Big Red

Wine is an insidious thing. On its own, no one has ever claimed that it's addictive. Yet constant drinkers of wine are liable to find themselves consorting with persons who make wine and grow grapes, and it's an established fact that mere contact with such people tends to lead otherwise productive members of the community into deeper and deeper involvement in things vinous: to collecting wine, constructing cellars to house said collections; to investment in vineyards, building of wineries; finally, in extreme cases, to shadowy second lives as makers and marketers of wine. Consider the cautionary case of Bijil Shah. A successful manufacturer of private-label sportswear and accessories, he started down the slippery slope with a seemingly innocent request that a grape-growing uncle run him up a hundred cases or so of Bordeaux-style red suitable for gift-giving and private consumption. But instead of keeping his largesse to themselves, Shah's giftees began taking bottles to restaurants and offering sommeliers a sip. Soon the restaurants came calling, and with only one 400-case commercial release under his belt, Shah finds himself oversubscribed for the next, with a part-time marketing person on staff, and in the market for a Woodinville production facility for a full line of wines. The wine that built this mini-empire is called Darighe (Erse for "red," and pronounced DARE-igg). Its maker, the aforementioned uncle by marriage, is Tom Campbell, a U.C. Davis grad and a pioneer of Washington winemaking, having served as enologist at Ste. Michelle's Grandview facility in Eastern Washington and as head of white wines at Covey Run (in the good old days when it was Quail Run). These days, Campbell lives in Montana but still maintains the 24 acres of Bordeaux grape varietals he planted in the early '80s in the Konnowac Valley between Yakima and Zillah. My first encounter with a glass of Darighe came at the end of a long and sumptuous supper at Paul Mackay's Waterfront, a dinner featuring some of Washington's best reds, including choices from Woodward Canyon and DeLille. It takes a remarkable wine to impress a jaded palate, and the '99 Darighe Yakima Valley red served up by host Rich Troiani woke up palates round the table: A wine as firm, flavorful, rounded, and chunky as a perfectly ripe plum just picked from the tree, it was complex yet unified, robust yet smooth. It's a good thing that glass was so memorable, because I'm not likely to have another anytime soon: At $50 retail (anywhere from $75 to $100 on a restaurant list), it's right out of my price range. But when the 2000 Darighe is released in September, it will be flanked by a $28 all-merlot and a $38 all-cab bottling (under the Maghie and Dussek labels, respectively), also crafted by Campbell. For Shah, as for so many before him, one bottle just leads to another.

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