Category Archives: Washington wine

Walla Walla Musings

A few notes from the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance tasting featuring 40 different Walla Walla wineries at Seattle’s McCaw Hall.

New (to me) Walla Walla Wineries that Impressed

With over 900 wineries, even the most avid Washington wine lover has a hard time trying to taste them all. Walla Walla, alone, is home to around 120 wineries so even this tasting provided only a slice of what the AVA has to offer. My strategy at events like this is to hit several new wineries that I’ve never tasted before revisiting old favorites.

Lagana Cellars— Poured 2 whites (Sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay) and 2 reds (Syrah and Cabernet Franc) and while all 4 were solid, the reds were definitely a step above. The 2014 Minnick Hills Syrah was one of the few 2014 Syrahs that seemed to escape the reductiveness that (unfortunately) characterized several of their peers at this tasting and showed a beautiful mix of black fruit, mouthwatering acidity and spice. The 2015 Seven Hills Cabernet Franc demonstrated all the things that are beautiful about Washington Cabernet Franc (More on that below). It had vivacious, high intensity aromatics of violets and blackberry, medium-plus body with silky tannins.

Kontos Cellars— Poured 3 reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and blend) plus a bonus bottle blend named Beckett after the winemaker’s daughter. Founded by the sons of Cliff Kontos of Fort Walla Walla Cellars, the trademark seen throughout the Kontos wines was gorgeous aromatics and pitch perfect balance between oak, fruit, tannins and acidity. Even the two 2014 wines (Cab & Alatus blend) stood out but the star of the flight was the wine club member’s only release Beckett blend. A blend of 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot and 8% Syrah, the 2013 Beckett showcased Kontos’s high intensity aromatics with a mix of red and black cherries, red floral notes and lots of savory spice.

I’m very glad that I didn’t miss this table.


Tertulia Cellars— Poured 3 reds (Rhone blend, Syrah and Cabernet Franc). This is a little of a cheat since Tertulia is not really a newbie. Founded in 2005, I did try some of their early releases several years ago and wasn’t that impressed. I figured after nearly 10 years, I should give them another shot and boy am I glad I did. The 2013 Riviera Galets “The Great Schism” Rhone blend was outstanding.

A blend of 50% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 7% Cinsault and 3% Mourvedre, this wine would do extremely well in a tasting of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Beautiful savory, meaty nose but with enough rich dark fruit to clue you in that it was a New World wine. This wine also had one of the longest finishes of the night. The 2014 Whistling Hills Syrah had some of the 2014 reductive notes but it blew off fairly quickly with some air. The 2015 Cabernet Franc, like the Lagana above, was delicious.

Other wineries that impressed me were Caprio Cellars (especially the 2015 Walla Walla Red), Solemn Cellars (especially the 2014 Pheasant Run Cabernet Sauvignon) and Vital Wines (especially the 2016 Rose).

Old Favorites that Shined

You can never go wrong with Woodward Canyon and their 2014 Artist Series is a worthy follow up to the 2013. The 2014 Old Vines also did very well. In fact, along with the 2014 wines that are noted throughout this post, Woodward Canyon seemed to be one of the few producers to have 2014 wines that weren’t showing any green or reductive notes. (More on that below)

Despite enjoying their estate red for several years, I actually never knew that Figgins produced an estate Riesling and it was fantastic! From the 2016 vintage, the Riesling is decidedly on the dry side and had all the gorgeous white flower, apple and apricot notes that Washington Riesling is known for. Truly a top shelf Riesling that would go toe to toe with the best of Alsace and the Mosel.

Anna Shafer of àMaurice continues to show why she is one of the best winemakers in the state working not only with her estate vineyards but also making a mouth-filling but elegant 2015 Boushey Vineyard Grenache and a 2016 Connor Lee Chardonnay that would tickle the taste buds of even the most ardent Meursault fan.

The Bledsoe Family rose was also very tasty.


Doubleback introduced their 2015 Flying B Cabernet Sauvignon. I got the first taste of a brand new bottle and I was highly impressed with how aromatic and flavorful it was for a pop and pour young Cab. While I enjoyed the regular flagship Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon, I will say that for half the price the Flying B is giving it a run for the money. I would highly encourage folks to sit on the flagship Cab for 5-7 years from vintage date and drink the Flying B while it ages.

