Tertulia Cellars 2008 Phinny Hill Vineyard carmenere

C’MON, MAN! On the heels of Greg P. Utt’s bogus recommendations of wines follows Justin Bieber’s endorsed prepaid debit cards. Just like the Uttster’s panning the bullshit flute to espouse “wine writing responsibility,” these debit cards are meant to teach adolescents about “financial responsibility.” Riiiight. Stupid is as stupid says. Subway recently acquiesced by admitting their “foot long” sandwiches were indeed an inch shorter than advertised. The individual who tipped off the sandwich chain thought he was filing a complaint with Choad Enthusiast about Sean’s “three inch dipstick.” Then there was Shona666, who was interviewing a newbie winemaker recently. She was gushing over how great the wines were and that she was gonna tweet all her “friends” about Haystack Needle’s wines. Problem was… she was at Piccola Cellars. A nearby paying customer from Germany remarked, “Her idiocy could really fill a dirndl.” Last week, a 22 year-old from Pennsylvania tried to pull off a copycat crime by shoving 100 grams of cocaine in her cooch after returning from Tijuana. Who was she trying to copycat? Why, that would be Babs Winegal, of course! The Babs was returning from Spain with a sack full of white truffles in her anus when a fungal-sniffing TSA dog literally busted her ass at Customs. She thought the naturally growing mold in her bunghole would have provided proper camouflage the way she thinks she’s a “wine expert” by flirting her way onto tv. Did anyone notice the triumverate of bisexual social media wine trash in Jameson, Sean, and Anny planned a trip to Germany after hearing a scientist there is soliciting volunteers to be a surrogate mother to a cloned Neanderthal baby? Of course not! That’s because only Anny was eliminated as a fertile choice in a “Dear Paul”-tweet from the scientist and warned the other two to be silent on the humiliating defeat lest they be served with her restaurant’s crapass Bungpao chicken. And if you think the only retards in the area are wine bloggers, consider this: meanwhile in Fife, a naked man was seen running from a motel room, being chased by a 40 year-old man wielding a hammer. Local cops stated the victim was lured into the room from an online advertisement for a “sensual massage” and was about to have sex with a 37 year-old woman when the 40 year-old busted into the room and in a fit of staged rage, grabbed a hammer on a nearby table. No confirmation yet that Josh was boning his old flame from Alabama… True story.

In a similar vein, the carmenere grape suffers from a denial of acceptance amongst both winemakers and wine consumers.

Carmenere, at one time, represented the wines of the Pessac Leognan region in France. Despite its trouble with coulure and the low yields that followed, carmenere could be found in all the vineyards from the First Growths on down. The final blow to its European demise arrived with the Phylloxera insect, starting in 1863 that decimated the European wine industry. When time came to replant, carmenere was given the shaft and is still amongst the most obscure of oddities (less than 4 hectares) grown in France. Thankfully, around the time of its final days of glory in the mid-1800’s, European settlers were colonizing the South American continent and it is thought that some arrived toting carmenere cuttings. This is the only logical explanation as to why, in 1991, scientists revealed that Chile’s famed “merlot” vines were actually that of France’s mythical carmenere.

Carmenere, as Chile has proven, is easy to mistake for merlot and is thought to be a distant “cousin” of merlot. Only an astute viticulturist or ampelographer could discern the differences between the two varietals as carmenere ripens in between that of merlot and cabernet sauvignon, and the underside of carmenere leaves turn a reddish (carmine) color. Carmenere’s aliases include grand vidure and biturica.

As for carmenere’s initial appearance in Washington, Seven Hills Vineyard appears to have first dibs back in 1997 when a member of Leonetti Cellar planted some cuttings. Hence, the first wine to be made with Washington carmenere can be traced to the 2001 cabernet sauvignon from Leonetti Cellar, containing 4% carmenere.

Dean Morrison of Morrison Lane Vineyard planted 1.9 commercial acres of carmenere in 1999. Why this is noted here is this vineyard became the source of Washington’s first bottled varietal carmenere made by Mark Alan Colvin, 58, formerly of Colvin Vineyards winery and currently rumored to be in Fort Collins, Colorado after a nasty personal challenge about six years ago.

Today, there are fewer Washington wineries producing carmenere wines than even tempranillo. The current roster includes: Beresan Winery (2009 – $29, Seven Hills Vineyard, 156 cases), Cooper Wine Company (2010 – $54, estate, Red Mountain AVA, 96 cases), Northwest Cellars (2009 – $42, Phinny Hill Vineyard, 35 cases), Otis Kenyon Wine (2007 – $36, cut with 8% cabernet sauvignon, Phinney (sic) Hill Vineyards and Pepper Bridge Vineyard, Horse Heaven Hills AVA), Piety Flats Winery (non-vintage – $28, Yakima Valley AVA), Reininger Winery (2007 – $48, Seven Hills Vineyard, 617 cases), Smasne Cellars (2009 – $36, Phinny Hill Vineyard, about 100 cases), and this one from Tertulia Cellars.

