Walla Walla Day 1: Product Tasting

vineyard at sunset

We took our third trip to Walla Walla for some product testing for Coho Restaurant’s 2019 wine list. We arrived on the tail end of fall release weekend held annually in early November. It is great to visit to taste what’s new and to learn what winemaker’s are making. During that time the cellar crew is finishing up the last of the fermentation and putting the year’s harvest into barrels. 

Trip Preparations

In preparation of our trip we carefully planned appointments. We wanted to visit wine makers that have been on our radar while connecting with others that we’ve already been doing business. Additionally, we wanted to leave time for tastings with winemakers that have popped on the scene since our last visit some three years ago. 

We started our trip with a tasting at Maison Bleue Winery. We’ve had their Viognier on our list for several years. Our first pour was their 2016 Seven Hills Vineyard Viognier. After a sniff and a sip all the travel stresses melted away. I was captivated by the almonds, honey suckle, apples and pears that were dancing on my tongue. It was so familiar. As I stared across the room to the perfectly painted blue wall, homage to the winery’s namesake, while spitting and taking copious notes, the second wine appeared in my glass – a 2014 Grenache made with Walla Walla Valley fruit. 

I reminded myself that this is fall release weekend so the majority of the wines we are going to taste are the best red wine efforts made – this Grenache did not disappoint. Six wines later, the tasting finished. Sigh…..We find ourselves with a bit of time before our next appointment. What to do? Taste more wine!

So we duck into a dual tasting room right around the corner. There we visited with g. Cueno Cellars and Côte de Ceil Winery. Both are new wineries to us. We learn they are very small producers that only distribute to their wine club and not to restaurants or retail. 

Gino Gueno

Gino Gueno is producing some of the best Italian varietal wines with Washington grapes. He makes a sangiovese, nebbiola, ripassa and seccaposa, an amaro- style wine made using the dried-fruit method – the same winemaking process used to make Amarone. As in the Italian wine making style, the clusters are individually laid on drying racks, and dried under controlled temperature and humidity for three to four months. Then the fruit is de-stemmed, lightly crushed and fermentation is carried out as a normal red wine fermentation. The result is a very rich, full bodied wine with excellent balance and fine ripe tannins.

Dave and I looked at each other and smile. We very much want these wines on our list. Despite my persuasive personality and tenacity, we figured with an 800 case total winery production, Gino was not likely to divert inventory to our restaurant without a personal connection. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the opportunity to meet Gino personally. If we would have our chances of distribution would have improved. The wine business is about relationships. Unfortunately to Gino, Coho Restaurant is just another 2 x 3 business card.

Rotie Cellars

We ended our first day in the Valley with a tasting with Maddie Richards, the Sales Director at Rotie Cellars. This was our third tasting with Rotie Cellars. Even with an appointment during prior visits, we would line up at the tasting bar and find ourselves 2 – 3 guests deep. Maddie was always masterful in handling the bar with guests at various points in the tasting lineup. 

Their new sit down format afforded us more time to focus with each wine. We sat around a table that would seat 10 guests – this day we were only four. This intimate tasting allowed us more interaction with Maddie and our fellow tasters. The other couple with whom we were tasting was not in the trade. As we tasted we realized they were typical of our Coho Restaurant patrons. They provided some great feedback and insight as to what wines they enjoyed.

In addition to getting new wines on our radar, our other goal for this trip was to recruit winemaker’s for dinners for Coho Restaurant’s 2019 line up. By the end of day one, we had tentative agreements with Maison Bleue Winery and Rotie Cellars. Not bad for a day’s work.

Over dinner, we sipped a bottle of bubbles to wake up our palate and toasted to a great day. We reviewed our notes from the 25 or so wines that we sniffed, swirled, sipped and spit. We were giddy with anticipation for what tomorrow would bring. 

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