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Café to Café

A Journey to Rosé

By Kay Simon

Our Chinook dry Cabernet Franc Rosé has somehow hit a chord with Northwest wine lovers, who are all craving some summer weather about now. Although it wasn't an accident, or casual conversation with my husband Clay Mackey saying "let's do a saignee," our journey to Chinook's latest vintage (2013) of Yakima Valley Cabernet Franc Rosé has been both fun and challenging.

Several vintages ago, when I worked for the firm we affectionately called "The Chateau" (Chateau Ste. Michele), we produced a delicious rosé from Grenache. My roommate, Jennifer, who was a tour guide at that same Woodinville winery, was a ski instructor at Crystal Mountain so we spent our weekends up in the mountains during the winter and spring. In that phase of my life and career, Grenache Rosé-with a gorgeous dark color and a slight bit of residual sugar was our 'go-to' apres ski wine. Chill it in a snow bank and share with friends!

Ironically, my first exposure to Grenache was at age 9, when my father made wine with a group of friends, one of whom owned a grape ranch in Delano, California. They called their rendition "Grinatcha Rosie" and it was powerful stuff. Move a few decades along and then . . .

Clay and I had become friends with Peter Dow, former proprietor of Café Juanita who is an aficionado of all things European, especially Italian. Peter was the Kermit Lynch wine distributor for Seattle, at his Cavatappi Distribuzione business in Seattle. On numerous gatherings of friends, he would put a glass in our hands and say we needed to try THIS. And so we were introduced to some of the world's finest dry rosés. In our world, rosé was not a foreign concept, but the totally dry rendition was new to us.

In 1990, we planted a Cabernet Franc vineyard at our Chinook winery - the word estate sounds a bit inflated, but we planted, irrigated and every year prune and harvest the vineyard ourselves, with our willing harvest crew (which has included such food luminaries as the crew at Lark restaurant on Capitol Hill and Mary Kirman, a wine specialist for PCC Natural Markets).

When our estate Cabernet Franc grapes started to produce, we had a decision to make: from a small crop, what should we do/make? One summer evening on Clay's return from the weekly delivery trip to Seattle, we sipped a friend's rosé selection for us . . . and both looked at each other and said "we could make this." That might seem a bit egotistical, however Clay had been growing grapes for many years at that point and I had made the earlier referenced Grenache Rosé for several vintages.

So in 1998 we made our first vintage of dry rosé from our younger block of Cabernet Franc. We released the first vintage in June of the following year, and continue to have a June release for that particular wine. It is VERY fun that it's so seasonal, and if we estimate the quantity closely enough, it is gone before the next vintage begins! From a winery cash-flow perspective, it is a beautiful wine.

Every winery/winemaker is going to develop a style for her/his rosé wine. One can utilize almost any variety of red grape and some are even blended with white grapes. Color and astringency can vary widely. This is actually a wine which is even more technical to make than white wines - so there is a bit of variation in quality and definitely in price. Earlier I referenced the technique called "saignee" or literally "to bleed." That is one way to make a rosé, though it's kind of like leftovers - sometimes great, sometimes just a byproduct. We like to make our rose specifically from selected vineyard sources and maturities. Any wine which is thought out in advance and planned is more likely to turn out as intended.

My suggestion for finding really good rosé wines which will fit your budget or taste: go to your trusted wine merchant and get a recommendation. Go back and tell them what you thought and buy more rosé!

Favorite food matches with rosé wines include salty snacks (Cynthia Nims wrote a cookbook with that title, which includes a snack designed for our rosé). With Cynthia's permission, here's the link:

Another really good match with the rosé was some Washington grown Mangalitsa ham, made by a meat shop in Leavenworth affiliated with Visconti's restaurant - the shop is called 'Cure' and the ham is an amazing pairing with dry rosé. Salty nuts or tamari almonds are some simple and tasty accompaniments. Summer salads such as Niçoise are nice on a hot day.

When the warm weather arrives, go enjoy rosé! And, if there are a few bottles still in your cupboard at Thanksgiving time, put them on the communal table and drink them with your brined, smoked turkey off the grill. Mmmmm!

Kay Simon is partner and winemaker of Chinook Wines in Prosser, Washington. She worked at numerous wineries before she and her husband started Chinook, releasing their first wine in 1984.

May 2014

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