Full Pull And Now Its Watch Is Ended

July 3, 2015

Hello friends. First off, welcome to July. As longer-term list members will remember, we tend to slow things down a little this month: more like two or three offers per week instead of the customary four. To make the cut for a July offer, a wine usually has to be extra special, and today’s is a good example of the type.

Evening Land Vineyards has had a complicated history, with multiple ownership groups, a controversial purchase of a well-loved Oregon vineyard (Seven Springs), and wines from all over the world (Burgundy, California, Oregon). One constant in recent years, however, has been the tremendous value represented by the “blue label” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. I’m sad to say that 2013 will mark the final vintage for this particular wine. But I’m happy to say that we have access to plenty of it, and not at the 2012 vintage release price of $28, nor the current winery price of $25:

2013 Evening Land Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (Blue Label)

The fruit in the Blue Label always has this wonderful dark, brooding quality, with darker berry fruits and a siltier mineral profile than your down-the-middle Dundee Hills bottling. Likely it’s due to the fruit sourcing, which comes entirely from the Yamhill-Carlton and Eola-Amity Hills AVAs. Both of those sections of the Willamette Valley are known for blacker fruit profiles than the classically red-fruited Dundee Hills.

I thought this was just outstanding for the price point and immediately pegged it as our wine to kick off July. Then I went back and did some research, and now I understand why it was so double-take good. There is a solid chunk of estate Seven Springs fruit in the blend here. Yes, the Seven Springs of the recent 96pt Wine Spectator review for the Seven Springs bottling ($50) and the 98pt La Source (also Seven Springs fruit; $70). If you want the gateway drug into the broader Evening Land portfolio, this is the wine to try.

It was raised entirely in once-used and neutral French oak barrels, and it clocks in at 12.8% listed alc. It begins with a nose of deep dark berry fruits, dark minerals, and these lovely minty topnotes to keep things fresh. The palate is a complex marvel, with a sturdy core of minerality shaded by dark fruit. The finish has heft, with fine-grained tannins redolent of cherry-pit bitters. It’s a lovely overall package, with energy and complexity and plenty of verve for a warm vintage. There’s the immediate charm that all the Oregon 2013s seem to possess, but this strikes me as a wine that could also evolve in compelling ways for the next five years.

I plan to stock up a little, since this label will be disappearing. It has served us well over the years, and now its watch is ended. First come first served up to 36 bottles, and the wine should arrive in a week or two, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

Team Full Pull
Paul Zitarelli, Editor in Chief
Nick Peyton, Tasting Bar Manager
Pat Malloy, Director of Operations
Dennis Felipe, Warehouse & Special Projects Coordinator
RhiAnnon Kaspar, Member Services Manager

Full Pull Block Wines

July 3, 2015

Hello friends. Very exciting day today, as we debut a pair of bottles from our newest project, Block Wines. We poured the wines for many folks picking up their wines on Saturday, to a positive reception and brisk sales (it doesn’t hurt to be pouring cold crisp whites on a hot sunny day). Some reminders about the project:

There are certain vineyard-variety combinations that I’ve come to believe are uniquely outstanding in Washington and Oregon, and I want to see them in bottle for our list members, under our own label.
We called the project Block Wines because the intention is that each wine will be a single varietal that comes from a single block of a single vineyard. To me, these are always the most interesting wines in the world: those that attempt to translate the language of a place through the rosetta stone of fermentation.

Each wine under the Block Wines label will be a partnership among a grower, a winemaker, and Team Full Pull. We’ll get to the vineyard/grower partners in the description of each wine. For both of today’s wines, our partner winemaker is Morgan Lee. Morgan is a rising star in Washington winemaking, and it has been great fun collaborating with him on the fruit sourcing and stylistic direction of the wines.

All of Team Full Pull has been involved in this project as well. A few examples: Nick and I collaborated on production design for the labels (here’s one of the labels; front and back). My wife Kelli made the wood block prints for the labels. Matt Tessler helped work on these wines during 2014 crush and several times thereafter. These are also birth-year wines for our first child. In case I haven’t made it clear, this has been a project chock full of happy emotions, and I think that shines through in the wines themselves.

