Thursday, February 2, 2012

Wines and Wineries of the Pacific Northwest

I love it when I read a good book and am inspired to share the news. Essential Wines and Wineries of the Northwest: A Guide to the Wine Countries of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho by Cole Danehower (and photographs by Andrea Johnson) is one of those rare books-a reference book and a compelling read; a book I'll turn to again and again; a book I'll purchase for friends and add to gift baskets.

Yes, I really did like it that much!

I met Cole Danehower Editor-in-chief of Northwest Palate magazine, at a book event in Portland last fall. When I first glanced at his book, I immediately added it to my "must read" list.

I've been savoring Danehower's book for a number of weeks now, and I have to say it's one of the best food books I've read in a long time. So much work has gone into creating narrative that flows along with great descriptions of Northwest wineries, useful sidebar information, beautiful photographs and maps that I was eager to dive-in and read this book from beginning to end. But if you don't know a lot about wine, maybe the book is best read in small doses because there's lots of information to digest.

Danehower begins this book by discussing the history of wine-grape growing and wine production in the Northwest (Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Idaho). He describes the Northwest as a young wine-producing region and says Northwest wines are "still developing character on the world's stage." Pacific Northwest wine production has grown from 125 wineries 25 years ago to over 1,200 wineries today. Our region is still runs a distant second in wine production to California, the largest wine-producing region, that has climbed from 750 wineries in 1987 to 3,364 in 2010.

Apparently we've become a nation of wine drinkers.

But just because California produces more wine and has set the standard for North American wine, doesn't mean California is better suited for wine-grape growing or that California wine is better tasting than Northwest wines. Danehower says the "Northwest's northerly latitude delivers two critical benefits to winemakers: more sunlight and more coolness." Because of our latitude we have more sunlight hours during growing season. Though the cool climate isn't enough warm enough to ripen the warm weather-adapted grapes like Cabernet sauvignon or Merlot (0ne of the earliest grapes harvested in the Columbia Valley), cool weather adapted-grapes like Riesling (the most widely harvested wine grape in Washington) thrive here. Danehower also says wine grapes require a dormant period to shut down and renew growth in the spring and Northwest winters can more easily transition grape vines than the warmer Californa climate.

Danehower says, "Many people haven't made the effort to get to know the region's wines."

One of my favorite sections of this book was "Terroir: The Taste of Place." While terroir is a key concept in wine-makng, it is difficult to translate. Terroir refers to all the aspects of a place--sun, soil type, exposure, elevation, temperature, wind, moisture, etc-- that are unique to that place. Part of terroir is about the how geologic history plays a part in the flavor of a wine. As I read this I imagined savoring thousands of years of history in one sip of a regional wine.

My other favorite sections included: Biodynamic Wines, Icewines and "What Climate Change Might Mean for Northwest Wine." It's no surprise that Oregon is the global leader in biodynamic wine. (Winter Green Farm, a farm profiled in my book, practices biodynamic farming techniques.) This side bar details intriguing farming practices that some farms say go well beyond organic farming.

The section on Icewine or Ice wine (Canadian wine regulations use one word) describe wine made from grapes frozen on the vine. But for a long time American winemakers made ice wine by freezing post-harvest grapes. When Canadian wine makers protested, American wine making regulations changed to prohibit the term ice wine on anything but wine made from grapes naturally frozen on the vine.

And finally, what climate change might mean is fascinating because climate is one of the primary influences on the kinds of grapes grown in a region. Warming trends might mean grape varieties will shift and there may be fewer opportunities for icewine production.

Essential Wines and Wineries of the Northwest
offers something useful for everyone. For readers unfamiliar with Northwest wine, the book is a treasure trove of information and is the perfect place to start learning. For people who love numbers and statistics, Danehower lists vineyard acreages, number of wineries, cases produced and the economic impact for each region. And for wine lovers, the wineries listed include founders stories, annual production, signature, premium and value wine as well as visiting hours. Maps are helpful in locating these wineries and the pictures showcase beautiful vineyards, wines and winemakers.

If you love wine or know someone who does, this book is perfect and if you don't know much about wine, don't let that stop you from reading this book. You'll gain a great appreciation for the flavors that Northwest winemakers coax from wine grapes.

Why not pour yourself a glass of Northwest wine while you enjoy this book.


Mary said...

It sounds like amarvelous addition to anyone's library. Thanks for letting us know about it. Have a wonderful weekend. Blessings...Mary

Debra Daniels-Zeller said...

Thanks Mary. It would make a great additon, it's a great resource.

Nancy Ging said...

Yay! I was wondering just recently why someone hadn't done a book on this subject. Happy to hear it was done well, too. Thanks for the review!

Debra Daniels-Zeller said...

Although it doesn't list everyone, you can tell how much research has gone into what makes the Northwest a unique wine region.