Wine center under way in Washington

Wine tourism marches on. As western New York sees construction proceeding at a rapid clip on a center for wine and food near Canandaigua Lake that it hopes will draw tourists, ground has been broken in Washington state for the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center (seen here in architect's drawing).

It's a $9.2 million center, located in Prosser in the Yakima Valley wine region, that its backers foresee as both a destination for tourists and a place for winemakers to gather.

The facility, expected to open in May of next year, will have a 17,500 square-foot building, vineyards, organic gardens and a public park. The main building will have a restaurant, exhibition galleries, a theater, a demonstration kitchen, wine bar and a retail shop.

The center's namesake is the late Walter Clore, regarded as the father of Washington wine. The state is the No. 2 producer of premium wine in the United States, trailing only California.


Whiskey Trail views on display

WASHINGTON, D.C. – “Views from the American Whiskey Trail,” a collection of paintings by Scottish artist Ian Gray showcasing the culture and heritage of America’s distilled spirits, opened today at the National Press Club.

Gray’s collection of paintings captures scenes from America’s most celebrated and significant whiskey distilleries, many of which are National Historic Landmarks. The images focus on the distilling process and unique character of each distillery including Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey and Jack Daniel’s.

“While touring the distilleries of Kentucky and Tennessee, I was captivated by the beauty and the legacy of the distilled spirits culture and heritage in America,” said Gray, whose paintings will be on display through Friday, April 7.

Views from the American Whiskey Trail will mark Gray’s first exhibit in the U.S. His work has been featured in galleries in London, Germany, Canada and Scotland. His unique style of art has been recognized worldwide for his mix media technique of photography of paints. Gray’s clients include German Parliament, the Singapore Government, Citibank, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, and Glenmorangie among others.

Take an online tour of Gray’s views from the American Whiskey Trail.

Rare treat at NYC's Tartan Week

A bottle of what is believed to be the oldest unopened bottle of Scotch whisky in the world could be yours. If, that is, you can outbid all others on April 4 when the Glenfiddich Rare Collection 1937 goes up for auction in New York's Grand Central Terminal as part of Tartan Week celebrations.

The annual week-long festivities celebrate Scottish culture and heritage. Glenfiddich is partnering with City Harvest, a New York-based charity, to auction one of the four remaining bottles of this exceptionally rare spirit.

Rare Collection 1937 comes from one cask at the Glenfiddich Distillery in Dufftown, Scotland, that yielded 61 bottles. Company officials explain that import laws required a special 750ml bottle to be made, so the item being auctioned is, therefore, the only 750ml bottle of this particular whisky ever produced. The spirit was cask aged for 64 years and bottled in 2001.

If you're interested in reserving a seat at the auction, call (212) 982.8300 ext. 111. Really.


Amsterdam museum reopening delayed

If a visit to Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum was on your list of spots to visit, move it down a few notches.

The reopening of the Netherlands' most famous museum has been postponed by a year for revisions to its renovation plans. For example, Dutch Culture Minister Reny van der Laan told parliament, security measures were being reviewed because of recent art thefts at several other European museums.

The museum was closed indefinitely in 2003 after an asbestos scare. Renovations estimated at $190 million are to begin early next year and include a cycling route under the building. The museum's collection has been on limited display since 2003 in the building's Philips Wing. Van der Laan said the main museum is tenatively to re-open by the end of 2009.

A collection of more than 400 works from the 17th century will continue to be on view under the title "The Masterpieces." The famous collection of dolls' houses, Delftware, as well as paintings by such masters as Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Vermeer and Rembrandt have been moved for the first time since being acquired by the Rijksmuseum. Rembrandt's "Night Watch," for example, has rarely left the main building designed by Pierre Cuypers since it opened in 1885.

