Drink In Life Book Club

She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live.” —Annie Dillard, The Living.

Readers of Drink In Life Blog may or may not know this but, I love reading! I tried hard to think of when exactly my passion for reading started, but all I remember is it was about the summer after 5th grade. I recall those summer days, hunkering down in the cool basement with a glass of Kool Aid, a PB&J sandwich and a huge pile of books checked out from the library. That summer I absolutely fell in the love with reading, and it turned into a lifelong page turning adventure. I know that many of you have a similar story. How many of you remember the first book you stayed up through the night reading because you just couldn’t put it down?

Over the past few years I’ve noticed a decline in the amount of fiction reading I do, many of the book titles that sit on my nightstand are wine, food or travel non-fiction books. Add in a busy work schedule, blog writing, social media and of course my family, and it is no wonder that time to read has been sharply diminished. Although I am very lucky and thankful for these things that make my life so exciting, I wanted to make a small goal mid-year to be a little more committed to the reading of fiction. This means actually making time for reading, instead of just waiting for the free time to appear. So I hatched a plan to start the Drink In Life Book Club!

Typically for conversations about books we gather in someone’s home or in a coffeeshop, and talk with our friends about books while drinking wine and eating good food. But, sometimes it’s not always possible to meet in person and sometimes we want to include friends who live far away, so the solution is a remote online book club. I will be choosing the books a few months in advance to get the book club going but, my hope is that in the future each month I will be co-hosting with someone and we will go off of a list of suggested titles complied by the book club group.

Promoting a Love of Literature

Here’s how it will work: At the end of this post I will be sharing the June and July books and any supplemental books to go with them. This will give everyone plenty of time to to buy, download or check the books out from your local library and allow ample time to get the books read. Some of the book titles may be books that you have already read, but each month I will be posting on the 1st of each month not only information about the book and author, but supplemental books that go with the general theme of the book, wines or cocktails to accompany the discussion, as well as recipes that are inspired by the titles.

On the third or fourth Sunday of each month we will gather on Zoom or another platform and share our thoughts about the book, the wine or cocktails and the recipes are paired with the books. More information will be shared on the June post. Be sure to sign up to receive email notifications of new blog posts to keep up with announcements for the book club each month. Then comment on the book club post each month that you would like to join in on the discussion and you will receive an email invitation.

A Hunger for more than Literature

A Hunger for Literature can bring a group of booklovers together, but the addition of delicious food, wine and cocktail pairings is the best way to prevent talking about books on an empty stomach. On the book club announcement each month We will be including a collection of recipes, wines and cocktails that are a perfect combination with the selected book title. I said We because each month Chef Jill Sonlin of Jill’s Gourmet Dreams will be collaborating with me to bring you some of her amazing original recipes. Jill and I hope to find fun ways to link food to each reading selection so that as book club members you have a chance to connect with the literature, try a couple of new recipes and spice up the book discussions.

Meet Jill Sonlin…

For over 30 years Jill has been a Registered Nurse, who worked for many years on a busy adult medical-surgical unit in a trauma hospital. Jill has also worked with many local charities including Habitat For Humanity, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and Meals on Wheels, helping numerous disadvantaged people get the support they need with money, food, clothing, and housing.

“Throughout the years I have also
supplied many local charities with my donated catering services and food for their events. In the last decade, I have worked as a medical-surgical dermatology nurse simultaneously while attending French Culinary School. Fresh out of culinary school
I focused my work as a dinner Chef in a popular farm to table upscale restaurant. I created many recipes for the nightly specials menu that were highly favored by our customer base, and excited many in the community to come to the restaurant for a taste of my newest creations. I’ve also received two national Chef award recognitions; one winning for a duck recipe contest while in culinary school, and one as Top 20 best original burger recipes in a prestigious national James Beard Blended Burger contest in 2018 for working Chefs. I finished proudly at #14 out of 300 highly skilled Chefs across America.”

In the next phase of her dual career as a Nurse-Chef, Jill is busy doing custom gourmet food art, catering, recipe development, and cooking classes. “I also passionately work with cancer patients and families, as well as cancer support groups, in teaching important nutritional information for health and healing before, during, and after cancer treatments. I also teach how to make easy, delicious, and healthy recipes that can help boost overall health and wellness.”

I can’t wait to share Jill’s delicious recipes including how she transformed a pivotal recipe found in the June book selection.

