OTB # 9 – Trial and chError – Barb & Chris 2009 Bing Cherry – Yakima Valley

by on May 9, 2010

June, 2009 was our first summer cherry season in an area that grows cherries. I love cherries and about the first week of June got excited when the Sunday Yakima Farmers Market had Bings $3/pound. We bought a couple of pounds for eating. Then the grocery had them $2/lb. We bought some more. Then the U-pick place advertised $1.25/lb . We bought 20 pounds ate some, made jams, and froze some. Then we found a place, just somebody’s yard off County Line Road in Grandview, that had a sign in their yard and stand out front, Bings and Rainiers $1/lb. We bought about 40 pounds, made more jam, and froze more. Then Barb bought about 20 pounds of pie cherries for $0.70/pound and made 2 pies and froze a bunch. By this point we had purchased a Norco Deluxe Cherry pitter, broken it already, and were expert cherry pitters and jam makers.

Barb issued stern warnings, some would even call them threats, that she didn’t want any more cherries, and that my health might be in danger if I brought any more into the house. Then one day, an orchard near my work had sign up, FREE cherries. I spent about an hour and picked another couple of buckets and hurried home. Surely she couldn’t complain about free cherries and I had another plan for these anyway. They would be used for a trial winemaking run. I had acquired much of the equipment already for making wine, but hadn’t had any solo efforts. I was already on the hook to make Jo’s wedding wine and I really didn’t have a lot of confidence I knew what I was doing. So I blamed it on Jo when Barb caught me in the garage up to my knees in a bucket of cherries.

I did realize cherry wine was different than grape wine, so I found an excellent resource online at a blog named Washington Winemaker. Errol had plenty of experience with all types of fruit wines and meads, and his sugar calculator and tips on adding steeped tea to add some tannins to the cherry juice were great guides to a neophyte. This whole process of stomping, pressing, sugaring up, fermenting my first batch of wine was quite enlightening. I first used my Brix refractometer to measure the sugar levels and get everything set up for fermenting. The first few days were fun watching the process take off then after a week or so, my Brix readings seemed off. A couple of false starts with more yeast and yeast food before I realized a refractometer stops working as alcohol level rises. Back to the Wine Supply Shop for a hydrometer. Reread with the correct tool the sugar level was nil; the wine was made.

It tasted pretty uhhh….bad. Yeasty and cough syrupy, only not as sweet, nor as good. Obviously I needed to rack off the yeast and I read about adding some sweetness back via corn syrup. But first you need to filter the yeast and/or kill the yeast. My wine teacher, John, suggested potassium sorbate and even gave me a prescribed dose. I added it to the two carboy batches, waited a day, racked off the last bit of settled yeast, then added the Karo syrup to resweeten. John suggested to shoot low, it would sweeten up some more in the bottle, so I did this by taste and trial and error until the sweetness at least deadened the yeasty taste. Then I proceeded to bottle my first wine. I never weighed the cherries to start with, but it yielded about 35 bottles.

Since the end of July, when the bottling took place, I’ve opened a bottle or two along and after melding a little can say the wine turned out… as wine. Not great wine, or maybe even good wine, but it definitely had wine characteristics. Over the holidays, I even shared some with a neighbor during our Thanksgiving feast. No one died but no requests for more of that yummy cherry wine either.

This spring I casually opened a bottle and got a shower. I opened the cork as normal and within five to ten seconds a volcano of red bubbles were overflowing the rim. Before I could make it to the sink, half the bottle was gone. Something tells me the sorbate missed a few yeast cells and they’d been chowing down on the 3-4 % sugar I’d added back to the mix. Cherry champagne, anyone?

Since then I’ve opened every bottle over the sink. Only one more spewing one, but I’ve noticed over the six to nine months the wine has become more wine-like, less cough syrupy, and for those where the sugar didn’t re-ferment, I’ve ended up with a fairly refreshing, fruity, cherry wine.  I’m not going to win any contests with this wine, or likely any others, but it got my rookie mistakes out of the way before Jo and E.J.’s Riesling and I was able to fake my way through that like I knew what I was doing.

