2007 Seven Hills Winery Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Blend

February 28, 2010

Hello friends. I’m sending out a quick weekend offer, as I just learned that Wine Spectator will be publishing the following review in their soon-to-be-released March issue:

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($32); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93 pts.”

I had the chance to try this in the warehouse last week, and I was pretty excited about it. Ever since our 2006 Soos Creek Ciel du Cheval offering (where we had to severely under-allocate orders), I have been seeking out another well-priced example from this vineyard, a Red Mountain stalwart. This is another wonderful expression of Red Mountain terroir; a blend of 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, and the rest Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Classic Ciel du Cheval profile of dust, cocoa, orange peel, and purple fruit, with minerals coming through on the mid-palate and finish. Casey McClellan (the winemaker, and part of the same family that owns and operates Seven Hills Vineyard in Walla Walla) keeps the alcohol at a very reasonable 13.5% and the acid bright and citrusy. The tannins are medium-low here, which is a bit unusual for the vineyard, but which makes the wine awfully approachable right now.

Spectator scores tend to move wine quickly, so I can’t vouch for the availability of this on reorder. But since we’re jumping in pre-publication, I can open this up to a maximum order of 12 bottles, first come first served. We should have this wine in the warehouse in less than a week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.

2007 Rasa Vineyards QED (Syrah)

February 26, 2010

Hello friends. Quod Erat Demonstrandum is frequently written at the bottom of mathematical proofs in its abbreviated form. It basically means, “I did what I set out to do.” I know this because, in what now seems like a former life, I was an Applied Mathematics major. I wish, in fact, that more of my proofs from that former age ended with “QED” and not with my more common “???????,” which, translated from the Latin, means “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

Billo Naravane, Rasa’s winemaker, was also an Applied Math major (parents – tell your kids: if you want to work in wine, run out and get an Applied Math degree), and he chose a mathematical theme for his inaugural releases: two Syrahs named QED and Principia. I had a chance to taste through the Rasa lineup at Billo’s home in Walla Walla back in December. Surrounded by the detritus of a recent move, we sampled a series of remarkable wines. Along with the two current releases, we tasted outrageous barrel samples of 2008 DuBrul Vineyard Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (those will be blended together and likely released this autumn in a bottling that will be worth seeking out).

If QED means “I did what I set out to do,” it raises two question: 1) What did Billo set out to do? 2) Did he do it? Let’s tackle question 1 first. Put simply, Billo (along with his brother Pinto) set out to make world-class, terroir-specific Syrah. A career in the computer industry had exposed him to some of the best wines in the world. After fifteen years, Billo decided he wanted fewer computers and more wine in his life, so he went back to school. No applied math this time; instead a Masters Degree in Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis, the best wine program in the country (along with winemaking, Billo is also putting his knowledge to use in the classroom, heading up the Viticulture Program at Walla Walla Community College).

During Billo’s time at Davis, the Naravane brothers began scouting land, eventually focusing their efforts on Washington, which (as we all know) produces top-notch Syrah at a fraction of the land costs associated with Napa or Sonoma. In 2007, they purchased nine acres in “the rocks” area of the Walla Walla Valley. The land has since been prepped and cleared, and it will soon be planted to Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The eventual plan is to make wine with 50% sourced fruit and 50% grown fruit, but until their estate vineyard comes online, they will continue to utilize their impeccable vineyard sources (in the case of QED: Les Collines, Seven Hills, and Lewis).

So we know what Billo set out to do. How about question 2: did he achieve his goal? First, let’s turn to our esteemed panel of critics:

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($50); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94 pts.”

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($50); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ** (Exceptional).”

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($50); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93 pts.”

Now my thoughts. This is the real deal; a stunning debut well-worthy of the QED label. One of Billo’s focal points with Rasa is tannin management, and it shows beautifully here. The tannins have presence enough to guarantee that this wine will age in a compelling direction, but they are fine-grained in a way that leads to a luscious, suave mouthfeel. The judicious use of new French oak (just under 20%; the rest neutral French) is perfectly complementary to Les Collines fruit, adding a sense of light roastedness to the terroir-specific aromas and flavors of truffle, pine nut, bread, and meat. This is an absolute palate-stainer; rich, bright, deep, and concentrated.

Rasa is self-distributed, and their wines are not widely available in western Washington. Please limit order requests to 12 bottles, and we will do our best to fulfill all requests. We will have this wine in our warehouse in the next 2-3 weeks, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.

2007 Mark Ryan Chardonnay

February 24, 2010

Hello friends. During last week’s OS offering, I called Riesling the greatest white wine grape in the world and joked that I was bracing myself for hate mail from Chardophiles. As it turned out, I received not hate mail but something closer to gentle prodding. The (measured) responses, for the most part, did not debate the relative merits of various grapes but did posit this (very valid) question: why in 4+ months of operating has Full Pull not offered a single Chardonnay? The heart of the answer is that I hadn’t found the right Chardonnay at the right price; but now I have, and I’m pleased to present this wine as our inaugural Chardonnay offering.

