West Coast wines comprised the nexus of my last course (that I could attend) before the final exam. The discussion focused strictly on the wines of California, Oregon and Washington, brushing up on our geography skills and learning more specifics about the weather and soil composition of each AVA within the states. We opened up ten bottles in the course of three hours time, whittling my wines-left-to-taste to 241 before my deadline (year’s end) or preemptive thirst brings me victory.  Yep, it was a doozy.

We went through the specialties of each state like the massive amount of Pinot Gris produced in Oregon and the amount of quality Cabernet Sauvignon—I can personally attest to this—in Eastern Washington. Oregon’s Willamette Valley endures lengthy growing seasons, allowing demanding grapes like Pinot Noir to be coddled and matured slowly, producing wines with great success.  While in the Yakima Valley of Washington, large quantities of Chardonnay are being grown on the silt-loam soils, providing an excellent drainage system for the vines. There are many more varietals being planted in both states but those were some of the more indelible points of the lecture.

We spent the majority of the time in California, traipsing through the largely organically grown grapes in Mendocino continuing to Lake County before landing in more familiar terrain, my personal favorite, Sonoma County, and finally we dwelled upon the well-known AVA’s of Napa.

In the midst of all the lecturing, we tasted:

09 King Estate Pinot Gris

09 Cloudline Pinot Noir

09 Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen Eroica Riesling

02 Hogue Cabernet Sauvignon

06 William Selyem Pinot Noir

09 Husch Gewurtraminer

06 Terra d’ Oro Zinfandel

07 Rosenblum Vineyards Zinfandel “Harris”

09 Ah! Wines Fairplay Bebame Cabernet Franc

08 Lang & Reed Cabernet Franc

The Pinot Gris from Oregon was okay, but that varietal tends to really bore me and so it became a transition wine, something to start the night. I am not the biggest fan of the Pinot Grigio/ Gris varietal, in part because it does not really express itself outwardly, not that I am looking for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc approach either, but the wine is just there, complacent to be light and carefree. Not on this prairie. I was ready to taste the Eroica Riesling from Washington State. The high acidity perked up my taste buds and the apples soaked in fresh limejuice lingered for a while after spitting the wine. It was everything I needed in a white wine and definitely met my expectations of Washington State Riesling.

Moving on to the red wines, we were lucky enough to taste a wine from our teacher’s collection—the William Seylem—with some bottle age. The pedigreed Pinot Noir was complex with esters of pomegranate, lavender and some red fruits wafting from the glass. In the mouth the wine was warm with low to medium acid, soft tannins and medium weight. The finish was long with little oak interference, just the natural expression of cranberry, dried strawberry and tea.

The Cabernet Franc heavy blend of “Bebame” was very green with cedar notes, some red fruit and bell pepper. It was earthy and fun. Then we tasted the Cabernet Franc from Lang & Reed which was much more herbaceous but still retaining the red cherry. Balanced, the tannins and structure of the wine were quality markers for the wine. It was a wonderful glass of wine to end the class.

I learned way more about California terroir than I thought I could—I only scratched the surface—yet, now, feel that I have a better understanding of the vast growing regions that comprise the Golden State. This class gave me a greater foundation to continue expanding my knowledge of Oregon and Washington too, surging beyond the Columbia and Willamette Valley into winemaking territories I never knew existed. I am ready for the frontier.