Grapes are in! It is time to look back at the harvest and see what happened. Another memorable harvest indeed. A successful one, my 39th in Washington State. While the wines are certainly not finished, I am happy to say that 2018 was a good one for Brian Carter Cellars and Washington State. The flavors are really nice across almost all varieties. It was a warmer year which favored the varieties that like basking in the heat such as Cabernet Sauvignon. Just to put the heat in perspective: while 2018 was warmer than average, it was not in the record-setting league of 2015. 2018 was in terms of heat pretty close to 2017. The hot summer got harvest started a week earlier than normal, but a moderate September and October temperatures gave us good hang time on most of our fruit. Harvest finished at the end of October which is pretty normal. We did have some rain this year, which caused us to cancel several pickings in October, but it did not last long and did not seem to have a significant effect on quality.
Quantity wise, yields were pretty close to expected in most vineyards. I worked with each grower to assure we had a modest yield while supplying what we needed. In total we crushed about 160 tons and just under 100 tons for Brian Carter Cellars, the balance being for our custom clients. This puts Brian Carter Cellars production a bit higher than the 2017 harvest and almost exactly what we did in 2016.
Again, the wines are tasting good. The white and rosé wines are fruit forward with some weight; the reds are dark in color and have good varietal character and balance. The tannins in the Bordeaux varieties are there but have a nice ripe smoothness. More to come as the wines get finished; I can’t wait until the spring when I start blending!
Brian Carter, Winemaker
Thank you to all of you who have donated so far to my "Real Men Wear Pink" campaign, raising both consciousness and funds for breast cancer research. Today is my 5th day of wearing pink at the winery, the shirts are getting splashed with lots of grape juice and stems from the clusters. You can follow my daily sartorial photos on Instagram!
There are still 26 days left in the "Real Men Wear Pink" campaign, and I grateful to all of you who have donated. I'm hoping to inspire those who haven't donated yet to dig down and give!
We currently have a donor of $3,165 who is in the lead for the five-course wine dinner for six at Karen's home. We have a $2000 donation that is in line for receiving the six-year vertical of Solesce, and we have two folks in line for the private tasting at Brian Carter Cellars with food and some treats from Brian's private library. Plus, there are 37 $100 raffle tickets sold so far that are vying for the Jeroboam of Solesce.
Now is the time to up the ante for anyone who wants to compete for the wine dinner or the six-bottle vertical. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month; please give by the end of the month to make your donation count!
Come by the tasting room and see the daily collection of my photos in PINK, or feel free to visit the winery any time in October to see me in person in PINK!
With kind thanks,
Brian Carter, Winemaker
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We recently received a great article from a local wine writer about our first dedication release, "ACE" ~ Enjoy!
Ace is a tribute wine to Brian Carter’s beloved Grandpa, Nick Carter. It is also the first offering of an annual release; The Dedication Series; inspired by people who have contributed to Brian’s life directly. Therefore, the bar is set high for “Ace”.
Nick Carter learned to fly before he drove a car. He and his parents paid for flight school; even though they didn’t have a plane. It finally arrived . . . in a box! After assemblage, they melted the engines twice. The third time was the charm because they switched from aluminum pistons to steel. Nick was first to volunteer to fly with the instructor. They almost crash-landed on a beach. The instructor was so shaken, he quit on the spot.
Nick didn’t quit. He went on to fly hundreds of missions out of France and was awarded The Distinguished Service Cross and other medals for winning 17-0. He lived on to give Brian many best memories from boyhood. Nick is pictured on “Ace”; in uniform, standing next to his tri winged plane. You can see his swag; so it’s fitting his wine would be a Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah blend that was popularized in Australia; where swag is in men’s DNA.
When I decanted “Ace”, I expected it to be boldly flavored . . . but not immediately! Usually, I decant for an hour or sometimes a day, if it needs it. It allows the fruit and secondary traits to surface and have a chance to blend. After only 30 minutes, I stopped decanting; to save the pleasure of unfolding components to be enjoyed over dinner. There is no meltdown in Ace. Its flavors are solid to the last drop. Its immediate gratification makes it a good choice for opening on short notice; like in a restaurant.
