2004 Chelan Estate Pinot Noir

Hello friends. Delight without surprise can be awfully good (all of us have our favorite go-to wines that satisfy again and again); surprise without delight rarely so (as in, “I’m surprised the winemaker chose to slather this in 100% new Hungarian barrels). But surprise *and* delight: that’s the goal; the rare, wonderful combination that drives our best vinous moments. And that’s what I got when I tasted this wine.

First, surprise. Surprise because it’s not every day you hear of a parcel of six-year-old Washington Pinot Noir. Let alone from Lake Chelan. And then delight. Delight because this is a low-alc (just 12%!), elegant, site-expressive bottle of Pinot, characteristics that are usually the sole domain of Oregon here in the Pac-NW.

Let’s not mince words: Washington, which has shown so much success and promise with so many grapes, has shown very little with Pinot Noir. I suspect the grape will always be relegated to niche status in the state, destined to be grown in our few small pockets of land that make sense for it. The Columbia Gorge is one such pocket. That’s the source of Syncline’s Pinot Noir, which we offered in April. The south shore of Lake Chelan might be another.

Lake Chelan AVA is Washington’s newest, approved in 2009. The AVA remains an enigma, blessed and cursed by a massive summer tourist base that turns out for swimming, boating, and all other means of waterborne conviviality. Those well-heeled, well-tanned tourists flock to area tasting rooms, allowing many wineries to sell out their entire stock through their tasting room. While this is excellent news for the wineries, it creates a marketplace that is not truly competitive, and it has led to real unevenness in the quality of wines coming out of this area.

For me, the most compelling wines coming out of the region are those from vineyards located within the AVA. In this case, winemaker Bob Broderick is working with an 8-acre lot of estate vineyards planted on the south shore of the lake (here is its location on the Google Map). After planting several small trial plots in the early ’90s, he decided that the cooler south shore was the appropriate site for Pinot Noir, and the commercial vineyard went into the ground in 2000.

This is a great result for such young vines. Reticent on initial pour, this shows best with aeration, which leads to a head-turning nose of beef jerky, pie cherry, and woodsmoke. At just 12% alcohol, there is plenty of acid here, and the mouthfeel is silky and elegant, bringing flavors of pie cherry, underbrush, pepperoni, and integrated oak spice (this saw 14 months in French oak, mostly 500-liter puncheons). There is plenty of complexity here, especially for the price point.

After tasting this, I learned that the 2004 vintage is nearing its end. Little more than a dozen cases remain, and we can grab as much as we like. First come first served up to 12 bottles. We should have this wine in the warehouse in less than a week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.

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