Hello friends. On September 7, we managed one of the more epic fails in Full Pull history. Some of you already know about it; many of you don’t. And while it’s tempting to move on and never talk about it again, there’s a good wine to be had, and ultimately, that takes precedence over my lingering embarrassment.
2015 Saviah The Jack Reserve
At 10am on Sept 7, our offer began to roll out to our list members for Saviah Jack Reserve. The 2012 vintage. Just after 10:30, I received a panicked phone call from Saviah’s local rep: “bro, it’s the 2015 vintage that’s available; not the 2012.” At that point, I yanked the offer, but some damage was done: more than half the list received the email, and hundreds of you placed orders.
Eventually we figured out what happened: the local warehouse from which samples were pulled still had a bottle or two of 2012 kicking around, and that’s how the 2012 ended up in the rep’s sample stash, and how it ended up being poured for us. So I sent mea culpa emails to the list members who had ordered, then set about the depressing task of zeroing out all those requests.
What I also mentioned in those apology emails: “Soon we’ll taste the 2015 vintage, and if it’s up to snuff, we’ll offer it.” And I have to tell you; I was kind of rooting for the 2015 to be mediocre, so I could just put this whole episode behind me. But no dice. It was great, and our list members deserve to have access to it. So here we go again with the story of The Jack Reserve; this time with the correct vintage.
It begins in May 2013, when we offered the 2009 Ellanelle Cabernet Sauvignon. And explained that the ‘L’ and ‘L’ in “Ellanelle” are Leonard and Leslie Brown. The Brown family has been farming in the southern Walla Walla Valley since the 1970s, and they’re hugely influential in that part of the valley. 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 low. That 2013 offer included a 93pt Gregutt review in Wine Enthusiast. And 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.
Fast forward to November 2016, and our offer for the 2011 Jack Reserve. That wine waaaaay over-performed its price point, and was a big mystery right up until the moment I saw the cork, which read “Ellanelle.” My speculation back then was that the 2011 Jack Reserve was actually repurposed Ellanelle Cabernet Sauvignon, and that we were getting a well-reviewed $35 Cab for considerably less. If the Browns wrapped up the project in 2013, they almost certainly would have had the 2011 in bottle (hence the Ellanelle corks) and the 2012 vintages in barrel (this is how the ’12 Jack Reserve ended up with Saviah corks). They already had 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 bottles and barrels.
After the success of the 2011 and 2012 vintages, you might be surprised that there was no Jack Reserve in 2013, nor 2014. But it actually makes sense. By the time Rich realized how well the wine was being received, it would have been late 2016 or early 2017, and you know what vintage would have been in barrel at that point and just waiting to be designated as the new Jack Reserve? Bingo: 2015.
What is nifty about this program is that Rich has very much kept the ethos of the old Ellanelle wines alive here. The vineyards are similar (both the ’12 and the ’15 feature Brown properties Anna Marie and McClellan; the ’12 also included Dugger Creek, while the ’15 is rounded out with Summit View); the blend is similar (2012 was 78/14/8 Cab/Merlot/Franc; the 2015 69/21/10); the barrel regimen is similar (23 months all in French oak; Rich dialed back from 60% new in 2012 to 30% in 2015).
The wine’s profile is more similar to the ghost-2012 vintage than the 2011, and that should come as no surprise, since 2015 was closer climatically to ’12 than to ‘11. This begins with a nose of crème de cassis, soil, and high-cacao chocolate. With time and air, savory subtleties begin to emerge: beetroot and tea leaf and mineral. That savory edge could very well come from Summit View, a Sevein vineyard in the neighborhood of Ferguson. This part of the Walla Walla Valley is rapidly developing a reputation for basalt-driven mineral/soil tones that add wonderful layers of complexity to valley Cabernets. This is rich (14.8% listed alc) and intense, fanning out and saturating the palate. The intensity, the complexity, the polished texture; all aspects more commonly seen in the $40-$60 range. This definitely over-delivers its tariff by some measure.
One final logistics note. The entire (small) production of this wine is being split among three retail accounts in western Washington, all longtime supporters of Rich Funk’s wines. We’re going to send our initial order one week from today, so please try to place all order requests by Sunday night. There’s a chance we’ll get a second bite at the apple, but knowing the other two retailers involved, I wouldn’t count on it.