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WASHINGTON STATE WINES

 

WOODWARD CANYON
With its founding in 1981, Woodward Canyon started as an outgrowth of the Small family's farming activities.  They raised cattle and grew wheat.  Vineyards were planted in the late 1970s.  The "winery" building (an old machine shop) would never lead one to expect this place was the source of such exceptional wines.  This is proof of the old adage "Never judge a book by its cover."  Winemaker Rick Small is a big proponent of locally-grown, Walla Walla-area fruit. 

Over the years, Woodward Canyon has been one of the leaders in Washington State wines and the quality of their products has remained consistently good.  We always look forward to tasting (and drinking) Small's wines.

Today the winery makes quite a range of wines, even dabbling in Piemontese varieties such as Dolcetto and Barbera!  But for the most part, Cabernet and Merlot are the main items of interest.
One of our favorite wines is Rick's "Artist Series" Cabernet.  The 2009 is a wine which we might say is "on steroids," though, compared to earlier vintages.  It's really big and intense, being a robust red with a pedal-to-the-metal style.  That is to say it's no shrinking violet and if you're putting this on the dinner table, we hope your guests appreciate a big red.

Cabernet, Cabernet, Merlot, Petit Verdot and a drop of Syrah, this comes from 7 different vineyard sites, including some estate-grown fruit.
Rick says he's pulling back on the percentage of new French oak they're using, but we still find a nice level of oak in this wine.  And the wood is a major part of the wine's personality, too.

The 2009 is drinkable now, especially with well-seasoned racks of lamb, a grilled steak or a nicely-roasted Prime Rib.
 
 

We enjoyed a bottle of the 2009 while visiting Walla Walla...at the restaurant called Brasserie 4 (very good by the way)...the 2009, consumed in 2016, was spot on!
Deep and complex.  And while it was a monster in its youth, today it's rather elegant and refined...


Woodward Canyon also makes a wine few people know about.  It has the name Charbonneau on the label and you wouldn't know it's a Woodward Canyon wine unless you're in-the-know.  And few are in the loop, frankly.  

It's sold as Charbonneau and that's the name of a vineyard site owned by a fellow named Michael Witherspoon.  The vineyard is closer to Pasco than it is Walla Walla (it's 40 miles, or so, northwest of Walla Walla).  Cabernet and Merlot, although I think newer vintages will have some Petit Verdot from Woodward Canyon's vineyard.
We hope to have a new vintage arriving shortly.

This is a major, world-class property.
Currently available: 
2009 "Artist Series" Cabernet Sauvignon SALE PRICED  $59.99



Jordan Dunn-Small...apparently she's named for prominent Cabernet winemakers.




L'ECOLE 41
l'ecole.gif (10654 bytes)Located in the Walla Walla town of Lowden, this place was once called Frenchtown. The winery was founded in 1983 by the Ferguson family in an old school. Marty Clubb, son-in-law of the Fergusons, is the winemaker. Early efforts didn't impress us much, but in the 1990s this label has vaulted into one of the top properties in Washington.   

Clubb is a partner in a major vineyard project, assuring L'Ecole No. 41 of a source of good quality fruit.  The old school used to cellar all the production, but as the winemaking has improved, the production has grown.  A new winery facility sits behind the neatly-manicured, immaculately-kept old school building.

 
L'Ecole is well-regarded, as noted...but we have nothing in the shop presently...
Their wines can easily be special ordered for you, however.


 


WALLA WALLA VINTNERS
Two former home winemakers say they tried every trick in the book before embarking on a commercial wine adventure.

Gordon Venneri's background is in accounting, while his pal, Dr. Myles Anderson, is  (or was) a professor of psychology.  You might expect someone with the name of Venneri might be of Italian heritage and you'd be correct.  After a trip to Italy in the early 1980s, Venneri and Anderson embarked on a home winemaking project.  
 
Armed with Philip Wagner's guide to winemaking, the pair did their best to create satisfying wines for their own amusement.
 
