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Brian Carter Cellars
January 28, 2020 | Brian Carter Cellars

It's Awards Season at Brian Carter Cellars

We're not in it for the accolades, but we're pretty excited these days. Over the past year, our wines have received numerous gold (and platinum!) medals, impressive scores, and amazing press. Brian has continued to produce some of the most acclaimed wines in Washington, and luckily we all get to reap the rewards.

Just ask Eric Degermen, who recently wrote in the Tri-City Herald, "This year marks Brian Carter’s 40th anniversary as a Washington winemaker, and according to the latest Platinum Judging, the Woodinville producer is making some of the best wines of his storied career." Click here to read the full article.

These are just a few of the highlights from 2019:

2015 Takahashi: Double Platinum at Wine Press Northwest Platinum Judging, Double Gold at Cascadia International Wine Competition, 92 points by Robert Parker

2014 Opulento: Double Gold at San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition

2014 Tuttorosso: Double Gold at Seattle Wine Awards, 93 points by Jeb Dunnuck, 92 points by James Suckling, 92 points by International Wine Review

2015 Paul Thomas: Gold at San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Gold at Jefferson Cup Invitational

NV ONE Graciano: Platinum at Wine Press Northwest Platinum Judging, Gold at Seattle Wine Awards

Click here to see the full list. And while we absolutely appreciate the praise, what really matters is what YOU think. So stop in soon to try some of these wines for yourself. 


Time Posted: Jan 28, 2020 at 6:39 PM Permalink to It's Awards Season at Brian Carter Cellars Permalink
Brian Carter Cellars
November 26, 2019 | Brian Carter Cellars

2019 Harvest Recap

We recently finished pressing off the last of our reds from 2019: Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon from Solstice Vineyard.  Good to see it come to a close! I feel confident that we made some very good wines. Harvest began pretty much on schedule with our first picking of Sauvignon Blanc, on the 12th of September. Our big push for red varietals was delayed until the 19th, not so much by the weather as by fire.

In late July the vineyard manager from Stone Tree Vineyards called me to say that a fire had occurred a month before and that their grapes were not going to be harvested as a result of smoke taint. While the Yakima Valley is our largest AVA supplier, Stone Tree is our single largest source for grapes. It is also the earliest ripening site we pick from since it is warm there, and some of our earliest varieties such as Tempranillo come from there. This resulted in my needing to replace most of the grapes sourced from that vineyard. The silver lining is that it allowed me to experiment with a few new vineyards and blocks, including some clonal selections of Tempranillo which are hard to come by. Getting back to harvest dates, it also affected the time of harvest since most of the new sites were a bit cooler than Stone Tree.

All the fruit that came in early in the season was spot on in quality. Then in early and mid-October we had some low temperatures, which included some frosting of the leaves and pretty much the end of the ripening process. Fortunately, the sugars and most of the flavors were there, but the acidity was a little high in a few cases. But as you all know, this is not my first rodeo, and I have seen these types of issues before, most recently in 2011.

While it is early, I am happy with almost everything: good fruit, good color, and some good acidities – all of which is up my alley for making European style wines.


Brian Carter Cellars
November 24, 2019 | Brian Carter Cellars

Best Supporting Players for Thanksgiving, by Karen Binder

In celebration of the harvest, as well as an excuse to bring far reaching family and friends together, we will soon celebrate Thanksgiving.  While the main course requires little imagination for most of us, the supporting players can stretch our culinary brains and talents.  Of course there are the traditional mashed potatoes, peas, and sweet potatoes with brown sugar and marshmallows.  But how about wowing the folks with some fabulous original side dishes?

Nicole Aloni’s Yam Fries ( | Makes 8 servings

Vegetable oil
3 pounds Garnet yams (or sweet potatoes), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices, then again into 1/2-inch strips
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 eggs, well beaten
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Panko (or fine breadcrumbs)

Preheat the oven to 500° F. Lightly grease a large baking sheet with vegetable oil to evenly coat.