All sorts of exciting items coming down the pike for Block Wines. First off, you’ve probably guessed by now that we did not only harvest white grapes in 2014, and you would be correct. We have several 2014 reds resting happily in bottle, and we’ll release them when they’re good and ready, which is more likely to be 2017 than 2016.

Next, I should also mention that while our list members will still have a retail exclusive for these wines in Washington, we do intend to offer Block Wines to our restaurant/sommelier colleagues as well (via an import/distribution license that we’re on the verge of acquiring). What that means: a) don’t be shocked if you see a Block Wines bottle on the wine list the next time you go out to dinner; and b) don’t be shocked if we sell out of these fairly quickly.

Without further ado, let’s dig into these beautiful bottles:

2014 Block Wines Semillion Tauro Block Boushey Vineyard

I was dying to make Washington Semillon. There are still a few folks making varietal Semillon here (L’Ecole 41 being the most notable/consistent), but many are now going more of the Bordeaux Blanc route and blending their Semillon with Sauvignon Blanc. Nothing wrong with that! And in fact, versions from Buty and Cadaretta are among the most successful whites made in Washington. But I wanted to do varietal Semillon, because I think it thrives in Washington, because I don’t think it necessarily needs Sauvignon Blanc’s acidity if you harvest the Semillon early enough, and because I think it can express terroir and age beautifully if grown by the right people in the right places.

And of course the opportunity to work with any of Dick Boushey’s fruit is a dream come true. The Boushey Vineyard name in Washington is synonymous with quality and expressiveness. Dick himself is a wonderful man and a terrifically dedicated grower, and it is a real thrill to be working with his Semillon. He has two blocks of Semillon, and we chose the Tauro Block (planted in 2008), which has more northern exposure and therefore ripens later and retains loads of beautiful natural acidity.

Perfect for our stylistic goal, which is more of a Hunter Valley (Australia) Semillon than a Bordeaux version. What that means is extra-bright limey acidity, and (hopefully) the ability to age in profound directions. Having been lucky enough to taste some older L’Ecole Semillons, I can say without question that Washington Semillon can stand the test of time. It’ll be fascinating to watch this one evolve.

To achieve this style, we harvested the grapes nice and early, on September 24, which kept acids fresh and bright and alcohols low (12.2%) despite the warmer year (it also helps that Dick’s vineyard is in the cooler part of the Yakima Valley). Morgan then cold soaked the grapes on their skins for two and a half days to help build texture and mouthfeel. We used two neutral French barrels, and then just a little bit of stainless steel for the extra juice that wouldn’t fit in those barrels. After seven months in barrel (with weekly battonage and 50% malolactic conversion), this went into bottle a few months ago. Our overall production was 66 cases.

The wine begins with a lovely nose with Semillon’s unique (and, for me, deeply appealing) fruit mix of fig and lime, with complexities of crème fraiche and hay. In the mouth, it has a real sense of weight and density and palate presence. The skin contact and weekly battonage really helped in that regard. That fleshy fig-and-date fruit is beautifully balanced by a sturdy spine of minerals and limey acid. I really wanted this to be a wine that would pair with the cuisine of the Pacific Northwest, and I believe that’s where it will best shine. So pan-sear some spot prawns in butter and saffron, or make the perfect crab cake, or fire up the grill and cook a sockeye salmon shioyaki-style, and then crack a chilled bottle of this for some northwest nirvana. I hope you all love this wine as much as I do.

2014 Block Wines Chenin Blanc Block V10 Rothrock Vineyard

Do you long-term list members remember our old “Save The Chenin” series from back in 2009 and 2010? It began with a conversation with Doug Rowell of McKinley Springs Vineyard, who mentioned to me back then that they had to rip out a lot of their old-vine Chenin, because it was simply not a grape that was in fashion, and hence did not command high enough prices to keep it in the ground. What I took from that conversation was: the way to save good, old-vine Chenin is to drink more good, old-vine Chenin. Well, here’s our chance.

