Victor Palencia knows a thing or two about the American dream.
Palencia, 32, is the son of immigrants from Michoacán, a state in western Mexico. He grew up amid the mint fields and vineyards of the Yakima Valley, and the graduate of Prosser High School was making wine at Willow Crest Winery before he turned 21.
In 2013, he launched Palencia Wine Co. in Walla Walla where he went to college. Last year, he moved his headquarters to the new Columbia Gardens Wine Village in downtown Kennewick, featuring his budget-friendly Vino la Monarcha.
His day job is director of winemaking for J&S Crushing in the Wahluke Slope town of Mattawa. He also makes the wine for Jones of Washington, which operates tasting rooms in Quincy and Wenatchee.
Palencia long has been recognized as one of the brightest rising stars in Washington wine country, but his showing in Wine Press Northwest magazine’s most recent Platinum Judging shows he’s a star in this corner of the continent. For his own brands as well as his day job, Palencia earned an impressive nine Platinums, more than any winemaker this year. The 32-year-old has amassed 36 Platinum awards throughout his young career.
The Platinum Judging, now in its 19th year, is a year-end tasting. Eligible wines must be from Washington, Oregon, Idaho or British Columbia and must have won a gold medal in any of the 50 worldwide competitions tracked by the magazine owned by the McClatchy Co. and operated by the Tri-City Herald. Complete results are available at winepressnw.com.
Here are a few of Palencia’s Platinum-winning wines. If these are sold out, look for newly released vintages in the coming months. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or purchase directly from the winery.
Palencia Wine Co. 2017 Albariño, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $20: This white Spanish grape grown in the fascinating Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley and placed in the hands of Palencia continues to produce remarkable results. There’s enticing tropical fruit, citrus and wet stone notes on the nose. Well-defined layers of guava, mango, crisp pear, a touch of fresh herbs, lemon sorbet and hints of earth invigorate the palate. Zippy acidity provides ideal balance, and a solid thread of minerality – a thumbprint of the Ancient Lakes’ caliche soils – holds through the vibrant, mesmerizing finish.
Palencia Wine Co. 2015 Grenache, Yakima Valley, $36: This wine holds an extra-special place in Palencia’s heart. He grew up in Prosser, where he was mentored by Willow Crest vintner David Minick, and their relationship continues to this day. Minick, who now oversees all of Precept Wine’s 4,000 acres of vines, allows his former pupil to access Precept’s Canyon Vineyard Ranch east of Prosser – the birthplace of this stunning grenache. Fragrant scents of crushed red raspberries and savory notes are stimulating. Pomegranate juice, spicy raspberry chutney, grapefruit and red cherries energize the palate. The wine is pure, distinctive and well-balanced with lively acidity through the elegant final sip.
Jones of Washington 2016 Pinot Gris, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $17: Palencia deserves to be in the discussion when it comes to the top pinot gris producers in the Northwest because this marks the fourth time that he’s produced a Platinum for Jones of Washington in the pinot gris category. He’s quick to credit the Jones family’s fruit, which he showcases with notes of lime and grapefruit. It’s a crisp style, and the enjoyable citrus pith in the midpalate leads to a lingering finish of lemon oil and that Ancient Lakes minerality.
Vino la Monarcha Winery 2015 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $15: Palencia offers these wines in downtown Kennewick near the Columbia River, but his chardonnay comes from Frenchman Hills Vineyard in the Columbia Basin. He uses both stainless steel and American oak to create a complex chardonnay. Lovely aromatics of lemon curd, apple and passionfruit transition to more of an orchard fruit focus on the palate. A touch of toast on the midpalate and bright acidity allow for limestone in the finish, making for a well-executed chardonnay built for turkey, a BLT or seafood.
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