Combine the thyme, garlic, salt, pepper, Panko, and half of the parsley and toss to mix. Dip each piece of yam into the beaten egg mixture, shake off the excess liquid, and toss in the seasoned crumb mixture to coat. Spread the yams in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet, taking care not to crowd the pan. Bake until the “fries” are tender and golden brown, turning occasionally, about 30 minutes. Transfer the yams to a platter and sprinkle with the remaining parsley.


Roasted Cauliflower

1 head of cauliflower (about 2 pounds, be sure it is white with compact florets)
½ cup olive oil
6 garlic cloves chopped
Salt and pepper

*This simple technique for roasting cauliflower may be used for fresh fennel, Brussels sprouts, red peppers, zucchini, or almost any other savory vegetable.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Core the cauliflower and separate it into florets.  In a large bowl, add the olive oil, garlic.  Toss the cauliflower florets in the oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Dump out onto a cookie sheet, and roast in the preheated oven for about 20-30 minutes.  Check occasionally and move the cauliflower around on the baking sheet so that it is evenly roasted and golden.  Serve hot.


Spinach with Pine Nuts and Raisins | Makes 6 servings

This recipe is loosely based on the way my best friend’s Sephardic mother prepared spinach when I was growing up in New York City, and is the original way I got my children to love spinach.

3 pounds fresh spinach, washed and lightly dried with any tough stems removed
3 Tbs olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped
½ cup of raisins plumped in hot water
½ cup of pine nuts

In a frying pan large enough to hold all the spinach, warm the olive oil.  Add the pine nuts and sauté till golden.  Add the spinach and raisins. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes shaking the pan occasionally to prevent sticking.  Cook till the spinach is warm and completely wilted.  Serve immediately.


Butter-Poached Brussels Sprouts | Makes 4 servings

1 pound Brussels sprouts
½ pound butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the end off the sprouts, discard, and cut the sprouts in half. Blanch them as follows: Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil and pop sprouts in.  Cook for 6 minutes. Drain and place them in an ice water bath. This will cool them rapidly to prevent over cooking and will keep the bright green color. Drain and dry with a paper towel to absorb as much water as possible.

In a frying pan, melt the butter.  When it bubbles, toss in the sprouts and poach on low heat for about 6 more minutes.  Season with salt and pepper and serve hot.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Brian Carter Cellars
October 23, 2019 | Brian Carter Cellars

The History of Port, by Arielle Moule

The story of Port is one steeped in lore. It is a story of trade, warfare, colonization and power, accidental genius, and good fortune.

We begin in the 1600s:  a scene set in England as anti-French Brits began searching for new wine origins. France and England had been on-and-off sparring partners for generations, and the 17th century saw some of their most gruesome battles.  At this time, countrywide boycotting of French wines was occurring, and other options were being sought out.

Trade relations with Portugal at this time were blossoming; a royal wedding between Henry VIII’S sister and the King of Portugal opened a strong opportunity for fortunes to be made and shared between the two countries. However, the seas were not kind to the wine trade, and between the ever-shaking boat, hot sun, and frequent piracy, Portuguese wine would never reach England tasting as it should.

Two Portuguese brothers, as the story goes, fortified the wine with Brandy before the trip to England to help ensure its quality. This concoction became a hit with the British, and the rest was history. Over the next two centuries, the influx of British port makers was visible up and down the Douro Valley. In fact, some of the oldest and most respected Ports have British names like Taylor and Graham.

In 1756, The Douro Region of Portugal received the very first Designation, or “specific growing/production region” (like Champagne in France) in European history. This valley consists of three areas: Baixo Corgo, Cima Corgo, and Douro Superior. Though there are as many as 100 grapes that can be used in the production of Port, five varietals are among the best: Touriga National, Tinta Cao, Tinta Roriz, Souzao, and Touriga Franca. Here in Washington, Brian Carter Cellars sources four out of five of those varietals (all but Touriga Franca) from the Snipes Mountain AVA for our award-winning Opulento.

The Douro Valley has seen its share of changes over time. The blight of Phylloxera between 1868 and 1872 destroyed more than two-thirds of the vineyards in that region. What followed was a slow rebuilding and restructuring of the Valley and Port production in general.  Even though Port no longer travels by ship, but by land now, that doesn’t hinder the tourism and charm of the area. Visitors flock to the city of Porto to eat, drink, and celebrate the ethereal elixir we call Port.