Rothrock is a vineyard in the Yakima Valley you’ve likely never heard of. But it’s old. How old? Well, the current owner doesn’t know, so I don’t know either, but the estimates are that it was planted sometime between 1974 and 1978. So, about 40-year-old vines: ancient by Washington standards. Here is a picture of Morgan and me in front of a Rothrock Chenin vine (photo courtesy of Morgan’s son Oliver). I have sizeable calves, and they were dwarfed by the sheer girth of Rothrock’s vines. There’s nothing quite like old-vine material, and I already knew we were targeting a Chenin Blanc, so when Morgan sussed out this source, it was an easy yes.

The Chenin fruit was harvested even earlier than the Semillon (Sept 10) then whole cluster pressed and fermented with native yeasts in two used French oak barrels (and again a little stainless for the leftover juice), then aged for 7 months with weekly battonage and no malolactic conversion this time. Finished alcohol was 12.6%, and finished residual sugar was 6.1 g/L.

The nose has a core of apple and pear fruit, dusted with a sweet-and-savory note unique to Chenin. It reminds me of malt powder (like the inside of a Whopper), but I’ve also heard it described as honeysuckle. That might be closer, since there is definitely something floral and apple-blossomy going on here. I like my Chenin just off-dry, and that’s how this one drinks, the residual sugar perfectly balanced by Chenin’s bright natural acidity. This one broadens out in the mid-palate with rich fleshy fruit before finishing more austere and minerally/savory. There’s something deeply appetizing about this wine. It literally makes my mouth water to take a sip, and again, this is a wine made to pair with food. The residual sugar cries out for something fatty (duck liver mousse) or spicy (Penn Cove mussels in green curry). I’m really pleased that we have a wine in the lineup that both I and my mom (who has a sweet tooth when it comes to wine) can love.

I’d like to take a moment now to thank everyone involved in this project. And I’d especially like to thank our list members. It’s your support that allows us to pursue these wine-soaked flights of fancy, and we’re all really excited to get these wines into your eager hands. Please limit order requests to 24 bottles total (mix and match as you like). The wines are in the warehouse and ready for immediate pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

[Bonus pic for those of you who made it to the end. Paul, Morgan’s son Oliver, and Morgan’s trusty dog Lola out in the eastern Washington vineyards, harvest time 2014. Photo courtesy of Morgan Lee.]

Team Full Pull
Paul Zitarelli, Editor in Chief
Nick Peyton, Tasting Bar Manager
Pat Malloy, Director of Operations
Dennis Felipe, Warehouse & Special Projects Coordinator
RhiAnnon Kaspar, Member Services Manager

Full Pull Buzz

June 28, 2015

Hello friends. We have the return today of one of the more buzzworthy Washington wineries going these days: Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen’s WT Vintners.

As I mentioned in our debut offer of Jeff’s wines last April, WT wines turn up on many of the most competitive restaurant lists in Seattle: Canlis. The Herbfarm. Wild Ginger. The Metropolitan Grill. Wineries beg, plead, cajole and give up significant margin to distributors in order to make inroads in places like these. So how did a self-distributed newbie make it into those accounts? The answer: because Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen has years of experience buying and selling wine for some of Seattle’s finest restaurants, and he’s now applying his formidable palate to WT Vintners.

