Nothing could make me happier than seeing a wine maker… making wine. Even better if he is a fellow Spaniard compatriot. Javier Alfonso, owner of Pomum Cellars, was dealing with a batch of Tempranillo grapes just when I met him is his cellar at the Warehouse district in Woodinville (WA) last week.
This hub of wineries established in small garages is particular. Situated in the outskirts of the city around 50 little size wineries produce wine in a small scale but with great quality.
Many of the wine makers have second jobs and dedicate the evenings and the weekends to their passion. Javier did the same until 2012, when he decided to abandon his promising career as aeronautical engineer to fully focus on Pomum cellars.
He began to produce wine in 2004 as a weekend hobby in his house garage “We wanted to produce wine for ourselves but our friends loved it and encouraged us to increase our production”. They finally moved to the Warehouse district in 2007 and to their current location in 2010. So, inspiring to know that Pomum occupies today the previous location of Betz wines, one of the most respected brands in Washington.
But Javier brought his love for wine making directly from his roots, a tiny Spanish village that I had the opportunity to visit a long long time ago, Castillejo de Robledo. In that historical gem his family has vineyards that belong to the DO Ribera de Duero, one of the most important wine areas in Spain.
“I soon realized that the continental climate of this region in Spain was really similar to the characteristics of the Eastern Washington desert. With hot short dry summers and long and cold winters” this area is blessed with the Yakima and Columbia river waters. Javier picks the grapes cultivated exclusively for him for farm contractors in the Yakima valley area. Climate and soil are the key factors in wine making: “soil gives flavor, climate gives viability”
He wanted to give a chance to our national grape, Tempranillo to grow up here in Washington, and as a pioneer he brought the first vine from Spain in 2005. “It was a long and complicated process managed through a Spanish scientific institution and the UC Davies in California because they had to check, clean and classify the vine to give it the final blessing”. To get an idea about how special Idilico wines are nowadays only around 20 wineries in Washington work with Tempranillo varieties and only 5 with Albariño grapes.
You can find two more Spanish grape varieties, Tinta de Toro and Graciano, in the Idilico wines: “Spanish vines, Washington wines,” as he explains with an open smile. But you only can get them through the wine club or dining in one of the restaurants that carry this wines in their wine menu in the Seattle area.
And here we are! Facing again a big food and wine event! The difference is that Taste Washington is not big is totally massive! So massive that is the biggest of his kind in the US. 225 wineries, 65 restaurants. 700 wines, 5,000 glasses, 200,000 wine pours. And these are only the estimated facts of the Grand Tasting weekend. Much more happened last week because this event who began humble but steady 19 years ago reinvents itself every year.
2016 edition novelties were 2 fun evening parties: Red & White Party and The New Vintage and 3 lunch excursions really rooted in the sustainable farm to table movement that is shaking the State and pretty much the way we are beginning to approach food in the whole country.
Schedule issues only allowed me to attend Saturday´s Grand Tasting for the first time ever. This means a fresh new approach but some amateur mistakes driven by me and my impossible goal to envision the real size of the event. Because who is able to taste 700 wines without ending emotionally, intellectually and physically intoxicated? It´s simply impossible to do it although a fun winemaker from Walla Walla told me: “Some people try… and fail” giving me a metaphorical wink. “I prefer focusing on trying all the food”.
So you should have checked the impressive list in advance but you didn´t and you don´t have so much time now. And every booth is a magnet calling your attention… And then, between bite and bite You see Pomum Cellars! No problem in admitting that I find pretty awesome the idea of making Washington wines with Spanish varietals. I visited the winery last year and the wines didn’t disappoint me at all so first wine tasting of the day.
I was lucky enough to meet the owner and winemaker, Javier Alfonso, who came to WA to get his degree in Engineering and never went back. But he hasn´t forgotten his love for Ribera del Duero one of my favorite wine areas in Spain where the climate and terrain is pretty similar to Eastern Washington with cold winters, dry summers and a huge difference in temperature from day to night which gives this bold balance between sugar and acidity to the wine. Really good red wines at this winery particularly the Tempranillo, made with our unofficial official grapes. And don´t forget Idilico Albariño to pair with oysters and crab.
April Redout from the relatively new Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center in Prosser was so nice to give another clue about some new interesting things happening. She invited me to visit this center in Prosser (bucket list) and pointed me towards Intrinsic Wine Co. a new adventure from Saint Michelle wine group leaded by Juan Muñoz-Oca his head winemaker.
Not easy to talk with this expert, one of the real celebrities of the day but he was so nice to take a few minutes to explain why this wine is so different: “the grapes remain on the skins for 9 months and 10% of the wine is fermented in a concrete tank”.
It´s to interesting and innovative that in a back to the farmland era as previously cited Muñoz-Oca has taken a complete different direction creating an urban modern wine. Even the amazing bottle design “Fun, it looks like a flamenco dancer” I thought, it was created from graffiti art. Another really interesting wine really rich, I usually find Cabernet a bit plain and soft, for my list perfect to impress guests and hosts.
Really fun the marketing campaign of Red Mountain AVA alliance with pins reading “Ask me why Red Mountain is so special” and other pins with the answers scattered through the association wineries. Sometimes you don´t need a lot of budget to make an impact.
Because when you are competing with other 224 wineries you have to use to imagination to stand out. Charles & Charles winery only needed to be the only ones… as far as I know to serve rosé wine. It´s fun this trendy trend of you not being a wine connoisseur because you drink rosé. I love rosé because it reminds me two things: summer and paella. You can find an occasion for every kind of wine. Other interesting classics with no failure rate… Betz Winery, Gorman Winery and again Alexandria Nicole Jet Black Syrah 2014. (link Seattle wine and food experience).
Let´s talk about food now. Nope I didn´t hit the 65 restaurants either but I tried to be pretty eclectic as I had to give my cork-vote to my favorite one. It looks like I missed the favorite, the Swiftwater Kobe short rib… Maybe because I am more into the seafood/fish world. Anyway I always will have room for torchon and foie, really good. Good to know there is a reliable French style place so close to home in Kirkland Le Grand Bistro Americain. The nice people from another Capitol Hill classic, Gnocchi Bar, showed me how to cook them to perfection.
And even better to know that there are some guys curing ham Spaniard style in Leavenworth. Yes, they call themselves Cured. Leavenworth is the perfect place for that, cold and drier in winter. I bet they wouldn´t be so successful in the Puget Sound area. Really good products, a touch salty for my palate, but they point an extra good reason to visit the Bavarian village soon.
Of course I had to follow the legendary line to get some Aqua oysters. Simply amazing. In fact, I was about to give them my vote, nothing is more perfect than oysters with squeezed lemon to me. But I wanted to reward some creativity too so I finally picked Kalaloch lodge´s chef, Ashley Miller, salmon mousse. OK, salmon mousse is not so innovative but the truth is that I love simple beautiful, classic flavors, not 12 ingredients packed in a bite.
Fun because I had the opportunity to taste his food again 2 days ago during my first epic loop around the Olympic Peninsula. Superb ingredients treated with simplicity and respect, just the way I love it. And with this also epic sunset as background. Lucky me.