Geeky Grapes on Display

While Washington State and Walla Walla wineries are known for fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Riesling, it was fun seeing winemakers embrace more obscure varieties like Albariño (Adamant Cellars), Grenache blanc (The Walls) and Carménère.

Paul Gregutt notes in Washington Wines and Wineries that the Figgins family of Leonetti were likely the first to plant Carménère in the state with cuttings they got from Guenoc Winery in California. Those cuttings were eventually shared with Colvin Vineyards that produced the first varietal Carménère in Washington in 2001. Since then the grape’s acreage in the state has expanded with plantings in Alder Ridge Vineyard, Minnick Hills, Morrison Lane and Seven Hills Vineyard.

I tried to figure out what vineyard in the Wahluke Slope had Carménère but my question was brushed off because they wanted to “highlight the AVA and not the vineyard.”
Um….okay.


Among the numerous wineries featuring a Carménère at the tasting were Balboa/Beresan Winery, Drink Washington State (from Wahluke Slope), Reininger Winery and Skylite Cellars. I missed out on trying the Reininger but was fairly impressed with Drink Washington State’s offering. But admittedly at $26 you are paying for the uniqueness of the variety in Washington and, right now, it is hard to compete with some of the Carménère coming in from Chile that often delivers outstanding value under $15.

Probably the geekiest wine at the tasting was Foundry Vineyards’ Stainless Steel Chardonnay from the Columbia Gorge. A Chard? Geeky? It is when it has 6% Maria Gomes blended in. Also known as Fernão Pires, Jancis Robinson notes in Wine Grapes that this obscure Portuguese grape variety is actually the most widely planted white grape in Portugal with over 41,500 acres. It is believed to have originated in either the Bairrada DOC or in the Tejo region but it can be found throughout the country including in the Douro. In the US, though, it is quite the rare bird.

Pay Attention to Washington Cabernet Franc

Walter Clore encouraged the first plantings of Cabernet Franc in the mid-1970s as part of Washington State University’s experimental blocks. In 1985, Red Willow Vineyard in Yakima planted the grape which was used by Master of Wine David Lake at Columbia Winery to produce the first varietal Cabernet Franc in 1991. Since then the grape has seen growth from 150 acres in 1993 to a peak of 1157 acres in 2006 only to decline to 685 acres by 2017.

Which is a crying shame because of how absolutely delicious Washington Cabernet Franc is!

The 2012 Spring Valley Katherine Corkrum Cabernet Franc was, hands down, one of the best wines in the entire tasting.


While Old World examples from places like Chinon and Saumur-Champigny in the Loire can be light to medium bodied and herbal with trademark pencil shaving notes, examples from Washington hold up to the weight and profile of the state’s best Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Here Cabernet Franc can develop perfumed blue floral aromatics with some subtle fresh forest floor earthiness that add layers. The dark raspberry and blueberry carry a juicy edge due to the grape’s natural acidity. With some age, a very enticing fresh ground coffee note often comes out–something that the 2012 Spring Valley Vineyards Katherine Corkrum Cabernet Franc was starting to develop.

Outside of Walla Walla, stellar examples of Washington Cabernet Franc include Chinook Wines, Barrister, Camaraderie, Matthews Cellars, Gamache Vineyards, Chatter Creek and Sheridan Vineyard’s Boss Block.

At the Walla Walla tasting, in addition to the Spring Valley example that was a contender for Wine of The Show, other tremendous Cabernet Francs were showcased by Lagana Cellars (2015 Seven Hills), Tamarack Cellars (2015 Columbia Valley), Tertulia Cellars (2015 Elevation), Tranche (2013 Walla Walla), March Cellars (2016 Columbia Valley) and Walla Walla Vintners (2015 Columbia Valley)

What happened in 2014?

Along with Woodward Canyon, Kontos produced the cleanest and best tasting 2014 reds I encountered at the tasting.