The good news is that if you can’t make it to Portugal right now, Brian Carter Cellars is offering a Vertical of our Opulento Port-style wines, including our 2013, 2014, and 2015 vintages, for your holiday table.

The even better news is that if you see a trip to Portugal in your future, tickets for our all-inclusive 2021 Douro Valley Cruise are available.  Click here for more details!

Brian Carter Cellars
September 30, 2019 | Brian Carter Cellars

Meet our New Marketing & Sales Director: Sonya Farrell

Tell us about yourself (where are you from? Sisters and Brothers? Pets?):

I’m originally from the VA Beach area, but I spent the last 15 years living and working in and around DC.  I moved to Seattle last summer with my husband and 2 dogs – a not-so-smart yellow lab named Zeus and a super-smart mutt who looks like a yellow lab, named Clancy.  I have a brother who’s 6’8” and a sister who’s 5’10”.  I’m 5’5”.  I don’t get it. Also, like any good introvert, I love love LOVE cooking and reading.

What is your favorite part of your job?  

I’m a big nerd in general, and when I find things that I can totally geek out about, I get excited.  That’s how I feel about wine.  And the Oxford comma. Finding a job in wine and marketing, which is all about communication, allows me to tell stories all day to people about one of my favorite topics—in person and in writing—and I love that.  And the wine is pretty good, too!

What attracted you to work at Brian Carter Cellars? 

I recently moved from Northern Virginia, where I worked for a very esteemed winemaker who reminds me a LOT of Brian.  Both have been making wine for over 40 years, both focus on blends, and both are never content with good enough. I’m pretty sure I applied for the job the same day it was posted.  

Sidenote: there is some exceptional wine coming out of Virginia, btw.  A lot of folks I’ve talked to on the west coast seem very surprised by that. I’m a huge advocate, and I’m happy to offer recommendations…for a price.  Just kidding.  Maybe.

What is your favorite Brian Carter wine? 

Hmmm…right now I’m loving the 2015 Corrida. It’s smoky and dark, and it has good acidity to keep it fresh on the palate.  Great for Fall!  But ask me again tomorrow.

What would people be surprised to know about you?  

I got into the wine biz by accident about 10 years ago as a direct result of the recession.  Like every good/weird story, it all started with a law degree.  Since then, I’ve done just about everything you can do in the industry (sommelier, teaching, marketing/sales, consulting, legal compliance, events and programming, wine club, and a dash of production). Also, I can quote just about every episode of Seinfeld, The Office, and Parks & Rec. That’s talent.

Brian Carter Cellars
August 27, 2019 | Brian Carter Cellars

New Grape Varieties - How many are there anyway?

Brian Carter Cellars just released two new varietal wines under our ONE label. While we have been blending these two wines for several years, we have not bottled and released them separately until now. Since they are not common varieties, especially in Washington, it may be the first time you have been exposed to them.

Graciano is a spicy, aromatic grape used mostly as a blender in Rioja and has been used since 2010 in our Corrida Blend.  The second wine is a varietal named Souzao which we have been making for some time in a sweet wine variation as a part of Opulento. It is a very dark wine and one of the most highly touted of the many Port varieties.

If you have not yet tasted a 100% varietal Graciano or Souzao, you are not alone. These are examples of the many varieties that have become available to consumers over the last few decades. For many of us, this is an exciting time, with bourgeoning opportunities to try something new and different. For a few of you, however, it might also be a bit overwhelming - how many of these new varieties do I have to learn about?

You might remember the good ol’ days when store shelves were stocked with just a few varieties: Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and maybe a Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc if you were lucky. Exposure to more exotic varieties such as Cabernet Franc or Grenache was rare. You probably had to have taken a wine class to have been exposed to varietals like Viognier or Mourvedre. Now, the shelves are crammed with dozens of different varieties. If you are naturally inquisitive, you can even search out exotic wines from Aligoté to Zweigelt.

