a piece of walla walla winemaking history

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

As I live just a few miles outside of Walla Walla, now home to something like 130 wineries, I am often asked by people who are planning a quick trip over to recommend wineries to visit. Tough question, I usually reply. What type of wine do you enjoy? How much driving do you want to do? Where have you been before? Etc.

But I have no problem recommending a new winery, whose first releases were just officially introduced this past weekend, as a must-see. Tero Estates (or is it TeRo Estates? – not sure) is the winery, and here is why it goes right to the top of the don’t miss list.

This new winery, whose first (and very limited) production was just three years ago, is attached to perhaps the most historic vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley. Windrow vineyard, as the winery website explains, was part of the original Seven Hills Vineyard planted by Dr. Herb Hendricks and Dr. James McClellan in 1981. It was the first commercial vineyard of any size planted in the Walla Walla Valley during this modern winemaking era. Shortly after it was established, Casey and Vicky McClellan founded their Seven Hills winery, which still draws upon Windrow fruit. The winery and vineyard were both located entirely in Oregon, an inconvenient obstacle to marketing the wines (neither state’s wine commission was eager to include them at the time), which ultimately led to the winery being moved to downtown Walla Walla.

But I digress. In 1994 the vineyard was split up and the eastern part was sold along with the name Seven Hills. The remaining vineyard, owned by the Hendricks family, was re-named Windrow. Of the 32 acres, there are about 25 growing grapevines. The site, on a high, north-facing bench overlooking The Rocks, has a desirable combination of heat during the day followed by a cool breeze flowing out of the Blue Mountains in the evenings. It is protected to some degree from frost damage (the wind machines were not turned on when the temps dipped into the mid-30s the other night), and has a diurnal shift that allows for extra hangtime (hence phenolics maturity) while retaining natural acidity.

Doug and Jan Roskelley and their friend Mike Tembreull purchased the property from Scott Hendricks in 2007. The serendipity surrounding the actual sale is a story all by itself, but has something to do with dogs eating cars, and you really need to hear it from the owners. The Roskelleys live on the property, and have been crushing grapes there since 2008. They have renovated the vineyard and replanted some sections. These are adventurous, high energy people, and the new plantings (not due to bear until 2013) include, believe it or not, charbono, nebbiolo (good luck with that!) and some petite sirah as well.

The site is flat out gorgeous, and the first wines are showing the vineyard’s identifying flavors of black currant, sour cherry, blueberry and pepper. Also on site is winemaker Ashley Trout, who has moved her Flying Trout tasting room there as well.

The Roskelleys tell me that a downtown Walla Walla tasting room will be opening later this year, but my advice is to take the time to drive out to the vineyard and get the full experience. Apart from the scenery and the history, there is the opportunity to taste estate-grown wines, mostly 100% varietal, from a heritage vineyard. I can’t think of another new winery that can match that legacy.

Call ahead (541-203-0020
) or email (talk@teroestates.com) for an appointment. Excellent directions are posted on the Tero website.

The first releases, all from 2007, include an affordable Tero Red and a Walla Walla Cabernet (not entirely estate-grown). The more-limited estate bottlings include a Windrow Vineyards Cabernet Franc (already sold out), and vineyard-designated cabernet sauvignon, merlot (labeled Herb’s Block, from the original planting), and Windrow Red. This last is the signature wine, and it, too, has a great story behind it.

It’s a field blend wine that is a precise representation of the grapes planted in the estate vineyard, in exact proportion. So – 

70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Malbec. A fascinating, true expression of the vineyard, all the grapes are picked on the same day and co-fermented, much like the Old Hill vineyard zinfandels I wrote about last winter. Muscular and rich with dark fruits, cocoa, coffee, chocolate, fresh herbs and a streak of mineral, this is a wonderful wine, detailed, dense and compelling. It should age for a decade or more.


Paul Zitarelli said...

Paul - It appears we're on the same wavelength. I wrote about the Roskelleys and offered that Windrow Red earlier this week. It's a great story, and fortunately the quality of the wine matches the quality of the tale. It'll be interesting to see if Doug's idea (field blend in proportion to vineyard plantings) spreads to any other sites in the WWV or Washington generally. It's certainly an intellectually-stimulating way to experience a vineyard.

PaulG said...

Paul, what's especially interesting is that (as Doug is the first to admit) the vineyard was not planted with the field blend proportions being a consideration. And the co-fermentation aspect makes it even more unusual. And yet it has worked out really well. Serendipity. Just like the car-eating dogs!

Jan Roskelley said...

Thanks so much for the visit, Paul. This is a terrific write up - thoughtful, accurate and fun. Please come back again soon ... and bring your guitar :)

Dena Levine said...

I had the good fortune (and great pleasure) to visit the winery this summer. It is a gorgeous setting and the Cab Franc to die for! The wines are definitely a must buy for anyone who enjoys red wine.

Scott Hendricks said...

Hi Paul and all. Thanks for the accurate portrayal of the history here. BTW, the field blend is something I wanted to do but could never find a winemaker willing to try, until Doug came along and made it happen. It is rewarding to say the least. Enjoying retirment after 30 years in the WW wine biz....Scott Hendricks

PaulG said...

My pleasure, Scott. Thanks for checking in. Hope the retirement is all you ever dreamed it would be!

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