By evening (and probably a good chunk of day), Jeff is the Wine Director at RN74 in Seattle, which means he basically tastes every important wine that comes into Seattle. That gig came after previous stints at Cascadia, Wild Ginger, and Café Juanita. He has a wickedly sharp palate, and a clear point of view, honed from tasting thousands of wines for his various restaurant gigs. To wit, here is an excerpt from Jeff’s winemaking philosophy:

From our inception I strive to be the conduit from which our vineyards speak. Minimal additions are made in the winery beyond yeast and the occasional racking off solids. I avoid the use of new oak in favor of used barrels, which add a bit of texture and little else. Foremost, I want our wines to serve as the champions of Washington’s extraordinary terroir. By utilizing whole clusters, versus just the berries, during fermentation I attempt to coax both greater structure and more savory flavors and aromas in our Syrah. With each vineyard we work closely with the vineyard’s manager and owner to reduce crop loads and find the optimal time to harvest, which is often weeks before our neighbors. By picking early I ensure the vineyard’s voice is heard and not lost to high alcohols and overtly fruity wines. Ultimately, I am attempting to make the wines I want to drink, wines of place, wines that complement a meal and wines that tell a story. I want them to be delicious as they are interesting.

Right now, the wines are sold almost exclusively through restaurant channels (check out their list; we’ll be happy to sidle on up next to our esteemed colleagues at McCarthy & Schiering as the only retailers listed). Stephen Tanzer has written positive press in the past, but WT remains a winery flying well under the mainstream radar. Not for much longer, I suspect.

2014 WT Vintners Gruner Veltliner

You didn’t think one of our resident sommeliers was going to make a buttery Chardonnay did you? Jeff has zeroed in on probably the most exciting place in Washington for white wines: the Columbia Gorge (yes, Ancient Lakes can make a compelling argument too). Gruner Veltliner grown on the southern slopes of the extinct volcano Underwood Mountain is one of the hidden treasures of the northwest. Syncline and Savage Grace are the only other Washington wineries I’ve seen to vinify these grapes.

Here’s what JLT has to say: Drawing inspiration from Gruner’s homeland, the Wachau region of Austria, we divide the fermentation between stainless steel and a small amount of neutral oak barrels to coax the austere mineral and spicy elements from the steel and a weightier mid-palate from the permeable oak. Bursting with aromas of just ripe peach, melon, green pineapple, spicy arugula, lemon balm, & wet stone. Flavors of peach, honeydew melon, pineapple, white pepper, & struck flint complement the wine’s brisk acidity. Food Pairings: Dungeness crab tagliatelle, mussels steamed in white wine & garlic, sautéed asparagus.

His note – and especially the parts about green pineapple and spicy arugula – fights the good fight of trying to convey Gruner’s unique savory charms through the written word. It ain’t easy. My descriptor has notes like “hay” and “sweet pea.” Whatever it is, it’s this green, vegetal-in-the-best-way subtlety that is really rare among white wines, and deeply attractive to those of us who love it. This clocks in at 12.9% listed alc and is bright, nervy, and terrifically vibrant. Some lees contact has plumped up the mid-palate, but ultimately this is a laser-beam wine, beautiful for its purity and its complex mix of stone fruits and savory greenies.

2013 WT Vintners Stoney Vine Vineyard

Last year’s 2012 Dalliance from WT was extremely popular with our list members. This is the new vintage, but due to the threat of a trademark lawsuit (a plague in the wine trade), Jeff is just naming this by its vineyard sourcing going forward.

And what a vineyard! Stoney Vine is a terrific Dusted Valley-farmed site in the Rocks, and here is JLT on this particular patch of terroir: In 2012, W.T. Vintners formed a new partnership in one of the world’s most unique vineyard areas, the Walla Walla Valley’s sub-region known as “The Rocks.” Unlike the dominant soils of Washington’s flood affected vine growing areas, “The Rocks” are an ancient alluvial fan of river tumbled basalt cobblestones formed by the Walla Walla river. “The Rocks” area shares its soil structure with only a couple very rare and special regions, evoking visions of Chateauneuf-du-Pape in France’s Southern Rhone Valley or New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay sub-region known as the “Gimblett Gravels.” While Chateauneuf’s famous “galet roulés” are just surface stones, the Walla Walla Rocks are deep; well over 200 feet deep in some spots. The lower hanging fruit benefits from the radiant heat being absorbed by the cobblestones throughout the sunny days. More importantly, the heat that is absorbed by day continues warming the root system and assisting in ripening well into the night. The resulting flavors from the region are decidedly very different from anywhere else in Washington. Flavors and aromas of wild game, earth and deep heady fruits pervade the wines made from fruit grown in this small area, regardless of varietal. It is truly a special place and worthy of the critical honors the region’s wines continue to garner each year.