June Book Selection and Movie Night Tie-in

Since yesterday, May 9th was Liberation Day on the island of Guernsey, it seems appropriate, to share that one of my favorite books, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” will be the first book in The Drink In Life Book Club. Liberation Day is a public holiday in the Channel Islands one that commemorates the liberation of the islands from Nazi occupation at the end of the Second World War. After the Allied defeat in France in 1940, Germany invaded and occupied the Channel Islands and that occupation laid the frame work for the historical fiction that is woven throughout this book.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows; This engaging novel follows the story of Juliet, a writer and columnist during war-time and post-war time in England. Through the novel insight into her friendships is gained and her conflicting emotions regarding love and relationships are revealed. Yet her growing love affair with a Guernsey island man and compassion for the people who survived the German occupation of the island is what makes this book hard to put down. This gorgeous tale of budding friendships, the families we choose, the strength of the human spirit and a whole lot of love for literature, food, and gin, is a captivating historical fiction read.

In conjunction with this book club launch I will be joining Kathy Moorehead @atthetastingroom on Instagram for a Movie Night discussion of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which is available on Netflix. Kathy and I will be sipping wine from Spirit of the Unicorn and chatting about the movie. You can join us for this live Instagram discussion on Wednesday June 16th, at 7:30 pm PDT.

Meet Kathy Moorehead…

Kathy is a retired teacher who has been living and tasting in Sonoma and Napa wine country for 30 years. Her Instagram blog was started to share her favorite restaurants, places to go wine tasting, as well as to share other wine country events and activities. If you follow Kathy on Instagram her enthusiasm for the Sonoma and Napa Wine Country is apparent with each wonderful photo, creative video and informative post she creates. Here is what she told me about why she started on this journey;

“I wanted to focus on the “experience” of wine tasting, what it is like at each winery. You are sure to find some wines you like at each winery, but how do you know where to spend those precious few vacation days once you get here? I wanted to create a visual bank of photos, stories, and now reels to “bring you there”, so you can get an idea of places you might want to visit when you get here.”

“People still DM me all the time, tell me they have booked the trip, and ask me, “Where should I go?” This has made me realize that people really do want someone who “knows them” to help them create an itinerary, so I am happy to do this for friends on this platform. I really just love being an ambassador for this beautiful place I call home, and I also enjoy teaching all the adult mommies where to go to have a good weekend, because as a former teacher, I know how much you all deserve the very best vacation possible!! Moms need all the wine!! Dad’s too!”

Photo Credit: Kathy, At the Tasting Room

When I asked Kathy why she started her Movie and Wine Chat nights this is what she shared with me;

“I have always loved movies, a bit of a movie buff, so I decided to combine two of my interests into a regular Wednesday Night Live on IGTV. I invite a different producer on each week to introduce themselves and their wine, and then I have a guest wine influencer join in. We sip and chat about a movie we have both watched, and give our tasting notes. Sometimes we have discount codes to share, and even the occasional Giveaways.”

Kathy also added, ” I hope you can tune in when Elaine and I will be watching “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society” and sipping on some “Spirit of the Unicorn Wine” this June 16th.”

The blog post for the June book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society along with Jaz Spirits Gin & Wine Cocktail recipes and food pairings will be posted on June 1st.

A Glimpse at the July Book Titles: A Double Header

Barbara Kingsolver (Photo – Kingsolver’s Website )

I know what your thinking, 2 books! It does seem like a lot, but Prodigal Summer is the book that we will be discussing and the other title by Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a supplemental book as it’s nature/gardening/food and life theme completely compliments Prodigal Summer. I really encourage you to read both if time allows. The blog post featuring Badger Mountain Vineyard wines along with food pairings from myself and Jill Sonlin for these books will be posted on July 1st.

Prodigal Summer; The vivid display of the natural world is on full display in Prodigal Summer. With the mountains and farms of southern Appalachia setting the stage, this beautiful novel follows three peoples lives as they navigate the land around them and their personal lives. The characters’ lives are shaped in unexpected ways by nature’s continuous cycles, and the plot twist readers an ecological education that is effortless and enchanting.

Animal, Vegetable, MiracleA Year of Food Life; I am going to start off by admitting that I have read this book 4 times over the last 14 years, the first time was in 2007 when it was published. It is the book that ignited my desire to grow my own food in the most organic way possible and to rely less on what was in the grocery store year round and focus on what local foods were available during each season. This book changed how I thought about the foods that I cooked, it increased my awareness of how the agricultural establishment can affect our health and environment for the better or worse. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle shows how a world of choice is in our hands.

“Small change, small wonders – these are the currency of my endurance and ultimately of my life”. -Barbara Kingsolver

The goal of this monthly book club is to discover all that literature has to offer, partake in good food and drinks and have a good old fashioned chat feast. All are welcome.

For Updates on the book club, I invite you to sign up to receive email notifications of new blog posts. You can also check under the Drink In Life Book Club Category for the latest posts (on the right) and follow me on Instagram @drinkinnaturephotography and/or @drinkinlifebookclub.