They had a small press, designed for making tiny quantities of apple cider, to help them make wine.  Yeasts and other bits of chemistry came from a local pharmacy.  And necessity being the mother of invention, these fellows use old Coke syrup kegs, plastic buckets and old beer kegs to ferment and age their wines.  They dabbled with oak chips and old, discarded barrels in making their wines. 

Eventually they purchased a brand new oak barrel...a 30 gallon container and, Voila!  Or, Walla! (as some people say it)...the results of aging their Cabernet in a brand new oak barrel were encouraging and they bought more cooperage and finally, things spiraled out of control until one day they opened their own commercial winery.

They credit all their trial-and-error enological experiences with providing a good winemaking background for producing wine today.

Dr. Anderson founded the wine school at the local community college.  It's called the Institute of Enology and Viticulture and it's part of the Walla Walla Community College. 
 
With the 1995 vintage, Walla Walla Vintners was born as a professional, commercial winery.  And the winery is a "red wine" winery.  They do not produce any Chardonnay (and probably deserve a medal for that).
 
Here's a snapshot of their winery building:
 
Gordy Venneri explains they built a nice, serviceable winemaking facility and it's decidedly "farm country" architecture.
He says their label design is pretty much along the lines of that of Bordeaux's Chateau Margaux.

Maybe your eye is keener than ours...


Gordy Venneri is a major Walla Walla wine personality and a real character!


We have been following their wines since the early 2000s.

Cabernet Franc has been a favorite of the crew here at Weimax for many years.
It's different from the Loire Valley-styled wine we like from Napa's Lang & Reed winery.  The Walla Walla Vintners wine is more akin to a Bordeaux-styled wine, showing a nice bit of dark fruit and some cedary, woodsy notes from those oak barrels in the background of the snapshot of Gordy (above).

We currently have their 2013 vintage in the shop.  It's blended with 9% Merlot and 3% Carmenere.  It comes from 4 or 5 vineyard sources.  The wine was matured in approximately one-third new oak barrels (French and Hungarian), one-third in once-filled barrels of the same pedigree and one-third in rather neutral barrels.
The wine is quite handsome, sporting nice cedary, woodsy notes.
We also found a very good Petit Verdot at this winery and their Sangiovese is quite charming.


We included a Cabernet Sauvignon from this estate into a blind-tasting of Washington State wines and it finished in first place.  I liked the Leonetti better, though it's two-and-a-half times as costly! 

This is a good producer and should be on anyone's list of worthy wines from Washington State in particular and they're a good source of West Coast red wines in general.
 
Currently in stock:  2013 WALLA WALLA VINTNERS Columbia Valley CABERNET FRANC $32.99
WALLA WALLA VINTNERS PETIT VERDOT  (Coming Soon)
WALLA WALLA VINTNERS SANGIOVESE  (Coming Soon)
 




The Long Shadows project is a smallish winery just west of downtown Walla Walla.

The idea is to feature small bottlings of Washington State wines made using the "recipes" of guest winemakers who cast long shadows in their own world.

Allen Shoup, who used to head Stimson Lane (the Chateau Ste. Michelle group of wine brands), has a stable of famous winemakers collaborating to produce Washington State wine.  These include Michel Rolland from Bordeaux, Randy Dunn from Napa, Australia's John Duval (he's been making a wine called Grange for a little winery called Penfolds--see below) and Augustin Huneeus & Philippe Melka who are based in Napa.

The wines are all well-made, so each label is fairly reliable in terms of technical proficiency.

The question for consumers is are they willing to pay a premium price for these wines?

Apparently the answer is "Yes!" as the demand outstrips supply.

 


POET'S LEAP
This is a label from the Long Shadows project, a series of wines made by vintners who do, indeed, cast a long shadow.

Allen Shoup, who used to head Stimson Lane (the Chateau Ste. Michelle group of wine brands), has a stable of famous winemakers collaborating to produce Washington State wine.  These include Michel Rolland from Bordeaux, Randy Dunn from Napa, Australia's John Duval (he's been making a wine called Grange for a little winery called Penfolds--see below) and Augustin Huneeus & Philippe Melka who are based in Napa these days.

Poet's Leap is the work of Armin Diel, a famous German winemaker and wine expert.  Diel co-authored for many years the guide to German wines, Gault-Millau's annual WeinGuide Deutschland.  

