Spring Weather Watch in the Vineyards 2015

Spring typically marches in funky weather (especially here in the Seattle area).  March brought us not surprising announcements that Washington and Oregon will be facing drought this year. Drought has plagued California for the last four years.  Even with current government restrictions, California is facing a losing water battle.  In the agriculture, drought can be devastating.  In wine agriculture it needs to be planned for to minimize the impact.  Why?  Vines love stress- but wine makers… not so much!

Washington’s warm winter brought us rain, and very little snow packs to feed our rivers.  Governor Jay Inslee requested emergency federal funds focused on agricultural business.  One of the most difficult patterns with drought years in the PNW is spring frost.  These frosts impact bud break and growth. Careful planning through selection of vineyard sites, delayed pruning and if lucky frost protection.  Most Washington wine makers are patiently waiting for Mothers Day, the benchmark for warmer safe weather in the vineyards.

WA frost

In Oregon, pinot noir prefers cooler climates.  Temperatures ranging in the upper 50’s or lower 60’s are ideal.  Frost and early rain are definite issues, but since Oregon is coastal the burden to splitting fruit.  With a different perspective of planning, some wineries have invested their Oregon vineyards in warmer weather varietals with the theory that wineries will continue to move north as California grows arid.

For California’s four year drought, it’s the small producers of inexpensive wine that are hit hardest.  These small producers are not necessarily the bulk producers that we associate with California’s mass wine production.  Hot weather is great for boutique wines that bring out more diverse flavors and can plan for smaller production and ask for higher prices.  The drought will run out the small family producers that are not invested into smaller production and cult pricing.  As irrigation begins to impact production, especially with a water restrictions, success will fall upon those that can wean themselves away from irrigation practices.  Solutions are found through vinification practices.  Pioneers such as Frogs Leap use old world practices.  Dry farming is the process of stressing vines so that their roots grow deep so that they can source their water rather than irrigation.
CA Drought
2015 will usher in full bodied, rich wines.  Vineyard management will be telling of the quality of wines that we see in the PNW and California.  Trends toward more extreme weathers will keep our wine makers on their toes with plenty of stories to share.

Happy Earth Day!

Sommelier, food+wine writer

Articles that inspired this conversation:
Oregon Live
Great NW Wine, Frosts
Press Democrat
Wine Maker Mag
Daily Bray
Extension (image credit)
Circle of Blue
(image credit)

Pairings with Northwest Fresh & Foraged!

NW Bounty_Fiddlehead fronds_Jaci_040815

Photo credit:  Photo Guide: The ABCs of Northwest Spring Produce>

I have been blessed to work with many local chefs that utilize and live by the standards that their cuisine should reflect what is currently produced.  Right now, Chef Don Curtiss at Volterra is using fiddlehead fronds, English peas and morels served with a scallop which admittedly sparked this article.

I LOVE fiddlehead fronds.  They are the youthful beginning of ostrich ferns that curl tightly and have the same texture as slightly cooked pea vines. Some say fiddlehead fronds are similar to asparagus.  I do not find them as bitter and the flavor is richer.  At Volterra, we pair the scallop and spring vegetables with Montenidoli Vernaccia.  However if you are cooking these at home without morels, try them with a verdejo such as Chamelin (currently on close out SALE for $10.99 | Mixed Case $8.79) or a local Washington Sauvignon Blanc.   (But please not a New Zealand or Loire- too much citrus, not enough grassy undertones.)

Mmmmmm…. Morels!  A meaty mushroom treat sautéed in butter and red wine- serve this with any local Syrah, such as Darby or 5 Oros Tempranillo (Spain).

Dandelions tossed in a salad with some pansy petals or sautéed with a touch of oil and sea salt… pair this with VVS Arengo Barbera or Barbanau Rosé.  Or both. 

NW Bounty_Morels_Jaci_040815
are a bit time consuming to harvest but such a healthy and unique delicacy.  These are another bitter green yet high in iron.  Nettle gnocchi, similar to spinach gnocchi, paired with Noveau Aligoté or Tenuta Giaccobe Soave.

The beautiful white flower, Elderflower, with its delicate fragrance is a fantastic dessert as a simple syrup.  I like Dolin Blanc on the rocks with a touch of Elderflower simple syrup.  Chef Don Curtiss served his lemon mascarpone custard with Elderflower simple syrup last fall! We paired that with VVS Brachetto.

Watercress salad or garnish with Ossau-iraty and enjoy with Clos du Bosqut Pinot Noir

Rhubarb as a pie is always nice- but as chutney with your pork tenderloin…  Yes please.  Pelassa Barbaresco with its rich cherry undertones, tannins and soft leather is a great match.

Next time you are at your local farmers market, ask for something off your beaten path.  How is your local farmer cooking it?  What are your local chefs growing and bringing in?  Each season presents bounty here in the PNW.  Portalis is here from 11am-5pm on Sundays if you are at the Ballard Market and need a pairing with your freshly foraged produce and local finds.

Sommelier, wine+food writer