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Jerry Bookwalter graduated from UC Davis in
the 1960s and worked in California viticulture before heading north to
Washington State in the 1970s. He spent time in the San Joaquin Valley
before getting the urge to venture up north.
Bookwalter had a hand in planting three famed, highly-regarded Washington
State vineyards: Sagemoor, Dionysus and Bacchus. He became the
manager of the Connor Lee Vineyard and grapes from that property are the
backbone of the J. Bookwalter wines.
By the mid-1980s he was dabbling in winemaking and his wife Jean was their
business manager. Somehow they managed to stay afloat, despite the
challenges of the industry. We visited the place around the year 2000
and it was a smallish enterprise with a number of good wines.
By the end of the 1990s, their son John came on board after a decade in the
beer and wine biz. California's Zelma Long was a winemaking consultant
for nearly a decade and helped the Bookwalters establish a track record for
good quality wines.
The winery is located in Richland, Washington, not far from Walla
Walla. This is about halfway between Walla Walla and Yakima.
These days John Bookwalter runs the show with winemaker Caleb Foster.
John had spent about a decade learning about the world of beverage
sales. He graduated from E&J Gallo's "university" and
also had a stint with a major beer company and an outfit which dealt in
bottled waters and other associated beverages.
Caleb Foster, Winemaker at Bookwalter
Foster, though not a "grey beard," has more than two decades of
experience in Washington winemaking. He worked for Rick Small at
Woodward Canyon for eight years before working a year with the Ste.
Michelle organization. From there he worked with his (then) wife,
Nina Buty in making "Buty" and the "Beast"
wines. He joined Bookwalter in 2014 and is making some really top
We have their 2013 "Foreshadow" Merlot in stock. This is a
full-bodied, big, dark, intense red. The grapes come mostly from the
Connor Lee vineyard with 5% of the grapes coming from Sagemoor. The
wine is fortified with 17% Malbec and 6% Syrah. They use a modest
percentage of new oak for this wine and we like the balance of fruit and
It's quite drinkable now and especially showy with grilled or roasted red
This is about the weight and intensity of a Cabernet.
They make a number of proprietary blends...we found their 2013
"Suspense" to be of interest. The fruit comes entirely
from the Connor Lee Vineyard and the blend is 60% Merlot with 40% Cabernet
It's an impressive and full-throttle red wine. They employ a cold
soak to the juice, leaving the skins in the liquid for a few days before
allowing it to warm so the yeast can become active and do their job of
fermenting the sugar.
After a two week period for the fermentation, the wine was transferred
into small French oak barrels and puncheons.
The puncheons were brand new and the barrels were used, so they've done a
nice job in balancing the fruit with the oak.
It's a fairly full, robust red and you can easily put it on the dinner
table to enjoyment tonight.
Currently in stock: 2013 BOOKWALTER Columbia Valley
"Foreshadow" MERLOT $26.99
2013 BOOKWALTER Columbia Valley "Connor Lee Vineyard" SUSPENSE Red
Blend Sold Out Presently...
Bookwalter has a nice restaurant at both venues, so you can extend your
"tasting" of their wines into a "drinking" of their
We booked a table at their Richland facility and they have a nice wine list of
- LEONETTI CELLAR
and Nancy Figgins are two of the real wine pioneers in the story of wine in
Washington State's Walla Walla wine region.
Figgins was a machinist back in the 1970s and his grandparents, the Leonetti
family, had come to Washington from Italy's Calabria and had a little azienda
in the Walla Walla area. They emigrated in the early 1900s and landed
in what was to be a most fortuitous location.
Gary Figgins planted his first vineyard in Walla Walla on a little site
originally owned by Francesco and Rosa Leonetti. Helped by his uncles
Bill & George, Leonetti planted Cabernet & Riesling in 1974 and
vinified his first commercial wines in 1977.
Figgins and another Walla Walla pioneer, Rick Small (Woodward Canyon
winery) had discovered California wines when they were at the Army Reserve
base in California's Fort Ord. Gary credits the early vintages
they enjoyed made by Napa's Joe Heitz, another old
They had discovered the 1968, 1969 and 1970 bottlings by Heitz and this
helped set Figgins on his quest for equally great wines. Maybe even
They began making tiny quantities of varies and sundry wines, including
Riesling and GewŘrztraminer.
We had been buying the Leonetti wines fairly early on once the winery was big
enough to ship a few bottles to San Francisco.
