Another WAwineman classic, 1st posted on April 25, 2010:
Tonight’s wine is a testament to patience and genius.
Beresan is the name of a district in northeast Odessa, Ukraine (look for Shyrokolanivka on maps) where Tom Waliser’s ancestors emigrated from Germany, lured by a generous offer from Russia’s ruler, Catherine the Great, to help settle the land after defeating the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish War (1787-1792). The offer included free land, freedom of religion, no taxes, and no Russian military service. They settled into a collection of several German communities, including Mennonites and Catholics, to form Beresan, which still exists to this day.
After many changes in the monarchy of Russia, those freedoms were taken away, leaving not much incentive to stay and battle through the severe winters, starvation, contagion, and other natural disasters. The area had also seen numerous wars, from the Napoleonic Wars, to the Crimean War, and a second Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878), but the Emancipation Reform of 1861 perhaps influenced the most change with the freedom of the serfs. Serf’s Up! This caused major economic and social changes, sometimes particularly violent, in Russia that eventually led to mass emigration from Russia to Canada, the U.S. and Latin America.
The Waliser family ended up in Canada and then settled in yet another vast wasteland that had German settlements, called North Dakota, a State that was only 23 years old then. As the U.S. entered the Great Depression, the family up and moved again, to Walla Walla. As you now know, patience in the face of tremendous challenges is the thread that is sewed into the Waliser lineage.
Tom Waliser was born and raised in the Walla Walla Valley on the family farm. After graduating from the University of Portland, Tom returned to the area and had a 15-year career as a horticultural consultant in the apple industry. In 1991, he was chosen to manage the new 10-acre Pepper Bridge Vineyard for Norm McKibben. He added Seven Hills West Vineyard in 1994, and also currently owns/manages the following vineyards: Yellow Jacket, Beresan Estate (2 acres), Waliser, Mirage (in Pasco), and Candy Mountain (in west Richland). That’s a total of 275 acres of wine grapes, in addition to 200 acres of Walla Walla Valley apples.
The Waliser family (Tom, wife Debbie, and son Tim) founded their winery in November, 2003 and a few weeks after, opened their winery/tasting room in an immaculately restored 1926 red barn, four miles south of Walla Walla (4169 Pepper Bridge Road). While Tom deferred the winemaking to a L’Ecole No 41 alumnus, Tom Glase, he stays active within the wine industry, sitting on the Board of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers (8 years, 2 terms), Chair and Director of the Washington Wine Industry Foundation (two terms), and his winery and most of his vineyards belong in Vinea (the Winegrower’s Sustainable Trust of the Walla Walla Valley).
That Tom Waliser thrives in so many demanding positions of high regard is no surprise when observing his famliy’s roots. After all, if he said he preferred to battling the Napoleons, the Ottomans, and the Czars over growing some of the very best red-wine grapes in Washington State, then I’d say he was full of Bolshevik. But, I digress.
Tom has stated a preference for: long walks on the beach, cooking, finger painting and naps in the afternoon after drinking Washington State wine, so he does have a recipe for de-stressing, Walla Walla-style. Perhaps, one day I will be the one to teach him the magic of paddleboarding.
I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Tom’s supporting cast. Genius in an individual is defined by those who support him/her.
Tom’s better half, Debbie, manages the tasting room and the offices of the winery and the vineyards. Son Tim is a co-owner of the winery with the hope he will eventually take over his dad’s responsibilities.
Tom Glase, born and raised on Bainbridge Island, is the winemaker and also owns and makes the wines for nearby Balboa Winery, which produces 2100 cases/year of all red wines.
Tim Pratton is the vineyard manager, assistant cellar-rat and winemaker.
Tim Rogan and Cisca Van Heezik are charged with outside sales and assist with winery operations.
I recently did an e-interview with Tom Waliser and he generously responded with insightful answers to my off-sided questions.
(1) Since carmenere is not widely grown anywhere outside of Chile, I asked Tom if he sourced the vines from what Colvin Winery utilized. Now, if I had bothered to read my own review of Colvin’s carmenere (Morrison Lane Vineyard), I would not have wasted his time with this, but he kindly mentioned that this bottle is 100% Seven Hills Vineyard that he planted in 1998 and farmed until 2002.
(2) The vines originated from Chile (by way of Bourdeaux) and “were made into green plants in California as certified plants.”
(3) Tom planted carmenere because he “always thought it would be a unique and interesting wine. Not the easiest variety to grow, (but) age on the vine has been a great help in showing the complexity and unique flavor profile to be found. Originally, I thought of using it as a blending variety, but it overwhelms everything we add it to, so the decision to make it a stand alone variety was made.” And, that explains its exclusion from his Stone River red wine (“just not what the Stone River flavor profile I am looking for.”) As a side note, carmenere if poorly-farmed and/or plucked too early can have a strong herbally and Bell pepper character.
(4) On comparing with Chilean carmenere: “…they have a lot of experience (growing and making carmenere) and they have old vineyards…kind of a winning formula.”
(5) Tom’s received favorable feedback in his tasting room and in the market from all demographics and insists carmenere is a great wine to pair with almost any meat dish and spicy food.
(6) Beresan’s first vintage was in 2003 but winemaker Tom Glase did not care for working with carmenere due to the overpowering white pepper and green herbal flavors so there were no 2004 and 2005 vintages. They found the key to subduing the unattractive primary flavors was to keep it in barrel for two years (a test of patience that is rewarded with genius).
Tasted at 55 degrees with Sam Choy’s beef tomato recipe (excellent pairing). Color: dark purple. Nose: black fruit, purple flowers, very slight black pepper, milk chocolate. Mouthfeel: featherweight. Tail trail: 4 seconds. Flavors: French oak, blackberry, soft white pepper, tannins. Balance: peppery presence with oak and black fruit. Power: heavy with black fruit, pepper, and oak. Depth: 3 to 4 layers. Finesse: thick black and spicy wine.
Walla Walla Valley AVA. Seven Hills Vineyard. Harvested October 3, 2007. Brix at harvest: 25.7. TA 0.56%. Fermented in 1 and ½ ton bins, punched down 2-3 times daily, then pressed and malo’d in barrel. Aged 21 months in 20% new French oak and 80% neutral barrels. Bottled 4 months prior to release.
Alcohol: 14.8% (tech sheet stated 14.1%). 200 cases. Released November 1, 2009. Music pairing: “Genius of Love” by Tom Tom Club. Rated: 91. Value: $30 . Paid: $29. This is WAwineman…uncorked, uneducated but not uncouth.
Thanks Tom!, my faith in Washington carmenere is now in your hands.