The museum is taking the opportunity to show another side, literally, of the art world to visitors with its "Really Rembrandt?" program. As explained by the governors, "For the first time, the Rijksmuseum will be presenting paintings that were originally attributed to Rembrandt and were bought as such by the Rijksmuseum, but about which doubts have arisen over the years. In the Philips Wing of the Rijksmuseum.

"During the presentation, visitors will be shown what elements of a painting lead us to believe that it is, or is not a Rembrandt, using methods such as infrared- and X-ray images. The presentation will offer a behind-the-scenes look at the Rijksmuseum Rembrandt study, whereby new insights will also be revealed. In all, 13 works will be displayed at the presentation. "Really Rembrandt?" will give visitors the opportunity to learn about of the opinions of various experts, but most of all to have a look for themselves and to form their own opinions."


Amsterdam Museums & Galleries
Lonely Planet Guide to the Netherlands
Europe for Visitors: Netherlands
Netherlands Board of Tourism


Scotland wine and food center is open

DUNDEE, Scotland -- Tourist alert! Scotland's first food and wine center is now open.

The Tasting Rooms, as the center is called, was created by Scott's Wine World, a Dundee wine importer.

The center is international in scope, offering virtual wine tours, a deli, café, wine trading floor, corporate conference facilities and an art gallery. Director Graeme Scott said inspiration for the project came from visits to the wine warehouses of Australia and Hong Kong.

"There's a lot of investment here at the moment and the timing is just right," Scott said, explaining why Dundee (seen above) was selected as the initial Scottish site.

Events planned for The Tasting Rooms include specialized dinners pitched at the corporate market and featuring wine producers and celebrity chefs.

The complex blends the historical and traditional jute building with a rustic wine warehouse where people can wander, buy, relax, eat and learn.

“There’s nothing like this in the UK and there’s definitely nothing like it in Scotland,” Scott said. “We want to take the snobbery out of wine and make it more accessible. I experienced this when I was living abroad where it was all about tasting wine in a relaxed environment and in a more tactile way, and I wanted to bring that to the UK.”

Visitors to the Tasting Rooms can access virtual tours of vineyards around the world as well as tastings of the produce of some of those wineries from Italy, Spain, France, South America, Australia and New Zealand. Food is provided mostly by Scottish suppliers for the on-site deli counter and mezzanine café that overlooks the wine trading floor.

Scott, born and raised in Dundee, says of the city, “There’s a lot of investment here at the moment and the timing is just right. Currently our main focus is Dundee, but if it’s successful we have not ruled out similar concepts in other cities.”

BBC Scotland Travel Guide
Bus & Coach Travel
Scotland's Golf Courses
Scottish Tourist Board
The Clans of Scotland
Scottish History & Culture
Distillery tours, tastings, information

Only the best in the world

As Bogie might have put it, out of all the whisky joints in all the towns in the world, what makes The Pot Still the best?

Whisky Magazine has named the Glasgow, Scotland, establishment the best whisk(e)y bar in the world, a title announced at the prestigious magazine's Icons of Whisky awards in London.

The Pot Still, with a history that dates to the 1870s, features walls of just about every whisky imaginable, such as the one seen here, with 483 bottles and adding. Whisky lovers from around the world have traveled to The Pot Still, some for the pub fare and ales on tap as well. So, if you're planning to visit teh ancient Scottish city, it seems only logical to include a stop at The Pot Still.

Of course, calling something the best in the world isn't something Whisky Magazine shys away from. For some examples, click here.


Whisky Distilleries of Scotland
Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre
Map to Scotch Distilleries
Whisky Tours of Scotland

New Texas wine region declared

Texas has added a viticultural area to its arsenal: the Texoma American.

It's an area along the Texas-Oklahoma border where horticulturist Thomas Volney Munson began cultivating grapes more than a century ago in what he referred to as a "grape paradise."

The federal government has designated a 3,650-square-mile area of sandy hills sloping to the Red River and Lake Texoma as the viticultural area.

