grazing in the bunchgrass

Monday, October 26, 2009

It is said that it takes two people to make great art – one to paint, and one to know when the painting is done. The same might be said of winemakers. When is enough, enough? When are the grapes ripe enough to pick? When have they been picked over and sorted enough? How much cold soak is enough?

The thin, thin separation that elevates the very best winemakers from the rest of the very good pack is knowing what’s enough, and what’s too much. Bill vonMetzger is a young winemaker who seems to have a natural gift for knowing when to say when. In pursuit of elegance and aroma in his extremely limited production wines, he avoids the common trap of going for bigness, darkness, jamminess, oakiness.

He’s a graduate of the enology program at the Walla Walla community college, and began working as assistant winemaker at Walla Walla Vintners right after graduation. In 2006 he began a second project – the revival of Bunchgrass winery, which had shuttered its doors the year before.

The 2006, 2007, and 2008 Bunchgrass wines were made at WWV, but this year part of the crush was done at the old Bunchgrass facility at the western end of the valley. Very little wine is made, but it is exceptional. The fall release (officially due out November 1, but I wouldn’t wait that long to order) includes just two wines. They are not yet posted on the website, so you’ll need to contact by e-mail or phone: or 509/540-8963

Just one barrel (24 cases) was made of the Bunchgrass 2006 Windrow Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($42), and it’s a gem. Elegant, refined, and ageworthy, this pure Cabernet is sourced from the oldest vines at Windrow, which date back about two decades. There is plenty of round cherry fruit in the core of the wine, along with red plum, golden raisin, and Christmas spices. Cinnamon and chocolate scents waft up from the glass, nothing overblown, but exotic and compelling. This wine tasted even better on the second day.

A similar story with the other release – one barrel, 24 cases of the Bunchgrass 2007 Frazier Bluff Vineyard Malbec ($32). From fourth leaf fruit, it’s a little reduced and needs decanting. Then it will show you its bright and fresh raspberry fruit, compact herbs, streaks of tar and earth, and even a floral note – clover? The Malbec didn’t make it to the second day – we polished it off over dinner.

Bunchgrass spring releases included a 2006 Lewis Vineyard Syrah ($32) and a Bordeaux blend called Triolet (sold out). Bunchgrass is not a glamour project, by any means, but it is already apparent that vonMetzger is going to become one of this state’s finest winemakers. I’d jump on board now.

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