Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Véraison Vineyard Tour Alexandria Nicole Cellars Destiny Ridge Vineyard

August has cranked up the heat in the Columbia Valley. Locally, we've been at or near triple digits. Wispy clouds this weekend, tempered the summer sun while grapes in the valley begin véraison. Véraison is a French term, but has been adopted into English. The official definition of véraison is "change of color of the grape berries." Véraison signifies the change from berry growth to berry ripening in grapevines.

Photo: Standing in front of Tempranillo vines, Destiny Ridge Vineyard.

Friday morning, I drove to Alexandria Nicole Cellars winery. The winery is located on their Destiny Ridge Vineyard, located above the Columbia River, near Patterson, Washington. For me, this was a drive of 110 miles round-trip from my home and back. My friend, Ben Simons, Social Media Director for Alexandria Nicole Cellars, invited me to visit the vineyard and winery. The following photos were acquired over a four hour vineyard tour and wine cellar visit. I was impressed by this family owned winery and the wine making team that is Alexandria Nicole Cellars.

Photo: Destiny Ridge Vineyard and Alexandria Nicole Cellars winery.

Alexandria Nicole Cellars and their Estate Destiny Ridge Vineyard, is owned by Jarrod and Ali Boyle.
Jarrod named Alexandria Nicole Cellars after his wife, Ali (Alexandria) Boyle. Situated near the Columbia River, Destiny Ridge Vineyards is a protected location. It benefits from constant wind generated by the Columbia River and special micro-climate characteristics of the vineyards location. Of the 367 acres of land 263 acres is applied to vineyards. The first vines were planted in 1998. Planted varietals include: Riesling, Merlot, Grenache, Viognier, Malbec, Lemberger, Sauvignon Blanc, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rousanne, Mouvedre Cabernet Franc, Marsanne, Syrah, Petit Verdot.

Jarrod and Ali sell approximately 75% of their grapes to many well-known Washington wineries. They use the rest of this top quality fruit to make their own Estate wine.

Photo: Jose Luis Yanez, Vineyard Foreman, his name is on every bottle.

Jose Yanez joined Destiny Ridge Vineyard in 2000 and trained directly under Jarrod. Destiny Ridge Vineyard has received several quality incentive bonuses and is paid, on average, a high amount for their fruit due to its quality. Jose is passionate about his work and focuses on quality because he realizes that you cannot make great wines with inferior fruit. It is for his dedication in the vineyard and to the wines, that Jarrod asked Jose to put his name on every label produced.


Photo: Alexandria Nicole Cellars winery and power generating wind vanes.

The winery was constructed in 2004 for the production of small-lot handcrafted Estate wines. They make over two dozen different types of wine. Their wine club members enjoy the benefits of some amazing limited production bottlings. The first thing I noticed at the winery, besides the bright red color, were the vertical wind vanes. Once they have all of the wind vanes functional, they hope to supply all of their electrical needs via the wind. There's a constant flow of wind from the nearby Columbia River, so I believe they will achieve this goal.

Photo: Racking the wine.

When I arrived at the winery, they were busy racking inside, so Todd Chapman, Ali's brother, took me and Ben on a detailed tour of the vineyard. He also thinned clusters as we went along. Maintaining 263 acres of grapes is a lot of work and a constant job, it's also part of the attraction – there's always something to do.

Photo: Tempranillo at Veraison August 3, 2012

Photo: Todd discussing canopy management to enhance growth and minimize sun damage.

I enjoyed seeing the pretty purple jewels on the Tempranillo clusters hanging from the vines. I came to see the véraison process starting in the vineyard. Not only were the grapes beginning to change color, after an extensive vineyard tour, by the time I returned home, my face had changed color from all the sun exposure. Red.

As we approached the Grenache vines at the highest elevation of  Destiny Ridge, Todd told me they installed 10 raptor boxes along the ridge. They are attracting raptors to the area to help manage pests in the vineyard, without the use of poison or traps – as we drove along the bumpy, rocky, dirt road, we could see several large hawks flying above the Columbia River and the vineyards.

Photo: Todd Chapman and Ben Simons taking in the view of Destiny Ridge vineyard.

