A nephew, a son, a sister, a wife – and world class wines!

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On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again
© Andrew Will*

No, don’t expect to find an analysis of Willie Nelson’s On the road again, but I can’t help it; the country music fan in me awakens when watching some of the pictures from Chris Camarda’s Andrew Will winery in Washington State. Tasting his wines however, don’t send out country music signals; no, this is a fine mixture of opera and rock’n roll!

In some degree my posting on Chris Camarda and Andrew Will is redundant. The man has already received numerous of accolades – well deserved is the least one can say. But when a wine’s obvious class and personality hits me I am remembered why wine became my passion 16-17 years ago – and consequently my immediate thought is that the world simply needs to know what’s to be found up there in Washington State!

It’s easy to feel confused if you’re new to Washington State – where should one start amongst the more than 600 wineries there are to be found in the state? Reducing the risk you will be disappointed, or ruined, I simply suggest you pick up some wines from the perfectionist Chris Camarda. Andrew Will’s wines speaks to you – through the labels which in many cases tells you personal episodes of Chris life – but of course also in the glass. Prepare to taste some personal and mind bogging wines!

Should you be in the need of further conviction then read what Chris himself has to say!

© Andrew Will*

Hi Chris! Having tasted your 2006 Sorella recently I was, to say the least, blown away by the amazingly and utterly delicious wine. As an European I know we tend to stick to the wines from our continent and mumble something about terroir but it’s time to finally erase some prejudices and discover terroir is not a European trademark! Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your background and how it all started with Andrew Will?

I started simply because I love wine. I was fascinated by it from my early twenties. I respected wine makers the way some respect pro athletes and I had an imagination filled with the lore and vast panorama which is the wine world. When I say that I could put together a small winery I went for it. In 1989 I made the first wine.

The first vineyards I used were Ciel Du Cheval and Champoux. We bought the land for Two Blondes in 1999 and started planting the next year. Prior to making wine I had worked in restaurants for 14 years. I usually bought the wines and also worked as a manager. I’m 63 years old now so I started much later as a winemaker than most. I have no formal training so I was determined to follow the paths of winemakers whose wines I admired. In Washington, that was Quilceda Woodward Canyon, and Leonetti.

I got a lot of technical help from Bruce Watson who worked at Columbia winery. We started in a 900 sq. foot space in a small warehouse. In 1994 we moved the winery to Vashon Island, an island off off Seattle. We bring the grapes over by truck and ferment and bring the wine up on the property we live on. We do everything here up to the point we ship them to market.

I have two children Will and Lucy. My nephew is Andrew. My wife of 23 years Annie died in 2005.

How big is your annual production?

We make about 4500 cases of wine per year. I have 4 people who assist me in making the wines.

© Andrew Will*

We Europeans are used to wine producers going on about the terroir and tradition; ‘this is how we have done in generations’ is not an unusual answer when speaking to an European winemaker. Then, when I taste a wine like your Sorella I am hugely impressed by the wine’s personality, expression of cultivation site and pure class. How is it possible to produce such grand efforts in short time considering the relative new phenomenon wine production is in Washington State – when comparing with more classic wine regions in Europe?

I appreciate the trodden and experience as well as the age of the vines in Europe. The idea of terroir is something I wonder about as the word seems to be tossed about in an almost defensive manor. I think that the land in Eastern
Washington where the important vineyards in Washington are, is perfect for growing the dominant varieties used in Bordeaux. We have condition of weather and soil which make it easier for us to grow wonderful fruit than anywhere in Bordeaux.

So the lack of experience is made up for by the excellent fruit. We have no rain problems to deal with and we usually have more than enough heat to ripen the fruit. We do some sorting but most of that work is done before the fruit is
picked. We like to get as much off the vines that we don’t want as possible before picking. We have followed whoever has sensible ideas and getting to the fruit that is unwanted before it is picked is as good an idea as is in the wine world.

Are tradition and a long history maybe even a burden for many European producers? If you take a look at the garagiste movement in Bordeaux for example, that has been heavily criticized by many, probably conservatives.

One of the most important things for a winemaker to posses is a palate which is experienced and liberal in its tasting as well as exacting in opinion. Remember that Europe has one thing which can’t be duplicated and that is possession of the land. If the wines they make are duplicated they will not be able to command the respect they get now and so the money they are demanding and getting for their wines. The quality is insured solely by geography. Yet we see wines from California and here that are equal to those from Europe and in particular Bordeaux.

Garage wines may be good or not. Making wine is a simple process and can be done in many places with very simple equipment. The powers in Bordeaux supported by Robert Parker certainly will have problems with anyone who does
not own a Chateau. While Parker would probably agree with this idea he nevertheless support both sides.

© Andrew Will*

Tell us about Washington State and the areas where your vines grow.

Washington State terroir has to do with excellent weather and soil for growing the dominant Bordeaux varieties. If you go to our website and check out the Two Blondes site for example you will see weather graphs which explain in part each vintage. Every place is different. You can go into my winery and try 4 different Cabernets from the Champoux vineyard. Each is distinct, being from separate blocks and at the same time they share much.

We own Champoux vineyard in partnership with 4 other wineries and Paul Champoux. I buy grapes from Ciel and own Two Blondes along with my partners, Bill Fleckenstein and Melody Fleckenstein. In 1999 I started the process of moving my wines from varietal designations to vineyard. By 2003 this was complete. I have made wine from Seven Hills, Sheridan, Pepperbridge, and Klipsun Vineyards. Currently we use Two Blondes, Ciel, and Champoux.