The 2013 is a blend of 53% Grenache, 37% Syrah, and 10% Mourvèdre, aged for 18 months in neutral barrels. “Definitely rocks,” begins my note, which goes on to a nose of great green Cerignola olives and smoky bacon nuance on a core of layered fruit: blueberries, cherries, and loads of stone fruits like peach and nectarine. Threads of smoke wind their way through the lovely palate, which is fruity and meaty and briny in turn. What a delicious swirling stew of Rocks goodness!

Jeff again: Explosive aromas of black cherry, wild strawberry, marionberry, raw steak, black pepper, smoke, espresso & tilled earth. Silky tannins envelop flavors of smoked game, bold Walla Walla “Rocks” minerality, star anise, white pepper, mocha & violets. Food Pairings: Cassoulet, BBQ ribs, Venison Loin with huckleberries.

As someone who divides the year into “summer” and “cassoulet season,” I heartily approve of that list of food pairings.

First come first served up to 24 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and the wines should arrive in the next few weeks, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

June 26, 2015

Hello friends. Today’s offer got me to thinking: are our names (and nicknames) our destinies? If my father had had his way and named me Zero Zitarelli instead of Paul (reasoning: it would have been both mathematical and alliterative), would my life have turned out differently? My guess: yes. (In this case because I likely would have been teased so relentlessly in middle school that I’d probably be a shut-in by now. Thanks, mom, for sticking with Paul and saving me from that particular alternate history).

And when you’re called “the Provencal Hercules” by Kermit Lynch, are you going to make thin, insipid wine? No, probably not. Instead you’re probably going to make big, bold, beautiful Bandol:

2009 Domaine du Gros Nore Bandol Rouge

The Hercules in question is Alain Pascal, and he is making some of the most exciting wines to come out of the finest part of Provence: Bandol. Bandol (see location on this map of Provence wine) is the only region I can think of in France whose main focus is Mourvedre. Mourvedre, which is mostly used as a blender in the southern Rhone, here must make up at least 50% of the blend. In Alain’s case, his Bandol Rouge is a full 80% Mourvedre, the remainder Grenache and Cinsault.

There are really only two Bandol producers that get a lot of attention in the United States: Domaine Tempier and Domaine Ott. And for many years, Alain Pascal’s father (Honore) sold most of his fruit to Domaine Ott. The Pascal family used to bottle a small amount of their own wine for family consumption, but it wasn’t until the death of his father in 1997 that Alain began holding back more fruit and bottling it commercially. Already by 2001, Jamie Goode (of the outstanding Wine Anorak) was calling Gros Nore a rising star, and the quality has only increased from there, culminating with this 2009, which receive an eye-popping review from Wine Spectator:

Wine Spectator (Kim Marcus): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

Note that the “now” in the drinking window of that review was autumn 2012, so we’re in the peak of the peak, and this wine certainly drinks like it. From 30-40 year old vines grown on clay soils, this spent 18 months in big old neutral oak foudres and now another four years maturing in bottle. It jumps out of the glass with a nose of smoke, wild game, spiced and browned meat, fresh plums, and dried fruits like blackberries and figs. It’s a nose that’s plenty complex, with more than a hint of the sauvage. Mourvedre’s wild character is on fine display here, and this conveys a real sense of sun-soaked fruit. All that ripe fruit is lifted by subtle floral notes, and the overall package hangs together beautifully. In the mouth, we get lush, rich, intense dried fruit, serious structure in the form of burly/meaty tannins, and plenty of finishing toothsome chew.

