A History of the Glass Wine Bottle

You have to love a glass wine bottle. Always perfectly shaped, sized, and handled.

Glass has been around a long time. Naturally occurring obsidian glass has been used in human tools since the Stone Age! The first true glass was produced around 3,000 BC in Northern Syria. In South Asia, glasswork was used beginning around 1730 BC. The ancient Romans were particularly well-known for their glasswork, which was used both domestically and industrially. They developed the technique of glassblowing, which was used to make wine bottles. It’s no surprise, then, that the term “glass” was first used by the Romans.

Sadly, the delicate glass of yore wasn’t a good method for storing wine. Because it was too fragile to travel, wine was usually stored in clay pots called amphorae. However, glass was still used on occasion- people would pour their wine into hand-blown glass bottles for fancy events. When glass bottles did need to be shipped, they were wrapped in straw. This protected them and allowed them to be stored upright.

In ancient Rome, amphorae were used instead of glass wine bottles.

In ancient Rome, amphorae were used instead of glass wine bottles.

In the 17th century, the invention of the coal-burning furnace changed that. The hotter temperatures allowed for thicker, darker glass that had previously been impossible to produce. Add in the invention of a cork closure and you have yourself a decent way of transporting wine!

Bottles were still completely un-standardized, meaning that they came in all shapes and sizes. The colors also varied wildly. Instead of standard wine labels, bottles were usually only marked with a stamp from the bottle maker.

By the 1730s, people began to recognize the importance of different winemakers, grape varieties, and vineyards. People also began to age their wine. They were stored just as we store bottles today! They were laid on their side to avoid spoilage and to allow the drinkers to watch for sediment. As a result, the fat, round bottles fell out of favor, paving the way for the long, sleek bottles we use today. However, bottles were still not standard. They were a “lungful” of the glassblower’s air- usually between 700 and 800ml. Thus, in some places, such as England, it remained illegal to sell wine by the bottle; they were sold by the barrel and then poured into non-standard bottles. (This remained the law in England until 1860!)

In 1979, the US set the standard size for a glass wine bottle: 750ml. In order to allow for easy trade relations, the European Union quickly adopted the same standard.

Now, of course, 750ml glass bottles are a ubiquitous part of the wine world. The feeling of a cool glass wine bottle in your hand is only matched by the flavor of the wine on your palate!

Warm Weather Indicates an Early 2013 Harvest

If there is one word to describe the summer of 2013 in Walla Walla, it is hot. It’s been the second warmest summer on record. The blazingly sunny days have only been outmatched by the incredibly warm nights. As the Washington State University Agricultural Weather Network noted, “Warm, warmest, and warmer is the best way to characterize the 2013 summer season.” This weather pattern suggests that we’re likely to see an early 2013 harvest.

Washington state as a whole averaged more than two degrees above standard weather. The heat also started early this year. In Walla Walla, we were hitting high temperatures by the beginning of July. August was equally hot; it was the warmest that it has been since 1991. During this time, Walla Walla stayed characteristically dry, with only 0.15 inches of rainfall in August. This dry weather is ideal for wine growing, since it allows winemakers to completely control the amount of water that grapes are exposed to.

What does the summer heat mean for the Walla Faces 2013 Harvest?

Rows of Cabernet Sauvignon. Taken at the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard on September 9, 2013.

This heat decreases the amount of time that it takes for grapes to ripen. After veraison, the grapes throughout the Walla Walla Valley began to ripen quickly. This quick ripening process means that the berries are smaller than usual, making their flavor more concentrated. This will create an intense, flavorful wine.

The Walla Faces Estate Vineyard is at a higher elevation than the rest of the valley. As a result, we have a more temperate climate. Consequentially, veraison and harvest are usually a little later for us than they are for the rest of the valley. However, the warm weather is definitely bumping up the date of the 2013 harvest.

A few storms and some anticipated cooler temperatures will probably slow down the ripening process in the next few weeks. Still, we expect an early harvest date and some bold, fruit-forward 2013 vintages thanks to the weather!

