Gifford Hirlinger is one of the many family-run, family-owned wineries you’ll find in the Walla Walla area. It produces wines from the estate vineyard around the winery and has won quite a bit of acclaim for its efforts.
This tasty Tempranillo is a good example of how good this varietal can be from Washington State and is one I’d highly encourage both fans of the grape and newcomers to check out.
Vineyard: 100% Estate
Total Produced: 98 cases
Retail Price: $34.00
On the nose: Peppered plums, shoe leather, dark chocolate and bramble with a hint of forest floor.
On the palate: A nearly sublime mix of spice, blackened fruits, grilled leather, tobacco and spiced dark chocolate. Stellar mid palate with acids that “wake up to greet you” on the mid palate. An absolutely delightful Tempranillo which does a good job of showcasing this varietal from Washington State. If this Spanish varietal is on your brain from Washington, you’ll find few finer.
WALLA WALLA, WA- Originally created to highlight several of the leading wine varieties produced in the Walla Walla Valley wine region and provide an opportunity to learn more about these varieties and how they compare across some of the world’s leading wine producing regions, the 2013 Celebrate wine event drew 472 attendees from throughout the continental United States and Hawaii. Attendees purchased 905 tickets to six different events throughout the weekend.
Event organizers revealed that over 65 percent of the attendees were visiting from more than 50 miles away. According to Duane Wollmuth, executive director of the event’s organizer, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, “we saw visitors from all parts of the U.S., including Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas, Tennessee, Hawaii, California, the Pacific Northwest states, and elsewhere. This is a great testament to the attraction of not only the Celebrate event, but also our wines and the Walla Walla community.”
Although the 2013 Celebrate weekend had a focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, attendees also had an opportunity to taste many other Walla Walla Valley wines at three wine receptions. In addition, they were afforded a unique opportunity to learn more about and compare how Cabernet Sauvignon wines differ between the Walla Walla and Napa Valleys. This comparison was made possible at a panel presentation and tastings of 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon wines provided by three Walla Walla Valley winemakers (Rick Small – Woodward Canyon, Chris Figgins – Leonetti Cellar, and Jean Francois Pellet – Pepper Bridge Winery) and three Napa Valley winemakers (Phillip Corallo-Titus – Chappellet, Jeff Ames – Rudius, and Landon Donley – Spottswoode Estate Winery). Another highlight of the weekend was the appearance and presentations by Patrick Comiskey (Wine & Spirits Magazine) and Paul Gregutt (Wine Enthusiast Magazine), two of IntoWine.com’s top 100 most influential people in the U.S. wine industry, and Dr. Kevin Pogue, geologist and noted wine industry consultant.
“We believe the weekend’s format was a big draw,” stated Wollmuth. Over 95 percent of attendees felt the weekend’s schedule was unique and that it provided something new. One attendee described the Celebrate weekend as “Awesome.” Another summarized their Celebrate experience as having a “Great topic, great venue(s), fun town and terrific weather.” Other key findings of the attendee survey were that 92 percent rated the weekend as Very Good or Excellent, and over 93 percent said they were Very or Extremely Likely to recommend the event to a friend.
Headline sponsors of the 2013 Celebrate event were Banner Bank and Wine & Spirits Magazine. Principal community sponsors included the City of Walla Walla, Port of Walla Walla, Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, and Tourism Walla Walla.
The Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine event will continue next year with a focus on Syrah, and a comparison of the Walla Walla Valley to the world’s other leading Syrah producing regions. Guest Syrah winemakers are expected to be announced by early fall, 2013. Next year’s Celebrate weekend is scheduled to take place on June 19 – 21.
Let’s face it, American Viticulture Areas are a “brand” – they’re a brand of a geographical area that grows grapes. They help customers become familiar with the various regions and sub-regions of vineyards all over the country. The reason wineries love them is because they can bottle wine, stamp a specific AVA on the bottle and assuming the potential customer knows the “brand” of that AVA, it could help sales.
There’s a strong argument that consumers around the USA and perhaps the world, know the “brand” of Walla Walla better than Columbia Valley – it’s cool to say and it’s a way cooler city to visit then the seemingly lifeless towns that litter the Columbia Valley. I know, personally, of many wine lovers who, when given a bottle of wine from Washington, will ask “is this from Walla Walla”? I can’t recall – ever – having someone from out of Washington State ask, “is this from Columbia Valley”? So I guess in that regard, the brand of the Walla Walla AVA is well on its way.