I imagine Brian gave a lot of extra effort to “Ace” to best eulogize his beloved Grandpa, as well as to set the bar high for his first Dedication Series bottle. Suppose you wanted to honor through your art, a person you love deeply. How would you that, compose the music, or write the poem? You would spare nothing, bringing your best to it. That worked for Brian. He recently won Double Gold Medal and Best of Class for “Ace”.
It was at the Northwest Wine Summit; the largest competition for exclusively Northwest wines. He won so many medals there (12 across varieties and blends) that they judged him THE 2018 Winery of Distinction out of the 320 wineries considered.
That is why you need to stop in at Brian Carter’s Woodinville tasting room or simply buy a bottle of his at your local wine store. Brian Carter Cellars has had more huge wins than ever, since 2015. That is when he was named Washington’s Winery Of The Year by Winepress NW. Since then, everything is coming up Aces.
~ Scot Overturf
Scot Overturf, sommelier in Seattle. Overturf is a longtime wine expert, judge, and writer in the greater Seattle market. He has written for publications around Washington for several years.
I am participating in the American Cancer Society’s “Real Men Wear Pink” campaign this year to help raise funds for the fight against breast cancer. I am doing this both because I believe the ACS has and is making a huge difference in the battle to save the lives of women from breast cancer, and also because my life has been personally touched by this disease: my older sister is a breast cancer survivor.
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in American women who currently have a 1 in 8 chance of being diagnosed with an invasive form of breast cancer, and 41,000 women will die of breast cancer in 2018. By raising awareness about prevention and early diagnosis, as well as providing caretaking, free transportation and reduced hotel rates for patients receiving treatment, the ACS helps both patients and caretakers. The ACS has funded $46 billion in cancer research since 1946 and currently has $62 million currently invested in breast cancer research. This has helped the death rate from breast cancer drop by 39% between 1989 and 2015 which translates to saving 322,6000 lives.
I am reaching out to you, my community of personal, business and wine-loving friends and professionals to help me, the ACS and all women who have been or could potentially be affected by this disease to contribute to my “Real Men Wear Pink” campaign. I will be wearing pink every day for the month of October and you are all welcome to visit me in the winery as proof! Any amount you can contribute is gratefully accepted, I offer some extra motivation for you to dig deeper…
- For each $100 contributed, you will get a ticket for a raffle to win a Jeroboam (3L) of our most highly coveted wine, Solesce. The winner will be announced at the end of the campaign.
- The third biggest donor to my campaign which requires a minimum bid of $250 will enjoy a private tasting at Brian Carter Cellars for 6 persons. I will personally lead you through the wines and will provide some special food pairings to bring out the best in the wines. Expect some special library treats.
- The second highest donor which requires a minimum bid of $500 will receive a 6-bottle vertical of Brian Carter Cellars Solesce including 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012, all sold out and highly sought after.
- The top donor with a minimum donation of $1,500 will enjoy a dinner for 6 at my darling Karen’s home on Portage Bay (several of you can band together for this one!). Karen and I will offer 5 courses expertly paired with wines from Brian and Karen’s cellars, both vintage Brian Carter Cellars wines as well as European wines.
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You can also follow me on Instagram! Spread the word and the posts…the more folks who are involved the greater is our impact!
Kind thanks in advance,
Brian Carter, Winemaker
Having just returned from the vineyards in Eastern Washington, I can report that veraison is underway. Veraison is when grape berries change color and texture on their way to ripening. Before veraison, the berries are hard and green, while after the berries are soft and red or light yellow, depending on the grape variety. This transformation is much easier to see in red varieties where it is easy to see the percentage of berries have changed color. In the picture to the left, about half the berries are either starting or are through the process of veraison. This picture was taken at Stone Tree Vineyard, Wahluke Slope, where veraison was the most advanced of the ten vineyards I visited this week.
Veraison can be a critical time for winemakers and growers. It marks an essential transition for the ripening process. There are a couple of thoughts on how long it takes between veraison and harvest, all of which depend on the area, weather and the grape variety. Some people say six weeks is a good measure, but it indeed can be longer or shorter. In any case, it is time to start getting the picking bins and tanks ready; harvest is right around the corner!