Images and content © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.

Exploring The Lewis and Clark Valley

Home of the Lewis and Clark Valley AVA-Getting the lay of the land

In my two upcoming posts I will be sharing my visit to the Lewis and Clark Valley AVA with highlights of wineries, vineyards and wines from this bi-state American Viticultural Area. First however, I thought that sharing some of the amazing landscape, geology and history of this region would provide you with a better understanding of what shaped this area and why it is a must visit wine destination.

If you’re looking for an educational and scenic Pacific Northwest road trip, then you need to explore the rugged and beautiful Lewis and Clark Valley. The Lewis and Clark Valley is anchored by twin cities, Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Washington and the only thing separating these cities, is a river with a state line running through it.

Clarkston and Lewiston are not only bonded by the history that surrounds their namesakes, explorers William Clark and Meriwether Lewis but they are also linked as the home of North America’s deepest gorge and the gateway to Hell’s Canyon National Recreation Area. The Lewis and Clark Valley is also the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers which flow westerly to join with the Columbia River in the Tri-Cities area of Washington.

Geology of the Region

This part of the United States experienced many of the same geological events that I discussed in my previous story Washington Wine: The Shaping of a Region. To recap, one of the best resources that explains the formation and shaping of this part of Idaho and Washington is a video by Tom Foster and Nick Zentner, Lava + Ice + Water = Floods Geology. If you are interested in how this region was formed and sculpted take a few minutes and watch this 16 minute video.

This map shows the collection of Volcanoes that arose from the Pacific Ocean.

During their journey to the Pacific Coast, explorers Lewis and Clark made note of the major Cascade Range Volcanoes, Mount Adams, Mount Rainier, and Mount St. Helens, which are located on the north side of the Columbia River in Washington State, and Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson on the south side of the Columbia River, in Oregon.

Image from volcanoes.usgs.gov

This region is distinctively different from much of the surrounding area. It is home to intersecting rivers and beautiful scenery that takes you all the way from the Clarkston/Lewiston Valley to Hells Canyon.

Hells Canyon

Since the Lewis-Clark Valley is located at the mouth of Hells Canyon I wanted to share a little about this amazing location. Hells Canyon is the deepest gorge in North America, almost two thousand feet deeper than the Grand Canyon. The area is a nature lovers paradise with abundant wildlife and ever changing views and vistas. (Note: It is takes almost 4 hours to drive from Clarkston to the mouth of Hells Canyon).

Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, Idaho. Photo Credit: Visit Idaho

Part of the boundary between Idaho and Oregon, Hells Canyon separates the mountain ranges of the Seven Devils in Idaho and the Wallowa in Oregon. Hells Canyon starts 90 miles south of Lewiston, Idaho includes 652,488 acres of beautifully wild landscape where you can let your sense of adventure run free. The canyon is 125 miles long with a section that reaches a maximum depth of nearly 8,000 feet. This vast and remote region encompasses dramatic changes in elevation, terrain, vegetation and climate. Sections of the canyon are splashed in rich shades of red, orange, and yellow emphasizing the walls of the canyon that rise perpendicularly for thousands of feet.

The gorge of Hells Canyon was originally referred to as Box Canyon or Snake River Canyon by early explorers. In an 1895 edition of McCurdy’s Marine History of the Pacific Northwest, the first reference to Hells Canyon appeared when the books author wrote “she then bound off, swinging into midstream, and like a racehorse, shot into Hells Canyon” about a steamboat voyage on the river. In the years to come the name Hells Canyon began showing up in bulletins and books, including several publications in the 1930’s written by Senator Neuberger of Oregon.

Access to Hells Canyon is limited and there are no roads across the canyon’s 10-mile wide expanse. Leading to the Snake River between Hells Canyon Dam and the Oregon-Washington boundary there are only three roads allowing access to the river. You can however experience it’s unparalleled natural beauty on a guided jet boat tour, a river cruise or on a scenic whitewater rafting tour available in varies spots along the canyon. The remote wilderness of Hells Canyon National Recreation Area (HCNRA) truly offers something for everyone, from hiking, to horseback riding, to discovering rustic remains of early miners and settlers.

In journals it is noted that the Lewis and Clark expedition entered the Hells Canyon region in 1805 along the Salmon River, but they soon discovered why they were warned away from the canyon by the local Indians and they turned back before seeing the deepest parts of the canyon.

