Braving sleet, snow and rain, yours truly drove all the way to Woodinville and braved hoards of merrymakers to bring you the latest news from the Eastside of the Puget Sound AVA. Some thirty odd wineries participated in Saint Nicholas Day, a Woodinville Wine Country event initiated by DeLille cellars several years ago. DeLille was a total madhouse and Columbia Winery wouldn't pour me any wine, so I moved on to ten "new" smaller wineries. They are listed in the order visited.
1) Adams Bench - Tim and Erica Blue checked out California and Walla Walla before settling on Woodinville. This winery is so new that all of the wines available for tasting were barrel samples and had not even been bottled yet. They were poured from decanters, but weren't in the decanters long enough to develop. All deep purple with the fruit, acid and tannin not quite integrated yet, just as one might expect from barrel samples. My favorite was the least expensive ( $30 pre-sale) 2005 Adams Bench Horse Heaven Hills Red Wine which had a soft, subtle nose of cherry vanilla and great berry fruit notes. Great fruit in the mouth with a nice mocha touch and a slightly rough finish which should smooth out with six to twelve months in the bottle. Perhaps I liked this the best, since as a 2005 it is the most advanced in development to say nothing of the fact that 2005 was a great year in Washington. The 2006 "Reckoning" and "Vibrance" both seemed a little flat to me, but then wine is a living thing and we all know how quickly children change, so these babies will undoubtedly evolve in the barrel and the bottle.
2) Hollywood Hills Vineyards - Just across the lane from Adams Bench, winemaker Steve Snyder is growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Part of the Puget Sound underground grapevine of Western Washington grape-growers, Steve is either engaged in folly or starting a new trend. Why not grow Pinot Noir in Puget Sound if they can do it in the Willamette Valley. Steve claims that he has just the right clones to pull it off. Unfortunately, the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were not available for tasting. Instead we tasted a 2005 Syrah and a 2005 Cabernet Franc both made primarily from Portteus Vineyard grapes. These "Eastside Winery" wines function somewhat like a "day job" supporting the exciting Pinot adventure just outside in the vineyards. These wines were a little light in style for my taste, but very similar to the style of Paul Portteus, himself.
3) Northwest Totem - Mike and Kate Sharadin have good connections in Woodinvile and have put them to good use. Their reds were good, but best of all was a Late Harvest Viognier with an enticing nose of apricots and honeysuckle, flavors of apricots and pears, and twenty per cent residual sugar, but not too sweet. Yum!
4) Efeste - Efeste! Sounds celebratory, doesn't it! Italian for celebrate? Nah, made up from the initial of the three owners. Off to a good start on a fairly big scale - 6000 cases! Speaking of big, my favorite was the "Big Papa" blend. And I met Big Papa, Daniel Ferrelli who follows in the footsteps of his grandfather and father as Big Papa. Big Papa's wife is certainly no Big Mama, but rather a svelte, petite Greek woman, so perhaps we should say, Efcharisto, Efeste! E Buona Fortuna!
5) Gorman Winery -Chris Gorman's "Evil Twin" put him up to it! Chris has been open for a few years, but this is the first time I've been able to taste his wine. Gorman joins other hip/fun wineries such as Sleight of Hand and Mark Ryan in giving his wines fanciful dramatic names. This is the fourth wave in wine naming. First wine was named by place, then by grape, then by names made up by marketers and now by winemakers having fun with names wanting us to have fun with their wine. The message is no pretense here, but, IMO, winemakers sometimes overshoot by giving very serious, or shall we say, great, wines very "unserious" names. Anyway, Chris's wine are serious, from one of the best regions in Washington, Red Mountain. I tasted the Evil Twin 2005 and The Bully 2005. Despite the best efforts of the school conflict resolution team, The Bully won. Perhaps, as in life, the all Cab Bully is the King of the Mountain.
6) Sparkman Cellars - Veteran winemaker Mark Ryan helped his buddy Chris Sparkman get his winery off the ground and Chris is off to a good start. Chris has worked in the hospitality industry for a number of years and finally decided he would rather make wine than just serve it. We taste the 2006 Lumiere Chardonnay which was good in a light tart, almost Chablis style, but seemed overpriced at $35. The 2005 Wilderness Red Blend is made from Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Malbec and Syrah from Horse Heaven Hills and Red Mountain. This melange is a definite winner.
7) Darby Winery - I have to confess! The 2006 Le Duece white and the 2005 Destiny Ridge Syrah really grabbed me. Both are elegant wines with perfect balance. Le Duece is a blend of 60% Roussanne and 40% Viognier. The Roussanne was aged in stainless steel while the Viognier rested in neutral oak barrels. The combination is spectacular with the "minerality" I love so much. The Syrah is smooth and seamless with a structure more like that of a refined Bordeaux style blend than a Syrah.
8) Washington Wine Company - Washington Wine Company has existed in Monroe, Washington for a number of years, but just recently moved to Woodinville, perhaps to be where the action is. Among several good wines the 2006 Volterra Chardonnay from Minick Vineyard stood out for me. The best Chardonnay of the day.
9) Pomum - Javiar from Spain, made a Bordeaux style blend from Yakima Valley fruit that was totally elegant and immediately reminded me that the winemaker was from Europe. Javiar told me that Pomum means fruit in Latin and that he intends to make good use of the fruit of the vine to make Spanish style wines from grapes such as Tempranillo. Can't wait to see what he comes up with.
10) Ross Andrew - Last year I wrote that Ross Andrew wines could be the next "cult wine" in Washington. This year I met Ross and had a chance to taste his Pinot Gris and his Bordeaux style blend. Both were excellent.
One recommendation to new winemakers. I totally understand all the demands of starting a new winery - the economic worry and the desire to make great wine, but a good website and tasting notes or at least a price list are necessities. Most people have trouble remembering wines and wine names, especially when tasting numerous wines. Even I have trouble keeping track, so at least put out some sort of list of wines as a reminder and an opportunity for people to easily keep track of which wines they liked. I wish all of these new winemakers good fortune and urge you to try their wines.