2007 Trust Cellars Syrah Walla Walla Valley

January 15, 2010

Hello friends. What would you do? You’re 40 years old and have been a producer at CNN for your entire adult life. You have a career and a comfortable existence in Atlanta. By traditional American standards, you have crafted a successful life. But behind the curtain, all is not well. News production is an unhappy business. You’re surrounded by colleagues who are driven to abject misery by producing and reporting a seemingly-endless stream of bad news.

So what would you do? Would you swallow your sense of impending doom and continue on with your tread-worn life. I suspect most of us would. I wonder if I would. Or maybe you would drop everything and move your family 3000 miles to become a world-class winemaker in Walla Walla. That’s what Steve Brooks did.

As Steve was looking long and hard at his CNN career, he happened to read a New York Times article about the burgeoning wine scene in Walla Walla. As he thought about winemaking, he realized that he could not remember being in a winery tasting room that had a single unhappy person in it. Warm, happy wineries were the equatorial counterpoint to the frozen north pole of news production.

Several years later, after a long move west and apprenticeships at Long Shadows and Northstar, Steve had his happy winery. He named it after the one ingredient he needed beyond his profound sense of initiative: trust. To make a move of that magnitude required the trust of his family: their confidence that despite inevitable obstacles, the ending of their story would be a happy one. And it required Steve to trust himself: to believe in his gut; his instinct that this would be a change for the better.

A visit to Trust Cellars is always a highlight of my trips to Walla Walla. Steve is as laid back and funny as his story is inspirational, and his wines have been terrific from the very first vintage (2005). I’m thrilled that so many of you have enjoyed Steve’s Riesling, which we offered in October (I will include a reorder link for this wine at the end of the offer in case any of you want to revisit that beauty).

You really can’t go wrong with any of the wines in the Trust lineup, but today we’re offering the one that’s in the shortest supply. Steve just sent his final parcel of 2007 Walla Walla Valley Syrah west of the mountains. Once this parcel is gone, we will all just have to wait until the 2008 vintage is released.

This is fantastic Syrah and a great value (even with Syrah falling rapidly – and in my opinion, foolishly –  out of fashion, it’s still difficult to find Walla Walla Syrah under $30). Les Collines Syrah forms the foundation of the wine (61%), bringing its alluring truffle and earth notes. That fruit is blended with lush, blackberry-driven Va Piano Syrah (28%) and a small amount of Lewis Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon for acid. The oak (all French, but only 22% new) is relegated to the background, of this black, silky, complex Syrah that is as pleasurable to drink as its complexities are to contemplate.

We have first crack at this parcel, so I will open order requests up to a maximum of 12 bottles and hope that our list snaps up the majority of what remains (I will certainly be adding some of these bottles to my personal collection). We will have this wine in our warehouse in less than a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.


2006 Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon

January 14, 2010

Hello friends. Short offering today, as I just got confirmation that we have secured this lot, and there’s not much of it. The winery is sold out, and to the best of my knowledge, this is the last available parcel in Washington.

These are heady times for Greg Harrington and the rest of our friends at Gramercy Cellars. Already an underground hit with the sommelier crowd, Gramercy has now started to receive the same level of acclaim from professional reviewers. First came Jay Miller’s reviews with Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. Miller scored all five Gramercy wines 92 pts and above, and he noted that Greg’s first vintage “was first-class but the latest collection is eye-opening. My advice: get on Gramercy’s mailing list while you still can.” Here is his review of the Cabernet Sauvignon:

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The run on this Cab that began with the Advocate review was exacerbated when the January issue of Wine Enthusiast went one better:

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Greg’s first priority when picking fruit is always acid, and it shows in this bottling. At 13.8%, this is low-alcohol by Washington Cabernet standards but par for the course for the always-vibrant, acid-driven Gramercy lineup. I tasted this wine over the summer and was struck by its purity of expression; it is classic, penetrating Cabernet Sauvignon. This was on the docket for an offering at a nebulous future date, but circumstances dictate a revision to that schedule.

Please limit order requests to 4 bottles, and we will do our best to fulfill all requests. We will have this wine in our warehouse in less than a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.


2008 Cedergreen Cellars Chenin Blanc

January 12, 2010

Hello friends. One of the Full Pull offerings that has received the greatest number of reorder requests has been the 2007 McKinley Springs Chenin Blanc. When I mentioned that fact to the folks at McKinley Springs on my December visit there, Doug Rowell (the winemaker) looked a little forlorn and went on to explain that they have had to rip out a lot of their old-vine Chenin. It’s simply not a grape that is in fashion right now, and hence it does not command high enough prices to keep it in the ground. What I took from that conversation is: the way to save good, old-vine Chenin is to drink more good, old-vine Chenin. Not too unpleasant a dictum, eh?

