The Somm Journal

Dec 2015-Jan 2016

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Page 42 of 124

42 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } DECEMBER/JANUARY 2015/2016 { appellations } OREGON'S NEWEST AVA IS HOT. THE Rocks District of Milton-Freewater can be a scorcher in summer, with its namesake basalt cobblestones becoming too hot to handle, in the 138°F range. The wines themselves are hot sellers. Some wineries have a waiting list so long that the general consumer may forget they signed up before they get a chance for a bottle. Recognition from leading wine crit - ics, including Seattle Met's Top Washington Wines lists, put the area on the radar before it was an AVA. This is a Cinderella story for the little ag town of Milton-Freewater that sits in Walla Walla's shadow. There are no "Welcome to the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater" signs. The only indication one has arrived are the actual rocks on the ground. In some cases, the only indication a bottle contains Rocks District fruit may be the story shared by a sommelier. A good portion of the wineries lucky enough to ferment this Oregon fruit are bonded in Washington and, therefore, are unable to list the AVA on their label. Steve Robertson, owner/winegrower at Delmas/SJR Vineyard, and Whitman College Geology Professor, Kevin Pogue, Ph.D. spear - headed the AVA petition process, which was approved in February 2015. "The Rocks District perfectly fits the spirit of an AVA," explains Pogue. "You can hop across the line and see rocks on one side and wind blown loess on the other." The AVA is 96 percent one soil series and 100 percent one landform; according to Pogue, only Gimblett Gravels in New Zealand can make a similar claim. Vineyard owners began calling Pogue asking if their land was within the AVA boundaries. "I don't know," answered Pogue, often suggesting, "Look outside. Can you see rocks in your vineyard?" The rocks in question are composed of basalt lava that was formed 15 million years ago. For the past 12,000 years the Walla Walla River has been depositing cobble - stones of the basalt in the 3,767 acres that make up the Rocks District. Some have compared the Rocks District to the rocky soils of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The rocks of the Southern Rhône how - ever, are only two to three feet deep, as opposed to 200 to 300 feet deep in the Rocks District. Milton-Freewater's rocks also radiate more heat and are better draining." Noah's flood would not puddle here," Pogue jokes. The fruit often reaches phenolic ripe - ness before sugars spike, creating balanced wines with lower ethanols and ripe supple tannins. Rich Funk of Saviah Cellars explains, "The high potassium creates a salinity in the finished wine. Like eating chips, one sip just makes you want more." Red Bordeaux varieties, plus Tempranillo, root deep into this terroir that seems to hook varietal character to a set of ampli - fiers—like the rockstars they are. Rhône varieties, especially Syrah, sing the loudest, with a dial that goes to 11. Call it "funk," or "umami," this is the savory side of Syrah. Master Sommelier Greg Harrington of Gramercy Cellars suggests these ripe, aro - matic wines with smoked meat, black pepper and iron aromas pair well with fatty meats. Due to labeling laws, only Oregon bonded wineries may list the AVA. Parsing out Rock's District wines from other Walla Walla labels is challenging. Those who do will be rewarded with explosive flavors from this distinctive AVA. Expect increasing interest and greater availability of these wines. Of course, there may still be waiting lists. THE ROCKS DISTRICT OF MILTON-FREEWATER IS OREGON'S NEWEST AVA by Jade Helm, DWS, CS, CSW Wine on the Rocks WINERIES USING ROCKS DISTRICT FRUIT Delmas, Saviah Cellars, Sleight of Hand Cellars, Ardor Cellars, Reynvaayn Family Vineyards, Balboa, Beresan Winery, Watermill Winery, Don Carlo Vineyard, Cayuse Vineyards, Horsepower Vineyards, No Girls Wine, Tertulia Cellars, Buty, Dusted Valley, Waters Winery, Gramercy Cellars, Rudius Wines, Rulo Winery, Skylite Cellars, Proper Winery, *Rotie Cellars, *Maison Bleue Winery, *Doubleback. Look for future wines from: Rasa Vineyards, Zerba Cellars, Castillo de Feliciana, Va Piano Vineyards, Betz Family Winery. *Currently offering only blends with other AVAs. The Cayuse Vineyard in the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA. PHOTO: JONATHAN CRISTALDI C M Y CM MY CY CMY K

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