They say that the “devil is in the details” and when it comes to telling the story of the Walla Walla AVA, nothing could resound more true. While it’s true that the AVA bears the name of a Washington State city, the truth that’s not really being told per se is that 60% of the fruit from that AVA comes from Oregon and closer to 70% will be coming from there in the next year or so – how is that you ask?
AVAs are not at all bound by man-made boarders – they follow geographical areas and the Walla Walla AVA is only one of two in the entire USA that crosses state lines. So why is this a big deal? Well if you’re a grower or winery in the great state of Oregon then you’d want to make sure that people realize what’s going on in the northeast corner of that start and can hopefully rid themselves of the notion – once and for all – that Oregon only does great Pinot Noir.
Having the tremendously huge “brand” of the Willamette Valley is a blessing and somewhat of a curse in that the Pinot Noir produced there does in fact seem to overshadow all the great things Oregon is doing with other grapes – Bordeaux and Rhone varietals to be a bit more specific.
There are a couple of things to bear in mind when thinking of the Oregon side of this AVA – “the hills” and “the rocks” – if you ever hear those terms when speaking of wines made from the fruit of this region then you should know that “the rocks” is the area where wines such as the famous Cayuses Vineyards are made – i.e. tons of fruit, silky smooth but not very high acids. To the contrary, the grapes that come from the southern-most vineyards have higher elevation and low rock-counts have higher acids and tend to be a bit more food-friendly.
Here’s a quick run-down of some of the players who are helping to make this such an incredible wine area:
Seven Hills Vineyard Site:
Norm McKibben is one of the most prolific people in the Washington wine business – he’s been at it for longer than most, has invested millions of dollars and countless hours into making northwest wines better – he’s an owner in Pepper Bridge Winery as well as being often referred to as a “founding-father” of Walla Walla wine. But more importantly to this story is his backing of the Seven Hills Vineyard site just outside the town of Milton-Freewater.
Sitting at 235-acres, one of the things that makes this site so incredible is the various soil types and many micro-climates it encompasses. As you can see from the two pictures below, it starts out with an incredibly rocky, basalt-laden form of the earth near the top of the vineyard and as it drops down towards the valley floor turns into much softer soil.
Of course the views from up top are great, however, they also can help provide a sense of what the greater part of this AVA looks like from a topographical standpoint. One can easily see all the lush, green, almost endless land that abounds here so I hope it helps imprint a nice visual of what things look like the next time you sip on a wine from the “Seven Hills Vineyard” in the Walla Walla AVA.
This view is looking down the hill in a northwest direction towards the Tero Estate Winery (located just to the direct west of those grain silos).
Looking back up the hill of Seven Hills Vineyard, one can sort of get an idea of the levels of elevation we’re talking about here – anywhere from 850-1050ft.
Here we see one of the Estate Vineyards of Zerba Cellars – Cecil and Marilyn Zerb started this winery years ago, right near the heart of Milton-Freewater. Today it produces wines from a massive selection of varietals, many of which are sourced from their fruit on the Oregon side of the AVA. Just a few short years ago they hired winemaker Doug Nierman and have been winning tons of awards for his careful handling of their tasty fruit.
Located in downtown Milton-Freewater is the Watermill winery owned by the Brown family which got its start decades ago, growing apples in the local area. Today they have a cidery which produces around 80,000 cases of cider and of course the Watermill winery which is churning out around 4,000 cases.
Watermill’s passion, know-how and “get er’ done” mindset has placated very well for this relatively newcomer to the wine scene. Andrew Brown is the winemaker and as you can see from the video above, is about as down to earth as anyone gets.
Tero Estate Winery:
Another winery in the greater Milton-Freewater area is Tero Estate – started just a few short years ago by Doug and Jan Roskelly, this is a winery that has been garnering a ton of high praise for its ability to produce wines that reflect its own Windrow Vineyard and really showcase the terroir of that area just right down the hill from Seven Hills Vineyard.
I had the chance to sample their wines produce from their estate vineyards with Ashley Trout and can tell you, first-hand, that they are doing an admirable job on their wines and I’m excited for what their future holds.
