Rhone Rangers’ Struggles Provide Great Opportunity for Wine Consumers

By John ~ July 16th, 2010.

Good wine and great values have been the keynotes at the Rhone Rangers events that I have attended. So why was attendance down so much at this year’s trade event in Seattle, both in numbers of producers pouring wines and in distributors, restaurants, and media tasting the wines? For answers to that question, I turned to Rhone Rangers Board member Jason Haas of Tables Creek Vineyard and Rhone Rangers Executive Director Cheryl Quist.

Jason thought that participation was down due to the lagging economy, conflicting events like Riesling Rendezvous, and Syrah simply not selling as well as in the past. Cheryl blamed the lower participation on wineries cutting back on travel and donor budgets, and distributors not looking for more labels to carry in their portfolio. “It’s just a tough market right now,” said Cheryl.

Jon Martinez of Maison Bleue even recruited Washington winegrowing legend Dick Boushey to pour at his booth. It was a great marketing idea, and it worked. Maison Bleue had a good crowd the whole afternoon.

This was the third year in a row that I attended the Rhone Rangers trade/media tasting here in Seattle. The Rhone Rangers are a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting American Rhone varietal wines. To be members, wineries must produce wines from one or more of the 22 varietals that are native to the Rhone Valley in France. Twenty-nine Rhone Ranger member wineries from Washington, California, Oregon, and Idaho participated in this tasting, down from over forty a year ago.

The good news is that for wine consumers, there is great opportunity. The wines continue to get better while the prices are the same or lower. There were a higher percentage of 4 star (out of 5) wines or better, and there were a higher percentage of great QPR wines (5 bangs for your buck) than I’d found the previous two years at this event. There were no real “new” discoveries this year, but a number of excellent new vintages from familiar producers. From a quality standpoint, my two personal favorites were the 2007 Columbia Winery Red Willow Syrah [QPR: 5, as well] and the 2008 Maison Bleue “Liberte” Boushey Syrah. From a QPR standpoint, I continue to be impressed with what Cline Cellars produces at price points we all can afford.

Here’s a breakdown of the wines that I tasted at the Rhone Rangers event; I focused on red wines this year. Under each Quality heading, the wine name and region will be listed along with price and QPR rating. Wines in bold type received a QPR rating of 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5).

Quality: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
2007 Columbia Winery Red Willow Syrah, Yakima Valley, $30, QPR: 5

Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
2008 Cline “Cashmere” Red Blend, California, $14, QPR: 5
2007 Cline “Cool Climate” Syrah, Sonoma County, $14, QPR: 5
2006 Snoqualmie Reserve Syrah, Columbia Valley, $20, QPR: 5

2008 Tablas Creek “Cote de Tablas” Red Blend, Paso Robles, $25, QPR: 4
2008 Justin Syrah, Paso Robles, $26, QPR: 4
2007 Chateau Ste. Michelle “Boreal” Red Blend, Columbia Valley, $30, QPR: 4
2007 Sarah’s Vineyard “Cote de Madone” Red Blend, Santa Clara Valley, $32, QPR: 4
2008 Maison Bleue “Liberte” Syrah, Boushey Vineyard, Yakima Valley, $39, QPR: 3
2006 Domaine Serene Roadblock Reserve Syrah, Oregon, $40, QPR: 3

Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
2007 Clayhouse Estate Syrah, Paso Robles, $15, QPR: 5
2006 Columbia Crest Reserve Syrah, Columbia Valley, $20, QPR: 4
2008 Maison Bleue “La Roque” Syrah, Horse Heaven Hills, $25, QPR: 4
2007 Chateau Ste. Michelle “Ethos” Syrah, Columbia Valley, $28, QPR: 3
2007 Chateau Ste. Michelle “Austral” Red Blend, Columbia Valley, $30, QPR: 3
2006 Tablas Creek Syrah, Paso Robles, $35, QPR: 3
2006 Fess Parker “Big Easy” Syrah, Santa Barbara County, $35, QPR: 3
2008 Treana Syrah, Hope Family Vineyard, Paso Robles, $42, QPR: 2
2008 Justin “Savant” Red Blend, Paso Robles, $45, QPR: 1
2006 Pride Mountain Syrah, Sonoma, $60, QPR: 1

Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
2007 Four Vines Phoenix Syrah, Paso Robles, $20, QPR: 3
2006 Eberle Syrah, Steinbeck Vineyard, Paso Robles, $21, QPR: 3
2006 Curtis Syrah, Crossroads Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley, $32, QPR: 2
2008 Qupe “Sonnie’s” Syrah, Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, Edna Valley, $35, QPR: 1
2007 Stage Left Syrah “The Scenic Route”, Del Rio Vineyard, Oregon, $38, QPR: 1
2006 Vina Robles “Syree” Syrah, Paso Robles, $39, QPR: 1
2007 Four Vines “The Peasant” Red Blend, Paso Robles, $40, QPR: 1
2007 Epiphany Syrah, Stagecoach Vineyard, Napa Valley, $40, QPR: 1
2006 Fess Parker Syrah, Rodney’s Vineyard, Santa Barbara County, $45, QPR: 1
2008 Pride Mountain Syrah, Sonoma, $60, QPR: 1

Quality: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
2007 Calcareous Vineyard Syrah, Paso Robles, $34, QPR: NR

Filed under: American Wine, California Wine, Five-Bangs For Your Buck Wines, Oregon Wine, Red Wine, Shiraz/Syrah, Washington State Wine, Wine Activities/Events, Wines NOT To Buy (1 & 2 Star), Wines Over $25, Wines Under $15, Wines Under $20, Wines Under $25

Reader's Comments

  1. Jon Martinez | July 19th, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    Dear Wine Peeps,

    I am happy to have had one of your staff attend the event. Here is my inside scoop as to why the event was not well attended. Earlier last week, I spoke to one of my reps from Vinum about the event. She, as well as many of her trade accounts hadn’t heard about it. Apparently last year the trade received postcards in advance as well as emails. This didn’t happen this year. So poor marketing on the Rhone Rangers part. And yes, it shouldn’t have been the same day as Riesling Rendezvous. The part about Syrah not selling is not a good reason, since there were of course many other Rhone varietals present. Syrah isn’t the only Rhone variety.

    I do take a offense to the idea that I used my good friend Dick Boushey as a marketing idea. I invited him to not only help sample one of THREE Boushey Vineyard designate wines, but to sample some of the other Rhone-style wines from California that were present. I knew he would find it very interesting. I doubt he would have taken time away from his wedding anniversary to simply be used as a marketing tool. Dick Boushey has been very good to me over the last few years and I have attained a great amount of respect from him with wines I make from his vineyard. He is also a very big part of my early success. Maison Bleue is about educating the consumer, media, critics, buyers, etc. about the importance of my vineyard sites. That is why I always spend time explaining the importance of my vineyard selections and designate them on my label.

    “True dedication to purity of fruit and distinction of site.”
    -Jon Martinez, Owner & Winemaker
    Maison Bleue Winery

  2. John | July 20th, 2010 at 6:27 am

    Thanks for taking the time to give your take on the Rhone Rangers event. And please don’t take my mention about Dick Boushey being present as anything but the compliment it was meant to be. Keep up the good work.