Full Pull Isenhower

June 27, 2016

Hello friends. We launched Full Pull in autumn 2009. And before we did, I took a long eastern Washington road trip. The purpose: research, tasting, buying. I just looked back at my notes from that trip, and of the dozen or two wineries I visited, there is exactly one whose wines we have never offered. Until today.

It was entirely a matter of timing. I *loved* the wines I tasted at Isenhower seven (!!!) years ago and fully intended to offer them. But just as Full Pull was getting up and running, Brett and Denise Isenhower were scaling back. In 2010, they pulled all of their wines out of distribution and decided to move to a 100% direct-to-consumer model.

In the subsequent six years, I didn’t really check in on the wines. My time in Walla Walla is always limited, and it just didn’t make sense to allocate bandwidth to a winery whose wines I could never write about. But recently, the Isenhowers moved their wines back into distribution, and the Seattle market was one of the first places where the wines have shown up. I scheduled a tasting with their representatives here in Seattle, and I’ll admit: I had fairly high expectations going in, driven by my memories of an excellent lineup of wines, and maybe also driven by a little nostalgia for Full Pull’s early days.

Well, let me say: high expectations? Warranted. What was clear to me after tasting a trio of Isenhower wines is that Brett and Denise have spent the past six years taking an already-strong lineup and moving it into the real upper echelon of Washington producers. All this while seemingly keeping their pricing the same as I remember it in 2009. What was also clear was that I was going to offer all three wines (two reds and one white).

If Isenhower was a new winery and these were debut vintages, I’d be talking about them as the most exciting Washington debutantes of 2016. The reality is more complicated than that, but the fact remains: these are indeed debutante wines for our list members, and indeed some of the most exciting “new” Washington wines I’ve tasted this year:

2013 Isenhower Cellars River Beauty Syrah
The backbone (58%) of River Beauty comes from the excellent (and breathtakingly situated) Wallula Vineyard, the remainder a mix of Olsen and Dutchman fruit. The grapes were fermented with native yeasts (true of all Isenhower wines) and with 25% whole clusters. The wine clocks in at 14.8% listed alc. Production is 289 cases.

It begins with a nose of blackberry and huckleberry fruit, complicated by threads of smoke and olive. In the mouth, this is a marvel, truly palate-staining, coating every nook and cranny with dark intensity. There’s a textural thickness here that reminded me of some of the high-end K Vintners Syrahs (like the ones that go for $50-$100). The weight and opulence of the warm 2013 vintage are balanced beautifully by a sturdy acid spine, and the complexity just continues to unfurl with every extra hour the bottle is open. Everything about this wine – intensity, complexity, polish – suggests a wine that costs twice as much.

2013 Isenhower Cellars Bachelor’s Button Cabernet Sauvignon
The story is similar for Isenhower’s Cabernet: outstanding vineyard sourcing, and a wine that drinks twice as expensive as it actually is. This is 50% Upland Vineyard Cabernet from the 1973 block, some of the oldest Cab in Washington, up there on Snipes Mountain. Then 40% Wallula, combining a 1997 block and a younger 2010 block. The remainder is 5% each Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. The wine clocks in at 14.4% listed alc, with small production of just 242 cases.

The nose is all glorious Cabernet: redcurrant and red plum fruit; mint and violet topnotes; bass notes of cocoa powder and asphalt. To me, this doesn’t just drink like expensive Cab; it drinks like old-school Washington Cab, like mid-‘90s Woodward Canyon bottlings, the kind that are absolutely otherworldly when you open them today (twenty years later). There is beautiful emphasis here on structure; a real scaffolding of ripe, earthy tannin. It’s the perfect foil to the lush fruit of the vintage, and the entire package just drinks balanced and so very classy. Ultra-impressive, with a clear vein of outstanding old-vine fruit involved.

