A Cabernet Sauvignon grape grown in Walla Walla will not taste the same as a Cabernet Sauvignon grape grown on Red Mountain near Benton City -- no matter what. The soils are not the same, the weather is not exactly the same and the vineyard techniques are different.
Mike Scott, winemaker for Lone Canary Winery in Spokane, looks for a distinctive grape to make his wines. He looks for a flavor profile that ultimately expresses where the grape originated, a ripeness of the fruit and an understated elegance that makes his wine a good match with food. Scott does not make hedonistic fruit bombs that are nearly undrinkable with any food -- he creates wines that complement food.
For years, Scott purchased grapes from the DuBrul Vineyard in Sunnyside, Wash., in the Yakima Valley. However, he never made a vineyard-designated wine until he bottled his 2003 Vineyard Reserve, a red blend of 60 percent Merlot and 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, all from DuBrul.
"I knew once I tasted the wines in the barrel that they had what it takes -- distinction, brightness to the fruit and elegance," Scott says. "The acids in the fruit were perfect for matching with food, and the wine really showcased all the vineyard characteristics."
Wine will often have a short period of time in barrel when it is awkward. Sometimes the flavors will simply disappear -- meaning that the fruit is closed and there is nothing unique about it. That generally blows off, however, and the fruit flavors come back. With the DuBrul Reserve, Scott says the wine never lost its flavors.
"I knew it was special, and I didn't want to lose it by blending it with fruit from any other vineyard," Scott says. "I am convinced that the DuBrul fruit is one of the best-kept secrets in Washington."
Hugh Shiels planted his DuBrul vineyard in 1992 on 45 acres. His vineyard has steep, rocky terrain with south-facing slopes that overlook the Yakima Valley. Over the centuries, the wind has carried ash from the Cascade volcanoes and deposited it on the basalt. Add a few cataclysmic floods from Lake Missoula, and you have a variety of soil components that will affect the flavors of what is grown in the vineyard -- the region's terroir.
Shiels grows six varietals -- Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Riesling. His clients include Owen Roe (based in Oregon), Tamarack (Walla Walla), Woodward Canyon Winery (Walla Walla) and Wineglass Cellars (Zillah). He crops his vineyards low -- where many farmers will take four to five tons of fruit per acre, Shiels takes 2.5 tons. Vineyard managers say it is to get more intensity from the grapes. Of course, less fruit per acre means less money, so the prices are adjusted accordingly.
"You will taste the intensity of our grapes in the wines produced from our vineyard," says Shiels, who has been in Sunnyside since 1976 and who by day is an orthopedic surgeon. "The fruit is bright -- bing cherry, deep notes of blackberry and blueberry. Our Chardonnay has unique tropical fruits, and our Rieslings have floral flavors, peach and apricot."
To get the most flavors in a grape, Shiels says his crew crops the vines to get the most optimal exposure to sunlight. Water is used sparingly, producing small berries and clusters, but it is the intensity of the grape that matters. The plant is sending out all its energy to the vine, thinking it is water starved. The concentration creates a unique flavor profile in the subsequent wine.
When Scott picks up his fruit from DuBrul, he's like a kid in a candy store, anticipating the stylish flavors that will ultimately become his flagship, premium wine. Scott's blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is the perfect dinner companion that will bring a uniqueness to the table and to the meal.
Lone Canary produced only 145 cases of the 2003 DuBrul Reserve; it is still available at the winery, but not for long.
Try it With... & r & The 2003 DuBrul Vineyard Reserve is a blend of 60 percent Merlot and 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, but 100 percent of it comes from the DuBrul Vineyard. What you will find in the glass begins with cinnamon spice, raspberries, blackberries, sarsparilla, cola and charred oak. The raspberries re-emerge in a juicy form, followed by sweet tannins and a delicious finish. This wine expresses all the depth, elegance, structure and openness that is characteristic of this vineyard. Try it with spring lamb and roasted vegetables, or even planked salmon. Owner Hugh Shiels says Cabernet Sauvignon produced from his vineyards go particularly well with chocolate.