So, how many of these varieties are there and why bother trying a new one? Nobody knows for sure how many varieties there are in the world; new varieties are being discovered all the time. Oz Clark, in his book Encyclopedia of Grapes states there are over 8,000 varieties. More recent publications say 10,000. The good news is you can’t possibly learn them all, so you don’t have to try!  There are 82 permitted varieties in Portuguese Port production alone, and I can guarantee that you have never heard of more than a half dozen of them.  

For me, the good news is that, if you want to, you can try a new variety every week for the next year and not get bored. If you’d rather stick to drinking Cabernet and Chardonnay the rest of your life, that’s great too (I have met people who only want to drink Chardonnay). However, if you are into exploring, these are a few varieties that I have discovered in the last few years that have particular interest to me: Albariño, Aglianico, Arneis, Carmenère, Frappato, Grillo, Grüner Veltliner, Lagrein, Picpoul, and Touriga Nacional.

What will be your new favorite varietal?

-Brian Carter

Brian Carter Cellars
July 30, 2019 | Brian Carter Cellars

Spotlight on 2015 Takahashi

This is the second release of our Dedication series, a unique blend released each year to celebrate a person who has had a significant impact on my life. This wine is dedicated to Robert Takahashi who, for the last decade, has been essential to the success of Brian Carter Cellars. Robert, a nearly 20-year veteran of the Washington Wine industry, holds an essential role in making every Brian Carter Cellars wine since 2008. He is a ‘steady hand’ who works hard and can always be counted on, from early morning punch downs to late-night cleanups. He is a great winemaker in his own right, and I rely on his palate and his winemaking advice daily. Thank you, Robert!

Robert has always had a special passion for Malbec, a variety well suited to Washington’s soils and climate. I asked him to blend a 2015 Malbec- based Bordeaux blend and the result is the 2015 Takahashi, dominated by Malbec with smaller amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. This wine has already won several Gold medals and recently took home a Double Gold at the Cascadia Wine Competition where all the judges must unanimously agree it is deserving of this accolade.

When you pour this wine, you see the color is like a black hole from which no light can escape. With aromas of blueberries and damson plums, on the palate, you will find lots of body, balanced acidity, and modest tannins supported by plenty of fruit.  Pairing this wine with food will not be difficult, just don’t pick anything too subtle, or this wine will dominate. I suggest rib-eye steaks smothered in mushrooms. Enjoy!

Malbec is one of the classic varieties approved in the Bordeaux district of France. However, on my last trip there, I found that Malbec was scarce or non-existent in Bordeaux today. More popular before Phylloxera, the variety did not survive the post-Phylloxera planting, not because of the quality of the grape, but because of several viticultural problems including frost, coulure (which prevents berry set) and downy mildew. However, Malbec is the dominant grape in the nearby area of Cahors, where the wines are distinctive and worth seeking out. Malbec is also a stalwart performer in Argentina where it can be found bottled on its own and in Bordeaux-style blends with varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The variety has found a home in both California and Washington as well, where its popularity is on the rise.

For fun and education, I recommend going to your local wine shop and picking up a Cahors and an Argentinian version of Malbec and try them together with the Takahashi. You will see some commonalities such as the darkness in color, but you will also see some differences as well. Keep drinking, keep learning, and keep enjoying wine!

Brian Carter Cellars
April 22, 2019 | Brian Carter Cellars

Meet our Employees - Laurie Sheehan

"Meet our Employee"
Laurie Sheehan

If you have visited the Tasting Room during the week, you probably have met Laurie and her welcoming personality. We asked her some questions on our monthly spotlight.

What is your favorite part about your job? 
I would have to say the wonderful people that I work with, and the people I get to meet every day in the Brian Carter Cellars Tasting Room. I also love learning about wine.

What attracted you to work for Brian Carter Cellars?
I have been a fan of Brian Carter’s wines for years, so the decision was easy. It’s a great place to work and be part of the Brian Carter family. It brings you closer to the wine you love.

What is your favorite Brian Carter Wine?
I love the Takahashi, I am a huge Malbec fan and the balance of the Takahashi wine is perfect. It feels very rich and indulgent, plus it’s just yummy.

What would people be surprised to know about you?
I am the ‘guardian ad litem’ for foster children who are very special to me. I love to bike around Kirkland, and love to be in the sun. Every year I escape to Southern California for a month just to avoid the rain.