The most baffling aspect of the Walla Walla tasting was how many 2014 reds were disappointing. Despite widely being considered a very good year in Washington State and Walla Walla, in particular, several wines from even big name and highly acclaimed producers showed green pyrazine or reductive notes. One winery had massive volatile acidity (VA) issues with their 2014s. With many wineries also featuring 2013 and 2015 reds, sometimes even of the same wine as their 2014, the shortcomings in the 2014s stuck out like a sore thumb.

And it wasn’t very consistent with one winery’s 2014s being green while another winery’s 2014 example of the same variety would instead have the closed aromas of reduced wines or (at worst with at least 2 examples) the burnt rubber aroma of mercaptans. While the reductive issues are minimized with getting some air into the wine (like with decanting), the green notes don’t go away. I can’t figure a reason why there would be so many green notes in what was a very warm vintage.

As far as I can tell there were no reports of millerandage or coulure which can promote uneven ripeness and hidden green berries inside clusters of varieties like Grenache, Merlot and Malbec. Plus, it was the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrahs that were more likely to show green notes. My only theory is that with it being such a large vintage perhaps some vineyards were over-cropped? But given the pedigree of the producers, I feel like that is unlikely.

I honestly don’t know. As noted above, there were still 2014s that were drinking well (and I certainly didn’t get a chance to taste every single one that was being poured) so I encourage consumers not to avoid the vintage but be aware that there is some inconsistency. I’m just reporting on a trend that I observed during this one tasting event.

My Top 5 Wines of the Event

The 2016 Figgins Estate Riesling was an absolute gem.

There were plenty of outstanding wines featured at the 2018 Walla Walla Wine Tasting at McCaw Hall that give me reasons to be excited about the future of the Walla Walla wine industry. This region is well worth exploring at your local wine shops and restaurants. Even with my reservations about many 2014 wines, there were numerous wines poured that I could very enthusiastically recommend. But my top 5 overall were:

1.) 2013 Tertulia Riviera Galets
2.) 2012 Spring Valley Vineyards Katherine Corkrum Cabernet Franc
3.) 2013 Kontos Cellars Beckett
4.) 2015 Abeja Merlot
5.) 2016 Figgins Estate Riesling

Exploring The Burn with Borne of Fire

Going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out about this new Washington wine.

In January, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates released their newest wine, Borne of Fire, featuring fruit from the newly proposed AVA The Burn of Columbia Valley. A 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon with 10% Malbec blended in, Borne of Fire is the only wine currently on the market that features fruit exclusively from this new region in Washington State.

The Burn

Located in Klickitat County just west of the Horse Heaven Hills and east of the Columbia Gorge AVA, The Burn encompasses the plateau and benchland bordered by the Columbia River to the south and two creeks (Rock and Chapman) flanking it northwest and northeastern sides. The name comes from the tradition of settlers in the late 1800s and early 1900s of setting the entire plateau on fire in the fall to provide ash and fertilizer that would rejuvenate the grasslands in the spring when the horses needed to be fed.

The first Cabernet Sauvignon vines were planted in 2002 with Chateau Ste Michelle and the Mercer family of the Horse Heaven Hills taking the lead in developing the region. In 2015, plantings were greatly expanded with more Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah, Sangiovese and Chardonnay. Of the nearly 17,000 acres in the proposed AVA, 1261 acres are currently planted with Chateau Ste. Michelle having plans to eventually expand to 2100 acres.

This expansion would surpass the 1671 acres currently planted in Walla Walla and almost reach the 2225 acres planted in Red Mountain.

Map from the Washington State Wine Commission with edits added by the author

Location of The Burn within Washington State


The propose AVA draws some comparison to Red Mountain with its warm temperatures and similar heat accumulation numbers. However, the heat is spaced out over a longer growing season which allows more hang time to ripen stem and seed tannins while still maintaining fresh acidity.

The unique soils of The Burn are a mixture of silt-loam and loess that retains water better than the gravel and sandy loam typical of Red Mountain and many other Eastern Washington AVAs. With an average of 8.7″ of rain, vineyards in The Burn have reduced needs for irrigation and the potential to dry farm in some vintages.

The AVA petition for The Burn was officially accepted October 31st, 2017 with Joan Davenport (of Washington State University and Davenlore Winery), Kevin Corliss (of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates) and John Derrick (of Mercer Canyons) as the petitioners.