If you’ve made it this far, you may be wondering what this has to do with the WBC Off the Bus tour. Well, after passing Cold Creek, you go up a hill, back down, take a left onto State Route 241 and head across Wautoma Valley towards the backside of the Rattlesnake Hills and Rattlesnake Mountain. At the top of the small gap between the Rattlesnakes, you’ve officially entered the Yakima Valley. From there it’s all downhill, well mostly, to Sunnyside and the turnoff that will take the WBC Busters to DuBrul Vineyard. Along the way you’ve also passed our home where this quasi-delicious Cherilicious Wine was made.


OTB Fun (but scary) Fact – In August of 2009, the area between the Hanford Yakima Gate, past Cold Creek and the Silver Dollar Café at the 24/241 intersection, and over through the Rattlesnake Hills was mostly consumed by wildfires. An estimated 40,000 acres of grassland and sagebrush burned over about four days. The Café and one home were consumed in the fire but hopefully by June, 2010 the Silver Dollar, a landmark in this part of Eastern Washington, will be reopened.

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OTB # 8 – Iconic Differences – Chateau Ste. Michelle and Sineann 2006 Cold Creek Cabernet Sauvignon

by on May 7, 2010

After the WBS Buster bus rolls past Mattawa it will hug the Columbia River as it curves back to the east.  By the time you get to the next bridge, you will be heading pretty much due east and the bus will turn right onto Highway 24 and cross over the Vernita Bridge into Benton County.  If you want to use a restroom without risking sagebrush burns or using a grape leaf, the rest area on the right is your best and only chance for the next while.  Unfortunately they don’t serve wine tasting here though.

Past the rest area, the road will climb up a smallish but fairly steep switchback onto a plateau and you’ll approach an intersection.  Straight ahead is Rattlesnake Mountain, Richland and the Tri-Cities and the back way to Benton City and Red Mountain.  To the left, you’ll see a military style guard shack and entry post which is the Yakima Gate to the Hanford Site.  The bus will take a right to remain on Route 24 and will start up a gradual incline. Within a mile or so, you’ll see spread out before you and climbing up the slopes on the right side of the road large tracts of vineyard.  On the left are orchards and more vineyard behind those.  There is nothing remarkable about this area unless you start wondering where they get water to grow all this green in the middle of a desert, or unless you notice the yellow road sign to the dead end cross road.  Or unless someone tells you you are at one of the oldest, most well known vineyards in the Chateau Ste. Michelle family and in the state of Washington.  This is Cold Creek.

I could try to explain the history of Cold Creek but I’m going to be lazy and quote the back labels of the two bottles of wine I’ve chosen from here.

From the Chateau Ste. Michelle 2006 Cold Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon:

Planted in the 1970′s, Cold Creek is heralded as one of Washington’s iconic vineyards.  The 2006 harvest started slowly with a damp spring, but steady summer heat coaxed out intensely flavored small berries with excellent structure.  A harvest note of “let it hang” indicated the lengthy hang-time which allowed for full ripeness and flavor developement.

From Sineann Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Cold Creek Vineyard:

Imagine our surprise and delight at the opportunity to make wine off this vineyard.  Cold Creek is one of the oldest and most renowned vineyards in Washington.  The wine is one of our favorites of 2006.  Its intense, exuberent, pure black cherry fruit and terrific structure make us happy every time we taste it.  We’re thrilled to be able to make others happy as well. 

Yes, labels are designed to sell the wine and the language used is always glowing, particularly on vineyard designate wines.  But I believe Peter Rosback when he says it was a delight to make wine off this vineyard.  Peter has made wines from the best vineyards in Oregon, Washington, California, and even New Zealand (?)and from what I’ve read this is his first, and so far only, Cold Creek designate release.   For Chateau Ste. Michelle this is their 27th vineyard designate Cabernet Sauvignon from Cold Creek.  The 1980 release of this Cabernet Sauvignon was the first vineyard designate wine made in Washington state.

