Coast Chronicles: Central Washington bubbly

Juergen Grieb, winemaker and owner, with wife Julie, of Treveri Cellars in Yakima, shows the large corks that are pressed into their bottles of sparkling wine.

Talk about bubbling! The demand for democracy in Egypt finally built up enough pressure to pop Hosni Mubarak out of office. It’s really a matter of the force of information. As a global population we are informed minute-by-minute — if we want to be — about what is going on around the world. It’s a fabulously exciting time to be alive.

I think of it this way. Bacteria have been around perfecting their “communications systems” for 3.5 billion years. Basically, they bump into each other and they learn things, pass on information and can adapt very quickly to a new environment (which is why we need new vaccines and medicines and less anti-bacterial soap — because the strongest survive and tell everyone else the code).

After the second plane hit the World Trade Towers, humans proved that we too have adapted an information sharing system that is efficient and robust. Cell phones were used to communicate the situation as it unfolded, and these conversations served to inform courageous passengers on Flight 93 that they could not sit by passively. 

We showed a bacteria-like adaptability, even though that place crashed into the Stonycreek Township in Pennsylvania — it was worth a shot.

Network Learning

Tunisia opened the door for protests in the Middle East, and Facebook provided the means to organize the protests in Egypt. But even though only 20 percent of the Egyptian population have access to the Internet, other television broadcasts spread the images of throngs in the streets and added big fuel to the flames.

The corrupt Egyptian government tried to block the Internet and independent media but as Lawrence Pintak, former Middle East correspondent and dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University, said, “You can’t plug all those information portals now. And while social media, television are just tools, the bottom line is that … it was the catalyst of seeing Tunisia on television that brought [the Egyptian] people out on the streets.”

And in the U.S., we watched the drama unfold in our living rooms. We are bumping into each other all the time now and gathering information, from all over the world.

Pass Report to Somewhere

In the winter, traveling home means checking the pass report — on the Internet, of course, in real-time with the Washington Department of Transportation webcams. What did we do before Doppler maps, live-cams and Twitter reports?

Anyway — White Pass was bare and wet. So after five hours punctuated with various favorite coffee stops, I pulled into the Yakima Valley marveling at the beauty of the desert, something I never appreciated when I was growing up there.

There is something else magical about the desert of Central Washington, something less visible — the incredible soil, the climate, the sun, or as the French would simply say, the terroir. 

Though some American vintners now argue that terroir does not exist because wine makers can blend and shape a wine to their purposes; others hold fast to the existence of terroir — this “sense of place,” or as Robert Hass in “Terroir, Then and Now” says, “the ‘somewhereness’ in the taste of a wine.”

The soil of a region is an entire study onto itself. (For a quick primer on the world’s top soil types for wine production see: www.winegeeks.com/articles/139) Yakima Valley soil is mostly silt loams, including a landscape complex of “the Harwood-Burke-Wiehl series and Warden series soils occurring on terraces underlain by glacial fluvial sediments, highly prized for wine grape production because of good airflow air and water drainage.”

OK, too much information. Let’s just say Central Washington — on the same latitude as the famous vineyards of France and with 300 days of sun — produces great fruit for wine. 

Treveri Cellars

That was exactly the conclusion of Juergen Grieb, who with his wife Julie, started a sparkling wine production facility in Yakima called Treveri Cellars. Treveri opened its doors just last November, but Juergen has been making wine for decades.

He was born in Trier, a part of Germany which was the home for the Roman Emperor Constantine for a short time in the 300s. Juergen earned two degrees in enology — one in standard and one in sparkling wine making. Then he learned his craft at the Kartheuserhof Winery in the Ruwer Valley near the Mosel River, famous for its fickle and slow-ripening Rieslings. He worked under the guidance first of Herr Ludwig Breiling, then winery owner Christopher Tyrell. 

In 1987, after his mandatory service in the Air Force (in Germany all men must serve), Kartheuserhof Winery sent Juergen to a facility in Mattawa, just east of Yakima. This little incorporated town of not quite 3,000 people sports nearly 10 wineries. 

Why? — terroir!

After working at the Mattawa winery for several years, Juergen realized that he did not want to go back to Germany. Julie put it this way, “Juergen was excited about the fruit in Central Washington — he had always said this was the best and highest quality fruit he had ever seen.”

“He was always whining about wanting to make his own wine, especially sparkling wine — which nobody was making — and finally we said, well, would you just please do it!” 

“So he decided a year ago to start. He had a custom job to do for a man in Seattle — 1,000 cases — so he used that as his starting point.”

 

Methode Champenois

Juergen, a tall man of substantial stature, has a ready smile and an easygoing manner that draws you in. 

“Our style of sparkling wine is a little more German, not like the California sparkling wines — ours are softer,” he said, opening a door at their Sparkle Tasting Room to reveal the backstage operations.

California sparklings utilize a charmat carbon dioxide process that puts big bubbles in the beverages. As Julie said, “They kind of strip your palate.”

“We put the dosage of yeast in every bottle so the fermentation takes place there. After the bottles rest, we turn them upside down and chill the neck to take out any sediments. Then the cork is placed,” said Juergen, pointing to various pieces of equipment as he walked us around the warehouse, “covered with foil and wired.”

The methode champenois is a more traditional (and expensive) way to make sparkling wine; it is the French method used for creating champagne. Treveri is producing four sparkling wines with four different grapes: a Brut Chardonnay, Pinot Gris Extra Sec (very dry), Riesling Demi-Sec and a Gerwurtztraminer Demi-Sec. Prices range from $13.99 to $16.99.

Both the Brut and the Pinot have won silver awards in international tasting contests.

The Yakima Valley has become known for producing award-winning whites, and I’m more a red wine enthusiast. Plus I have never been a fan of highly carbonated beverages. But at the Yakima Enological Society wine tasting, arranged by board member Richard Hamlin in the Fireplace Room at the “Le Chateau” (the old YMCA when I was a kid), I found myself gravitating to the Pinot. It had an almost smoky flavor, a big nose but not too flowery, and, yes, soft smaller bubbles that allowed the character of the fruit to shine through with just a little tickle on the tongue. (At $14.99, it is truly a bargain.)

Sense of Place

So my mother Virginia, who has been the treasurer for the Yakima Enological Society for over 15 years, and I returned to the Treveri Sparkling Room for another go at the wines and a chance to listen to the story of this charming, congenial couple.

What stuck with me is that Juergen recognized the beauty of the Yakima Valley, my childhood home. He recognized the quality of the “terroir” and has committed himself to making this place into something you can taste, smell, feel on your tongue. 

The French feel so strongly about this concept that they created an Appellation d’origine contrôlée system that has been the model for appellation laws across the world. It means “we know what’s special about this place and only people who live here can bottle it.” 

There is no comparable word for terroir in English — perhaps because we take our big Brut land for granted.

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