Category Archives: puget sound

Garanoir for the Puget Sound AVA

Garanoir
Garanoir

In my continuing series on new and interesting grapes for the Puget Sound AVA, here is a relatively newcomer from Switzerland called Garanoir. Garanoir is a recently bred grape (well not all that recently, in 1970, but things in the grape world move really slowly) The two parents of Garanoir are Gamay Noir and Reichensteiner.  Gamay Noir is decendent of Pinot Noir so and those flavors are passed on to Garanoir. Reichensteiner is a little used white grape but it is mainly descended from Riesling.  This grape has a striking similarity in flavors to  Pinot but has some other benefits going for it that might make it a good choice for a grower in the Puget Sound AVA.

I love Pinot Noir, don’t get me wrong, but it really is one of the hardest grapes to grow. It likes to grow sideways, instead of upright. If you don’t get your spraying schedule down pat, you can run into serious powdery mildew and bunch rot problems. The vines have a tendency to shut down in cool, wet weather and they tend to hold on to their acid way longer than other grapes.

One of the other problems I have with Pinot in the Puget Sound AVA is a marketing problem. People don’t know Puget Sound AVA wines very well and the people that do think we can only grow whites over on this side of the mountains. People scratch their heads when they have a Puget Sound red wine. It’s a constant battle with the public in general and wine buyers at restaurants and retail. I had one sommelier tell me he didn’t want to put my Pinot on his menu because it would confuse people and it’s too hard to explain what is going on. Whatever… so maybe it’s time to change up the game and not grow widely know grapes and just make the best wines we can in our climate no matter what the grapes are!

Back to the grape, the researchers who bred this grape were trying to find an early ripening red grape that had the attributes of Gamay Noir and/or Pinot Noir, but ripened earlier. They were also going after a higher level of mildew and rot resistance and ripened earlier or as early as Pinot. The good news is that they pretty much nailed it with Garanoir. In my experience, Garanoir has always ripened about the same level of brix as Pinot Noir, BUT the acids are much less. The color is deeper. Also, a really important fact is that it produces a much larger crop than Pinot. Pinot can be pretty miserly when it comes to crop level so having a grape that gave you more grapes per acre is a good thing considering how few acres of grapes are planted around here.

There are about 203 hectares of Garanoir (about 500 acres) grown in Switzerland and quickly expanding. There are smaller amounts being growing in Germany, England, Canada. As far as I know there are probably only a couple of acres grown in the USA probably mostly in the Puget Sound region. For some reason, in British Columbia they have glommed onto it’s sibling, Gamaret, which is supposed to ripen later and gives a bigger wine.

Just a little history on where we got this grape here in the Puget Sound AVA. It was brought into the US (although I’m not sure if he was the first one) by Gary Moulton at the WSU Mt. Vernon Research station where he has planted trials of both grapes. Sometime around the year 2000, he made available excess vines to other growers in the Puget Sound region and that is where I picked up a few Garanoir vines from him and planted them at Maury Island Vineyards. In 2003, when we were shutting down that vineyard, I took cuttings and now have about 25 vines on their own roots that I have been doing research on for almost 10 years. I was lucky enough to make 5 gallons of Garanoir in 2004 from grapes grown at Mt. Vernon. Those wines were very well received and very close in flavor to Pinot.  Currently, you can buy vines at the Cloud Mountain Farms nursery in Lynden, WA.

In the Puget Sound AVA we need a unique strategy to grow grapes. Ones that ripen before the October rains move in or can stand up to a fair amount of rain. Regent is a good example of the later and I think Garanoir falls into that bucket too.

I would love to make a single varietal Garanoir in the future if possible, but for now, it will probably end up in a blend with pinot noir and other red grapes I am growing to lower acidity and boost color. I think if I had it to do over again. I would’ve planted enough of this grape to make a barrel of wine. I think Garanoir has shown great promise in the Puget Sound AVA in the 10 or so years I have been researching it in my vineyard and it might be time to start planting more of it!

Early Bud break at Hollywood Hill Vineyards

Chardonnay Bud breakI have been growing grapes in one form or another since 1998 in the Puget Sound AVA. We’ve had plenty of cold years and some warm. We’ve had years start out cold and end up warm and the opposite. We live in a fickle environment, which makes our wines so special! This year might (or might not, mother nature is hard to predict) be the earliest we have ever seen the buds emerge from the vines this year. We are two to three weeks earlier than what we see in a normal year.

