Best Washington State Wines 2011: Winemaker, Vineyard, Wine of the Year and more

From winemaker of the year, to best local wine blogger, here are our 2011 picks for the leaders in W
Posted March 18, 2011
Mark McNeilly
Winemaker of the Year Mark McNeilly of Mark Ryan Winery

MORE FROM OUR BEST WASHINGTON WINES 2011 STORY

Best Red Wines

Best White Wines

2011 Best Washington Wines Directory

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Grand Ciel Wine of the YearWine of the Year

DeLille Cellars 2006 Grand Ciel, Cabernet Sauvignon >> Red Mountain, $135
One of Washington’s superstars, DeLille Cellars in Woodinville has fans around the world. This 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon is the third Grand Ciel release: Grapes are grown on Jim Holmes’ Red Mountain Vineyard near Benton City. The vineyard is laid out diagonally across a sunny hillside, with a high concentration of vines—almost 2,000 per acre—which is unique in Washington. Winemakers Chris Upchurch and Chris Peterson manage the vineyard closely, and they fashion this wine to show the best of Washington grapes—full bodied and lush with black fruits and violet, along with integrated French oak.

Wine of the Year finalists: Fidelitas 2007 Red Wine, Boushey Vineyard, Yakima Valley, $50; Grand Reve Vintners 2007 Collaboration Series II, Ciel du Cheval, Columbia Valley/Red Mountain, $45; Owen Roe 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Willow Vineyard 1973 Block, Yakima Valley, $72; Andrew Will 2007 Sorella, Columbia Gorge, $65

 

Vineyard of the Year

Boushey Vineyard
Dick Boushey is one of the original experimenters in Washington wine. In 1977, he planted a block of 10 varieties just for fun. His first commercial block followed in 1980. Now he grows some of the most in-demand fruit in the state at his 125-acre vineyard near Grandview, especially Syrah and Merlot, which can ripen too quickly because of our hot Washington climate. Winemakers such as Doug McCrea of McCrea Cellars, who have a desire to make “Old World–style” wines—less fruit-forward, more restrained—choose Boushey fruit for their acidity and balance. One thing you notice more and more when buying highly rated wine in Washington is that the designation Boushey Vineyard is on the label, which translates to elegant, distinctive wines in the bottle.

Winemaker of the Year

Mark McNeillyMark McNeilly
Owner and winemaker Mark McNeilly of Woodinville’s Mark Ryan Winery might be the quintessential winemaker of the early 2000s. First, McNeilly came to winemaking organically, starting with a fascination and developing his palate as a wine rep for Matthews Cellars in the late 1990s, and then working at Steele Winery in Lake County, California, before starting his own winery in 1999. His choice of some of the best fruit in Washington from the Ciel du Cheval and Klipsun vineyards on Red Mountain gave his luscious wines—such as his Long Haul Ciel du Cheval Bordeaux-style blend—a great start. Advice from Ciel du Cheval Vineyard owner Jim Holmes didn’t hurt. In the past few years, McNeilly has also done what many winemakers have done—collaborated on a second label. With fellow winemaker Chris Gorman, McNeilly launched the Giant Wine Company, and he also made a wine in collaboration with Ciel du Cheval Vineyard manager Ryan Johnson, whose Grand Rêve Collaboration Series features wines made with five other Washington winemakers. What makes McNeilly special is his sense of community and his generosity. He has been a friend and mentor to new winemakers, including Jerry Riener of Guardian Cellars, and played an instrumental role in putting Woodinville—particularly the Warehouse District and the Hollywood Schoolhouse District—on the map.

Community Building Award

Bob BetzBob Betz isn’t just a Washington state wine pioneer, having appeared on the scene at Chateau Ste. Michelle in the 1970s. He’s an ever-flowing font of knowledge and and inspiration to many up-and-coming vintners. “He’s always learning, and there’s not a second that doesn’t go by when he’s not giving back, especially to young winemakers,” says Anna Schafer of àMaurice Cellars in Walla Walla. The only Master of Wine in the U.S. to be making wine commercially, Betz is dedicated to training candidates from this region and around the world, spending a week each January teaching seminars in Napa Valley. Ryan Pennington of the Washington Wine Commission calls the head of Betz Family Winery “a tremendous resource,” and Betz says he loves participating in projects that promote Washington wines, including the Taste Washington road shows. During the 2010 growing season, the busy producer collaborated with his vineyard managers on experiments to maximize quality during cool years. 

 

Emerging Varietal: Tempranillo

The bedrock of the best Spanish reds, Tempranillo is still establishing a toehold in the state’s vast vineyards, one or two acres at a time. Casey McClellan of Seven Hills Winery in Walla Walla was an early adopter with a 2003 offering. Wade Wolfe of Thurston Wolfe Winery calls the varietal a natural for warm areas such as Horse Heaven Hills and the Wahluke Slope, saying it produces a soft, spicy red that’s more accessible than its Old World Spanish Tempranillo counterpart, which can come off leathery and chewy. The trick is getting consumers on board, says Wolfe, who makes 75 cases a year and sells most of it from his tasting room in Prosser. “Not many consumers are aware Tempranillo is the primary grape used in wines from Rioja,” he says. Repeat after us: Tempranillo es bueno.

