Holiday Barrel Tasting decks halls, taps into single varietals

U-B FILE PHOTO: Wine barrels trimmed in holiday lights wait to greet vistors at Dunham Cellars this weekend for winter barrel tasting.

U-B FILE PHOTO: Wine barrels trimmed in holiday lights wait to greet vistors at Dunham Cellars this weekend for winter barrel tasting. Photo by Matthew Zimmerman Banderas.


WALLA WALLA — Local wineries will start looking a lot like Christmas this weekend during the three-day Holiday Barrel Tasting.

As with many Christmas celebrators, tasting room managers will deck their halls with lights, garlands and everything Christmas.

Even storage facilities will be festooned and used as overflow rooms for participants.

Some wineries will include live music to go with food and tasting room fees, which are normally reimbursed with the first purchase of wine.

But there is another aspect of Holiday Barrel Tasting that is often overlooked or completely skipped in some tasting rooms.

For Doug Roskelley, it is what Holiday Barrel Tasting is all about.

But the winemaker for Tero Estates said they, also, will decorate this weekend.

“I think people who come over are expecting to barrel taste, but the other reason they come over is the Christmas decorations. They like to see all the lights and the trees and the spirit of the season,” Roskelly said.

When it comes to wine, Roskelley is not a purist; he prefers blends over single grape varietal wines.

“There has always been a lot of blends. But I think the focus shifted to single varietal wines 10 to 15 years ago. And now it is shifted back to blends … Frankly, blends are more complete wines and most varietals are lacking in something,” Roskelley said.

Be that as it may, Roskelley noted that one of the best parts about Holiday Barrel Tasting is being able to taste pure varietals still in the barrel before he starts blending and bottling.

Malbec, tempranillo, petit verdot, grenache and sangiovese are just some of the grapes that growers have planted, harvest and blended into Walla Walla wines in recent years.

“Our conditions are proving ideal for a wide variety of wines,” Walla Walla Wine Alliance Executive Director Duane Woolmuth said.

“Winemakers are always looking for the next great variety. And, with our varied growing conditions and terroirs that we have, winemakers are always challenged to match just the right conditions with the right variety and winemaking style.”

Holiday Barrel Tasting is a chance to taste a varietal before it gets blended.

“The nice thing about holiday barrel tasting is you are tasting single varietal young wines, wines that haven’t made it to the bottle yet,” Roskelley said.

At Tero Estates, along with the decorations and the showcasing of two finished wines — a 2009 petit verdot and a 2007 reserve cabernet — Roskelly said they will also sample wines from three barrels: 2012 and 2011 cabernets and a field-blended reserve.

Over at Forgeron Cellars, Tasting Room Manager Anne Hull said they will also dip sampling thiefs into two cabernet barrels that were grown in different regions — the Walla Walla Valley and the Columbia Valley.

“We opted to do the cabernets because it is one of our focus wines. And it also goes into our reserve wine that we make. So we thought doing two barrels that will end up in the next year’s reserve would be fun to compare and contrast, especially when they are form such a unique areas,” Hull said.

When tasting from the barrel, the procedure is the same as tasting from a bottle at a counter.

The only difference might be that sometimes the barrels are the counter and they are often located in the storage rooms, which is another reason to decorate the larger facilities.

The only other difference, Hull said, is that new wine from barrels often has more tannins, the fruit flavors are less forward and there is a lack of smoothness.

But the experience will still be satisfying.

“It is an adventure, and it’s pretty educational,” Hull said.


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