Monday, October 10, 2011

Six years ago I sat down with Chris Figgins, son of Leonetti Cellar founders Gary and Nancy Figgins, and first learned about a new project he was initiating. The C.S. Figgins Estate vineyard, he explained, was the newest (at the time) jewel in the collection of prized Walla Walla vineyard sites that Leonetti had been developing.

Located just a little ways east of the Mill Creek Upland vineyard (also the location of Walla Walla Vintners), the new project incorporated 55 acres in total, of which 11 acres had just been planted to merlot vines. That fruit, said Figgins, would be destined for Leonetti. “It will allow us to finally convert our merlot to Walla Walla valley as we have with all the other wines, and allow Leonetti to be entirely estate grown,” Figgins continued. “The rest of the acreage I hope to start planting in 2006 for what will be an entirely new project.

The gist of it is a single vineyard, estate grown, non-varietal red blend probably looking something like 50% merlot, 25% petit verdot, 20% cabernet, and 5% cab franc and malbec. In short, certainly more of the Bordeaux model with a Right Bank-ish blend preference. I have expectations of this site and myself that should make this wine to single vineyard non-varietal what Leonetti is to Multi-site blended varietals. Ying and Yang?”

Last Saturday, the realization of that vision was on full display. The first release from the new winery made its debut at a release party for those who have already signed up for the mailing list. Guests drove up a winding driveway lined by sycamore trees – maybe 100 in all – to the high point of the estate. A total of 32 acres are planted to a mix of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. There is also a small (3/4 acre) planting of riesling. The site and view are beyond spectacular.

Vine rows have vertical slabs of basalt at each end. Rows of wild roses are interspersed here and there. To the south and east the Blue Mountains seem to hang directly in front of you, as if you could reach out and touch them. To the north and west are rolling wheat fields, now a golden brown after harvest.

Chris Figgins produced 831 cases of his inaugural wine. Labeled FIGGINS 2008 Estate Red Wine, it sells for $85. It is generous, with quintessential Walla Walla valley flavors, delicious and powerfully fruity. I first tasted it last June, noting its forward, young vine flavors, its silky, spicy mouthfeel, its lovely balance and threading of anise, cocoa, and caramel barrel flavors.

Additional months of bottle age have brought more flavors into focus – a wealth of bright berry fruits with floral and citrus highlights, light suggestions of toast and pencil shavings, and an overall sense of proportion and restraint. Figgins led a small group into a nearby row and explained that he’d start picking this week, showing how the skin color was deep enough and the berries ripe enough to begin to color the juice. In 2011, a wet year, the vineyard can be dry-farmed, though irrigation is there should the new vines require it.

All in all, a perfect introduction to an important and impressive new project. Congratulations to Chris and Heidi Figgins and everyone who brought this dream to fruition.



terroirist said...

Paul - Although the Leonetti estate vineyard that is located near Walla Walla Vintners is planted in loess-based soils, it's called "Mill Creek Upland" not "Loess". Leonetti's "Loess" vineyard lies near their winery between Berney Rd. and School Ave. in Walla Walla. The Newhouse vineyards on Snipes Mtn. are also named "Upland Vineyard", which has generated some confusion in Walla Walla.

PaulG said...

Terroirist, you are absolutely correct. Brain fart on my part. Now fixed. Shall I give you a footnote?!?

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