2009 Ellanelle Cabernet Sauvignon

Hello friends. Leonard Brown oversees field operations for 100 acres of vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley. Which seems like a lot until you learn that he also manages more than 1000 acres of apple orchards.

A little-known fact of the southern Walla Walla Valley (the part that stretches into Oregon) is that much of the acreage that would be well-suited to wine grapes remains heavily planted to apples. Less sexy, perhaps, but just as profitable.

The Brown family has been farming this part of the valley since the 1970s, but it wasn’t until 2001 that they began converting some of their orchard land into wine. The family has two main labels: Watermill for wine (which we’ve offered numerous times) and Blue Mountain for cider (which we’ve offered once). Beginning with the 2008 vintage, Len and his wife Leslie (the ‘L’ and ‘L’ in “Ellanelle”) began something of a reserve label, producing exactly one wine, and keeping production under 200 cases.

I learned about Ellanelle a little too late to access that inaugural 2008 vintage, but we’ve avoided that fate for the 2009:

The Brown family is part of the cartilage of the Walla Walla Valley. Like many families whose background is agricultural, they don’t exactly shout to the rooftops about their products. I’ve met a number of Browns (including Len once, although he might not remember it; along with Trey Busch, we helped free a peregrine falcon that had become tangled in vineyard netting), and they are to a person self-effacing, genuine, and more than a little passionate about the land they farm. You won’t see them on billboards, but don’t be fooled: this is an influential family in the valley.

This Cabernet comes from three sites, all close together in the southern Walla Walla Valley, all on valley silt loam soils: Anna Marie (located here, right next to Abeja’s Heather Hill, which should raise some list member eyebrows), McClellan (located here), and Windrow (located here).

It’s a wonderful exploration of an under-explored part of the valley, with a deep dark core of crème de cassis fruit overlain with nutty barrel notes of pecan and nougat. I’ve been tasting so many 2010s and 2011s from Washington, and I do love the vibrancy from those cooler vintages, but man, coming back to a 2009 is like getting a warm hug from a long-lost relative. This is ripe and rich, with very supple, silky blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, notes of high-cacao chocolate and earthy soil, and classy, beautifully-managed tannins. It’s a small-production gem that punches well above its price class.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($35); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.” [Note: this wine also appeared in PaulG’s Top 100 NW Wines for 2012.]

First come first served up to 12 bottles, and the wine should arrive at the warehouse in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.

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