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:
THE ORIGIN & THE NAME
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