Wine 101: How To Do a Wine Tasting

It’s always handy to have a quick review on the steps of one of our favorite activities: wine tasting! Each step of the wine tasting process allows the person drinking the wine to fully appreciate the flavors and aromas of the wine. Once you’ve uncorked a gorgeous bottle, what steps come next?

Wine Tasting Step #1: See

Watch as the wine is poured into the glass. Different elements of the color will become apparent as the wine is poured. Holding the glass by the stem, hold the glass up to the light. By keeping your warm hands away from the bowl, you prevent your fingers from heating up the wine, which can cause a brash alcohol flavor, which may disguise the more subtle flavors hiding in your glass.

The color of the wine can reveal a great deal about the wine. Different grape varieties can produce different wine colors. For example, a Pinot Noir will look nothing like the deep, intense red of a Cabernet Sauvignon. The intensity of the color can cue the observer to how light or heavy the wine may be. Looking carefully, a slight blue hue may indicate the level of acidity.

The opacity of the wine can also yield important clues. For example, an unfined wine like the Walla Faces Cabernet Sauvignons will be much deeper and more opaque than fined wines, like the Fusion Red. Looking at the Fusion’s rim variation, the gradation of color at the edge of the wine, can help the viewers predict its clarity and smoothness. The opacity of the Cabernets suggests that they will be more full-bodied, with great tannins. As they age over the next few years, they will also gain some brown rim variation.

How To Do a Wine Tasting: See

Wine Tasting Step #2: Swirl

Holding the wine glass at the base, swirl the wine. This allows the wine to oxygenate a bit, revealing the true aromas of the wine.

In addition, the aromatic compounds of the wine are released into the air, making them easier to smell.

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Wine Tasting Step #3: Smell

Anyone who has ever had a cold knows that tasting is mostly scent. When your nose is plugged up, it’s impossible to taste your dinner, let alone your wine. Wine connoisseurs have known the importance of your sense of smell for centuries.

To smell your wine, stick your nose into the glass and take a deep inhale. Try to determine what flavors you are smelling. Is the wine spicy? Pungent? Floral? Take a few good sniffs, and be sure to compare your first and second impressions.

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Wine Tasting Step #4: Sip

Of course, if you are doing a wine tasting, you have to taste some wine! Start with a small sip to cleanse your palate. Next, allow the wine to hit all parts of your tongue. Different parts of your mouth will reveal different flavors. If you like, you can slurp the wine in your mouth, allowing for even more oxygenation.

The wine will change in your mouth. The first phase of wine tasting is called the attack phase, where the alcohol, tannins, acidity, and residual sugar are clear. Next, in the evolution phase, the flavor profile of the wine comes out.

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Wine Tasting Step #5: Swallow

There aren’t very fancy instruction for swallowing! Be sure to note how long the finish remains in your mouth. Some wines will persist on your palate, whereas others will have a more short-lived finish.

Of course, don’t forget the more important wine tasting step!: savor and enjoy the wonderful wines you had the opportunity to try!

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Cheers!

A Natural History of Syrah

Syrah is one of the most popular grape varieties in the world. Its wines are typically full-bodied and powerful, with peppery and fruity flavors. Although we all know why we love this grape, the question remains: how did Syrah gain the prominence it currently holds in the international wine scene?

Three Walla Faces Syrahs! 2008 Caroline Syrah 2007 Frank Syrah 2009 Bill Syrah

Three Walla Faces Syrahs!

In Australia, Syrah is referred to as Shiraz. This has spurred several myths about its origin. Shiraz is a 4,000+ year-old city in Iran that is known for its wine. Indeed, the world’s oldest sample of wine, dating from a staggering 7,000 years ago, was discovered in clay pots near Shiraz.

The most common myth suggests that the  Phocaeans brought Syrah from Shiraz to their colony in Marseille on the southeastern coast of France. From there, it gained popularity and began to move north, to the Rhone region of France. (The myth does not explain how the grape mysteriously disappeared from Marseille shortly afterwards!) Another variation on this myth attributes the grape’s origin to a French knight named Gaspard de Stérimberg, who participated in the crusades in the 1200s. He traveled to Persia (modern day Iran) and returned with the grape in tow. This also seems unlikely, as the crusaders certainly did not travel all the way to Persia!