Photo: Grenache vines with a view of the Columbia River.  Elevation 900 feet above sea level on basalt soil.
From our perch at the top of Destiny Ridge, we saw Jarrod inspecting vines below. Before continuing our tour, we drove over to have a quick visit with him while he was working.

Photo: Jarrod Boyle and Todd Chapman thinning vines.

Jarrod Boyle impressed me. He struck me as a focused, dedicated, hard working, family man. He was friendly, and his staff told me several times that he's receptive to new ideas and encourages innovation. Yet, Jarrod has a serious and potent undercurrent, a man who makes things happen. I liked him. Jarrod was born in Prosser, Washington and learned vineyard management while working for Hogue Cellars, under the tutelage of Dr. Wade Wolfe. His two sons were at the winery on my visit. This is a family winery.

Photo: Todd thinning Barbera clusters.

Our next stop was at the Barbera vines. Todd thinned some of the Barbera clusters while Ben and I watched. As pretty as these clusters looked, the vines can only support so many and still produce top quality fruit. To properly ripen, many of these clusters must go. Some of these “waste” clusters are going to end up in a *new project lead by Ben Simons. I'll let him tell that story later.

(*Update: Read about the Verjus project Ben Simons is leading.)

Photo: Todd Chapman demonstrating how to work with younger vines.
Photo: Matt Dodson, Assistant Winemaker for Alexandria Nicole Cellars.

After our vineyard tour, we joined assistant winemaker Matt Dodson for some refreshing barrel samples. Matt is another gregarious, enthusiastic Alexandria Nicole personality. We discussed wine, barrel selection, the pleasure of working with top quality fruit and several new projects. Even though Alexandria Nicole makes over 20 different wines, they have collaborated on beer and cider making efforts, including Noble Rot.

Photo: Noble Rot beer.
Alexandria Nicole Cellars has collaborated with Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Together they have created “Noble Rot” a beer/wine hybrid, consisting of about 51% beer along with 49% wine. It tasted sweet to me, with Belgian characteristics. There's a detailed article about this project written by: The Pour Fool, 24 February 2012, “Dogfish Head Brewing and Alexandria Nicole Cellars: Rot Hits the Sweet Spot!”

Another new effort by Alexandria Nicole Cellars, is that they now provide 5 gallon kegs of wine to several establishments in Seattle. Yes, premium Washington wine in kegs. An advantage of providing wine in 5 gallon kegs is that quality and freshness is guaranteed, from the first glass to the last glass of wine. Empty kegs are returned to the winery, sterilized and then re-filled. There is no wasted cork or glass bottles. This familiar, but new to wine packaging and delivery platform, helps keep costs down and is part of Alexandria Nicoles sustainable winemaking efforts. Are you impressed yet?

Photo: Matt Dodson opening 2010 Rockstar Red and 2008 Malbec.

We barrel sampled 2011 Grenache, Tempranillo, Counoise, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. I have to tell you that Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2011 Estate wines are looking to be a tasty vintage. Next we tasted 2010 Rockstar Red and 2008 Malbec. I will have reviews on these wines soon.

The excitement and passion for making wine at Alexandria Nicole Cellars is palpable. Everyone I spoke with is stoked about making wine, beer, cider and several unnamed projects. Jared and Ali have created a beautiful environment for making world-class wine. They are receptive to new ideas about winemaking and related commodities. They listen to their staff and welcome input to improve the business and brand. They make damn good wine too. A big thanks to everyone at Alexandria Nicole Cellars for taking time out of their busy day to show me around and bend my ears.

Alexandria Nicole Cellars Tasting Rooms

Prosser Tasting Room
Open Daily: 11:00 am – 5:00 pm Daily
2880 Lee Road, Suite D
Prosser, Washington 99350
509.786.3497
wineclub@alexandrianicolecellars.com

Hollywood Schoolhouse Tasting Room
Open: Thursday- Monday: 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
(Woodinville extended hours from 5-8pm Friday evening for wine club members.)
14810 Northeast 145th Street
Woodinville, WA
425.487.9463
shanahw@alexandrianicolecellars.com

Cheers!