Hello friends. Two more thrilling explorations of Red Willow Vineyard today from our friends at Eight Bells. They’ve turned into a real list-member favorite, an up-and-comer that still flies mostly under the national radar but is developing quite a local following.
In my opinion, there are two main reasons why our list members have fallen hard for this winery: 1) their continuing focus on Red Willow Vineyard, one of the finest pieces of terroir in Washington; and 2) their pricing structure, which favors more accessible tariffs than we’re used to seeing for Red Willow fruit.
Located towards the far western edge of the Yakima Valley (location here), Red Willow was originally planted by Mike Sauer in 1973. Many of Mike’s plantings over the years were done in conjunction with the late Master of Wine and long-time Columbia Winery winemaker David Lake, and for many years, much of the fruit was contracted to Columbia. In the past decade, as more boutique wineries have been able to gain access to Red Willow fruit, the reputation of the vineyard has grown and grown. Betz Cote Patriarche. Owen Roe Chapel Block. Mark Ryan Lost Soul. These are Red Willow bottles treasured by Washington wine lovers.
And quietly, the guys from Eight Bells are entering the conversation as well. The timing of their winery launch was impeccable, coming just as Red Willow was looking to take on boutique winery partners. Among the three Eight Bells partners (Tim Bates, Andy Shepherd and Frank Michiels), there were decades of winemaking experience as amateurs (Tim is the most experienced, having crushed his first fruit, from Sagemoor, in 1980. He is also a PhD Chemist, and the winery includes a full lab: quite rare for an operation of this size) before they went commercial in 2009, so they knew outstanding fruit when they saw it. And they pounced.
Most of Eight Bells’ wines are sold direct through the winery (which is hidden in plain sight in the Ravenna neighborhood of Seattle) or the Eight Bells wine club, and only a handful of restaurants and retailers have discovered these beauties. Lucky for us.
2011 Eight Bells Sangiovese Red Willow Vineyard
From plants that went into the ground in 1994, we’re now looking at Red Willow Sangiovese vines approaching 20 years of age. The nose is airy, refreshing, all cranberry and mineral and violets, smelling something like a Cote de Brouilly. The palate embraces the cool 2011 vintage and is fresh as can be, carrying crunchy berry fruit and crushed rocks on a juicy, vibrant, 13.1%-alc frame. It’s appetizing, refreshing; Sangio done as a vin de soif. I started thinking Thanksgiving the moment this wine passed my lips.
2011 Eight Bells Syrah “8 Clones” Red Willow Vineyard
We offered the 2010 vintage of this, which was called “Clonal Block.” The winery changed the name to “8 Clones” after receiving complaints that the name was too close to “colon block,” which still makes me giggle childishly as I write it, even weeks after hearing it for the first time. Some days I’m more of an adult than others, I suppose.
Regardless, this is a terrific project. Mike Sauer and David Lake set up four experimental vineyard blocks at Red Willow, and Eight Bells gets three of them, including the “8 Clones” block, which, as you probably deduced already, contains eight different clones of Syrah. This is the only place to taste this specific piece of Red Willow terroir, and it’s a beauty. The nose is glorious, interweaving marionberry fruit, bacon fat, white flowers, and green olives. The mix of rich fruits and meaty/briny/umami savories continues on the palate, which finishes with a lick of salty mineral tang. The mouthfeel is lovely, silky, with a sense of inner-mouth perfume that goes on and on through the lengthy, grin-inducing finish.
I know the 2010 vintage had serious fans on our list, and this is the equal of that wine. It’s also a rare chance to taste Red Willow Syrah at this tariff, so for those of you who usually keep purchases to $25-and-under, let me suggest that this is a fine bottle for a splurge.
First come first served up to 24 bottles total, 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 next temperature-appropriate shipping window.