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Room special report




Where Roots and

Passions Run Deep

writer John Vitale

PICTURED Rolling Bay Winery

produces Old Vine Cabernet from

this block of gnarly old vines,

planted at Upland Vineyard in 1979

Photo: Alphonse de Klerk

0 Washington Tasting Room.com Washington Tasting RooM.com 0


Room special report

Norm McKibben of Pepper

Bridge in Walla Walla

A young vine is

like a teenager;

you never know

quite what they

are going to do.

—Norm McKibben,

Pepper Bridge & Amavi Cellars

Todd Newhouse of Upland

Vineyard manages numerous

old vine blocks, including 1917

plantings of Muscat of Alexandria

wines made from


vineyards, known as “old

vines,” are on the uptick.

We turn to the pros

in our quest to better

understand the mystical

significance surrounding

these notable wines.

There’s a storied romance behind

old vines and their place in history.

Walla Walla’s vineyard mogul Norm

McKibben says, “I tasted some very nice

wine from 135-year-old Syrah vines in

the North of the Barossa while chasing

harvest in Australia.” Pepper Bridge’s

winemaker, Jean-Francois Pellet, grew

up in Switzerland where he worked

with his father on a vineyard that had

been planted by the Pope in Avignon,

shortly before sending his monks on the

First Crusade in 1096.

“The old vine discussion has been

one that I have sought to get more

clarity as I have travelled around the

wine world,” says Rob Mercer of

Mercer Wine Estates. “The interesting

thing is that in Europe and California,

where they have phylloxera, it doesn’t

really seem like they have much in

the way of old vines, as most vineyard

vines need to be replanted in about that

time period. I consider old vines to

be 30-plus years, slightly longer than

a generation, so that the vine most

likely has been passed from parents to


Washington’s wine industry has

its fair share of mature vineyards, yet

finding a locally produced “old vine”

wine isn’t always a simple task—

unless you know what you’re looking

for. Bottling’s are still rather scarce

and are not always labeled as such.

Unlike wines labeled “organic” under

guidelines set forth by the Alcohol and

Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, there

are no such parameters for “old vine.”

“It almost comes down to a thing

of honesty and integrity of what

constitutes old vines, because there

isn’t a definition,” says Rick Small,

founder of Woodward Canyon. He has

been producing an Old Vine Cabernet

Sauvignon since 1995, working with

some of the elder premium vines in the

state. His initial interest was sparked

after comparing some really young

fruit to vines nearly a quarter century

old at that time. “If you compared

the young grapes with Cabernet that

had been planted in ’72 at Sagemoor

or Champoux, those wines were in a

completely different zone, with regards

to concentration and expression of fruit,

and expression of place,” he says.

Theory of Relativity

Tasting Room Magazine surveyed a

dozen and a half respected viticulturists

and vintners in Washington and found

that 82% indicated that old vines should

be a minimum of 25-30 years old in

order to be labeled as such.

“A few years back a group of us

old timers got together to discuss

what qualified as ‘old vines’ in

Washington State,” says Dr. Wade

Wolfe of Thurston Wolfe. “After some

discussion, we decided anything 25

years or older would qualify. This was

in part based on the relative youth of

the industry. Since that discussion was

about ten years ago, I might suggest

that the qualifying age might now

be extended out to 30 or 35 years, or

anything planted before about 1985.”

Alphonse de Klerk of Rolling Bay

Winery has been working with old

vines for many years and shares a similar

view. “I think a Washington State

vine is mature at 25 years and can be

labeled Old Vine at 30-plus years,” he

says. “I’m grading on a curve here: an

old vine should be old, and if the oldest

vineyard in Washington is say, 40-plus

years, then a 25 year old vineyard is just

past middle age.”

Grower Mike Sauer has been

Much like music played on an old violin, the flavor

notes are deeper, richer and more nuanced than

wine from younger vineyards.

farming Red Willow Vineyard in the

Yakima Valley for the past 45 years.

“I think that the relative age of our

Washington wine industry to older

wine regions tends to influence our

view of old vines,” he says. “It’s like

the teenager thinking that 40 is old, and

the 60-year-old thinking you’re not old

until 80.”

