BENTON CITY, Wash. – This week, Yakima Valley winemaker Larry Oates enjoyed telling fans of Sleeping Dog Wines “that this old dog got it done.”
Indeed, the Sleeping Dog Wines 2008 Tail Wagger, a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, won best of class and achieved Best of the Columbia Valley American Viticultural Area at the 25th annual Grand Harvest Awards in Sonoma County.
“I don’t enter many competitions, but every now and then it is nice to get a pat on the back,” Oates said. “Who doesn’t like getting validation?”
Best white wine of the competition was won by EdenVale Winery in Medford, Ore., for the 2014 Stoneriver Midsummer’s Cuvee, a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Viognier from the Rogue Valley.
Blakeslee Vineyard Estate in Sherwood, Ore., also stood out with two double gold medals and two gold medals. Its 2014 Rosé of Pinot Noir not only was selected as best of class but also deemed as Best of Willamette Valley. Firesteed Winery in Rickreall, Ore., received gold medals for its 2009 Pinot Noir and 2014 Pinot Gris.
Conviction Wines in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, a new brand for Andrew Peller Ltd., received gold medals with its 2014 The Financier Pinot Grigio and 2014 The Industrialist Sovereign Opal. The latter is an aromatic grape that’s a fan-favorite throughout the province and long been linked to Andrew Peller’s historic Calona Vineyards brand.
Best of show went to Balletto Vineyards, Inc. for its 2012 Balletto Vineyards Zinfandel from Sonoma’s Russian River Valley.
Grand Harvest Awards dives into terroir
The Grand Harvest Awards, an international judging founded in 1990 by Bill Moffett of Vineyard and Winery Management magazine, was staged Nov. 17-18 in Santa Rosa, Calif. It now is one of six competitions owned by Moffett’s son, Robert Merletti, publisher of Vineyard and Winery Management, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year and boasts the largest circulation of any North American wine trade publication.
Moffett rapidly built a following for the competition because of its groundbreaking approach. As often as possible, the GHA groups entries within their region, allowing the national panel of judges to get a sense of the role that terroir plays. It makes for an interesting and unique experience among the judging panels, and Moffett devoted years of research and produced a series of articles based on judges’ feedback and his own findings.
Oates, who launched Sleeping Dog Wines in 2002 and branded it as a tribute to his rescue dog Aurora, said he appreciates the special evaluation his wines traditionally have received at the Grand Harvest Awards.
“It’s an interesting spin on how things are evaluated,” Oates said. “I take it all with a grain of salt, but it’s nice to get that sort of accolade.”
National panel digs older Sleeping Dogs
Sleeping Dog also earned a gold medal for its 2007 Syrah ($24). His best of class Tail Wagger is a blend of Syrah (45 percent) from Buoy Vineyard and Cabernet Sauvignon (55 percent) from Rivers Bend Vineyard, an estate vineyard for Lake Chelan Winery and sister planting of Buoy. Oates produced 80 cases of what’s been his flagship wine.
“I looked at the list with all this year’s winners and it includes the Yakima Valley, Red Mountain and Lake Chelan, so it’s the over-arching Columbia Valley,” Oates said. “And I noticed that with one exception (the Firesteed 2009 Pinot Noir from Oregon) — the rest were 2011s, 2012s, 2013s and 2014s, so as I put it to my wine club, ‘Let’s hear it for the old dogs!’ ”
Despite this week’s news, Oates said he’d long ago moved his attention to small lots of Malbec, Montepulciano and Petite Sirah, varieties Bob Buoy planted for him nine years ago.
“I’m not making Syrah anymore and not making Cab anymore,” Oates said. “I miss it, but a lot of people are doing a nice job with those grapes. Not many are making Montepulciano or Petite Sirah, though.”
Annual production at Sleeping Dog tops out at 500 cases. Much of his fruit comes from Buoy, whose plantings are across the gravel driveway from Oates’ home and winery, which overlook the Yakima River.
Sadly, Oates no longer is accompanied in the vineyard by Aurora, who died in 2013. However, there’s Jett, adopted through a German shepherd rescue organization. Larry and his wife, Joyce, continue to work on rehabilitating Jett to erase “the memories of her prior life.”