DNA testing by Dr. Carole Meredith, a geneticist who heads the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis revealed the truth about this beloved grape. It is a cross between two little-known varieties: Dureza and Mondeuse blanche. Dureza is grown exclusively in the Rhone region of France. Although it has been used historically because of its heartiness and high yields, Dureza has fallen out of favor in recent years. By 1988 only a single hectare (2.47 acres) of the grape was left growing. That’s as if the only Syrah on the planet was what we have on the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard! Dureza is also not on the list of allowed wines by the French AOC. Mondeuse blanche is similarly rare. A mere five hectares (12 acres) are left, all in the Savoy region of France.

Because of the parent grape varieties are both from a very small region in southeastern France, we can conclude that Syrah originated there as well, probably in northern Rhone. The exact time of the cross is not clear. Historical documents by the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder suggest, however, that the cross may have occurred around 20 AD.

Although Syrah is clearly a very old variety, it wasn’t until the 1700s that it began really making a splash. In northeastern Rhone, there was a hill topped with a hermitage (a chapel) built by Gaspard de Stérimberg, the knight of legend. Hermitage wines, red blends made up primarily of Syrah grapes, were consumed worldwide. (They were a favorite of Thomas Jefferson!)

Syrah was brought to Australia by a Scotsman named James Busby in 1831, who collected a wide variety of grapes for the land down under. As a result, he has been dubbed “the father of Australian viticulture”. By the 1860s, Syrah was one of the most popular Australian varietals. Syrah first came to America in the 1970s. It was planted in California by wine-enthusiasts who called themselves the “Rhone rangers”. It finally made its way to Washington state in 1986– almost two thousand years after the grape was first crossed in France.

Syrah is also frequently grown in Switzerland, Chile, Argentina, and South Africa.

Syrah has even gone on to spawn its own offspring! An accidental cross-pollination between Peloursin and Syrah yielded Petite Sirah in a small vineyard in Tullins, France in the mid-1860s.

Now, Syrah has become one of the most popular grapes for wine production. At a staggering 142,600 hectares (352,000 acres) worldwide, it is the seventh most grown grape variety. In Walla Walla alone, 11,000 tons of Syrah are harvested annually… and that number is only increasing!

Why Concrete Eggs for Riesling?

The Walla Faces 2010 Riesling is “Concrete Egg Vinted”. The futuristic appearance may be snazzy, but the real benefit is its myriad of effects on the wine.

Like oak, concrete is porous. Thus, the wine is able to breathe, facilitating richness and complexity without leaving an oaky flavor behind. Like barrel aging, the porous nature of the concrete allows the wine to slowly aerate, providing layers and softness. Concrete-fermented wines also typically maintain a lot of fruitiness.

Additionally, the tank imparts a minerality that lingers on the palate. Because Walla Faces used both concrete and stainless steel for our 2010 Riesling, it took on the characteristics of both stainless steel- and concrete-vinted wines. Like stainless steel-vinted wines, this vintage has a crisp, refreshing effect, without sacrificing its rich complexity.

The Walla Faces Concrete Egg Fermenter, produced by Marc Nomblot.

The Walla Faces Concrete Egg Fermenter, nestled in some barrels!

Concrete has been used in winemaking since the early 19th century, when some wines were fermented in huge, rectangular concrete vats. Although the material is a classic, the egg shape is an innovation! The first concrete egg fermenter was commissioned in 2001 by Maison M. Chapoutier, a winery in the Rhone region of France. French manufacturer Nomblot, who has been producing concrete tanks since they opened in 1922.

Nomblot’s tanks are produced using washed sand from the French river Loire, gravel, non-chlorinated spring water and cement. They are treated with tartaric acid before use. Because the tanks are unlined, they are able to provide an effervescent mineral flavor to the wines they contain.

The egg shape provides in important function: it facilitates circulation. Because there is a one degree temperature difference between the top and the bottom of the egg, the wine slowly circulates through the tank. Since there are no corners, the wine won’t get stuck in every nook and cranny. The result? The wine stays more uniform throughout the fermentation process. As a result, the finished product will be more structured. No one wants a flabby Riesling!

