Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Wine: Blackwood Canyon

If you’re passing through the Tri Cities area of Washington, and if you’re a fan of wine, there’s a little secret that demands to be let out.  The Yakima River valley, from Richland up to Yakima, is littered with dozens of wineries that you can visit and taste their wares.  Hogue comes to mind, as does Hedges. 

But there’s only one that you really should visit.
Blackwood Canyon Vintners was started on the premise that someone in this world should be making wine the way Europeans did 100 years ago.  Wine that’s full bodied and lasts for years.  Indeed, their wine is designed to last for more than 10 years on the shelf, and a bottle of their 1989 Two Ladies reserve is waiting for my 10th anniversary on our shelf at home.  We bought a 1988 Chardonnay that clung to the glass like brandy and was more intense than any Pinot Noir I’ve had recently.

Last Saturday, my family and I took exit 96 off Interstate 82, and after a quick right and left, proceeded to head down hwy 224 back toward Red Mountain. A left on Sunset road takes you past the Kiona, Sandhill and Hedges wineries, where then you’ll see a small sign on the left side of the road declaring that you’ve reached Blackwood Canyon. 

Well, not quite.  After turning onto the dirt road between rows of grapevines, I noted that there was no building in sight and wondered if I had the right driveway.  After a bit of driving the road dipped down the hill toward the Yakima River and then a turn to the right revealed two older buildings and a couple of pickup trucks.  Still not sure if I was in the right place, but there was a sign on the further building that indicated that we were, in fact, in front of the barrel cellar. 

The tasting room entry looks cozy enough from the outside, but upon entering we were presented with probably the most Spartan tasting room I’ve ever been in.  This is the one caveat I have to visiting the place, the condition of the tasting area.  I don’t know what the condition of barrel rooms at all wineries, but this one was not exactly dusted off for company.  And there were fruit flies everywhere.

There were a couple of people there already tasting, and only one guy pouring the wine.  He was obviously the owner and not an employee.  He looked like he had just come in from the vineyard, where he apparently walks around barefoot and has for some time.  He appears like a younger David Crosby, round belly and shaggy mustache, and has obviously been “appreciating” his own work for the better part of the day.  My advice is to go early in the day for your tasting.

The guy obviously knows, and loves, wine and wine making, but it was hard to get the guy to stop talking and pour the samples that we paid for (yes, there is a tasting fee.  I caught some wine guy in Seattle complaining about this, but it must be a Washington thing, as Oregon wineries routinely charge).

After spending over 2 hours tasting Chardonnay, Cabernet and Semillon like I’ve never had them before, I was convinced that I would never approach wine the same way again.  The Cabernet was smooth and silky, the Chardonnay was full and brandy-like.  The Cabernet, incidentally, came out of a decanter that had been sitting for a few days, and the taste hadn’t gone bad, like it would in any other wine produced here in the Northwest (at least that I’ve bought).  He didn’t so much declare that proudly as berate the rest of the industry for making fast, cheap wine for the masses for the purpose of making money and not for the love of wine.  The angst was thick.

If there’s not too many people (we were the only ones there at the time) he’ll also bring out a few foods to try with the wine.  We had black beans (with hot peppers), tasty roast beef, parmesan cheese, and oysters in the shell that my wife swore was some of the best she’s ever had.  This guy can obviously cook.

I’d suggest buying something to enjoy at home some night over dinner.  However don’t feel too pressured, as most of the bottles he sells are above the $30 range and extend into the thousands (for one bottle of 1988 Merlot).  If you are into investments, though, this is one of the few wineries where you can buy futures in a case or two.  For instance, a half a case of 2004 Cabernet Bouchet is $178.50.  In ten years it’ll be worth a few times that.


Anonymous said...

2 hour wine and food tasting - we went 8-26-2006, (late in the afternoon) and we had a 4 hour wine and food tasting experience - some of the best wines we ever had - Micheal and the experience may be hard for some to take, however we will never look at wine the same way- Micheal is definately not like the other wineries we have visted but then niether were the wines - Micheals wines were amazing.

Anonymous said...

Truly the best winery in the state, if not the country, Blackwood has been tickling my tastebuds for over ten years. Yes, the winemaker is eccentric. Yes, the place is a bit shabby. Yes, you may feel like taking a shower when you finish up a day of tasting. Nevertheless, one has the feeling (and flavours) of stepping back in time to a late nineteenth century Burgundian chai, where surely there were no bug-zappers, commemorative Zippo lighter/corkscrew combos, and/or fancy T-shirts for sale, and tasting the wares of the true masters of wine (those epicurean French). This place is about world-class fine wine, and I hope it never stops being that way. Keep it up, Mike!

Anonymous said...

Met Mike years a go and went threw a tasting. Learned more about wine and foods than at any other winery. He has the best wine in the area. If you want the best then just go to Blackwood Canyon Winery. You will never drink wine the same way again. These wines are the best. Keep up all the hard work Mike.. Carol

Anonymous said...

Just recently had the "experience" of Blackwood! The wine was exquisite, the ambiance-interesting (fruit flies, bug zapper, no running water, a dog roaming around,) The winemaster, lacking a shower in a few days was eccentric, entertaining, and brutaly passionate about his wine. This was a stop we will never forget. Next time we will be prepared with our own glasses for tasting, crackers to clear our palates, and hand sanitizer. With that said these were the best wines we tasted all day. We will definately be back!