Posted by Clive on Thursday, February 18, 2010
Two observations about Laurelhurst Cellars are apparent before you even get to taste the wine. First, Greg, Gabe and Dave are incredibly nice and down to earth guys. Also, the barrel room is harder to find than you would imagine. Thank you Tom Tom.
I contacted Gabe Warner, the winemaker at Laurelhurst Cellars, about the Washington Syrah Terroir post I recently did. Gabe invited me down to Laurelhurst to pick up the wine and he said "...plan on staying awhile and we'll taste through some of the barrels."
This is where I say sure, see you when?
When Gwynne and I found the "tasting room", Gabe invited us in and explained a little bit about how Laurelhurst Cellars got started. Gabe got his start making beer in California studying at UC Davis and working at a Bay Area microbrewery. When he moved to the Seattle area, Gabe brought his beverage and chemistry background to the creation of the Laurelhurst wines. Gabe partnered with his neighbors from the Laurelhurst neighborhood: Greg, an experienced wine afficionado, and Dave Halbgewachs, an experienced wine buyer.
The three started out making wine for each other and their friends. The first three years were in Gabe's basement. They quickly outgrew that space, and moved to the back room of Greg's business, their current location. Laurelhurst Cellars is up to their 7th vintage with their 2009 wines in the barrel.
We got around to the tasting and we had a hell of a good time. The Laurelhurst guys took us through a good chunk of their 08s. We started out with a Cabernet Franc followed by a Boushey Vineyards Merlot. They've made an effort to really focus on varietals as opposed to blends because they want to showcase the excellence of Washington fruit. When they do blend, they've put a lot of effort into figuring out the balance of how to best highlight a particular varietal.
We moved on to the amazingly inky and dark Zephyr Petite Sirah from Horse Heaven Hills AVA, part of only 80 acres of Petite Sirah in Washington state. From there we moved on to Klipsun Vineyards Merlot. To date, Laurelhurst Cellars has been using 100% new French oak, but as they've accumulated barrels, they're moving towards blends of new and neutral oak, though they do love the vanilla and toasty elements that the oak gives their wine.
As we tasted Gabe and Greg explained that an important part of their winemaking process is the conflict that the three of them go through when they decide on the blending ratios. They discuss and taste and hash out the balance and structure until they arrive at what they're looking for. Greg, though, is a little old school in his analysis: he knows that the wine is right when it gives him goosebumps. As they've gone through their blending process, they've noticed distinct changes in their palates that have affected how they make their wines. These changes have only been for the better and we'll get to benefit in the long run.
You can find Laurelhurst Cellars in a number of Seattle area retailers, and pouring their wines at the SSAW events. Do yourself a favor and check out their wines.