Best Emerging Winery

Maison BleueJon Martinez is passionate about Rhône varieties. He makes his Maison Bleue wines in Prosser with a “purity of fruit and distinction of site,” and chooses grapes carefully from prime vineyards that are usually higher in elevation and slightly cooler—so the fruit develops complexity through longer “hang time”—which yields Grenache- and Syrah–based wines that exhibit delicacy and finesse. A chemistry and biology major, and a former dentist, Martinez became fascinated with winemaking in the Midwest and worked at Amigoni Urban Winery in Missouri and then moved to Washington, where he attended Washington State University’s enology program. Now a vineyard owner as well (French Creek Vineyard near Prosser), Martinez is growing Chardonnay. (We love the Au Contraire Chardonnay for its bright, unoaked style.)

 

Best Washington-focused Wine Blog

Wine BlogUnfined & Unfiltered, by Paul Gregutt
Launched just two years ago, this blog is a blend of keen observation and funny, often snarky posts about Northwest wine. One of the Pacific Northwest’s most polished palates isn’t shy about occasionally calling out readers of his Seattle Times columns: “You already know what you like. So give me a break!” He also serves up a behind-the-scenes glimpse into research techniques: “Last night, to accompany a simple dinner of soup and bread, I opened up six bottles of wine.” And he writes about avoiding the role of judge at large wine competitions because “they are—to be blunt—marathon grinds.” Talk about unfiltered!

 

Best Washington Focused Wine List

Tulalip Bay in the Tulalip Resort Casino
The fantastic Taste of Tulalip last fall was the culmination of a great year for Tulalip Resort Casino’s food and wine program. A dinner for 400 featured at least one Northwest wine with each course; the weekend showcased small Washington wineries paired with savory bites from the resort’s kitchens, which had the room buzzing. This annual event serves as a showcase for Tulalip’s mission: to focus on the choicest local bounty of Northwest food and wine. Tulalip Bay’s menu pairs the freshest local fish, meat, produce and cheeses with premium wines from many of the local wineries showcased at the Taste of Tulalip, such as Washington superstars Woodward Canyon Winery and Dunham Cellars, to award-winning boutique wineries such as Mark Ryan Winery and Gorman Winery. The wine list features 531 Washington wines out of 1,214 total, and has helped Tulalip gain a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence each year since 2007 and a DiRoNa Distinguished Restaurants award in 2008 and 2009. Sommelier and wine buyer Tommy Thompson manages with aplomb the restaurant’s wine list and the daunting Taste of Tulalip lineup—which includes an educational series of special tastings and classes for Taste attendees. At the resort’s other four restaurants—overseen by nine chefs—Washington and Northwest wines are paired with a variety of award-winning Alaska king salmon dishes, making it a new favorite place to enjoy the classic Northwest food and wine experience.

Winemakers to Watch

Ones to Watch(From left) Sarah Hedges Goedhart [Goedhart Family], James Mantone [Syncline Wine Cellars], Virginie Bourgue [Lullaby Winery]

With so many worthy winemakers on the Washington wine scene, we decided this year to share the love and honor three winemakers. virginie bourgue, sarah hedges goedhart and james mantone are all young, and all three have struck out on their own. Bourgue started Walla Walla–based Lullaby after working most recently for Cadaretta Winery. She makes small-production wines with Old World characteristics from hand-chosen Washington fruit. Her Lullaby Viognier is lush and delicious. Hedges Goedhart is assistant winemaker for Hedges Family Estate, and with her husband, Brent Goedhart, has established Goedhart Family winery in Benton City. Even with small releases, they have garnered many fans of their elegant, balanced wines, such as the Goedhart Syrah, which won our Best Syrah Over $20 last year. Mantone and his wife and partner, Poppy Mantone, started Syncline Wine Cellars in Lyle and have been pioneers in the Columbia Gorge AVA since 2001, making delicious Rhône-style wines, along with a few other gems, such as their exceptional Grüner Veltliner white.  

Sommelier of the Year

Chris SparkmanChris Sparkman, wine syndicate director at Waterfront Seafood Grill
Chris Sparkman’s life revolves around wine. His website bio for Sparkman Cellars, the small family winery he owns with his wife, Kelly, says it all: dad, winemaker and head janitor. His life story also includes his other gig for the past 10 years, as general manager and head of the sommelier team at Waterfront Seafood Grill in Seattle. There he developed a staff of—at its peak—27 first-level sommeliers, so whoever comes to your table will be extremely knowledgeable about the wine list, which includes nine Washington wines by the glass and nearly 90 Washington bottles. With chef Peter Levine, Sparkman strives to make guests feel as if they’re a part of the restaurant family. Now, as wine syndicate director, he oversees all things wine for Waterfront (and works at the restaurant two days a week) and at three El Gaucho locations, planning wine dinners and events featuring Washington winemakers and their wines. He also spent many years as a sommelier and wine buyer for some of the finest restaurants across America, from New Orleans’ Commander’s Palace to Todd English’s Olives in Washington, D.C. His latest work as “chief apple juice sommelier” is gaining the acclaim of his two daughters, Ruby Leigh, 4, and Stella Mae, 6—both namesakes for two of his wines.

 

COOLEST WINE LABELS

O'Shea Scarborough LabelO’Shea Scarborough
These clever nouveau vintage creations look as if they belong in an art gallery. Seattle artist Lex Petras and Berkeley, California, graphic artist Jason Harry Pagan designed an eerie female form buried deep in the terroir on the label of the 2006 Syrah, a cellar-worthy release known as The Immortal. We love the Pagan-designed label featuring finger tats, emblazoned on the 2007 Cease and Desist Riesling. Pagan also created a pen-and-ink rendition of a dandelion giving up its spores on the label for the 2008 Desolation Chardonnay, suggesting this teeny Tukwila winery—partners Darryn O’Shea and Travis Scarbourgh produce about 200 cases—with a tasting room on Capitol Hill is just starting to plant its roots and likely will continue to grow.

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