2015 Isenhower Cellars Marsanne
Washington Marsanne is still a relative rarity to see bottled on its own. We’ve only offered three of them over the years, two from Maison Bleue (2009 and 2010 vintages, at $33 and $37 topline) and one from Syncline (2011; $26 topline). I’ve never seen one at this price point. They generally begin at $20 and go up from there. It’s a lovely grape in Washington, and this version comes entirely from the Den Hoed family’s Dutchman Vineyard outside of Grandview. It begins with a nose of peach and raw almond, crème fraiche and mineral. The palate (13% listed alc) is a dry, acid-driven mix of stone fruits and raw nuts. I love how pure and pristine the fruit is here; a lovely, unusual, crystalline white.

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.

Full Pull Stone River

June 27, 2016

Hello friends. We were recently offered an excellent price on a peak-drinking wine from the Beresan stash that still sells for $32 winery-direct. The only catch: we had to commit to a substantial parcel. Given our list’s enduring love for these winery-aged Beresan parcels over the past few years, I hesitated for approximately no seconds before saying yes:

2009 Beresan Stone River
Wine & Spirits Magazine (Patrick Comiskey): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”

The “stone river” in question is the ancient Walla Walla riverbed that comprises the majority of the Rocks District, home to the Beresan estate vineyards that comprise this bottling. This wine – a blend of 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Syrah, 20% Merlot, and 20% Cabernet Franc – is meant not to express any one variety, but instead to express the very special terroir in which it is grown, with cobblestones galore.

Beresan really is one of the gems of the Walla Walla Valley, and it starts with their outstanding estate vineyards, farmed by Tom Waliser (one of the valley’s finest growers). Waliser Vineyard was planted in 1997, Yellow Jacket in 1999. That is early as far as the rocks are concerned. All this beautiful rocks fruit was brought to bottle by Tom Glase, who makes Beresan wines in addition to his own Balboa lineup. The wine spent about two years in barrel, and now has another four to five years of bottle age. Just right.

The nose is in an exciting place, clearly developing, right in that place where it toes the line between youthfulness and maturity. There’s cherry and charcoal, turned earth and tarragon. The palate (14.6% listed alc) continues the theme, offering a maturing mix of fresh and dried fruits and earth, a smattering of cocoa powder, and wonderful insistent inner mouth perfume and spice. The structure is still fairly prominent here – with bright acid and softening-but-present tannins – which makes me think this has years left in the tank. So too does this wine’s response to time and air, which was to display an emerging salty brininess, a note of salt-cured black olives that ramped up the complexity even further.

I think we have a large enough parcel to cover everyone, but just in case, let’s please limit order requests to 12 bottles. The wine is in the warehouse and ready for immediate pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

Full Pull Reoffers

June 27, 2016

Hello friends. Reoffers today on a quarter of wines that have been popular reorder targets for the past few months:

2013 Ross Andrew Glaze Cabernet Sauvignon

Originally offered January 31, 2016, this recently received a nice review from Spectator. Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90pts.

Excerpts from the original: It comes from vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills and the greater Columbia Valley, and that’s all I know. Purposely vague, I suspect (usually because the vineyards are either really nice or really unremarkable; let’s hope for the former). That’s okay anyway. For a midweek glugger like Glaze, I try not to get too wound up in research knots and instead enjoy the wine for its simple pleasures. The 2013 kicks off with a nose of blackberry and beet, complicated by tarry mineral streaks and herbal eucalyptus topnotes. It’s a lovely mid-weight Cabernet (13.3% listed alc) that starts off fresh and airy, but seems to put on weight and density with time in the glass. Many Cabernets at this price point are bludgeoned with oak chips and oak powder. Glaze always takes the opposite path, eschewing oak notes in favor of the fruit/earth/leaf combo that Cabernet provides so beautifully. The winery notes contain a line I love: “Just enough structure to let you know this is Cabernet Sauvignon, but not so much that it needs time in the cellar.” Very true. Soft tannins sneak in on the finish, but ultimately this is an easy-drinking chugger.