The Nez Perce and Lewis & Clark

Image from the National Park Service Website

Once home to Nez Perce tribes, Hells Canyon is filled with evidence of the tribe inhabiting the area for thousands of years. The Nez Perce, “Nimiipuu” according to tribal lore tells the tale of ‘Coyote’ who dug the Snake River Canyon (Hells Canyon) in a day as a form of protection for the people on with west side of the river from the Seven Devils.

Seven Devils Mountains Photo Credit: U.S. Forest Service

The Seven Devils, were a band of evil spirits living in the mountain range to the east. Today this mountain range is still known as Seven Devils Mountains.

The earliest firm date comes from a rock shelter at Bernard Creek, 7,100 years ago. A Clovis point found near the south end of the canyon indicates the possibility of human occupation 15,000 years ago. These people left ample evidence of their passing including some magnificent rock art at places like Buffalo Eddy. Figures carved into the rock are called petroglyphs, and pictures painted on the rock are called pictographs. They are not a form of written language; their meanings are lost in time.

Below I share more information about Buffalo Eddy and my off the beaten path excursion along the Snake River.

In 1803 the first people of European ancestry to visit this area were members of the David Thompson expedition. Looking to establish fur trading posts for the Hudson’s Bay Company, Thompson established the first white settlement, MacKenzie’s Post, in Idaho. This endeavor failed, but was followed by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in October 1805. At what would become Lewiston, Idaho, Lewis and Clark encountered settlements of the Nez Perce when William Clark and a group of hunters, ragged and tired, stumbled onto Idaho’s Weippe Prairie in September of 1805. After three weeks of trekking west through the Bitterroot Mountains in the Rockies, Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery were starving and at the end of their physical and mental endurance limits.

Although cautious of the hospitality of the Nez Perce, Clark’s expedition group accepted a dinner of dry fish and bread baked from camas roots, and a deeper friendship began to form. After sending one man back to bring Lewis and the rest of the party to the location a camp was set up near the Nez Perce. When Lewis arrived Clark had started to gather maps and information about a possible route that would take them further west. Gaining information that the Columbia River was not far away, the group started building canoes right away so that they could press on with their mission to the Pacific Coast.

A genuine fondness had developed between the Corps of Discovery men and the Nez Perce tribe, it was a bond that they carried with them as they continued their expedition. The group of explorers returned during their eastward trip in May of 1806 after spending a long winter at Fort Clatsop, in Oregon. Because of the lingering snow in the mountains, the Corps stayed for nearly two months among the Nez Perce from early May to late June, before making the long journey home.

*Due to the Pandemic The Nez Perce National Historical Park was closed to visitors during my trip to the Lewis and Clark Valley. The park is located 11 miles southeast of Lewiston on state Highway 95, and is home to a complete informational center and museum featuring historical displays and interpretive programs teaching travelers about the rich history and customs of the Nez Perce Tribe.

Ancient Nez Perce Art-Discovering the Buffalo Eddy Petroglyphs

While traveling through the Lewis and Clark Valley I became fasinated by it’s history and geology, with research I came across The Journal of Geology Volume 50, Number 7 Oct. – Nov., 1942 where I learned;

An early chapter in the evolution of the Snake River is recorded by intracanyon lavas in and near the Lewiston Basin of Washington and Idaho. Dissection, attendant upon the beginning of late Cenozoic deformation of the Columbia River lavas, produced canyons which reached a maximum known depth of more than 1,200 feet before they were nearly filled with two thick lava flows. This stage of dissection, which is termed the “Asotin” stage, and the volcanism which terminated it are probably of early Pleistocene age. The Snake River canyon of the Asotin stage was 900 feet deep south of the axis of the Lewiston downwarp and more than 1,200 feet deep on the north, or downstream, side of the axis, thus suggesting an early stage in the folding of the Lewiston downwarp. Continued regional deformation has brought the bottom of Asotin Canyon about 300 feet below present river-level at the axis of the downwarp and elevated it nearly 1,000 feet above river-level on the margins of the downwarp. The Snake River, during post-Asotin time, followed on and near its former course and carved a new canyon that is deeper than the Asotin Canyon except in the center of the Lewiston downwarp. Much of the intracanyon lava was removed during the later stage of canyon-cutting, but a number of remnants remain in a known distance of 22 miles.‘ -The Journal of Geology, Volume 50.

You’ll notice in the Geology paragraph above that the name Asotin is highlighted and for good reason. It is the starting point of a journey that will lead you to the petroglyphs at Buffalo Eddy.

The Snake River in Asotin, WA

The City of Asotin is located at the confluence of the Snake River and Asotin Creek on Highway 129, just 6 miles south of Clarkston, WA. On the Washington side, through Asotin (which is a former site of a Nez Perce winter camp) and continuing on Highway 129, is the only way to reach Hells Canyon.

