Full Pull Bang The Drum

Hello friends. We’ve banged the drum for Memaloose for some time now. In fact, our first Memaloose offer (2007 Cabernet Franc) came just a month after Full Pull launched (November 2009). But after a recent tasting of Brian McCormick’s lineup, I have to admit: we haven’t banged the drum anywhere near loudly enough.

It’s clear to me now that Brian has spent the six-plus years since we first wrote about his wines getting better and better at growing grapes in the Columbia Gorge, better and better at making wine from those grapes. But alas, not better and better at self-promotion. The winery’s own website describes him thusly: Bookish and a bit reclusive, Brian describes his task as “working, with real humility, to deliver wines of originality and fidelity to the growing site.” Bookish/reclusive winemakers don’t tend to get tons of attention. No one would describe Charles Smith, for example, as bookish and reclusive. But I mean, that quote – working with humility to deliver wines of fidelity to growing site – if that doesn’t set the heart of a wine lover aflutter, I don’t know what will. Or maybe it’s just that I’m a little bookish and reclusive myself. Anyway, it’s all to the point where now I feel like Memaloose is this amazing northwest gem that almost nobody knows about. So let me try to bang the drum again. A little louder this time.

Let’s start with this: Brian McCormick is a vigneron. He both grows grapes and makes wine. In some wine-producing regions, this is unexceptional. In Washington, it’s exceedingly rare. A few factors are at play here. One is that the place where many winemakers want to live (west of the Cascades) is different from the place that grapes like to grow (east of the Cascades). Another is that it’s just plain hard; growing grapes requires an entirely different skill set from making wine, and it’s a rare bird that is skilled at both.

But the reason the vigneron model is so exciting is that the person involved is able to steward every step of the process that translates dirt into bottled wine; able to really express a point of view and a house style, should the vigneron be so inclined. And Brian is so inclined. A former philosophy major (parents of philosophy majors, take heart!), he graduated from the Masters program in Enology and Viticulture at UC-Davis (as prestigious a program as there is in the United States), worked for a time at Domaine Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace, and eventually picked the Gorge as a location to plant his vineyards, specifically because the climatic conditions would allow him to make Old World-styled wines. The Gorge is different from eastern Washington, with a cooler, more marginal climate and wilder swings in vintage. It’s a nerve-wracking, exciting place to grow and make wine.

The entire McCormick family is nuts about food. Brian’s father Rob worked in the food industry for his entire career before “retiring” to help Brian launch his winery (his quasi-retirement involves serving as business manager, marketer, and cellar rat). Brian’s mother is a former chef, and Brian himself is a dedicated chef and baker, and he farms not only wine grapes, but also cherries and pears. The lesson here: food-crazy families make food-friendly wines.

And yeah, lots of winemakers in Washington will tell you that they’re aiming for Old World-styled wines, aiming for food-friendly wines. But outside of Michael Savage and Brian McCormick, I can’t think of other winemakers who so clearly push their chips all-in on that proposition. It can’t be easy (for sales I mean) defying commonly held beliefs about what the style of Washington wine has to be, but my oh my does it make for an exciting lineup of wines.

What I’ve decided to do today, after this lengthy preamble, is to offer three wines from Brian, each a different vintage, each a different variety. The goal is to showcase as broadly and forcefully as possible how outstanding this winery is. These are fresh, energetic wines perfect for spring and summer, and I hope many of you will check them out. I really believe this is a winery that is only going to gain in importance and prominence as the years go on. [Note: I’m not going to even get into the brand confusion of having “Idiot’s Grace” as a label and then having “Idiot’s Grace Vineyard” on wines with the Memaloose label; suffice it to say: these are all Brian’s wines.]

2014 Idiot’s Grace Riesling
I mean, this guy worked at Zind-Humbrecht. You want to try his dry Riesling, don’t you? Yes, yes you do. Just 185 cases produced, and it comes entirely from Pear Blossom Vineyard on Underwood Mountain, the westernmost vineyard in the Columbia Gorge, sited at 1400’ elevation. Done entirely in stainless steel, it offers a lovely, typical nose combining citrus fruit (tangerine, lime), and tree fruit (pear), and chalky mineral. The palate is dry, lithe (12.4% listed alc), and clean as a whistle, with a super-impressive sense of extract on what seems like a weightless frame. Spicy, minerally, with rippin’ acid and length for days, this is one damned impressive Washington Riesling.

2012 Idiot’s Grace Syrah
This is – sadly – the final vintage for this Syrah, which comes from Hogback Ridge Vineyard. The problem is that Hogback sits 400 yards outside of the Gorge AVA (that’s why it gets the Columbia Valley label), and Brian has decided his lineup needs to be 100% Gorge AVA fruit. Selfishly, I’d argue that this is a mistake, because this is a very exciting, terroir-expressive Syrah from a part of the northwest where very little Syrah is grown.

The vineyard is near The Dalles on the Oregon side of the Columbia River. It’s owned by the guy who does most of the UPS deliveries for the wineries in the Gorge. Small world down there. And it sits at 1200 feet elevation. The nose is complex, expressive, and maturing: earth and black olive, smoked ham hock and black fruits (blackberry, black cherry). The palate has a salty/umami character that I just could not get enough of, and at 13% listed alc, it sails across the palate with energy and verve to spare. Any rough edges that ever existed on this wine have been sanded away by bottle age, and it is drinking beautifully right now.

2013 Memaloose Cabernet Franc Idiot’s Grace Vineyard
This is such a Chinon ringer that I just shook my head and chuckled for like a full thirty seconds after smelling it. Just smelling it! All those wonderful green notes that get folks excited for Bernard Baudry and Charles Joguet: spring cress and sweet pea and poblano pepper. All those haunting evocative florals. All of that aromatic character that makes Franc so different from its genetic relative Cabernet Sauvignon when it’s grown like this and picked at the right time. Listed alc is 12.8%. No, that’s not a typo. And so yeah, you get the palate you’d expect at that alc: bright, spicy, characterful. Alive. If you’ll forgive me some hyperbole, it is the most exciting Cabernet Franc I’ve ever tasted from the northwest, and it is one hell of a summer red.

First come first served up to 36 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.

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