But what about the wines?  These two wines from the same grapes picked at the same place at the same year must taste the same, non? 

Non, is the answer.  In fact, if the labels weren’t staring me in the face as I tasted these side by side, I’d be hard pressed to say these were even the same grape variety, much less same vintage and vineyard.

Immediately on pouring there were differences, the CSM is a deep garnet with a very black core, the edges are bright reddish purple; the Sineann is more of a deep burgandy, equally as black, but the edges are a burnt amber color.  On the nose, the CSM is bursting with dark black fruit, blueberries, black cherry, licorice, and saddle leather.  The Sineann is subtler at first then brighter on the nose, fruit is lighter with cassis, raspberry, and cherry;  the background is more cured meat than leather.  I smell bacon. 

The first taste of CSM is a rush of black cherry and cassis and (as copied from the bottle notes) has an excellent, terrific structure front to back.  The tail of the wine is not too dry, not too sweet, not too tannic, right in that spot where you go, “hmmm”.  The Sineann first taste is quite odd following the CSM, there is cola and dark burnt chocolate up front with some tart cherry near the back followed by a bit of funk on the finish.  On second taste, however these flavors are no longer odd to the palate and they begin to sing together and make a taster very inquisitive. 

I went back and forth between these wines over the course of about 45 minutes, Barb sampled also, and at the end we concluded the CSM is a more “traditional” Cab Sauv, well balanced, nicely structured and a solid wine.  Barb prefered this one.  The Sineann is more of a wild child Cab Sauv, where unusual flavor profiles are ultimately blended to meet at a spot in the back of your mind that says either “this is really odd” or “this makes me really happy”.  I chose happy and I preferred the Sineann.

Another difference here that I’d doubt has much, if any, difference in the short run on these wines (which I opened relatively young) are the closures.  CSM uses a traditional wood cork with foil seal, Sineann uses a glass cork seal with various plastic overwraps.  There are arguments on both sides for various types of closures and I may discuss those at a later date but my first reaction is that it’s really hard to get a cork screw to penetrate the glass type.

I have no idea which wine is more representative of Cold Creek terroir since this is my first tasting of any wine from this vineyard.  All I can safely say is that whenever you find wines made from the exact same vintage and vineyard, you can expect them to taste exactly opposite from one another.

OTB Fun Fact:   The Hanford Reach National Monument  surrounds the former Hanford Nuclear Site and contains the only free flowing section of the Columbia River above the Bonneville Dam.  The Wile E. guy in the picture isn’t on the Reach when this picture was taken, but he likely roamed from there to our back yard.

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OTB # 7 – Mattawaaaah Yieeyah! – Charles Smith 2008 Kung Fu Girl Riesling – Columbia Valley

by on May 7, 2010

I’m about to move off the Wahluke Slope with my Off the Bus Tour. I’ve spent a month writing about some of the wines either made here or made from grapes grown here; the WBC Busters will spend only about 45 minutes going from the Sentinel Gap to the Vernita Bridge. My excuse is that it’s better to take your time in wine, whether it’s tasting a glass, waiting on it to mature, waiting on it to open up, or when exploring a wine region. Nonetheless, the wheels keep on rolling and so will I.

But first, another opportunity fell into my lap this week when my friend Sean Sullivan at Washington Wine Report chose his monthly wine for Virtual Tasting. I’ve described and blogged about this event before and now that we’ve done four or five of these it has become a nice routine and a fun thing for our last Thursday nights of the month. It’s such a habit that on the day of the VT Barb called me concerned we’d planned wrong because she realized it wasn’t Thursday when we had the wine (and menu to go with it) cued up. I explained Sean had moved it to Wednesday for some reason and all was good.

