Grape News

Washington grape growers and winemakers are still prowling the fields in their eternal quest to find the perfect balance between structure and ripeness, but back in their offices, it's business as usual. In the three weeks I was on vacation, these are some of the notable bits of news that arrived in my inbox: Walla Walla's troubled Glen Fiona label, having lost some of its initial sheen after the departure of founding winemaker Rusty Figgins, has achieved a measure of administrative stability, though at the cost of a loss of independence. Glen Fiona was acquired early this month by Woodinville's publicly owned Washington Wine & Beverage Co., best known for its Silver Lake line of wines. Silver Lake assistant winemaker Michael Haddox, a Chateau Ste. Michelle alum, takes over winemaking duties, but he promises to continue using the "natural, low intervention methodologies" that, most recently, earned Glen Fiona's signature syrah a 90-point rating for the '01 vintage. WW&B will maintain a Glen Fiona tasting room in Walla Walla; more important for Puget Sounders, Glen Fiona wines will be available for sampling and purchase daily in Silver Lake's Woodinville tasting facility. Branding continues to make strides toward simplifying consumer choice in the fragmented wine marketplace. Having shocked the market—and attracted the attention of Fortune magazine—with the phenomenal success of Fat Bastard (modestly priced multivineyard French shiraz and chardonnay blends), Peter Click's Seattle-based Click Wine Group has been scoping out new terrain to brand. The latest items on the list include a $10-retail red called Mad Dogs & Englishmen (paradoxically a cab-syrah-monastrell blend from the Spanish region of Jumilla) and the company's first domestic brand, Flying Fish Merlot, made from Columbia Valley fruit and targeted for restaurant distribution. But Click isn't neglecting its traditional emphasis on importing Australian wine, which formed its exclusive focus when the company kicked off 15 years ago. Indeed, last week the company took over Fox Sports Grill for a four-hour "seminar" and tasting of Australian product, featuring winemakers from six important Oz properties including Nepenthe, Sticks, and McLaren Vale's Kangarilla Road. Get this! Walla Walla winemaker Charles Smith has earned notoriety (look no further than the October issue of Wine & Spirits) for his shaggy-biker look and robust lifestyle, but he's also earned respect for his luscious, fragrant, and firm small-production wines, most notably his "K" syrahs from Walla Walla and the Wahluke Slope. Now he should earn the abject adoration of all fine-red-wine lovers on a beer budget for his 2002 House Red, an astonishingly ripe, complex blend comparable to many fine single- vineyard bottles in the $30 range but priced at just $10. Smith made 16,000 cases of this little wonder. Go to your wine shop and insist on getting some.

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