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Ciao Mambo, “Eat Like You Mean It”, located in Missoula on The Hip Strip. Find them online at www.CiaoMambo.com
W.J. Deutsch & Sons since 1981 has been marketing quality wines produced by prestigious families from major wine regions of the world.
Georges Distributing in Helena, Montana
This week on the WineGuyMike™ Radio Show© I’m talking with Justin Vajgert who is National Brand Sales Manager for the Reininger and Helix wine labels. Today I’m going to share with you the land, the wine, and the man who makes these wines. First I want to give you a little background on my guest who joins me this week on WineGuyMike™ Radio Show©. Justin’s background is a similar journey of most guests I have the pleasure of talking with on the show. Justin grew up just outside of Chicago and relocated to the Walla Walla area in 2005 to attend the Institute for Viticulture and Enology. He worked harvest in 2005 for the Waterbrook Winery and then joined forces with the Reininger Winery in November of 2005. Justin worked at Reininger all through school doing everything from cellar work, to pouring wine in the tasting room, to painting bathrooms. During Justin’s tenure his roles have evolved and he moved into a sales role beginning with local sales and then after school moved into his current national sales position. He’s been doing that ever since. Distribution for Reininger/Helix has grown to 17 states. Justin eventually wants to make wine though, it’s his passion.
The backbone of the winery side of this business is not the glam we consumers experience when we do a road trip to visit the wine country. We walk into the beautiful tasting room and are greeted by nice smiling people eager to tell you about the wine that they are pouring today.
Our wonderful experience though is just a result of very hard and painstaking work, let’s not forget at the heart of growing grapes is the farming business. Our good fortune to enjoy great wine is quite literally the fruit of a team of hardworking people’s labor. Today I’m very pleased to be bringing you the story of the Reininger Winery in Walla Walla, Washington.
The Reininger Winery, located in the heart of the Walla Walla Valley, Chuck Reininger who is Head Winemaker, specializes in crafting elegant and finely structured red wines from hand-harvested, ultra premium grapes. Enough said I want to taste this wine right now. First let’s take a look at the Walla Walla A.V.A located in the Columbia Valley of Washington State. The Columbia Valley is just a short trip from Western Montana.
Glacial Lake Missoula was a prehistoric pro-glacial lake in western Montana that existed periodically at the end of the last ice age. When things warmed up a bit Lake Missoula flooded and took all of its wonderful alluvial soil matter with it to Washington, and in particular to the Walla Walla A.V.A. The Walla Walla area soils are composed of layers of soil blessed with the alluvial soil material and layers of volcanic ash, from eruptions throughout history, and rock that have created amazing soil to grow grapes in. The days are warm to hot and the night air is cool, perfect for growing world class grapes that make fabulous wines. This is what is known as terrior, terrior, terrior at its finest.
The Walla Walla A.V.A. was established in 1984 but a group on Italian immigrants began farming this land in the 1850’s. There are presently about 130-140 wineries in this valley, not all are open to the public. This area has become a hotbed of great wineries, which begets great restaurants, and now many very nice bed and breakfast accommodations. Wine does amazing things for great grape growing areas, this story reminds me of the movie “Field of Dreams”, “Build it and They Will Come”. Guess what the wineries have built and the wines lovers, they have come. If you haven’t tasted any wines from the Walla Walla area you must and you will quickly understand why this area is so special.
Prior to making high-quality wines in the Walla Walla Valley, Chuck Reininger could be found high atop mountains as a senior climbing guide for a Tacoma based company. Before moving to Walla Walla, Chuck helped long-time friends with crush at Waterbrook winery. He began experimenting with home winemaking in 1993 and officially caught the “wine bug.” His weekend hobby quickly turned into a dream to produce super-premium wines of his own: “I became obsessed with starting my own winery,” he admits. In 1997, Chuck and Tracy Reininger launched their dream – owning a premiere winery in the Walla Walla Valley.
From 1997 through 2004, Reininger Winery was located in a small but functional facility located at the historic Walla Walla Regional Airport. The “shack-teau,” as Chuck and his wife Tracy fondly nicknamed it, was originally designated as a WWII Army Air Corp runway “crash house” and “base theater” where old time crooners and classic films entertained troops.
In 2003, Reininger Winery purchased seven acres of land, located six miles west of Walla Walla, adjacent to Highway 12, and began renovating two pre-existing potato sheds into a remodeled 15,000 square foot winery, complete with production facility, administrative offices, and a spacious new tasting room. The result is a modern production facility incorporating rustic design elements that a special place to enjoy events and entertainment.
Chuck Reininger is not only a great winemaker and he is also a very smart business man. In December 2004, Reininger Winery announced the debut of a new label – “Helix.” Helix sources fruit from the larger Columbia Valley, allowing for increased production and expanded distribution, while Reininger wines maintain limited production, focusing on fruit from the Walla Walla Valley. Ultimately, the family believes that “Helix allows them to expand their reach to a new group of wine enthusiasts.”
The wines that I tasted virtually with Justin were the 2006 Reininger Merlot from the Walla Walla Valley, the Helix 2007 Pomotia, and the 2007 Helix Syrah. The Helix wines have a distinctive new label, featuring an image of a snail. Helix, the genus name for the Burgundian snail, is the creme de la creme of “escargot.”
All three of these wines have scored highly with top wine magazines and there team that review them. Here’s what’s important though these wines are extremely well made and are great to drink. The Helix wines are very approachable and affordable for every day and weekend wine gatherings for you and your friends. These wines are simple and wonderful, you don’t have to over think these wines you just drink them and thoroughly enjoy them as I have. Backyard barbeque with friends, that’s what I’m talking about. These wines are a beautiful expression of fruit from the Columbia Valley, Chuck has done an outstanding job with this label across the board or in the case the flight.
The Helix 2007 Pomotia is a blend of 38% Syrah, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, and 13% Cabernet Franc; Voluptuous dark ripe fruit of cherries and plums bathing in a tub of chocolate with French vanilla coffee beans and a eucalyptus leaf floating on top.
The 2007 Helix Syrah is 100% Syrah; this fresh, juicy red is a carnival for your senses with a veritable menagerie of delicious flavors! On the nose you will experience more berries than a midsummer farmers market, a hint of freshly spun cotton candy, orange peel and lavender. Enjoy perfectly ripe flavors of blackberry and white pepper accompanied by a thick round mouthfeel and a loooong dark chocolate finish.
Now let’s get serious with the 2006 Reininger Merlot from the Walla Walla Valley. I’m going to be a bit crass here for a moment because I cannot help myself, Chuck this is freaking great juice dude. Wow this wine is focused; dust, earth, smooth, fruit, smoke, spice, white pepper, structure, perfect balance, beautiful tannin, length, finish, and great acid that make me want to grill up a steak on the barbie right now to enjoy this wine masterpiece with. Chuck do you think I like the 2006 Reininger Merlot? When I emptied the bottle I picked it up when no one was looking and tried to get a few extra drops on to my lusting palate.
All kidding aside this is a wonderful winery with an incredible winemaker, and a great tasting room to visit. You don’t want to miss this winery and you certainly don’t want to miss out on anything Chuck Reininger puts into a bottle.
These wines in this flight receive The WineGuyMike™ Seal of Approval©