2013 Nine Hats (Long Shadows) Cabernet Sauvignon
Originally offered February 12, 2016. Excerpts from the original: I’m sure people are going to call this wine “baby Feather.” There’s a temptation to do so, because Feather (Long Shadows’ high-end Cabernet, made in conjunction with Randy Dunn of Dunn Vineyards), is exquisite, costs $60+, and has become highly allocated the past few years. Stylistically, there are of course similarities, because Gilles is involved, but the vineyard sourcing is quite different. Feather in 2013 came from three sites: The Benches, Dionysus, and Weinbau. None of those are on Red Mountain. Nine Hats Cab, on the other hand, comes “predominantly from Red Mountain vineyards.”

Aged for 20 months in a mix of new and used French oak, this clocks in at 15.1% listed alc and pours into the glass an inky black-purple. The nose is very Cabernet and very expressive: crème de cassis, violet, cocoa powder, star anise. In the mouth, it is texture you notice first. This is creamy, silky, with density and power and stuffing to spare. The structure takes over somewhere around the mid-palate, and then you’re just holding on for dear life, as the tannins take hold of the cheeks and gums and won’t let go. Redolent of earl gray tea, deeply chewy and delicious, those tannins frame the long, long, satisfying finish. This would be lovely as a cocktail wine and would probably show at its very best with a carefully-selected, cooked-to-medium-rare slab of cow.

2012 Cowhorn Syrah 20
Originally offered March 16, 2016, this has generated a higher proportion of unsolicited raves from its buyers than just about any other wine we’ve offered this year. Folks have just been completely smitten with this funky beauty. Excerpts from the original: This winery is located in waaaaay southern Oregon, in the Applegate Valley, about ten miles from the California border. To put into context how remote this area is, it is closer to San Francisco (six hours) than Seattle (seven hours). Even if you get to Portland, you still need to go another four and a half hours to make it to Cowhorn. And there, truly in the middle of nowhere, Bill and Barbara Steele are growing and making some of the most compelling Syrah in the United States.

The winery first flashed onto my radar when David Schildknecht wrote about Cowhorn in back-to-back years covering Oregon for Wine Advocate. Here he is in 2013: Bill and Barbara Steele’s Applegate Valley vineyard has been known for some years as Southern Oregon’s viticultural star (even if I personally came late to discovering them). But it’s clear to me from the recent releases tasted with them in July – not to mention from re-tasting their 2010 Syrah 58 – that their renditions of Rhone varieties need no longer shy from comparison with any in the world, even those whose authors are named Alban, Baron or Clape. Given quality this amazing – combined with a climate undeniably daunting, not to mention the assiduous pursuit of biodynamic viticulture – the prices that Steeles are asking are almost alarmingly low. If the potential achievable with Rhone cepages interests you – but perhaps just as much, if you have become jaded by the wealth of outstanding examples from multiple continents – do not put off any longer experiencing Cowhorn’s wines!

Much of the Steele’s 16-acre (Demeter-certified biodynamic) vineyard is planted on top of small stones from an ancient riverbed (where the Applegate used to flow, thousands of years ago). The climate in their little corner of Oregon also closely resembles the Northern Rhone, which is why they planted a lot of Syrah (also Grenache and a number of Rhone Whites). This 2012 comes from two blocks of the estate vineyard (Block 1, Block 5), harvested in mid-October. It spent just shy of a year in French oak, 40% new, and has now had nearly another three years to evolve in bottle. It clocks in at 13.6% listed alc, pours inky purple, and comes roaring up out of the glass with aromas of huckleberry fruit, violet pastille, and all this wonderful briny brackishness (black olive, seaweed). There are smoky subtleties of bacon fat that become more prominent with exposure to air. The entire aromatic spectrum is a thing of beauty. Texturally, this is just wonderful, with an incredible sense of energy and vivacity. This is propulsive wine to drink, its mix of fruit and savory notes carried along by a brightly acidic spine and lighting up every inch of the palate. It’s lovely to drink a Syrah so expressive of the place where it was grown.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

2012 Andrew Will Sorella
Originally offered March 13, 2016. Excerpts from the original: Sorella, as it always does, comes only from the oldest sections of Champoux Vineyard, and the average vine age is 33 years, ancient by Washington standards. The elevage is the same as the Ciel: 35% new French oak for a year and a half. The blend, however, differs: this is much more Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant, at 67% of the blend. Jeb’s review plots out a drinking window three decades long, and I doubt that’s an exaggeration. This winemaker, this fruit, this vintage: it all adds up to a wine likely to evolve glacially, and beautifully.