Of course, his own wines were not critiqued, but all the top estates in Germany are profiled and their wines assessed.  

Diel's own wines are excellent...he has to set a good example for others, of course.  And in years of visiting German wineries, I have never heard a bad word about Diel as a critic or winemaker. (Unlike the lambasting one hears from California vintners about the likes of American wine critics!)

The 2012 vintage Riesling is in the shop, an excellent American Riesling by any measure.  The wine comes from three vineyard sites in Washington State.  The wine captures nice fruity, floral tones along with a bit of a citrusy tang.  There's about off-dry with less sweetness than previous vintages, though the wine is balanced so that it finishes crisply and is not cloying. 
 
Currently in stock:  2012 Poet's Leap Columbia Valley Riesling Sale $19.99


SEQUEL
Allen Shoup enticed Australian winemaker John Duval to come to Washington State when he's not busy making Penfolds' "Grange" and make a wine in the States.

Duval's wine is dubbed "Sequel" and while it would be tempting to say it's the equal of Penfolds' Grange, that would be building up one's expectations to nearly unreachable levels.

Coming over to visit the vineyards during the growing season, Duval sized up various vineyard parcels.   The sources seem to have changed quite a bit from 2004 to 2005...and they're a bit coy in revealing information about the vinification, but then the wine was matured in both French and American oak.  Duval was then able to select his favorite barrels and assemble the final blend.  The wine is 96% Syrah and 4% Cabernet.

We find lots of nice dark fruit notes to the wine.  It's certainly not a ringer for a French Rh˘ne wine, but nor is it particularly reminiscent of Aussie Shiraz.  There's a nice bit of wood here, but I don't find it as hugely oaky as a Grange, for example.  It's also not as ripe as some vintages of Grange, either.  Still, it's pretty nice West Coast Syrah.  

Currently in stock:  2005 Sequel Washington State Syrah SALE $55.99

 


Winemaker Gilles Nicault shows off a bottle of his handiwork.




CHESTER KIDDER
This is another wine in the Long Shadows' portfolio (see Poet's Leap and Sequel, above)...

The venture features "celebrity" winemakers, hoping they can produce some of their "magic" on foreign turf in Washington state.

While other wines are produced using the names of Michel Rolland, Philippe Melka, Armin Diel and Randy Dunn, the Chester Kidder wine is made by a fellow who's not regarded as an "eno-celebrity," but who's making wine which may be superior to those of the various luminaries.  

Gilles Nicault attended the University of Avignon in France's Rhone Valley.  He came to the US and took a job at Staton Hills in the Yakima Valley.  We met him years ago when he was working for Rick Small at Woodward Canyon (aha!  So that's where he learned how to make Cabernet and Merlot!!).  These days he's in charge of the cellar at Long Shadows and we can say it's Gilles who casts the longest shadow at this enterprise.

The Chester Kidder wine is a brand dreamed up by winery owner (and former Ste. Michelle bigwig) Allen Shoup.  Shoup's grandpappy was named Charles Chester and granny was Maggie Kidder.  

The stated goal is to "make a wine illustrating how good a Washington State red wine can be."  I'd say "yeah, yeah, yeah" in my usual skeptical fashion.  I'm not from Missouri, but I still always say "show me."

But most of the vintages of Chester Kidder that we have tasted have been winners.  And, interestingly enough, for our tastes, this is the real star of the Long Shadows portfolio.  Yet while many people in the wine world know the names of Randy Dunn, Philippe Melka and Michel Rolland, it's their "house" wine which is the best wine on the Long Shadows' table.

Currently in stock:  CHESTER KIDDER Columbia Valley RED WINE  Sold Out


The vinification cellar at Long Shadows.

 

Barrel cellar at Long Shadows
 


Tasting at Long Shadows...they have a nice little program to show off their wines.
Visitors to Walla Walla should consider booking a tasting here to see how the "guest" winemakers handle Washington State fruit.


The old wine biz bromide is "Buy on apples, Sell on Cheese" is adhered to at Long Shadows.

 

 
 
 
 



 

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