Tertulia Cellars started up in 2005 by an out-of-state owner and has gone through several personnel changes in its short life. The current winemaker is Ryan Richard Raber, 35, who also authors a Brix & Stone wine blog and is the former winemaker at Castillo de Feliciana Winery, which btw, will be opening a tasting room in Woodinville where Adytum Cellars held post next to the Tolt Pipeline trail. Ryan sharpened his skills at Walla Walla Community College’s Center for Viticulture and Enology, graduating in 2005. Before that, he graduated a proud Red Wolf at the greatest high school east of Woodinville. The other Ryan that works at the winery is the vineyard manager, appropriately named Ryan Driver, 33, who was formerly employed at Bejo Seed Company before the wine bug got him. And, the final disc that is the spine of the winery is current tasting room manager with the rhythmic name of Michelle Aichele. Michelle is a proud Cougar with a Bachelor’s degree in Education, and girl, she needs it when dealing with some of the overgrown adolescent yahoos that walk through the door.

Tertulia Cellars has its own estate vineyard, Riviere Galets, located in the better part of the Walla Walla Valley– Milton-Freewater, Oregon. Planted in 2008 with 12 acres, the vineyard hosts mostly Rhone-origin varietals in cinsault, counoise, carginan, grenache, mourvedre, and syrah along with oddballs tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon.

Even more of a head-scratcher is the number of offerings by this nearly 5000 cases/year producer. Fifteen, at last count. Viognier, rose, malbec, and merlot, in addition to the blends are spotted throughout the lineup. That’s a LOT of winemaking for that output. Compare that to a winery of similar production like Guardian Cellars where the main focus is on Bordeaux and Rhone grapes and we begin to understand the forthcoming question. Does it ever benefit the consumer when a winery spreads itself out so thin, meaning the making of wines without a “focus”?

There are no absolute answers to this, as examples can be found for both positive and negative positions. It’s just that… there are more “positive” examples from wineries that zero in on a region’s grapes, be it the big SIX “Bordeaux” red varietals (sorry, I’m a traditionalist in that sense) or the elegant wines of the “Rhone” region, that tend to have a higher level of consistency than those who take the equivalent of an AK-47 approach where a winery would offer catawba wine if it was grown here. And, that leads us into the next dilemma…

Phinny Hill Vineyard is one of the more known vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA in south central Washington, with wineries such as Buty Winery, Dunham Cellars, and the Smasne conglomerate taking grapes. Owner Dick Beightol started planting grapevines in 1998, just up the road from Champoux Vineyard. The vineyard’s elevation stands at 780 feet and has superb heat units and air drainage which gets translated into its Brodeaux reds as “finesse and structure.”

So, like what happened? Carmenere can be a wonderful, wonderful full-bodied red on its own. Black fruits, earth, peppers. Or, it can be a stinky herbal mess when not handled properly. At the same time, it takes a sophisticated wine drinker to appreciate the nuances that a varietal like carmenere can bring to the table. In other words, this is not a wine to brown bag at a truly “blind” tasting, unless it is made by a sharply skilled producer. Why? Because without advanced notice, there isn’t a single slugger in Woodinville that would go “Mmmm, Bell pepper!” after taking a hit of a hard carmenere wine. In order to appreciate carmenere’s unique charms (which is what also gives itself away), one should… no, one MUST expect that there will be a heady, peppery component, be it black, white, red, or green, and not immediately downgrade the wine into “flawed” territory. This is what gives carmenere its personality and hey, if it performed just like its Bordeaux brothers, then it would be everywhere. It is not. Say what you want, but it takes a truly sophisticated wine consumer to appreciate the strong character of carmenere wine. For all others, this is uncharted shores so go in with a wide open mind or don’t bother. Also, it helps to pair the wine with its strengths– Bordeaux reds with beef, and pepper. Think a black peppered sirloin with Bell pepper gravy.

Food pairing was hamburger with gravy, including the charred bits. Not averse.

Tasted at 59-66 degrees on the IR temp gun. Color: dark magenta. Nose: strong Bell pepper, black pepper, raspberry. Mouthfeel: velvety, medium-bodied. Tail trail: 6 seconds. Flavors: gritty black pepper, feral dark green underbrush, charred pork tips, black dirt, black currant, cracked leather, fading touch of cherry, subdued tannins.