Tell us a little bit about your family?
I have three grown children and four grandchildren. We are a very lucky family, to be able to live close together here in Washington. I was born and raised here- it’s home.

Time Posted: Apr 22, 2019 at 10:32 AM Permalink to Meet our Employees - Laurie Sheehan Permalink
Brian Carter Cellars
March 7, 2019 | Brian Carter Cellars

Why Join a Wine Club!

When you visit a winery, chances are that you will also be getting a pitch about joining a winery wine club. Most wine clubs work the same way. Members of the wine club receive multiple shipments of wine per year adding up to a case or more of wine per year. Some wine clubs will offer different options. But, if you love their wines, enjoy the tasting room and friendly staff when you visit and find yourself always taking home a bottle or two each time you visit, orr you live out of town and want a regular supply of wine shipped to you with virtually no hassle.  Then you should join the winery’s wine club.

Benefits of joining a Winery’s Wine Club

  • Wine clubs may ship you wines before they are available to the public.
  • Wine clubs may ship you special wines such as reserve wines or exclusive releases that are not available anywhere except at the winery or to members.
  • Wine shipments are usually discounted off the normal retail price.
  • Wine club members receive a discount on any wines or merchandise they order or purchase from the winery.
  • Wine club members say they enjoy and look forward to receiving the wines and the element of surprise that comes with each shipment.
  • A convenient way to taste the latest offerings from a winery.
  • A winery may offer special events at the winery for wine club members only, or offer discounts on event tickets
  • There is often no cost to join a wine club.

Joining a winery wine club allows it’s members immerse themselves in everything the winery has to offer. It’s easy to lose sight of what draws you to wine in the first place: usually it is the complex flavors that excite the senses. Wine clubs offer bottles that are ready to be uncorked, or access to limited production wines that are not available in the market place. This might even inspire a few spontaneous blind tasting parties or an experimental food and wine pairing dinner with close friends. Regardless of where your wine experiences take you, rekindling your love of wine and the experience of learning something new can make any wine club worth joining.

Which Brian Carter Cellars club is right for you?

Club Vivant (“Life”) offers three releases per year of six bottles each, for a total of 18 bottles annually. It showcases our core collection of old-world, European-style blends.

Club Amour (“Love”) offers a truly special 9-bottle single release annually, highlighting the best of what Brian Carter Cellars has to offer. The single-vineyard, single-varietal “ONE” Collection, and limited-edition bottles to enjoy and add to your remarkable wine collection.

Club Dévotion (“Devotion”) is the epitome of the Brian Carter Cellars wine club experience. Combining the Amour and Vivant releases, you will receive a total of twenty-seven bottles annually, including wines from the core collection and the “ONE” Collection. 

The release parties are held in February, May, and October, with the Amour release in August, and are a great way to pick up your wine, meet new people, enjoy great music, and savor delicious food that complements the release wines perfectly. 

Brian Carter Cellars Benefits….

As a wine club member, you are invited to enjoy long summer afternoons on our patio while soaking in our grand view of Mt. Rainier and the Sammamish Valley. Or cozy up in our members-only Gallery on the weekends and having food delivered from one of the nearby restaurants.  Each membership receives a special tasting flight for you and two guests per visit, so you can invite your friends and family to experience Brian Carter Cellars. There is even an extra discount if you refer your friend and they join.

The Brian Carter Cellars tasting room is dog-friendly, so your four-legged family members are welcome to visit alongside you and get pets from the friendly staff. Make sure to get your pet’s photo on our “Animals of Brian Carter” wall.

Gain exclusive access to Brian Carter Cellars’ “ONE” Collection, library wines, and other limited-edition bottles, and receive information on discount codes and specials that occur throughout the year. 

Please contact our Wine Club Manager, Arielle at 425.806.9463 or with questions for more information.

Time Posted: Mar 7, 2019 at 11:39 AM Permalink to Why Join a Wine Club! Permalink
Brian Carter Cellars
March 1, 2019 | Brian Carter Cellars

Barrels & Wine

When you come into Brian Carter Cellars Winery, you are greeted by hundreds of oak wine barrels stacked to the ceiling. What is the big deal with barrels and wine? Do you need barrels to make good wine? They cost a lot of money, take up a lot of room, and they require a lot of labor to fill, top and rack. In addition, wine is lost through evaporation during aging.

