Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I had the pleasure of conducting an interview with Casey McClellan owner/winemaker at the exceptional Seven Hills Winery in Walla Walla, WA. I've been obsessed with his wines lately, the riesling, viognier, syrah, tempranillo, merlot....all so delicious & vivid. Book your spot now for the Seven Hills Wine dinner at Napa Cafe on Thursday February 11. Only $65/person plus tax & gratuity. For reservations call 901.683.0441.

So Casey, what is distinctive & unique about the Seven Hills style?

There are several aspects to this. First, we have access to a number of very well known, old vineyards. So we start with very high quality grapes, and the wines reflect their vineyard personalities. Our house sytle is to produce wines that are compatible with mealtime. This means that we use ripe fruit, but do not seek to make wines that are over the top in tannin and alcohol. The wines are balanced between ripe fruit character, moderate use of new oak, structure, and a lift on the palate of appropriate acidity. They are wines that are comfortable to drink the whole way through the bottle and the meal. In today's wine scene, this restrained style with integrity is distinctive. They have character, will age well, and taste like wine not oak.

How do you select the vineyards that you source from when you do source such as for the riesling & viognier?

I look for growers that have experience and commitment to quality fruit, foremost. Then evaluate the sites and how they express the fruit character and balance that is essential for the Seven Hills wines. I believe in long term commitments, so that we enhance quality together and become accustomed to each others working style, and I can better know how the vineyard responds under different vintage conditions. I think this kind of carefully thought out, long-term fruit sourcing delivers more quality to the consumer, and is more productive for both the winery and the grower.

Would you say that the WA wine industry is genial & filled with camaraderie?

I truly find this to be a very affable, friendly industry. People are into winegrowing and winemaking because they want to be here. There is a great sense of building the State and the Walla Walla Valley AVAs reputation together.

How do you tell the winery's story in context to the greater Washington story or do you? How do you tell the Washington story if at all?

As one of the pioneering wineries in the Walla Walla Valley, a big part of our story is longevity, commitment and integrity. My family has been in Eastern Washington for over 130 years now. We have a strong sense of place, and attachment to the land. Its wonderful to be able to pull out old red wines from the late 80's from our cellar to share --something that less than 20% of Washington brands today can do. Its a sense of heritage. The overall State story is very important. As a small (although 2nd to California in the US) wine region, we need to share the story of the overall region. Washington has its own unique climate and wine styles, and we all need to share that with people around the US. I focus on the consistent vintages, high quality, accessible wines, and the value for money at every price point that Washington delivers.

What is your favorite pairing that you've had recently with one of your wines?

Two come to mind immediately: Viognier with a whitefish baked on Clementine orange skins or with a Cauliflower risotto-delicious. I also had our 2006 Cabernet with a lamb loin sauced with a demi glace and it was a fantastic pairing.

What would you pair with Memphis BBQ ribs?

I LOVE MEMPHIS BBQ. Bill Huddleston took me to a couple of places when I first came to Memphis that I still remember. So.. a few ideas:
Syrah, for its ripe broad fruit and naturally smoky characters. Viognier, because its soft, sweet fruit and peachy-orangey aromas. Tempranillo with its red and black cherry fruit and soft palate-it also seems to have natural smokiness. Here's another kind of unusual idea: Riesling-possibly- because its slightly sweet, and can handle mildly hot foods. Maybe we should test that thought together sometime.

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