JJ Williams of Kiona Vineyards,

whose family members were pioneers

of Red Mountain, stretches the theory

of relativity a bit further. “I’m not sure

about putting a number on old vines.

The oldest planting of Grenache in

Washington is between 10 to 15 years

old, so who’s to say the oldest planted

Grenache wouldn’t be [designated]

old vine?” he rationalizes. “If you’re

talking a ten-year-old Cabernet and

a ten-year-old Grenache, there are

probably some differences there,

between legitimately claiming an old

vine status.”

Winemaker Paul Golitzin of

Quilceda Creek is reluctant to pin it

on age. “Old vine designation is a

tough one to answer,” he says. “Vine

age doesn’t necessarily translate to high

quality. Only great terroirs make great

wines, no matter what the age of the

vines.” Golitzin’s notion that age alone

does not necessarily merit old vine

status is an aspect his peers agree on to

varying degrees.

Rick Small’s response is, “Old vines

for me—to follow up on Paul’s point—I

have tasted wines that were better,

that tasted really fabulous from young

fruit (I’ve made some myself). But

what I’ve found in young vines is they

are more likely to be up and down in

their quality, whereas older vines are

typically much more consistent. I’d still

rather always have the plants be older if

I could.”

— Alphonse de Klerk, Rolling Bay Winery

Prized Commodity

Prior to 1968, there were roughly

200 acres of premium wine grapes in

Washington. That number escalated

nearly six fold to 1,155 acres by 1972,

the pivotal year when the industry

really began to get underway.

Mike Sauer planted Cabernet vines

the following year, and fruit from

this prized block has been coveted for

decades. “In today’s wine industry

there is a tendency to remove and

replant blocks because of economics,

disease, new clones, different varieties

and many other reasons,” says Sauer.

“Perhaps I will be wrong, but I think

that vineyards older than 30 years will

still be rare and considered special.”

At Upland Vineyard in the Snipes

Mountain AVA, grower Todd

Newhouse still harvests Muscat of

Alexandria every year from original

vines planted in 1917. With more

than 50,000 acres of vineyards in

Washington today, a vineyard of this

age is the extreme rarity.

Sean Tudor of Otis Vineyard, located

in the Yakima Valley, feels privileged to

manage the oldest surviving commercial

blocks of Cabernet in the state, planted

in 1957, making them 59 years old.

“These vines are pretty amazing to see,

some of them resembling apple tree

trunks,” says Tudor. “We also have a

Cabernet block planted in 1960 and

one planted in 1986. Various blocks of

Merlot were planted in the early-80’s

and 90’s.”

It’s worth noting that Cabernet,

Merlot, Chardonnay and Riesling

appear to represent the lion’s share

of the oldest varietals found across

the state, most likely because those

represented the largest plantings and

have enjoyed widespread continued

popularity in the marketplace. Other

JJ Williams of Kiona Vineyards points

to a block of Cabernet planted in 1975

Straw Poll:

At what age is a vine

considered to be

labeled as “Old Vine?”


Not sure


At least

25 years



30 years

old or


Source: Based on a survey response of 18 industry

veteran viticulturists and vintners from Washington.

34 Washington Tasting Room.com Washington Tasting RooM.com 35


Room special report

The word “elegant” comes to mind when tasting wine

from these vines, like a smooth aged whiskey.

— Sean Tudor, Otis Vineyard & Tudor Hills Winery

What distinguishes “Old Vine” wines?

We asked winegrape growers and winemakers to tell us how grapes

from “Old Vines” differ from younger vines:

Otis Vineyard manager Sean Tudor

stands next to the state’s oldest

existing Cabernet vines planted in 1957

There is certainly

a great discussion

about the great

quality of wine

made from

old vines.


Ciel du Cheval Vineyard

Jim Holmes of Ciel du Cheval Vineyard,

one of Red Mountain’s founding fathers

who, along with John Williams of Kiona,

were the first growers in the appellation

old varietals include Cabernet Franc,

Syrah, Lemberger, Muscat Canelli,

Gewürtraminer, Sauvignon blanc, and

perhaps a few others.