Veraison can also be an important time to start the process of ‘green thinning.’ Winemakers and growers work together to determine if the vine is in balance: is there the appropriate amount of crop on the vine for the fruit to ripen in a timely way and maximize quality? If the crop is too large, this is a particularly good time to trim some of the clusters as it is easy to see which ones are lagging behind. When the greener clusters are thinned in favor of the redder ones, it evens out the ripeness of the clusters on the vine and is an important quality consideration as it will lead to more uniformly ripe clusters when picked. Some varieties tend to ripen more evenly than others, so this process is more important in varieties that tend to have uneven ripeness such as Petit Verdot. It is important to time ‘green thinning’ so that you can see the lagging green clusters. Often this is when about 80% of the berries have completed veraison. On my latest trip, most of the vineyards were still little early for green thinning to occur. I will be returning in a few weeks to walk the vines and talk to the growers on how to proceed.
~Brian Carter, Winemaker
Brian Carter Cellars was awarded the “Winery of Distinction” award at the 23rd annual Northwest Wine Summit, for capturing twelve medals across a full spectrum of styles.
Brian Carter Cellars was awarded four ‘Best of Category’ for 2013 Le Coursier, 2013 Solesce, 2013 Ace, and 2015 Opulento.
Brian Carter is “deeply honored to have Brian Carter Cellars chosen for this highly competitive award, especially in a year where we are remembering Parks Redwine. This award along with the many honors we have received is a great tribute to the Washington growers who provide us with such superlative grapes and to my hardworking staff who continue to contribute to making Brian Carter Cellars great.”
The founder of the Competition Parks Redwine recently passed away on June 3, 2018. His illness developed during this year’s competition. Parks founded the Northwest Wine Summit in 1996, he truly loved the northwest and he championed their wines and producers at each opportunity.
The current team that manages the Northwest Wine Summit and the Redwine family plan to continue the competition and have incorporated memorial awards in the honor and memory of H. Parks Redwine.
Approximately 320 producers of wines, ciders, sake and spirits produced in the Pacific Northwest, specifically Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. This year’s judging was held in British Columbia and Hood River, Oregon, at the Columbia Gorge Hotel.
Details of the competition can be found at http://parksredwine.com/nwws/results.php
Best of Category/Gold Medal
2013 Le Coursier
2015 Abracadabra Red
2014 ONE Cabernet Sauvignon
2014 ONE Syrah
Brian Carter Cellars topped the 2018 Washington State Wine Competition with its 2017 Abracadabra Rosé, winning Best of Show at this year’s competition. This is the second time in five years that Brian Carter Cellars has been awarded Best of Show, 2009 Solesce won the honors at the 2014 Washington State Wine Competition. The 2017 Abracadabra Rosé beat out 286 entries for Best of Show award.
Brian Carter thinks “rosé is here to stay, it used to be that in the tasting room we’d offer them rosé and customers would look askance at it, saying that rosé was what their mother or grandmother used to drink,” Carter believes that “people are realizing what a delightful wine it is.”
Brian Carter’s primary source for Sangiovese is Willard Farms, a venerable vineyard managed by Jim Willard along Snipes Road and known by some as Solstice Vineyard. Also included are Syrah, Grenache, Malbec and Mourvèdre in the Abracadabra Rosé.
“We call it our ‘magical blend’ because while it does not vary significantly from year to year, I don’t agonize over ‘two percent of this’ or ‘two percent of that’ like I do with my other blends. It’s more serendipitous where this wine ends up each year.”
The 35th year of the statewide competition was staged in Grandview, WA, and serves as a scholarship fundraiser for the Yakima Valley College’s viticulture and enology program.
Details of the competition can be found at www.greatnorthwestwine.com
Double Gold Medal
Brian Carter Cellars 2014 Trentenaire
Brian Carter Cellars 2015 Opulento
Brian Carter Cellars 2015 Takahashi Dedication Series
Brian Carter Cellars 2014 Byzance Red Wine
Brian Carter Cellars 2014 ONE Syrah
Brian Carter Cellars 2015 Abracadabra Red Wine
Brian Carter Cellars 2016 Oriana White Wine
Brian Carter Cellars 2013 Le Coursier Red Wine
Brian Carter Cellars 2013 Solesce Red Wine
Brian Carter Cellars 2014 Corrida Red Wine
It’s that Time of Year
The first bottling in April has been completed and the 2017 Rosé, 2017 Oriana, and 2015 Solesce are out of the barrel room and into the warehouse. The rosé is hardly resting comfortably, as we released it the beginning of May; it is delicious and it is disappearing fast. The perfect pairing with summer sunshine.