The wine this time around was Charles Smith  2008 Kung Fu Girl Riesling. Charles Smith, the person, has become sort of a mega star of Washington Wine in a short time frame. He was named 2009 Winemaker of the Year by Food & Wine Magazine and his Magnificent Wine Company, K Vintners, and Charles Smith labels are all recognized and sold everywhere across the U.S. I think we may have even sampled his House Wine during our Midwest days without even realizing it was a Washington State wine. His K Syrah’s are competing on the international wine stage and are scoring high 90’s to 100 points.

The Kung Fu Girl Riesling is made by the Charles Smith Wine Company, different in some obscure ways from the Magnificent and K labels, and is made from grapes grown at a vineyard, Evergreen, I mentioned earlier when talking about the Milbrandt Vineyards and winery. Just for fun, we opened a bottle of the Milbrandt Traditions Riesling to compare side by side with the Kung Fu Girl. Even though the Kung Fu Girl is a value wine priced only a few dollars more than the Milbrandt Traditions, I thought it would a be an interesting comparison of wines made from like or similar vineyard sources.

The other thing Charles Smith and Milbrandt have in common is “Made in Mattawa” on their label. Mattawa is the principal/only town on the Wahluke Slope and the fact that wines sold around the world are made here is pretty interesting to me. Mattawa is not exactly a cosmopolitan metropolis, or even a Napa or a Walla Walla. It’s a small farming community that just happens to farm some of the best wine grapes in the state.

I’ve never met Charles Smith and he’s been written about by every wine writer under the sun in the past 5 years, but I’d imagine the school principal is more well known in Mattawa than Charles Smith, and maybe that’s one reason Charles choose this little enclave where cell phone service is spotty to do some of his winemaking. Away from the bright lights for at least some of the time.

We paired these Rieslings with one the best products we’ve ever found at Trader Joe’s, a yellow curry sauce that Barb doctored up a little and added some Chicken, carrots and peas to make a very nice Indian Makhani Butter Chicken.

The Kung Fu Girl is a pale straw color, with a citrusy nose. On the palate, there is more citrus, lime and grapefruit with a crisp very acidic ending. Some in the Virtual Tasting detected bubbles in the KFG. I can’t say we saw any bubbles, but it was definitely a festival-in-the-mouth type wine and before eating the Butter Chicken, made us pucker. With the chicken, it was nicely balanced by the mildly spicy dish. As an aside, next time if I’m manning the kitchen, Joe’s sauce will get a squirt or two of Thai chili sauce

The Milbrandt Riesling lacked the fruit, zip, of finish of the Kung Fu Girl. Stand alone it was decent wine and a bit sweeter, but rather bland when side by side with the zesty Girl. Both of these Rieslings are serviceable, but during the Virtual Tasting Sean asked if others had had better Washington Rieslings at this price point, less than $15. Many alternatives were suggested and I’d agree, for all around balance and fruit expression without a food pairing we’ve sampled better.

But for this night in our house, particularly with this food, the Charles Smith wine delivered a beat down on the Milbrandt labeled wine made from similar grapes. There is certainly no shame in being beaten up by a girl though, especially if she knows Kung Fu.

OTB Fun Fact: As you look west toward the mountains from the Wahluke Slope across the Columbia River you may see tanks, armored vehicles, and large artillery moving about and discharging live ammunition. Don’t worry, this is no invasion from Woodinville, it’s the Yakima Training Center, a 320,000 acre military reservation spread out between the ridgelines of Central Eastern Washington. Thanks for your service, men and women.

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OTB # 6 – The One and Only – Ginkgo Forest 2007 Gewurztraminer – Wahluke Slope

by on May 7, 2010

As I’ve described the route south for the WBC Bus across the Wahluke Slope, I’ve written about vineyards and wineries that grow grapes here but have tasting rooms somewhere else.  There are hundreds more wineries in Washington State that buy fruit from the Wahluke vineyards and haul it north, south, east, and west to produce wine.  I’ve found Wahluke grapes in tasting rooms in Chelan, Yakima, Walla Walla and Woodinville.  Sometimes the grapes are blended with other Washington AVA’s and end up as Columbia Valley or Washington State, but if you dig deep enough into the notes you’ll see Rosebud, Indian Wells, Sagemore, Stone Tree, Wienbau, or any of the umpteen Milbrandt vineyards listed in winemaking notes.

