Hello friends. Is Otis Vineyard in line to be the next Red Willow?
You remember the Red Willow story, right? Under contract to Columbia Winery (and/or its owners, Constellation Brands and Ascentia Estates) for many years, followed by a recent explosion in interest as they began to be able to sell their outstanding fruit to boutique wineries.
Well, Otis is even older. Planted in 1957 (!), it has what are believed to be the oldest commercial Cabernet vines in Washington state. Paul Gregutt wrote a wonderful article about Otis Vineyard, and its relationship to the late great Master of Wine David Lake, for the Seattle Times back in 2005.
As far as I know, the only winery to bottle Otis Vineyard fruit on its own has been Columbia (or its old name, Associated Vintners). Until today.
Leave it to Henry Smilowicz to be the one to bottle Otis fruit. We introduced Henry’s Array Cellars last autumn. Array is a focused, Chardonnay-only winery looking to unearth the best plots of Chardonnay Washington has to offer. They source from an all-star list of vineyards: Celilo, Conner Lee, Dionysus, Stillwater Creek. And Otis.
For the 2010 vintage, they blended all their sites into one delicious bottling, a bottling that began to build serious buzz locally (inclusion in Seattle Magazine’s Best New Washington Wines in 2013 didn’t hurt). Now Array is back, and I suspect their 2011 vintage is only going to build on all that strong publicity. In 2011, several vineyards stood up and demanded to be bottled on their own. One of them was Otis, all from a block of Dijon-clone vines planted in the 1980s.
The Otis connection happened through Robert Takahashi. Robert now helps make the Array wines, but for many years, he assisted David Lake at Columbia, crushing plenty of Otis Vineyard fruit. Robert’s connection to Terry Herrmann, the vineyard manager for Otis, proved to be the key that unlocked these beautiful grapes.
This bottle’s historical significance is intellectually interesting, for certain, and the juice inside may be even more interesting. For me, this wine delivers on the promise of Array’s inaugural vintage and enters the conversation of top Chardonnays in Washington (with Woodward Canyon, Abeja, Buty Conner Lee, Efeste Lola, and a handful of others I’m sure I’m forgetting). When I look into my crystal ball, I see a future where this wine’s tariff begins with a 4 or a 5. But not today!
Right from the first sniff, this one grabs your interest, because it has a real dusty/earthy component overlaying the stone fruit. My note says “nose has a clean funkiness, if that makes sense.” No, no it doesn’t, but it made sense to me at the time, so I’m sticking with it. Take a sip and you’ll find a live wire, a palate stainer, coating your mouth with plantain fruit, hazelnut, lemon oil, and sweet spice. It’s fleshy, earthy, concentrated; as seamless and complete a Chardonnay as I’ve tasted from Washington in some time.
Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 19/20pts.”
Production is a mere 165 cases, so no telling how long this will be available for reorder. But for now, it’s first come first served up to 12 bottles, and the wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.