Wine Stats

Made by Juan Muñoz-Oca, the head winemaker of Columbia Crest and Intrinsic, at Ste. Michelle Wine Estate’s Paterson facility, Borne of Fire is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec with the Malbec sourced from the 2015 plantings and being harvested after its second leaf.

With the ripe stem tannins, the Cabernet grapes were mostly fermented whole cluster with the stems. The wine was aged almost a year in large 120 gallon puncheons of Hungarian oak that was lightly toasted as a means of paying homage to The Burn’s history. Around 35,000 cases were produced for the inaugural release with plans for the 2017 release increasing that number to 95,000 cases.

The Wine

Photo by Imtiyaz Ali. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-3.0

This very young wine has some fresh red cherry notes.

Medium-minus intensity nose. Very tight. Some red cherry and spice. There is an interesting black tea component on the nose that I usually associate with Pinot noir from the Yamhill-Carlton District (like stuff sourced from Shea Vineyards).

On the palate, the tightness and youth still hold court. Medium plus acidity and medium plus tannins lock the fruit and doesn’t allow much to express itself. Working it around a bit in the mouth lets some red currant join the cherry fruit from the nose. The finish is short but that intriguing mix of black tea and “Malbec-like” spice briefly appears.

The Verdict

At around $23-26, you are buying this wine on its potential–both of the wine and the terroir of The Burn. With the typical Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon usually north of $35, this AVA and wine is worth keeping an eye on.

There are definitely some intriguing hints and I can see this wine developing on a steep learning curve over the next year. Right now, it just needs more bottle age.

60 Second Wine Review — Henry Earl Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

A few quick thoughts on the 2010 Henry Earl Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Geekery

Henry Earl is owned by Washington grape growers Dick & Wendy Shaw with the estate named after their two fathers, Henry Shaw and Earl West. Paul Gregutt in Washington Wines and Wineries notes that the Shaws are one of the largest vineyard holders in the Wahluke Slope with 464 acres.

On Red Mountain, they have almost 52 acres with their North Vineyard as well as joint ownership of 313 acre Quintessence Vineyard with Paul Kaltinick and 26 acre Obelisco Vineyard with Kaltnick and the Long Family.

Among the many wineries that the Shaws sell fruit to include: Duckhorn’s Canvasback, Col Solare, DeLille, Fidelitas, Guardian Cellars, Januik and Mark Ryan Winery.

With Jack Jones, the Shaws started J & S Crushing and the Columbia River’s Edge Winery, a custom crush facility for clients like Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. In 2014, they launched Henry Earl and acquired Russell Creek Winery in Walla Walla.

Victor Palencia, one of Wine Enthusiast’s Top 40 under 40 Tastemakers, is the winemaker for Henry Earl. In addition to his work with Henry Earl, Palencia also does the winemaking for Jones of Washington and his own Palencia Winery.

Photo by Gerard Prins. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-3.0

Oak flavors, a little fruit and acidity pretty much sums up this wine.


The Wine

Medium intensity nose. Dark fruits like blackberry and black plum with noticeable oak spice of clove and cinnamon.

On the palate, the dark fruits come through but are less defined than they were on the nose. The oak really dominants with vanilla joining the spices from the nose. Medium-plus acidity and medium tannins give a rugged structure that needed just a bit more fruit to balance it.

The Verdict

I think this wine is probably a year or 2 past its prime. It’s not drinking badly but it’s not offering as much pleasure as you would expect from something around $40-45.

With the fruit fading, it is mostly the acidity and oak running the show and, for me at least, that not very compelling.

60 Second Wine Reviews — Woodward Canyon Artist Series

Woodward Canyon Artist SeriesSome quick thoughts on the 2013 Woodward Canyon Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Geekery

Founded by Rick & Darcy Small in 1981, Woodward Canyon was the second modern-era commercial winery in Walla Walla (after Leonetti Cellar) and was one of the driving forces in getting the Walla Walla Valley recognized as an AVA in 1984.

According to Paul Gregutt in Washington Wines and Wineries, the Artist Series line of Cabernet Sauvignon was first released in 1995. Since 2003, Kevin Mott has overseen winemaking duties after stints at Canoe Ridge and Sagelands (when those wineries were owned by the Chalone Wine Group).