Don Carlo Vineyards:
Tim and Lori Kennedy started this small winery not too long ago and have really done a great job making headway – yes, that is Tim of “Tim’s Cascade Style Chips”. This duo has Lori making the wine and Tim helping in the vineyard and in the sales. They produce only four wines at this time – a Cab, Merlot, Cab Franc and Chardonnay – all estate-grown.
Wrapping it up:
The next time you pick up any bottle of wine that is stamped with the “Walla Walla Valley” AVA you should get a hold of the winery and find out a bit more of where the fruit came from. Doing so may help give better insight to its origin and ultimately help everyone understand that the great state of Oregon is far more than just world-class Pinot Noir.
I’d encourage everyone to try a bottle from the wineries mentioned and make sure to ask if the wine is from the Oregon side – and ultimately anyone serious about Walla Walla wine owes it to themselves to visit the Milton-Freewater area and get to know the fruit and the people who are directly responsible for helping the Walla Walla “brand” look as good as it is.
Family-owned and operated Gifford Hirlinger resides right on the border of Washington and Oregon on well-named Stateline Road near Walla Walla. Its winemaker, Mike Berghan, loves what he does and if you ever get the chance to talk to him, you’ll see the passion teaming from him.
His family started the winery several years ago and have enjoyed a good amount of fanfare, awards and it’s no surprise. His wines tend to do a good job of reflecting the Walla Walla terrior without breaking the bank as many wines of that region tend to do.
Mike uses estate-grown fruit which means he has superior working-knowledge of the vineyard management and that helps help in making wines that don’t get in the way of the terrior coming through.
Case Production: 342
Varietal Composition: 79% Malbec, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Tempranillo
Barrel Aging: 18 Months
Oak Program: 40% New Hungarian Oak, 60% Neutral Hungarian Barrels
Nose: Spicy plums and blackberries have a date with a touch of cedar box and spice. Lots of dark, spicy fruit on the nose here.
Taste: Inky plumsauce with spiced blackberry jam on top. Good tannins, a touch of vanilla and dark chocolate. Really nice finish that lingers nicely.
It’s not too often we get the chance to see an up and coming winemaker from his/her humble beginnings – on the path to “wine rock-stardom” – this is the case with Sweet Valley Wines’ own Josh McDaniels and his team. Still fresh out of college, Josh’s zeal and passion for his wines is as clear as his witty and fun attitude on life, which I think is refected very much so in the wines he makes.
Sourcing the best fruit he can get his hands on from Walla Walla and Columbia Valley means that Josh is like the fat-kid in a candy store with a go-pass – except his liquid candy helps improve our lives. While there are pro’s and cons to sourcing fruit vs. estate (I get it, really) – I do think that for most smaller wineries having the flexability of multiple vineyards is a bonus.
Sweet Valley’s Righteous-series wines are more value-priced, QPR (quality-to-price ratio) -driven and are priced in such a way to help the winery get its products out to a larger audience and it makes sense in today’s economy.
2007 Righteous Malbec – W.E.P. Rating: 85%
Vineyard Source: Alice Vineyards at King Fuji Ranch on Wahluke Slope
Cooperage: 18-months in 500 liter puncheons – French and American oak
Cases produced: 92
Nose: Red vines licorice that’s been doused in white pepper, cherry soda and some blackberries and cinnamon stick.
Taste: Cherry blossom, apple core, black peppercorn, bosch pear (I know and odd one in a red wine), tobacco leaf, rose petal. Excellent mouthfeel, lingering finish – a no-brainer of a Malbec for the money.
A very youthful wine that honestly would do well to sit in the bottle another year or so – very tight tannin structure with good fruit forward action. A solid effort from a young winemaker which should please those looking to try a decent alternative to the infamous Argentina malbec commotion.
2007 Righteous Red Wine – W.E.P. Rating: 90%
Coulmiba Valley (80% Walla Walla Valley)80% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Syrah, and 2% Petit Verdot
Vineyard Sources: Forgotten Hills, 7 Hills, Arete Vineyards and Alice Vineyards
Taste: Cherry coke, white pepper, cacise, rhubarb, black pepper, cherry-flavored cough syrup. Good general mouthfeel with tight, young tannins. This wine will be better in the next year or two – it’s very youthful right now and a fun dinner wine or party-time red.