Wins by the River

September 2009

By John Gottberg

Fort Walla Walla Cellars’ Bordeaux-style reds were double winners at the Aug. 14–15 renewal of Bend’s Wine by the River festival, a benefit for Partners in Care children’s hospice programs.

Fort Walla Walla’s 2005 Reserve Blend was honored as “Best of Show” after winning the red blend category. Its 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon also won the red varietal group. Other winners were Vidon Winery 2007 Chehalem Mountains 3-Clones (best Pinot Noir); L’Ecole No. 41 2008 Chenin Blanc (best white); and Capitello Wines 2008 Dolcino (best dessert wine).

“We get awfully good fruit, and when that happens, it’s easy to make good wine,” said Jim Moyer, Fort Walla Walla’s winemaker and co-owner. “We are a small winery, with a maximum annual production of only 2,000 cases, so everything is handcrafted.”

Thirty-four wineries—25 from Oregon and nine from Washington—participated in the event. Half of the exhibitors entered two wines each in the judging; four others offered a single wine for the competition. Hank Sauer of Northwest Wine Press moderated the judging, which took place Aug. 12 at The Loft private wine club in downtown Bend.

Event director Ethel Stratton said the event raised about $25,000 for Partners in Care’s programs, which provide end-of-life services, education and counseling to patients under the age of 25 and their families. She estimated the turnout at about 1,700 guests over two days.

“It was a great 2009 event, especially considering the economy,” she said.

Stratton noted that the festival was last held in September 2007 at the Les Schwab Amphitheater. It was moved this year to the new Riverbend Park on the banks of the Deschutes River.

“We were virtually starting over,” she acknowledged. “The exhibitors did really well. I think we had a great mix of wineries and food … and just a little bit of chocolate and art.”

Wineries traveled to the festival from all over the Northwest. Oregon vintners traveled from the Umpqua and Rogue valleys, the Columbia Gorge and the extended Walla Walla Valley, as well as all corners of the Willamette Valley region.

Two of the top awards went to Oregon wineries. Don Hagge of Newberg’s Vidon Vineyard described his winning Pinot Noir, the Chehalem Mountains 3-Clones, as a wine “that opens up quickly and shows well.” Amber in color, its nose reveals cherry, raspberry and anise, with a long jammy finish.

New Zealand-born Ray Walsh of Eugene’s Capitello Wines took a gold for best dessert wine with his 2008 Dolcino, a rich Gewürztraminer. Trained in white wines in Germany’s Mosel Valley, Walsh produces Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. But it was his German-style white that earned the most raves in Bend.

“Gewürztraminer is such an aromatic and flavorful varietal,” Walsh said, “but if you let the grapes get too ripe, they taste soapy. To get the wine rich and spicy, I pick them early—in late September or the first week of October, the same time that I pick my Pinot Gris—and I freeze them.

“Then I take them out again in December when the outside air is very cold. I have an old, rigid-frame Champagne press that compacts all this fruit down, two tons at a time. I put it on full pressure, straight away, and the sugars and flavors come out by osmosis. It takes 4½ days for each press load. When we open the press up, all the grapes look like little flattened footballs in a two-ton block of ice. And the skin isn’t even broken.”

The result is a sweet, rich, balanced Gewürz of beautiful golden color. Judges noted its honey nose, its apricot-and-peach intensity, and its smooth, lingering finish. This is Capitello’s fourth year of producing Dolcino; production this year was doubled to 260 cases. It retails for $20. ◊

John Gottberg writes about restaurants and travel for The Bulletin, Bend’s daily newspaper. Raised in Eugene, he returned to Oregon five years ago after three decades of chasing grapes around the world.

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