But where are the local winemakers who tend the vines, nurture the grapes, make the wines and sell it out of a tasting room the way God intended.  With the possible exception of Fox Estates, who sometimes have a tasting room open and as FESTER progresses may develope more, the lone grower/maker/taster/seller on the Wahluke Slope that keeps normal open to the public tasting room hours is Gingko Forest Winery.

Gingko Forest is another small, family owned winery in Eastern Washington whose owners started out and are still actively farm as tree fruit farmers.  Mike and Lois Theide started Gingko in  2005 in the community where they were already farming and instead of opening a tasting room elsewhere, as many others have done, they build a room adjacent to their winery in Mattawa.  It makes trips across the passes less frequent.
A handy sign in the parking lot tells you how far to the next nearest tasting rooms.  Since it’s thirty miles from Cave B, if your bladder needs relief WBC Busters, force the bus driver to stop here.  You can taste wine and use the restroom.

While not palatial, or chic, or all feng-shuied out, the Theide’s Tasting Room works.  It works because the people selling the wine know the wine, know the ground from whence it came, and their sweat is apparent in every bottle.    I’ve stopped in three or four times, which might qualify me for a free cup of coffee or something if they had a punch card system, and each time Lois or Mike has been cordial and maybe even a little too honest about their wines.

This last time when Barb and I stopped in, the room was officially closed, but Mike saw us pull up and came from somewhere in his pick-up and caught us before we left.  He told us about his morning fixing wind machines, then let us sample their newest stuff.  After we were about done, I asked about their ’05 Syrah, a sign said it was on clearance.  Mike proceeded to tell a tale about making too much of this wine on their first release and they still had a hundred or so cases on hand; a broker from China might even be taking some off his hands. Mike also stated a pronounced dislike for this wine, the ’06 was better.  On last count we’ve been into about 175 tasting rooms in Washington and elsewhere in the past two years,  Mike Theide is probably the one and only winery owner I’ve EVER heard openly dismiss one of his own wines.

I wanted Barb to taste it anyway, I remembered liking it and buying it from Lois a year before, so Mike dragged out a bottle, and dissed it again as he poured.   I still liked it, so did Barb, so we made Mike sell us some.   We also sampled a Pinot Noir, not so great, and Mike admitted as much that this vintage wasn’t as good as the prior that had won an award at some restaurant in Seattle.  Mike knew better than to enter this release.  Holy smokes, there is a winery owner here who has integrity.  Not that most other don’t, it’s just not always this apparent in the tasting room.

Barb found some jewelry she liked in the shop, and we carted that, a few bottles of wine, and ourselves back home.  We recently opened the 2007 Gewurztraminer with an Asian stir fry with Pad Thai noodles.  This wine is likely one of the driest G-wines I’ve ever tasted, but that dryness, I think, allows the feint ginger and cardamom notes to shine through.  I finally understand how Gewurztraminer got it’s name; Gewurz is German for spice.  This wine had nice floral notes with some melon and citrus too and after a while it was impossible to separate the flavors of the wine from the stir fry. 

We make it across the Wahluke Slope more often than most people I think, in fact I drove it twice just today, but it’s nice to know Ginkgo Forest winery is here for emergencies, wine or otherwise.  While the restroom at Ginkgo’s tasting room is unisex, if you gotta go it might be smart to use it, because it’s the one and only.

OTB Fun Fact:   The Ginkgo Forest of Eastern Washington is actually a Petrified Forest dating from millions of years ago.  The fossils were found by geologists during the construction of the Vantage bridge crossing of the Columbia River in the 1930′s.  The state converted the area into State Park.   Ginkgo trees no longer exist natively in the Western Hemisphere but the Thiede’s have replanted some at their winery in Mattawa.

