February 14, 2008 in Voices

Grande Ronde Cellar’s 2003 merlot a rating success

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Grande Ronde Cellars of Spokane is continuing its success in making wines that are well-regarded on an international level.

The current issue of Wine Spectator Magazine gives Grande Ronde a rating of 89 for its 2003 merlot from the Pepperbridge Vineyard in Walla Walla.

Wine Spectator ratings on a 100-point scale are highly regarded by consumers and professionals in the wine industry. While vintners strive for ratings in the 90s, any rating in the upper 80s is considered an achievement, especially for smaller boutique operations like Grande Ronde.

Winemakers Dave Westfall and John Mueller celebrated their latest rating during an evening walk-in event earlier this month at their tasting room in the basement of the Freeman Building at Second and Lincoln.

“The acids are just super,” Westfall said about the Pepperbridge merlot, which was harvested late in the season and uses its acidic framework to show off the flavors of the fruit.

Wine Spectator’s judges said the merlot’s “savory style favors earthy, green olive and herbal flavors over fruit, but there’s enough dark berry character coming through to cerate a balanced finish that demands a second sip and a third.”

Grande Ronde produced only 295 cases of the merlot, which the magazine said should age well through 2011.

Westfall said the vines were thinned to yield 1.9 tons per acre, a practice that increases fruit intensity. The grapes were harvested during the third week of October, making it one of the latest producing vineyards in the Walla Walla region. The longer “hang time” on the vines produces the subtle complexities described by the magazine’s judges.

“It’s a great microclimate closer to the Blue Mountains,” Westfall said. As a result, the vineyard receives cooling mountain winds during the summer that slow ripening.

“You get that great hang time, which gives it a lot more body, a lot more tannin,” he said of the wine.

Shortly after the harvest in 2003, the region was struck by an early freeze at the end of October and early November. It came so soon during the fall season that it damaged grapevines for production the following year. As a result, Grande Ronde was not able to obtain merlot, cabernet and grand vidure grapes from its section of the vineyard in 2004 and had to skip making Pepperbridge reds that year, Westfall said.

The Grande Ronde tasting room is open on Thursdays through Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m. until April 2, at which time Wednesdays will be added to the schedule on the same hours.


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