Thursday, July 30, 2009

Virginie Bourgue arrived in Walla Walla six years ago with one of the more impressive wine resumés this town has ever seen. She was raised on a farm in Bonnieux (in Luberon, north of Provence), educated first at a viticulture and enology school in Avignon, went on to earn a master’s degree in enology in Champagne, next worked a year at Louis Roederer, another at Nicolas Feuillatte, and finally moved to the U.S. to do an internship at Ste. Michelle. Which led to an offer to become the winemaker for Bergevin Lane - all by the time she was 30 years old.

Bourgue’s sensitive, delicate touch with wine grapes was evident from the beginning. She once explained to me that, although the grapes are usually the same, she immediately found that American wines are more powerful than French wines. “It seems the American wine drinker needs that,” she theorized. “Here, if the nose is good – fruity, like candy – people will say, ‘Yeah!’ They are almost buying by smelling. If it stinks, they say, ‘I may not be brave enough to put that in my mouth.’ In France, it is the opposite. If it stinks, they say, ‘Wow—it must be good!’”

Her success at Bergevin Lane quickly led to further opportunities, and she left in 2006 to become winemaker for Cadaretta, an impressive vineyard and winery project with a pleasing lineup that includes an Aussie-style sauvignon blanc/sémillon, a crisp, lean chardonnay, a polished cabernet sauvignon and a big Bordeaux blend named Springboard Red.

Her own, small, personal project is called Lullaby, and the first two releases show Bourgue at her finest. There are only 300 cases of everything – “it’s my evening and weekend project,” she explains. Why Lullaby? “I really like the resonance of the name, the softness, the feminine aspect,” she says.

The Lullaby 2007 Rosé ($16) is a blend of grenache, syrah and a dollop of viognier. It comes in a 500 ml package, so the price translates out to $24 for a 750 – not inexpensive, but right in line with French rosés of comparable quality. It was barrel fermented in neutral oak, and its release has been held back an extra year to add texture and creaminess. It’s a beautiful color, a coppery salmon; dry and fruity, but more complex than most newly released rosés. It sneaks up on you; flavors come out more in the back than the front. Very light berry fruits, a lovely texture, and a finish that suggests malted milk chocolate.

The second release is Lullaby 2007 Viognier ($28). Fermented in neutral French oak at 55 degrees, barrel aged for nine months, then given another year in bottle, this is a subtle wine, with well-modulated fruit and a soft creamy quality from the barrel aging and time on the lees. It hints at a wide panoply of fruits – apricot, peach, even papaya – but places them in a refined, silky setting that rolls out across the palate for literally minutes. One secret, says Bourgue, is to do a very gentle press – “the same way I would do the Champagne grape,” she advises. “Viognier is tricky, you can really get the phenolics and the tannins, which you don’t want in a white.”

You can find Lullaby wines in a few Walla Walla restaurants, at McCarthy & Schiering ( in Seattle, or through the soon-to-debut website:

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