Oates, Sleeping Dog support canine causes
And the Oateses continue their tradition of supporting canines through Sleeping Dog Wines. For the past six years, they donated the red wine for the annual fundraising dinner for the Tri-City chapter of Pet Over Population Prevention. Sleeping Dog also assists the Humane Society, Mikey’s Chance, a rescue program in West Richland, and Prison Pet Partnership in Gig Harbor.
“If it’s dog-based, I will try to do something for them,” Oates said. “If it’s in some place like Ohio where I don’t ship to, then I can’t do it.”
Oates recently transitioned into a full-time role at his winery after a career as an environmental consultant. That’s allowed him to spend more time representing his brand in the Seattle, where there is the Sleeping Dog Wines Room at Hotel Vintage-Seattle. He also poured his Montepulciano and Petite Sirah at David LeClaire’s Exotic Wines Festival.
While sales and tasting room traffic were up 30 percent in what he called his “bell ringer year” of 2014, this past season business and touring was off. The popular Purple Star/Native Sun moved into his neighborhood, which will help in terms of “the cluster concept,” so Oates wonders if the historically hot summer in the Puget Sound played a role.
“It was 85 to 90 degrees all summer long with clear blue skies and 200 tasting rooms over there, so why the heck come around to the other side of the mountains and get cooked?” Oates wondered. “And by the way, you might get smoked out by the forest fires burning, as well.”
His tasting room in Benton City is open by appointment only during the winter, but a selection of his wines is available at Ariel Gourmet and Gifts in downtown Richland, Bonnie’s Vine & Gift in Prosser, the Pacific Northwest Shop in Tacoma and at Leschi Market in Seattle.
“I’m open spring through November, and then I get notice about the awards on Dec. 1,” Oates chuckled.
Northwest medals at Grand Harvest Awards
Best white wine, best of Rogue Valley, double gold
EdenVale Winery 2014 Stoneriver Midsummer’s Cuvee, Rogue Valley, $23
Best of class, best of Columbia Valley
Sleeping Dog Wines 2008 Buoy Vineyard Tail Wagger, Yakima Valley, $27
Best of class, best of Willamette Valley, double gold
Blakeslee Vineyard Estate 2014 Blakeslee Vineyard Estate Rose of Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $32
Blakeslee Vineyard 2014 Estate Semi-dry Riesling, Willamette Valley, $32
Belle Fiore 2013 Chamberland Vineyards Reserve Tempranillo Rogue Valley, $31
Blakeslee Vineyard 2014 Estate White Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains, $45
Blakeslee Vineyard 2013 Estate Reserve Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, $45
Conviction Wines 2014 The Financier Pinot Grigio, Okanagan Valley, $14
Conviction Wines 2014 The Industrialist Sovereign Opal, Okanagan Valley, $13
Cougar Crest Estate Winery 2012 Dedication Red Blend, Walla Walla Valley, $38
Firesteed 2009 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, $30
Firesteed 2014 Pinot Gris, Oregon, $13
Maryhill Winery 2014 Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley, $16
Oak Knoll Winery 2014 Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, $14
RouteStock Cellars 2014 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley $22
Sleeping Dog Wines 2007 Buoy Vineyard Syrah, Yakima Valley $24
Spire Mountain Cellars 2012 Tempranillo Umpqua Valley $28
Tsillan Cellars 2014 Estate Gewurztraminer, Lake Chelan, $14
Winter’s Hill Estate 2014 Watershed Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, $25
Agate Ridge Vineyard 2011 DK Estate Reserve, Rogue Valley, $60
Basalt Cellars 2013 GSM Columbia Valley, $36
Belle Arte 2013 Estate Barbera, Rogue Valley, $38
Blakeslee Vineyard Estate 2014 Late Harvest Riesling, Willamette Valley, $45
Claar Cellars 2013 White Bluffs Estate Syrah Columbia Valley, $22
Conviction Wines 2014 Movers & Shakers British Columbia, $13
