Hello friends. The Bookwalter family has some of the deepest roots in Washington winemaking. Today we’re going to offer a trio of their wines from the superb 2012 vintage, showing the breadth of their success at a wide range of different price points.
John Bookwalter is the tenth generation of Bookwalters to be involved in American agriculture. That’s a pretty long legacy even by European standards. John’s father Jerry (generation nine) was the first to specifically work in viticulture. After graduating from UC-Davis in 1963, Jerry spent thirteen years farming the San Joaquin Valley in California before moving his fledgling family to Washington in 1976.
There, he helped manage the planting of several Mt. Rushmore level Washington vineyards – Sagemoor, Bacchus, Dionysus – between 1976 and 1982 (that is seriously early days by Washington standards). John recalled living onsite at Bacchus and Dionysus as a kid, and as someone who has visited those spots, I feel comfortable saying: they’re out there. Like way out there. Like sagebrush and nuclear reactors and UFO sightings out there.
Remarkably, John survived the childhood of the endless harvest (Sagemoor grows cherries and apples and peaches in addition to vinifera), forged his own path in the wine world for awhile, and then in 1997 returned to the family winery, where he has been ever since. During John’s tenure, the focus has shifted squarely away from whites (which were 90% of production in the late ‘90s) and onto rich, smoky, supple reds from some of the finest vineyards in the state. As you’d expect, a portion of the fruit is still sourced from Sagemoor properties. Another solid chunk comes from the inimitable Conner Lee Vineyard outside of Othello, which is co-managed by Jerry Bookwalter.
One of the more exciting stories in Washington wine right now is the passing of the generational baton. It’s happening at a number of pioneering wineries, and each time a great Washington winery successfully executes a succession plan, it feels like a small miracle. After all, there’s nothing written in stone that says that, just because the parents loved winemaking, the children will too. There’s nothing guaranteed about the continuation of these ventures. And that only makes winery stories like that of the Bookwalter family that much sweeter.
This reminded me an awful lot of the old Bookwalter Bookmark that we offered way back in 2011. That one was seriously well-loved among our list members. But unlike Bookmark, which was non-vintage (which really of course means multi-vintage), this Subplot comes entirely from the wonderful 2012 vintage. I’ll let John introduce the Subplot label: “The number on the bottle represents how many non-vintage and vintage table wines we have produced since 1983. Each lot of wine that we select for Subplot is carefully chosen each year after we have made our final blends for our top tier wines. We attempt to create a flavorful, full bodied yet approachable wine by layering multiple vineyards and varietals in these unique blends. The combination of press wine from our oldest vineyards and free run wine from our young vines results in a wine that offers fruit, structure, approachability and exceptional value.”
The blend in 2012 is nearly half (48%) Cabernet Sauvignon, rounded out with 32% Merlot, 11% Syrah, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Malbec. The winery doesn’t reveal the vineyard sources, but the fruit quality seems outstanding here. Listed alc is 14.8%, and it begins with a nose of black cherry fruit married to barrel notes of smoke, toast, and coffee bean. The palate is plush, rich, a mouthful of dark fruit swaddled in barrel tones. The 2012 vintage is so successful across so many price points, and this is a prime example, offering terrific stuffing and charm. Supple and delicious, creamy in texture, it offers a remarkable lack of rough edges for the tag and would make a fine weeknight house wine for those so inclined.
Conner Lee Vineyard forms the backbone of Bookwalter’s Foreshadow Cabernet, making up about half of the vineyard mix, the remainder from five vineyards scattered across the greater Columbia (Dionysus, Rosebud) and Yakima (Elephant Mtn) Valleys, Red Mountain (Red Mtn Vineyard), and the Horse Heaven Hills (Destiny Ridge). It was aged for just shy of two years in a combination of new, once-used, and twice-used French oak barrels.
Clocking in at 14.8% listed alc, it jumps out of the glass with an honest oak-raised Cabernet nose: blackcurrant, mint, and then the barrel threads of espresso and smoke that seem to characterize much of the Bookwalter lineup. Beautifully balanced, this pairs supple fruit to mouthwatering acid and polished tannins. Rich and drinkable, it has depth and personality to spare. No reviews yet for the 2012, but previous vintages have topped out at 93pts Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman) and 94pts Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt).
This is a label only produced in the very best vintages at Bookwalter, and it is frequently only sold through the winery. The previous four “chapters” were produced in 2002, 2006, 2007, and 2009, so this book is proceeding at a George RR Martin-like pace (as I write that sentence, I can practically feel someone flicking my glasses and yelling NERD!).
The most recent chapter, Chapter 4, received an outstanding (95pt) review from Wine Spectator, and disappeared soon thereafter. The 2012 has fortunately not yet been rated. It is a Cabernet-dominant blend (81%) that comes from a 70/30 split of the older blocks at Conner Lee and Dionysus Vineyards. Like Foreshadow, it was aged in a combo of new and lightly used French oak. Only 313 cases were produced, and it clocks in at 14.9% listed alc.
It displayed the most depth and greatest mineral character of the Bookwalter lineup, with a wonderful graphite core shaded by black fruit (blackcurrant, blackberry), tarry streaks, smoke, and roasted herbs. A topnote thread of eucalyptus keeps things fresh. But this is as much about texture as it is about flavor. Silky, suave, and supple, it glides easily across the palate and then lingers well after the finish. This is a fine flagship wine for the winery, offering tremendous depth and density with no excess weight. Old vines, old farming family; what could be better?
First come first served up to 36 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and the wines should arrive in the next week or two, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.