Cliff Notes from Wine Country: Our Blog

May your glass never be empty...

Welcome to the Cascade Cliffs blog- a place to keep track of what's going on at the winery and tasting rooms, and a way to visit us when you can't. You can watch videos, hear music, look at photos, and most importantly, interact with us through this blog. We'd love to hear from you, so don't hesitate to leave a comment. If you're familiar with us, you already know that we're not your typical winery. And if you're a newcomer... get ready for one hell of a ride!


Introducing The Bordeaux Club!

This way to Bordeaux?

Greetings and good summer cheer to you all… It’s been a while since our last blog post, and I blame Edwardo for this. Okay, it’s my fault, but something’s gotta be his fault from time to time.

The last post for the blog was an announcement and celebration of our success at the 2011 NW Wine Summit- more heavy medal for our estate barbera, nebbiolo, and symphony. These varietals get most of the attention from our customers, and we’re just fine with that- they are, after all, incredibly unique varietals in the NW and receive a good part of our focus here at the winery.

But let’s not forget about the other guys: zinfandel, dolcetto, syrah, cabernet sauvignon and merlot are also varietals we grow and make wines from. And the last two mentioned (cab and merlot) now have their own club- The Bordeaux Club.

We call it the “Bordeaux Club” because this is where the world’s greatest examples of cabernet sauvignon and merlot hails from. That is, a small area in southwestern France, where you too can pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars for a single bottle of wine! Truth be told, there are great examples of these varietals all throughout the world, but Bordeaux remains the gold standard.

Cabernet sauvignon is widely regarded as the heavyweight champion of red varietals and red wines. Sturdy, complex, and built for aging, this is a serious wine that appeals to both novice and aficionado. Merlot, on the other hand, has taken a bit of a beating by the wine geeks of the world lately. Although still embraced by most casual wine drinkers, the so-called experts have turned their noses up to this grape, citing weak acidity, poor tannic structure, and an overall lack of depth. But this really isn’t the grape’s fault…  Remember the movie Sideways? The main character, Miles (played by Paul Giamatti), had some not so nice things to say about merlot. And ironically, his “holy grail wine” was a 1961 Cheval Blanc- a blend of cabernet franc and, you guessed it, merlot. Miles’ gripe was really about over-cropped, mass-produced California (there, I said it) merlot of the 80’s and 90’s.

A varietals balance of sugar, acid, and tannin can be optimized by both natural and human factors; the terroir of Bordeaux’s Pomerol region, for example, allows for higher acid – and overall complexity – than some of the other wine regions where merlot is grown. A vineyard manager can affect this balance by reducing yield, picking sooner than later, and so on. So let’s all give merlot a break.

Back to the club… Here are the details:

  • Once a year – December 1 – you get a mixed case of our estate cabernet sauvignon and merlot (6 and 6). Join before Oct. 1, and you get the 2007 vintage first, and then the 2008 vintage in December.
  • Cost of this case is less than many single bottles of Bordeaux wine- $200. That’s $16 and change a bottle, nearly half off full retail, and an insane deal for estate wine.
  • The first 30 people who join this club (there are now 15), receive a complimentary bottle of our library wine- 2004 Estate Cab anyone?

A big, big thank you to those who made the theme tasting last month at the winery, where we tasted through several vintages of cab sauv and merlot. And congratulations to those who joined this new club! An even bigger congratulations to Mary, Vern, Margaret, and Bob- you guys are the very first “trifecta” members, being members now of all three clubs. We will have to dedicate a brick/stone/vineyard post in your names. Vern, you get a bung!

If you haven’t had our estate cab and merlot, you’re missing out. The merlot vines were the very first planted in the vineyard back in 1986, and anything but a “flabby” wine. The cabernet is a classic example of Washington state cab sauv- robust, complex, and packed with dark, delicious fruit. The 2008 vintages of these wines are both being poured at our tasting rooms right now, so please come by and taste them for yourselves. If you’s like to join this club, or have any questions, please contact us so we can get you started.