Wine Advocate (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 96pts.”

First come first served with no upper limits, 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.

Full Pull Syncline

June 27, 2016

Hello friends. Without question I consider James and Poppie Mantone’s Syncline to be in the upper echelon of Washington wineries. They’ve proven it vintage after vintage with consistent expressions of freshness, purity, and transparency. If others overlook them in discussions of best Washington wineries, I can only chalk that up to Syncline’s out-of-the-way location in the Columbia Gorge.

They’ve been flying the flag for this special appellation (for my money, the most breathtakingly beautiful region in the northwest for wine touring) for years now, and today’s offer is going to focus on a pair of new releases that come predominantly from the Gorge. And more specifically, from the southern flanks of extinct volcano Underwood Mountain, one of the most exciting places to grow grapes in Washington.

[Note: we will also include two reorder opportunities: one for a popular, well-priced Rhone blend; the other last call on a killer rosé.]

2015 Syncline Gruner Veltliner
The great, savory white grape of Austria has found a home in Washington. The first Gruner vines in the Gorge came online for production in Syncline’s 2008 vintage, and we have offered every vintage since. When David Schildknecht, the great lover of Austrian wines, first got his hands on Syncline’s Gruner (the 2011 vintage), he called it “as good as any I have witnessed from a North American Gruner Veltliner.” High praise from a man not prone to it.

On the vineyard front, there is some sad news and some happy news this year. The sad news is that the Gruner vines have been pulled out at Celilo Vineyard, so this will be Syncline’s final Gruner vintage containing Celilo fruit. The good news: a new Gruner Vineyard came online with the 2015 vintage. Here is what James and Poppie have to say: At 1,000′ in elevation, Bloxom Vineyard lies East of Yakima and North of the Rattlesnake Hills. This cooler site with loess soils is an exciting new planting of Gruner Veltliner. 2015 was the vineyard’s first crop, and we are thrilled to be part of this new venture.

The overall vineyard mix for the 2015 is 38% each Bloxom and Underwood Mountain Vineyards, and 24% Celilo. Ageing took place in a wide variety of vessels: concrete eggs, neutral oak, stainless steel, and acacia barrels. Nifty! Total production in 2015 was 440 cases, and listed alc is 13.7%. The nose kicks off with wonderful savory notes of green lentil and sweet corn, paired to a core of peach fruit. The palate is dry, potent, and *very* earthy/savory. The evolution of this bottling has been dazzling to watch, and it has now reached the point where you could legitimately confuse it for one of its Austrian brethren. I love Gruners like this because they are such outstanding food-pairing wines. Because of their savory side, they pair with tough-to-complement foods like artichokes and asparagus. They’re also beautiful oyster wines, for those of you so inclined.

2014 Syncline Pinot Noir Celilo Vineyard
Would it be damning with faint praise to say that this is always among Washington’s finest Pinot Noirs? Yeah, I know: not exactly a variety our state is known for, but if you’re going to grow it, Celilo is probably the place. This limited bottling (250 cases) comes from 1973-planted vines on dry-farmed, volcanic soils. James fermented with 20% whole clusters (stems and all). Listed alc is 13.9%.

This beauty begins with an extremely fragrant nose, with lifted rose-petal notes covering a core of tarry black cherry fruit and loads of crushed-rock mineral character. Truly a very appetizing nose. The palate dazzles with its depth and intensity, all on a moderately-weighted frame, and especially with its inner-mouth perfume. Stylistically, I’d put this somewhere on the spectrum between Cote des Nuits and Oregon. It’s a singular Washington Pinot Noir, nakedly expressive of the special place where it’s grown.

