A frequent reader of The Oregon Wine Blog tipped me off to a man by the name of Craig Mitrakul. While I hadn't heard of Craig, I was familiar with some of his handiwork: Craig held posts as the assistant winemaker at both Ponzi Vineyard in the Willamette Valley and Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla before becoming the winemaker at both Ryan Patrick and Saint Laurent Estate Winery.
More recently, Craig and his wife Danielle have struck out on their own in the creation of Crayelle Cellars. Craig has been called "one of the up and coming wine making stars in Washington" by Wine Press NW. Crayelle Cellars just released their first vintage in August of 2009, a 2007 Syrah and 2008 Dry Riesling. Craig's choice of syrah and riesling was a result of his coming up through the world of wine; Riesling came from his East Coast roots and his time in the Finger Lakes of New York state, while the focus on Syrah came from working a harvest in Australia. All Craig's fruit comes from the Ancient Lakes area of the Columbia Valley. Currently under application for an AVA status, this area is a bit further north and at a higher altitude than much of the valley. I think this is one of the keys to the wine that Craig is crafting. The labels on the Crayelle wines include three words that represent the philosophy of Crayelle; balance, character and longevity. I can say with certainty that the Crayelle wines have balance in spades. Both wines are 100% varietals made in small lots, around 70 cases of each.
The Crayelle Syrah ($26) is refined and elegant with a fine and smooth finish. Craig sent me a bottle of each to sample and stressed that he's making wine to be enjoyed with food. We paired it with a shrimp bisque and shrimp corn cakes. It had subtle pepper notes and red fruit with what Gwynne described as a "nutty" finish; I'd call it almost smoky. It was a very good match for the subtly spicy notes of the shrimp corn cakes. What really stood out for me with Craig's wine, particularly the Syrah, was how it departed from the majority of the varietal produced here in Washington. The Crayelle Syrah provides a different experience and a chance to expand your horizons (and your palate) when it comes to Washington Syrah. In this Syrah you find a new potential AVA showcased in a wine that reveals itself slowly, letting the fruit speak for itself. Many Washington Syrahs are big and bold; Crayelle appears a bit more intellectual and layered.
The Dry Riesling ($16) is done in an Alsatian style. The wine is crisp and aromatic with notes of citrus fruits all the way from the nose through the palette. The wine's acidity is very well balanced and it is an excellent food wine. This is a wine that will win over those wine drinkers who believe that Riesling and its sweetness are not for them. There is a minerality that is present amidst the fruit accents, but it doesn't result in a chalky wine that I feel you often get with drier style Rieslings. Instead you find a wine that is light and bright on the palate.
I found his wines to be about substance and subtlety; the Crayelle Syrah isn't the party guest who draws attention to themselves, raising their voice and shouting tales of their exploits across the room; rather, you learn the personality through an extended and shared conversation. Craig shared that the goal at Crayelle is layers of flavor and texture on the palate. They're not interested in hitting you over the head with their wine.
Variety is what makes wine so enjoyable. If every cork we popped tasted the same, the conversation would be boring and short. If you're willing to "listen," I think you'll find something very interesting in the wines coming out of Crayelle Cellars. These are wines that have depth, balance, and character. And if Crayelle's first release is any indication, longevity won't be a problem either.