I have been keeping my eyes and nose open for another good example of the varietal, and so I was pleased to taste Kevin Cedergreen’s version when he visited the Full Pull warehouse recently. I knew about Kevin from his always-excellent Sauvignon Blancs. Having spent some time winemaking in New Zealand, Kevin has a clear level of comfort with the grape. I was expecting his Sauvignon Blancs to be good (and they were), but the Chenin Blanc (100% Chenin from Willard Farms in the Yakima Valley) was more of a blank slate.

Fortunately, that blank slate was colored in with a beautiful wine. The nose here is intense, with pear and fennel spilling out of the glass. Kevin made some winemaking choices (barrel-fermenting in large puncheons, extended lees contact) that have yielded a rich, delicious winter white that has palate weight and a sense of viscosity. There is 4% residual sugar, but I have mentioned several times that acid is the star of the 2008 vintage for Washington whites, and this is no exception. On my palate, this doesn’t taste sweet but instead conveys a sense of richness and balance, with luscious pear and honeydew flavors lifted by light floral notes.

Only 194 cases of this small-production Chenin were released. First come first served up to 12 bottles/person. We should have the wine in our warehouse in less than a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.


2007 Trio Vintners Zinfandel Pheasant Vineyard

January 11, 2010

Hello friends. Has any grape been abused as frequently or with as much vigor as Zinfandel? Is any grape more misunderstood? Perhaps a quick primer, Q&A-style, will help:

How does this single varietal make $3 jugs of “White Zinfandel” (really just a rose made with red Zinfandel grapes) and super-premium, 18%-alcohol, California cult wines?

These are actually two sides of the same coin, and both reflect the nature of the varietal, which is thin-skinned and high in sugar. In the case of White Zinfandel, fermentation is stopped before all the sugar is converted to alcohol, leaving us with sweet, soft, simple gulping juice. With red Zinfandel, all that sugar can be converted to alcohol (if the winemaker can keep the yeast alive), yielding massive booze-bombs that can induce a hangover headache just from sniffing.

Is Zinfandel the same as Primitivo?

Well, yes. Mostly. Both Zinfandel and Primitivo are clones of a Croatian grape with the utterly unpronounceable name Crljenak Kaštelanski (it’s a shame we don’t see more words starting with “Crlj”). Wine grape clones such as these occur through asexual propagation, which is considerably less exciting than it sounds (cuttings and graftings are examples of asexual propagation). Most wine grapes have multiple clones. The clones are usually just designated by number, but in some cases they get names (Syrah, for example, has Joseph Phelps, Sara Lee, and Tablas Creek clones). So really, Zinfandel, Primitivo, and Crljljrcjljc Kastelsomethingorother should all share the same varietal name, but history and tradition say otherwise, and they generally win out over vitis vinifera geneticists.

Is there much Zinfandel grown in Washington?

Not much. Zinfandel is a relative rarity in the state, although there are some wineries (Maryhill, Thurston Wolfe, Portteus) who have been producing Washington Zinfandel consistently for more than a decade.

Do you by chance have a recommendation for a reasonably-priced, delicious Washington Zinfandel?

What a wonderful question! And yes, yes I do. Trio Vintners is one of the wineries located out at the Walla Walla airport’s wine incubator. The trio of winemakers (Denise Slattery, Steve Michener, Tim Boushey) all graduated from the Institute for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College in 2006. Trio’s initial portfolio of wines was quite broad, but going forward, Denise indicated that they will look to focus on their house style, which is single-varietal, low-oak, low-alc, high-acid wines. They are beginning to carve out something of a Sangiovese niche (a barrel sample of their 2007 Boushey Vineyard Sangiovese showed great promise), but I hope they continue to make their outstanding Zinfandel as well.

This bottle is 100% Zinfandel, all from Pheasant Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope. Pheasant is one of the vineyards farmed by the Milbrandt brothers, who are harvesting dazzling grapes all over this AVA. Planted in 2000, this is a hot, dry, Zinfandel-friendly site. Pheasant Zinfandel is absolutely a vineyard-varietal combination to monitor as the vines begin to move towards maturity.

This is one of those wines that mixes sweet and savory flavors seamlessly. Sampling the wine, I was continually reminded of my favorite Seattle farmers market produce in the spring and summer:  perfectly ripe strawberries followed by perfectly ripe tomatoes. There is a notable peppercorn element that adds complexity. Awash with bright acid, this is a bottling that keeps the alcohol in check (14.8%). It’s worth noting that only two Washington Zinfandels have received higher scores from Wine Enthusiast, and both are from the 2005 vintage and long sold-out.

