Efeste's One-of-a-Kind Oenologist

Brennon Leighton's come a long way from his days of drunken squatting.

The Watering Hole: Efeste Winery, 19730 144th Ave. N.E., (425) 398-7200, WOODINVILLE

The Atmosphere: The tasting room, built in 2008, truly feels like a living room, if your living room were equipped with a pizza oven, a plasma TV, a wine-bottle display case and a private events facility inside a barrel room. It leans towards masculine, but ladies will love it too.

The Winemaker: Brennon Leighton. He's been the winemaker at Efeste since 2007. Just a few months ago, one of his wines, the 2008 Jolie Bouche Syrah, ranked #15 on Wine Spectator's list of the top 100 wines of 2011. In 2009, another one of his wines, the 2006 Ceidleigh (KAY-lee) Syrah from Red Mountain, made the list as well.

Leighton has a lot of tattoos, spanning the length of his neck to his forearms. And those are just the ones I could see. They serve, perhaps, as a symbol of how he's left his mark on society since growing up in the dregs of Santa Cruz.

He moved to Seattle twice. The first time was in 1990. He squatted in a building off of Rainier Avenue for eight months while working at Piecora's. After saving up enough money, he moved into a house in the Central District. "This was when Seattle University was like an island in the middle of hell. The soccer field used to be some sort of dump and it was quarantined as hazardous waste, but there was no fence around it. There were just these warning signs. They had this big pile of trash, and I remember being so drunk one time I climbed up on this pile of crap and fell asleep. I woke up the next morning staring at the stars just going, 'Oh my God. What am I doing?' That's when I started to get my shit together.

"Before I turned 25, I never thought I was going to live to see 25. So when I hit that age, I totally flipped out about everything. I broke up with my girlfriend and quit my band all in one week. I turned my world upside down. I went back to school and started taking classes at Seattle Central."

It was around that time that Leighton got a job downtown at The Brooklyn, which is where he discovered wine. "I got totally turned onto wine and got super geeky about it. Then I got a job at [the now-closed] Bandoleone. I actually put their initial wine list together. One of the owners was a French chick who was fucking nuts, and her and I got into it one night and the next day I was fired. After that I bartended at Palace Kitchen. By that time, I was finished taking classes at Seattle Central and transferred down to UC Davis in Sacramento."

Leighton earned his degree from their prestigious Viticulture and Enology school. He returned to Seattle in 2001 to work as the oenologist at Chateau Ste. Michelle. "Within the first two months the assistant winemaker quit, and so I basically took that role, along with the oenologist role, through the first crush. And then right after, the winemaker quit, so all of the sudden, for like eight months, I'm, like, everything. My learning curve was so huge."

He came to Efeste in 2007, saying, "I felt this was a good avenue to have opportunities which, for me, include becoming one of the best winemakers in the world."

The Drink: Leighton pours me the 2010 Lola Chardonnay. "In general, I tend to like to drink white wines," he tells me. "You can generally drink more of it without feeling like shit the next day."

Who is Lola? "Lola is [owner] Daniel 'Big Poppa' Farelli's granddaughter. And she's a little cutie."

"The only problem is," chimes in Ferrelli, "I have eight grandchildren, so we need more wines to name after all of them!"

The Verdict: It's a wine that makes you salivate for more. It has a wonderful weight to it, but not out of balance with the acid. It also has some savory components like lemon thyme, but with just enough sweetness to make it a worthy midday treat.


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