When Washington wine is done right, it serves as a bridge between the old world and the new. I believe the reason that we have so many French winemakers in the state is that they can apply European sensibilities (terroir-expressiveness; emphasis on structure) to fruit that is more generous than that from the sometimes-austere-to-the-point-of-asceticism old world. Take Chardonnay. It is a fool’s errand to try to perfectly recreate the great Chards of Burgundy here in the Pacific Northwest. But it is a sage’s errand to apply Burgundian stylings and complexities to our fruit and our terroir, and Mark McNeilly seems to be that sage; hence the callout to Chassagne-Montrachet in Wine Advocate’s review:

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($29); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91 pts.”

Mark Ryan Winery has been around since 1999 (before that, Mark was at Matthews Winery, a Woodinville stalwart). Mark is known more for his big, red wines from Red Mountain (Dead Horse and Long Haul, especially), but he clearly has a capable hand with white wines (his Viognier is also excellent). I tasted this wine recently and thought it was magnificent. Leesy notes overlay pretty pear and mineral aromas. This has enough bottle age that the hints of smoke from the 30% new oak are relegated squarely to the background. What especially grabbed me was the gorgeous acid profile for new-world Chardonnay, adding real brightness to the flavors of lemon curd, stone fruit, mineral, and earth. The wine (a blend of fruit from Stillwater and Conner Lee Vineyards) manages to pull off richness and elegance together; a fine achievement.

The main purpose behind this wine’s sizable recent price drop was to place it in the realm of restaurant glass pours. Fortunately for us, our extensive Full Pull network of operatives (shhhh… we’re everywhere) tends to sniff out deals not necessarily designed for the retail side of the business. We have access to a big parcel of this, and because I anticipate pent-up Chardonnay demand, I’m happy to open this up to a maximum order of 24 bottles, first come first served. It’s unclear to me how quickly our restaurant peers will move on this wine, so the potential for long-term reorders is hazy. 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 Saviah Cellars Petit Verdot

February 22, 2010

Hello friends. We have a unique opportunity today to sample a wine that has, until now, been available only through the Saviah Cellars tasting room and wine club. One of the truly gratifying developments with Full Pull of late is that, as more winemakers hear about our model, we are offered more and more unusual opportunities: verticals, library wines, restaurant-only wines, and now: tasting-room-only wines. We are offered these bottlings in large measure because winemakers (naturally) want their wines in the hands of people who will appreciate them the most. And Full Pull members fit that bill. In this case, Rich Funk (Saviah’s winemaker) has agreed to part with a small parcel of this limited-production (50 cases), single-vineyard Petit Verdot, and we should be the only source for this wine in western Washington.

Of the six red Bordeaux grapes, Petit Verdot is the least likely to show up in varietal bottlings. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc are ubiquitous. Malbec is a cottage industry in Argentina, and Carmenere is well on its way to the same status in Chile. But no one has really adopted Petit Verdot. Well, except for Gary Vaynerchuk, who adores the grape and sings its praises on a regular basis.

I have spoken to a number of winemakers about Petit Verdot, and the consensus seems to be: if you’re going to add more than 3% Petit Verdot to your blend, you might as well go all the way and bottle a 100% PV. When used as in tiny proportions, the grape adds tannic heft, along with depth of color and flavor. But this is an aggressive grape; a little goes a long way, and a wine with 10% Petit Verdot is going to taste mostly like Petit Verdot.

With varietal bottlings of Petit Verdot, tannin management is of the utmost importance. Several versions I have tasted have had a coarseness that went beyond rustic and into the realm of gnashing. With Saviah’s PV, Rich has kept the tannins under control, and the resulting wine is a lovely expression of the grape. The nose is deeply floral, and those violet notes continue through the palate, framing gobs of rich, acid-driven, black and purple fruit.

Because this wine has to date been tasting-room only, it was not submitted for scoring, but it’s worth noting that Wine Enthusiast scored the 2006 Watermill Petit Verdot 91pts. Why is this worth noting? Because it’s the same vintage; the same vineyard (McClellan Estate, planted in 2003 between Seven Hills and Windrow Vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley); and the same winemaker (Rich Funk is the consulting winemaker for Watermill).

This offering is already running a little long, so I will save the story of how Rich Funk went from performing septic inspections at Walla Walla wineries to having a winery of his own. For now, suffice it to say that he launched Saviah in 2000 (at which point he was just the 21st winery in the valley) which gives him a full ten years of experience crafting outstanding wines from Walla Walla Valley fruit.

Please limit order requests to 6 bottles, and we will do our best to fulfill all requests. We should have this wine in our warehouse in less than two weeks, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.

