Hello friends. I recently tasted a very good $20 red that Rich Funk bottled under his Jack label, calling it a “Jack Reserve.” It was one of those wines that smelled and tasted like a coddled bottle intended for a higher price point. And the vintage was unusual. Considering most of Rich’s Jack label is onto the 2015 vintage for reds, seeing a 2011 piqued my interest.
I thought we might be looking at a real mystery, one that would require Sherlockian wit and logic and tenacity. And then I looked at the cork.
What the cork said was “Ellanelle.” If long-time list members think that name sounds familiar, you’d be correct. Way back in May 2013, we offered the 2009 Ellanelle Cabernet Sauvignon. And I think most of our list members thought it was a fine value. Here’s a link to the archive for those interested in the full version of the story.
The short version is: Leonard and Leslie Brown (the ‘L’ and ‘L’ in “Ellanelle”) are members of the Brown family, a clan that is very influential in the southern Walla Walla Valley. The family has been farming there since the 1970s, but it wasn’t until 2001 that they began converting some of their orchard land into wine grapes. The family has two main labels: Watermill for wine and Blue Mountain for cider. And then beginning with the 2008 vintage, Len and Leslie began Ellanelle as a reserve label, producing exactly one wine, and keeping production under 200 cases.
You might also notice in our 2013 offer that Paul Gregutt gave that 2009 a 93pt review in Wine Enthusiast. As it turned out, that was the only Ellanelle wine ever reviewed by Enthusiast. Soon after that review came out, and soon after our offer went out, Len and Leslie shut the project down.
And now we get to the conjecture and speculation portion of the offer. I’d bet dollars to donuts that this Jack Reserve is the repurposed 2011 Ellanelle Cabernet Sauvignon. There is one other possible explanation – that Rich just purchased their unused corks – but I suspect the link is stronger. That suspicion mostly comes from the fact that this wine is eerily similar to how I remember that Ellanelle vintage that we sold. And if the Browns wrapped up the project in 2013, they almost certainly would have had both the 2011 and 2012 vintages in bottle.
They already have a tight relationship with Rich Funk (he buys a lot of their fruit, and he made the family’s wine in the early days), so he would make perfect sense as a buyer for those barrels. Oh, and the production (196 cases) totally matches the Ellanelle ethos. So too do the varieties (93% Cab, 7% Merlot), the vineyards (McClellan, Anna Marie, Dugger Creek), and the barrel regimen (22 months in 75% new French oak).
So there’s my happy conspiracy theory for you. Believe it or ignore it. Regardless, the wine is stellar for two sawbucks. The aromatic core of blackberry fruit and earth notes is swaddled by a number of luscious barrel notes: pecan, nougat, woodsmoke. It’s a total truffle of a wine, with loads of generosity for the cool vintage. Listed alc is 14.9%, and that kind of richness is possible in this part of the Walla Walla Valley even in a cool year. The balance of black fruit and integrating barrel notes continues on the palate, which has heft, intensity, and toothsome tannin to spare.
Sounds like the entire Seattle allocation will be split between us and McCarthy & Schiering. If we sell out of our stash, consider reaching out to those folks for additional bottles. 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.