[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]

We have a small parcel of this wine already in the warehouse (I grabbed the last little bit floating around Seattle). We might be able to talk Denise into releasing a few more cases if the demand is there, so I’m going to push the limit for order requests up to 6 bottles/person. If we get a second parcel, it will likely arrive in 2-3 weeks, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.


2006 Balboa Winery “Sayulita” Cab-Syrah Blend

January 9, 2010

Hello friends. The 2006 Sayulita from Balboa is a double-take wine: one of those wines where you sniff, start to look up, and then quickly jerk your head back down to stare at your glass, asking the wine: “what the hell did you just say to me?” After smelling this wine, I immediately asked Tom Glase (Balboa’s winemaker) what the vineyard source was, because briney, meaty, funky, double-take aromas are few and far between. “LeFore Vineyard. Down in the rocks.” And then things started to make sense.

“The rocks” is the cobblestone-strewn, ancient riverbed area in the southern section of the Walla Walla Valley appellation. It is the home, most famously, to Cayuse Vineyards, but many nearby parcels have also been planted to wine grapes in the past ten years, and LeFore is among them (Cabernet Sauvignon was planted in 1999; Syrah in 2002). Along with Balboa, Caleb Foster from Buty will be sourcing LeFore Vineyard fruit for his always-stunning Rediviva of the Stones until his own Rockgarden Estate Vineyard comes online in the next few years.

Cab-Syrah blends are a distinctly new-world phenomenon. I’m convinced that each time a Cab-Syrah bottle is opened, an old Rhone or Bordelaise Frenchman immediately begins spinning in his grave like a Ron Popeil rotisserie oven. While there are occasional examples of this blend in Provence, it is really in Australia and here in the states that these wines have taken off. From my experience, blends like these lead to mixed results. In some cases, the two big varietals seem to be disjointed and competing for attention. But in other instances (like this one), where the grapes act as complements, the results can be sublime.

The nose on the Sayulita is endlessly interesting, with waves of bacon, cabbage, black olives, and blue fruit. This is palate-staining wine that envelops the tongue with a pure coating of fruit, meat, and herb. Tom uses only neutral barrels for all Balboa wines, allowing the deep quality of this fruit to shine. Balboa is also worth supporting for its strong stance on sustainability. The winery is moving towards using all conglomerate corks, naturally-dyed, recycled-paper labels, and American glass.

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Since the release of the glowing review above in the December issue of Wine Enthusiast, Sayulita has been selling briskly. We have access to a nice-sized parcel, but this is unlikely to be available for long-term reorder. It’s also worth noting that the 2007 Sayulita is from Pepper Bridge Vineyard, not LeFore, so if you want a chance to sample the terroir of the rocks, it’s the 2006 you want. Please limit order requests to a maximum of 12 bottles, and we will do our best to fulfill all requests. We will have this wine in our warehouse in less than a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.


2008 Airfield Estates Riesling

January 6, 2010

Hello friends. On December 24, 1941 (17 days after Pearl Harbor), the United States government began construction of an airbase on land leased from Lloyd Miller in the Yakima Valley. The official purpose of the airbase was pilot training. Unofficially, the airbase was also meant to surveil and protect the highly-classified plutonium-refining project being undertaken at the Hanford Reach Nuclear Reservation. Approximately 68 years later, I had the chance to visit this land with Mike and Marcus Miller, Lloyd’s grandson and great-grandson; the winegrower and winemaker for Airfield Estates.

In 1946, after World War II ended, the Millers’ land reverted back to farmland, and in 1968, Lloyd’s son Don decided to try planting wine grapes on the farm, at a site they called Airport Ranch Vineyards. While this vineyard has borne fruit since 1971, it had until recently existed in relative obscurity, shrouded by the mists of its largest buyer, Chateau Ste Michelle. While the partnership was (and remains) a fruitful one (the Millers have received technical support, and Ste Michelle has received a consistent source of high-quality, Yakima Valley fruit), it had precluded the Millers from exploring the true potential of their vineyard.

Fast forward to the earlier part of this decade. By 2005, Airport Ranch was a long-established vineyard that few had heard of, and the Millers decided that the best way to establish a brand for their vineyard was to make estate wines themselves, aiming for substantially lower yields and deeper flavors . To that end, Marcus Miller, the fourth generation of the family to farm in Yakima Valley, began taking classes in Walla Walla and interning with the likes of Kendall Mix (at the time the winemaker at Canoe Ridge; now the winemaker at Corliss Estates). After further winemaking stints at Tsillan Cellars in Washington and Montana Brancott Winery in Marlborough, New Zealand, Marcus returned to the newly-formed Airfield Estates.