Cougar Crest Estate Winery 2012 Cougar Hills Vineyard Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $38
Cougar Crest Estate Winery 2012 Cougar Hills Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley, $42
Cougar Crest Estate Winery 2012 Cougar Hills Vineyard Viognier, Walla Walla Valley, $24
Desert Wind Winery 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Wahluke Slope $18
Desert Wind Winery 2013 Ruah, Wahluke Slope $20
Duck Pond Cellars 2014 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, $14
Edenvale NV Steelhad Run Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, $35
Firesteed 2012 Riesling, Oregon, $13
Hip Chicks do Wine 2013 Syrah, Umpqua Valley, $28
I.G. Winery 2014 Dry Riesling, Rogue Valley, $16
Le Chateau 2012 Petit Verdot, Columbia Valley, $30
Marchesi Vineyards 2014 Emma Sangiovese Columbia Valley, $30
Marchesi Vineyards 2013 Bujanen Nebbiolo, Columbia Valley, $35
Maryhill Winery 2014 Proprietor’s Reserve Chardonnay, $25
Maryhill Winery Proprietor’s Reserve Aurelia, Columbia Valley, $25
Maryhill Winery 2014 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley $14
Maryhill Winery 2014 Winemaker’s White, Columbia Valley $14
Maryhill Winery 2014 Moscato di Canelli, Columbia Valley $14
Oak Knoll Winery 2012 Dion Vineyard Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $26
Pend d’Orielle Winery 2014 Crawford Vineyard Albarino, Washington, $18
Red Rooster Winery 2014 The Coop Pinot Grigio, British Columbia, $15
Red Rooster Winery 2014 The Coop Wicked White, Okanagan Valley, $15
Stemilt Creek Winery 2011 Boss Lady, Columbia Valley, $24
Stemilt Creek Winery 2011 A Days Work, Columbia Valley, $26
Tildio Winery 2014 Estate Chardonnay, Lake Chelan, $25
Tsillan Cellars 2012 Estate Reserve Syrah, Lake Chelan, $32
Tsillan Cellars 2012 Syrah, Lake Chelan, $30
Tsillan Cellars 2014 Estate Pinot Grigio, Lake Chelan, $19
Tsillan Cellars 2012 Estate Bellissima Rossa, Lake Chelan, $30
Winter’s Hill Estate 2014 Pinot Gris, Dundee Hills, $17.
Belle Fiore 2014 Chamberland Vineyards Reserve Viognier, Rogue Valley, $26
Conviction Wines 2014 The Priest, British Columbia, $15
Cougar Crest Estate Winery 2012 Cougar Hills Vineyard Anniversary Cuvee Red Blend, Walla Walla Valley, $40
Cougar Crest Estate Winery 2012 Cougar Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $42
Cougar Crest Estate Winery 2012 Cougar Hills Vineyard Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $38
Dusty Cellars Winery 2013 Stoneridge Vineyard The Queen, Columbia Valley, $26
Duck Pond Cellars 2014 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $12
Duck Pond Cellars 2014 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $20
EdenVale 2007 Edgevale Reserve Claret, Rogue Valley, $35
Marchesi Vineyards 2013 Piasj Red Table Wine, Columbia Valley, $34
Maryhill Winery 2014 Rosé of Sangiovese, Columbia Valley, $16
Maryhill Winery 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, $14
Maryhill Winery 2014 Viognier, Columbia Valley, $17
Maryhill Winery 2014 Gewurztraminer, Columbia Valley, $14
Nicola’s Redmark 2014 Pinot Grigio Columbia Valley, $15
Oak Knoll Winery 2010 Goose Ridge Vineyard Syrah, Columbia Valley, $26
Pend d’Orielle Winery 2011 Merlot, Washington, $21
Raven Wines 2013 Deep Dark Red, British Columbia, $15
Red Rooster Winery 2013 The Coop Rebellious Red, British Columbia, $18
Sleeping Dog Wines 2012 Buoy Vineyard Montepulciano, Yakima Valley, $30
Stemilt Creek Winery 2011 Caring Passion, Columbia Valley, $17
Stemilt Creek Winery NV Sweet Adelaide, Columbia Valley, $13
Tildio Winery 2012 Estate Cabernet Franc, Lake Chelan, $35
Tildio Winery 2012 Estate Tempranillo, Lake Chelan, $35
Tsillan Cellars 2014 Estate Chardonnay, Lake Chelan $22
Westport Winery Garden Resort 2011 Jetty Cat Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $28
Westport Winery Garden Resort 2011 Going Coastal Sparkling Gewurztraminer, Yakima Valley, $29