"I don't know if it's 10 years or 20 years or 100 years, but the (region) will fill in and we'll have several thousands of acres of grapes around here," said Gabe Parker, owner of the Homestead Winery in Ivanhoe. "The land is appropriate for it."

The number of wineries in the Texoma area has grown from two to six in the past three years, and there now are 225 acres dedicated to vineyards in the fledgling area.

Texas has 109 wineries statewide, up from just 40 in 2000 to 109 this year, according to the Texas Wine Marketing Research Institute at Texas Tech University. The wineries' output makes Texas the nation's fifth-largest wine producing state.


Lake Texoma
Visiting Texas' Wine Trails
Texas Panhandle
Texas Travel

Yakima Valley: New wine destination

The Rattlesnake Hills, southeast of Yakima in central Washington, has become the state's ninth federally recognized wine grape-growing region.

The U.S. Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved the Rattlesnake Hills for appellation status, effective March 20. The federal bureau awards appellation status to regions, also known as American Viticultural Areas, to recognize their distinct climate and soil features.

The 68,500-acre region lies within the Yakima Valley appellation, stretching from Union Gap, just south of Yakima, to north of Sunnyside about 45 miles to the east. Its loam soils hold moisture better than some other Washington areas and it historically is slightly warmer than the rest of the Yakima Valley appellation.

Gail Puryear, owner and winemaker at Bonair Winery in Zillah, and his wife, Shirley, were among proponents of the new appelation.

"We can ripen the warmest varieties, the sun-loving varieties like syrah and nebbiolo, but we have micro-climates because of the varying topography," he told the Associated Press. "Riesling does well in the cool micro-climates. We grow everything in between."

Dick Boushey, a Grandview grower who opposed the appellation request, told the AP the issue had become divisive in some corners. Half the 26 parties submitting comments to the government were opposed to the division of the current appellation.

"It just shows I don't really understand what it takes to be an AVA, and I guess I have a little bit less regard for what an AVA is," he said. "Whatever happens, we all need to work together. There probably will be more AVAs in the future, and I think we all want the same thing: to promote the area in any way we can."

If the application met all the criteria to be named an appellation, it just gives the Washington wine industry one more opportunity to market itself, said Robin Pollard, executive director of the Washington Wine Commission, a promotion agency funded by member fees on growers and wineries.

The Chelan area in north-central Washington and the Ancient Lake region near Moses Lake in central Washington have proposals for appellation status pending.

Washington is the No. 2 producer nationally of wine, after California. More than 350 wineries, 350 wine-grape growers and 30,000 vineyard acres support the more than $2.5 billion annual industry.

Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau
Virtual Yakima
Yakima Valley SunDome


Gorilla In the Mist

COLLINGWOOD, Ontario -- The 800-pound gorilla swirled the amber concoction around, sniffed it, tasted it, then delivered the verdict. "Well, Terry, this is ...uh ... crap," he said.

If that's the way he felt about my crestfallen colleague's efforts, there was no way I was going to let this guy sample any of the whisky blend I'd just created.

He was, after all, the master distiller and master blender for Canadian Mist, the second largest maker of Canadian whisky in the universe. I didn't need that kind of pressure.

But, let's back up a couple of days.

I was interested in more fully understanding the intricacies of the process that creates Canadian whisky (like Scotch, spelled without the "e" used in the U.S. and Ireland). Brown-Forman, the multinational alcoholic beverage behemoth, was just beginning a new campaign to push its Canadian Mist brand, so our mutual desires resulted in an invitation to visit the distillery here with several other adult beverage writers to learn about blending under the tutelage of Harold Ferguson, distiller and blender par excellence.

After a pleasant night in Toronto, and a feast at Canoe on the 54th floor ot the Dominion Bank Tower on Wellington Street West, it was off to this industrial city of 22,000 souls located about 90 miles northwest of the metro area.

Collingwood seems the right place for such an adventure. Its legacy ranges from the sublime (named for Lord Nelson's second in command at the Battle of Trafalgar) to the ridiculous (an annual Elvis impersonator festival).