2007 Bunnell Family Cellar Lia | 2006 RiverAerie Merlot Spofford Station

February 19, 2010

Hello friends. What a week here in Seattle. The last time we had a February stretch of weather this beautiful was 2005. I remember it well. I was unemployed at the time, and my days were mostly filled with frisbee-tossing and career angst. All things considered, I think I prefer 2010 (although it would be nice to chase after a disc in Ravenna Park again). Let’s head into what should be a spectacular weekend with two delightful wines from Ron Bunnell, one of Washington’s underground superstars (probably not underground for long, as Wine Spectator’s next issue has 93-pt scores for both of Ron’s as-yet-unreleased single-vineyard Syrahs from the 2007 vintage).

One of the most pleasurable stops on my December Eastern Washington trip was at Wine O’Clock in Prosser. The Bunnell family owns and operates this restaurant/wine bar, and it was there that I met Ron Bunnell to taste through his Bunnell Family Cellar and RiverAerie wines. Given how frequently wine is consumed with food, it’s scandalous how few evaluative tastings we in the trade do in the presence of anything more than a few stale oyster crackers. I’m not sure what the solution is. Do you think we could talk every winery in Washington into opening an on-premises restaurant? Not bloody likely. So I will continue to revel in the few chances I do get to sample wine in the presence of good food.

Ron’s wife Susan runs the restaurant, and she started us off with a lovely winter-mushroom soup and a rustic, charred-Romaine Caesar salad. The real center of gravity at Wine O’Clock, however, is their wood-fired brick oven, which churns out pie after pie of thin-crust, artisanal pizza. We chose the Margherita: crust, tomato, mozzarella, basil; a reminder of the wonder that exists at the crossroads of simplicity and perfection.

And with all this delightful food, we sampled a good portion of Ron Bunnell’s lineup of wines. The Bunnell Family Cellar label is dedicated to the finest expression of Rhone varietals in Washington. It includes three separate Syrahs, three Rhone blends, and occasional varietal bottlings of Viognier, Grenache and Mourvedre. The RiverAerie label sees more variation from year to year and allows Ron to paint with the full color palette of Washington varietals.

Ron has a deep comfort level with Washington state fruit. From 1992 to 2004, he worked for Ste Michelle Wine Estates, and his final role there was Head Red Winemaker. That role had Ron traveling to the outer reaches of the state for vineyard research and management. It also had him traveling to the outer reaches of the country, as the Head Red Winemaker is expected to do as much public relations work as winemaking. Five years in that role, doing that amount of travel, was enough, and in 2004 Ron struck out on his own, launching Bunnell Family Cellar. His boutique winery has allowed him to refocus on winemaking, to reconnect with his family, and to spend a lot more time close to home. The happiness of this venture is palpable in the glass.

For our first Bunnell offerings, I have plucked one wine each from the Bunnell Family and RiverAerie labels. These are wines that are much more likely to show up on a restaurant list than on the shelf of a retailer, but we have access to excellent parcels of both wines, and we don’t charge restaurant markup:

2007 Bunnell Family Cellar Lia

2007 is the inaugural vintage of Lia, a new Grenache-based blend named after Ron’s daughter Amelia. This marks our third Grenache-blend offering, after the well-received 2007 Rotie Cellars Southern Blend and 2007 Syncline Cuvee Elena. Washington Grenache is on the ascendancy, and there seems to be no end to the appetite for these wines.

This version is 50% Grenache, blended with 20% Syrah and 10% each of Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Petite Sirah. The vineyard sources are Northridge and Stonetree in the Wahluke Slope; Boushey in the Yakima Valley; and Discovery (a Paul Champoux-planted vineyard) in the Horse Heaven Hills. Spicy, rich, and autumnal, Lia brings white pepper-dusted raspberries, and a brightness and freshness that is palate-invigorating. This wine was a delight to drink with food.

2006 RiverAerie Merlot Spofford Station

This is single-vineyard Merlot from an outstanding, so-far-under-the-radar-it-might-as-well-be-a-stealth-bomber vineyard called Spofford Station. This site produces ultra-stinky Syrahs (Paul Gregutt once wrote about a Syrah from this vineyard: “There’s good funk and bad funk; this is right on the border.”), but its Cabs and Merlots tend to be a little calmer, dampening the funk with plenty of rich fruit. The Merlot here has notes of earth, dark chocolate, and plum: a lovely mix of fruity and savory flavors. There are minty notes present on the long, soiley finish. This shows levels of restraint and complexity that I find rare in Merlot.


First come first served on these up to a maximum of 12 bottles of Bunnell Lia and 18 bottles of RiverAerie Merlot. We should have these wines in our warehouse in less than a week, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping.