2015 Syncline Rose
Originally offered May 1, this is official last call for this enormously popular pink, as Syncline’s local representatives are down to their last handful of cases. We have a hold on a small parcel, and that will be all she wrote. Excerpts from the original: There are certain wines you can set your clocks by as Full Pull list members, and Syncline’s rosé is one of them. It has historical significance, as it was the first rosé ever offered by Full Pull, way back in summer 2010 (that was the 2009 vintage). We haven’t missed a year since, and for good reason: this is as consistently excellent as rosé gets in Washington. It’s also one of those pinks that never seems to survive the summer. And isn’t it the transitory nature of rosé that makes it so beautiful? The ache of the fleeting experience only serves to heighten the pleasure, doesn’t it?

No surprise that these Rhone specialists would produce a rosé that is a blend of 39% Cinsault, 36% Carignan, and 25% Grenache. One change this year: the bottling gets a single-vineyard designation, coming entirely from McKinley Springs in the Horse Heaven Hills. The grapes are picked specifically for rosé (13.9% alc), and produce a wine with lovely pale salmon color. The nose is fantastic, combining notes fruity (strawberry, kiwi, honeydew), green (cucumber, celery leaf), and mineral in turn. The palate offers a deftly balanced mix of supple fruit and juicy acidity, and the finishing lick of Aperol bitters adds complexity and an adult touch to a truly lovely rosé. One of Washington’s standard-bearers in this category, to be sure.

2014 Syncline Subduction Red
Originally offered February 19, 2016. Excerpts from the original: I think we can all agree that one of the best trends to come out of the past decade of Washington winegrowing and winemaking is the emergence of Rhone blends as a very strong category for the state. But price point has been a serious challenge. I guess how I’d put it is: we have our Chateauneufs and our Gigondas, but where are our Cotes du Rhone Villages? Fortunately, in recent years, we’ve seen some movement on that front. Ryan Crane’s Majestic for Kerloo (and more recently, Wingman for his Sodo Cellars label), Sean Boyd’s VdP for Rotie, Kevin White’s outrageous blends for his eponymous label, Jon Meuret’s Metis Rouge.

But before all of those: Syncline’s Subduction Red. We’ve been offering it since the 2009 vintage, but I think it had already been around for at least five years then. In 2014 it is a six-variety blend: 46% Syrah, 27% Mourvedre, 14% Grenache, 8% Carignan, 3% Cinsault, 2% Counoise. It is fermented and aged in a combination of French oak (10% new) and concrete Nomblot cube tanks, bottled after just about a year to capture the freshness and vitality of the vintage. The nose is fresh, floral, high-toned, with red cherry and strawberry fruit complemented by lavender and licorice. Plump (14.4% listed alc), juicy, and complex, this shows a lot of Mourvedre character on the palate, all spicy plum and mineral. There is Syrah’s earthiness, Grenache’s fleshy fruit, Carignan’s wildness; each grape plays its role, and the overall result is a totally charming wine, one that seems at first glimpse to be an easy drinker but over time displays sneaky complexity. Sean Sullivan’s 92pt review of the 2013 vintage in Wine Enthusiast made that one disappear. Fortunately he has not yet weighed in on the ’14.

First come first served up to 48 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.

Full Pull Mysterious Margaux

June 27, 2016

Hello friends. New vintage today of a hugely popular import wine from last year. We reoffered the 2010 vintage of this wine twice after its original offer, and our list snapped it up en masse every time.

2012 Maison Sichel Margaux
You might remember the story of this mysterious Margaux, whereby we’re essentially getting fifth-hand information, and even that info has to be redacted. Not exactly the height of journalistic integrity, I know. Sorry. But the wine is so damned good that I’m inclined not to care, and sales of the 2010 told me y’all don’t care either.

