WALLA WALLA, Wash. – I am acquainted with a wine salesman who once told me that climate change was pushing the grape growing regions of the Northern Hemisphere farther north.
Interesting concept, I thought, and apparently true as we see more and more viniculture outside of the more temperate regions of our country.
One such area is the Columbia Valley in the state of Washington, specifically an area around Walla Walla. There are some mighty good wines coming out of this region and the reputation of the growing number of producers has begun to reach beyond the Northwest.
Our recent trip to Portland, Ore., included a planned detour through Walla Walla, as we were acquainted with at least two producers whose wines we enjoy very much. One such place is Bergevin Lane.
One thing that makes this particular winery special is that two women are the principals, Annette Bergevin and Amber Lane. To be sure, it’s not the only winery in North America run primarily by women, but they are in a distinct minority. They know their stuff and proved it to me originally at a dinner featuring their wines – six courses, including dessert, with Bergevin Lane products to match with each.
They produce an outstanding reserve Cabernet Sauvignon they call Intuition, and we made it a point to get to this winery specifically for this wine. As the women point out, making a great wine starts with intuition, and they had a hunch that blending cabernet sauvignon with petit verdot, cabernet franc and merlot grapes would make a great tasting wine. Their intuition told them further to leave the wine unfiltered, letting time in the barrel and then in the bottle work their magic. You know all the clichés about women’s intuition. I’m a believer that Annette and Amber have it.
We also bought their vigonier, regular cab-sav, pinot noir from grapes they bought in Oregon and their citrusy Calico White.
I first became acquainted with L’Ecole No. 41 with a dartboard pick at a steakhouse in Spokane. I had asked our waiter for some guidance, but it soon became clear that he knew little to nothing about wine, so I closed my eyes and let my index finger pick the wine blind. How lucky am I?
L’Ecole No. 41 is one of the star producers in the Columbia Valley. The winery is located about 11 miles west of Walla Walla, and they are in a converted schoolhouse, hence the name.
Their best-known product is the estate-grown Merlot, but there are a few blends we managed to pick up that I haven’t seen on any wine lists yet. The first, known as Perigee, is a blend from their Seven Hills Vineyard and I’m at a bit of a loss to understand the thinking behind the name, because they make another called Apogee. The former means the low point of an orbit, while the latter means the high point. Our palates told us to buy the Perigee and not the Apogee, so if I were naming them, I might have switched the names based on our opinions of each.
Windblown loess and geologic good fortune created the soil mixture for L’Ecole to grow these vines, including an outstanding white they call Luminesce. It’s beautifully made and has interesting notes of citrus in the background, but also two other tastes come forward – surprisingly lychee – and a little melon.
To be certain, grape growing and winemaking have been helped immeasurably by advances in science, virtually guaranteeing decent product from hundreds and hundreds of wineries.
But there are a select few that go beyond decent and Bergevin Lane and L’Ecole No. 41 are two that, in my opinion, surpass all expectations.
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