Hello friends. It’s Bunchgrass day! Which means our offering begins with a Robert Sund poem:
Sitting A Long Time
Thinking about poems I have written
all in notebooks, piled,
Often images appear once,
and never again.
They may be lost
in a poem that fails to stand up and go,
or they may have wings
and be strong like a bird pulling the earth
with him as he rises.
A certain waste seems indispensable
in the pursuit of art.
sits a long time on his high branch.
— Robert Sund
That’s not the first time I’ve shared that particular poem. As someone who tends to sit a long time in seemingly-fruitless contemplation of what to write, this notion that “A certain waste seems indispensable” is something of a salve. It resonates for me, and I’m guessing it will for many of you as well.
Now then, the history, for list newbies: Roger 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 (no pigeonholing in the WWV; Roger was a farmer *and* a teacher).
Roger 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 my happiest accidents associated with Full Pull, and now, whenever we offer Bunchgrass wines, we include a Sund poem. I’d like to thank 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.
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 Cockerline 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 (helped by fairly limited open hours: 11am-4pm on Fridays and Saturdays from April-December), well-priced, and as delicious as they are difficult to source west of the mountains. In other words, perfect for the Full Pull model.
We’ve offered a full two dozen Bunchgrass wines over the years, but never a white wine until today. It wasn’t for lack of trying. Tom has made this lovely Sem/Sauv blend called Whispering Owl in 2010, ’11, and ’12, but there was never enough wine to justify an offer. Fortunately, there is (barely) enough of this 2013 Semillon, whose total production is 55 cases. To put that number in perspective, that’s even smaller production than our Semillon project under our Block Wines label. Limited to be sure.
I’m a big believer in varietal Semillon in Washington, and this is a fine example of why. Coming entirely from Birch Creek Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley, it was barrel fermented and clocks in at 13.8% listed alc; stylistically a far cry from our leaner/racier Block Wines version. This one opens with a nose of dates, sweet spice (cardamom, clove), lime leaf, and beeswax. In the mouth, this is a plush, soft, easy drinker. Its impressive length and palate-coating character make me think it would be a fine alternative for Chardonnay lovers looking to branch out. There’s just enough limey acid to balance the lush fruit, and drinking this made me want to cook a rich fish: either throw a sockeye salmon onto the grill or start a multi-day black cod marinade.
A newish wine for Bunchgrass, made in honor of Bunchgrass’ bard (Robert Sund), it’s the third vintage of this mostly-Rhone blend, which combines 55% Grenache and 36% Syrah from Nostra Terra Vineyard, and then rounds it out with a 9% dollop of Malbec. This is large-production by Bunchgrass standards – 134 cases – and small-production for the rest of the world.
Nostra Terra is an interesting site. Like Birch Creek, it’s on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley, down by Milton-Freewater. But unlike The Rocks District, which is west of Highway 11, these vineyards are east of the highway on silt loam soils. Still, this has an undeniably attractive funky/meaty nose, with bacon fat and smoky brisket to pair with red cherry fruit and good Grenache sagebrush notes. Kind of a wow nose, especially at this price point. The palate is a soft, supple (14.6% listed alc) mix of sanguine mineral tones and fleshy red cherry fruit. The balance of fruit and savory elements is really pinpoint here. What a fine vintage of The Bard! The flow of new-release 2012s has slowed to a trickle, and this is a fine reminder of what a terrific vintage it has been for Washington wineries.
This is also the only wine of today’s trio to have a review attached: Wine Enthusiast (Sean Sullivan): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”
A single vineyard Malbec from Frazier Bluff in the Walla Walla Valley. This site is planted mostly to Petit Verdot but has nine rows of Malbec, and Bunchgrass gets all of it, so this is their little Malbec monopole and represents the only opportunity to taste Malbec from Joe Frazier’s vineyard. I love the nose, which is extremely expressive, offering notes of boysenberry, graphite, and sweet pea. Complex and compelling. The palate somehow conveys both rusticity and refinement, with a burly chalky texture carrying a well-balanced mix of minerals and rich fruits. This is singular Washington Malbec, completely belying its (admittedly well-earned) rep as a rooty-tooty fruit bomb, and offering instead a classy version of the grape.
The only time I have seen this reviewed by one of the major magazines was the 2007 vintage, by Paul Gregutt in Wine Enthusiast. He scored it 93pts, which was his strongest review for a Washington Malbec for many years (aMaurice’s estate Amparo Malbec received 94pts in the April Enthusiast). I’m guessing Bunchgrass stopped submitting Malbec for review, since there’s just so little of it (62 cases for the 2012).
First come first served up to 36 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and the wines should arrive in the next few weeks, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.