With good, dark, rich cheer,



And the award goes to…

Greetings! My apologies for the loooong break between blog posts here- we’ve been extremely busy these past couple months with opening our new tasting room location in Hood River (more on that later). And so, you’ve all been spared my vino-ramblings for a while. Until now…

The results from the 2011 NW Wine Summit, the Northwest’s largest wine judging, are in. And the results are, once again, very good indeed. We’ve been submitting our “big three” for the past six years, with good to outstanding results every year. The big three refers to our Estate Barbera, Nebbiolo, and Symphony, with the Barbera receiving Gold every year we’ve submitted it. At the risk of sounding smug, we’ve come to expect this, as we believe our barbera is the pinnacle example of this varietal- anywhere.

Without further ado, the results are:

  • 2009 Estate Barbera: GOLD MEDAL. A richer, more concentrated vintage than 2008, this year’s barbera is a powerhouse of ripe, warm fruit with a vibrant, long finish. Like I said, no surprise here.
  • 2009 Estate Nebbiolo: GOLD MEDAL. Yeeeeeee-HAW!! This recognition is especially sweet for myself, as I believe this grape is responsible for the world’s most elegant and complex red wines. If you haven’t tried this years nebbiolo yet, you need to.
  • 2009 Estate Symphony: BRONZE MEDAL. Hey, it’s not a gold, but we’re so proud of this wine; nobody else that we’re aware of in the entire NW grows this unique varietal, and every year it gets a medal. This year’s symphony is drier and grassier than previous vintages, making it an awesome food-pairing wine and not just a great “deck wine”.

So thank you Bob for doing what you do so well, and thank you to the Wine Summit for acknowledging this with your oh-so-shiny medals.

Back to The Hood…  We just had our Grand Opening on Friday, June 3, and what a grand opening it was. The weather was perfect, the crowds were lively, and the wine flowed like water.

A HUGE thank you to the Hood River Chamber of Commerce for their great support and providing those super-cool, ginormous scissors. It’s such a treat to be a part of this town- one of the coolest in the NW, and where I call home.

If you haven’t yet been to the tasting room, come on down! We’ve got multiple tasting bars, and a small production area where bottling is done from time to time. On First Friday, we began bottling our new 2009 RSV Cabernet Sauvignon. A few bottles didn’t make it (CRASH!), but all in all, a succesful first time bottling there.

Here are some pictures to give you an idea of what we look like so far:

We hope to see you all either in Wishram or Hood River this weekend for Father’s Day weekend. Live music with the Dufur Boys on Saturday, 6/18 in Wishram! Dad’s taste free all weekend at both locations!

With good cheer,








Beware “The Butcher”

If you’re like me (and I’m sorry if you are), you enjoy poking fun at all those wacky wine descriptions (hints of baked rhubarb pie cooling on a window sill, notes of wet sidewalk, etc.). And if you’re like me, you sometimes use those crazy descriptions to describe a wine. Granted, I do this with a smirk on my face. But I’m betting you’ve all smelt and tasted some unusual things in wine.

One of my favorite aroma descriptors (and one that’s not far-fetched, given the use of new, heavily toasted barrels) is “cigar box”. Which brings us to the point of this post… The Butcher!

Butch Metzger is a guy we met at the winery a couple of weeks ago. He was playing acoustic guitar with Rainier Billings- a super talented musician himself. At one point during one of their breaks, Rainier asked if Butch could bring in and play one of his “home-made” electric guitars. Little did I know that this was going to be a modified cigar box, complete with beer cap volume knobs and a marshmallow cream jar cap to hold some of the guts together.

After we all had a good laugh from this, he slid a wine bottle neck onto his pinky, and began to create amazingly rich and deep sounds from these creations- blowing everyone in the tasting room away. Then the old drill bit box guitar came out. Are you kidding me? I pulled out my phone, took pictures, videos (see below), and demanded he come back and do it again.