Better With Age

While consumers may seek out old

vines for nuanced flavor complexities,

growers appreciate them for other


“The biggest behavior difference

between young and old vines is

consistency of quality,” sums up Norm

McKibben of Pepper Bridge. “The

roots are well enough established in

older vines that they can do a quite

good job of regulating themselves past

small mistakes made in viticulture. I

have often seen very good wine made

from three-year-old vines that seemed

to lag in quality for some years after the

third year. I often say that a young vine

is like a teenager; you never know quite

what they are going to do.”

Many of McKibben’s colleagues,

like Rick Small, see eye to eye. “Old

plants, generally, are like older people,”

observes Small. “They’re grown up

a little bit. They’ve got deeper roots,

they don’t react as much to climate—

they react to it, but they react in a more

controlled way. It’s almost like having

the vines on auto pilot, because they

manage stress better because the roots

are deeper.”

Grower and vintner Doug Roskelley

of TERO Estates and Windrow

Vineyard, the oldest commercially

planted vineyard in the Walla Walla

Valley AVA, agrees that 25 years

should be the minimum bar to classify

old vines. “Old vines exhibit more

characteristics of the location due

to more extensive root systems,” he

reports, saying they bring a “greater

expression of minerality and earthiness”

to the wine.

“There is certainly a great discussion

about the great quality of wine made

from old vines,” remarks Jim Holmes of

Ciel du Cheval. “Perhaps some of this

is attributable to uncertainty in actual

varietal content of some old vineyards.”

This theory is echoed among growers

who know that a majority of vines

planted in the 70’s were from simple

rooted cuttings (often obtained from

local vineyards) and non-certified

rootstock. These materials were

propagated with viruses such as leaf

roll, a condition that can result in lower

fruit yields over time, which strange

as it may sound, is a factor that can

ultimately improve wine quality.

JJ Williams, who grew up on the

vineyard next door to Holmes’ on Red

Mountain, affirms the idea. “All the

1975 cuttings have leaf roll. That’s as

much of the [old vine] story as anything

else. Sometimes leaf roll is seen as a bad

thing, but what leaf roll does is delay

photosynthesis and extend hang time,

and slows maturation, all of which,

if you get enough heat for things to

ripen like we do here, is a good thing,”

explains Williams. “So, how I remove

the leaf roll part of that equation from

the age part of the equation, I don’t

know. But it does play into how the

wine ends up tasting.”

Small Berries, Big Flavor

Old vines produce only two to three

tons of fruit per acre, or about half

the amount of younger ones. “Old

vineyards are established with deep

roots, adapted to their environment

and set in their ways,” comments

Alphonse de Klerk, whose Cabernet

and Chardonnay come from old vines

planted at Upland Vineyard in 1979.

“They produce smaller berries and less

yield, which equals more flavor.”

Justin Michaud, winemaker for both

Kestrel Vintners and Coyote Canyon

concurs. “It seems like a vine that starts

Cabernet vines, now thick as tree trunks,

were planted in 1975 by legendary researcher

and winemaker George Carter at his farm in

Prosser, now owned by Domanico Cellars

to produce the ideal tonnage for intense

flavors is really coming into its own. In

most cases I find younger vines to be

more fruit forward with less complexity

than older vines,” he says.

Dr. Wade Wolfe points to the

fact that a combination of rigorous

age-related vine maladies can cause

diminished yields in older vines, but is

quick to look on the bright side. “They

also tend to have somewhat more subtle

and complex aromas, and depending

on how they are handled in the winery,

softer tannins with moderate color and

lower alcohol,” he says. “Because of

these characteristics it is unlikely that

high alcohol ‘fruit bombs’ would be

produced from them.”

“All wine consumers who are going

to continue to enjoy Washington

State reds and whites over the next

generation or so, are going to be blessed

with some incredible wines,” Rick

Small summarizes, closing with, “The

plants are better, the grape growing is

better, the winemaking is better and the

vines are better because they’re getting

older, too.”

