In 50 years, Washington has grown from an emerging wine region to a global player. The quality has never been as high as it is now and the wines have caught the attention of both critics and consumers.
However, many state wines can be identical, and this stylistic resemblance is not coincidental.
People use the same yeast, the same premiums and because of the nature and development of Washington, there are many identical vineyards, says Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen, co-owner/winemaker of WT Vintners.
In larger regions, vine-growers are often mixed to protect themselves from periodic frosts and to take advantage of the best each region has to offer.
Congress isn’t just part of it, Lindsay-Torsen said. You take a little Red Mountain, a little Valla Valla, a little Yakima and you put them all together and you have something nice.
They are delicious, yes, and certainly from Washington, but they are not necessarily different from each other or show a certain sense of place.
Recently, some winegrowers have started to open a different path. They produce unique wines that focus on the vineyards, with previously harvested fruit and using little winemaking techniques. By doing so, they not only redefine what Washington is, but also what it can be.
Sweet Wines Grace
Savage’s love for the wines of the Loire Cabernet Valley inspired Frank to visit Savage Grace Wines in Columbia Gorge. You can compare one producer with another and one vineyard with another and you feel like you’re in a completely different world, but one that is bound to the grapes, says Savage of Loire wines. Savage Grace produces four vineyards, which the Cabernet Frank calls red wines. There is also carbonated maceration, the Blanc Fran (Cabernet Fran produced as white wine) and the Cabernet Fran Pet-nat.
I loved the idea of showing the vineyard at different stages and showing different approaches to viticulture, he said. I liked it when the same sparkling wine turned red. Can you smell the vineyard in both wines? It’s a question I find interesting.
Savage Grace’s red colours differ in that it contains up to 3% less alcohol than many of his colleagues in Washington. We also know they were released early.
I didn’t start by saying I wanted to make wine with a lower alcohol content, Savage said.
But I was against manipulation. Many wineries opt for more mature wines, but some add water, acidity or both to balance the aromas with the rest of the wine. The adaptation of the wines never seemed good, he says. It never seemed right and I didn’t think the wine was the right wine for the harvest. I wanted a totally clean approach. Even the addition of yeast seems to characterize the wine.
The Savage Winery uses a large number of berries and the fermentation of whole grapes, while the new oak does not age.
I want the wine to be tight, he says. I want you to feel the texture of the tannins and some grain, but I don’t want it to be bitter and conspicuous.
Doug Frost, MS, MW Echoland / Andrea Johnson Photo
Doug Frost, MS, MW
When one of the four people in the world who holds both the Master Sommelier and Cellar Master degrees decides to make wine, wine lovers take care of it.
This is an opportunity for me to learn more, and of course, it wasn’t enough just to learn what I already knew, Frost said.
Earlier this year Frost founded Echolands Winery together with his business partner Brad Bergman. The Syrah for the inauguration of the winery comes from the renowned Les Collins winery. The acidity of the wine is considerably higher than in most states.
I tend to find things a little brighter than others, Frost said. I hope to make a wine that pleases my palate, which is a little more intense and sour than what I am used to.
This allows the fruit to be picked earlier. Frost says that when he and winemaker Taylor Oswald came to pick up the bins for their opening wine, many locals were surprised.
People laughed at us and said: Do you decide tomorrow? What’s wrong with you? Are you out of your mind? ”
In the end, Mr Frost hopes that the wine will not only have a higher acidity, but also a lower alcohol content.
We don’t owe figures, but if it were up to me, we would never have produced more than 14% [volume of alcohol] wine, Frost said. It’s just something for my taste. It certainly made us want a slightly different style.
The name Ekholands is an appeal from Greek mythology, in which the nymph of the Ekho Mountains could only repeat the last line that was told to her.
I thought it was the right metaphor for the winemaking process, Frost said. There’s nothing else you can say. The best thing you can do is try to take what you are given and give it back as accurately as possible.
Keith Johnson of Devium Wine / Photo by Andrea Johnson
Johnson created Devium Vin out of rebellion.
I said: I’m gonna make my Washington wine different from the others, because nobody else does, and if I don’t make it, then who will? He says.