Alcohol: 14.7%. Horse Heaven Hills AVA. 10% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot. 144 cases. Power: 1/5. Balance: 1/5. Depth: 1/5. Finesse: 1/5. Rated: 84. Value: $7. Paid: $30. Music pairing: “Uncharted Shores” by Uncharted Shores. This is WAwineman… uncorked, uneducated but not uncouth.

Addendum: Obviously, my research team mailed this one in… add the following wineries to the list of Washington carmenere producers:
Bartholomew Winery (2007 – $28, ‘Reciprocity’, 50% cabernet sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills AVA)
Basel Cellars (2007 – $29, estate Chelle Den Millie Vineyard, Columbia Valley AVA, 235 cases)
Bethany Vineyard & Winery (2010 – $??, Washington State)
Clearwater Canyon (Idaho) (2010 – $28, Phinny Hill Vineyard, Horse Heaven Hills AVA, 14.6% ABV, website available)
Covington Cellars (2009 – $??, Kiona Vineyards, Red Mountain AVA)
Dakota Creek Winery (2009 – $22, Rattlesnake Hills AVA)
El Corazon Winery (2007 – $32, ‘Tiger’s Blood’, Seven Hills Vineyard, about 100 cases)
Holmes Harbor Cellars (2009 – $34, Walla Walla Valley AVA, 79 cases, website available)
JM Cellars (2010 – $48, 5% Stillwater Creek Vineyard syrah, Seven Hills Vineyard and estate Margaret Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley AVA, website available)
Martinez & Martinez Winery (2010 – $36, ‘Dion Carlo’, Horse Heaven Hills AVA, website available)
Merry Cellars (2010 – $32, Seven Hills East Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley AVA, website available)
Morrison Lane Winery (2009 – $28, estate vineyard, Walla Walla Valley AVA, website available)
Nodland Cellars (2008 – $??, ‘Avant-garde’, probably less than 30 cases)
Nuthatch Cellars (Oregon) (2008 – $35, 5% syrah, Phinny Hill Vineyard, Horse Heaven Hills AVA, website available)
Red Sky Winery (2010 – $??, Red Mountain Vineyard, Red Mountain AVA)
Seven Hills Winery (2010 – $??, Walla Walla Valley AVA)
The Mortal Vintner (2009 – $47, ‘Flying Corpse’, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla AVA, 25 cases, website available)
Trio Vintners (2007 – $26, 5% Boushey Vineyard sangiovese, Ray Davis Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley AVA, 13.5% ABV, 46 cases)
Wawawai Canyon Winery (2010 – $17, rose wine, Walla Walla Valley AVA, 13.3% ABV, website available)
Wawawai Canyon Winery (NV (2007-2008) – $26, ‘Museum Blend’, 54% cabernet sauvignon, 23% petit verdot, Washington State, 13.5% ABV, website available)
Wawawai Canyon Winery (2007 – $31, ‘Jazz Blend’, malbec and cabernet sauvignon added, Columbia Valley AVA, 14.1% ABV, website available)
Whidbey Island Winery (2009 – $??)

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2 Responses to Tertulia Cellars 2008 Phinny Hill Vineyard carmenere

  1. csabernethy says:

    Finally, time to make a comment. At first, I was going to mention that you missed quite a few Carmenere producers on your list, but you redeemed yourself somewhat with your addendum. Using Cellar Tracker’s search, there are still several others out there that may still be available. I even got a note from Yakima Valley Vintners (Community College program) that they are releasing one this year.

    My first exposure to Carmenere was with Reininger several years ago. It was big, interesting, but did not catch my fancy the way other more recent releases have. My wine preferences have probably changed, but I would like to go back and taste Reininger’s again.

    I’m interested in Tertulia’s because of its grape source – Phinny Hill. I want to compare winemaker’s style against another favorite of mine, but don’t tell Coop I said that. His is fantastic, too! Still hoping to put together a showdown soon.

    I’ll let you know if that new release from YVCC is publicly available. I think it it very limited production.

  2. wawineman says:

    Ab,
    You are a treasured reader here and we cannot thank you enough for your kind insights. You won’t say it so I will– that was a weak-ass post to be considered a “Washington carmenere update.”

    Problem fixed.

    Although, the wineries listed in the addendum are somewhat partly to blame for not even bothering much to advertise that they made a carmenere wine. Merry Cellars was the only winery to provide a full tech sheet. The Mortal Vintner of Dayton had the creepiest website. And, there were a few wineries that do not even have an ordering site.

    What became noticeable from this post is that there are still only a handful of vineyards in the entire State growing carmenere– Phinny Hill, Seven Hills, and Morrison Lane are the most prominent, with Cooper Wine Company, Kiona Vineyards, Margaret, Ray Davis, and Red Mountain Vineyard filling out the roster. That’s it, after 15 years here.

    And yes, please update me on the YVCC effort!

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