Just outside of Asotin, there is a fork in the road, going right will keep you on Highway 129 and take you to Hells Canyon. Continuing straight on 1st Street in Asotin will lead you to Snake River Drive and it is along this stretch that you will find Petroglyphs and an array of wildlife and fowl along the banks and on the rugged rock outcroppings. Once you leave the city of Asotin it is about 15 miles until you arrive at the Buffalo Eddy Petroglyphs, which is a park of the Nez Perce National Historical Park.

As you travel along Snake River Drive, watch for the small sign on the right that reads “Historical Site Ahead”, then about a quarter mile farther, on the left is a paved parking lot adjacent to the roadway. The path is on the left side of the parking lot when facing the river.

As you follow the small hiking trail you will see a bulletin board that explain some information about the Nez Perce people and the petroglyphs seen here. Nez Perce tribal artists for thousands of years, used the black rocks at Buffalo Eddy as canvases for their rock art carvings. The site was protected in 1999, as part of the Nez Perce National Historical Park when the road was shifted away from the rocks.

Beginning about 4,500 years ago, the tribal artists, began scraping and chipping the riverside basalt boulders at the Buffalo Eddy. These designs represent both people and animals along with abstract shapes like triangles, spirals, dotted lines and circles.

If you follow the path all the way down to where the rocks meet the river you will come across two sets of petroglyphs.

The rock carvings at Buffalo Eddy aren’t always obvious and part of the fun of visiting is having to search to find them. Make sure that you scan all of the rocks and walls around you to discover remnants of the past.

It was about 300 years ago, that the tribal artisans stopped adding to the diverse collection of art at Buffalo Eddy. Some authorities hypothesize that the artistry stopped because of cultural changes like the arrival of white settlers, but no one knows the real reason that the rock carvings stopped.

On the other side of the river, a small cabin that sits amongst the black basalt rock marks the location of the Buffalo Eddy Petroglyphs on the Idaho side. This is private property and the owners do not allow visitors to its petroglyph area.

A beautiful and unique place that is considered sacred by the Nez Perce, the eddy is one of the deepest holes in the river, yet the swirling water at that hole can be treacherous.

Depending on the water levels, the Buffalo Eddy’s spiraling waters can become a whirlpool that pulls down logs, boats and swimmers. At other times as the Nez Perce experienced, the Buffalo Eddy can be an excellent fishing place.

This historic place is a marvelous opportunity to witness first hand some ancient Nez Perce art while enjoying the beauty of the Snake River. At this point you can turn around and head back to Clarkston/Lewiston or you can continue your journey South long the Snake River Drive, and see where the road takes you.

Off the Beaten Path in the Lewis and Clark Valley

“I travel not to go anywhere but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

There’s nothing quite like letting it all go and just driving, sometimes you don’t even have to know where you will end up. After leaving Buffalo Eddy we continued to drive along the Snake River, taking in the amazing landscape along the way.

Follow the Snake River Road along the Snake River to Heller Bar, which is located at the mouth of the Grande Ronde River. Then continue along the county road, which now leaves the Snake River behind and follows the Grande Ronde River, a tributary of the Snake River which is 182 miles long and runs through southeastern Washington and northeastern Oregon.

As you continue, take a slight left turn onto Joseph Creek Road and after another 5.3 miles this road will lead you through Joseph Canyon and take you to the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area. There is private property in blocks along the road, which are clearly identified. A Washington Discovery Pass is required to cover both the Entry Fee and Parking.

In this deep canyon the Nez Perce tribe once wintered along Joseph Creek and Grande Ronde River, allowing them to take advantage of the warmer canyon floor micro-climate.

These towering rock formations and steep grassy slopes are an incredibly diverse habitat that supports an abundantly diversity collection of wildlife. Big game like mule deer and Rocky Mountain elk graze here, along with bear, bighorn sheep and small mammals. Over the streams Golden Eagles and prairie falcons soar and upland birds including mountain quail and chukar partridge roam the area. This riparian habitat also supports an assortment of neo-tropical migrant birds, reptiles and amphibians.

If you continue off the beaten path, this road will eventually have you Entering Oregon! We had no idea we would get to this point, but the road brought us there. That is the beautiful thing about road trips, you can completely let go and see where the open road takes you. You next decision is whether to venture into Oregon or turn back as we did.

