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Name recognition: Some wines have it, some don't

By By Stan Torgeson / wine columnist
Aug. 21, 2002
In the world of wine, name recognition is money in the bank.
Hundreds of new wineries have sprung up during the past 10 years, all of them struggling to become known, all of them competing for sales.
Those that have it flaunt it Robert Mondavi, for example.
Mondavi is certainly among the 10 best known winemakers in this country and many people buy his product based on his name alone. Mondavi makes some great expensive wines, and some bad inexpensive ones, but he puts his name on both.
Mondavi's "Coastal" wines are just average at best but they sell because the public has been led to believe that "Mondavi" and "quality" are synonymous. They're not. You have to move up to his "Napa" wines before you can even to begin to judge his true talent.
Guenoc follows the Sears philosophy of good, better, best. Their cabernets range from the "North Coast" bottling at about $16, to Tephra Ridge in the $30 range, to the Beckstoffer bottling which is rated a 90 by the Wine Spectator magazine but which carries a $45 per bottle price tag.
If you think the Guenoc name means consistent elegance, buy a bottle of each and compare.
Have you ever heard of these?
Lack of name recognition is a problem with the wines of the Pacific Northwest. There is some truly fine wine being made in that area, much of it by wine makers of whom you've never heard. Granted, Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest are well-known but where do you go from there?
One of my favorite wineries is Elk Cove Vineyards in Oregon's Williamette Valley. They make an ice wine from end-of-the-season frozen grapes that is to die for.
One reference describes Elk Cove wines like this: "Situated in the foothills of Oregon's Coast Range, Elk Cove provides visitors with a spectacular view of mountains, valleys and their own estate vineyards from their window enclosed tasting room, patio and wooden deck. Some of Oregon's finest wines."
There isn't one wine lover out of a thousand in our area who is familiar with Chehalem Winery in Newberg, Ore. Their wines are described by one writer as "forward and sometimes shocking in ripeness, fruit and spice with a complexity that is bright and brazen."
In Washington's Yakima Valley is a small, 75-acre, family-owned and operated winery named Kiona Vineyards. They have only three employees. But if the quality of a winery's product is determined by the climate and the soil, the Kiona Vineyards are pure quality.
This little producer's vineyards are described in this manner: "Combined with ideal climactic conditions is a deep, well-drained, chalk-like soil structure which is, in some ways, similar to those of the finest vineyards in Europe."
King Estate is making progress in name recognition based on the quality of its wines. It is 22 miles southwest of Eugene, Ore. and has been producing wine since 1992. But they've done it right and are earning ever-increasing recognition of what one critic called "exceptional quality pinot noir, pinot gris and chardonnay" produced in a state-of-the-art winemaking facility crafted in the traditional style of a French Chateau.
Chateau Ste. Michelle is the exception to all the rules in that area. It is a 3,400-acre giant that has been in business since 1967 producing classic European varietal wines. Like Mondavi, they also offer low-end inexpensive products but their better wines such as the Ste. Michelle Cold Creek cabernet sauvignon are outstanding.
Next tasting
When we began thinking about next week's tasting, the Wines of the Pacific Northwest, we decided to concentrate on presenting a wide variety of the wineries and their specialties rather than just the wines alone.
We have selected bottlings from Chehalem, King Estate, Elk Cove, Ste. Michelle, Kiona and Snoqualmie. The wines themselves include a chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot gris, riesling, the Elk Cove ice wine, a cabernet, a merlot and a chenin blanc.
The tasting is Aug. 29 at Northwood Country Club and we emphasize again you do not have to be a member of the club to attend. Admission is $25 and reservations are requested. Send your check to Wines Unlimited, P.O. Box 5223, Meridian, MS 39302. To make a reservation, call 482-0930.
Granted you'll be tasting wines from many producers of whom you have probably never heard, but many of these wines are likely to become among your favorites. When you taste them, you will gain new respect for the wines from the Pacific Northwest.

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