Vineyard Shot


Accolades for Forgeron Cellars

Consistency, experience & talent define Marie-Eve Gilla's niche in Washington Wine

"Among the most consistent, experienced & talented of this group is one of the nicest people in Washington wine, Marie-Eve Gilla."

Clive Pursehouse, NW Wine Anthem, August 29 2011

Northwest Wine Anthem's Clive Pursehouse profiles Forgeron Cellars' winemaker Marie-Eve Gilla. He discusses her French background in winemaking & how it defines her vision, style & place in the developing world of Washington Wine.

A Decade Forging Excellence: Marie-Eve Gilla & Forgeron Cellars

The world of Washington wine certainly fits the "it takes all kinds" cliche with its brash personalities, humble legends, overnight success stories & wanna-be "rock-stars." Among the most consistent, experienced & talented of this group is 1 of the nicest people in Washington wine, Marie-Eve Gilla. As Walla Walla's Forgeron Cellars prepares to celebrate their 10th crush when the 2011 fruit is harvested, I got a chance to visit with Marie-Eve on her thoughts about what makes Washington a special place for wine, & how women winemakers have made their mark on Washington wine.

In her 10th crush at Forgeron Cellars, & with experience at Covey Run, Hogue, & Gordon Brothers, Marie-Eve has spent nearly 20 years learning about the Washington wine industry from the inside. From barrel washer to winemaker at Covey Run to 1 of the owners & head winemaker at Forgeron, Marie-Eve has watched this state's wine industry evolve. "Washington's young at 30 years (she's from France, remember) & so it doesn't face a lot of constraints. Free enterprise & experimentation are the ethos." This enterprising wine culture is complimented by a perfect set of conditions. Marie-Eve describes Eastern Washington as a winemaker's paradise, with dry, hot summers that get the fruit ripe & keep the pests & disease away.

Marie-Eve notes that there are seemingly endless possibilities when it comes to wine that can be grown in Eastern Washington. While Forgeron planned its beginnings around traditional, & somewhat safe Bordeaux varietals, the variance & high quality that Washington climate allows provided Marie-Eve with creative opportunity to experiment. It took the leverage of her Burgundian background & a bit of pleading to have Chardonnay added to the Forgeron portfolio. Ironically if you created a shortlist of quality Washington Chardonnay, Forgeron Cellars would be high up on that list (top five, in my opinion). "I think white wines do not see the attention & love they deserve in Eastern Washington." A trip to the Rhone in 2004 & an appreciation for Roussanne had her wondering if she could make it back in Washington. "I came back & decided to give it a shot & voila! I made Roussanne for many years, as well as Marsanne." Forgeron Cellars now makes a unique Southern Rhone style white blend called Ambiance, with Roussanne, Grenache Blanc & Viognier.


As Marie-Eve watched the success of varietals across the state, she was on hand at Gordon Brothers in 1996 when Syrah was considered a daring varietal & she has continued to pursue the varietal with success at Forgeron Cellars. It was in that first crush in 2001 that Marie-Eve also decided to make Zinfandel...from Washington. Expert advice from a California winemaking friend though was especially helpful: "add the yeast & pray." That Zinfandel has become a Washington favorite with a loyal following.

With all her experience in the evolution of Washington wine, Marie-Eve is excited about what's still to be learned. "Washington is still in its infancy...still defining its style. There are plantings on North & Eastern oriented slopes, & limited air draining sites." Marie-Eve is confident though that history will determine who got it right, saying, "It's not simply enough to plant a vineyard & assert it's superiority." Some truths have become evident for her & the style of fruit she's interested in. She's found Horse Heaven Hills & Wahluke Slope provide a great setting for Zinfandel & Cabernet, lending a consistency from vintage to vintage regarding heat & the necessary ripeness. In the Yakima Valley she finds a beautiful set of conditions for white varietals as well as for Merlot & Syrah since the latter 2 require a little more hang time that won't cook the fruit. Finally, she's found that the uniquely bold characteristics the Walla Walla Valley imparts to Cabernet & Syrah have also proven part of her formula for success. In addition to sites, growers have also risen to the top & she relies consistently on the skill of the likes of Dick Boushey, Ted Wildman (Stonetree Vineyard) as well as the Sagemoor group & the Olsen Family Vineyards.

As 1 of the matriarchs of the women making wine in Washington, Marie-Eve believes that she & her counterparts have a few things in common. As the scene has become more competitive as more & more women have become successful, there is a definite tendency to be supportive of 1 another & stick together. As for generalities regarding what kind of wine she feels women tend to make? "As a general statement, I think women look more for balance when drinking wine & this applies to women as winemakers making their wines, down to earth, solid wines, easy to enjoy & able to age. These wines might not show as well in a large grouping of wines where palate fatigue sometimes lead tasters to select bigger, bolder wines & that is probably why women do not always seem to fare as well as men in wine publications."

The Forgeron Cellars Upcoming & New Releases:

The 2006 Zinfandel (last year's release) was a real favorite of mine among all of the wines I tasted in 2010. The 2007 rendition is a lot more dark & brooding right now & big. Darkest of fruit elements including plums & raisins & some herbal notes on a long lasting finish. Lots of complexity but it doesn't hit the spice & clove notes of last year's release. (Not yet released.)

The 2009 Chardonnay demonstrates the consistency & the quality of this varietal in the hands of Marie-Eve. An example of balancing the acidity & the full bodied elements of a Burgundian style. Aromatics take off right away with apricots & peaches, the bright fruit elements continue through the palate with tropical fruits & zesty acidity balanced by a full roundness on the wine. ($25)

The 2008 Les Collines Syrah is a stunner. This wine is a beautiful example of what 1 of the state's best vineyards can do. A thinking man or woman's Syrah with aromatics of smoke & earth, the palate is graced by a meatiness & herbaceaous quality that I find in many of the better Walla Walla Syrahs. Blackberries linger on a finish that can be measured in minutes not seconds. This wine is really dynamite & highly recommended. ($46)

Clive Pursehouse, NW Wine Anthem, August 29 2011