Hawkins, winemaker at Hawkins Cellars, it all came together during a trip to France a decade ago.  And specifically, a journey to a small, enigmatic region in southern France called Bandol.  See, Bandol is the only area in France allowed to produce 100% Mourvèdre.  In Bandol, they don’t even think about releasing a wine for public consumption that is under four years old.  Rustic and tannic in its youth and young adolescence, over time developing floral notes of crushed violet,  lavender, and dark fruit.  Spending a couple of days lost in Bandol, with its jagged hillsides of terraced vineyards, Thane was “glammed”.

The terraced vineyards of Bandol

But how to take this brooding show stopper and make it palatable to a wider audience?  Finding the star was easy.  Thane has worked with Kiona Vineyards since our first vintage in 2007, and the Red Mountain region is, as the kids might say, “in the pocket” when it comes to growing bigger, more robust red wines.  Check.

Syrah, meanwhile, has been with us since our first vintage, and we began co-fermenting Syrah and Viognier shortly after. Check.  And, as luck would have it, a block of Grenache came online at Lonesome Spring Vineyard, the same location where we source our Viognier.  Seeing as there is very little Grenache being grown in the Yakima Valley, Thane jumped at the opportunity to work with this fruit.  And thus, the Caldera Red was born.

For our Caldera Red blend, Mourvèdre is the star of our show.  Our Lizzo.  Bombastic, in your face, can’t look away.  Supported by a soulful cast of characters that make the whole groove undeniably catchy.  But with an edge.  This is not easy listening; rather, it’s an original.  However, if you keep an open mind- and have some pulled pork or thinly sliced steak with blue cheese on hand- you might just have an out-of-body experience.  The fourth dimension!

2017 Caldera Red and its sister Grenache

Our 2017 Caldera Red Blend recently received a Gold Medal from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.  Our “all-natural MSG” blend contains:

44% Mouvédre

28% Syrah

25% Grenache

3% Viognier

As a small winery, our Caldera Red is only available online or at our tasting room in the Columbia Gorge.  Visit www.hawkinscellars.com to learn more about us and to order online.

— Co-Written by Thane Hawkins and Holly Evans-White

I am 21 or Over

Yes – take me to the site