I recently uncorked a sample bottle of Mettler Family Vineyards Estate Grown GSM. When most people hear, “Lodi,” they tend to think, “Zinfandel.” However, there are over 100 varieties grown in Lodi. This wine is just one of many examples of fantastic Lodi wine beyond Zin. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If variety is the spice of life, Lodi is one spicy place!
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Lodi, California. I have visited twice, most recently receiving the great honor of being invited to Lodi for a “Behind the Bottle” tour last year with the people of Visit Lodi. So, you’re probably thinking, “She must be biased in her opinion!” Perhaps, but the hubby absolutely loves this wine and he wasn’t with me on the tour!
Mettler Family Vineyards
Lodi is all about multi-generational farmed family wineries, and Mettler Family Vineyards is no exception. One of Lodi’s oldest farming families, the Mettlers have been tending to vineyards of premium wine grapes in Lodi since the late 1800s.
Notably, Adam Mettler, Winemaker for Mettler Family Vineyards as well as Michael David Winery, was named 2018 Winemaker of the Year by Wine Enthusiast. This honor for Mettler and the Lodi region as a whole speaks to the innovation of the winemaking and its wow factor.
When I visited Lodi in 2017 the Mettler Family Vineyards Aglianico and Pinotage were on my list of recommended Lodi Wines. To that list I now add their GSM.
Mettler Family Estate Grown GSM
The price points on Mettler Family Vineyard wines are incredible for the quality, starting at just $19.99. Priced at $35, the current vintage of GSM is at the high end of pricing for this brand but still worth every penny.
The 2014 vintage is a blend of 40% Grenache, 36% Syrah, and 24% Mourvedre. Pretty aromas of violet emerge at first sniff, giving way to dried fruit. On the palate, the violet comes through along with baking spices and some candied cherry and raspberry. This red wine is an easy quaffer. I can still hear the hubby proclaim, “This is a great wine!”
Food Pairings for GSM
We enjoyed this wine with a tomato based pasta dish. However, the notes of baking spice coming off the wine had me thinking about rubbing a blend of cinnamon, clove, and allspice under the skin of a chicken before roasting the bird. Accompanied by a berry barbecue sauce, I think the fruitiness of the wine would come out even more.
Devison Vintners has just released its first wine. However, the Walla Walla based family behind the brand is anything but new to the industry. This year will be Winemaker Peter Devison’s 19th harvest, after all. His wife, Kelsey, began a career in wine sales and distribution 13 years ago. Together, they’ve launched their own brand and just released one of the most beautiful rosés I’ve tasted this year. If the 2018 Devison Vintners Rosé is any indication of what’s to come, expect to hear plenty more about this couple and their wines in the future!
I first encountered Peter when he spoke at the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, Washington. Two years later, we worked together at a Woodinville winery after he moved across the state. Peter’s talent and dedication to the cellar were apparent from the start, and I have great respect for this hard working winemaker.
It is from Peter that I learned what makes rosé exceptional. Quality rosés made with intent are main stream today. However, he was at the forefront of the movement in Washington State, and is a master of rosé. While some winemakers bottled pink wine made with the cast-off juice from another wine, (saignée method, a process that concentrates the red wine), Peter made a point of bringing in grapes while they still retained acidity and had lower levels of sugars. He kept the wine on the lees (yeast particles) for a period of time in order to build mid-palate intensity and reduce astringency. Then, unlike the sweet rosé most of us know and fear, he fermented the wine to dryness.
Peter embraces a minimalist intervention style of winemaking and has mad skills when it comes to native fermentation. In other words, he relies on the natural yeast on the grapes and in the cellar rather than using commercial yeasts. Commercial yeasts can alter flavor and amp up alcohol. He also minimizes racking, the process of moving wine from one vessel to another. “The more you have to move a wine, it depletes greatness,” he’d tell me. Over the years, the resulting wines have been awarded top scores from critics. It will be exciting to see what happens when his latest wines reach the market.
