The Washington State Wine Commission hosts an annual trip offering wine professionals the opportunity to experience the unique qualities of Washington and its wines. The event is called Road Trip Washington Wine; an appropriate name considering that much time is spent on a bus traveling from one wine region to another, winding from Walla Walla back to Seattle. I was fortunate to be invited last year for one of the most fun and informative events in the wine industry. I returned impressed with the continued overall quality of the wines and state of the industry in Washington.
This was the most recent of several trips to Washington in the past few years. I have found the wines to be of superb quality, and a different style from California and Oregon. The state has a range of grapes and climates, and a stable full of great producers. Please excuse the name-droppin’ while I mention that a few personal favorites, amongst dozens, who produce excellent wines in the state are: Pepper Bridge Winery, Amavi Cellars, Gramercy Cellars (from fellow Master Sommelier Greg Harrington), Betz Family Winery (founded by one of my idols in the business, Bob Betz), Leonetti Cellar, Abeja, DeLille Cellars, Woodward Canyon, Quilceda Creek Vintners, L’Ecole No. 41, Owen Roe Winery, Andrew Will Winery, Va Piano Vineyards, and Waters Winery. Chateau Ste. Michelle is one of the most-respected large-volume producers for wines from both Washington and Oregon, making wines that are characteristic examples of type. The wines are an excellent, affordable introduction to Washington wine. They have in years past rescued the Washington wine industry from the ravages of weather. This demonstrates another characteristic of the industry that has propelled the wines to a place amongst the classics: solidarity of purpose. The wineries of Washington display camaraderie seldom seen in the industry. This allows almost all the wineries a place in the spotlight.
Despite my familiarity with Washington wines, on each trip I discover a vineyard, winery, or wine about which I know little. On Road Trip Washington Wine, I found all three in DuBrul Vineyard, Washington State’s Vineyard of the Year in 2007 and 2009, and Côte Bonneville, a Wine Spectator Rising Star in 2008. Hugh and Kathy Shiels bought an apple orchard in 1991, and replanted it to grapes in 1992. This steep, rocky, well-drained slope in the Yakima Valley produces concentrated berries, yielding full-flavored, well-structured wines that are delicious young, but will improve with age. They sell much of their harvest to some of the best wineries in Washington. A few of the clients include Quilceda Creek, Owen Roe, Woodward Canyon, and Va Piano. However, the real gems come from the portion of grapes they hold for their winery, Côte Bonneville. Two Rieslings are produced. One has green apple, melon, floral and ginger notes with slight sweetness that is offset by crisp acidity. The other is a stone fruit laden and sweeter late harvest version. Two Bordeaux-styled blends are powerful and rich, offering the structure and intense fruit for which many Washington reds are known. But, one of the best-known wines is the Chardonnay. Brioche and hazelnuts yield to citrus and pineapple notes with plenty of mineral backbone. Other wines in the range include a Syrah and Cabernet Franc Rosé.
I feel fortunate that I was able to get these wines for use in my day job at Cafe on the Green at Four Seasons Resort and Club. I feel even more fortunate that Kerry Shiels, daughter of the founders and winemaker for Côte Bonneville, agreed to host a dinner at the restaurant. Kerry has an engineering degree from Northwestern University in Chicago and a Viticulture and Enology degree from UC Davis. Despite her seeming to be a genius, she is one of the most approachable and interesting speakers that I have heard. Next to visiting the vineyard, Kerry is the best source of information and inspiration regarding this vineyard and the wines it produces. I look forward to welcoming her on April 28th.
And, I look forward to continuing the exploration of Washington, its wines, and the stories of the people who have made it a great wine-producing state.