Coyote Kings

September, 2012 17 at 7:11pm

Title: Coyote Kings
Location: Thomas O’Neil Cellars
Link out: Click here
Start Time: 19:00
Date: 2012-10-20
End Time: 22:00

Vaughn Jensen

September, 2012 17 at 6:57pm

Title: Vaughn Jensen
Location: Thomas O’Neil Cellars
Description: Blues
Start Time: 19:00
Date: 2012-09-29
End Time: 22:00

What Are Rhône Varieties?

February, 2012 8 at 4:10pm

We love all of our wines equally, but we especially like to feature wines that are outside of the “usual suspects” of Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay. Many of the wines that comprised our initial release featured the varieties of one of our favorite wine regions, the Rhône Valley of France.

Things work a little differently in France than they do here in the United States. Most American wine drinkers are used to purchasing wines that have the variety printed right on the label. Even in the case of a blend you will usually find the varieties printed on the front or back label of the wine. In France, and really the same is true for most European regions, the important factor is the region where the wine is produced. Each area in France is labeled by its Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC), which translates as “controlled designation of origin”. Each AOC has specific rules about what varieties are allowed to be used in a wine with the AOC label. The Rhône region of France contains several AOCs, each with their own unique guidelines, but there are a handful of varieties that are commonly found in the area.

The Rhône is located in Southern France in the Rhône river valley. In general, the Rhône can be divided into two distinct sections, namely the Northern and Southern Rhône. These two sub-sections of the valley have their own unique climates that play a role in the wines that are produced. The Northern Rhône tends to have harsher winters than the South, but warm summers. The wines of the Northern Rhône are made from Syrah, the only red grape permitted in AOC wines, and the white grape varieties of Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. The Southern Rhône varies more from one AOC to the next. The most well-known wines from the region feature Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Viognier, but can also contain a host of other varieties, including Carignan, Cinsault, Roussanne, and a number of others. The most famous Southern Rhône AOC is known as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and wines from this AOC can contain any combination of 13 different varieties.

In America, the most common Rhône varieties are Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, and Mourvedre, although you will also find a decent amount of Marsanne and Roussanne showing up from time to time. Our own Fusion blend is created from a number of varieties (the specific blend changes somewhat from vintage to vintage), but features Rhône powerhouses such as Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. We also create a rosé from Grenache grapes, and are going to be releasing a Viognier for the 2011 vintage.

Washington State is in the enviable position of being able to produce high quality wines made from varieties originating from all around the world. This versatility gives winemakers an incredible palette to use in crafting their wines. Although it has become a cliché, it really is true that great wine starts in the vineyard, and the fantastic fruit that we get to work with allows us to make great wines that feature varieties that originate in very diverse climates. We look forward to continuing to explore less common varieties, as well as those staples that we all know and love.

Over the years the popularity of rosé has seen its ups and downs. There have always been good versions of pink wines, but the numerous offerings that have been of the sickeningly sweet variety have give the style a bad name. Fortunately, rosé has been on the rebound, with many producers making fantastic versions in the traditional style. These dryer wines have managed to salvage the reputation of rosé as a sweet “girly” style of wine, and broadening the appeal among the typical consumer. This episode of Taste Talk with Tom O’Neil will set the record straight on what rosé is exactly.

Wine Barrel

A lot of what goes into making a fantastic wine takes place in the secret confines of the winery, impossible to witness with the naked eye. Everything starts with having great fruit to work with, but between the vineyard and the bottle there are many elements involved in creating a delicious wine. One of the stops on the winemaking journey that plays a large role in what kind of character a wine has is in the barrel room. The choices that a winemaker makes here will determine the style, flavor, aromas, and body that the wine takes on.

So what goes on in the barrel that can so heavily influence the wines that are produced? A number of things are taking place during the time that a wine spends in the barrel. The amount of time that the wine spends in contact with the wood in the barrels causes some amount of tannins to be absorbed into the wine, which can have some affect on the ability of the wine to age well. The specific style of oak that is used in the barrels will also impart certain characteristics to the flavor and aromas of the wine. Barrels vary, from the variety of oak to the toasting of the barrel. Often the characteristics of the wine that are contributed by the barrel can include the notes of vanilla, smoke, caramel, coffee, chocolate, and numerous other nuances that people enjoy in their wine.

In addition to the changes in the wine that are directly related to the barrels themselves, the wine may also be left to sit on the “lees”, or sediments left from the grapes and dead yeast cells from fermentation. The time that the wine spends on the lees will also affect the flavor, aromas, and texture or body of the wine.

The Barrel RoomThe Delicious is in the Details

Although the essential process in the barrel room is pretty much the same at every winery, there are choices that the winemaker makes that will have a big impact on exactly what kind of wine is produced. Oak is the standard wood that is used by barrel makers, or “coopers”, but not all oaks are the same. French oak has long been a staple among winemakers, but American and Hungarian oak are also often used. French oak is significantly more expensive than American oak, and tends to contribute subtle flavors and greater amounts of tannin to wines. American oak is generally considered to contribute more obvious oak notes to the wine, as well as spice and vanilla characteristics.

Although the origin of the barrels does play a significant role, another factor is the number of uses that the barrels have received. New barrels are going to contribute far more of the oak character to a wine than barrels that have been used in previous vintages will, as well as a larger amount of tannins. Over the course of several vintages a wine barrel will contribute decreasing amounts of flavors, aromas, and tannin. Often winemakers will choose to place some of the wine in new barrels and some in older barrels to get the desired style for their wine.

Who is making the barrels and how they are being made can also have an impact. The techniques that are used in the production of wine barrels can also affect the style of the wine. Barrel staves can be softened and bent by steam, water, or flame, which can affect the character of wines aged in the barrels. The way that the oak is dried can also have a big impact.