Prosser is about a three and a half hour drive from Seattle. With vineyards, a number of tasting rooms, the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center, and nearby Red Mountain it’s well worth the drive for wine lovers. Plus, it’s on the way to Walla Walla. In fact, if Walla Walla is your final destination, you owe it to yourself to stop in Prosser along the way. On Merlot Drive at the entrance to the Prosser Vintner’s Village, is the spacious County Line Tasting Room featuring 2Dor Wines. This summer we accepted an invitation to visit and enjoy a hosted lunch on the patio. Boy, are we glad that we did! If you like a swoon worthy story, food, and wine then pour yourself a glass to sip on while I reveal this gem of a place.
County Line Tasting Room
Sean Tudor grew up in the Yakima Valley across the county line from Robert Smasne. It only seems fitting that the two jointly purchased a winery (the former Olsen Estates) and now operate it as the County Line Tasting Room. Winemaking is done on site by Smasne for his own label as well as 2Dor Wines. This means that guests can taste wine from both brands while visiting. They may also get to meet Sean’s wife, Libbey, who was busy overseeing guests in the tasting room during our visit.
Back in the day, Libbey’s grandfather planted some of the vines at Otis Vineyard. Today, the Tudor family owns that historic vineyard which is home to some of the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Washington State. Cue the music! Sean even proposed to Libbey in that vineyard. Then the couple got married there. How sentimental is that?
If you’re not choked up enough already, get a tissue because there is a bit of a sad story here. Back in the 1970’s Sean’s grandfather intended to plant 600 acres of wine grapes. Unfortunately, an untimely heart attack led to his passing before that happened.
Regardless, Sean grew up around farming when his parents took over the land. At the age of 18, he attended the Walla Walla Community College viticulture program. Ironically, Sean didn’t even like the taste of wine at the time. The driving force was his vision to take over the farm and get into viticulture. Today that dream is being realized with 2Dor Wines.
Tasting 2Dor Wines
All of the wines crafted under the 2Dor Wines label are estate grown. In other words, the family owns and oversees the vineyards producing the grapes for their wine. Estate wineries aren’t abundant in Washington State, so you know they’re serious about this. As their web site says:
“Owning the vineyard, caring for the vine, nurturing the grape, harvest, pressing, fermenting, aging and bottling is up to us and no one else. It’s our hands and hearts that we put into each and every bottle of wine.”
On the day of our visit we were treated to sips of a number of the estate grown 2Dor Wines. The 2016 Viognier expressed fruity notes of pineapple. The 2Dor MRV Blend (that’s Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier) captivated me with its lush mouth feel. It’s as though the wine was made to pair perfectly with summer and seafood. Refreshing Rosé of Sangiovese came across as dry with notes of summer strawberries. The 2Dor Wines Red Blend composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Syrah was dominated by pleasant floral notes from the Malbec. The elegant Cabernet Franc expressed the classic pyrazine (bell pepper) character of the variety yet let notes of blackberry and tayberry shine through.
I am surprised by what a great value the 2Dor wines are at $15-45 a bottle! In fact, we purchased some taking home the MRV Blend, Rosé, Red Blend, and Cabernet Franc.
Eat it Up
The County Line Tasting Room has a kitchen. With a killer chef. OMG the food is incredibly fresh and tasty! It pairs beautifully with the wines.
As we sat down to our hosted lunch, Sean asked if he could order the tuna crudo for us. Whaaaaat, there’s tuna crudo in Prosser? I have to admit, I had my doubts, but Sean assured us the dish is his favorite. The bite size pieces of tuna were fresh and delicate, while rich in flavor.
We also gobbled down every last refreshing drop of gazpacho, a hearty BLT on artisan bread, and a satisfying shrimp risotto. Everything was delectable!
Had we known that Chef Kyle Hunter previously worked for Seattle restaurateur Tom Douglas, we probably wouldn’t have been so surprised. One might think perhaps this talented chef might grow wary of life in Prosser, outside of a big city. In fact, the opposite is true. Originally from the area, he went to Seattle long enough to get some valued experience. Then he returned home with a new skill set eager to enhance the quality of life east of the mountains.