Along the way, it became obvious not many local business owners were interested in such frills as names, witness The Beer Store, Joe's Store, Steakhouse Tavern, Real Estate Office, Pine and Oak Furniture, and The Law Store.

The sprawling Canadian Mist distillery complex sits a mere hundred yards or so from the beach on Nottawasaga Bay, the southern scoop of the huge Georgian Bay that itself is nearly as large as Lake Ontario.

As we pulled onto the distillery grounds, I noticed an adjacent factory owned by Nacan, the starch manufacturer. "If these two companies worked together they could give you a good stiff drink," I mused aloud. To stony silence from my obviously humor-impaired companions, I must point out.

Then we were at the main door, being greeted by Harold Ferguson (above), the aforementioned 800-pound gorilla who joined Canadian Mist fresh out of college in 1969. The professorial-looking guru, with thinning sandy hair and eyeglasses perched low on his nose, is one of the best-known figures in his country's whisky business -- master distiller, master blender, vice president and general manager of the half-million square foot facility, board member of the Association of Canadian Distillers, and so on.

A tour of the distillery floor, the computerized quality control room, the barrel storage sheds and other nooks and crannies later, we assembled in an impromptu lab environment to try putting into practice some of the blending tips Ferguson had explained as we walked about.

An array of bottles containing Canadian base whisky -- essentially, a refined moonshine with a pleasant vanilla nose, Canadian rye whisky and wheat whisky, domestic sherry and port blending wines, imported rye whisky and brandy stood before us. Flanking them were beakers and Ehrlenmeyer flasks, things I hadn't dealt with since college chemistry that seemed so long ago I'd swear the Periodic Table had only about a dozen elements then.

Since Canadian Mist manufactures only one thing, Canadian whisky made of rye, corn and malt, it is tempting to think Ferguson's responsibility isn't difficult. But, as he is quick to point out, "think how difficult it is to produce the same thing every day exactly the same without any deviation." Plus, Canadian Food and Drug Regulations for what can be labeled Canadian whisky are stringent. We had to work within those regulations to come up with our particular blends.

I'd had plenty of experience infusing vodkas and gins with herbs, fruits and vegetables, but that's a comparative snap to blending whisky and all these rules don't make it any easier.

Obviously, we weren't going to click on all tries and produce great whisky. We were working with completed products that gave us a headstart, but Canadian has to be aged in "small wood" -- as opposed to large tanks -- for at least three years; contain no less than 40% alcohol (80 proof); may be flavored but no more than 9.09%, and then only by using certain substances such as those Ferguson supplied to us, and even most of them are subject to their own aging requirements.

We were instructed to mix 40-milliliter concoctions of our own tastes. I whipped up five, noting the heat of the liquids we were trying at cask strength -- undiluted by the sparkling water from the Collingwood municipal supply taken from Georgian Bay. That would be up to Ferguson to add when he passed judgment.

I began with a cautious mix of Canadian base, imported rye and port. Too hot. Then a mix of base, brandy and wheat whisky. Too little heat.

It would have been nice in a Goldilocks sort of way to report that third blend was just right. It wasn't. And, neither was No. 4.

Last chance. Twenty milliliters of base, 10 of water and 5 each of brandy and wheat whisky. Shake, sample, pray.

Which brings us back to the unfortunate Terry experience. Would my creation suffer the same fate?

Ferguson squirted some Georgian Bay water in the flask, swirled it around to incoporate my offering, held it up to the light, then sipped.

"This isn't bad," he said quietly. Another sip. "You know, this is really rather good. Nice job."

Anything after this would have been anticlimactic. A 20% success rate in my first attempt at blending. And a pat on the shoulder from the 800-pound gorilla of the Mist.

It was worth the trip. But, truth be told, I'm now retired from the whisky blending game and back to sticking herbs in my vodka. Much less pressure.

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