Monday, February 2, 2015

Coast vs. Coast

The Patriots versus the Seahawks…a Super Bowl match-up that will now live in infamy.  Water cooler talk today, the day after the big game, probably centers on the controversial coaching call in the final minutes of the game or the brawl that broke out not long after this call.  Some who cared less about the game itself might be commenting on the half-time show or the commercials throughout the event.  However, as I sipped on my glass of wine during the festivities, I starting thinking about New England wine versus Washington wine—a Super Bowl of its own, so to speak.  Unfortunately, this match-up is not nearly as close as last night’s 24-28 final. 

            Introducing, from the east coast, the New England wine-making community!  Coming in with a maritime climate, this opponent is at a bit of a disadvantage compared to its western adversary.  Though Massachusetts is actually five degrees further south in latitude (at 42 degrees), it is much colder with harsher winters.  Temps in January and February fall well below freezing, into the twenties and below.  Snow is a major problem here as well, getting, on average, over ten or twelve inches in these same cold months.  Nearer to the coast, the Atlantic keeps conditions somewhat less extreme, but as witnessed last week, Boston weather can be a serious issue.  Further into the state, temps and snow fall can even be more punishing, depending on the year.  This weather makes it more difficult to grow grapes for traditional wine making. 
New England weather--not always the most conducive for grape growing.
            The state falls behind in the number of AVAs (American Viticultural Areas—recognized legal, designated growing areas) as well.  The two areas Massachusetts boasts are Martha’s Vineyard and Southeastern New England (shared with Rhode Island and Connecticut) AVAs.  Martha’s Vineyard sounds as if it would be a fabulous place to grow grapes, but it is actually better known as a summer colony for the wealthy.  Grapes do grow on these islands (which are a little warmer due to the surrounding ocean), but the AVA caused controversy when it was established in 1985 because California is also home to a Martha’s Vineyard.  Southeastern New England AVA has been a growing area since 1984; both AVAs grow Vinifera and French Hybrid grapes—hybrid grapes grow well in the colder climate.
Martha's Vineyard does have some real vineyards!
             Not only does Massachusetts have fewer AVAs, the overall number of wineries is much smaller here than in Washington State.  In total, just over forty wineries call Massachusetts home.  Their locations range from Truro Vineyards on Cape Cod on the ocean to Balderdash Cellars near the western border of the state.  Many of these wineries make wines from fruit other than grapes, such as apples, blueberries, cranberries, and blackberries.  Grapes used here range from hybrids like Seyval Blanc to Vinefera like Chardonnay and Merlot.  Some wineries that make wine also source grapes from other areas of the country. 
Truro Vineyard, a winery on Cape Cod.
           Though the state is limited in the sheer number of wineries, the still-growing wine region has quality producers.  Westport Rivers on the south coast makes award winning sparkling wines, both in traditional brut styles and Prosecco styles.  Turtle Creek makes impressive selections from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, while Still River makes a very unique Massachusetts apple ice wine.  In addition to wines, cheese is a hot commodity in Massachusetts.  Wine and cheese trails have sprouted up in all corners of the state, so when stopping at Truro on the Cape, cheese could also be purchased at Grey Barn and Farm.  When at Balderdash, make sure to get some classic blue cheese at Berkshire Blue, also on the western border of the state.
Pair some Massachusetts wine with Massachusetts cheese!
 Make way for competitor number two—Washington State!  Second in introductions today, but more impressively, the state is second in overall wine production out of all U.S. states, just behind California.  This total volume is proof of a climate that lends itself to grape growing.  Sitting just off the warm Pacific Ocean, even though Washington is a quite northerly state—and more north than Massachusetts—the ocean currents keep the weather stable throughout the year.  December and January can get cooler, but highs will still be in the 40s and back in the 50s by February.  Lows at nights may reach the teens, but the majority of months finds the state in the 60s and 70s.  Extremes are few, and this includes snowfall.  Outside of the mountains, snow is a rarity, especially close to the coast. Though Seattle is much more known for its rainy days and gloomy weather, Mother Nature definitely gifted the rest of the state (on the other side of the Cascade Mountains) with the climate jackpot as far as wine is concerned.   
Beautiful Washington vineyards.

Washington boasts thirteen AVAS throughout the state:  Puget Sound, Columbia Gorge, Horse Heaven Hills, Walla Walla Valley, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Snipes Mountain, Rattlesnake Hills, Wahluke Slope, Columbia Valley, Lake Chelan, Ancient Lakes, and Naches Heights.  Puget Sound is the AVA closest to Seattle, but it only produces a small amount of wine.  The rest of the state definitely makes up for this!  Overall, more than 750 wineries make wine from over 43,000 acres of vineyards in the state.  Though some hybrids are grown here, most of the vines are from Vinifera species; Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Gruner Veltiner, and Sauvignon Blanc are just the short list. 
Washington's thirteen AVAs.
 Some of these wineries are large and very well-known with wine sold all over the country.  Located near the wine town of Woodinville, Chateau Ste. Michelle is one of these types of wineries.  It has vineyard acres all over the state and produces over two million cases of wine annually.  Best known for its Rieslings (like many wineries in Washington) and its beautiful chateau-style tasting room, this is by far the most famous Washington winery.  Additional producers known to many are Columbia Crest, Hogue Cellars, Pacific Rim, and Milbrandt Vineyards.  
Chateau Ste. Michelle Rieslings...delicious examples of a Washington wines.
 Other excellent wineries also make wine, only on a slightly smaller scale when compared to Chateau Ste. Michelle.  One of my favorites is Gramercy Cellars.  Started by sommelier Greg Harrington and his wife Pam, Gramercy makes wines that sommeliers, servers, chefs, and fans love.  My Facebook connection—and Washington wine “expert”—Duane Pemberton gave me a list of his highly-respected wines.  Urban winery Bartholomew in Seattle sources from multiple areas around the state, including Horse Heaven Hills AVA.  Pemberton also recommends Efeste in Woodinville and Pepper Ridge in Walla Walla.  These were definitely not the least of his favorites; Bryan Carter, Mark Ryan, Corvus Cellars, Fidelitas Wines, and Long Shadow also made his list. 

Gramercy Cellars--one of my favorite Washington producers.

Today the Patriots are basking in the glory of their spectacular and dramatic win over the Seahawks. Most people are probably discussing the coaching decision that changed the tide of the game or the fight that occurred just after this big play.  Maybe others are discussing Katie Perry’s halftime show wardrobe.  On the other hand, I am trying to figure out how to get some Washington wine in my glass tonight! Though it may not console Seattle fans, in the coast versus coast battle of wine, Washington State wins, hands down.  No offense meant to New England and Massachusetts, but in the world of wine, it just can’t stand up to Seattle’s home state.