Here is that fifth-hand info:
1. At the spring 2014 Bordeaux En Primeur tastings, one of the Sichel brothers…
2. …told the owner of their Seattle import partner…
3. …who told the representative of that import partner who calls on Full Pull…
4. …who told me (Paul Z)…
5. …who is now telling you…
…that today’s wine is declassified juice from world-class winery Chateau [REDACTED] in Margaux.

Could something have been lost in translation at some point? Certainly. But cursory internet research seems to confirm the story, and the wine itself was phenomenal in the 2010 vintage and is phenomenal in 2012. Basically, to get access to this wine, I have to promise not to reveal any Chateau names, and that was a deal I was willing to make.

This is not an easy wine to find in the United States. I’m not sure if any other market even has the 2012 yet. The parcel that arrived in Seattle was borderline size-wise, so we pre-purchased all of it (rare for us, but not unheard of if the wine and/or deal is good enough). We’ll have a Seattle exclusive at least until the next parcel arrives, which will be late 2016 at the earliest. Please note that if we sell through our whole parcel, that will also mean late 2016 is the earliest we could consider fulfilling reorder requests.

Now then, a reminder on Sichel. Maison Sichel is into its fifth generation in Bordeaux. They’ve done a little of everything over the years: negociant, distributor, merchant, exporter, owner of properties, winemaking. They’re woven into the fabric of Bordeaux, and they’re only going to put their family name on something they’re proud of. They have a few different partners in Margaux, and this bottle comes entirely from one of those partners. And it’s a damned good one. As in: a bottle will cost you multiple hundreds of dollars good.

The blend is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot (more clues!), and listed alc is 13%. What I’ve loved about both vintages we’ve offered is that this is terrific, honest Bordeaux, not over-polished but instead earthy, sultry, throwing the kind of come-hither glances that only top-notch BDX can. The nose presents cherry and cedar, herb and olive, and loads of earthy/dusty soil tones. Right away on the palate, you’d never mistake this for a new-world wine. It’s a glorious, structure-driven food wine, with both bright acidity and robust tannin. The balance of savory notes and dark fruity notes is pinpoint. And if the story on this one is true (and again, I’m in the camp of believing that it is), this remains an outrageous value.

Please limit order requests to 12 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine is in the warehouse and ready for immediate pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

Full Pull Tauro Block

June 27, 2016

Hello friends. We debuted the new vintage of our Block Semillon yesterday during our open Saturday, and it showed great. Today we’re offering it to those of you who we didn’t see yesterday (or those of you who we did see yesterday and who now realize they need more Semillon in their lives):

2015 Block Wines Semillion Tauro Block Boushey Vineyard
Block Wines, for those unfamiliar, is basically a winery within Full Pull. Beginning in 2014, we have been partnering with Morgan Lee to harvest specific grapes from small blocks within some of Washington’s most compelling vineyards. Right now, the lineup with Morgan includes two whites and three reds (the first reds, from the 2014 vintage, will all be bottled this year; one, in fact, is already in bottle, and it will be released by the end of 2016).

All of our Block Wines really begin at the vineyard/farmer level, because what we’re trying to do with each wine in the lineup is express a particular patch of earth. So let me start there, and say that the opportunity to work with any of Dick Boushey’s fruit is a dream come true. The Boushey Vineyard name in Washington is synonymous with quality and expressiveness. Dick himself is a wonderful man and a terrifically dedicated grower, and it is a real thrill to be working with his Semillon. He has two blocks of Semillon, and we have chosen the Tauro Block (planted in 2008), which has more northern exposure and therefore ripens later and retains loads of beautiful natural acidity.

Perfect for the type of Washington Semillon I was dying to help produce. There are still a few folks making varietal Semillon here (L’Ecole 41 being the most notable/consistent), but many are now going more of the Bordeaux Blanc route and blending their Semillon with Sauvignon Blanc. Nothing wrong with that, and in fact, versions from Buty and Cadaretta are among the most successful whites made in Washington. But I wanted to do varietal Semillon, because I think it thrives in Washington, because I don’t think it necessarily needs Sauvignon Blanc’s acidity if you harvest the Semillon early enough, and because I think it can express terroir and age beautifully if grown by the right people in the right places.

