featured winery – l’ecole no. 41

Thursday, May 23, 2013

One of the pioneering wineries of Walla Walla is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Just for fun, I revisited the entry on L’Ecole No. 41 in my pocket guide, “Northwest Wines”, published in 1993. Here’s how it reads:

“L’Ecole No. 41, named for the old schoolhouse in which it is quartered, was one of the very first wineries in Washington to explore the state’s potential for making blockbuster Merlot. That first wine (a spectacularly rich, chocolatey ’83) was no fluke; a decade later, Merlot remains the star of the show. In addition to a sweet, chocolatey, well-oaked ‘Columbia Valley’ bottling, owner/winemaker Marty Clubb now makes a ‘Seven Hills Vineyard’ Merlot, which shows more precise, focused fruit and higher acids; and a Meritage blend called Apogee that is 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes for Apogee come from the Pepperbridge Vineyard, whose lush, jammy fruit is also a prime component of Leonetti, Andrew Will and Woodward Canyon wines – nice company to keep. It’s got a fine, spicy nose and the structure (from the Cabernet Sauvignon) for long term cellaring. Red wines account for about two thirds of the 9000 cases made annually by L’Ecole. Though prices continue to climb, they still represent relative bargains among this crowd. Clubb also makes a rich, apple/butterscotch Chardonnay, a popular (though oaky) Semillon, and a few hundred cases of an off-dry, fruity Chenin Blanc that is sold mostly at the tasting room.”

I had forgotten that the Apogee went back so far, or the Chenin for that matter. The oakiness mentioned was the style of the day. But the quality that the wines displayed, even in such ancient times, remains solidly in place in the much expanded 21st century lineup that L’Ecole now produces. The Chenin Blanc, one of a tiny handful produced in Washington that elevate that grape to its rightful stature, is now up to almost 4000 cases. The Columbia Valley bottlings of Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah are among the finest values produced anywhere in the country.

And the winery’s Estate Seven Hills reds showcase some of the major strengths of the Walla Walla valley. In a comprehensive tasting of spring releases at the winery last week, I was impressed with everything I tasted, but a couple of new wines were of particular interest.

Pick of the Week
L’Ecole’s 2012 Alder Ridge Vineyard Grenache Rosé ($20) is very limited, powerful (14.5% ABV) and absolutely luscious. Not the cheapest rosé you’ll find this summer, but one of the very finest, with big, spicy, round, fruity flavors of watermelon and strawberry.

A new vineyard designate – currently a wine club and tasting room only selection – is the 2010 Candy Mountain Vineyard Red ($39). It blends Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in roughly equal proportions, from a well-tended site adjacent to Red Mountain. Generous, deeply colored, and even more deeply flavored, this supple and aromatic wine deserves to be more widely distributed.

The best wine of an especially good flight: L’Ecole’s 2010 Estate Seven Hills Vineyard Perigee ($50). This Bordeaux blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot is a wine with serious aging potential. The black fruits are dotted with details of grain and licorice, black tea and coffee. It’s smooth and balanced through a lengthy finish, and continues to improve overnight.

Full reviews of all the new releases will appear in a future issue of Wine Enthusiast. If you are coming to Walla Walla this weekend (or any Friday during the summer and fall), you may enjoy a private tour and seated tasting of special wines, including new releases, library selections and limited production wines, in the cellar of the winery’s historic 1915 schoolhouse. The cost is $30 or $15 for members of the Vins de L'Ecole club. Reservations are requested. 509-525-0940 extension 111, or by email: reservetasting@lecole.com or

L'Ecole No. 41

1 comment:

JJ said...

One of the state's finest operations. The Clubbs are a standup bunch.

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