Alain Pascal is a hunter, and I’ve seen pictures of him cooking wild boar to pair with this Bandol. I’ve also seen him grilling several of the big oily fishes that roam the Marseillaise coast (this is bouillabaisse country). Perhaps that would be better with his Bandol rosé, but it’d be worth a shot with the rouge. For me, this wine made me want to spit-roast some kind of small, mostly-dark-meat bird and drop a bottle into the decanter. Regardless of what you eat this with (maybe nothing at all; it’d make a fine cocktail wine), it’s a delicious, beautiful wine, evocative of one small, unique patch of terroir in the south of France.

Please limit order requests to 12 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in a week or two, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

[Oh, and if you made it to the bottom of this one, I’ll add on one more detail on names, which is that my grandfather was sort of named Hercules too; Ercole, actually, which was the Italian version, but he shortened it to Earl, and then was eventually called Horsey more than anything else due to his predilection for the racetrack. There’s your piece of Zitarelli family history for the day. Now get back to work!]

Full Pull Tempus

June 25, 2015

Hello friends. I recently had a chance to taste through the current lineup from Tempus Cellars and came away more than a little impressed. Three different varieties, from three different vintages, from three different parts of the state; all expressive, all polished, all delicious. And each of the three represents outstanding quality compared to peers at these price points. In short, Joe Forest is killing it.

Way back when, in their early years, we hosted a few release parties for Tempus at our old warehouse space. Back in those days, there was a real spark of promise, and now it’s clear that the promise has been realized. I heartily encourage you to check out these wines:

2012 Tempus Cellars Grenache

I’m going to begin with the only wine of the trio that does not yet have a review attached, and I’m starting here because I found this a completely eye-popping wine. Are we past the point where we’re talking about Grenache’s potential in Washington? Can we just agree that there is a real way forward with this grape in our state? Especially when you see bottles like this, and like Kevin White’s La Fraternite, coming in with such high quality at prices in the $20s. I find the whole thing very exciting, in case you couldn’t tell.

While it’s not listed on the front label, this is actually single-vineyard juice, coming entirely from Art den Hoed’s vineyard outside of Sunnyside, in the Yakima Valley. It spent 18 months in barrel, all neutral, and it clocks in at 14.8% listed alc. What this particular Grenache reminded me of was old-school Chateauneuf-du-Pape, before alcohols in that region got completely out of control (some blame warming weather, some blame Robert Parker). It has that wonderful Grenache aromatic trinity of brambly raspberry fruit, cooling crushed rock tones, and herbal garrigue/eucalyptus notes. The nose is super-expressive, soaring, inviting. And the palate delivers. Bright, energetic, this comes with a wonderful sense of fruit extract. It drinks like a session Grenache: one where you could easily see enjoying glass after glass throughout an afternoon and evening, with food or without.

This is really fantastic Grenache. It’s one of the best quality-for-price wines I’ve tasted from Washington in 2015. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

2013 Tempus Cellars Riesling Evergreen Vineyard

Joe consistently makes the driest Riesling I know of from Evergreen Vineyard, and one of the most compelling. In this case, there’s just 1.1% residual sugar, and it is easily balanced by all of Evergreen’s hallmark acid-and-chalky-mineral spine. The sense of dry extract here, the salinity, the mouthwatering nature of this Riesling: all very impressive. The fruit is citric goodness (lime especially) mixed with ripe stone fruits (nectarine especially), and it lingers impressively well after a swallow. Despite its somewhat under-the-radar status, I’d call this one of Washington’s finest Rieslings year in and year out, and we have it for a few dollars below its release.

Wine Enthusiast (Sean Sullivan): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”

2010 Tempus Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”

We have a significant price break on this lovely Cab, which Harvey puts smack in the middle of peak drinking. I tasted this and then had to scramble to figure out why it was as good as it was, because Cabernets could be really challenging in the cooler 2010 vintage. This beauty, however, is a full 73% old-vine Sagemoor Vineyard fruit (yes, that’s the same Sagemoor that appears in Woodward Canyon’s gorgeous old-vine Cab). It’s rounded out with Klipsun and Seven Hills fruit, another duo of outstanding vineyard sites. The nose is true to the vintage, high-toned with violets, cassis, espresso, and soil. There is plenty of energy from the cool vintage, and a real minty freshness here. There’s glorious acid structure, then more structure in the form of smoky fine-grained tannins, then a long attractive finish. It’s vigorous, invigorating Cabernet.