In the days before the internet we contacted the Figgins using a device called a
telephone and being the modernistas they are, Gary had recorded an
answering machine message where he sounded quite like Saturday Night Live's
character, Father Guido Sarducci. His a-message was that they don't-a
have-a enough-a wine-a for-a their-a own-a table," so sorry.
Leonetti was one of the first West Coast "cult" wines in the days
following other cult producers such as Inglenook, Beaulieu Vineyard, Louis
Over the years the enterprise has grown and now they make wines from seven
different vineyard sites, owning several of them and having an ownership share
of a few others.
As of 2016, production tallies to about 6,600 cases annually, depending upon the
These days the place is being run by Figgins' son,
He's tweaked the winemaking a bit and they're working to continue to have
top-notch fruit sources. Figgins now has his own eponymous label along
with a project in Oregon's Willamette Valley to produce Leonetti-Quality (we
hope) Pinot Noir. And there's even a cattle-raising company (Lostline
Cattle Company) if you're interested in a side of beef to go with a bottle of
Here's a snapshot we took in the year 2000:
AGL means Leonetti will soon have an Aglianico from locally-grown fruit.
It's a tip of the cap to their ancestry.
Beau Hickman of the Figgins/Leonetti
Having been a fan of Leonetti wines in the early days, we can
say the wines have changed over the past decade and this is noticeable. In
tasting some recent vintages, it's apparent that the oak regimen is different.
When Chris Figgins took over directing the winemaking, he chose to eliminate the
use of American oak cooperage in the Leonetti wines.
Whether consumers find this to be an enhancement, or not, we will leave it to
others to decide.
For our own personal tastes (and remember, we grew up appreciating the use of
American oak in top Napa Cabernets as well as in classically-styled Rioja wines
from Spain), we liked the broad spectrum of woodsy, cedary notes in the Leonetti
Today's Leonetti bottlings are of good quality, but we find a few members of the
current "orchestra" are missing and so the wine is simply a bit
The wines still garner high numerical point scores from the various critics and
I don't think any have noticed the change, frankly.
Maybe we are the only voice to find the wines are simply a tad less flashy with
banishing the American oak?
Still, the wines remain good quality, certainly.
Currently in stock: 2011 LEONETTI CABERNET
2006 LEONETTI MERLOT $99.99
2007 LEONETTI MERLOT $99.99
- CHATEAU STE. MICHELLE
- With more than 1600 acres of vineyards, Ste. Michelle is
Washington State's wine "ambassador". It's sister company, Columbia Crest, owns
2,000 acres. Both are owned by Stimson Lane, a company which is a subsidiary of U.S.
Tobacco. Who would expect that Chateau Ste. Michelle Fume Blanc and Skoal Chewing
Tobacco would be "cousins"?
Today, what with one company swallowing up another, Ste. Michelle Wine
Estates (it was called Stimson Lane until just recently) is now under the
conglomerate called Altria (its roots are in tobacco and snuff, but Philip
Morris Tobacco is under their ownership and they own Kraft General
Foods...suffice it to say, this once little wine company is now the big fish
in the modest-sized Washington State "pond."
They make scads of wines...there's a winery devoted to white wines and
another to making red wines.
Joshua Maloney makes their red wines, while Wendy Stuckey takes care of the
whites. Overseeing the two is Bob Bertheau whose title is "head
They make a tremendous range of wines,
from basic, simple stuff to their vineyard-designated series to deluxe, premium quality
wines. Stimson Lane tried to lure the owner of Chateau Pichon Lalande to
collaborate with them on a Cabernet project as Chateau Mouton-Rothschild has done with
Robert Mondavi, creating Opus One. She turned them down...In fact, May
Eliane de Lencquesaing asked ME what I thought about her teaming up with
these people. Back in those days, Ste. Michelle was not exactly making
wines in the same league as Pichon Lalande and I told her so...they would
gain more by her being associated that she'd gain. In fact, it might
have taken some of the luster off her own wonderful estate.
Today, though, Ste. Michelle has a number of collaborative projects.
Well, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates does.
With Italy's Antinori family they make a Washington State Cabernet called
Col Solare. In Napa, they own a brand called Antica. In Chile,
there's the Haras de Pirque brand of wines.
With Germany's famed winemaker, Ernst Loosen, they make a Riesling in
Washington called "Eroica." I've suggested they add the
letter "t" to this in order to stimulate the brand's popularity.
