Hello friends. A recent trip reminded me of just how distant, how geographically distinct Lake Chelan is from the rest of Washington. Ours was a long-weekend snowshoeing excursion in Stehekin, at the northern end of the lake. Approachable only by trail, seaplane, or a three-hour ferry up the lake (that’s what we did), this place is waaaaaaay off the grid. So off the grid that I didn’t sniff cell service for three days (nor a land line for that matter). So off the grid that their schoolhouse employs one teacher for grades K-8. So off the grid that I saw more swans than people over the course of the weekend.
Stehekin is extremely remote. And even Chelan, where the ferry originates, is not exactly a booming metropolis. The zoomed-out map shows you that we’re a solid 100 miles north of the Wahluke Slope. The zoomed-in map on Defiance Vineyard (source of today’s wines) shows how tenuously the Neffs’ site clings to the gentle slope between the lake itself and the surrounding mountains.
This is winemaking on the edge, and the results that Heather and Dean Neff produce from one of Washington’s remaining frontiers is nothing short of dazzling:
2011 Nefarious Cellars Viognier Defiance Vineyard
Planted in 2005, Defiance Vineyard contains 4.5 acres of Syrah and another 2 acres of Viognier. Can we pause at the vineyard for a moment and talk about the soils, because here again Chelan is distinctive. The upper layer of soil is rich in volcanic pumice and ash from an eruption of Glacier Peak’s volcano 12,000 years ago. The lower layers, into which we can figure Defiance’s vines will be starting to root, are glacial debris and lake sediment: mica-rich cobbly, bouldery, gravelly, and coarse sandy soils.
Okay, geek interlude over.
Heather handles the white winemaking for Nefarious, and she has developed a lovely house style over the years: high-toned fruit, electric acidity, persistent minerality. Her Viognier starts with an expressive nose of orange peel, ginger, and chalky minerals. The palate is all vibrancy and minerality, the cooler 2011 vintage seeming to play perfectly into Heather’s hands for the types of whites she likes to make. Orange blossom, honeysuckle, gingered peach: the flavors are all carried deftly across the palate by this wine’s nervy, refreshing acidity. This is as graceful as it gets in new-world Viognier.
Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($19); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”
Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($19); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 18+/20pts.”
2010 Nefarious Cellars Syrah Defiance Vineyard
I’m going to include Paul Gregutt’s review of this for Wine Enthusiast, not because the score will turn heads, but because I trust that we all go beyond the scores and pay attention to the review text. It’s clear that this is not your typical Washington Syrah:
Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($30); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”
“Wonderful purity.” “Mineral-driven.” “Bright and tangy.” “Succulent and classy.” These are descriptors we see much more often in Cornas and Hermitage and Cote-Rotie than in Washington.
I found this wine utterly captivating, in no small part because this style of Syrah is indeed quite rare in the Pac-NW. I love big, rich, fruity Washington Syrahs. I love big, dark, funky Washington Syrahs. But I am also certain that there is room in our state for this elegant, earthy, mineral style, with lovely nuance of floral and cracked black pepper. Bottles from Gramercy and Waters have already proven it, and you can add Nefarious to this group of reactionary Syrah wineries.
Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($30); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 19/20pts.”
First come first served on the Viognier up to 12 bottles. The Syrah is more limited, so let’s limit order requests to 8 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all those requests. Both wines should arrive in a few weeks, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.