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The Wine Explorers find 2011 GSM a "Beautiful Discovery"

Thinking outside the box: That was our goal before starting our tour of American vineyards...So we rented a car for a month & drove from Washington to Texas, passing through Idaho, Utah, Colorado & New Mexico.

Jean-Baptiste Ancelot, thedrinksbusiness.com, March 9, 2015


The Hidden Face of the US Wine Industry

9th March, 2015 by Jean-Baptiste Ancelot, thedrinksbusiness.com

Thinking outside the box: That was our goal before starting our tour of American vineyards. Many have taken us for oddballs when we decided not to go to California – the super star of the country which accounts for 90% of the country’s wine production.

Except that each of the 51 states of the United States produces wine, including Alaska and Hawaii. So we rented a car for a month and drove from Washington to Texas, passing through Idaho, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.

Washington, US number two

Washington is the second largest wine producer in the USA (24,000 ha for 800+ wineries), before New York (15,000 ha) and Oregon (6,700 ha). Car rental in hand, we started with the suburb of Seattle. It was pouring, the sky was black, depressing. Here there are no vineyards on the horizon (the vines are situated far south of the State), but we visited two wineries which was of interest for their differences. The first one is ultra media and trust big Parker notes. The second is family owned and much more discreet.

So we started with Quilceda Creek, where we tried our luck even though I knew they don’t receive visitors.

“We sell everything on allocation or directly to high-end stores. No tasting is possible here, I’m sorry “, explained John D. Ware, one of the co-owners, who agreed to meet us and to show us the winery. But how can we evaluate a winery without tasting its production? Aware of our disappointment, John offered us a bottle of their Quilceda Creek “CVR” 2012 ($80), in order to face the grey outside. We appreciated the gift. Especially as we discovered a very nice red wine (mostly Cabernet Sauvignon), smooth, with notes of spices and nice black fruit. Our morale regained colours.

Direction Efeste, our second winery to visit, saw us take part in a practical session on the sorting table with the workers. It was so good to put our hands in the grape berries as soon as we got the chance! Here the smell of fresh grape juice filled the room and delighted the nostrils. Enough to wet our appetites before tasting the wines, like their delicious Emmy 2011, a Rhone GSM blend with a nose of pepper, liquorice and plum and velvety palate of black fruit, violet and cocoa. A treat! ($45).

But it is in the region of Walla Walla (4 hour driving south) where most of Washington’s vineyards are located, because it’s warm and dry. We took the road as we were expected on site by Gilles Nicault, a passionate (and exciting) French winemaker established in the region for 20 years now.

Gilles is the permanent winemaker at Long Shadows Vintners, a unique and ultra-premium collection in Washington created by Allen Shoup (former director of Château Ste Michelle) made up of nine winemakers of international renown. It includes famous names like Armin Diel, John Duval, Randy Dunn, Michel Rolland and the Folonari brothers. Choice of yeasts, ageing period, selection of cooperages, every winemaker has his secrets and Gilles, a good conductor, develops wines with respect for everyone’s wishes.

“We must constantly challenge ourselves in order to better reflect the personality of each wine expert in their respective vintages. It is very pleasant”, he said. He decided to take us to see the vineyard more closely, to feel the atmosphere of the harvest. After an hour’s drive we reached the heights of the Snake River, one of the two largest rivers of the State.

A big surprise awaited us. Ahead of us appeared what is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful vineyards in the world. Green rows of vines that literally plunge into the canyon below the river, all on a blue sky background. A postcard that I even added on my computer screen background.

Except that here, on the other side of the Columbia River, just a few hundred meters away, the scene is different. Out of sight is a sandy desert, an Indian reserve requisitioned by the government in the 30s now neglected and a place that the Americans don’t know what to do with because it is highly polluted and dangerous.

 “Here is the nuclear site where the two bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945 were created”. We were speechless. I stood there, febrile, meditating long minutes in the face of such horror. How can the world “offer” us such startling contrasts?

Are the river and the canyon sufficient barriers to protect the vineyard? Not sure, however wine is the healthiest and the most hygienic of beverages, Pastor said. And those we tasted here were delicious; like the cuvées Sequel 2011 ($60) and Chester-Kidder 2011 ($50), two beautiful wines made for ageing. So let’s enjoy them safely.

Some other beautiful red discoveries: the cuvée Estate Barbera 2012 ($29) from Woodward Canyon Vineyard and the GSM 2011 [$35] from Forgeron Cellars...

Click HERE to read the article in its entirety, along with Ludovic Pollet's beautfil photos.