What does that mean for our vineyard? Not sure yet, but having early bud break can have it’s advantages in a cool climate such as our. I think it’s a win-win for us here in the heat challenged Puget Sound region. If it’s hot all spring and summer long it won’t make too much of a difference for since we are are already coming from a very cool climate and we might have an earlier than normal harvest. IMHO, there isn’t a way that I see us getting so hot that it ruins our crop. We aren’t there yet, maybe in 100 years we will be growing Syrah, but not now. But making a nice full bodied Pinot Noir is not a bad thing for us here in the Puget Sound AVA

If El Nino turns on us in the middle of the summer, believe me I’ve seen it. We are still ahead of the game. Budbreak is still giving us a 2-3 week headstart this year so if we get a couple of crummy weeks of weather at the end of the growing year we have that “reserve” of heat to pull from. I think it’s all good for us!

The only downside is that things are so early that I was caught flat footed with my pruning this year. We’ve never had bud break in late March and I usually have another couple of weeks to prune and take care of winter maintenance, but not this year! But it should all work out in the end and I am looking forward to an excellent crop of Pinot Noir this year!

Sparkling wine from the Puget Sound AVA

The future of the Puget Sound AVA is Sparkling wine?
The future of the Puget Sound AVA is Sparkling wine?

What do you do when nature gives you lemons? You make sparkling wine of course! Let me explain when I say lemons. I really mean under ripe grapes… I could’ve said sour grapes, and many times the grape we grow in the Puget Sound AVA could be considered “sour” by the cognoscenti that think they know what Washington wine should taste like. One thing that WA state does not have a lot of (or they do depending on how you look at it) is sparkling wine makers. (Actually, they have a couple of really big producers, especially Domaine Michelle which makes about 1 million cases of sparkling wine). I think it’s time we had more and western Washington is ideally suited to the production of sparkling wine.

But, one thing that they don’t have going for them is the climate that very much similar to the Champagne region of France. While we are not as warm as Burgundy, we are probably a lot warmer than Champagne here in the Puget Sound AVA. In fact, if you go back in history, they grew Pinot Noir in Champagne for over 1000 years and made a light, pinkish sort of still wine. But they were always envious of their southern neighbors in Burgundy where they could make sturdier wines with more color and alcohol. It wasn’t until about 200 years ago they learned to harness the wine refermenting in the bottle and voila! a new type of wine was born!

What the Puget Sound has going for it in making sparkling wines is the naturally low sugar levels and higher acid levels that make Champagnes so special. We have access and can grow the three main grapes of Champagne and that is Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.  In fact, at my vineyard, I grow all three but the Meunier is only an experiment with a few vines. I do have 500 Chardonnay vines and about 1500 Pinot Noir vines. I have made a still Pinot Noir almost every year since I planted them 10 years ago. On the other hand, I have only made 4 out of 10 years for still Chardonnay due to lack of heat and under ripe grapes. Chardonnay needs a little more heat than Pinot Noir in our climate for a still wine.

There are several obstacles for selling sparkling Puget Sound wines and namely it is the competition and lack of equipment and know how. The competition is mainly big domestic producers that make ungodly amounts of decent sparkling wine at a price point that simply doesn’t make sense for a small producer. I think the Domaine Ste. Michelle run of the mill sparkling wine runs about $12 a bottle and it’s a decent wine! Same with the big California producers. But I do think people will seek a unique product and will pay extra for hand made sparkling wine.

The other issue that I have been running into is the lack of the proper equipment to process the wine. Most importantly is the equipment to put the cork in the bottles and real sparkling wine bottles that can handle Champagne levels of pressure. The corks are a real issue. You need a special corker than can insert a very wide cork and also give you that nice mushroom look to it. Sparkling wine producers in Australia have thrown tradition to the wind and make expensive sparkling wine with a dressed up beer cap, which is an option too.

I have made sparkling wine on several occasions and I just opened a 12 year old bottle of sparkling Muller-Thurgau that was just crazy good. I know a couple of other Puget Sound AVA wineries have dabbled in it but nobody has embraced it wholeheartedly and I think that’s a shame but I understand after experimenting with the process a couple of times, it’s really, really hard to get right.