Bye Bye, Birdie

When Bill Powers planted his first rows of grapevines back in '78, Badger Mountain was just another lonely ridge of Columbia River basalt. Badger Mountain's not lonely anymore. Colonnaded, mansarded, ticky-tacky trophy homes cozy up to the Powers' property, their sprinkler-bedewed, manicured lawns glistening in the sun. Under the family name, Bill's son Greg produces a good deal of wine made from other growers' grapes, but it's those bottled under the Badger Mountain label that the family's proudest of. In 1987, Bill decided he'd used his last synthetic herbicide, fungicide, insecticide, and fertilizer. Today Badger Mountain is still the only officially certified organic vineyard and winery in the state. Which brings us to the subject of robins. As we all know, robins love to feed on the worms that live under lush, green lawns. What is not as widely known is that robins have nothing against ripe grapes, either. This puts the environmentally sensitive Powers p貥 et fils in an awkward position: Robins are too smart to fall for the usual propane-powered popguns that farmers use to scare off crows and starlings and such. You have to blow a few robins away to convince the rest you're serious. And nobody loves a robin killer. Maybe to make up for latent robin guilt, in 1996 the proprietors of Badger Mountain Winery submitted themselves to an even more stringent environmental rule: making a portion of their wines without using sulfites. The wine trade uses sulfites for good reason; without a minuscule amount, wines are vulnerable to spoilage and environmental insult. Although immaculately handled and shipped in a protective dark-blue bottle, Badger Mountain N.S.A. (no sulfur added) wines won't "keep," and must be drunk young; aging will only ruin them. In this case, virtue proves its own reward. Chemicals, not just sulfur and its compounds, are so widely used in winemaking these days that it's a jolt coming up against wines like Badger Mountain's N.S.A. riesling, merlot, chardonnay, and cab. There's a freshness, fruitiness, presence in these bottles that make other wines, even fine ones, taste a little dulled, muted, cobwebby. I still feel bad about the robins. But at least they die in a very good cause. GET THIS! Washington wine pioneer Hogue Cellars is now wholly owned by California's R.H. Phillips, but winemaker David Forsyth still has license to experiment with noncommercial small lots of promising new varieties. He and Hogue have a winner in their '01 Columbia Valley viognier. In its native Rh�valley in France, viognier's used to add a touch of white-grape perfume to the region's lusty reds. Here in Washington, it delivers what American chardonnay promises and rarely achieves: a white wine of great character and finesse, even when young. Hogue made only 122 cases; at $13 a bottle, it'll be gone in a flash once word gets out.

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