Hello friends. Back in 2014, northwest wine had its own “Judgment of Paris”-style shocker when a bottle from L’Ecole No. 41 was named best Bordeaux Blend in the world at the Decanter World Wine Awards in London. Andy Perdue of Great Northwest Wine wrote a great piece back then describing events as they unfolded.
This was a big deal. A competition with more than 15,000 wines, from all over the world, where only 33 international awards were handed out. To layer shock upon shock, the fruit source for this bottling? It came from fourth-leaf fruit, from a vineyard planted in 2008. The bottling itself was the inaugural 2011 vintage of L’Ecole’s Estate Ferguson Vineyard blend, and the ripple effects of the award made it impossible to source that 2011, and then the subsequent 2012, in any quantity that made sense for an offer.
Well, like many trades, the wine trade is full of distracted doggies (“SQUIRREL!”), and now, two years later, we finally have access to a parcel of the 2013. It’s just barely big enough to warrant an offer, but that’s okay by me; I’ve been itching to write about this vineyard.
Now then, you can proceed to read as I blather on about this wicked-cool vineyard, or you can just watch this fantastically-produced video about Ferguson from L’Ecole.
Commencing blathering. So, I remember walking one of the vineyards at Sevein (I believe it was Octave) back in April 2010 with JF Pellet from Pepper Bridge. Even back then, before any fruit had come online, JF could barely contain his excitement. And it was contagious. To be above the frost zone, in fascinating terroir, looking down across the valley; it was impossible not to be entranced.
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 its 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.
Marty Clubb and L’Ecole were among those purchasing partners, and their piece became Ferguson Vineyard (see location here). Here’s Marty describing the site and what they did next: [TEXT WITHHELD].
Basically, this is Walla Walla Valley 2.0. It’s the founders of the wine scene in the valley using all their accumulated knowledge to select the right site and plant it to the right varieties and right clones. It’s proof, at least to this wine writer, that the age of experimentation in Washington* is coming to an end, to be replaced, I hope, by an era with even more smart, proactively-selected, carefully-planted vineyards. It’s an indication that the future is bright indeed.
*I should note that SeVein, as well as a number of other important Walla Walla Valley Vineyards, is technically on the Oregon side of the border.
The soil at Ferguson is just incredible. A mere 2-3 feet of wind-blown loess as top-soil, on top of a wall of fractured basalt. Basically, they’re growing grapes on volcanic lava flows: a completely different soil type from the remainder of the Walla Walla Valley. The blend in 2013 is 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Malbec, and the juice was aged in French oak, 50% new, for 22 months before bottling in July 2015. On first sniff, this is something special, with a clear laser-beam of minerality (iron especially) cutting through a nose of blackcurrant, tobacco leaf, and cocoa powder. My first note upon this wine entering my mouth: “wow pal,” which is my shorthand for a wow-worthy palate. I can see why this showed so well in Europe. It’s like a Pauillac ringer, and I’d bet a fair sum that many of the judges were sure this was expensive left-bank Bordeaux. It is a serious, structured, wine, much more about earth and mineral notes than about overt fruit (although there’s plenty of richness here too; 14.5% listed alc; this is still the northwest after all). The tannins (imposing and yet graceful, polished) present a finishing note of Irish Breakfast tea that is just lovely.
This is a wine that I could easily see evolving in fascinating directions for the next 20-30 years. If you’re drinking it any time soon, a multi-hour decant is in order. My, what a wonderful experience, both sampling and writing about this wine. I consider it one of the most important Washington debutantes of the past few years, and it’s still priced well below Washington’s cult wines (not to mention those left-bank BDXs I mentioned earlier).
We’ll only get one shot at this wine. 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.