Determined to fully explore the terroir of their farm, Mike and Marcus have planted a bevy of relatively-obscure varietals (Counoise, Cinsault, Dolcetto, and Pinot Meunier, to name a few) to go along with their more traditional plantings. In total, they have 850 acres in production, representing 26 varietals. There were several standouts among the 17-bottle tasting, and one that particularly knocked my palate around was the 2008 Riesling. It is becoming clear to me as I taste more of the 2008 vintage that it is an exceptional year for Washington whites. The acid profiles from ’08 are as bright and lively as any in recent memory, and Airfield’s Riesling is a great example.

This Riesling comes from a block of 30-year-old vines that also goes into Ste Michelle’s Eroica Riesling program, routinely recognized as one of the state’s premier Riesling bottlings. Lots of citrus notes on the nose, with just the barest hint of petrol adding attractive complexity. On the palate, there is zingy acid that immediately hits the sides of the tongue, bringing flavors of lemon, flower, and clay. The 1.7% residual sugar is almost imperceptible, balanced beautifully by all that acid.

[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]

First come first served on this up to a maximum of 24 bottles. We will have this wine in our warehouse in less than a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.


2006 Bunchgrass Syrah Lewis Vineyard

January 4, 2010

Hello friends. Happy new year, and welcome to new list members who signed up after seeing Full Pull named Best Wine Retailer by the folks at the always-excellent Wine Peeps blog. I’m delighted by the honor.

Let’s start 2010 with a wine that typifies what we’re trying to accomplish with Full Pull. Here we have a boutique winery, with a great story, crafting exceptional wines from impeccable vineyard sources. The tiny amount of wine they do produce is quickly inhaled by their eager mailing list, spurred on by glowing reviews from the media. Bunchgrass is self-distributed and extremely picky about the retailers they work with. The 2006 Lewis Vineyard Syrah is the only wine in their portfolio that is currently available (their next release isn’t until April), and they haven’t made any of that wine available to the Seattle market. Until now.

Bunchgrass has deep roots in the Walla Walla Valley. In the 1980s, Roger Cockerline planted a vineyard on his family farm just west of Walla Walla. Soon after, his grapes began to draw interest from a couple of home winemakers named Gordy Venneri and Myles Anderson, two men who would go on to found Walla Walla Vintners, the eighth bonded winery in the AVA. After having sold grapes from his Cockerline Vineyard for many years, in 1997 Roger decided to jump into winemaking as well, and Bunchgrass Winery was born. For the next eight years, Roger presided over his small-production winery – never the splashiest winery in the valley, but well-loved by its dedicated followers.

So well-loved, in fact, that when Roger started moving towards retirement, he was approached by several people interested in keeping the winery alive. One of those people was Tom Olander, who had served as the lead wine buyer for Whitehouse-Crawford Restaurant (a Walla Walla institution) and had been a great admirer of Bunchgrass wines over the years. Another was Gordy Venneri, who had used Cockerline grapes twenty years earlier and whose Walla Walla Vintners had gone on to become a stalwart winery in the region. Gordy recommended his production winemaker, William VonMetzger, as a partner and winemaker in a revitalized Bunchgrass.

And so a beloved Walla Walla winery that looked to be hurtling towards extinction has been revived, and we have the chance to celebrate that revival by tasting the first Bunchgrass vintage crafted by its new team. Fortunately, the wine is as good as the story. You might remember from a recent offering that I included Lewis Vineyard in the pantheon of Yakima Valley sites. This is the same vineyard source that Eric Dunham uses for his $75 Syrah bottling. It is a site that can produce bold, lush, remarkable wines under the steady hand of a great winemaker.

The nose here is full of purple flowers, blackberries, and lovely, herbal, eucalyptus notes. On the palate comes the immediately-recognizable signature of Lewis Vineyard – cola – framed by mint, earth, and espressoey barrel notes. This is a big, well-structured Syrah, and the combination of bright acid and chalky tannins suggests an interesting evolution in bottle for those with enough self-control to resist the immediate appeal of this wine.

[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]

We will be the only source for this wine in Seattle, and it will be unavailable for long-term reorder. If we sell out, the winery is reserving a small parcel that might be available if you contact them directly. Please limit order requests to 6 bottles, and we will do our best to fulfill all requests. As long as Snoqulamie Pass doesn’t get snowed out, we will receive this wine in our warehouse within two weeks, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.


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