Taste Washington 2009: Restaurant Awards and Education Day

By Kori ~ April 7th, 2009.

Taste Washington 2009 is now in the books. So now it’s time to reflect on what we learned and tasted and look forward to next year. We had the pleasure to attend all of the Taste Washington festivities this year including the Washington Wine Restaurant Awards on Friday, Education Day on Saturday, and the Grand Tasting on Sunday. Tomorrow I will be posting a complete recap of the Grand Tasting and a breakdown of all the wines that we tasted throughout the weekend.

Today, I want to focus on the Restaurant Awards and Education Day. While they are attended by fewer people than the Grand Tasting, they are no less important. In fact, these two events afford attendees the rare opportunity to learn a ton about Washington wines and mingle with the people that make the Washington wine industry tick. The Restaurant Awards are not open to the public, but Education Day certainly is. If you have not attended any of the Taste Washington seminars in the past, you should make it a point to do so next year. They are definitely worth the time and money.

Washington Wine Restaurant Awards

Washington Wine Restaurant of the Year: SkyCity at the NeedleThe purpose of the Washington Wine Restaurant Awards is to honor restaurants, sommeliers, and individuals that help promote Washington wines in restaurants. Judges evaluate restaurants on a variety of criteria, including wine list, service and staffing, promotions and overall wine philosophy. The Walter Clore Honorarium, given to an individual who has demonstrated dedication to the advancement of the Washington wine industry, was awarded to Christopher Chan of The Rainier Club. The Washington Wine Restaurant of the Year is the most prestigious award, given to the restaurant that has promoted Washington wines above and beyond all others. This year’s winner was SkyCity at the Needle.

In addition to the awards ceremony, about 50 Washington wineries were pouring for a Washington Wine Trade Tasting which allowed us to get a head start on the wineries we wanted to taste at the Grand Tasting on Sunday.

Education Day

Education Day featured ten seminars on a variety of topics. The seminars give attendees the opportunity to taste, discuss, meet, and learn from some of the biggest names in the Washington wine industry as well as a few notable guests from outside of Washington State. In order to cover more, the Wine Peeps team split up and attended different seminars. I attended both Common Ground seminars, one featuring Klipsun Vineyard and the other featuring Champoux Vineyard. Dad (John) attended Party Like It’s 1999 and Winery-less Wines – The New Garagiste. Colby roamed from seminar to seminar taking pictures. And then we all came together for the final seminar of the day, Which One’s Washington.

Common Ground I – Klipsun Vineyard
Common Ground I - Klipsun VineyardBruce Schoenfeld of Travel + Leisure Magazine led this seminar focused on Red Mountain’s famed Klipsun Vineyard. Patricia Gelles, owner/grower of Klipsun sat alongside three winemakers (John Bigelow of JM Cellars, Mike Januik of Januik Winery, and Chris Upchurch of DeLille Cellars) who utilize her grapes as well as wine writer Paul Gregutt and Michael Jordan, MS. We tasted three barrel samples, one from each winery, and then three current releases, one from each winery. My favorite of the wines we tasted was the 2006 Januik Winery Klipsun Vineyard Merlot. While Gelles is particular about which winemakers she will work with, she gives the winemakers she does work with a lot of credit. She said, “We wouldn’t have the fame we do without winemakers. It’s a great collaboration.” After tasting and discussing the similarities, differences, and characteristics of wines made from Klipsun Vineyard grapes, we tasted two mystery wines and were asked to identify which one was from Klipsun. Near the end of the seminar, Paul Gregutt made an excellent point regarding winemaking and vineyards: “Winemaking is not all done in the vineyards. It starts in the vineyard but is polished, or screwed up, in the winemaking.”