Before turning attention to our July bottling, it is time for the most enjoyable part of my winemaking schedule: Time to Blend! The 2017 wines are chilling in the cellar and losing their youthful fermentation aromas while starting to show their true personality. I like to think the wines are anticipating this time of year also. “It’s kind of boring sitting here all by myself. When is Brian going to start blending so we can meet and mingle with our neighbors?” The last couple of weeks, I have had dozens of samples out on the table tasting each, and deciding how they will come together. I am pretty close to finalizing the 2017 Solesce, Trentenaire, Corrida and the next Dedication Series, which is slated to be a dry Portuguese varietal blend. I am excited about each one. It will not be long before Robert and I are selecting individual barrels, racking them to the tank, getting them mixed and back to the barrel where they will have a year to come together. The majority of these wines are slated to be bottled in the summer of 2019.
In addition to blending, I am keeping an eye out for a few that will stand alone in our ONE series. These are the rare wines that are special enough to be bottled on their own; ONE variety, ONE vineyard. As it says on the back label: “Occasionally we come across a few barrels that capture the essence of a varietal so completely they defy blending, they are just that good.” When we do find one that special, we normally only bottle 75 to 150 cases of each wine. For 2017, I am looking at holding back a Grenache, which I have done once before, and a Tempranillo which will be our first ONE of this varietal.
Here it is April and the time has arrived to put wines into the bottle. Specifically, our Solesce, Oriana, Abracadabra Red and Rosé all typically get bottled in April. Needless to say, this is a very important time in the life of the wine. It’s not really the beginning of the wines’ life like harvest and it certainly isn’t the end when it is poured into a glass to enjoy. We could call it the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end, but in any case, it is the winemaker’s last chance to make a difference in the wine. And what a difference it can make! Simply put, other than the picking and time of fermentation, there is no point in the wine’s life that is more critical. That is why winemakers sweat the details at bottling time and consequently feel some anxiety. Not only are we unable to change the wine after the cork goes in, but there are a lot of logistics that must come together at bottling time, any one of which can blow the whole thing.
Getting the wine ready can be simple, in the case of reds like the Solesce and Abracadabra: we just pull them out of the barrel, give them a quick filtration, adjust the SO2, check the oxygen level and they are pretty much ready to go. The Oriana and Rosé have more stability issues that need be addressed namely heat stability, which requires bentonite fining to fix, and cold stability which requires chilling the wine often for several weeks. We also do more extensive fining trials especially if the wine has some unwanted astringency. Carbon dioxide levels are also checked as there is a risk of ‘spritzy’ wines if they were fermented within the last few months.
Now we get onto the logistics which start months in advance when the bottling truck is scheduled. Capsules, corks, glass and labels require lots of advanced planning. Each wine often has its own packaging requirements, and winemakers must work with many suppliers to order and schedule everything to arrive well ahead of bottling day. Just getting the labels done requires getting the right information to the printer including the AVA, alcohol and varietal, calculating numbers including waste, and getting federal label approval. Corks require inspection and sensory testing before ordering. Each item requires special attention and if one is not right the bottling cannot take place, the package will be wrong, or the wine will be off. When getting several wines ready for bottling there is often a logistical issue of how many tanks are available, which wines fit into which tanks and in what order you move them from tank to tank when racking and filtering. Then there is figuring out the warehouse for the best place to store the wine. Oh, and don’t forget the bottling crew has to be arranged, which is something Robert does a great job organizing. Altogether, it’s a lot to think about.
Finally, there is bottling day itself which should go smoothly if advance planning was properly carried out. There are over a dozen quality control items to watch out for, from selecting the right packaging (don’t put those rosé labels on the red Abracadabra) to getting the label positioned properly to fill height and cork depth. Perhaps the best part of bottling is when it is over. We have freed up barrels for next year’s harvest. In the case of Rosé, we have fresh wine to sell. Time to relax and enjoy a special bottle of wine from a previous bottling. And we don’t have to worry about bottling again until July. Time to start working on the 2017 blends! That is the real fun.