Full Pull Eight Bells

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.

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