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Christopher Michael Red 2012
The wine business is a somewhat unlikely landing point for the Harms brothers, who were born and raised in the Midwest, where well drilling or dairy farming might have been more obvious family ventures. But, for reasons that can only be deemed fate, both brothers landed on the west coast in the wine business – Ryan in Oregon and Eric in California. After more long-distance phone brainstorming sessions than either can remember, small inklings for how they might one day work together gave way to one big idea for what is now an expression of their collective experiences in one label – Christopher Michael Wines.
Each contributing their own unique skill sets (Ryan is a winemaker by trade and Eric a financial analyst in the wine biz), they also bring equal parts passion and work-ethic and the kind of never-ending drive that only those with entrepreneur in their blood can claim. In business together since 2009, they are committed to making wines that are true to each varietal they work with. Not afraid of vineyards in the far reaches of any growing region, the Harms brothers are focusing their efforts on finding expressive fruit that produces vibrant and fresh wines. Without worrying about geographic boundaries, Ryan and Eric look to work with growers that farm sustainably and seek out the best expressions of their grapes. Be it Oregon Pinot Noir or Washington Cabernet, what matters to the brothers behind Christopher Michael Wines is finding fruit that will make a delicious wine, regardless of varietal or origin.
A large and geographically diverse AVA responsible for a wide variety of wine styles, the Columbia Valley AVA is home to 99% of Washington State’s total vineyard area. A small section of the AVA extends into northern Oregon as well. Because of its vast size, it is necessarily divided into several distinctive sub-AVAs, including Walla Walla Valley and Yakima Valley—which is further split into three more even smaller AVAs. A region this size will of course have varied microclimates, but on the whole it experiences cold winters and long, dry growing seasons. Frost is a common risk during winter and spring. The towering Cascade mountain range creates a rain shadow, keeping the valley relatively rain-free throughout the year, necessitating irrigation from the Columbia River. The lack of humidity combined with sandy soils allows for vines to be grown on their own rootstock, as phylloxera is not a serious concern.
Red wines make up the majority of production in the Columbia Valley. Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant variety here, where it produces wines with a pleasant balance of dark fruit and herbs. Wines made from Merlot are typically supple, with sweet red fruit and sometimes a hint of chocolate or mint. Syrah tends to be savory and Old-World-leaning, with a wide range of possible fruit flavors and plenty of spice. The most planted white varieties are Chardonnay and Riesling, the styles of which depend on the warmth of the site. Citrus and green apple are common to both in cooler sites, while warmer vineyards will produce riper, fleshier stone fruit flavors.
With hundreds of red grape varieties to choose from, winemakers have the freedom to create a virtually endless assortment of blended wines. In many European regions, strict laws are in place determining the set of varieties that may be used, but in the New World experimentation is permitted and encouraged. Blending can be utilized to create complex wines with many different layers of flavors and aromas, or to create more balanced wines. For example, a variety that is soft and full-bodied may be combined with one that is lighter with naturally high acidity. Sometimes small amounts of a particular variety are added to boost color or aromatics. Blending can take place before or after fermentation, with the latter, more popular option giving more control to the winemaker over the final qualities of the wine.