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OTB # 5 – Free Weekend Included – Fox Estates 2000 Merlot – Columbia Valley

by on Apr 24, 2010

Back on the Off the Bus tour after a hectic week of bachelorette partying, tax filing, math tutoring, and work travelling. After you’ve been cramped on the WBC Bus for a day and half, you’ll certainly want to spend some quality time with a hard-sell real estate agent. And what an offer I have for you today. Winery and vineyard property is a wine bloggers’ dream and here we have an offer you CANNOT refuse. (I’m not a realtor or salesman of any type, but I play one on the internet.)

Fox Estate Vineyards and Winery will be on the right side of the bus driving through Mattawa on the Wahluke Slope. So is the For Sale sign. Yes, the property and business are for sale and if you have the dough, would certainly be a wonderful investment. Why heck, if you’re Rupert Murdock, you wouldn’t even have to change the name and since Sarah Palin is already on your payroll and is a goddess in Eastern Washington, she’d make the perfect spokesperson.

But if you’re a few mill short like me, how about joining together with your new bus mates in a time share arrangement?!?!? What are there, a dozen or so of you on the bus? How many does it take to run a vineyard and winery? Not even that many, so I’ve conjured up a plan whereby you can all own your own little piece of Washington Wine Country. Fox Estates Shares of Time for Early Retirement, PLC, LLC, SPC, ETC, INC., aka FESTER, is offering 2 to 6 week blocks of time for everyone to become an instant vineyard owner/winemaker/celebrity/bazillionaire.

Every vineyard owner will tell you this is the easiest thing in the world to do, and even UC-Davis grads can attest winemaking happens all by itself. Just add a few grapes to a barrel, walk away for a few months, and voila, Wine! With a good marketing plan and some connections (and who in the wine blogging business doesn’t have those) you can get someone to say the wine is great, maybe even score it a 95 or higher on their blog or better yet CellarTracker, and the riches will be pouring in before you know it. FESTER, What an opportunity!!!

Best of all, with your timeshare of FESTER you can pick and choose the weeks that make the most sense for you and your lifestyle. If you love freezing your tail off, ice wine grape harvesting and barrel racking are available from December through February and duck hunting on the Columbia is just minutes away, just bring your own shotgun. If you like heat exhaustion, daily sauna bathes are available in the vineyards from late June though August. Heat units are best when paired with whites and roses, and you can plant your very own here with plenty of irrigation water rights included. If you like working 36 hours days while others watch football, harvest time and fermentation punch downs from late September through November will fit the bill. Cheap power from the nearby dams and wind turbines will keep the wind machines churning and floodlights burning for the occasional early frost and around-the-clock FESTER harvest.

But if none of that is fun enough for you, don’t be the last to sign up, because spring is the absolute best time to own time at FESTER!!! You can let someone else prune the vines and worry about frost while you relax; Bud Break means the same as Spring Break at FESTER with free Budweiser and wet T-shirt contests happening daily at the soon to be installed swimming pool and paddleball court (artist rendering of what this will look like after construction above). Yep, the Months of March, April, and May will only cost you 1/4th of the asking price, but you’ll get at least a full quarter of the FESTER fun.

As a sample of what this fine land and facility can produce, we recently sampled a bottle of Fox Estates 2000 Merlot. These wines are still available at some stores, I got this at a grocery in Quincy, and I’m guessing other vintages are in warehouses somewhere. As a FESTER investor you will be able to sample other varieties and vintages from the estate library at your leisure. Remarkably this 2000 wine was full of big fruit up front, cherry and raspberry, the mid-palate was a little thin and fading off at the end, but it was still a nice wine. If I were scoring this wine for future potential of FESTER wines, I’d give it a solid 90+. (In the real world, it is absolutely a suitable Merlot for everyday drinking.)

Don’t worry about saying YES to this investment opportunity, I’m sure your significant other you left at home in Texas, California, Michigan, or Pennsylvania will support your decision to spend the kids’ college tuition on FESTER weeks. So sign on the dotted line NOW!!! You will be allowed to use the restroom and get back on the bus when the ink is fully dried and the earnest money check has cleared the bank.