Many wines, I hesitate to say a majority of wines, are probably made without using barrels. Stainless steel tanks can save a winemaker a lot of time and money. When you buy a bottle of wine for under $10.00 or $12.00 a bottle, it is unlikely that the wine was aged in oak barrels. The cost of making wine using oak barrels is too high to be able to sell a bottle of wine at that price point, at least in the United States. Winemakers can get lots of oak character in their wine without the use of oak barrels through the use of oak adjuvants such as oak chips.  So why bother? 

First a little background on oak barrels and wine. Wine predates the use of barrels; indeed, clay amphorae were the containers of choice for storing and transporting wine until around 300 BC when the Romans discovered the Gauls using barrels for beer. You can imagine the dangers of a large amphora of wine being hauled on a cart. Barrels became the favorite container for wine within a couple of centuries. It soon became apparent that barrels added some qualities to wine by imparting oak flavoring and tannins. Both elements helped wine become more age stable since spoilage of wine was a significant issue before the use of sulfur dioxide.  Ultimately winemakers also found that oak barrels, because of their porous nature helped advance the aging of wine. We now know that small amounts of oxygen permeate through the barrel and allow the wine to soften and become more complex over time. 

While all types of wood have been and continue to be used including cherry, walnut, chestnut, acacia, and redwood, oak remains the material of choice over the millennia as the choice material for making wine barrels. Few kinds of wood are as durable, resist leaking, and have the desired flavor characteristics as oak. There was a time when the highest demand for oak was to build ships rather than barrels. I have read that most of the oak forests in France were planted by Napoleon, who wanted to assure a long-term supply for his navy. Let us be thankful for the advent of steel hulls for making these forests available for barrels.

French oak barrels are the most sought after by most winemakers in France, and in this country where two oak species dominate: Quercus rober and Quercus sessiliflora. These two species are also used for barrels in Eastern Europe. American oak barrels are also widely available. French oak barrels are the most expensive and cost in the neighborhood of $1,000 to $1,400 apiece, while European oak is typically closer to $800 and American oak is closer to $500.  American oak prices have been on the rise recently because of the growth in the bourbon whiskey industry, which requires the exclusive use of American oak. One reason that American oak barrels are less expensive is that they are less labor intensive to make. French oak has to be hand split, or it will leak, whereas American oak staves can be machined because of their dense wood structure. French oak can be further categorized by the individual forests of origin such as the Vosges and Never. Each forest has its subtle differences in quality. Many winemakers are steering away from buying oak by forest and are instead focusing on the tightness of the oak grain.

Winemakers have many qualities of oak they like to specify including size, toast, length of time for the aging of the staves, and the stave thickness. A cooper or Tonnellerie is a person or company that makes barrels. Oak barrels are almost always toasted (although the heads may not be) and this adds almost an unlimited number of variables that often define a cooper’s style. Different styles can include the type of fire (propane vs. wood), time, temperature and moisture of the wood. Every winemaker tends to have his favorite coopers. The typical barrel is about 59 gallons or 223 liters. While this is the most popular size, barrels can be of almost any size imaginable. Another popular size is the 500L or so-called puncheon. Why the 223-liter barrel is popular is a bit of a mystery, but my theory is that it is the largest size that a (small) Frenchman could easily move around. The smaller the barrel, the greater the surface area to volume, and the more oxygen is transferred into the wine. Of course, an important decision for a winemaker who would like to see his wine either age quickly or more slowly.

So, back to the question, why do we still bother with this ancient system for storing wine? The best wines, certainly the best reds, are made using oak barrels. Consumers have become accustomed to the vanilla, coffee, caramel and smoke characters that oak imparts on wine. The slow oxidation makes the wine less angular and more complex. That is why here at Brian Carter Cellars all of our red wines are stored in 100% oak barrels.

Brian Carter, Winemaker


Time Posted: Mar 1, 2019 at 10:54 AM Permalink to Barrels & Wine Permalink