And he is. This Saturday, 4/2, Butch and Rainier will be in the winery playing original music on God knows what. Here are the websites for these guys- check it out:

You never know what you’ll find in the country… Who knew there was such talent in Goldendale?! These guys are something else, and Rainier is really doing some special things in the local arts community- a tall order anywhere you are, and especially in rural areas.

Here’s a couple little previews of what you can expect from The Butcher. Bon appetite!

The Mystery man…

Every company has their unsung hero. The person behind the scenes, the one who does the dirty work, who gets the stage ready for those of us in the spotlight. While they might not be readily visible to the general public, they are crucial to a company’s operating health.

For us, it’s a guy who drives at least five different cars, including an old Chevy Biscayne. It’s a guy who has a penchant for things that go BANG, and uses this passion to implement “pest control” in the vineyard. It’s a guy who knows how to (or has me fooled anyway) fix winery equipment, tractors, cars, and most other things that have moving gears.

His name? Edwardo Ornelas. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of him on a weekday zipping around the back of the winery, moving around barrels, cleaning tanks, hanging drywall, you name it. But I tell you people, he’s an elusive one…

More importantly, Edwardo is our vineyard manager. He oversees the pruning, training, and thinning of the vines throughout the year- a hugely important factor in determining the quality of fruit coming in at harvest. He oversees the picking crews at crush and keeps a close eye on the irrigation system throughout the vineyard. And he always remembers to NOT leave his empty beer bottles in the vineyard! (Had to do it…)

In fact, Edwardo pre-dates all of us at the winery, and helped plant the estate’s original vines back in the 80’s. My favorite story is how he used to set up speakers on the top of the pump house in the vineyard, blaring the main theme from The Godfather into the block of nebbiolo vines. Now, that’s love.

And then, there are the other uncanny things about him:

His weirdly uniform/perfect penmanship. Gross.
His slick ability to switch between speaking Spanish and English at the blink of an eye, sounding better than all of us combined. Blech.
And let’s not forget about the way the women always, always ask “who was that man we saw in the vineyard”? Barf!

But the best thing about him, really, is his fantastic sense of humor. Which is why I can give him so much crap here and not worry about him implementing pest control on me. Right, buddy?

So here’s to our hero, the guy behind the curtain who makes a lot of what we do possible. The next time you come by the winery, ask if you can actually meet the guy. Like I said, he’s an elusive one, but I’m learning how to track him better now- I just follow the bullet shells!!!



Library Cabernet Sauvignon tasting…


We’re known for our Italian varietals more than anything else- and rightly so; our focus is mostly on growing and producing world-class barbera and nebbiolo. But we’ve been growing other, more well-known varietals like cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah for many years now (merlot, in fact is the oldest vine in the vineyard, dating back to 1986). Many of you have had and enjoyed our estate wines made from these grapes, but many of you haven’t. Now’s your chance…

This coming Saturday, Feb 26th, we’ll be hosting a cabernet sauvignon theme tasting in the back of the winery featuring cabs from the 2001, 2002, 2004, 2007, and 2008 vintages. Bob has made fantastic cabs for years now, and it might be our most overlooked wine produced. We’ll be exploring the reasons why cabernet is so popular, and so prolific throughout the world.


More details:

  • Tasting will begin at 3 pm, and run for about three hours.
  • Light appetizers/finger-foods will be served.
  • Special event deals on the wines poured will be offered.
  • This event is complimentary to all wine club members. Non-members may bring a guest. $25/person after that for general public.
  • No need for a RSVP, but try not to be too late if you plan on attending, as it is easier and more fun to go through all the wines as a group.

Join us for a night of great wine and conversation!

With good cheer,




Although you could argue that any one serving any kind of alcohol is going to be pretty popular, it’s still fair to say you’re gonna make lots of friends working at a winery. The regular flow of visitors, return customers, vendors, and club members all contribute to a social platform that you can either embrace or not.