Turn the page to read about

16 extraordinary Old Vine wines ❭❭

“More subtle and complex aromas, and depending on

how they are handled in the winery, softer tannins with

moderate color and lower alcohol.”

— Dr. Wade Wolfe, Thurston Wolfe Winery

“There is a definite character in old vines that is

noticeable in the grapes and wines. It’s hard to verbalize:

accentuated depth of varietal characteristics, with the key

word being ‘depth.’ I try to be like these Cabernet old

vines… keep getting better with age.”

— Paul Champoux, Champoux Vineyards

“Exhibits more characteristics of the location, greater

espressions of minerality and earthiness.”

— Doug Roskelley, TERO Estates and Windrow Vineyard

“The typicity and sense of place show through. So, you

have a much more complex wine, because all of these

things are in balance and in proportion.”

— Rick Small, Woodward Canyon

“Old vine wines seem more expressive of terroir and

express more complex flavors. Much like music played

on an old violin, the flavor notes are deeper, richer and

more nuanced than wine from younger vineyards.”

— Alphonse de Klerk, Rolling Bay Winery

“Anecdotally, wines made from older wines are sometimes

referred to as more balanced, more consistent, and have

more depth; however, some wines made from younger

vines can also offer these characteristics.”

— Larry Pearson, Tapteil Vineyard

“I generally think older vines, properly farmed, and on the

right site add an extra dimension of complexity, richness

and density.”

— Casey McClellan, Seven Hills Winery

“It has a lot to do with the complexity of the wine. A lot of

times I describe young vine as more fruit forward where

old vines have fruit intensity. The maturity of the grape

can express itself in the wine giving more layers and

depth to the wine.”

— Justin Michaud, Kestrel Vintners

“The word ‘elegant’ comes to mind when tasting wine

from these vines, like a smooth aged whiskey.”

— Sean Tudor, Otis Vineyard

35 Washington Tasting Room.com Washington Tasting RooM.com 36



old Vines of washington

old Vines of washington



Upland Estates 2010

Ampeli Ice Wine


Nose: An alluring bouquet

of jasmine, orange essence,

honey and mineral spice.

Taste: Unctuous and rich,

this dessert wine displays

remarkable balance with

clean mineral flavors of

jasmine, honeysuckle,

mandarin orange and dried

apricot on the finish. $38

Woodward Canyon

2013 Old Vines

Cabernet Sauvignon


Nose: Leather, rock, smoke,

dark brambly berries. Taste:

Gushing with rich, opulent

earth-laced flavors of cassis

and pitch black fruit with

spice and minerality. Plush,

finely tuned tannins gain

momentum on the focused

and balanced finish. $99

Rolling Bay 2014

Reserve Chardonnay


Nose: Honeysuckle, lemon

chiffon, apple, light toast and

soft spice. Taste: Texturally

rich and luscious, with light

and airy flavors of lemon

curd, apple, lime blossom,

butterscotch and mineraltinged

baking spice. Complex

and elegantly balanced on the

creamy finish. $36

TERO Estates 2010

Old Block Cabernet



Nose: Exotic mineral spice,

graphite, dark fruit and

fig. Taste: Pure and rich,

centered around a juicy core

of black fruit, cassis, gravel

pit minerality and nuances of

dried herbs. Dark berry notes

echo on the finish with smooth,

well-integrated tannins. $57

Newhouse Family

Vineyards 2014

Cottontop Aligote


Nose: Complex aromas of

white nectarine, poached pear,

jasmine and hints of citrus and

spice. Taste: Creamy with a

slightly unctuous mouthfeel,

this exotic dry white exudes

nectarine, golden delicious

apple, lime, honey, almond

and river rock minerality. $36

Flying Trout 2012

Konnowac Vineyard

Old Vines Malbec


Nose: Dark fruit, fig and cocoa

nib. Taste: A hedonistic red

that sweeps across the palate

with bold granular tannins and

dense flavors of crushed rock,

loam, steeped black cherry and

black currant. Hints of caramel,

floral violet and sage surface on

the immense finish. $40

Kiona 2012 Old Block

Cabernet Sauvignon


Nose: Scintillating mocha,

black and red fruit, loam and

spice. Taste: Regal, ultrarefined

and suave, with lush

tannins that permeate a core

of blackberry, brambly red

berry and vanilla. Swarthy

nuances of dark earth, granite

and crushed rock join the

pillowy smooth finish. $65

Thurston Wolfe 2011

Old Vine Cabernet



Nose: Cigar wrapper, dark

earth, slate, pencil lead and dark

fruit. Taste: Ultra-polished with

smooth tannins, and a glowing

mineral backbone of wet stone,

graphite and crushed pebble.