Our stylistic goal bends more towards a Hunter Valley (Australia) Semillon than a Bordeaux version. What that means is limey acidity, and (hopefully) the ability to age in profound directions. Having been lucky enough to taste some older L’Ecole Semillons, I can say without question that Washington Semillon can stand the test of time. Even our inaugural vintage, the 2014 (long since sold out) is already displaying more weight, more savory/flinty character, and more overall complexity, and that’s with just one additional year in bottle.

To achieve our style, we harvested the grapes nice and early, on September 1, which kept acids fresh and bright and alcohols low (13.3%) despite the warmer year (it also helps that Dick’s vineyard is in the cooler part of the Yakima Valley). Morgan then cold soaked the grapes on their skins for 48 hours to help build texture and mouthfeel. We used three neutral French barrels, and then just a little bit of stainless steel for the extra juice that wouldn’t fit in those barrels. After seven months in barrel (with weekly battonage and partial malolactic conversion), this went into bottle a few months ago. Our overall production was 94 cases.

One of the things I love most about our Semillon is how it pairs with the summer cuisine of the Pacific Northwest. Pan-seared spot prawns, Dungeness crab cakes, sockeye salmon shioyaki-style; the list goes on. Crack a chilled bottle of this with northwest seafood for some serious northwest nirvana. It kicks off with a layered-fruit nose: citrus (lime), tree (pear), and more exotic notes like date and fig. Subtleties of hay and crème fraiche complete an inviting nose. That extra skin contact works wonders on the palate, offering just-right textural heft, a pleasing sense of plumpness, especially in the mid-palate. The lovely finish lingers with notes of chamomile. Drink it this summer for its refreshing character and seafood-pairing possibilities, and then hold a few bottles into the fall (or longer!). It should put on more weight, and it should move those savory notes more to the fore, just in time for a place on the Thanksgiving table.

This wine continues to be a real joy to make. I want to thank Dick Boushey for growing the grapes and Morgan Lee for making the wine. I hope you folks are as fond of this wine as we all are. First come first served up to 24 bottles, and the wine is in the warehouse and ready for immediate pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

Full Pull Eight Bells

June 27, 2016

Hello friends. A recent tasting of the Eight Bells lineup reminded me of a) how wonderful, and wonderfully-priced, this lineup of wines is; and b) what a quintessential match this is for the Full Pull model. This is a boutique Washington winery working with outstanding vineyard partners and flying very much under-the-radar commercially. The vast majority of their retail sales happen direct through their mailing list and tasting room (in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood, and well worth a visit). The remainder of their retail sales go through a grand total of two partners: our colleagues at McCarthy & Schiering; and us. Pretty good company if you ask me.

We first offered an Eight Bells wine back in 2012. Here’s what I said then, describing Eight Bells as a small treasure of a winery: a thoughtfully-designed urban oasis with a lineup of wines that waaaaaay over-deliver for their price points. Every inch of the winery was put to good use, a fact that seemed less surprising when I learned of the nautical background of the three winery partners: Tim Bates, Andy Shepherd and Frank Michiels. Andy and Tim spent most of their careers at NOAA, and for many years, the amateur version of this winery was known as the NOAA Shellback Vintners (a Shellback is a sailor that has crossed the equator on a ship).

Among the three partners, there are decades of winemaking experience as amateurs (Tim Bates is the most experienced, having crushed his first fruit, from Sagemoor, in 1980. He is also a PhD Chemist, and the winery includes a full lab: quite rare for an operation of this size). When they decided to go commercial (with the 2009 vintage) they had enough experience to know that they needed outstanding vineyard partners to make outstanding wine.

