destiny’s child

Monday, August 17, 2009

Much of the year to date, and virtually all of my summer, has been consumed with researching and writing a new edition of my book, Washington Wines & Wineries: the Essential Guide. In the process, a lot is learned. Concepts are revisited, revised, reviewed, re-worked. Insights are gained.

Most of this new book will be taken up with winery profiles, roughly twice as many as the previous edition. Wineries will be ranked, but not scored. But as I pull these entries together, I see that certain qualities are common to virtually all of the 65 wineries that I feel represent Washington’s best. First and foremost is access to great fruit. And as the industry matures, that is coming to mean ownership – not just management – of your vineyard(s).

The genesis of Prosser’s Alexandria Nicole Cellars (http://www.alexandrianicolecellars.com) was the planting, in 1998, of the Destiny Ridge vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills. As owner Jarrod Boyle describes it, he was driving in the region on a routine vineyard survey for Hogue, for whom he worked at the time, when he spotted the land. It was dry, dusty and undeveloped – scheduled to become a rock quarry in fact – but he saw something else. Vineyard potential.

Now, barely a decade later, Destiny Ridge grows 266 acres of grapes. About a quarter is planted to cabernet sauvignon, another quarter to merlot, and another quarter split among large blocks of syrah, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet franc, and riesling. The rest consists of smaller amounts of barbera, carmenère, counoise, grenache, malbec, marsanne, mourvèdre, muscat, petite sirah, petit verdot, pinot gris, roussanne, tempranillo and viognier – surely one of the most diverse vineyard developments in the state.

Destiny Ridge has a fascinating client list, starting with Ste. Michelle (http://www.ste-michelle.com), but including up and coming boutiques such as Darby (http://darbywinery.com), Edmonds (http://edmondswinery.com) and Guardian (http://guardiancellars.com); along with established players such as Saviah (http://saviahcellars.com), Tamarack (http://tamarackcellars.com), Thurston Wolfe (http://thurstonwolfe.com), Va Piano (http://vapianovineyards.com) and Walter Dacon (http://www.walterdaconwines.com). But it is Jarrod Boyle who gets first pick, and access to the most limited and unusual grapes. And Alexandria Nicole Cellars, the winery he founded with his wife Ali Boyle in 2001, is where you will find these wines.

ANC offers a boggling number of wines, and honestly, that is usually not a good sign for a young winery. But in this instance, it works. Jarrod Boyle has already shown himself to be a sensitive and gifted winemaker, with a flair for both whites and reds.

White wines are fresh and juicy, vibrantly fruity, and stainless-steel (or neutral barrel) fermented – no oak bombs here. Boyle’s viogniers are exemplary, his Shepherds Mark white – a mix of roussanne, marsanne and viognier – rich but never tiring. You will also find a nicely varietal sauvignon blanc and a luscious, off-dry riesling.

There are many more red wines, and the most limited (one or two barrels only) are offered first to wine club members. Among the most widely available are classically-styled merlots and cabs. Boyle puts the fruit front and center, and the windy, late-ripening site keeps grape sugars, acids and tannins in fine balance. Among current and recent releases are varietal bottlings of grenache, tempranillo, malbec, and lemberger, along with blends such as the Members Only Red – A Chateauneuf-du-Pape style mix of 42% grenache, 40% syrah, 10% counoise, 6% mourvèdre, 2% viognier.

Due out next month is an Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2007 Mr. Big Petite Sirah ($42). Just 67 cases were made of this wine. It’s rare to find petite sirah in Washington, but lovers of the grape will want to snag a bottle of Mr. Big. Very dark and concentrated, it wraps its fruit-powered flavors in sweet baking spices. Big and brawny as it is, it does not seem aggressively tannic, and the sweet barrel flavors – vanilla, cinnamon, brown sugar – cut through and surround the round, ripe fruit. It will be the featured wine at a winery Harvest Party in late September. For details see the winery website.

ANC has two tasting rooms – one in Prosser, one in Woodinville – and a very active wine club which sponsors vineyard excursions and other educational (and let’s face it, big fun) events. In my mind the Boyles have created an excellent business model that puts the horse before the cart, where it belongs. First the vineyard, then the winery. Oh, and last but not least, they’ve also introduced an inexpensive line of ‘The Girl Next Door’ wines with some of the sauciest labels yet seen in this state. Woo-hoo.

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