Footnote: All of this FESTER nonsense is fantasy and whimsy on my part (as far as I know time share ownership is not available), but the real info on the Fox Estates Vineyard and Winery can be found at the real estate link included.


OTB Fun Fact: Some politicians and citizens of Eastern Washington have attempted to divest themselves of the wetter side of the state numerous times throughout history. One such plan involved creating a “State of Lincoln” and might include parts of Eastern Oregon and the Idaho Panhandle. Other proposed names for the State include East Washington and Columbia. This would be one sure fired way to resolve the sticky issue of which state the Columbia Valley and Walla Walla AVA’s belong to.

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My First Slumber Party

by on Apr 18, 2010

I’ve struggled with how to approach this blog.   As you may know, we hosted a group of young ladies accompanying our daughter Jennifer on her Bachelorette Party over last weekend.  I could take a smart-ass approach and skewer the girls, but since the guys went to Las Vegas, I’ll observe the same excuse they undoubtedly used,  “What Happens in Portland/Sunnyside, Stays in P/S”.  I could give a blow-by-blow account of the places we went and wines and foods we tasted, but our itinerary sorta already did that.


What I thought I would rather do is document the things that stuck in my mind the most from this magical time in our life and a special time for Jo and her friends.  I was happy to be a part of it even though at times I did feel like I was inside a chick flick or eavedropping into the girls locker room.  These four brunettes (including Barb), two blondes, and a redhead even watched the Sex and the City movie in the van on the ride back to the airport and my purple i-pod  with U2 or Peter Gabriel blasting away came in quite handy at times when the topic strayed into frozen breast milk, poopy diapers, and jerky men.

We did many different touristy things but much of the time was spent in wine tasting rooms.  We had sorta started the wine tasting at dinner our first night in Portland when I ordered a couple of bottles to go with dinner.  When Beth made a Keystone Light face after sipping the (fantastic to Barb and me) Owen Roe Ex Umbrus Syrah, we knew these girls were mainly whites only wine drinkers.  Which is great, but made me do a doubletake and worry a little about the itinerary we had set out.  As I’ve mentioned Barb and I many times skip the white wine, and go straight to the hard stuff, so who knew what these gals might find out there in Washington wine country. 

As fate would have it, or maybe we instinctively planned it this way, each day on Friday and Saturday we started at a winery where our host was perfect for our group.  At Cascade Cliffs, Jared set up a private tasting in their back lounge area and took his time explaining both the Naked whites and Cascade Cliffs wines.  Jared was more than generous with pours and info about the varieties, the subtle differences in style, sugar content, acid, oaking, flavor profiles, etc…  Then on Saturday, Tom at Steppe Cellars had the space heaters blasting (it was windy and cold outside) and while their backsides toasted, Tom led the group through a similar, but varied, line-up from Steppe along with a tour of the winery and some tank tasting of a Riesling.  Both guys impressed the gals and provided “friends and family” level discounts to those who bought bottles (of white wine) to take home.  Jared was happy to jump into the group photos, but Tom claimed connections to the FBI made him camera shy.  He’s either an agent or on one of their lists, it wasn’t too clear which.  Throughout the weekend we had some other really great hostesses, but on reflection it makes perfect sense that these men hosts would want to ignore their other customers devote the most attention and time to this group of lovely twenty something women.  These old roosters may be attached, but they (we) still like to show off for the chicks when there is a chance. 

I thought Tom had found the red wine to make them convert when Morgan, then Beth, ordered bottles of Steppe Artemisia to purchase.  Only after it was a done deal, did the girls present the bottles to Barb and me as a gift for the weekend.  Ahhh, how sweet.  We had told them this was one of our favorites, and they had all pooled together ( I think during one of their group trips to the restroom) to plan this as a gift.  After that, I made sure to point out my favorites at every other tasting room, but Barb and Jo told me to shut up, and by that point all the girls had learned to ignore my foolishness.

