I grew up around wine. My late grandfather, Bob Woehler, began writing about Northwest wine in the 1970s when he was assigned to cover the opening of Preston Premium Wines in Pasco, Wash., and their wunderkind winemaker, Rob Griffin.
Incidentally, Rob has been my boss for the past 13 years – a job I applied for at the “gentle urging” of my grandfather. (He set up the interview and drove me to it.)
I believe my grandfather realized on that fateful day at Preston in 1976 that he could swindle someone into paying him to write about, and consume, wine. The dream job. His column, “Woehler on Wine” ran in the Tri-City Herald for 32 years. There were also quarterly columns in Wine Press Northwest magazine and a short-lived podcast (aptly named The Bobcast) that ended when he passed away in August 2011.
In the decade since, wine in the Northwest has gotten bigger and better. I think he’d be pleased to see me still at Barnard Griffin, as it was one of his favorite producers. I’m sure he’d have a lot to say about my schooling through the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and would be the first to offer up a practice tasting or two. I imagine he’d be disappointed in hard seltzer grabbing some of wine’s market share, but who in our industry isn’t!?
What I don’t know, however, is what wine he would tell me started it all.
What was the wine for my Grandpa? What wine changed the course of his life, made him dedicate years and miles and many, many moments of time waxing poetically (well… poetry wasn’t necessarily his strong suit) about fermented grape juice?
And so, the genesis of this piece and hopefully many more, unraveled in front of me: I want to sit down with members of the Washington wine industry and get to know the wines that made us.
In an “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” sort of spirit, it is apt for me to go first.
I probably have a few answers, and new wines crop up all the time that reaffirm my faith-in-beverage:
- A gorgeous Tokaji that finally made me understand how something dripping with honeyed, lush sweetness could also make your mouth pucker with a strong underpinning of acidity – a balance that I had read of but never tasted until then.
- A ridiculous sur lie Riesling in a very heavy bottle — just so you know it’s good (eye roll) that I tasted a year into our ongoing pandemic and thought, “Yes. This is everything it needs to be,” and “F*$! yeah! Riesling!”
- A tawny Port as old as my mother (don’t worry Mom, I won’t share the vintage) that was so exquisite I adjusted my budget to get my hands on another.
- A Washington Malbec that was so peppery the tasting room attendant told me they rubbed the inside of the barrel with black peppercorns (they absolutely did not), its color so unmistakably magenta that it nearly glowed.
- A Viognier from Barnard Griffin in 2010, paired with a shrimp cocktail of such divine proportions that to this day is the best food/wine combination I can remember. (My grandpa was at that dinner. I wonder if he felt the same?)
But if I had to choose one, as is the idea of this piece – I know what it would be. I’m a little embarrassed to say it… but we’re all friends here.
The wine, for me, was Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc; probably sometime in 2010, when I was the ripe old age of 22.
My boss at the time had mentioned it in passing ( Hi, Kim! ), and for some reason I decided to buy a bottle for myself. It was an extravagant wine purchase for me, because at that time I either took wine from my grandpa, my mom — who also worked in the industry — or bought it at a very nice price at work. Paying full retail?! I. Would. Never.
I cracked the screw cap open, threw it in a tumbler (the gracelessness and pragmatism of youth) and was instantly gobsmacked by one of the most aromatic wines I had ever swirled.
Something clicked. As I moved it around the glass, it became clear what I was smelling. To me, it wasn’t cat piss (sorry ) or gooseberry or grapefruit. It wasn’t the lush Kiwi landscape or the influence of the Awatere River on the Marlborough vines. It was my grandparents’ house in Kennewick on Fourth Avenue, in the middle of summer – mid ‘90s.
My grandma was in the kitchen, wooden bowl in hand, making “Roquefort salad” (pretty sure it was just Litehouse Blue Cheese dressing and iceberg lettuce, but whatever), while my grandpa knelt beside the pool — vigilantly protecting the clear, chlorinated 72-degree water from a barrage of 100-degree days. It was the walk down the grass toward him and the smell of the sun-drenched tomato vines wafting along the way.
In 2010, far from my grandparents’ house in time but near in space, my friends and I drank that first bottle with hunks of Beecher’s No Woman cheese and thin salt-laden grissini, overlooking a golf course.
I’ve recreated this pairing time and time again — it isn’t the best — but it doesn’t have to be. Every glass is me, as an 8-year-old, walking near the tomato-filled garden at my favorite place in the world on Fourth Avenue. Then, I’m transported to that warm summer evening overlooking the golf course and the freedom that is being 22 years old on a patio with your best friends, the subtle sounds of the Two and a Half Men theme song floating through the air (to our knowledge this was the only show our neighbors would deign to watch).
Good wine is more than itself. It usurps the sensory notes around it and plants itself deep within a person, sealing that moment in time. And, if it’s mass-produced like Kim Crawford is, it plays those notes anytime you ask. What luck that one time I decided to buy that wine, that now I can drift into wonderful places of my past anytime I’d like.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series by Liz Moss Woerman, director of hospitality and direct-to-consumer at Barnard Griffin Winery in Richland, Wash., and Vancouver, Wash. She represents the third generation of her family to be a part of the Washington state wine industry. Liz, who studied creative writing and English at Washington State University prior to starting the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Diploma program, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.