All of these details mean that winemakers have a lot of choices to make to determine what kind of wine that they will be producing. Depending on the desired style a winemaker might use a mixture of French and American oak, or new barrels and older ones. It just depends on what style of wine that they are trying to produce.

The Waiting Game

Once the winemaker makes all of the choices that are required to create the wine that they desire, the entire process ultimately ends up with a long wait. Wines will often spend somewhere between one to two year in barrels, and will be constantly changing over that time. Over the course of the 18 months or so that the wine is in the barrel, it will grow up to become the thing of beauty that will ultimately be enjoyed from the bottle. If the time that the fruit spends in the vineyard is the formative infancy of the wine, the barrel time is the teen years that will ultimately determine what kind of adult the wine grows to become.

So as we move towards the time when we get the 2011 vintage into barrels, we prepare ourselves for the long period that will eventually culminate in yet another batch of delicious wine being bottled and enjoyed. We can hardly wait (but we have to.)

What Makes a Wine “Food Friendly?”

December, 2011 15 at 11:14am

Here in the Thomas O’Neil Cellars tasting room we will often describe our wines as being “food friendly”. This is a description that you will often hear applied to different wines, but sometimes it’s not entirely clear to people what is meant by that term. I thought we might want to get into what goes into making a wine “food friendly”.

Wine and food have a long history of being partners in a great meal. I have sometimes heard chefs refer to wine as being a condiment, which is to say that the right wine can be the perfect touch to make a great meal exquisite. Not all wines are created equal when it comes to pairing with food however, and there is a lot that determines whether or not a wine is “food friendly”.

When looking for a wine that will play nicely with food, balance is probably the most essential component. Wines that are overly alcoholic or that display overwhelming amounts of oak or tannins tend to not pair well with foods, as they can often overpower the foods that they are being paired with. For example, a bombastic Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon can really only be paired with something like a hearty steak without trampling all over the flavors of the food. More balanced wines that feature the flavors of the actual fruit can be more broadly used for pairing with your cuisine.

Some varieties are naturally more suited to pairing with food, due to their versatility. Pinot Noir is widely recognized as being a food friendly variety because it can be paired effectively with so many different kinds of food. Riesling is another variety that can be paired with many different kinds of food.  Though all wine varieties have wonderful applications as pairing options, some offer a wider range of options when it comes to finding the perfect pairing.

Although pairing the right variety with the meal that you are serving is important, the specific wine plays a big role in the perfect pairing. Some varieties can be made into a wide range of styles. A good example is the Riesling grape that I just mentioned. Riesling can range from bone dry to extremely sweet, and not all Rieslings will pair well with the same dish. The sweeter varieties can be more limiting when it comes to matching them with food, where a more balanced Riesling that has some nice acidity will tend to be more versatile.

I tend to side with the Byrds when it comes to wine, “For everything there is a season (turn, turn, turn)…”, but when it comes to pairing with my food, I will always look for a nicely balanced wine that can play well with my food. Bon appétit.

2011 Harvest Review

December, 2011 7 at 4:44pm

Every year in this country there is a group of people that have been engaged in a special form of legalized gambling. Each of us support their masochistic addiction to odds-playing every time we go to the grocery store, and are more than happy to do so. These ignorers of Kenny Rodgers’ sage advice are, of course, our beloved farmers. Every year brings its own unique challenges in our industry, and let me assure you, this year was no exception.

Here in Eastern Washington we had a season that was generally cooler than is typical for the area, and ran much later than normal. Most wineries were receiving fruit at least 2 weeks later than normal. There were some producers who lost significant amounts of their crop, although the producers that we work with came out in pretty decent shape. Production was lower than normal across the board, but it seems like most came out of the season okay.

I have heard a lot of people ask about what this kind of season means to the quality of the wines in the 2011 vintage. As with any vintage, there can be a lot of variation from one grower and winery to another. We have been very happy with the fruit that we received this year. The cooler season that we experienced will likely produce wines that are generally very balanced and lower in alcohol than you might see in a warmer vintage, especially for producers who have recently been making higher alcohol wines. A cooler vintage leads to lower sugar levels, which translates into lower alcohol. We prefer to make wines that are lower in alcohol as a general rule, so we were actually extremely happy with where the sugar levels came in on our fruit. Despite all of the stress that this season gave growers and winemakers, there will be some fantastic wine made in the 2011 vintage.

One of the things that makes wine such a special and fun product is the variation that you will see from one year to the next. A 2011 wine will be much different than a wine produced in 2008 or 2005. Every year presents its own challenge to producers, but it also gives the consumer something unique. As the process of fermentation and barreling moves forward, we look forward to seeing how the 2011 wines develop.

As a winery we are certainly involved in the yearly gambling that goes into anything related to agriculture, but we are so thankful for the many growers around the state who have the most skin in the game. Year after year they roll the dice and invest the time and money into producing some of the best wine grapes in the world, and without them we wouldn’t be able to craft the wines that we do. So as we continue into the winter months, we raise a glass to all the gamblers in the industry.

So, you may have heard that Thomas O’Neil Cellars is the first winery in the City of Richland. What you may not know is why we chose Richland!

The bottom line is that we could not find the combination of helpful people, location and cost effectiveness we hoped for in other areas. We were very happy with the way the City of Richland people came to our aid and made the process a positive experience for everyone. We also chose the area as we felt it was under-served and that there was strong potential in and around Horn Rapids, North Richland and those who pass by going to or from Hanford that would appreciate some fine wine and light fare after a tough day.

We couldn’t be happier to be here, are you looking for a place to relax? Check out a map!