For Johnson, this process begins with the characteristic vineyards. An example is the Moorevee block, which faces northeast on a steep gravel slope. Another is Malbec, which is 3000 feet above sea level, twice as high as most of the surrounding vineyards.
I only work with winemakers who have a voice that has something to say, Johnson said.
The grapes are picked with a much lower sugar content than normal and with a higher acidity. In the cellar, the fruits of the red wine remain unsorted and the grapes whole.
The whole cluster gives you the magic that exists in the fields, Johnson said. I don’t care if my wine tastes like cherries or blackberries. What interests me is that there’s magic in all this. A little soul? That’s all I’m looking for.
The wines are then placed in neutral oak and are generally left to fend for themselves with a minimum addition of sulphur.
I’m just trying to distill my wine in its purest form so that it really represents the resources of my vineyard, Johnson says.
According to him, the reaction to wines that absorb the great red style common in Washington may be different.
I’m not gonna lie and say it was easier to be different. But what traces do you want to leave in this world and how do you want to live your life? For me there is something to say, and for my wines there is something to say that I hope has a low alcohol content in the soul of the vineyard.
Matt Austin from Grosgrain Vineyards / Photo by Andrea Johnson
When Austin and his wife Kelly started studying wine, they started looking for new varieties and areas. When they founded the Grosgrain vineyards in Wall in 2018, this spirit of adventure was the basis of their approach.
We really wanted the energy of intelligence to be part of what we do, Matt said, who is a winemaker.
In its first vintage, the winery produced 13 wines. One of them is Red Mountain’s Lemberger Pett Nat, who is best known for his bright red color. The wine is light, clear and airy.
It’s one of our most popular wines, he says.
Grosgrain owns two estates in the valley, planted with Grenache, Carignana and Italian varieties. Macabeo, Xiarello, Vermentino and Ribolla Giala will be planted soon. For some of these varieties this will be the first commercial plantation in the state.
While Washington is widely known for its rich red wines, Grosgrain is dedicated to a dynamic and elegant style.
We really wanted to explore lighter, fresher styles and go from white to red, Matt said. This is done by pruning more in the vineyard and less extraction in the cellar.
We don’t make saenia, nor do we try to extract as much of the skin as possible during fermentation, he says. We take very soft beats and keep our fermentation cool to make it easier to control the hood.
The red wines spend about a year in barrels, almost all in neutral oak.
I don’t think we have the same tannin density with our style and the large structure that sometimes takes a long time to develop, he said. I really try to maintain the freshness of certain aromas instead of emphasizing this aging character.
Jeff Lindsey-Torsen of WT Vintners / Photo by Andrea Johnson
Since its foundation, WT Vintners has focused exclusively on vines.
I could probably make the best wine through the art of blending, says co-owner/winemaker Lindsey-Torsen. But I had the feeling that it was possible to have all these really special places in the center, in contrast to the places just mentioned on the website.
According to Lindsay-Torsen, most of the work has to be done in the vineyard.
The ultimate goal is to alleviate any need for treatment in the basement, he says. Anything you add takes something away from this place.
The grapes are harvested earlier to keep them fresh, which goes well with Lindsay-Torsen’s sommelier training.
I don’t want to drink big, pompous wines all the time, he says. I need nuances, and a little less alcohol might help.
In the winery, Lindsay-Torsen describes his style of doing as little as possible, although he avoids the labels of natural wines.
I’m 100% out of natural wine storage, says Lindsey-Torsen. Wine without a winemaker is vinegar. Some degree of intervention and guidance is absolutely necessary. But if you do less, maybe there’s more guilt.
Like many other wineries mentioned here, WT emphasizes spontaneous fermentation rather than commercial yeast, believing that this better reflects the vineyard. Lindsey-Torsen used a lid for the grapes during fermentation instead of mechanical methods.
To invade a whole group is going to be a very brutal act, he said. Walking and performing on foot and by hand becomes a really gentle process.
The result is wines that are only available in Washington.
We distinguish ourselves by a different style, but that’s not because we do something special, says Lindsay-Torsen. I just listen to my elders and do it instead of reading the latest catalogue and trying to organize things.
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