First come first served up to 36 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and the wines should arrive in the next few weeks, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

Full Pull 4040

June 22, 2015

Hello friends. Last year’s 2012 vintage of Cadence Coda was among our most popular wines of the year. I know there is huge interest in well-priced Red Mountain wines, especially from the 2012 vintage. I also know that it isn’t easy to find examples in the $20s. But after a few months of back-and-forth e-mails and price negotiations, we have one today:

2012 Fidelitas 4040

This is a fascinating counterpoint to Coda, because Charlie Hoppes is a winemaker that knows Red Mountain as well as Ben Smith does, but who has a completely different house style. It’s also a fine value, negotiated down from its normal $32 price in hopes of getting more folks to dip their toes in the Fidelitas waters.

A quick primer on Charlie Hoppes and his winery: Hired by Mike Januik after finishing the UC-Davis program in 1988, Charlie spent a decade at Ste Michelle, eventually ascending to the Head Red Winemaker position, where he had great influence over Ste Michelle’s successful high-end projects, including Col Solare on Red Mountain.

That project must have influenced him, because Charlie eventually set up shop on Red Mountain himself. I had a chance to visit Charlie at his Fidelitas tasting room during my research trip for the “Destination Wineries” piece I wrote for Seattle Magazine last year. It is a terrific spot to visit: one of the few tasting rooms on Red Mountain with regular open hours, one of the few tasting rooms anywhere in the state to aim for modern architecture, and maybe the only tasting room with a certified baby whisperer available (Charlie made it a point to call me after that article was published and let me know that multiple visitors to their tasting room had asked about his skills in baby whispering; it definitely worked for our daughter).

This 2012 vintage marked Charlie’s 25th vintage in Washington, so this is a winemaker with deep experience, broad expertise, and an impeccable lineup of vineyard partners. Here he is blending six separate sites on the mountain (which, by the way, contains 4040 acres; hence the name) in this Cab-dominant (54%) cuvee, rounded out with 33% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot. It sees 20 months in a mix of French and American oak, about half new barrels. The nose is smoky and seductive, offering earthy peat, crème de cassis, spicy nutty pecans, and bourbon barrel. Charlie really knows how to swaddle rich Red Mountain fruit in smoky/nutty barrel notes; the combination is alluring indeed. In the mouth, the cocoa powder-dusted black fruits continue, complicated here by a red ferrous mineral/sanguine note. For most of this seamless mouthful’s trip across your palate, it is a luscious little truffle of a wine, but my oh my does this pick up power and structure as it rolls into a finish with sneaky back-end chew. Sneaky because these tannins are so polished and fine-grained, you barely notice them. The overall package drinks like some Red Mountain blends (that shall remain nameless) that cost twice this much.

The pricing we’ve negotiated may be one-time only, so I’m inclined to open this one up a little: first come first served up to 36 bottles, and the wine should arrive in a week or two, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

Full Pull The Rocks District

June 22, 2015

Hello friends. We have the new vintage today of one of last year’s most painfully allocated wines. This year, the pain should be lessened. Somewhat.

2013 Delmas Syrah

Before going any further, I’ll say what I said last year: give serious consideration to heading over to the Delmas website and joining their mailing/waiting list. This is an extremely exciting new project coming out of the Walla Walla rocks, and I fully expect them to wind up selling most or all of their wine through their list, a la Cayuse and Reynvaan.