Today’s trio of wines perfectly showcases the wisdom of their vineyard-partner selection. Two reds from Mike Sauer’s Red Willow Vineyard; one white from Dick Boushey’s Boushey Vineyard:

2013 Eight Bells Syrah 8 Clones Red Willow Vineyard
Red Willow Vineyard is one of Washington’s most important sites; the defining vineyard, in my opinion, of the far western Yakima Valley. It was originally planted by Mike Sauer in 1973, and for many years, the preponderance of the fruit went to Columbia Winery. In recent years, as Columbia contracts have loosened and as boutique, sterling-reputation wineries like Betz and Owen Roe and Gramercy (and Eight Bells!) have begun working with the fruit, the reputation of Red Willow has only grown and grown.

Many of Mike’s plantings over the years were done in conjunction with the late Master of Wine and long-time Columbia Winery winemaker David Lake. Those plantings include a total of four fascinating field-blend blocks, and Eight Bells gets all the fruit from three of those four blocks. The “8 Clones” block, as you probably deduced already, contains eight different clones of Syrah. This is the only place to taste this specific piece of Red Willow terroir, and it has been a beauty every time we’ve offered it (this is the fourth consecutive vintage).

This year, it is 94% Syrah, cofermented with 4% Viognier from the Chapel Block (the oldest Viognier in Washington, I believe) and then blended with a 2% dash of Grenache. It was raised entirely in large puncheons. Half of those were new, but because of the different surface areas involved, it’s more like the equivalent of 30% new oak in traditional barriques. The wine clocks in at 14.4% listed alc and begins with a nose of smoky, earthy blue fruit (blueberry, boysenberry), bacon fat, and white flowers courtesy of the Viognier. I’ve said it before: I have a feeling these vines are particularly carefully tended, due to their historical significance, and it shows, in the supple texture, the depth of character, the saline/savory goodness. It’s a delicious charmer, this wine, offering plenty to light up both the intellect and pleasure centers of the brain.

2012 Eight Bells David’s Block Red Willow Vineyard
This block is named after David Lake, who designed it, and it was developed to test out a number of different clones. It contains rows of all six Bordeaux varieties (even Carmenere, the “lost grape of Bordeaux”), and each row contains a different clone. For example, there are twelve rows of Cabernet Sauvignon, which means there are twelve different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon. Mike Sauer’s goal, and the goal of the folks at Eight Bells, is to harvest the entire block in a single day and co-ferment all the grapes together. In 2012, the blend works out to 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Malbec, 10% Cab Franc, 7% Merlot, 7% Carmenere, and 2% Petit Verdot.

A nose of cassis and black plum fruit, good clean soil, and smoky notes reminiscent of a chipotle-tinged dark chocolate bar kicks things off. A complex and alluring nose for sure. The palate is rich (14.9% listed alc) and delicious, offering a lovely mix of black fruits and earth tones. The texture is managed beautifully here (a little extra bottle age probably doesn’t hurt). Everything seems polished, refined, the mocha-tinged tannins giving up just the right amount of toothsome chew. Compared to other Bordeaux blends from Red Willow, this offers incredible value. Put together the vineyard source, the vintage, and the folks making the wine, and you can imagine a wine that will age in fascinating directions for years to come.

2015 Eight Bells Chardonnay Boushey Vineyard
And a bonus white, Eight Bells’ first commercial Chardonnay release, to the best of my knowledge. Again, these guys are really good at fruit sourcing, here getting grapes from the magus of the Yakima Valley, Dick Boushey. They fermented a small portion in new French oak (about 15%) and the remainder in stainless. The result suggests an homage to Chablis, with lovely flinty minerality paired to fruit notes of pear and lemon curd. Brisk and steely, this conveys plenty of energy and pizzazz, offering exceptional acidity and verve for the warm vintage (listed alc is 13.5%). I love this wine’s stony core, with fruit notes playing supporting roles, and I love how it fans out and coats the entire palate. This is a very successful debut, and a wonderful summer white.

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.