Full Pull Reference Point Cabernet

Hello friends. Today we have a reference-point Washington Cabernet from a reference-point vintage:

2012 Pepper Bridge Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 

I was thrilled to participate in the panel that awarded Jean-Francois Pellet Winemaker of the Year for Seattle Magazine’s 10th Annual Washington Wine Awards. Not only because he is deeply deserving of the honor, but also because it meant I got to write up the award blurb:


Now I know Pepper Bridge can still be confusing for folks, because there is Pepper Bridge Vineyard and there is Pepper Bridge Winery. Pepper Bridge Winery uses (estate) Pepper Bridge Vineyard fruit, and it also uses fruit from other sites, especially Seven Hills Vineyard (and yes, there is a Seven Hills Winery as well; I know, I know, and I think if the folks involved had it to do over again, they would almost certainly come up with some separate names).

So, for most of the years of its existence, Pepper Bridge Cab came from two sites: Pepper Bridge Vineyard and Seven Hills Vineyard, the king and queen of the Walla Walla Valley. But what’s exciting about this 2012 is that it adds a wildcard to the deck (maybe the joker?): Octave Vineyard.

Octave is part of the Sevein project, and in order to understand the future of the Walla Walla Valley, we need to understand this project. 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 Perdue wrote a terrific article about the project a few years ago, 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, five and a half years later, we finally begin to see these sites reveal themselves. Octave comprises about 20% of the blend here, Pepper Bridge about a quarter, and Seven Hills the remainder. The juice spent 18 months in French oak, 43% new, before bottling in May of 2014, giving it another 18 months to come together in bottle. Listed alc is 14.6%.

But of course this is still just a baby. One consistent aspect of Pepper Bridge Cab, year in and year out: this is one tightly wound mother. I for one really admire that JF has maintained the house style here, which is all about terroir expressiveness *over time*. What that means in the short-term is that the wine displays more in the way of structure (tannin) and power than overt fruit. That fruit is there, but it is densely packed in a way that only micro-oxygenation will allow to unfurl. The flip side of Pepper Bridge’s short-term inaccessibility is that these wines become outrageous once you hit about 7-10 years past vintage, and then they evolve glacially for many years after that. If you’re not in for that kind of patience, consider a multi-hour decant, which at least offers the patina of true bottle aging.

I’m not sure that JF even submits this wine to the press all that often anymore, and I understand why. It’s a trip reading through many of the reviews, which are filled with head-scratching caveats about the scores likely being way too conservative when the wine has time to come around. Again, the house style here is not really suited to easy reviewing in the year or two after release. I do what like the influential wine writer Jon Bonné (author of New California Wine) said a few years ago: [TEXT WITHHELD]

The nose broods plenty initially, but with time and air begins to reveal itself in waves of crème de cassis fruit, graphitic pencil-lead minerality, star anise-studded mocha, and wonderful floral top-notes. There is such depth of flavor here, such concentration, and all of it with nary a shred of excess weight. Classy, polished, and already surprisingly delicious after a few hours open, we know this wine’s best years are still well ahead of it. A marvel of power and grace, I’d be comfortable opening a bottle of this every few years until, what, 2040 maybe? Jean-Francois Pellet is one of the best in the business, and this is a vintage (and an exciting new vineyard) that shows him at the very top of his game.

Please limit order requests to 12 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in a week or two, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

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