Selling wine in a high-paced retail environment for years in Portland taught me what a great thing this was. Building relationships with your clientel was not only good for business, it helped make your job more interesting and exciting. If you’re lucky, you get to meet and become friends with someone like the guy in the picture on my right (I’m the good-looking one on the left). To protect his identity, I’ll refer to him as Jeff Swafford, aka “Swaff Daddy”. In short, the guy’s a pisser. At wine dinners, we’d scheme and mess with wine suppliers, crack jokes that only knuckleheads like him and I would laugh at, and just generally have fun when he was around. Rumor has it he’s going into the wine distribution business- look out world, here comes the Joker!

Swaff’s also a very good reminder not to take this whole wine thing too seriously. I mean, if you can’t have fun with other wine lovers, then you’re in the wrong business.

Wine, more than any other beverage, is a social phenomena. I don’t care if you’re sipping a ’67 Chateau Lafite- if you’re drinking that wine alone, you’re probably gonna have a better time sharing a glass of Goat Head Red with a friend.

Sometimes my job becomes really demanding when large groups of women come into the winery to celebrate. It could be a 21st birthday (oh, darn), a bachelorette party (double darn), or just to get away from work and cut loose at a winery (man, my life sucks…).

Fortunately for these groups, I’ve got years of experience and can suck it up and focus on.. presenting our wine to these wild bunches when need be.

It’s my responsibility, after all, to ensure that our visitors are completely satisfied with their experience at the winery.

It’s a tough job, but some one’s gotta do it!

Having regular and fun interactions at the winery is great- and making new friends is truly a blessing. Here’s a little musical tribute to friendship, compliments of the best rock band of all time.

With friendly cheer,


Bloody good

All the soarings of my mind begin in my blood.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

No other color elicits such a strong emotional response as a deep, rich, blood red. Fear, anger, and of course excitement all come rushing into the forefront of our minds when we see this color. In the case of food and wine, our salivary glands are instantly triggered, a possible tribute to the evolution of how we once decided what was tasty- and maybe what was dangerous.

Our newest Barbera to the Cascade Cliffs family, “Blood Red” is both exciting and slightly scary. Exciting because this is one of the richest, most intense red wines we’ve ever produced. And slightly scary for the same reason. If you’re looking to spoil your palette, this is your wine.

A 2009 Estate grown wine, Blood Red is in one sense the result of Bob and Eduardo’s diligence in the vineyard; by consistently, even aggressively pruning and thinning the barbera vines, the resulting grapes are more intense in both color and flavor. The less fruit a vine needs to focus its energy on, the more packed with sugar and acid the remaining grapes will be. There are spots in the vineyard where you can find as little as one cluster of fruit per cane. Long gone vintners from the old country, taught to never waste anything in life – or in the vineyard – are rolling in their graves as I write this.

These powerhouse clusters are just the type of barbera grapes that went into Blood Red, loaded with ripe and vibrant sugars. The varietals naturally high acidity works together with these sugars to create an intense rush of flavors that, unlike many other “big reds”, actually linger and expand in your palate. This is also a wine that spent more time in new barrels than most of the other wines made this vintage, adding more texture and complexity to the fruit.

So what’s with the name? When the fruit was being crushed for this wine, Bob noticed how intense the color was and said it was… “blood red”. The name stuck. Chalk indicators on the barrels it was put into read “CC 2009, Blood Red Barb”. We tasted it periodically throughout the year and just couldn’t get over how rich and ripe this stuff was. As the wine reduced in the barrel, becoming even more rich in texture, it became very clear that we needed to actually have a new label called “Blood Red”.

The bad news: there’s not a ton of it to be had (less than 300 cases). The good news: Cliff Club members all received a bottle of this in their recent Feb. package. Even better, Piedmont Club members will get their lips wet with 4 bottles of the Blood Red, along with 4 bottles each of the new release ’09 Estate Barbera and ’09 Estate Nebbiolo.

I suppose it’s not the most romantic name for the upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday (unless you’re a vampire), but the color is right on! And Next Saturday, Feb. 12th, we’ll be unveiling our other 2009 Estate Barbera, along with its Piemontese brother, the 2009 Estate Nebbiolo. These are both beautiful wines in their own right, but that’s a story for another time…

With bloody good cheer,