Travel, Etc. --> Visiting Washington Wine Country
Visiting Washington Wine Country
Seven Hills, Waterbrook and Tamarack Cellars
Our third day provided an interesting lesson on the history of Walla Walla, provided by Vicky McClellan, co-founder of Seven Hills Winery. Located in the historic Whitehouse-Crawford Building, a turn-of-the-century furniture factory in downtown Walla Walla, Vicky and her husband, winemaker Casey McClellan, borrowed what they thought was a fortune, $64,000, from Casey's father in 1988 to found the fifth winery of the Walla Walla appellation and planted the famed Seven Hills Vineyard. In 2000, Vicky and Casey were instrumental in saving the Whitehouse-Crawford Building that they share with a fine dining restaurant of the same name. And while they have outgrown the location over the last 14 years, they store wine off-site and still maintain all of their wine making efforts in the building.
Vicky was a gracious hostess who showed us the entire facility and even took time to introduce us to Casey, who was knee-deep in incoming grapes from the harvest. Together they produce some of Washington's most critically acclaimed Bordeaux-inspired red wines, sourcing from Washington's most important, Red Mountain sites, like Ciel du Cheval and Klipsun. Their tasting room is more than worth a visit and is open daily, and a call ahead for a tour of
the meticulously restored building is worth the effort. We currently have their 2012 Columbia Valley Cabernet at $27 (Wine Enthusiast 91 Points) and the 2011 Walla Walla Cabernet at $47 (Wine Spectator 92 Points).
Twelve miles west of Walla Walla, we then visited Waterbrook, the flagship brand for Precept Wines, Washington's largest, independently owned producer. If you shop in our store with any frequency, you have seen the Waterbrook wines prominently displayed since they receive 90 points and higher scores from Wine Spectator with great frequency, and they deserve the scores. The 90 Point, $13.99, 2012 Chardonnay, unfortunately now sold out, was our "House Chardonnay" all summer. Give their Wine Spectator 90 Point 2010 Reserve Cabernet $19.99 a try.
The surprise was the size of the facility and the realization that they produce over 25 wine labels in addition to Waterbrook at that site. Our tour guide, assistant wine-maker, Caesar, gave us as a thorough and hands-on a tour of a high production wine-making facility as you could ever hope for. While the Columbia Crest tour was sensitive to the potential dangers of being around wine production, Caesar treated us to the real thing. "Let's climb this 20 foot staircase to see what tank the current crush is going into" and "here, taste this juice that just reached the fermentation tank" was what we experienced there.
It was a real insight into large-scale wine making, up close and personal with the trucks emptying their grapes into the destemmers and "Oh, that hot water pouring over the the 15 foot fermentation tank is intended to re-start a stalled fermentation." And we also experienced a visit to the bottling line where we saw first-hand how quickly they recover from a broken bottle, stopping the process. This was the real thing, the chaos of crush, from a winemaker's point of view. While we suspect hundreds of thousands of cases, production numbers are not available for the facility. As long as the Waterbrook brand maintains the quality levels we've seen, who cares!
Our last stop was one of our favorites of the tour, where Linda and Cathy got a little infatuated with the good-looking winemaker, Danny Gordon, with his three days growth of beard and laid-back demeanor, and Ron Coleman, the mellow and ruggedly older, owner of Tamarack Cellars.
Going from a large-production facility to a small, personal winery located in a WWII era fire station at the Walla Walla airport was certainly culture shock. But it was Danny and Ron's approachability and candor about wine-making that was intriguing, along with the fact that everything we tasted with them was great. Not only did we catch them during crush, Ron showed up 20 minutes into our visit with a trailer filled with grapes to be crushed.
They were also in the midst of moving production to a brand new facility. Also at the airport, the brand new Butler steel building will house wine-making and barrel storage, and was about 50% occupied with a lot of work left to do. I loved Ron's attitude, a little like mine, "when it stops being fun, I won't do it anymore....it's still fun." This was as personal as Columbia Crest was corporate...both informative and interesting. Gotta love both sides of the wine business! Look for their 2012 Firehouse Red $16.99 (Wine Enthusiast 90 Points), 2012 Chardonnay $14.99 (Wine Enthusiast 90 Points) and 2008 Cabernet $29 (Wine Enthusiast 91 Points) at both locations.
Dinner was back at the Whitehouse-Crawford building, home to Seven Hills and the Whitehouse-Crawford Restaurant, a beautiful, fine-dining stop located in the historic industrial building. Of course, this is tiny Walla Walla, what else would you expect but another great dining experience? We began with glasses of Washington Marsanne and fried Calamari with ginger sauce and a basket of crispy, thin Walla Walla sweet onions. Our shared Painted Hills tenderloin with red wine reduction, mushrooms and mashed potatoes, and Kurt & Cathy's roasted Bristol Bay salmon with tomato, cucumber salad and fried eggplant complimented a Library selection of Northstar's 2006 Merlot. A perfect final Walla Walla dinner.
Washington Trip Part I Walla Walla and Chateau Ste. Michelle
Washington Trip Part II Columbia Crest and Col Solare
Washington Trip Part IV 48 Hours in Seattle
November 5, 2014