Thursday, April 09, 2009

Washington Is Grape Heaven

I've returned from my first excursion to Seattle for the Taste of Washington....& it was truly one of the best & most well planned series of events that I have ever attended. For someone like me, who is in the biz, it was amazing. But anyone who enjoys good wine would love the Taste of Washington. To see some of my rockstars (Chris Camarda, Charles Smith, Ron Bunnell, Chris Upchurch) & taste their wine was an experience like no other. I sat in on a couple seminars about two "grand cru" vineyard sites; Klipsun & Champoux. Patricia Gelles, owner of Klipsun, is an English transplant who saw the winemaking potential of Red Mountain in Eastern Washington in the early 80's. Her vineyard supplies the raw material to such luminaries as Lachini, Januik Cellars, DeLille & small group of highly sought after wineries. Bruce Schoenfeld of Travel & Leisure led both the Klipsun & Champoux seminars. What I found really interesting was his observation of the uniqueness of WA state. "It has long struck me that Washington may be the most unique wine growing region in the New World," he said. "Vineyards are not monopoles." This allows the showcasing of many different styles of making wine from the same vineyard. Its blatantly obvious that the true stars of WA are the vineyards. However, the winemakers put their own spin on the beautiful raw material they are given. I immediately got the impression that Patricia was a force of nature.

Bruce: "Have you ever turned a winemaker who has asked to purchase some of your fruit?"
Patricia: "I have. If I taste some of the wines they've previously made & don't like them I shall refuse."

John Bigelow of JM Cellars recounted a story of when he was trying to get into the winemaking business. He went to Patricia to try & buy her fruit & she refused based on his inexperience. With his tail between his legs he went to Pete Hedges of Hedges Family Estate & asked him if he could buy some of his fruit. Hedges said that he didn't have any of his own estate fruit to sell but he did have some very expensive fruit from another vineyard that he wouldn't mind selling. That vineyard: Klipsun! John & Pete agreed on a price & John left feeling very accomplished. Shortly afterwards he ran into Patricia & said "I'm getting some of your fruit after all, isn't that great?" Her response: "No you are not." She explained that she controls who gets her fruit & would not stand for anyone superseding her authority. Patricia promptly rang Pete Hedges & gave him an earful for trying to sell off some of her fruit that he had contracted to purchase. Thankfully, she did take pity on John & finally agreed to sell him some Klipsun grapes.

Patricia: "Washington merlot on its own has such substance & depth. California merlot doesn't have that kind of grip even at triple the price."

She couldn't be more right. I'd had merlot from WA in the past that I thought was exceptional (Milbrandt, Andrew Will, Nelms Road) but never had I been subjected to such an overwhelming merlot. merlot. Not the thin watery, hollow swill from most CA producers but dark, luscious, supple, gripping, spice laden, fruit laden deliciousness. Merlot haters, get the hell over yourself & get on board with this fantastic elixir. Seriously.

It really was a unique experience to taste a group of wines all from the same site. We tasted three wineries, Januik, JM, DeLille. A barrel sample & a finished wine from each plus two Mystery wines. One from Klipsun & one not.

The Klipsun wines all had similar opaque purple cores with dark red rims along with similar plum-like aromas. While they shared similar characteristics it was how they expressed them in different nuanced ways that was so cool. They also all shared a liqueur quality on the nose & palate with significant concentration.

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