The 2013 edition of the Artist Series was sourced from 7 vineyards–the Woodward Canyon Estate and Summit View Vineyard in Walla Walla, Champoux Vineyard and Discovery Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills, Charbonneau Vineyard and Sagemoor Vineyards in the Columbia Valley AVA and Spring Creek Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills.

The wine is a blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc. Around 3700 cases were made.

The Wine

Medium plus intensity nose. Big dark fruit with dark chocolate notes. With a little air, a mix of sweet herbal notes like marjoram and fennel come out.

Photo by Susan Slater. Released on Wikimedia Commons under  CC BY-SA 4.0

Sweet herbs like fennel come out in this complex and multi-layered Washington wine


On the palate those dark fruits come through being more defined as black cherry and black berry. The dark chocolate note still lingers but there isn’t any overt vanilla and oak spice. The wine is full bodied with medium plus acidity and a lengthy finish.

The Verdict

This is one of the benchmark standards for Walla Walla Cab and it shows. The acidity gives lift and freshness to the lush dark fruit, adding a savory, juicy component.

It’s a young wine that is drinking great now but will probably continue to develop beautifully for another 5 years. At around $55-60, it is well worth the money for this gorgeous Cab.

It’s time to catch on to Passing Time

Can a winery owned by a NFL Hall of Famer and a two-time Super Bowl winner with a winemaker who cut his teeth working with Chris Upchurch of DeLille be considered under-the-radar?

Just like NFL Scouts want to find undrafted or late round gems that eventually blossom into superstars, wine lovers are always on the look out for the wine gems that may be attainable now but could eventually blow up into something much more harder to find. In honor of the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft, I present to you one such potential gem–Passing Time.

Dan Marino and Damon Huard were teammates on the Miami Dolphins in the late 1990s. A long time wine-lover whose family had a history of making wine at home, Marino was eager to share his passion for Washington wine with the Yakima-born Huard whose great-grandfather grew Concord grapes in Grandview, Washington. From there a friendship and eventual business partnership was kindled. Partnering with winemaker Chris Peterson of Avennia, Passing Time was born with an inaugural release of a 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from Champoux and Discovery Vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills and Klipsun Vineyard on Red Mountain.

Dan Marino at the March 25th, 2017 Passing Time Release Party


This past March they released their 2014 Cabernet Sauvignons featuring separate bottlings sourced from the Horse Heaven Hills, Red Mountain and Walla Walla AVAs. Barrel samples of their upcoming 2015 vintage releases were also available. Tasting the wines next to each other at the release party was not only a fascinating reflection of terroir and grape variety but it garnered a nascent sense of being on the cusp on something big emerging. In many ways, tasting this third vintage release from Passing Time and watching the crowds, I couldn’t help but think of what it was like for the folks in the early 2000s tasting Quilceda Creek before that winery exploded with a string of 100 point scores that took the price of their Cabernets north of $130. Or the folks who discovered Cayuse in Walla Walla before you had to wait 6+ years on a waiting list just to get an opportunity to buy. Those wineries, founded in 1978 and 1997 respectively, are rightfully in the upper echelon of Washington wines today and while I won’t say that Passing Time is at that level yet, thinking about the potential of where this winery could be around its 39th and 20th anniversary is certainly intriguing.

On to the wines.

The 2014 Passing Time Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon is 86% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced equally from Champoux Vineyards and Discovery Vineyard. It also contains 5% Cabernet Franc from Champoux and 9% Merlot from Klipsun Vineyards on Red Mountain. (Under US wine laws, the wine only needs to contain 75% of the stated grape variety and 85% of wine sourced from the stated AVA)

This was far and away my favorite wine of the tasting. In fact, even counting the wonderful wines that I tasted later in the afternoon at Taste Washington from DeLille, Long Shadows, Upchurch, Andrew Will, Canvasback, Aquilini, Gorman, Betz, Col Solare, Pepper Bridge and Figgins, I would rank this 2014 Passing Time Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon as the single best thing that I tasted that entire day.

