Why Rhone Rules in Washington State

rhone-bottles-blogRhône wines as a category, including wines made from such stellar red grapes as Syrah and Grenache and aromatic whites including Roussanne and Viognier, carry the geographic name of their origin.  Originally cultivated in the Rhône Valley of France, these complex, collectible wines of character are now planted the world over, with France, Australia, Spain and Argentina leading the way.

In Washington State, there are significantly fewer acres of Rhône grapes grown than Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay or Riesling, but plantings continue to expand here, in part due to the increasing attention Washington Syrah has gained world-wide.  As with any great wine, the key to its success is found in the vineyards.  Grapes are grown in Eastern Washington’s dry, arid Columbia Valley, where the combination of warm, cloudless summer days and cool fall evenings produce wines with ripe, full flavor and excellent acidity.

Syrah, originally grown in the Northern Rhône, provides the backbone for the prized bottling of Hermitage, Côte Rôtie and St. Joseph AOCs, among others.  The grape thrives under the hot growing conditions of the Northern Rhône, and the same is true in the Columbia Valley.  Washington Syrah is remarkably diverse, bringing a sense of place to every bottle, with styles ranging from brooding and savory to ripe and fruit-forward.

At Novelty Hill’s estate vineyard, Stillwater Creek on the Royal Slope of Washington State’s Columbia Valley, Syrah is planted on a south-facing slope in soils filled with fractured basalt.  Stillwater Creek Vineyard Syrah comprises a significant portion of Novelty Hill’s Columbia Valley Syrah.  It yields deep, concentrated wine grown from clones 1, 99, 174 and Joseph Phelps, making Stillwater Creek home to one of the most diverse Syrah clonal selections in the state.

Grenache Noir, the world’s most widely planted premium red grape, is just coming into its own in Washington State. Originally cultivated in the Southern Rhône Valley and made famous the world over by the outstanding wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Grenache was first planted in Washington in the 1960s but the vines proved susceptible to Washington’s cold winters, and growers nearly walked away from the grape.  Since the turn of the millennium, however, vineyard owners have become more selective about where they plant Grenache, yielding decisively better results.  At Stillwater Creek, winter weather is a bit milder than other parts of the Columbia Valley, allowing the variety to thrive.  During the growing season, the vines are cropped for low yields, resulting in medium-bodied wines with a textured mouth feel and refined tannins.

Viognier, Northern Rhône’s most widely planted white grape, came close to near extinction at one time when plantings slipped below 100 acres in the tiny AOC of Condrieu.  While plantings in Washington remain small, this richly aromatic wine has a loyal following, and white wine lovers looking for an alternative to Chardonnay particularly favor it.   Sometimes co-fermented with Syrah, Novelty Hill Viognier stands on its own, consistently earning 90+ ratings.

Like Viognier, Roussanne was originally cultivated in the North Rhône but is now also grown in the south.  It is another white Rhône wine prized for its aromatics.  The grape derives its name from the russet or “roux” color of the grape skins.  At Stillwater Creek, more than one visitor has commented on the soil’s similarity to the Rhône, perhaps one reason why Rhône varieties like Roussanne thrive here.

#TBT One-Day Library Wine Sale

zuckerbergWe’ve been having some fun with Throwback Thursday (#TBT) this month, venturing into the cellar each week to offer a special, limited release wine for sale in the winery tasting room for one day only.   In the spirit of #TBT, we offer a vintage photo, along with a couple of clues to help you as you   take a walk back in time to solve the mystery of our featured wine.

This Thursday, April 24th, we are offering an acclaimed Novelty Hill made from a grape that originally hails from the Northern Rhone Valley in southeastern France.  First made famous by the wines from Hermitage and well-established there by the 13th century, classic examples of this noble grape are also grown in Côte-Rôtie.  Our #TBT wine hails from our estate vineyard and was harvested the same year the guy shown here hatched an idea that has fundamentally changed the way we all connect.

A limited quantity of the wine will be available for purchase on April 24th from 11 am – 5 pm in the tasting room only.  Use Facebook to spread the word!

April 16 Limited Release Library Wines for Throwback Thursday

sidewaysThursday, April 17th marks week #3 of this month’s #TBT offering. We are highlighting two limited release library wines, one from Januik, another from Novelty Hill, both from the same vintage and variety.    Quantities are limited, and when the wine is gone, it’s gone, so you best get to work now solving the mystery to this week’s featured selections.  Here are your clues:

Vintage: these wines were released the same year as your favorite movie about wine. The protagonist in this movie is a surly man whom, in real life, is the son of a: once Yale president, and the seventh commissioner of Major League Baseball.

Variety: both wines are the same grape variety portrayed in this movie as the protagonist’s most loathed variety of wine grape.

On a further note: loathing a wine because a movie character does is rather blasphemous. Please allow yourselves to transcend such an arbitrary and unrightfully posed stereotype.




Clue for April 10th #TBT Library Wine

youngmikeWelcome to week two of our #TBT bonanza! For anybody absent last week, or anybody that may have missed the gist of what’s going on: every Thursday for the month of April we will be selling a past vintage wine in our tasting room. All wines have been preferentially picked by Mike and the tasting room staff as favorites. Quantities are limited, and once they’re gone, THEY’RE GONE.

Because we’re a fun group of people (debatable), and able to resist forthrightness, we will be giving clues about each wine’s grape variety and vintage.

(Variety) The wine we will be selling in the tasting room this Thursday is made from the preferred grape of southpawed people from Bordeaux.

(Vintage) It was made the same year that your least favorite baseball team did a disservice to houses built by Babes by playing their first game in a new home just down the street from where they once played. To commemorate the Master’s tournament this week, one more clue about the vintage: this wine was also made the same year an Angel won Augusta.

This wine that earned 91 pts. from Wine Spectator will sell for $30 a bottle.  Good luck and hope to see you all this Thursday, the 10th of April, 2014. Questions?  Email Laura at laura@noveltyhilljanuik.com.

Mystery Library Wine Clue for April 3rd #TBT

bottle-shockIn recognition of Throwback Thursday (#TBT) , we are offering a  limited release library wine for purchase at the winery tasting room only each Thursday through the end of April.  A new wine will be featured each week.  Quantities are limited, so when it’s gone, it’s gone. Finally, to add some mystery (and fun) to #TBT, it’s up to you to guess the vintage and varietal of the featured wine.

This Thursday, April 3, our #TBT wine is from Novelty Hill. Wine Spectator gave it 91 pts., Wine Advocate awarded it 90 pts., and it features Argentina’s most famous grape.  It was also harvested the same year as this classic wine flick.