The Ste. Michelle brand produces reliable-quality wines. It's a bit
like Washington's version of the Robert Mondavi winery of the 21st
Century: nicely made wines, maybe not the most inspired, but at least
You'll find the wine of Ste. Michelle and its sister, Columbia Crest, to
garner great accolades from publications such as The Wine Spectator.
We must remember that this company also spends a considerable amount of
money on advertising. Some people suggest there's a correlation
between advertising dollars and favorable reviews.
- We taste these from time to time. Some wines are better than
average, but we've not found wines as interesting as those from Woodward
Canyon, Leonetti or L'Ecole 41, frankly.
The brand is so huge these days, they target their sales efforts in stores
such as grocery businesses like Safeway and Lucky or chain operations such
as Trader Joe's.
There is no reason for an independent wine shop such as Weimax to carry
is a new name on the West Coast wine scene. It's that of a
Seattle-based real estate mogul and wine geek, Michael Corliss. This
is a fellow who was on the Board of Directors at a bank or two, sat on the
board of Pepsi, has a building supply company, etc., etc. etc.
And, being a wine geek, the lure of seeing one's name on a bottle of
premium wine is mighty tempting, especially when you have a few bucks to
Mr. & Mrs. Corliss, then, purchased an old bakery building in Walla
Walla and refurbished the place, converting it into a winery.
Standards are high, we're told, as they apparently poured the first two
vintages down the drain as they weren't worthy of the Corliss label.
The winery is a bit of a show-place and the tasting and sales area features
an impressive array presentation sites...some have a formal tasting table or
tasting bar, while others resemble the living room comforts of a private club.
There's quite a library of wine and food books...this snapshot is of but a
small set of book-shelves on the downstairs level. More are housed on a
second level in the building.
While perusing the shelves, we mentioned that our late colleague, Bob Gorman,
had authored a book profiling the California wine industry in the 1970s and that
they ought to acquire a copy...
But we spoke too soon!
There was a copy of Bob's book: Gorman on California Premium Wines
Tucked into this copy was a type-written letter from Bob to
an Atlanta wine store owner explaining the benefits of the shop having a stack
of Bob's books for sale.
This was remarkable!
The facility has a commercial kitchen, allowing Corliss to host major
The cellar is impressive, too.
There are several "lifts" allowing them to place a tank or barrel
on it, elevating the container to rack the wine using gravity rather than a
They have a second "library" of sorts and this is
Tasting some Corliss wines...
They own several vineyard sites. Red Mountain is one
source of Corliss fruit. They now own 350 acres in that AVA, accounting
for 40% of the appellation! In the Yakima Valley AVA they own a vineyard
site called Blackrock. Within the Walla Walla appellation is the Blue
Mountain Estate, a 180 acre site with a bit more than 50 acres planted
The wines are offered in really heavy glass bottles...these have
a hugely deep "punt" to them and our late colleague, Bob Gorman, used
to say they
"easily pass the proctologist's test."
(This is something Bob learned, we think, from a customer. The notion is
that the price and quality of a wine correlate to the depth of the 'punt' of the
bottle. If that theory is true, then these Corliss wines are some of the world's
And you know how some artisan wines have a wax seal on the
cork? Well, Corliss puts the wax seal in the punt of the
We ventured to the winery in the summer of 2016 and, though they knew we are in
the wine business and have had their wine in the shop, they did not show us any
current vintages, upcoming wines or older bottlings. "We're sold out."
they told us.
Sure, but there are new releases coming in a few months, no?
Apparently they don't need to sell wine at Corliss...it sells itself.
There's a sister brand of wines called Tranche Cellars. We
purchased a bottle of both the red and white wines called "Slice of
Pape." The white is a Roussanne/Viognier blend...big, flat and
ponderous. The red wine features Grenache and Syrah and this, too, needs
On the same day we visited Corliss, we stopped in at Tranche...the wines have
improved a bit, but we did not find anything of great interest. A
Sangiovese and Tempranillo were pleasant bottles and they have slashed the
prices dramatically, suggesting the market has sent them a message.
Currently in stock: 2005 CORLISS Syrah $59.99
2006 CORLISS Cabernet Sauvignon $79.99
- Here's an
ambitious project from a couple of choir boys in Washington. It's
called Tenor and you'll need well more than a "ten-er"
to buy a bottle of their 1:1 blend.
