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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.  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.

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 30 miles northwest of Walla Walla).  Cabernet and Merlot, although I think newer vintages will have some Petit Verdot from Woodward Canyon's vineyard.
We have the 2005 in stock presently.  This is a showy blended red.  Dark fruits and nice woodsy notes...the 2005 is now a fairly smooth, supple red wine.  Production is usually quite limited. 

This is a major, world-class property.
Currently available: 
2009 "Artist Series" Cabernet Sauvignon SALE PRICED  $44.99
2005 CHARBONNEAU $53.99





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.

They make a good, barrel-fermented Semillon.  Three  bottlings are currently offered, the "regular" one being our choice typically as it has a bit more fruit and just the right amount of oak.   We have the 2008 Semillon in stock presently, a wine which has 11% Sauvignon Blanc in the blend.  It's a lovely dry white with medium-body and it has some nice character...a touch of the waxy notes we look for in good Semillon wines.

Also very fine are the Cabernets and Merlots. They make a proprietary red called Apogee, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet. These wines easily compare with top California wines.  

 



We have the 2008 Columbia Valley Merlot in stock presently.  It comes from a number of vineyards, including a bit of their estate-grown fruit.  The blend is 82% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec and 4% Petit Verdot.  Nearly one-third of the barrels were new.  

This is a rather smooth, soft Merlot and the acidity is a shade or two lower than normal.  While it may not be a wine for drinking in ten years, it is rather nice presently and likely to remain in good shape for 3 or 4 more years.  And it sports their new label, showing they've grown up and are looking at "higher education" rather than kindergarten.


Currently in stock: 2008 L'ECOLE 41 Columbia Valley Merlot $29.99
2008 L'ECOLE 41 Columbia Valley Semillon $13.99

 

 


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 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).

We have limited experience with their wines.  A taste of a 2007 Cabernet Franc was pleasantly shocking.  This is a wine we seldom find to be exceptional.  Sure, we like Loire Valley Cabernet Franc wines, but they're balanced (as a general rule).  Most American attempts with this grape err on making a wine that's too big and attempting to be "too important" (meaning too much like Cabernet Sauvignon).  These, for our tastes seem unbalanced, so we we delighted to taste this wine and it's a beauty!  

The 2009 vintage Cabernet Franc was tempered with 12% Merlot & 3% Cabernet Sauvignon and it's a delight, showing dark fruits and some woodsy, cedary oak notes.  The wine is medium-full on the palate and the tannin level seems just right...drinkable now and you can probably hold onto it for a few more years.  It's a fine stand-in for a Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot with grilled or roasted red meats.  

We included a Cabernet Sauvignon from this estate into a July 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!  Anyway, these guys are now on our "radar" and we'll keep tabs on them.
 
Currently in stock:  2009 WALLA WALLA VINTNERS Columbia Valley CABERNET FRANC $27.99






 


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 2009 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:  2009 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 Rhône 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

 




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 surmise it's Gilles who casts the longest shadow.

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."

The 2006 is gorgeous.  It's a marvelous blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Syrah and 10% Petit Verdot and 9% Cabernet Franc.  The wine spent more than two years in oak, mostly French.  We like the dusty cocoa notes and the gorgeous black fruit elements.  The wine is full-bodied and complex...great nose as it's developing beautifully in bottle.  If you have fifty bucks to splurge on a bottle of Washington Red, I'd either go with a Woodward Canyon Cabernet or this beauty.

Currently in stock:  2006 CHESTER KIDDER Columbia Valley RED WINE  $49.99
2006 CHESTER KIDDER Magnum Sale $99.99


 

 
 
 
 

SEVEN HILLS
The Seven Hills winery has been around since the late 1980s.  It's not one of these new start-ups, founded by a wealthy industrialist, recording industry mogul or high tech, internet geek.  

Casey McClellan was actually raised in Walla Walla, Washington and he's the fourth generation of the family.  His father planted the Seven Hills vineyards and Casey went on to study at UC Davis before starting the winery.

We found their Viognier to be especially good, though Merlot is also a good offering from Seven Hills.   The Viognier is grown 80% by Talcott Vineyards & 20% by the Clifton Vineyard with the juice being fermented in oak.  With the 2010, you will find some wood, whereas the 2009 you couldn't sense it.  Still, the peach-like fruit comes up at the start and there's a faintly stony note along the edges.  It's dry and reasonably crisp, avoiding the flat and ponderous characteristics of many West Coast Viognier wines.

And while many vintners view Viognier as a bit of artistry and price the wine accordingly, Seven Hills' wine carries a sensible price tag.
 
Currently in stock:  2010 SEVEN HILLS Columbia Valley VIOGNIER  $17.99



 

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