Avennia Winery Gravura
Ok, so here’s where Washington State wine excels. Not like, does a good job and is ok for the price…..but destroys other American options at the same price point.
I still think Napa offers the most consistent options in the over $50 range for Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals. But in the price range of say $25-$35 or so? That’s Washington State territory.
The critics have been consistent on past vintages of this wine, which is traditionally a right bank blend of Cabernet and Merlot in almost equal amounts, with some additional Cabernet Franc added in to soften the mixture. Scores range from 90 to 93 points in each vintage, depending on the reviewer that you’re reading. The winery as you’d expect picks the reviewer with the highest score and adds that to the website. Hey, all the wineries do it, it’s just something to be aware of.
Winemaker Chirs Peterson is the story here I think. Chris was the first graduate of a program that some say I’m slightly obsessed with: Walla Walla Community College’s Encology and Viticulture program. So often in the wine industry there are two ways to enter the field. Go through a 4 year program and then work your way up at a winery. Hope you find a good mentor. Secondly, you can intern and eventually work your way up. Again, hope you find a good mentor.
Walla Walla offers the first real, third choice that I’ve seen. Their community college offers a 2 year program where students get real hands on experience making wine, as well as, selling it. Where the college really excels though is its true integration with the community.
Walla Walla is by any measure a small town. It’s one of the few spots in America that I’ve ever seen outside of San Francisco, Seattle and Portland where a local coffee shop half way up a dead block is busier than Starbucks happens to on the corner of what amounts to Main and Main.
The wine industry in Walla Walla has really revitalized the town in many respects. Downtown has gone from having bordered up retail spaces to adding four star hotels.
The program offers graduates the chance to take about 2,000 square feet of space near the airport and only a few miles from downtown. Production facility and tasting room all in one. I’ve yet to meet a vintner in either California, Oregon or the rest of Washington State that isn’t envious of their setup.
Anyway, Peterson is the first graduate of that program which the mainstream wine media is beginning to take notice of.
Avennia is important on a few other levels. The joint project between Peterson and Marty Taucher. Marty is an Oregonian by upbringing and a Microsoft veteran that picked up a love for wine as part of the MSFT events staff. Avennia is at the forefront of a movement in and around Woodinville, largely looking to help Washington wines land firmly on the lists of restaurants around the country.
I’ve talked about it a bit in terms of Charles Smith and some other labels increasing their profiles in the state of Washington, but I think those aren’t capable of being the vanguard so to speak of a movement in Washington wine.
Avennia is for at least two reasons.
First and foremost, location does matter in the wine industry. With a tasting room in Woodinville, Avennia is situated perhaps in the best spot to ride a wave of growth in the local wine scene. There’s a long and rich history of wine regions about an hour outside a major population center excelling, from Champagne in France to Napa in California and plenty of others (Tuscany, Stellenbosch etc). As Seattle has increased its own stature among the new tech economy forming on America’s west coast, there’s a combination of more money locally, as well as, more interest from tourists and the general public at large. Investment dollars tend to flow most quickly to regions that make for a nice getaway and if you’re an executive at Amazon, Woodinville likely seems to be a great spot to spend the weekend.
Secondly and just, if not more, importantly, Avennia is totally current when it comes to their style of winemaking. Peterson offers a more acidic and balanced look than his predecessors did a generation ago and it fits well with what Sommelier’s are looking for, what this wine club is looking for and I think what consumers are beginning to find interesting and insightful in the wine industry.
A combination of almost equal parts Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, Avennia’s Gravura I think offers one of the better looks into Bordeaux blends in America and at this price point, shows why those blends are increasingly moving north into washington while Napa Valley focuses almost exclusively on Cabernet Sauvignon.
Lastly, a short word on the 2013 vintage in Washington State: it was hot, it scared the crap out of many winemakers, especially those with backgrounds in Oregon Pinot. Then late in the game, nature threw the brakes on. Some stuff was picked early. Much like almost every California vintage in history, those with patience were rewarded.