Because the wine is slowly moving through the tank, it also has more contact with the lees, the dead yeast. As the lees break down, they release many compounds such as amino acids, polysaccharides and fatty acids. This so-called “lees aging” helps create additional complexity, as well as an appealing mouthfeel and aroma.

Given the benefits of the concrete egg fermenters, why are they still so rare in the United States? Concrete egg fermenters are a lot of work! For starters, winemakers must take special precautions to prevent the acidic wine from corroding the concrete tank. The length of fermentation is also longer in concrete, as opposed to stainless steel. Finally, with Nomblot as the exclusive maker of concrete egg fermenters, it can be difficult to access them. We had to import the tank from France. As Walla Faces co-owner Debbie put it, “[It] cost a fortune to get it here.”

The concrete egg may add some additional work, but the best things in life are worth working for! The best wines in life? Doubly so.

Veraison at the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard

If you’ve stopped by the vineyard in the past few days, you may have noticed a beautiful thing: Veraison has finally come to the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard!

Veraison is the process by which grapes turn from green to red. Before verasion, the grapes are simply getting bigger; cells divide and expand, resulting in larger and larger grapes. After veraison, grapes begin to ripen: the acidity of the grapes decreases, sugars become concentrated, and chemicals that give off herbaceous aromas degrade, leaving you with a beautiful, fruity scent. The berries will also get much softer. Prior to verasion, the grapes are very firm. Afterwards, they become much more supple. This is also the point at which a keen observer may be able to discern the characteristics of different grape varieties.

We’ve seen veraison in other vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley for weeks now, but the signs are just now appearing on our grapes. There are a few reasons that we see this difference. The first reason is the grape varieties that we grow: Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, takes a very long time to ripen. Vineyards that grow varieties such as Merlot, which ripens much more quickly, will see veraison earlier in August. Indeed, only our Syrah is showing signs of veraison. The Cabernet Sauvignon is usually two or three weeks behind!

The second reason that veraison occurs later for Walla Faces is because of the location of our vineyard. We are at a higher elevation than much of the Walla Walla Valley. Our vineyard is cooler during the Spring and Summer, but warmer during the end of summer, which helps give our wine a nice balance between sugars and acidity. (Our location also helps in autumn and winter. The warmer temperatures in cooler months help protect our grapes from freezing!)

In addition to being one of the later vineyards to see veraison, we are also one the last to harvest! This means we have many more weeks to admire our ripening grapes.

Photos taken at the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard on August 16, 2013.

Why is Red Wine Kept in Dark Bottles?

The biggest reason that red wine is kept in dark bottles is to avoid damage from light. Light is a form of radiation that moves in waves. Short wavelengths, such as ultraviolet (UV) light, are very high energy, whereas longer wavelengths, such as infrared light, are much lower energy. Visible light falls right in the middle, with wavelengths between 400 and 750 nanometers.

Clear glass is transparent because it lets all wavelengths of visible light through. Thankfully, even clear glass can protect a bit from UV light. However, dark glass is needed to protect from visible light. Light-strike damage can occur under both natural sunlight and in artificial lighting. They are most commonly caused by wavelengths at 340, 380, and 440 nanometers, which includes both visible and ultraviolet light.

Light-strike damage, from either UV light or visible light at the blue end of the spectrum, causes a series of chemical reactions. Sulfur-containing amino acids will react with riboflavin or pantothenic acid, forming:

  • Dimethyl sulphide (DMSP). Known as the “smell of the sea”, this is the metabolite given off by marine algae that gives ocean water that cabbage-y, fishy smell that is characteristic of marine environments.
  • Dimethyl disulphide. This is the chemical emitted by the Dead Horse Arum Lily. The chemical attracts flies because of its similarity in smell to fetid meat.
  • Hydrogen sulphide. This is the chemical that gives the aroma of rotton eggs.

These are certainly not things you want to see on wine tasting notes!

Walla Faces red wines are kept in amber glass and whites are kept in green glass bottles.