“All he needed was a wheel in his hand and four on the road.” – Jack Kerouac

Clarkston, Washington & Lewiston, Idaho: The hubs of the Lewis and Clark Valley AVA

Now that you are more familiar with the area next time I will delve deeper into the Lewis and Clark Valley AVA . For now here is a little background information;

Clarkston, Washington’s name is a reference to William Clark, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and East directly across the Snake River is Lewiston, Idaho named for Meriwether Lewis. Lewiston is the older and larger of the two cities and the only area that the Expedition visited, neither Lewis nor Clark ever visited the Clarkston side of the river. Twin cities in many ways, both Clarkston and Lewiston are both Port cities by way of the Snake River and Columbia River. The Port of Lewiston is noted as being Idaho’s only seaport and the farthest inland port east of the West Coast.

In the Lewis and Clark Valley you can sip your way through the regions AVA (American Viticultural Area) at some award-winning wineries on both the Washington and Idaho side. My next post will begin with an introduction of the Lewis and Clark Valley AVA and will highlight the grape growing history of the region as well as a Vineyard found in Clarkston. The Idaho area of the AVA will be covered in a future post with information about Idaho wineries and vineyards within the region.

Arnett Vineyard in Clarkston, WA owned by Jim and Dana Arnett.

Images and content © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.

Celebrating World Malbec Day

The name “Malbec World Day” translates from the Spanish “Día Mundial del Malbec,” meaning “Malbec throughout the world”.

Happy Malbec World Day! Today I’m celebrating by talking about one of my favorite red wines!

Considered one of the “big six” of grape varieties, Malbec although most famously associated with wines from Argentina actually originated in the Bordeaux region of France. In Europe, Malbec is generally used as a blending grape and often takes a backseat to other grapes. Malbec in Argentina is quite the opposite, there it is the shining star of the wines produced there. For this reason, it is no surprise that Malbec World Day was created to commemorate the day when Argentinian president, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, made it a mission to transform the wine industry in Argentina.

It was on April 17, 1853 that Domingo Faustino charged French soil expert Michel Aimé Pouget with the task to bring a new vine to Argentina. Of course, he selected Malbec and it went on to become the country’s flagship grape. In 2011, Wines of Argentina, set out to celebrate the Argentine wine brand around the world, and established April 17 as Malbec World Day. Lis Clément, their Head of Marketing and Communications at the time, founded this day because she was convinced this celebration would help position Malbec as one of Argentina’s wine gems, now it is celebrated all around the world.

Exploring Washington Malbec

Malbec, VanArnam Vineyards (Photo credit VanArnam Vineyards)

When you say the word Malbec, people automatically think Argentina, but Washington has a great representation of single varietal and blended Malbec wines that have been known to make a lasting impression on winelovers. Washington’s Cascade Mountains protect the Eastern two-thirds of the state, providing a long dry grown season with hot days and cool nights. This allows for the ripening needed to soften Malbec’s dark heart and rough tannins.

Malbec first showed up in surveys of Washington grape plantings in 1999, over time growers and winemakers began to quickly establish that the Malbec grown here was producing excellent single varietals and added exceptional depth and character to red blends.

In Washington there are plantings of Malbec in AVAs all across the state, including Snipes Mountain, AVA, Lake Chelan AVA, Wahluke Slope AVA, Red Mountain AVA and two of the states oldest AVAs, Yakima Valley AVA and Walla Walla Valley AVA. These areas provide the sun and dryness that Malbec loves which helps it develop its fruitiness. Statistically Malbec is the fourth most-planted black grape variety after Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah as it recently overtook Cab Franc which previously held the fourth place slot.

It is hard to pin down the exact number of Washington wineries that make a varietal Malbec or use it as the dominant grape in a blend, but of the 1000+ wineries in the state the number is climbing each year. More Washington winemakers are embracing Malbec as a special wine that should stand on its own and some are showcasing the grape in Rose’ and Port Style wines as well. Winemakers around the world say that they make varietal Malbec because the wine is too good to hide in a blend and it appears that Washington winemakers definitely agree with this philosophy.

In comparison to Argentina’s 90+ year old Malbec vines, Washington’s planting of Malbec is relatively young, with the majority of the vines being between 10-22 years old. During the last few years more planting of Malbec has occurred in Washington vineyards as Malbec seems to thrive under the warm weather and endlessly sunny skies of Eastern Washington. A robust grower, Malbec utilizes the heat, long growing season and well draining silty type soils to slowly develop it’s dark and intense fruit flavors.

When I think of Washington Malbec I always feel like they are one of the most adventurous varietals, they are layered and complex and come off as sexy and mysterious. Washington Malbec consistently offers intricate aromas and flavors of ripe PNW blackberries and blueberries, violets and a compilation of spices all backed up by a structure that harnesses the brightness of the varietal. Softer tannins in Washington Malbec often evoke surprise in tannin-averse winelovers and tends to invite a second glass for further ‘investigation’. These characteristics make Washington Malbec more food friendly, they pair well with everything from grilled meats to stews, chilis, tomato based pasta dishes and even roasted turkey.

