Hello friends. Something is afoot in the Mill Creek drainage of the Walla Walla Valley, and the best way to follow the action is through the dazzling wines of Kenny Hart at Tulpen Cellars.
Tulpen is a list favorite, and rightly so: they’re among the best quality-for-price bottles coming out of Washington right now, and they remain a total insider’s winery, rarely showing up west of the mountains. We’ve offered a number of Tulpen wines in the past, and you can check out some of those former offerings here and here to see the old story.
I say “the old story” because the story is evolving. The old story was: expert grower launches winery as master-class in growing, plucking outstanding fruit from the vineyards he manages and expressing those sites transparently in bottle. It was always a “grower first” story.
But it’s evolving into a vigneron story, and Kenny is a vigneron with a vision. That vision centers on Mill Creek. This is the area in the eastern part of the Walla Walla Valley where Mill Creek Road passes Abeja and continues climbing up into the foothills of the Blue Mountains. As you gain elevation, you also gain annual precipitation, enough to support that rare Washington animal: a vineyard that does not require any irrigation. The combination of rain and deep-loam soils makes it such that the grapevines can grow without added water.
The progress of these “non-irrigated” or “dryland-farmed” vineyards is a fascinating development to watch, and there’s no better place to watch than through the prism of Kenny’s bottlings. Beginning in 2010, all Tulpen wines will be completely dryland-farmed. This 2009 vintage is the interregnum, a transition year, where most of the fruit is from Mill Creek, but much of it is also from some other well-loved vineyards in the Tulpen portfolio.
There are five 2009s from Tulpen, and we’ll likely offer all of them, beginning today with two Cabernet-based beauties.
(Two quick notes: 1. This 2009 vintage is the first under Tulpen’s new labels, which have been really well-received; and 2. While Kenny’s 2007 and 2008 vintages received strong reviews from Paul Gregutt and Sean Sullivan, these 2009s have not yet been reviewed. Fine by me. Let’s sneak in before the praise train hits the station!)
2009 Tulpen Cellars “Coalesence” (BDX Blend)
Coalesence is Tulpen’s BDX blend, and we have previously offered the 2006, 07, and 08 vintages. I know this bottling has serious devotees on our list who will be pleased to see this wine return. Many of you are likely building up solid verticals by now.
In 2009, the heart of this wine is Tokar Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, at 60% of the blend. Tokar is one of the dryland vineyards in Mill Creek (location here), and Cabernet from this site is exceptional. There is another 8% Cab (from Yellowbird and Wallula), and then 20% Cab Franc (Dennis Pleasant in the Yakima Valley), 8% Merlot (Wallula and Lewis), and 4% Malbec (Les Collines). It begins with a gorgeous nose, a core of cassis lifted by soaring top-notes of violet and mint-leaf. The first thing you notice on the palate is the classy texture, the fine-tuned sense of balance among the flavors of blackcurrant and violet, mineral and mint and black tea. It finishes with a fine Cabernet chewiness, and it really represents the best scenario for Bordeaux blends: the intersection of power and grace.
2009 Tulpen Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley
This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 62% comes from dryland sites: Tokar (location here) and Yellowbird (location here). The remainder comes from Heather Hill, an Abeja estate site that has been inspiring raves every time it is bottled.
What is noteworthy about this Cabernet are the densely-packed layers of fruit aromatics. There is plenty of cassis and cherry and berry, but also fruits that are more exotic for Cabernet: peach and papaya and melon. The core of fruit is ultra-impressive, and it’s swaddled in grace notes of dust and earth and eucalyptus. The palate is much more dense and brooding than the Coalesence. I’d drink Coalesence a bit younger, while waiting for this one’s tightly-packed fruit to emerge from behind its walls of mineral and structure.
If most of the Walla Walla Valley Cabs you’ve been drinking have been predominantly from Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills, this presents an entirely different profile of Cabernet from the valley.
I know Tulpen has enormous fans on the list, so let’s open it up to first come first served up to 24 bottles total (mix and match as you like). The wines should arrive in late April, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.