The Boeing Style

You can classify Washington wine in several ways: by price point, by scale of production, by grape variety, by the appellation (official growing region) where the grapes are produced, even by the style (traditional or experimental) of individual winemakers. But there's another significant classification often overlooked: wines made by present and former members of the Boeing Wine Club and those produced by everybody else. There's a good reason for this. Its name is Stephen Foisie. Still a full-time Boeing employee, Foisie joined the company wine club in 1978, and over the ensuing 27 years has become a kind of wine guru for his fellows, despite remaining resolutely amateur while many of them have turned pro, getting their facilities bonded by the state. Thanks to Foisie's insistence that would-be professional winemakers master the elements of marketing before going public with their wares, Boeing grads have shown a considerably higher survival rate than more impulsive peers. But his self-taught skills as a winemaker have also exerted a broad if more subtle influence. Not that all Boeing wine babes' wines taste alike; they range from the big, dignified reds of Dave Larsen's Soos Creek line to the dashingly innovative blends Tim Narby routinely creates with every vintage for his Nota Bene Cellars. But there are certain qualities I see recur often enough in Boeing winemakers' products that I think it's fair to say there's a "house style." First and foremost, Boeing grads' wines, whether robust or subtle, tend to be suave, refined (a tendency that reaches its apotheosis in Ben Smith's Cadence line). They are almost always ready to drink upon release. Ron Yabut's top-of-the-line Austin Robaire cabernet sauvignon is made from notoriously stern fruit from Klipsun Vineyard on Red Mountain, but his 2002 edition, while broad-shouldered and firm as they come, is delicious right now. John Bell's Willis Hall reds, even his 2003 reserve syrah from Stone Tree Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope, are wines to take home and drink. What Boeing winemakers do, they do wholeheartedly. Even Larry Lindvig, a Boeing alum who now runs Carnation's Pleasant Hill Estate as a conference and wedding center, produces his tiny lots of Pleasant Hill wine with the same meticulousness as a full-time winemaker whose living depends on the quality of his wine. Foisie says he quickly picks out the new club members who are going to succeed. "I spot by their curiosity, by how many questions they ask. Without exception, they're the passionate ones, all deeply into both the art and science of winemaking." His self-confidence has proved warranted over time. We have reason to be grateful as well. The wines of the Boeing Wine Club With very few exceptions, the following wines are produced in small quantities. Your best opportunity of sampling them is to contact the winery directly, if only to ascertain where their products are available at retail. ALIA Wines (John Olsen, winemaker): Not yet in commercial production Austin Robaire Vintners (Ron Yabut): Wines of suavity and character, astonishingly good considering their modest prices. Cadence Winery (Ben Smith): Critically the most admired winemaker among the Boeing alums, whose wines routinely score high in blind tastings. Cedar Ridge (Richard Fairfield): Not yet in commercial production. Crutcher Cellars (Dan Crutcher): Not yet in commercial production. E.B. Foote (Eugene Foote): Host to one of Seattle's few winery tasting rooms. Griffins Crossing Winery (Max and Jen Jensen): First releases September 2005. Major Creek Cellars (Steve Mason): Not yet in commercial production. Nota Bene Cellars (Tim Narby): The extravagantly gifted Narby sticks to traditional red-wine formulas while pushing the flavor envelope with juicy blends of fruit from Washington's finest vineyards. Pleasant Hill Winery (Larry Lindvig): Superb food wines, produced in minuscule quantities. Queen Anne Winery (Ben Ridgway): First releases are scheduled for summer 2006. Soos Creek Wine Cellars (Dave Larsen): One of the most experienced and admired senior winemakers in the state, specializing in collector bottlings of classic red blends. Willis Hall (John Bell): Bell produces a wide range of varietal red wines, with special attention to the tricky Italian varieties dolcetto and nebbiolo. If anyone can make these grapes produce great wine in Washington, Bell will.

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