And vintage variation – do they differ a lot?

The vintages differ a great deal. The assemblage can be different but I think the chronology is more important. 2004, 2006 and 2008 similar and will drink sooner. 2005 and 2007 later. The latter are more oriented toward even ripening and therefore structure.

What do you strive for in your wines?

I strive for ripeness and balance in my wines.

© Andrew Will*

If comparing Washington State and its sub-regions to European one’s – which region/regions in Europe would you say is similar to yours?

We are definitely like Bordeaux. More than California our wines rival theirs. While they are also different in important ways they share a sense of breeding and weight which is characteristic of each area.

After all the years do you still feel experimental or have you found the road you want to walk?

I never have been much of an experimenter. I use more synthesis of others ideas. They can have the glory. I’ll take the wine making needed for making ethereal wines.

I spend most of my time here but I do travel to other wine making areas. I went in April to Burgundy and was lucky enough to meet with some very fine and inspiring winemakers. So, I am continuing to change my approach when I see something I think will improve the wine. Each vintage is for me the same as the first, but not so nerve racking.

Could you tell us a bit generally on your thoughts when it comes to winemaking?

We use irrigation since we must. We use minimal modern agricultural techniques but are not afraid to do what is necessary to make the wines better. We are not bound by ideologies which are flaccid and topical. We try to use our judgement and not other judgments which are more social parlor fluttering than thought.

Is just as much efforts put in the vineyards as in the cellar?

There is currently more effort in the vineyards than the cellar but I have never stopped changing my winemaking if the results are ameliorated by the effort.

In general; what would you tell us about the ageing capability of your wines?

Our wines age from 12 to 25 years. If they age longer fine. That is a very long time for many wines. If you look at the greatest vintages you will see very few wines even in those years achieve greater complexity after more than 20 years.

© Andrew Will, Two Blondes*

Currently, what’s on the market?

Our current vintage is 2007 and we have also released a bit of our 2008 Sangiovese and some declassified 2008 Merlot and Cabernet. Also, we have some 2006 at the winery which we are selling….Two Blondes and Ciel.

© Andrew Will*

Tell me about your blind tasting group!

It’s a great way to discover the wines from Andrew Will. Four times a year the members receive a 3 bottle or a 6 bottle set of unique wines from us. The wines are made exclusively for the blind tasting group and do not fall into the traditional Andrew Will program. For instance, past offerings have included a Cabernet Franc, a Champoux Vineyard Merlot, and a Sangiovese. In the future our members can expect Grenache and Pinot Noir wines in the package.

© Andrew Will*

If i would like to visit your winery – is that possible?

You’re welcome to visit us!

A big thanks to Chris Camarda and his assistant winemaker David Oldham for taking the time! While the American wine blog scene just left Washington State after their annual conference I sympathy popped a 2006 Sorella.

Tasting note on the 2006 Sorella:

The 2006 composition is 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc and the rest, 4% being Petit Verdot. From the Champoux Vineyard, which was first planted in 1972, Chris uses the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from a part called Block 1; where the oldest vines can be found. The soil is sandy loamy and well drained. The area differs from other parts of Washington by the wind from the Columbia River Gorge.

© Andrew Will*

The Sorella, a tribute to Chris’s sister, has spent 21 months on new French oak from Taransaud. It may sound a lot, but when tasting it’s barely there. This is one of those wines which deserves to be enjoyed and, if rated, followed over many hours. In my case I left half the bottle for the following day and yes, first then it showed its full potential!

At first, dark crushed berries, a slight floral note, wet rocks, cedar, smoke and beautifully integrated oak. The floral note is more generous the second day and reminds me of violets.

On the palate it’s all about seduction. Great tannin structure, impressive fruit and so focused. The cedar, blackberries, Valrhona chocolate, wet earth and violets are starting to show complexity. Long, lingering finish with delicate acidity backing up.

It’s really hard to keep away from this sweetheart but be as focused and determined as the wine itself and you will be even more rewarded in two or three years. It will probably keep for a decade but that’s a matter for your own taste. I’d probably drink it earlier to keep the vivid fruit.

For the Europeans wishing to plunge in to the wines of Andrew Will; Berry Bros and Rudd offers an excellent range of the most classic brands. The 2006 Sorella is retailing just below £40 for a single bottle and frankly, I have a hard time giving you a better suggestion on what to buy at that price and quality!

For those with access to the German market, or wishing to do some e-shopping, visit wein.cc for some really nice buys. American readers will probably have an easier time picking up a bottle – otherwise contact Chris and his team on where to buy.

(2006 Sorella, Andrew Will, Washington State, 95 points)

* Shown with the friendly permission of Andrew Hill

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  • CAFÉ ROTSUNDA

    >Niklas,

    What could I say, but to applaud you for the fantastic resport and the billiant work you do.
    I'm thrilled!

    (By the way, I'm leaving for a wine safari in Washington next Friday … so after reading your report, I'm warmed up!)

  • Niklas Jörgensen

    >Hi Michel,

    First of all; I'm glad you liked it! Secondly, I'm envious ;-)

    Will you try to meet up with Chris and his gang?

    Best,

    Niklas

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