I just want to add my two cents to W. Blake Gray’s article on The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater. This is a new AVA, awarded in 2015. It’s located in Northern Oregon just across the Washington border and is a subregion of the Walla Walla AVA. The Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman called The Rocks “the most distinctive AVA in the U.S.” I visited The Rocks last fall and for once I think reality lives up to the hype.
They grow Rhone varietals, mostly Syrah, and it’s extraordinary. Every Syrah I tasted from several different wineries had a distinctive gamy, leathery, mineral funk that leaps from the glass—I’ve never tasted anything quite like it. I suppose it’s the softball-sized lava rocks that populate the vineyards that account for the distinctive flavors. But oenologist Timothy Donahue argues its the high sulfur content, high potassium, low PH and the use of high levels of copper sulphate as a fining agent that gives the wine its flavor profile.
Whatever the explanation these wines are worth seeking out. Cayuse is the best known winery operating in The Rocks but their wines are allocated and hard to get. Last weekend for my tasting group I poured Saviah “The Stones Speak” Syrah in a line up with high scoring wines from Napa, Mendoza, Brunello di Montalcino, and Barolo and it was consistently mentioned as the favorite.
Unfortunately, if you look for “The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater” on the label you will seldom find it. As Blake Gray explains in his article, for a wine to use an AVA on the label it has to be made in the same state as the AVA. Most of the wineries who use The Rocks grapes are located in Washington and have to label their wines from Walla Walla. Some wineries, such as Force Majeure, are building a facility in Milton-Freewater but the town is small, relatively poor, and off the tourist track so it may be a while before the name appears on many labels. But the AVA has a helpful website that lists all the wineries who use grapes from The Rocks.
My crystal ball is as cloudy as anyones but it’s a safe bet this will soon be one of best known AVA’s in the country in the near future. And maybe it will put Syrah back on the list of most sought-after varietals.