Walla Faces red wines are kept in amber glass and whites are kept in green glass bottles.

Amber bottles offer almost complete protection from ultraviolet light and significant protection from visible light. Green glass offers a little less UV protection, but, since it is usually used for wines that should be consumed more quickly, it is usually enough to prevent degradation of the wine. According to WRAP, amber glass blocks 90% of harmful rays, whereas green glass blocks closer to 50%.

There are also natural components of the wine that can help prevent light-strike damage. For example, phenols, such as tannins, can help protect wine. Because red wines have more tannins than white whites, red wines will be less likely to be damaged from light exposure that would ruin white wines.

However, since red wines tend to be cellared longer, they are more likely to be exposed to light before they are consumed, so they need to be kept in darker bottles. Thus, red wines are usually kept in amber bottles and whites are often kept in green ones.

Winemaker Profile: Chris Camarda

Joining as consulting winemaker, Chris Camarda may be the newest member of the Walla Faces team, but he’s hardly an industry novice. Camarda opened Andrew Will Winery in 1989. “I’d worked in the restaurant industry a long time,” he says. “I always ordered the wine!” Andew Will was named for his nephew, Andrew, and his son, Will. Will is currently working at Andrew Will Winery, making it a family affair.

Camarda was mentored by Gary Figgins of Leonetti Cellar, Rick Small of Woodward Canyon Winery, and Alex Golitzin of Quilceda Creek Vintners, all of whom were founding figures in the Washington wine scene. Camarda recalls, “At first, I was copying them. They looked at my wines and gave me some critiques.” He quickly learned, however, to integrate their lessons into a style that was all his own. “They were three very different people and I got different ideas from each of them.”

Chris Camarda

Chris Camarda

His first vintage, sixteen barrels of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, was an instant success. “People liked the wine and that was a big help! Making wine is one thing but selling it is another.” His first cases were snatched up by Seattle Wine Shops, allowing Camarda a foot in the door of the wine industry.

From 2000-2003, Camarda put his methodological mind to work, testing vineyards to find the perfect grape source. “The weather and the vineyard are everything”, he asserts. Camarda looks critically at vineyards for detail work and other signs of a quality grape source. “It’s not like a vineyard, it’s like a garden,” he says. His work on these vineyards transformed his winemaking. He moved from making single-varietal wines to single-vineyard blends. By highlighting the unique attributes of the vineyard itself, Camarda was able to capture the essence of the location.

Andrew Will is still a small operation, making 5,000 cases a year that are quickly snatched up by wine lovers.

Although his vineyard-focused approach was revolutionary, Camarda has a classical eye for winemaking. “I have a lot of respect for tradition,” he says. “I think that although Washington was not a part of that tradition ninety years ago; now we are.” Using his unique blend of traditional methods and off-the-wall ideas, Camarda is able to create something truly unique. “There is a tendency for people to want to make their wines the same and I want mine to be different”, he says. “People just copy what wine critics have liked. In the end, it all ends up being the same. You have one wine and it’s all 100-point wine… It’s the depth, focus, layers, and complexity that makes the great wines, and that’s what I focus on.”

Given Camarda’s dedication to offering unconventional, high-quality wines, it’s no wonder that Into Wine named him as the 33rd most influential winemaker. The 2013 vintage will be his first wines for Walla Faces.

The Story of the Noble Rot

Pourriture noble (in English: ‘the Noble Rot’) is a parasitic infection of a grey fungus called Botrytis cinerea. Botrytis affects over 80 different types of plants in the Pacific Northwest, including strawberries, tomatoes, and bulb plants. On most plants, botrytis will rot the stems, fruit, and crowns. The plant tissue will begin to collapse in on itself.

Even in wine grapes, botrytis can pose a major hazard. In extremely damp conditions, botrytis will fester, leading to unusable grapes that have been destroyed by ‘the Gray Rot’. Botrytis qualifies as ‘the Noble Rot’ when wet conditions bring botrytis spores, but subsequent dryness leads to a partial raisining process. As the mold enters the skin of the grapes, its spores begin to germinate. The water inside the grape evaporates, leading to a concentrated sugar content.

