how not to stand out from the crowd

Friday, April 23, 2010

Thinking of starting a winery? Just a small, artisanal boutique, specializing in wines of place? Want to blend right in with every other passionate wine-abee that’s come down the pike in the last 10 years? OK then; here’s a top 10 list of what to do in order not to stand out from the crowd!

• Speak about your passion for wine and your unique terrior (sic)
• Purchase your grapes from the same six vineyards as everyone else
• Buy the heaviest glass bottles you can find for your pricey stuff
• Price your wine at the same level as the leading cult wines (after all, it’s just as good, as your friends all agree)
• Come up with some gimmick – cutesy names or critter labels – to add selling sizzle
• Get after your lazy distributor to promote your brand
• Slather your wines in new oak – they’ll taste great and oak hides any flaws
• You’re an artist – you won’t need much technical analysis or lab work
• Just stick to the Big Four varietals: pinot gris, chardonnay, merlot and cab
• Collect those bronze and silver medals – they’re (almost) good as gold!

I began thinking about this list after tasting through a lovely lineup of new releases from a fairly new artisan producer here in Washington. In my view, Jon Martinez is a bonafide rising star. He has quickly, quietly and with great skill and determination begun to carve out a unique niche for his Prosser-based winery, Maison Bleue.

Martinez moved to Washington from the mid-west, bringing with him a strong science background and a keen interest in Rhône varietals. His first full Washington harvest was in 2008, though he began making wines with purchased fruit from 2005. He has already scouted out small, hidden plots of rare, older plantings of grenache and mourvèdre, among other grapes, and acquired vineyards of his own. Most of his first releases were white wines, and often sweet at that, yet marvelously detailed and occasionally exotic renditions of roussanne, viognier, and blends.

With his 2008 wines, Martinez has moved into reds as well, making a pair of grenache-based wines, and a pair of syrahs. For the 2009 wines (not yet released), he’s redesigned his label – much improved – and added a second brand, called Jaja, that will be priced under $20. He’s already picked up an excellent distributor, Vinum, and gotten his wines placed on top restaurant lists in Portland and Seattle. He acquired an existing chardonnay vineyard, put in needed renovations, and is now selling that fruit to Abeja, Isenhower, Sleight of Hand, Tamarack, and has a waiting list for more.

Martinez, much like Gramercy’s Greg Harrington, favors racy, sleek, European styling. His wines are plenty ripe, but taste of cool climate flavors. They rarely show any new oak. Acids are natural, and he keeps the pH relatively low. There is no watering back or “adjusting” – the wines are allowed to speak for themselves. Prices are reasonable, and he’s adding the lower-priced Jaja wines this summer, available at his Prosser tasting room.

In brief, Martinez is doing everything right. And some of this state’s best growers, winemakers and sommeliers have already taken notice. This weekend Maison Bleue will be participating in the Yakima Valley Spring Barrel Tasting events in Prosser. A great chance to say hello and try some excellent wines.


Art said...

This will be good news to at least one New York wine blogger who recently offered the following comments about some WA wines that obviously did not stand out from the crowd:

"A few weeks ago, I attended 'Taste Walla Walla' at City Winery, because I was hoping to find some left coast reds with less residual sugar than a Snickers. And though I came with some prejudice in my pocket, I also had hope…They can’t all be light-my-fire jam-bombs, I thought . . .

Over 100 wineries in Walla Walla, Washington, 16 of which were represented here. Cabernet, merlot, syrah, and carmenere. There were whites like chardonnay and blends kissed with cab franc. But what struck me, was the homogeneity. So many of these wines–like rows and rows of sugar-coated, palate-killing cereals–all tasted alike."

Anonymous said...

Agree completely, love Maison Bleue wines


Anonymous said...

So true... so many part time hobby wineries all buying grapes from the same big name vineyards, picking late for "extended hang time", drenching their wines in $1000 barrels. You can barely drink the stuff, but you know what? A few wine critics slather them with 90+ points and so they keep making the stuff.

Really? Pinot Gris is one of the big four?

Plymale said...

The whites seem age worthy. For example, his 07 sweet Roussanne (La Vie Douce) really blossomed in the cellar (I discovered one bottle too late...)

Anonymous said...

That is a very interesting comment from the NY wine blogger. My wife and I went tasting in Walla Walla last summer and we both came away from the experience thinking the exact same thing, so many of the wines tasted almost exactly the same. This seemed especially true amongst the newer wineries that we had never tried before.

Anonymous said...

Hear ye, hear ye...he speaks the truth. If I hear one more winery say they think that what differentiates them is their family roots, passion for wine, artisanal approach, or sense of place I think I'll scream. They must have blinders or ear muffs on. But not you oh wise one.

Anonymous said...

What great praise for a deserving wine.

michael Amigoni said...

I remember Jon working in my vinifera vineyard in Missouri, he is one of my best friends and share his passion.

Michael Amigoni
Amigoni Estate

Bill Hamlin said...

It's always nice to see someone who has worked so very hard being recognized. It have been fun to watch Jon "work his plan" and obtain the results and praise he deserves. It is always a pleasure and an honor to bottle his wine each year

Chris said...

I've watched and drank Washington Wine for just two years and was fortunate to find Jon Martinez and Maison Bleue early on. Everything I've ever tasted there has been a "wow" wine and he will only improve with more time and experience. I can't wait until he starts harvesting his own vineyard.

BTW he now has a wine club, sign up now before it's too late.

Anonymous said...

talked to Jon today,he got a 91 and 92 on some wines with WE

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