Over lunch recently at Columbia Crest in Paterson, Washington, assistant red winemaker Reid Klei presented four wines from the producer’s Columbia Crest Reserve line. Klei and head winemaker Juan Muñoz Oca make these bottlings in the facility’s Petit Chai, the tiny cellar-within-a-cellar pictured above.
It was a chance to taste small-production lots from a high-production winery. Columbia Crest cranks out about seven million cases annually at its Paterson location, a sprawling facility that sits atop an astonishing twenty acres of underground production space.
To generate that yield, the winery sources 36,000 tons of fruit each year from 10,000 acres throughout Washington State, about a quarter of which is estate owned. Only a tiny fraction of it finds its way into the little Chai’s reserve barrels, and, says Klei, it’s treated to considerable hand work. The wines are available via direct-sale only, targeted at wine club members and visitors.
The wines are well crafted: seamless, food-friendly, lit up with acidity and freshness. But why bother, given such tiny volumes? To keep the best fruit separate from that lake of wine, and show what it can do. And, probably, to show what good winemakers can do, too.
2013 Columbia Crest Reserve Chardonnay Horse Heaven Hills
Barrel-fermented in French oak and aged sûr lie for 15 months with weekly lees stirring. The fragrance is perfumed and slightly lactic, suggesting yellow melon, honeydew, and honey-lemon. Its body is ample and creamy but lifted by bright fruits and elegant acidity.
14.5% abv | $35 (sample) 600 cases made
2014 Columbia Crest Reserve Chenin Blanc Horse Heaven Hills
Made in a slightly off-dry style, this Chenin’s aromas are quietly subdued, but it blooms on the palate with concentrated stone fruits laced with white pepper. Its terrific, tingly acidity keeps things fresh.
12.5% abv | $35 (sample) 500 cases made
2013 Columbia Crest Reserve Red Blend Beverly Vineyard Columbia Valley
The Beverly Vineyard lies near Wahluke Slope northeast of Yakima, a region known for its warmth and consequent ability to ripen red grapes. This wine is a blend of 49 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 29 percent Merlot, and 11 percent each of Cabernet Franc and Malbec. The fragrance is fruity, keynoted by ripe strawberries and raspberries, but the body darkens into black fruits. Powdery tannins dust its shiny acid armature.
14.5% abv | $40 (sample) 25 cases made
2013 Columbia Crest Reserve Malbec Andrews & Rowell Vineyard Columbia Valley
Ninety-five percent Malbec mingled with 5 percent Cabernet Franc, the fruit was grown in the Andrews & Rowell Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills. Its essence skews dark, toward black cherry and blackberry, while a flare of red cherries blazes at the finish. Sinewy tannins suggest good aging potential.
14.5% abv | $40 (sample)