The Noble Rot is important for several distinctive dessert wines, including ice wine. For the Walla Faces 2008 Riesling Ice Wine, the cultivation of botrytis added to the sweetness of the finished product. The use of botrytis also increased depth and complexity, especially for Riesling varietals. The deep golden color of the Walla Faces Ice Wine epitomizes the complex beauty of a botrytized wine.

Botrytis, the Noble Rot, growing on Riesling grapes.

Botrytis growing on Riesling grapes.

It’s not exactly clear when botrytis was first used in winemaking. Historical documents show that botrytis showed up in Hungarian literature as early as 1576. By 1730, botrytis was so integral to Hungarian winemaking that vineyards were rates based on the proclivities for cultivating the fungus.

The Germans, however, have a special legend about its origin. They say that the Noble Rot was discovered independently in Germany in 1775. According to the myth, the Riesling farmers were required to wait for their estate owner’s go-ahead in order to harvest. When the messenger delivering the order to harvest was robbed en-route, the farmers were forced to watch the grapes slowly begin to rot. Assuming the grapes to be worthless, the vineyard owner, Heinrich von Bibra, gave the grapes to the German peasants, who used it to make the first late-harvest Riesling.

Now, the use of botrytis is hardly an accident, with many winemaker intentionally infecting their vineyards in order to achieve the complexity and sweetness that proper use of botrytis ensures. (In the Pacific Northwest, however, botrytis is usually introduced naturally.)

How Did the Walla Walla Incubators Come to Be?

The Walla Walla Incubators are the home of some of the most innovative boutique wineries in the Walla Walla Valley. Stop by and you can both taste wines and meet winery owners and winemakers in their domain. I sat down with Jennifer Skoglund, the Airport Manager at the Walla Walla Regional Airport, to talk about the history of the Incubator project. Jennifer has been a part of the project since they built the original three buildings.

The idea came in the mid-2000s, when the Walla Walla Community College was just getting started. Students were graduating from the program, and there was increasing demand for new wineries to accommodate the influx of bright, aspiring winemakers.

Walla Walla Incubators at the airport.

Walla Walla Incubators at the airport

The money for the Incubator Project was appropriated within the State Capital by representative Bill Grant. Grant sadly passed away in 2009 after serving 22 years in the state House of Representatives. He represented the 16th legislative district, which Walla Walla County, Columbia County, southern Benton County and Pasco.

In 2006, with a simple line in the capital budget, the state set aside $1 million to build the original three Incubators. In 2008, the state appropriated another$500,000 for the second two buildings. In addition, the Port of Walla Walla put in an additional $400,000 for the project. The investment of the State and the Port allows the blossoming winery tenants the flexibility to focus their funds on the best equipment available.

The six year limit for the lease was built into the original project. To choose the six year maximum, the Port worked with Dr. Myles Anderson, founder of Walla Walla Vintners and the Interim Director of the Walla Walla Community College Viticulture Program, who initially helped launch the program in 2000. They also worked with Norm McKibben, managing partner in Seven Hills Vineyard, Les Collines Vineyard, Pepper Bridge Winery and Amavi Cellars. Anderson and McKibben helped design the size and the layout of the incubators. The incubators were built with the expectation that each winery would be making about 2,000 cases a year; This was based on Anderson and McKibben’s calculations that this production was the threshold for a startup to be successful. They also determined the length of “incubation”, determining that six years was enough time to “become profitable enough to move out into their own project”, Jennifer recalls.

The Incubators offer an escalated rental term. As the six years progress, the property becomes increasingly expensive to lease. Jennifer says that this ensures that wineries “do not become stagnant and feel that they can stay here too long”.

The initial three wineries were Adamant Cellars, Lodmell Cellars, and Trio Vintners. Trio was comprised of the Walla Walla Community College Viticulture Program grads. CAVU Cellars and Kontos Cellars moved in next. Trio’s old building is now occupied by Corvus Cellars, and Lodmell’s old building is the site of the Walla Faces winery!

The incubator project continues to support new, blossoming wineries. “I think it’s been very successful,” Jennifer asserted. “It gives people an avenue to start their dreams.”