Solidly structured, with a pillowy

mid-palate and restrained flavors

of black stone fruit and fig. $30




Blend of three old sites














PLANTED: Circa 1972








Snipes Mountain


Columbia Valley


Snipes Mountain


Walla Walla Valley


Snipes Mountain


Rattlesnake Hills


Red Mountain


Snipes Mountain

37 Washington Tasting Room.com Washington Tasting RooM.com 38



old Vines of washington

old Vines of washington



Walla Walla Vintners

2012 Sagemoor

Vineyard Cabernet



Nose: Red berries, currant,

leather and coffee bean. Taste:

Poised, structured and lushly

textured with pillowy tannins.

Vivid flavors of steeped dark

fruit with mocha, toffee, loam

and gravelly undertones that

saturate the long finish. $44

Rolling Bay 2013

Old Vine Cabernet



Nose: Gravelly aromas of

red berries, floral violet

and pencil lead. Taste:

Concentrated, fine-tuned

and deftly balanced with

polished tannins. Loam and

tobacco notes are framed

by ample flavors of cassis,

black cherry and anise. $34

Woodward Canyon

2013 Walla Walla Valley



Nose: Aromatic peach,

apricot, bright citrus essence,

almond and a whiff of vanilla.

Taste: Sleek, harmonious

and seamless with peach,

apple, lime and delicate spice

over a framework of polished

minerality. The finish is firm

and remarkably balanced. $66

Upland Estates

2011 Old Vine

Cabernet Sauvignon


Nose: Dark red fruit mingled

with graphite, sage, mulberry

spice and coffee bean. Taste:

Supple and concentrated, with

lovely complex layers of gravel,

tobacco, red berries, currant,

blue plum and dried basil. A

sheen of minerality and lush

tannins coat the long finish. $36

Tapteil Vineyard

2012 Red Mountain

Cabernet Sauvignon


Nose: Red and black fruit,

tobacco, violet and exotic

spice. Taste: Pure, rich and

full-bodied with blackberry,

cherry and plum supported by

granular tannins and accents

of cocoa, vanilla, ganache

and tea. The finish reveals

expressive earthy notes. $54

Seven Hills 2013

Ciel du Cheval

Vintage Red Wine


Nose: Black fruit, earth and

spice. Taste: Powerfully built

with distinctive personality,

this Bordeaux varietal blend

is firm and focused, with

dense flavors of cassis, red

berry, blackberry, leather,

cocoa, minerality and firm

tannins. $45

Fidelitas 2010

Block One Cabernet



Nose: Dark red fruit, dried

herbs and graphite. Taste:

Distinctive earth-driven

flavors of wet stone and dried

basil interwoven with subtle

black fruit. Firmly structured

with fine chalky tannins that

persist on the finish with

notes of loamy soil. $100

Kestrel 2012 Signature

Series Old Vine Merlot


Nose: Dark red and black fruit,

tobacco, sage and vanilla.

Taste: A Cab-lover’s Merlot,

this red is tightly wound with

well-integrated firm tannins,

and an earthy core of deep

rooted minerality, backed by

intriguing notes of black olive,

anise, dried herbs, cola, cassis

and dark red fruit. $50


Sagemoor (Bacchus)




Woodward Canyon






Ciel du Cheval














Columbia Valley


Snipes Mountain


Walla Walla Valley


Snipes Mountain


Red Mountain


Red Mountain


Horse Heaven Hills


Yakima Valley

39 Washington Tasting Room.com Washington Tasting RooM.com 40

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