One of the most fun things for Barb and me was to see the reactions of these young ladies from Illinois, who like us prior to two years ago were accustomed to mile after mile, county after county, of corn and soybeans.  The landscape of the Columbia Gorge from Portland to Eastern Washington, then the hills and valleys, and plateaus of Washington wine and fruit country during the spring is something to behold.  I won’t describe it all again because words cannot do it justice and the girls took thousands of their own photos, but when they talked about the falls (Multnomah), mountains (Mt Hood, Adams), and rolling, blossoming (Cherries) hills of the Yak, Barb and I felt the same awe ourselves all over again.  The awe wasn’t quite so inspiring when they suggested we all climb the hill next to our house and lay down to roll to the bottom.  I’m sure that would have been a lot of fun, but I had to remind them that the hundred or so cattle and calves living there didn’t usually go back to the barn to do their business and rolling in chips in Washington wasn’t quite the same as rolling in chips in Vegas.

Besides these outings, the most impressive stops were the Dairygold Factory Shop in Sunnyside, ICE CREAM!!!!, and the Get a Grip store in Prosser.  Undoubtedly, the sales girl there made her monthly quota in the hour or so spent by our group, and TSA at the Portland airport got to inspect several new bags stuffed inside bags stuffed inside other bags.   These girls are double and triple baggers in the best sense imaginable.

Barb and I had known most of Jo’s friends for a while; Barb had known Ashley since she was a little girl even, but it was very much a treat for both of us to get to know them all a little better and to see them with one of our two favorite daughters.  One of the really sweet things they did for Jo was create a scrapbook of this trip and all had written a personal letter to include describing why they love Jo and why she is such a good friend.  I knew she was (almost) perfect but it was touching to hear these girlfriends slobber over her too.  (I’m sure E.J.’s friends did something similar for him between the strip clubs in Vegas). 

During one of our relaxing times at home, Barb asked how long the girls had been away from their new families before this trip.  We had three young mothers, one expecting (aka the spitter), a newlywed, and Jennifer.  Down to a girl they said this was the first time they had spent more than one night away from their small children or husbands or boyfriends.  Those caring feelings impressed me to no end.  Not only that they would make this leap of faith to go halfway across the country with Jo and ride around for a few days with us, but that their hearts and minds and souls are all so devoted to their young families.  For that, I want to tell them each that they will always have my thanks and admiration.  Thank you Ashley.  Thank you Beth.  Thank you Jessie.  Thank you Morgan.  Thank you Tracee.

Sunday morning was a sad, meloncholic time.  We loaded back into the PanganiVan before daylight for one last trip over the passes to Portland.  After turning south on Route 97 from Toppenish we alerted the girls to look for the wild horses that we knew were scattered across the hills and ravines here in the Yakama Reservation. After about 20 minutes, almost on cue, I noticed a horse or two grazing in the flat creek bottom near the highway. I slowed down, then pulled off the road to a stop.  The girls piled quickly out of the van, and as our eyes adjusted more horses appeared in the low lights.   They became a little spooked, and a trot up the side of the hills became a quick gallop.  Twenty or thirty or more (this number will grow with each telling of this story) of these large, beautiful, graceful animals of all colors did what they do, running freely up the steep hills toward Horse Heaven in a small stampede.  The magical part of this (to me anyway) was that we all took lots of pictures but the light was still too low for any of the images to be captured on digital “film”.  But we were there, and we shared this moment, and it was a perfect ending to a great weekend.

There were plenty of tears at the airport and hugs and kisses all around.  I was touched that I was called Daddy by more than one.   But I saved my kisses for Jo.  We love you sweetie and will see you again soon.

Before the syrup gets too thick, I’ll share as a final word of warming:  Be on the lookout for oddball characters at PDX.  When we picked up the girls on Thursday, this clown tried to acost anyone wearing a pink sleeve shirt looking for a wine party!!!  


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