When Jay Miller of Wine Advocate magazine traveled to Washington state in 1990, he said he was able to visit all 42 wineries operating in the entire state in a very short time. That wasn’t an unimpressive number considering that the first winemakers in Washington, Gary Figgins and Rick Small, started making wine in their garages in 1970. By October 2009, Washington had 600 registered wineries, more than 100 located in the Walla Walla American Viticultural Area alone. That was up from four in 1990.
A few Washington wines are well-known in the metro, especially Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, Snoqualmie and Domaine Ste. Michelle. What those wineries all have in common is Allen Shoup. While Figgins and Small went on to inspire L’Ecole 41 and focus on small production, Shoup brought modern winemaking technology and mass production to Washington.
Shoup retired from Stimson Lane wine group a decade ago, and with the encouragement of Robert Mondavi, he decided to create a network of wineries to produce wines that could compete with the world’s finest. The project is called Long Shadows, and the wines are receiving critical acclaim. They are now available in Oklahoma.
Allan Whetstone, wine manager at Byron’s Liquor Warehouse, 2322 N. Broadway, has one of the largest selections of Long Shadows wines in the metro. In fact, he has the entire line, six reds and one white.
“The line is about four vintages old,” Whetstone said. “It started with Allen Shoup. He wanted to make wines that could compete with the world’s greatest, so he hired winemakers who knew how to make the varietals in the Columbia Valley. He didn’t just hire any winemakers, though; Allen Shoup found some of the best winemakers in the world to showcase Washington’s wine industry.”
Those winemakers include Agustin Huneeus Sr., of Quintessa and Faust fame, John Duval, longtime winemaker of Penfolds Grange, Randy Dunn of Dunn Vineyards in Napa Valley and Michel Rolland, whom Whetstone called “one of the most in-demand consultants in the world.”
Rolland brought his Merlot experience to Pedestal, the Merlotdriven blend of the Long Shadows line.
“The wine is extraordinarily ripe,” Whetstone said. “It has Rolland’s signature all over it, including the generous application of new oak.”
Whetstone said the Poet’s Leap Riesling is the highest level of quality for the price in the group, but he also recommended Pirouette, the Bordeaux style blend from Huneeus and Philippe Melka. The wines are located in various retails stores throughout the metro, including Broadway Wine Merchants, 824 N. Broadway; Spirit Shop, 1117 Garver in Norman; and Edmond Wine Shop, 1520 S. Boulevard.
Included in the wineries that have started making Washington and Columbia Valley wines are other familiar names. Domaine Serene, an Oregon-based winery famous for Pinot Noir, also makes Rockblock “SoNo” Syrah, from Walla Walla Valley fruit. The area of the Walla Walla Valley and Columbia Valley straddles the southern Washington and northeastern Oregon border. The Rockblock is a big, dense Syrah, with layers of black fruit, cola, licorice and cocoa flavors.
King Estate is another Oregon-based winery known for Pinot Noir. It uses fruit from both Oregon and Washington Columbia Valley vineyards in its NxNW Cabernet. The wine is priced less than $25 and is widely available in the metro.
For the value-conscious shopper, Columbia Crest wines remain one of the best values in the metro. Consistently good Riesling, Merlot and Cabernet have helped these wines reinvent themselves. Available in three lines — Reserve, Grand Estates and Two Vines — the wines are garnering ratings in the high 80s from Robert Parker and Wine Spectator, exceptionally good scores for value wines.
Milbrandt represents a completely different Columbia Valley winery. With a family farm in the area since the 1950s, the Milbrandts understood the area, the climate and the business of agriculture. That has translated well into moderately priced and undervalued Cabernet and Merlot. Both are rich, juicy and layered, with soft tannins and good structure. They’re available at Hob Nob Robs, 2201 W. Main in Norman, and La Baguette, 7408 N. May.