All I want is oysters, cheese and poached lobster after reading all about Montmains last week from Jeremy Eubanks. Well done!
This week: Since Jeremy was the sole champion last week, let's see who can hang with him in describing the major geology of The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA
Nice work Jeremy!! I will take the first crack at it this week:
Milton-Freewater AVA was established in 2015
So this AVA is a sub-appellation of Walla Walla Valley which is also a sub appelation of Columbia Valley AVA ----a sub within a sub-- it is very unique because it is the only AVA whose boundaries are defined by the soil type. The soil consists of cobblestone rich gravel that is deposited by the Walla Walla River that creates alluvial fan soils and is also mixed in with sand and silt. The cobblestone is made up entirely of dark colored volcanic rock (known as basalt) that originated from the Blue Mountains. The cobblestones are "baseball-like" in size, larger than a pebble but smaller than a boulder....a good in between. Soil is coarse so the vines dig deep into the ground due to it being well-drained and the rocks are able to retain heat that transfers to the soils that helps with ripening the grapes. The soil has a strong influence on the wine made here and helps give them an interesting flavor profile due to the mineral mixup from the soil. Known as the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA, the name comes from the many rocky soils located there. It does not receive much rainfall so they have to use irrigation from the Walla Walla River.
Additionally, these baseball-sized rocks have drawn comparisons to the galets of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and producers are exploring Rhône varietals in the AVA. The Syrah from this area is known for earthy and meaty aromas and flavors, and compared to Syrah grown elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, it emphasizes the savory aspects of the grape rather than the fruitiness.
The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA was proposed by a professor of geology, Dr. Kevin Pogue of Whitman College in Walla Walla. This particular AVA seems unique in that although it is in Umatilla County Oregon it appears to straddle both Oregon and Washington state.Grapes grown in this AVA but produced in Washington could lead to some confusion in so far as origin. The TTBY petition was based primarily on it's unique soils, specifically cobble loam, gravelly silt and large boulders. These types of soils provide excellent drainage for vines and soil depths for root development.Additionally, the large boulders store radiant heat which protects vines from potential frost damage.. These soils also contain high amounts of calcium, titanium and iron which contribute to health vines.
Milton-Freewater AVA? Glad that doesn't actually exist, because it would be absolutely meaningless, as the area surrounding MF has a dozen soil types, altitude variations ranging from 500 to 2000 feet, and more microclimates than my feeble mind can imagine. We have enough of those in the PNW already.
These guys have already described it pretty well geologically, but what are the wines like? There is something about this area that produces some funky wines! They are clearly ripe, fruit driven new world wines, but with this earthiness that makes one think of George Clinton.
The acid is generally pretty low compared to other Washington wines, with finished pH around 4 (or higher). One would think these wines don't age well with such a crazy pH(and alas, I haven't found a 10 year old Cabernet that isn't at least a little tired), but if you've ever had a current release of Cayuse syrah and wondered what the hype was all about, then tried a 13 year old version of the same wine and had your mind blown, you'll know that these wines can be built to last. I think the lower relative acidity really contributes to the texture. The tannin is already pretty velvet like, but when you experience these wines, they seem to be a wave of soft texture over every corner of your mouth. While the funkiness may show up at some other vineyards in Walla Walla (Reynvaan's In The Hills and some blocks at Eritage come to mind), I've not seen anything resembling the texture of the best Rocks syrahs.
One thing to note: there aren't many bottlings of The Rocks District of Milton Freewater AVA. Being an Oregon AVA, this has to be vinified in OR, so all of the Walla Walla wineries on the Washington side can only use Walla Walla Valley AVA on the label. The best winery that is actually in The Rocks doesn't seem to care about the AVA (and why would they? It's just additional branding, and a winery with a decade long wait list probably isn't going to bother with additional branding).
Well, most of this is covered but I'll just add that the region has a long history of agriculture to include large strawberries, cherries, apples, plums, etc. due to its well drained alluvial soils, and the warm climate that could radiate off the basalt rocks of the area. The Rocks, as it pertains to vineyards, was kind of discovered by accident by the now famous Christopher Baron of Cayuse Vineyards who was traveling through the area, with plans to move to the Willamette Valley to grow Pinot Noir. He was intrigued with the rocky terrain and despite discouraging words from others he opted to make a go of it as it was quite similar to his roots in the CDP region. Hence, the bigger bolder styles of wine that come from this area, like Syrah and GSM's, which grow wonderfully here.
There are about 3,000 acres of land inside this AVA, of which just under 250 acres are planted to vine. Plenty of room to expand.
Maybe. The land there has become prohibitably expensive (moreso than anywhere else in Oregon and Washington) and water rights are an issue.
You got me! Fixing it now....