September 4, 2017
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
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,
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
- L'ECOLE 41
- 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
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. In early 2017, Anderson sold his share
of the winery to a Portland software developer named Scott Haladay
(Viewpoint Construction Software). He's a major wine geek, so we hope the
future remains bright here.
- Armed with Philip Wagner's guide to winemaking, the pair did their best to
create satisfying wines for their own amusement.
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
We have been following their wines since the early 2000s.
Cabernet Franc has been a favorite of the crew here at Weimax for many
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
We currently have their 2014 vintage in the shop. It's blended with
6% Merlot and 2% Carmenere. It comes from 4 or 6 vineyard
sources. The wine was matured in approximately 28% new oak
barrels (French and Hungarian), 42% in once-filled barrels of the
same pedigree and 30% 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.
2012 Petit Verdot is terrific. It's a medium bodied red with a
nice bit of oak giving it a sort of cedary fragrance and flavor. Add
to the mix the typical dark spice notes of the Petit Verdot grape...quite
drinkable now. They don't make much of this and we understand it's
rarely sold outside the cellar door of the winery!
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: 2014 WALLA WALLA VINTNERS Columbia Valley
CABERNET FRANC $32.99
2012 WALLA WALLA VINTNERS PETIT VERDOT $39.99
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
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
The question for consumers is are they willing to pay a premium price for these
Apparently the answer is "Yes!" as the demand outstrips supply.
We especially like the Poet's Leap Riesling and a Bordeaux-styled blend.
The Riesling is made in collaboration with German wein-meister Armin Diel who
owns Schlossgut Diel in the Nahe region.
The Bordeaux blend is made, not by one of their celebrity winemakers, but by
Long Shadows' own winemaker Gilles Nicault.
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
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
Shoup enticed Australian winemaker John Duval to come to Washington State
when he's not busy making Penfolds' "Grange" and make a wine in
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
Currently in stock: 2005 Sequel Washington State Syrah SALE
Winemaker Gilles Nicault shows off a bottle of his handiwork.
- This is
another wine in the Long Shadows' portfolio (see Poet's Leap and Sequel,
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'
Currently in stock: 2013 CHESTER KIDDER Columbia Valley RED
WINE Sale $57.99
The vinification cellar at Long Shadows.
Barrel cellar at Long Shadows
Tasting at Long Shadows...they have a nice little program to show off
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.
remarkable winery has lofty ambitions in terms of producing wines worthy
of comparison with the best of Bordeaux (and the Rhone, come to think of
They're doing quite a good job.
It's the work of insurance man Greg Lill and wine broker Jay Soloff.
Lill's father, the late Charles Lill, owned a property in Woodinville,
Washington. Dad gave his blessing for his son, Soloff and former
home winemaker Chris Upchurch to launch a winery project on the site,
though the senior Lill had thought the place might be suitable as a
brewery, restaurant or bed & breakfast place.
The founders had some help from Washington wine legend David Lake, who
guided them to some great vineyard sources and in 1992 the first Delille
wines were produced.
They began making some showy red wines along the lines of
Now they've had a killer white wine which is a doppelganger for one of our
favorite French white wines, Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte. It's a
blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, most of which is fermented in small
French oak (60% new) and a small fraction which is vinified in stainless
The wine displays the herbal, lemon-grass notes we find in the
Smith-Haut-Lafitte, along with showy, toasty oak.
We've had this wine available for sampling in our tasting room and it
routinely is met with enthusiasm from customers who don't mind shelling
out the forty clams it takes to acquire a bottle.
- And given that Smith-Haut-Lafitte goes for north of $100 a bottle, this
seems like a bargain.
Currently in stock: 2014 DELILLE "Chaleur
Estate" Columbia Valley Dry White $39.99
- KIONA VINEYARDS
- John Williams and a research scientist colleague (Pacific Northwest
National Laboratory) named Jim Holmes bought some acreage in the 1970s and
decided to gamble by planting a vineyard. They had 84 acres of dirt
but no water and no electricity.
Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling were planted, evenly split
between 12 acres.
Here's one of their original vines...died "Due to Tractor
Electricity was brought in from 3 miles away and they dug a well 500 feet
deep and it was drier than a Non-dosaged Champagne. The well digger
asked if they wanted to quit at that point or roll the dice and keep
going. They doubled down and, just a few feet deeper, hit
water. Now they could grow grapes in the desert!
These days if you ask John Williams how deep the wells are he won't
respond in terms of feet, but usually explains theirs is about $100,000
That's a profound explanation!
The region became known as the Red Mountain appellation or American
- Back in the 1960s, California's E&J Gallo winery had a brand of wine
called "Red Mountain." They later changed the label to
"Carlo Rossi," the name of one of their sales team. Gallo's
top table in those days was called "Gallo Hearty Burgundy," while
the slightly more economical brand was "Red Mountain."
Today you'll find Scott Williams, John & Ann's son, taking
care of the extensive acreage at Chateau Kiona. He and his wife Vicky are
joined by their son, Comedian JJ Williams, in running this remarkable and
JJ explains that many Washington state wineries simply buy grapes to make their
wines. And there are numerous vineyard or grape grower enterprises which
simply sell grapes. "We're different in that we do it all! We
planted the vines, we cultivate the vines and we make a bit of wine.
Mostly, though, we sell grapes. And many of the top wineries in Washington
buy our Kiona fruit."
From their tasting facility atop the winery in the Benton City
environs, one can look out a picture window and survey the sights and sites.
The cellar is spacious as they sell most of their grapes. The wines
they make are produced with an eye towards showcasing their fruit for both
consumers and potential grape buyers.
That's third generation Kiona Ambassador J.J. Williams.
The winery is well-regarded for its wide variety of wines, but they enjoy making
a red wine of the Lemberger (Austria's Blaufränkisch) in a light style.
In a sea of Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah, Kiona offers a small oasis of Lemberger.
They have a bit more than 13 acres of this grape and are currently making
approximately 4,000 cases annually.
It's well-priced and offers wine drinkers something a bit off the beaten path at
a very reasonable price.
We currently have their 2013 Red Mountain appellation of
Lemberger. It's a mild red with the weight of a Pinot Noir. It
displays hints of red berry fruit and it's not a deep or complex red, so pair it
with appropriate food. It can pair well with a range of lighter
foods. Chicken, pork, vegetarian dishes, cheeses, etc. can match this
We suggest serving it at cool cellar temperature as the wine is fairly soft and
Currently in stock: 2013 KIONA "Red
Mountain" LEMBERGER $13.99
MORE WASHINGTON WINES