Common Ground II – Champoux Vineyard
Common Ground II - Champoux VineyardThis seminar followed the same format as the Klipsun seminar. Again, Bruce Schoenfeld moderated and Paul Gregutt and Michael Jordan MS were on the panel. Paul Champoux, owner/grower of the famed Champoux Vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills, joined them along with three winemakers who utilize his grapes (Chris Camarda of Andrew Will, Mike Januik of Januik Winery, and Rick Small of Woodward Canyon). Cabernet Sauvignon is the forte of Champoux Vineyard. Paul Gregutt referred to Champoux Vineyard as “iconic Washington at its best” and said that “Horse Heaven Hills really embodies a Washington style.” My favorite of the wines in this seminar was the 2006 Andrew Will Sorella.

Party Like It’s 1999! (Attended by John)
Party Like It's 1999!Bob Betz MW moderated an all-star panel representing five wineries (Betz Family Winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Winery, Hedges Family Estate, and Woodward Canyon Winery) that provided samples of their Cabernet Sauvignon or Cab Blend from both the 1999 and 2006 vintages for us to taste and evaluate. My favorites were the two Woodward Canyon wines, the 1999 and 2006 “Artist Series” Cabernet Sauvignon, but I thought all of the wines were good. The 2006 Woodward Canyon is also a great bang-for-the-buck wine. Obviously, Washington produces wines that can age as evidenced by these 10 year old wines that were still fresh, and most of them will be good at least another 3 to 5 years in my opinion.

Winery-Less Wines – The New Garagiste! (Attended by John)
Chris Gorman at Winery-less Wines - The New Garagiste!This very informative session was moderated by fellow wine blogger Alder Yarrow of Vinography.com. Not only did we taste six very good wines from six different winemakers (Cadaretta, Gorman Winery, Sparkman Cellars, Soos Creek Wine Cellars, Tamarack Cellars, and Walla Walla Vintners), but we learned how each of them got started in the wine business, their motivation for becoming a winemaker, the challenges of the business today, and what their plans are for the future. We also had an interesting discussion about wine critics, which they all basically consider a necessary evil, and how they believe (and I agree) that consistently good ratings across multiple vintages and varietals are a better indicator of a winemaker’s skill than a single high score. However, as we all know, a high score sells. My favorite wines in this session were the 2006 Walla Walla Vintners Sagemoor Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2006 Gorman “The Bully” Cabernet Sauvignon.

Which One’s Washington?!
Which One's Washington?!The day concluded with a fun, game show-like atmosphere in which audience members were called to the stage to blind taste two wines and guess which one was from Washington. Master Sommelier Shayn Bjornholm, the Washington Wine Commission’s Education Director, served as the game show host (dressed in his circa 1970’s powder blue tux) and was flanked onstage by a stellar panel including Masters of Wine, Master Sommeliers, and prominent wine writers. The contestants were asked to name the varietal as well as the region of origin for both wines. Everyone in the audience got to taste along with them and learn more about the basics of blind tasting and some of the typical flavors of Washington State wines. I’ll leave you with what I thought was the quote of the day. When asked to describe the typicity of Washington wines:

“Washington sits between the Old World and the New World. It has the fruit of the New World and the elegance and finesse of the Old World.” –Patrick Comiskey of Wine & Spirits

Filed under: American Wine, Vineyards, Washington State Wine, Wine Activities/Events

Reader's Comments

  1. Sean Sullivan | April 7th, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    Good to see you and the other Wine Peeps at the Grand Tasting. This post gets me excited about the Taste of Washington all over again. What a great weekend! I could not attend the seminars on Saturday but reading this makes me wish I could travel back in time. I would love to hear how people did on the Which One’s Washington? seminar and what the panelists had to say about the flavors they associate with Washington wine. Looking forward to reading your thoughts on the wines tomorrow.

  2. Kori | April 8th, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    Good to see you, too. It really was a fabulous weekend! Wish you could have attended the seminars. Most of the “contestants” correctly identified the Washington wine in Which One’s Washington?! but they seemed to struggle a bit identifying the region of origin of the other wine. The panelists, some of which were from out of state, were very complimentary of Washington wine. The general consensus seemed to be that Washington wine has more elegance than California and is certainly a better value than either California or Oregon.