Three from Bunchgrass

Hello friends.

— Robert Sund

[Ongoing thanks to the board of the Robert Sund Poet’s House Trust (holders of copyrights to Sund’s work) for permission to share his poetry with our list members. For more information on the life and work of Robert Sund, and to order books, please visit the Trust’s web site.]

Long time list members know that when they see a Robert Sund poem, Bunchgrass wines won’t be far behind. Roger Cockerline named the winery after Bunch Grass, a book of poetry by his friend, the northwest poet Robert Sund (1929-2001). Learning about the origin of the winery name led me to Sund’s poetry, which has been one of the happiest accidents associated with Full Pull.

This is a winery steeped in Walla Walla Valley lore. Cockerline helped to establish a grape-grower’s society in Walla Walla in the 1980s and then founded Bunchgrass as the eleventh winery in the Walla Walla Valley. Roger’s fruit is present in some of the early Leonetti bottles, helped perhaps by the fact that Chris Figgins was a student in Roger’s 8th Grade Social Studies Course.

Bunchgrass was never the splashiest winery in the valley, but it was well-loved by its dedicated followers. So well-loved, in fact, that when Roger started moving towards retirement, he was approached by several people interested in keeping the winery alive. One of those people was Tom Olander, who had served as the lead wine buyer for Whitehouse-Crawford Restaurant (a Walla Walla institution) and had been a great admirer of Bunchgrass wines over the years. Tom has been making Bunchgrass wines since the 2009 vintage, and the releases have been an unbroken series of beauties.

Despite the long history in the valley, these remain insider gems, well-priced, and as delicious as they are difficult to source west of the mountains. In other words, perfect for the Full Pull model.

2010 Bunchgrass Syrah Walla Walla Valley

I’m sorry to say this is the last Syrah currently in the pipeline for Bunchgrass. A pity, to be sure, as I know many of us have been obsessed over the years with the pair of Bunchgrass Syrahs, one from Lewis Vineyard in the Yakima Valley, and this one from Morrison Lane, in the Walla Walla Valley. It’s also sold out at the winery, so we have access to what I believe is the last available parcel, and it’s not a very big one.

Morrison Lane is the oldest commercial Syrah vineyard in the WWV, planted in 1994 by Dean and Verdie Morrison on a soil base of cobbles and deep silt/sand loam (right next door is Forgotten Hills Vineyard, another popular site with our list members). It’s a relative rarity, as there are only a few single-vineyard bottlings from Morrison Lane. Walla Walla Vintners sometimes has one, and K Vintners has consistently made a blockbuster version as well (a bit pricier than this, however). Bunchgrass only got enough fruit in 2010 to make (gulp) 32 cases, so this is quite limited indeed.

It spent about two years in 20% new French oak, and clocks in at 14.5% listed alc. The nose combines a dark-and-brooding fruit profile (blackberry, blackcurrant) with other savory/earthy goodies: roasted mushroom, black olive, bay leaf, asphalt. It’s a dark, alluring aromatic profile, and it rolls into a palate that’s like sampling from a braising pot of meats and herbs (um, and berries, which I wouldn’t recommend in an actual braising pot). There’s an autumnal character to this that is lovely, and a real poignancy knowing that this is it for Bunchgrass Syrahs for the foreseeable future. No reorder opportunities on this one, I’m afraid.

2011 Bunchgrass The Bard

A newish wine for Bunchgrass, this is the second vintage of this mostly-Rhone blend, which combines 50% Grenache and 33% Syrah from Nostra Terra Vineyard, and then cheats with Bordeaux by adding a whack of Seven Hills Merlot. It’s tiny-production, too – just 72 cases – and the elevage tune is similar: 28 months in 20% new French oak, 14.5% listed alc. The nose is all Grenache, with soaring lily and lilac notes above a core of strawberry/raspberry fruit, white pepper, and sweet grassy notes. The mouthfeel management is again pinpoint, and this conveys real elegance in a vintage that has had plenty of harsh examples. That’s likely where the Merlot helps, contributing more to the texture (adding roundness, plushness) than to the flavor.

2011 Bunchgrass Founder’s Blend

This is our third opportunity to offer the Founder’s Blend (the 09 vintage was our first), and I’m thrilled to have continued access for our list members. It has always been among my favorites in the Bunchgrass portfolio, but quantities prior to 2009 just weren’t high enough to warrant an offering. Even now, this remains quite small-production, at 111 cases.

It’s Tom’s homage to Cheval Blanc, and the proportions of Cabernet Franc (55%, from Dwelley Vineyard) and Merlot (45%, from Seven Hills Vineyard) are close enough. It sees 28 months in 20% new French oak, and listed alc is 14.4%. The kirsch and coffee notes from the Merlot dance beautifully with the earthy beet and rhubarb notes from the Cabernet Franc (the violet grace notes that emerge with time/air are likely thanks to the Franc as well). This one is always about the texture for me, and again in 2011 it is a slinky, silky delight, gliding across the mid-palate and then rolling into a sneaky-powerful finish, awash in fine-grained tannins redolent of chamomile.

Please limit orders to 6 bottles each of Syrah and Bard, and 12 bottles of the Founders Blend. We’ll do our best to fulfill all requests, and the wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

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