Celebrate World Malbec Day with some Washington Gems

VanArnam Vineyards

VanArnam Vineyards is located in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA , a subset of the Yakima Valley AVA on land that was once a pear orchard. When Owners, Kent and Allison VanArnam purchased the property in 2007 they removed over 6,000 trees with their tractor and after mapping out the vineyards, they hand cultivated each vine and filled the property with varieties that they knew would thrive in the area. Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Franc take full advantage of the long sunny days of the south facing 1000’ elevation slope as well as the shallow, silt loam soils that can be found there. All the work in the vineyards and the building of their tasting room, winery and more was all done by Kent and Allison themselves.

“We chose to plant Malbec as we loved it’s dark, plum fruitiness and we wanted to grow something a little bit out of the mainstream for the area. It grows very well in our location, ripening to full maturity and flavors. Our winemaker every year comments on the gorgeous color of the Malbec fruit and the wine that comes from it.”

Kent and Allison VanArnam, VanArnam Vineyards

Photo Credit VanArnam Vineyards

The dedication and determination that the couple put into building their vineyards and winery carries over into their Estate Red wines as well as their white wines, typically with Viognier, Roussanne and Riesling sourced from nearby vineyards. VanArnam’s strives for the highest quality possible in the crafting of their 100% single varietal and blend wines. In the Vineyards the grapes are picked by hand and great care is taken at the winery when it comes to pressing to ensure that the wines are fruity and smooth and the red wines are not overpowered with tannins. A good example of this care and craftmanship is found in their 2018 Estate Reserve Malbec

The 2018 Estate Reserve Malbec is available on VanArnam Vineyards Website. It sells for $38 a bottle.

If I had tasted this wine in a blind tasting, I might not recognize it as a Malbec, soft and juicy up front with a long deep long finish I almost thought that I was tasting a Washington Syrah instead of a Malbec. The flavors were a wonderful blend of cherry with hints of blueberry and red berry combined with notes of oak and some interesting minerality. I was both intrigued and delighted with the zesty spicy flavors of this Malbec and it was a great reminder of just how vastly different the grape varietals are in different regions of the state.

Elsom Cellars

“Good times are meant to be shared. So are good grapes and great wines.”

Elsom Cellars has been proudly making Northwest wines since 2006 using 100% Washington grapes from some of the state’s top vineyards. Owner and Winemaker Jody Elsom has always been a bit of an explorer when it comes to the use of many varietals in her wines, especially the red varieties that she specializes in. Jody began making her signature Bordeaux and Rhone blends in Seattle back in 2006, then eventually moved the winery to Woodinville. After five years in Woodinville, Jody brought her vibrant wines back to the SoDo district in Seattle.

The ‘Adventure Hub + Winery’ in the Gateway Complex on 4th Street where Elsom Cellars is now located is not only the home to their 3,500 square-foot tasting room, but their production facility as well. Jody shares the warehouse with Evergreen Escapes and KAF Adventures two travel and adventure companies. The trio’s idea was to have a place where you could sip local wine while discovering more about faraway destinations.

Owner and Winemaker Jody Elsom (Photo Credit Elsom Cellars)

Recently I posed a series of questions to Jody Elsom via email to learn more about her winemaking philosophy and to gain insight into how she developed her love for Malbec. I started by asking Jody to share a little background on when she first started making Washington Malbec and what characteristics she feel it has that sets it apart from the more common varietals found in Washington?

“I spent my formative post college wine drinking years focused on California produced red wines – I worked for a company (based in the Bay Area) who had weekly team happy hours, sharing lessons learned around the wine bar and enjoying an exploration of the big bold Napa Valley Cabernets that were characteristic of the 90s. In Seattle, at a local Argentinian restaurant with a friend, I tried my first Malbec….. so different from what I had experienced previously with Napa wines. It sparked my interest to explore the world of wine. I was intrigued to learn more and discover the nuances of different varietals, regions, and growing seasons. Although it was an Argentinian Malbec that sparked my intrigue, the French style from the Cahors region is a favorite… the plum fruit flavors, finishing with lingering layers of spiciness, black pepper and earthiness pair so elegantly with many different culinary flavors.” -Jody Elsom

Jody’s first production of Washington Malbec was also her inaugural commercial vintage in 2006. “Our Malbec is planted high on the hills overlooking the Columbia River. The site provides the perfect balance of cold nights and scorching hot days which is well suited to produce the acidity required for the spicy long lasting finish and crucial ability to age the wine for a long time. The Malbec was a significant component of our 2006 Red Wine Blend.”

