Thursday, December 10, 2009

Blackwood Canyon

Old School?

What can top a day of fabulous wine tasting in the Red Mountain Appellation? Almost nothing, but if you are a wine geek, not just a casual wine drinker but a true geek I can recommend a wine tour that you will never forget.
Two words: “Blackwood Canyon”. Up for an adventure? Go ahead and tell the tasting room manager at what ever winery you are visiting, that you are headed to Blackwood Canyon for a "reserve" tasting. That should start the conversation rolling. Yeah, maybe you have been to Opus (very cool) or seen the barrel ageing room at Mondavi (remarkable) in Oakville. Maybe you have visited the hallowed ground of Haut Brion (Un-freaking believable) in Bordeaux or seen the Francis Ford Coppala Museum (kinda weird, but fun) at Rubicon. All of these are great, but for a sheer in-your-face, did-we-just-experience-that? event, you have to go visit Mike Moore and his near mythical Blackwood Canyon winery.
On the gray November day that five of us headed to Walla Walla the chatter in the car was all about Red Mountain and a trip to Blackwood Canyon. Three of the five travelers had actually visited before and soon stories about a veritable barrel grave yard, a broken down sign, a winery that looked like it was the movie set for Sanford and Son meets Road Warrior. I was thinking to myself –c’mon, it can’t possibly be that bad.
At 3:00pm we took our photos out at the road next to the sign to the winery. The sign was probably put up about 20 years ago by the looks of the fading paint. I imagine that the bullet holes have been added over the years. The hand written invitation exclaiming “Old World Tasting” (looking like it had been written in white shoe polish) should have given us pause, but no, we were in for the long haul.
Back in the car and headed down the lane towards the winery. About a half mile down the road and with no winery in sight you see a hand written sign that says: “Keep going”. The next marker about another 1/8 of a mile says: “A little further”. As we pulled up through what looked like a kind of funky farm/barnyard (only surrounded by vineyards) we were met by the site of some cellar workers making wine and filling barrels.
Wine in barrel being aged outdoors-Blackwood Canyon
There were literally 100’s of oak barrels on the sloping hillside, all full of wine and apparently ageing until they reached their peak.

Barrel Aging Area-Blackwood Canyon
The description of the facility that my friends had given of this place was actually understated……..way understated. wow, wow, wow, WOW! What happens when reality far surpasses your wildest dreams (in a surreal way)? The grounds and the facility reminded me of Grandma Prizby’s bottle house or maybe Simon Rodia’s Watts Tower. Just like I said, "Sanford & Son" meets "Road Warrior IV" (just add a couple hundred wine barrels)......Holy smokes!
Michael Moore
We made our way down the path into the winery tasting room and met the owner and legendary winemaker, Michael Moore. To say the tasting room is a bit eclectic is an understatement.  When you walk into the door of the winery it appears that the contents of 1000 junk drawers has been ransacked and their contents taken for decor. Mike's persona can be described as some kind of cosmic link to Bill Murray's (Carl Spackler) character in Caddy Shack (at least they share the same interior decorator).
Actually, if you are going for a visit, just think of Michael Moore as Carl Spackler.....gopher killer/wine maker............I think..... and this will give you a bit of a mental edge when your imagination meets reality. It might even be fun to hum a few bars of the "Green Beret" song on your way in the door.
Lab/Office/Back Room-Blackwood Canyon & The laptop with which we viewed the Wine Library ReviewCarl Spackler's digs in Caddyshack

Michael Moore's digs at-Blackwood Canyon

As I indicated this is unlike any winery you have ever visited. Michael has a degree from UC Davis and while you might find his approach to making wine a little odd, I prefer the think of him as a modern day Don Quixote. We were one of the last groups of the day and we ended up spending three + hours discussing fermentation, aging of wine, tasting profiles, oak, oxidation, lees aging (for 20 years) and a host of other topics. We also tasted through 10-12 different and unique wines. Even with our lengthy visit we never even made it to the red wines in his portfolio. The wine that stuck out in my mind was the Chardonnay that he had barrel aged (on the lees) for 20 years. This wine was reminiscent of old White Burgundy and had an acidity and flavor concentration that made it stand out. The rest of the bottles we tasted through had a similar aged (oxidized? component). Are the wines for everyone? No. Are these cocktail wines? Definitely not. Are these interesting wines? Hell Yes! The discussion turned to the wine style and what he is trying to do with these wines. Mr. Moore claims to be replicating the wine styles that existed in France in the mid 1800's. Who are we to argue.
Bon Appetit
Okay, so we spent a long afternoon with a man who has probably forgotten more about wine making that most of us will ever know. He is a contemporary of Heidi Barrett (Cult Napa Winemaker) and while I absolutely think this guy is one part genius, I also think he is two parts mad man. Just before we made our escape and just before I thought our day could not get any weirder, Michael mentioned that he had just sent some wines to Gary Vaynerchuk. If you aren't familiar with Gary, he is the owner of Wine Library and he produces a video blog to review wine. At well over 50,000 viewers per day, he is becoming a Gen X Robert Parker, (speaking of Parker, here is what he said about this winery) I couldn't imagine him tasting these wines. Well, long story short, he did. We watched the video on the laptop in the "office" area (shown above) and instead of me spoiling the experience for you , just go ahead and click on the link I provided to view this video. I will say this, Gary V. loved both wines and gave major kudos to Michael Moore for his unique approach.
All I can say is if you are headed to Blackwood Canyon do yourself a favor and think of this as theater, maybe even a play (Think "Tony and Tina's Wedding") that you are a part of. The wine (really interesting), food (c'mon be a sport and play along), conversation (did I just hear what I think I did?) and sheer anti-establishment tenor of this place will blow your mind. This is a winery visit that will stick with me the rest of my life. Life is short, have fun-