Hello friends. Many would argue that Jean-Francois Pellet’s most impressive work is done under the Pepper Bridge label, where he crafts Cabernets, Merlots, and Bordeaux blends that are some of the most haunting, ageworthy bottles to come out of Washington each year. I think an equally strong argument could be made that his most impressive work actually takes place at his other project: Amavi.
Amavi has long been one of the hidden gems of the Walla Walla Valley. The wines come entirely from Walla Walla Valley fruit, receive much of the same care as the Pepper Bridge labels, and come in at tariffs that begin with ‘2.’
To really understand Amavi, we need to understand vineyards. These days, Amavi is something of the valley’s science lab, incorporating exciting new vineyards just as they come online. If you want to understand the future of the valley, Amavi is not a bad place to look.
2011 Amavi Cabernet Sauvignon
In many ways, the future of the valley rests with a project called Sevein. Sevein is 2700-acre property adjacent to Seven Hills Vineyard that was long coveted by valley growers/winemakers for its high elevation (900’-1500’) and fractured basalt soil. After long ownership by the Mormon church (who farmed wheat there), the site was finally purchased in 2004 by a group comprised of many of the Seven Hills partners. If all the Sevein land that can be planted out to vineyard is eventually planted out, it will nearly double the vineyard acreage in the Walla Walla Valley.
Andy Purdue wrote a terrific article about the project back in October, for those of you interested in more details. And here is a map to help get us oriented. I first became aware of the project during a visit with JF Pellet back in April 2010. We walked some of the rows at recently-planted Octave Vineyard, and JF could barely contain his excitement. To be above the frost zone, in fascinating terroir, looking down across the valley; it was impossible not to be entranced.
And now, nearly four years later, we can finally begin to see these sites reveal themselves. Unsurprisingly, this young-vine Cabernet does not go into the Pepper Bridge labels, so it’s Amavi instead where we get to see the promise of these sites initially fulfilled. To wit, half of this 2011 Cabernet comes from Seven properties, split among Summit View, Octave, and XL. The remainder is Pepper Bridge, Seven Hills, and Les Collines, not exactly slouches (in fact, I’d call them the king, queen, and crown prince of the valley).
Oh the joy of tasting new valley terroir. This begins with a nose of kirsch, violet, and a wild brambly character to its berry fruit. It’s all swaddled in a light caramelly barrel note (20% new wood here, the rest neutral). The palate has the freshness of the 2011 vintage but real palate-coating intensity, especially impressive for so much young-vine material. The cool vintage allows the earthy/soil side of Cabernet to come to the fore, balanced beautifully by cassis fruit and lifted by mentholated topnotes. It rolls into a well-structured finish, with terrific chewy Cabernet tannins. As appealing to the senses as it is to the intellect, this is one hell of a bellwether of things to come in this emerging part of the Walla Walla Valley.
2011 Amavi Syrah
This is a vineyard story, as well, combining three distinct valley terroirs: the Blue Mountain foothills of Les Collines (47%), the south-valley loess of Seven Hills (33%), and the funky cobbles of the rocks in Stone Valley (20%).
I love the cooler 2010 and 2011 vintages for Syrah, which is allowed to express itself so beautifully when it’s not too ripe (and when it’s not over-oaked; this sees just 10% new, the remainder neutral). It begins with a piercing floral note, a lavender laser screaming through blueberry fruit. With time and air, terrific subtleties of juniper and green olive (pass the martini!) begin to emerge, and the palate shows even more of that Walla Walla savory character. That Les Collines wacky magic (pine nut? shitake?) shines through, along with more briny olives and meat notes. As usual with JF, the texture is managed beautifully too; this is oh so supple, especially for chilly 2011. This bottling is consistently one of the strongest values in Walla Walla Valley Syrah, and 2011 is no exception.
First come first served up to 24 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and the wines should arrive in a week or two, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.