Vineyard Shot


Accolades for Forgeron Cellars

Marie-Eve finds few "Rules" for Winemaking in Northwest

"...[Marie-Eve] worked my way up from the bottom..." leading to winemaking positions at Hogue, Covery Run, Gordon Brothers, & Forgeron Cellars. "Such progress would have never happened in France."

Europe’s own Land of the Free

The Pacific Northwest is enticing big-name Europeans to a region where they’re free to create their dream wines, writes Linda Murphy.

Fifteen years ago, Piero Antinori’s only concept of the Pacific Northwest was as ‘a place to eat salmon & drink great wine’. Yet if Italy’s most revered winemaker were to throw a dinner party tonight for all the English-as-second-language vintners who have since joined him in making wine in Washington & Oregon, he would need a banquet hall to seat them all. Just as the French invaded Napa from the 1970s, with Domaine Chandon, Clos du Val & Opus One, so the Pacific Northwest has been infiltrated by Europeans eager for freedom in winemaking & viticulture as well as, less romantically for the larger players, an urge to build new brands & increase global sales clout...

In the Walla Walla region alone, Christophe Baron at Cayuse, Marie-Eve Gilla at Forgeron, Christophe Paubert at Canoe Ridge, Serge Laville at Spring Valley & Gilles Nicault at Long Shadows Vintners are French natives thriving in the 4.5 million (ha) hectare viticultural frontier that is eastern Washington.

Joining them are Danish winemaker Steffan Jorgensen (who replaced French incumbent Virginie Bourgue Lodmell at Bergevin Lane when she started Lodmell Cellars with her husband Andrew) & Pepper Bridge’s Swiss winemaker Jean-François Pellet. All have the option of working with 20 white & red varieties...

With a latitude similar to Burgundy, two more hours of sunlight per day during the growing season than northern California, wide daily temperature swings & the ability to irrigate (there’s just 20–25cm rainfall a year), eastern Washington is intoxicating to out-of-staters, yet the possibility of vine-killing winter freezes sobers up all but the most serious players...

Washington is a dynamic breeding ground for those willing to experiment. With far fewer suitable acres in which to plant & a cool-climate varietal focus on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Gris, Oregon’s wine industry cannot grow at the same rapid rate, yet the international flavour is as stimulating...

But perhaps the most universal reason for the influx of Europeans into the Northwest is their freedom to make whatever wine they wish, from whatever grapes they choose. In Washington & Oregon, there are few rules.

Forgeron Cellars’ Gilla came from the University of Dijon to America in 1991, to become what she could not as a young Frenchwoman – a winemaker. ‘My goals were to get more practical winery experience, & better my English skills,’ she says. ‘So I worked my way up from the bottom, washing tanks & barrels at Argyle in Oregon. I moved to Washington, & washed my share of barrels again at Covey Run, but they promoted me to cellar master, then assistant winemaker, then winemaker in the next four years.’

That led to winemaking positions at Hogue Cellars, Gordon Brothers & Forgeron. Gilla says such progress could never have happened for her in France.

When asked why Washington State attracts so many Europeans, Allen Shoup of Long Shadows Vintners claims: ‘They love the fact that they can go to the grower & make a suggestion & the grower takes note; in other regions, the grower says, “Don’t tell me how to grow the grapes”...’

Linda Murphy, Decanter Magazine, May 2007