From the moment it was poured into the glass, the high intensity aromatics of blackberry, cassis and espresso started jumping out. With a little swirling, a floral element of rose petals and fresh vanilla bean emerged. The mouthfeel was juicy and silky with medium-plus acidity holding court with medium-plus tannins that carried the dark fruit and rich, dark chocolate flavors across the palate. The finish lingered for several minutes after swallowing with a mix of subtle smoke and the dustiness you get from really good, high percentage cacao chocolate. The wine was very full-bodied but also incredibly elegant and well balanced.

It’s the kind of wine that when it gets opened, it gets emptied far too quickly for something that you want to savor every drop of. Bring this to a party or share with friends at your own peril. They’ll absolutely love it but you’ll be lucky to get a glass out of it before its gone.

The 2014 Passing Time Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon from Sevens Hills Vineyard in the Rocks District of Walla Walla, 26% Cabernet from Pepper Bridge and 7% Merlot from Figgins Estate.

This wine had medium-plus aromatics, lots of red fruit notes of cherry and red currants with a smokey tobacco undertone that gave it almost a St. Julien Bordeaux-like appeal. The nose was a little deceptive because the mouthfeel was much more powerful with more dark fruit and chocolaty flavors that gave more family resemblance to the Horse Heaven Hills Cab. The tobacco notes on the nose seemed to morph more towards a smoked rosemary and hickory flavor that wrapped around the fruit on the palate and had me craving some Kansas City BBQ. Very intriguing but the higher acid and more firmer tannins compared to the Horse Heaven Hills showed the wine’s youth a lot more. The Walla Walla Cab was still very good but its one that seemed like it had more layers yet to show and would benefit from some time.

Note: Either the 2014 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon was not available for tasting or the release party was just too crowded for me to find where it was being poured. C’est la vie. I’ll just have to wait till I crack open a bottle from my allocation.

The 2015 Passing Time Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon barrel sample was composed of 59% Discovery Cabernet, 29% Champoux Cabernt, 4% Champoux Cabernet Franc and 8% Klipsun Merlot. Barrel samples are always hard to fairly evaluate but, like its bottled 2014 counter part, this one still captured the most of my attention. Dark fruit notes of black currant and black berries on the nose with a floral undertone. Medium plus acidity and tannins hold up its full bodied of fruit flavors that also bring some rich dark chocolate to the palate. On the finish, there is a mix of floral and spice notes that will surely emerge more with time. Nice, velvety mouthfeel for such a young wine.

The 2015 Passing Time Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon barrel sample was composed of 97% Cabernet Sauvignon from Klipsun and 3% Cabernet Franc from Bacchus Vineyard. This was a beast of a wine with a brooding nose of rich, almost liqueur like, black currant with a savory herbal and spicy undertone. On the palate it is quite powerful with the rich dark fruit being more precise–still currant dominated but also with some black plum to compliment. The acid on this one seems lower, more medium, but it might just be because both the fruit and the tannins are much higher compared to the Horse Heaven sample. Just a big, big wine that will need some time.

The 2015 Passing Time Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon barrel sample was 100% Cabernet with 64% sourced from Seven Hills and 36% from Pepper Bridge. This was the most floral and perfumed on the nose of all the barrel samples but also the most tight on the palate. The nose had some beautiful violets and blue berries aromas that had me checking the tech sheet multiple times just to make sure that there wasn’t any Cabernet Franc in the blend. The oak seemed the most present on this one as well with a lot of baking spices such as clove and nutmeg appearing on both the nose and on the palate. The acidity was medium plus with the tannins on the high side. On the palate, you could sense the core of dark fruit but it was so tightly wound that it didn’t want to give up its layers. I found this one very intriguing though and wouldn’t be shocked if the 2015 Walla Walla wine ends up being my favorite at next year’s release party.

Right now Passing Time wines are available on their website for $75 dollars each with a minimum 3 bottle purchase. Some of the 2014s are making their way to select retailers mostly in the Seattle area. The key words are “right now”. While I can’t predict when these wines will sky-rocket in price or eventually become a “Mailing list only” winery with a lengthy years-long waiting list, I can certainly envision a future where that will be the case.

My advice is to get some of these wines and formulate your own opinion on them while they’re still playing under their “rookie contract”. Judging from the crowds at the March 25th, 2017 release party, it’s certainly not going to be long before Passing Time moves from being savvy Washington wine-insiders’ hot pick to being one of the wines that every lover of great Cabs are going to want to grab.