We’re fortunate to be receiving any allocation of this wine at all. Outside of us and our colleagues at McCarthy & Schiering (consider contacting Dan and Jay if we under-allocate you), the only place to source this wine is at the winery door. No restaurant sales. No other retail sales. It’s an extremely limited wine. Last year we set upper order limits at 3 bottles. In the end, no one got more than a single bottle, and dozens of list members were shut out entirely. This year, we have a marginally bigger allocation. I’m going to (optimistically? foolishly?) bump the order limit to 6 bottles today, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see final allocations closer to 2-3 bottles.

What makes Delmas so exciting is that this is the estate winery for SJR Vineyard. Now, SJR first came onto my radar back in 2011, when Sean Boyd from Rotie Cellars put a solid chunk of Syrah from this site into his 2009 Northern. You know, the one that ended up at #7 on Sean Sullivan’s Top 100 for Seattle Met Magazine that year, with an attached 94pt review? At the time, SJR vineyard was on its third leaf (planted in 2007), and it was clear then that the fruit quality was outrageous, especially for such young vines.

You can always judge the quality of a vineyard by who is working with the fruit. And over the next few years, Steve Robertson of SJR sold fruit to exactly three wineries: Rotie, Rasa, and Gramercy. That is a murderer’s row of Syrah producers.

And at the time, I also started hearing about Delmas, which was keeping some of their fruit for a three-year “soft release.” They made 45 cases of 2010 vintage, 45 cases of 2011. I inquired after both, and in both cases, there was only enough wine to sell to friends, family, and mailing list members.

Then, in summer 2013, I got the chance to meet Steve in person and walk the rows at SJR. Unfortunately, my best picture from that trip has my fat fingers all over it, but you still get the idea: this is squarely in the rocks. And on that front, it’s also worth noting that Steve was one of the real champions of applying to the TTB for approval of a new sub-AVA within the Walla Walla Valley: The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater (I wrote about this development under my Seattle Magazine guise). That meeting led to more conversations and eventually an agreement that Full Pull would receive a small allocation of the 2012 vintage. And the rest is history.

On the viticulture front, Steve’s daughter Brooke is getting more and more involved. She has been cutting her viticulture teeth in a small California region called the Napa Valley and is currently pursuing her viticulture master’s at Cal Poly, but she’s winging back and forth between Northern Cali and the Walla Walla Valley, and once she finishes her degree, she’ll be onsite at SJR full time.

For winemaking, Steve has chosen Billo Naravane from Rasa Vineyards as Demlas’ consulting winemaker, and what a joy it is to see Billo – who is a Rhone savant – working with rocks fruit. Here’s what the always-eloquent Billo has to say about the site: “SJR Vineyard produces Syrah with an amazing sense of terroir; there is a haunting earthiness and minerality that is present in all of the wines from this vineyard. The resulting wines have that rare combination of elegance, finesse, and power without heaviness. SJR Vineyard is a site that truly has something spectacular to say.”

The vineyard (located at the far southwestern edge of the rocks) is 9.6 acres, of which 7.9 are planted, mostly to Syrah (5.9 acres) and then an acre each of Grenache and Viognier. That Viognier is a full 8.1% of this 2013 Syrah, cofermented, and the whole thing is aged for 18 months in French oak, about 50% new. The first sniff confirms the large proportion of Viognier via an evocative garden of flowers: jasmine, orange blossom, violet. The second sniff: a core of brambly red raspberry fruit. And then each subsequent sniff seems to reveal another savory subtlety: now exotic smoky incense, now a plate of charcuterie, now anise and cardamom. It’s a nose that glories in its complexities. And then the mouthfeel. Oh, the mouthfeel. It’s hard to say enough about Billo’s skill with texture, which is on clear display here. I actually used the word “endearing” in my note: a rare adjective for me. But this is just so supple, so attractive, so impossibly pillowy. With every minute open, this bottle revealed more savory/smoky goodies. The mix of deep intense fruit and naughty brackish salty notes had me completely seduced. What a fine sophomore effort this is. What a fine harbinger of things to come for this thrilling new project.

Please limit order requests to 6 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in a week or two, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.