Elsom Cellars’ Malbec is grown within the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, at Alder Ridge Vineyards. Since 2006, they have partnered with Alder Ridge Vineyards on the management of this acreage where they have sourced since the first fruit production. Jody added that “It is one of the few lots remaining in that vineyard that is hand-picked and cared for, with an absolutely stunning view of the Columbia River.”

I was intrigued by the Reserve 2015 Malbec Dessert Wine that Elsom Cellars had produced and I asked Jody why she choose Malbec for this Port style wine and if they will you do more of it in the future.
“About midway thru the fermentation, the malbec grape begins to transform and grapefruit flavors are highlighted with a touch of sweetness and hint of spiciness… the complexity of flavors were the inspiration for our “port-style” wine. We partnered with our neighbor at 2BarDistillery to distill a malbec barrel and added the distilled spirits at the perfect time to capture those intense flavors at the perfect point of fermentation. We will highlight this first vintage for a while longer. It has some really unique characteristics and flavors that we are really proud of, but starting to plan the next vintage.”

“2007 was the first vintage where we highlighted Malbec as a the primary varietal and we’ve had award-winning Malbec wines ever since. Malbec also provides a depth of complexity, earthiness and spiciness to our blends – contributing to the Red Wine, Logan, Isabella, Enigma, and Autonomous Blends. Our latest release from the 2016 harvest has just a touch of Merlot to mellow the glass as you sip, with a spicy black pepper finish.” -Jody Elsom

2016 Elsom Cellars Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills AVA, Alder Ridge Vineyard. This is a Malbec that captures your attention, drawing you in for a closer look after the first sip. Rich and full of deep sweet notes of dark fruit, cocoa, and a wonderful array of spice notes this smooth almost hypnotizing Malbec is an attention grabber. A real Classic Washington Malbec!

The 2020 SavorNW Wine Awards-Bronze Winner.

In ‘Adventure Uncorked’ Jody has created a wine that is not only adventurous on the palate but showcases the adventurous spirit of Washington State . Like her other wines this ‘Adventure Uncorked’ blend offers an array of distinctive flavors, lead by 67% Malbec and followed by 22% Merlot and 11% Syrah. It may be a blend but Malbec is clearly this wines expedition leader!

‘Adventure Uncorked’ is an easy drinking wine that delivers a wonderful collaboration of PNW aromas and flavors in each glass.

On the nose: cherry, vanilla, spice, little Smokey charcoal, smells tantalizing sweet-like warm ripe plums. On the palate this wine is rich with hints of WA cherry sweetness. It is tangy, zesty, and lip smacking good. Reminds me of a campfire wine, something to share after a day of hiking while you laugh and sharing stories as the fire cracks and pops. This is a wine I will return to again and again.

“Wine represents its environment ….. We try to let the wine speak for itself to represent the specific season as much as we can. Some vintages are spicier than others, and with the help of my right-hand Rebecca, we are continuing the tradition of highlighting what I consider to be one of the most underrated varietals in this state.” -Jody Elsom

Fortuity Cellars

There are times in our lives when moments that have been planned take a turn when we least expect it and become fortuitous moments that can change our lives in the most exciting and unexpected ways. Lee and Emily Fergestrom, owners of Fortuity Cellars in Yakima, WA can attest to this, a chance encounter in Seattle brought the two together and a future dream turned into reality sooner than expected when the couple decided in 2017 to open a winery. Now, Fortuity Cellars although still relatively small has been steadily increasing in production and popularity with Washington Wine Lovers.

for·tu·i·ty: noun; a chance occurrence. The state of being controlled by chance rather than design.

Together with winemaker, Alexis Sells, Fortuity Cellars works closely with the growers of the Yakima Valley to select grapes that will best be showcased in their Rhone and Bordeaux varietal wines. Fruit-forward and acid-driven Fortuity’s wines are ideal for sipping alone but are equally perfect for pairing with food. In their winery and tasting room in Wapato, WA they are producing whites like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc on top of an excellent array of red wines, like this Fortuity Cellars 2018 Fifty-Fifty.

This inviting Fifity-Fifty blend brings Malbec and Syrah equally together and features fruit from Verhey Vineyard. On the nose this blend sings with aromas of ripe blackberries and blueberries, with splashes of cocoa dusted plums and spice. On the palate this wine is deliciously fruit forward and robust with a slight peppery finish. Complex, smooth and exhibiting wonderfully balanced tannins, this blend does such an exception job in marrying the flavors of Malbec and Syrah. A really noteworthy Washington Wine!

Malbec World Day is the 17th of April, however, the entire month is #MalbecMonth, so you still have plenty of time to enjoy Malbec from all around the world.