Making a Bet on Washington Chenin blanc

Earlier this week the big news in the Washington wine industry was the announcement of a collaboration project between the highly acclaimed Betz Family Winery and the Stellenbosch estate of DeMorgenzon Winery called Quinta Essentia. Sourced from four vineyards of old, head-trained bush vines, this South African Chenin will be produced in a dry style and retail for $40 a bottle.

Like many Washington wine lovers, I was intrigued. This was certainly an interesting spin for the fabled Washington winery which has long been known for its outstanding reds. It also made sense giving the South African heritage of the winery’s new owners, Steve & Bridgit Griessel. However, it also left me a little dishearten in that it looks like Washington Chenin blanc is being left in the dark once more.

There is just not enough sunbreaks (and good Chenin blanc like this example from Convergence Zone Cellars in North Bend) in the Pacifc Northwest.

There is just not enough sunbreaks (and good Chenin blanc like this example from Convergence Zone Cellars in North Bend) in the Pacifc Northwest.

Back in 2011, Sean Sullivan of the Washington Wine Report (and now Washington editor of Wine Enthusiast magazine) wrote a terrific article about why Chenin blanc deserves saving . At the end of the article he makes a recommendation for several Washington Chenin blancs, all of them on the off-dry or sweet side, with the driest being Marty Clubb’s L’Ecole 41 Chenin blanc sourced from 30+ year old vines planted in 1979. At around 4000 cases a year, L’Ecole remains practically the lone champion of the grape in Washington State with a bottling that is likely to be available at retail and restaurants. There are other producers with a passion for Chenin in the state, like Scott Greenberg of Convergence Zone Cellers, but these are usually made in very small quantities that are sold through the wineries tasting rooms and wine clubs. Even still, very few of these Chenin blancs are truly dry.

This is disappointing because in other markets (particularly the East Coast), wine consumers are getting hip to what sommeliers and wine geeks have been crowing about for some time–that Chenin blanc makes some mouth-watering and outrageously delicious dry wines with layers of complexity that can match a vast array of cuisine. In a foodie culture like the Pacific Northwest which embraces the flavors, charms and fusion of Asian, Latin and African dishes with ease, you would think that a grape that embraces the balance of acidity, texture, aromatics and fruit so seamlessly as Chenin blanc would be right on the table.

But its not and I think a big reason for this is that no one, outside of L’Ecole 41, has really made a big bet on Washington Chenin blanc and no one has taken the chance to produce and market some of the electricfyingly dry styles that are capturing people’s attention across the globe. This is why it was so disappointing to see that Betz’s new project was going to focus solely on South African Chenin blanc. It’s clear that the Griessels and Master of Wine Bob Betz know good Chenin. So when they took the bold step of introducing the first white wine to their portfolio, and chose to look beyond Betz Family Winery’s home state, it felt like a damning write-off of the potential of Washington Chenin blanc.

“Quinta Essentia emphatically confirms why Chenin Blanc is one of the world’s great white grape varieties… This is not the overcropped, insipid quaffer that Chenin has most often become in the U.S. This is old vine Chenin Blanc, conscientiously grown in a unique site, crafted by a skilled artisan.” — Betz news release

Betz is both right and wrong here. Yes, for a long time US Chenin blanc has sucked. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Just think of how exciting it would have been if Betz announced their collaboration with DeMorgenzon and took a page out of Allen Shoup’s book with Long Shadows or Chateau Ste. Michelle with Eroica and Col Solare. What if, instead of just doing a single South African bottling, they set out to change wine lover’s impression of American (and by extension, Washington State) Chenin blanc as being an “overcropped, insipid quaffer”. Working hand in hand with their South African partner, Betz could have done something truly unique in creating two companion bottles, one from Washington State and one from Stellenbosch, made with the same skill and care, that demonstrates the terroir and incredible potential of Chenin blanc. A project that would have combined the credibility and renown of Betz with the passion and respect for Chenin blanc of South Africans would have been just the jolt that this little underdog grape needs here in the Pacific Northwest.

If only Betz was willing to take a bet on Washington Chenin blanc.