2008 OS Winery Riesling Champoux Vineyard

February 17, 2010

Hello friends. This marks the fourth ’08 Riesling that we have offered since launching Full Pull back in October. We began with the Trust Cellars offering way back on October 26, which is comprised mostly of Wahluke Slope fruit. Next came November 23rd’s Nefarious Cellars Riesling, from Stone’s Throw Vineyard at the north pole of the Columbia Valley. After that we offered Airfield Estates Riesling, from the Yakima Valley on January 6. Today, our exploration of the outstanding 2008 vintage of Washington Rieslings continues with this beautiful, single-vineyard offering from Champoux Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills. (Note: I will include reorder links at the bottom of this e-mail for those of you who want to create your own custom sampler-pack of ’08 Riesling from across the state).

Some might say that four Rieslings in four months is excessive. And I might agree with them, if it weren’t for the fact that Riesling is the greatest white wine grape in the world (I am now bracing myself for hate mail from Chardophiles). It is also the most terroir-expressive white grape, so it is a real pleasure to drink single-vineyard Rieslings such as this. Fortunately for us, Riesling’s greatness remains underappreciated by the masses, making it a continuing source of tremendous value.

Owen (the ‘O’ in OS) is a lover of Old-World Riesling, and he has endeavored here to replicate that style with New-World fruit. The result is breathtaking. Owen’s style is high-acid and low-alcohol (I have recently consumed some winter ales that were more alcoholic than this Riesling’s 9.5%). This is a gorgeously aromatic wine with orange blossoms, clay, pineapple, and hints of petrol. The mouthfeel here is viscous, with a good sense of palate weight (30-year old vines help) and flavors of crushed rock, pineapple, and peach.

And now a word about sugar. This wine has 2% residual sugar (RS). Looking back, our other three offered Rieslings had RS of 2%, 1.6%, and 1.7%. If two is a coincidence and three is a trend, then what is four? An obsession? Clearly my palate preferences have been revealed. Given the strong acid profile of the 2008 vintage, it is important to have at least a little RS to achieve a sense of balance and avoid the bitter notes that can come with Riesling vinified to complete dryness. In this case, the residual sugar conveys no palpable a sense of sweetness, but instead richness and balance.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($20); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD] 90 pts.”

First come first served on this up to a maximum of 18 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 Tempus Cellars Red Wine

February 16, 2010

Hello friends. Today we have another bottle with the mysterious label of “Red Wine.” You’ll remember my contention from last week’s Dumas Station offering that these wines require the greatest amount of scrutiny and research because their contents can vary so widely. Today’s Red Wine, for instance, is predominantly (53%) Cabernet Sauvignon from the old-vine blocks at Bacchus Vineyard. Bacchus is one of the Sagemoor vineyards, and this block of Cab was planted in 1972. It is blended with 30% Merlot from Alder Ridge (another top-quality vineyard; this one in the Horse Heaven Hills) and 17% Cabernet Franc from a Franc specialist: Pleasant Vineyard in the Yakima Valley.

So how did Joe Forest, the winemaker at Tempus Cellars, access all this high-quality fruit? During Full Pull’s first week, I mentioned in our Kerloo offering that the apprentice route is perhaps the surest route to success in winemaking, and that is also the route taken by Joe. His first exposure to the industry was helping Ross Mickel to rack and bottle Betz Family Winery wines when Ross was the assistant winemaker there. In 2004, Joe moved to Walla Walla, enrolled in the School of Enology and Viticulture, and worked crush at Seven Hills Winery. His next stop was Dunham Cellars, where as Assistant Winemaker he helped Eric Dunham boost production from 10,000 to 25,000 cases. Through all of these experiences, Joe built relationships and contacts that would prove invaluable when he started Tempus Cellars.

To say this was a busy period in Joe Forest’s life would be a severe understatement. In a period of a year and a half, he moved to Walla Walla, got married, bought a house, bought a dog, and birthed both a winery and a baby (okay, it was Mollie Forest who birthed the baby, but you get the picture). His winery is out at the Walla Walla airport in a converted ammunition bunker, where the wine is safe from all manner of attacks, from nuclear weapons to wine critics. His inaugural release was this 2006 vintage (he made a Syrah in addition to the Red Wine), and there isn’t much of it left. Of the 159 cases of Red Wine produced, fewer than 20 remain.

This is an elegant wine, with a nose of black cherries and hints of licorice and baking spices. Medium-bodied, the palate brings flavors of red fruit, tarragon, and an earthy/leafy side in the middle. The structure here comes mostly from acid, giving the fruit plenty of brightness. The long finish shows luscious, toffee barrel notes.

We have access to the remaining parcel of this wine, so I will open this up to 12 bottles/person, first come first served. That said, Joe will be moving onto his 2007 vintage in short order, so this is not a wine that will be available for long term reorder. We should have this wine in our warehouse in less than a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.