The experience at County Line Tasting Room and the 2Dor Wines are not to be missed! I can’t wait to visit again this fall when the seasonal menu will likely incorporate Gala and Honeycrisp apples from the Tudors’ farm.
Visit County Line Tasting Room at 500 Merlot Dr, Prosser, WA 99350.
VinoSocial Savvy Tip: if the patio is open during your visit, take advantage of the opportunity!
Update: as of October 2018 food service is on hiatus for the season.
All roads may lead to wine, yet many of us take different paths before reaching that destination. Mari Womack, owner and winemaker of Damsel Cellars, did not take a direct route to crafting wines. How did this damsel – who is clearly not in distress – reach her goal of developing her own brand while traveling a route with various twists and turns? Read on to learn how her experiences along the way influence her adept winemaking.
Mari worked in restaurants while going to college in her 20’s, and developed an appetite for food and wine pairing. Her studies were rewarded with a degree in landscaping and horticulture. Then things took a turn, steering her toward working in Woodinville tasting rooms and volunteering during harvest. That path eventually led to a position as Assistant Winemaker at Darby Winery.
While at Darby, Mari processed 85 tons of grapes per year for four years affirming, “Repetition makes you an expert.” During that time she also worked on developing her own brand. In 2017 Damsel Cellars moved into its own facility located in Woodinville Wine Country.
Today, that restaurant background informs Mari’s food and wine pairing focus and a desire to craft food friendly wines. That degree in landscaping and horticulture provides a focus on the right plant in the right place. The result is a keen sensibility when sourcing grapes. Even going into her eighth vintage Mari admits, “I’ll never know all there is to learn about wine.” Regardless of the path taken, I think most people in the wine industry say the same thing about themselves. After all, that’s part of wine’s allure.
The Wines of Damsel Cellars
The lineup at Damsel Cellars focuses on fun and youthful wine with great acidity. Fruit is procured from high quality growers such as Dick Boushey of Boushey Vineyards. It’s no wonder these wines are selling out! On the day of my visit the tasting began with a delightfully fruit forward Chardonnay. Then an easy drinking Red Blend, a GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) blend aptly named the Fates, and the Stillwater Creek Syrah were poured.
Crafting varietally specific bottlings was the initial plan for Damsel Cellars. Then, in 2015 some anticipated grapes were damaged resulting in less Grenache and Mourvèdre than anticipated. Co-fermenting the two and adding Syrah to the blend was the solution. “Syrah is my favorite and I think everything can be improved by Syrah,” declares Mari. It was completely randomly fated, hence the blend, The Fates. Matured in all neutral puncheons, the fruit expresses itself beautifully. It wows with an old-world character and conveys the classic savoriness inherent in wine grapes from Boushey Vineyard.
I received a sample bottle of the Malbec to taste at home. The wine comes across as much softer than typical Washington State Malbec. Its brambly fruit flavors make it a terrific match for my Berry Barbecue Sauce atop roasted chicken breasts coated with a smoky spice rub.
Visit Damsel Cellars
In 2017 Damsel Cellars moved into its own facility located in Woodinville Wine Country. If you’ve been to Woodinville you know this Washington State wine tourism area is not the typical wine destination. Rather, what began as a rural and industrial area is now a region densely packed with tasting rooms. About a half hour drive from Seattle, the location is much closer to city life than the state’s vineyards. Find Damsel Cellars tucked away among warehouses in what is referred to as the Artisan Hill District. The cozy tasting room is housed in the front portion of the winery. It’s a clever repurposing of the space, really.
These are serious wines, yet Mari sets a casual, lighthearted tone for the winery. The experience conveys her belief that it can be fun learning about wine, especially with a group of friends. So if you enjoy wines with old world character and an intimate tasting room experience, it’s time you visit the Damsel.