The winery is the work of a young fellow named Aryn Morrell who spent time
with Golden State Vintners and the prestigious Edgewood Estates in
The Tenor of their argument is that they only offer a wine when
it's of an elite level and superlative quality. The Tenor web site
indicates, for example, if you were to line-up the world's top Merlot wines from
the 2008 vintage, the 2008 Tenor would be in the discussion. If a varietal
wine is thought not to be a "player" in this noble battle, then they
will not offer it.
In 2007, for example, the Tenor varietal bottlings included just Merlot and Malbec.
In 2008, the roster was comprised of Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet.
And then they offer not "Opus One" (that name was already taken,
apparently), but 1:1 (One of One).
How brash and ballsy are the Tenor boys? Here's their "promise"
of quality as posted on the winery website.
The Tenor Promise
At Tenor, we produce only the
finest expressions of single varietals in a vintage, along with one
believe that Tenor makes world-class wine. To that end, we invite you to
participate in "The Tenor Promise".
Make an appointment with our Brand Manager, Eric Swikard to bring any
95pt* (or higher) wine from the same year and same varietal as a Tenor
wine. In the tasting room, we will decant your wine, along with the
Tenor wine and another 95pt wine (or higher) of our choosing, all from
the same vintage and same varietal. Together, we will taste all three of
these wines... blind. At the end of our tasting, if you don't agree that
the Tenor wine is in the
class as the other 95pt (or higher) wines, we will replace the
bottle you brought in within 10 days. If you do find that all the wines
are in the same class, we will replace your bottle with a Tenor bottle
of wine (with purchase of 3 or more wines).
*wine must be awarded 95pts from the Wine Spectator,
International Wine Cellar, Wine Advocate or Gary Vaynerchuk
We tasted two vintages of 1:1. I'm a bit surprised they'd
put their wine in a blind-tasting alongside wines with high numerical
scores. Typically the wines with high point scores are "extreme"
wines and have inky color, lots of oak and over-the-top fruit. The Tenor
wines struck me as being a bit restrained and not made with the idea of
appealing to Parker or The Wine Dictator.
The 2007 showed a bit of cassis and herbal notes. It's a medium-full
bodied red with a faintly woodsy note. This may evolve into a grander wine
with time. I'd peg it as a nice Medoc at this stage from a medium-good
vintage. Production amounted to 120 cases.
The 2008 is a wine of larger proportions, darker in color and a bit more
profound in terms of complexity. There's a plummy aspect here and a hint
of a brown spice component. It's a fairly well-structured wine and we
expect it to cellar well for a decade, or so. They claim to have produced
141 cases of this vintage.
We found the winery's tasting suggestion amusing:
the bottle to warm to slightly below room temperature before opening. Pour the
wine into a decanter and swirl mildly every 15 minutes over a period of 45
minutes to an hour.
glassware should be tall and broad, preferably Cabernet in style. The ideal
glass is the Riedel Vinum XL Cabernet.
fellow who's viewed as either a gambler or an investor (or both) purchased
some scrub land near Royal City, Washington back in 1968. Tom Alberg
Senior made that bet when he purchased more than 200 acres of dirt in
Eastern Washington state.
But it wasn't until the turn of the century that Tom Alberg Junior began
cashing in on his father's wager. And Junior is an even bigger
gambler (a lawyer and venture capitalist) than the old man, as he started
planting grapevines on that property in what's called Frenchman Hills.
He met former Chateau Ste. Michelle winemaker Mike Januik who suggested
they launch a little wine venture together and thus was born the Novelty
Hill winery. The name comes from another property Alberg's dad owned
some 20 minutes' drive east of Redmond (less than an hour from Seattle).
Januik was starting his own winery and they made wines of both the Januik
and Novelty Hill brands in a warehouse in Woodinville, Washington, not far
from Ste. Michelle. By 2007 Alberg built a sizeable winery and event
center and both Januik and Novelty Hill wines are made there today by Mike
Some people initially felt Novelty Hill was a second label of Januik's,
but it's its own brand with much of the fruit coming from Alberg's
Stillwater Creek Vineyard.
We included Novelty Hill Cabernet in a blind tasting not too long ago and
the wine was not only good quality, but it's well priced, too.
The 2014 has 4% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec in the blend. It was matured for 21 months
in both French and American oak cooperage with about 40% of the barrels
being brand new.
The wine displays nice dark fruit notes and there's a balancing level of
wood coming through on the nose and palate.
It's quite drinkable now and should last another 5+ years.
Currently in stock: 2014 NOVELTY HILL
Columbia Valley CABERNET SAUVIGNON $24.99
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