The Tasting Panel magazine

September 2015

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OVER THE TABLE T he Merlot grape took center stage at this year's Celebrate Walla Walla festival back in June. While at the festival, I visited the 2,700-acre SeVein Vineyard, a commercial project established in 2008 and located on the southern border of the Walla Walla AVA. The owners are Norm McKibben (Pepper Bridge), Marty Clubb (L'Ecole No. 41), Gary Figgins and Chris Figgins (father and son of Leonetti) and Bob Rupar (Nelson Irrigation). "When SeVein is fully developed it will double the size of [grape] acerage in Walla Walla," said McKibben, who was leaning on the railing of a gazebo, gazing out over the property. Eight hundred acres of SeVein are still available for sale, in blocks of 40 acres or larger. Within SeVein is the celebrated Seven Hills Vineyard, which McKibben purchased in 1994 and began expanding shortly therafter. Near the top of the property, at around 1,300 feet, sits Marty Clubb's estate vineyard named Ferguson. A tour of Ferguson revealed very thin soils on top of fractured basalt. Clubb explained that 100 tons of compost—green crops like spring oats and arugula— were plowed back into the field, which created enough of a "bio mass" for his young vines to root themselves in the basalt. Asked about some of the Merlot planted there, Clubb believes the grape can produce wines of merit on its own and as a blending variety. "If you look at what dirt comes out of basalt, it's iron-rich red clay," said Clubb, who pointed out that an exposed wall of basalt we were standing in front of looked "rusty" because "it's all oxidized iron." Clubb talked of the iron-rich clay soils on the Right Bank of Bordeaux as playing a role in restricting water access to vines, but believes the same soil delivers "bigger tannic structure." Ferguson's high elevation also helps protect the vines from frost damage. "We have a longer growing season here—bud break is earlier than any other vineyards, but we pick later, which translates to more physi- ological development in the fruit. Cool air coming out of the Blue Mountains hits the alluvial fan that [the town of] Milton-Freewater is on and runs down through the Rocks District—but here, it runs around us at this elevation." "As some of the lava hardened these little vesicular bubbles formed—like pouring a beer on a hot surface," explained Clubb. Norm McKibben and Marty Clubb. Many of Washington's wine regions are built off these up-buckled basalt ridges. Tasting Highlights Pepper Bridge Winery 2012 Merlot, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley Blended with Cab Franc and Malbec, this wine is opulent with a juicy core redolent of black cherries, blueberries leading to spicy, dusty, espresso finish. 1,147 cases, $50. Pepper Bridge Winery 2012 "Trine," Walla Walla Valley A Bordeaux blend of power and finesse (57 percent of the fruit hails from Seven Hills), showing lofty red floral notes, lush black raspberry and blueberry, hints of graphite and mocha on a long finish. 711 cases, $65. L'Ecole N° 41 2012 Estate Merlot, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley Bright violets and lavender, cherries and cedar, mouth-gripping tannin, supple and elegant. 1,060 cases, $36. L'Ecole N° 41 2012 Bordeaux Blend, Ferguson Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley A blend of Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc and Malbec, impeccably structured showing black cherries, sweet tobacco, graphite and subtle minty mocha character. 890 cases, $59. A LOOK AT THE SEVEIN VINEYARD PROJECT, PEPPER BRIDGE WINERY'S ICONIC SEVEN HILLS ESTATE VINEYARD AND FERGUSON VINEYARD, A NEW ESTATE PROPERTY FOR L'ECOLE N° 41 story and photos by Jonathan Cristaldi Tastings in Walla Walla Valley

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