a vertical of dumas station cabernets

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sometimes hidden treasures are right under your nose. In my case, I have driven by this tiny winery hundreds of times in the past six years. It is the closest winery to my home in Waitsburg – about 5 miles east. The estate vineyard – leased – is Minnick Hills, 30 acres planted to wine grapes a little more than a decade ago. Based on the first-ever vertical tasting of the winery’s oldest cabernets, the vineyard may one day lay claim to being one of Walla Walla’s best for age-ability.

The Dumas Station winery occupies a former apple packing shed on Touchet valley farmland, roughly mid-way between Waitsburg and Dayton. According to a brief history of the property given to me by owner Jay DeWitt, the land was originally a thriving apple orchard named Pomona Ranch. Pomona Ranch was founded by James and Fanny Dumas, who arrived in the Washington territory in 1882. He was 20, she was 16. Eventually, both were hired as teachers in the town of Waitsburg. But apple farming turned out to be where the real money was to be made.

Photos from the early 1900s show the land covered in apple trees, and a postcard showing the details of the 1908 crop lists over a dozen rare, heritage varieties. According to DeWitt, the orchards were still bearing as recently as 30 years ago. Dumas Station was in fact a stop on two different railroad lines. The winery location led DeWitt and his business partner Doug Harvey, a retired engineer and lawyer, to honor its history with their label.

On Friday, we tasted the first seven cabernets released by the winery. The wines had never left the storage room, and were in perfect condition. Here are my unedited notes, and the scores I would give them today, recognizing their drinkability and proven ageworthiness. It is more than a little humbling to look back and see that in some cases, I had underestimated them while tasting them as young wines.

2003 – Mature, smooth, 100% varietal, showing soft and complex flavors of pastry fruits, brioche, pie cherries. Smooth all the way, with lovely tannins and a gentle fade, lightly spiced. Just about a perfect age for this wine. 92

2004 – The freeze year. The crop was just 20% of normal (one of a very few Walla Walla vineyards to have any grapes at all). Just 100 cases were made. Darker than the 2003, and showing mature bricking. This is exceptionally concentrated, loaded with black fruits, plums, prunes, black cherry, cassis, and rich, dark chocolate. 95

2005 – This wine shows a little heat in the finish. The color is about the same as the older wines, but the flavors show a bit more green in the tannins. Green olives, herbs, good length, a little harsh in the finish. 91

2006 – Still a bit hard and tight, but as with many 2006 Washington cabs, it is now beginning to open up. This was the first year a reserve was made. This regular bottling has a lot of tight power, dark fruits, licorice, coffee grounds, earth, graphite – complex and just beginning to unwind. Lots of time left. 93

2006 Minnick Hills Reserve – More supple and refined than the regular bottling, deeper also, with classic cassis and black cherry fruit. Steely, great minerality, a deep and satisfying wine, with great length and power, yet subtle, even elegant. 96

2007 – As noted in previous posts, the 2007s are shuttered tight. Very little aroma, and the wine feels a bit disjointed right now, but there is a lot going on. Plush fruits, some volatile high notes, chocolate, all the components are there for aging, but not yet integrated. 91 - 93

2007 Minnick Hills Reserve – A bit heavier, blocky, with thick black cherry and cassis fruit, some iron ore. Tannins are ripe and full but the wine is just beginning to emerge from its awkwardness. 92 – 94

Every single one of these wines that I had tasted previously had improved significantly with the extra bottle age. DeWitt and Harvey were also quite pleased, as was Ali Harvey, who is in charge of marketing the wines in the Northwest. As Jay DeWitt put it, “I’m happy that all these wines show a sense of place, and also vintage. That’s what we set out to do.”

Mission accomplished! The Dumas Station tasting room is open from 1 to 5 on Saturdays, March thru December. It’s about a five minute drive east of Waitsburg, through the heart of the Touchet valley, and the scenery at any time of the year is truly spectacular. For a look at the current lineup of wines, visit the Dumas Station website.


Anonymous said...

One very nice posting, here is to them being open on spring release friday. Thanks for bringing them to my attention.

Erik said...

year in year out Dumas Station cranks out great wine. I've been a fan for three vintages and am sure I will be in years to come.

Tasty stuff!

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