Adams Bench Winery is a recent discovery we made while on a weekend trip to Woodinville. We have to admit, one of our favourite things is to discover new wineries. The older, larger wineries that are well-established can be great to visit and can produce terrific wines, but there is something special about discovering something new particularly when it turns out to be so exceptional.
We first learned about Adams Bench from Ben Herrick, a server at Woodinville’s spectacular restaurant, the Herbfarm. While Ben was working next door at Willow’s Lodge, he would take hotel guests on tours of some of the hidden gems within Woodville’s growing wine district. Adams Bench was on that list and he enthusiastically recommended them to us when we asked where we should taste. Everything that comes out of the Herbfarm is remarkable, and this winery recommendation was too.
We drove up the hill to Adams Bench which happens to be located in a residential suburb of Woodinville. A strange place to find a winery, especially when you consider the quality of the neighbourhood: an equestrian-oriented district with large sprawling yards and stables. The actual working winery is housed in a garage at the end of a driveway. Immediately below it is a purpose-built tasting room that looks like a converted barn with an underground cellar.
As we park our car, proprietor and winemaker Tim Blue comes out of the tasting room and greets us with a warmth that is easy and natural to him. We commented on how charming the tasting room was and noticed the very attractive cupula on the roof that was adorned with a weather vane in the shape of a pig, “The pig is there because I grew up on a farm in Indiana” Tim tells us. A Midwestern farm boy; that explains the easy warmth in the greeting.
The tasting room is comfortable and cozy with a table and chairs, a stand-up bar, and a fireplace at one end. Sitting against one wall is an old bench. Tim explains to us how that old bench gave the winery its name. “The time came when the school board decided to tear down the old Adams Elementary School building (where Tim went to school) and make way for something else and before they did my dad was able to salvage some things including the clock from my 6th grade classroom…But the coolest thing he salvaged was the disciplinary bench that sat right outside the Principal’s office where students got sent when they were in trouble and awaited their sentence with the Principal.”
Tim’s journey into the world of wine is an unusual one. He became a lawyer in Indiana, working for a small law firm there. He followed a friend out to Seattle and ended up joining a Seattle firm building a successful trial law practice. Tim was a teetotaller, as were many who grew up in a Baptist household in the Midwest. But that changed when Tim made his own discovery while dining with his wife Erica and some friends. About 10 of them were at a restaurant in Vancouver, BC and a Sangiovese was being poured.
Normally Tim would decline any offer of alcohol, but an important conversation with his father-in-law, Vance, just a few months prior was still playing in his mind. Vance was an avid appreciator of good wine. He told Tim how for centuries wine has brought family and friends together and increased their bond. He also reminded Tim that the bible’s first miracle told of turning water to wine and that other references to wine in the bible were numerous and he did not see any real prohibition against wine-drinking in the bible. So Tim accepted a glass of that Sangiovese. “After my first sip Erica leaned over and asked what I thought – I said, ‘I’d rather have a coke’. But then I had another sip, and another, and pretty soon I was onto my 2nd glass and I started to think that this could be the greatest day of my life!”
He and Erica pursued wine knowledge with a passion. Numerous trips were taken to California wine country to taste and learn all they could about wine and wine making. He ultimately took a sabbatical from his law practice so that he and Erica could take wine making courses at UC Davis, the preeminent wine making university in the US. In 2004, they made their first vintage from a single barrel, in their garage.
“In 2005 we were licensed and then bonded and took a 2.5 ton harvest in our garage, and in 2006 looked for a place to settle ourselves and decided that we were going to be the owners, founders, and winemakers. We wanted to be the decision makers and control every aspect of what we were going to do and didn’t someone else making our wine. Half the joy of being in the business for us was to be on the front lines. So we settled in western Washington as it was close to where we were working at the time and close to a population base.”
Success came quickly to Tim and Erica. “In Dec ’07 we hadn’t bottled our ‘05’s but we decided to open up for a Woodinville event called “St. Nick’s” which had about 20 wineries participating. Even though we hadn’t bottled anything yet, we participated by pouring barrel samples in the old barn which included the 2005 Horse Heaven Hills Red Blend at $30, our first Reckoning (2006) at $34, and our first Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon at $42/bottle, all pre-release. Up to that point we had never poured for the public. That weekend 2,000 people came through the barn and we sold out of our ‘05’s and almost all of our ‘06’s. I remember getting on an airplane the next morning to California to do a deposition and thinking that was a pretty special weekend.”
Today Tim and Erica make just 1,000 cases of wine and they source grapes from some of the top sites in Washington State including Stillwater Creek, Shaw Vineyard, and Artz Vineyard. Originally, they contacted Paul Champoux hoping to buy fruit from his famed Champoux Vineyard. Paul didn’t have any fruit for sale and suggested they talk to Milo and Kay May as they were going to have some fruit off just-planted vines on a 24 acre site a few miles away on what he considered one of the best sites that until then had been unplanted. The Mays, with Paul’s help, planted the site to 17 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 5 acres of Syrah, and 1 acre of Petit Verdot. “We were there to take our 1 ton off 17 acres in ’06 and by the next year we were into a 2 & 1/3 acre block surrounded by an 11 acre block held by Quilceda Creek, a 2 acre block held by Andrew Will Winery and another 2 acre block held by Fidelitas (some of the most acclaimed wineries in the State). We started to make a single vineyard Cab from there. We love the vineyard for the fruit, how wonderful the Mays are, and how we’ve sort of come up together at the same time. We also love it because it is a clone 8 Cab, on a very windy site, and because the grape skins have to hardy up against the wind, they’re heartier and always dark.”
We had a terrific visit with Tim Blue. He is a lovely man, who is passionate about the wines that he and Erica make. And what wines they are making! As the following tasting notes will reveal, these are delicious examples of Washington Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab blends. Each are true to the grape and the site: dark red and black fruit on bigger frames with complexity added by the forest and spice notes. Each of the wines showed ripe, polished tannins that provided structure to the wine without being obtrusive. They were drinking well at a young age and no doubt will develop further with time in the cellar. They were delicious wines and, given their quality and limited supply, very fairly priced.
This blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot takes its name from the bench outside the principal’s office where students would wait to face their reckoning. Very suave, this shows its red and black fruits profile in a medium+ body. Black cherry, plum and blackberry are supported by hints of baking spice. The terrific balance gives it a smooth mouthfeel. Ripe tannins create definition but do not distract. Polished and refined.
Excellent (US$39 at their tasting room)
2014 “The V”
Originally called Vibrance they were forced to change the name because it was said to describe something sparkling and this is not a sparkling wine. Ridiculous! Wines with bubbles do not sparkle; it is just a marketing term! Anyhow, don’t get us started on ridiculous bureaucratic decisions….Grapes for this beauty are sourced from May’s Discovery, Horse Heaven Hills and Stillwater Creek Vineyards. The blend is 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Franc. Even more intense than the Reckoning, this is supremely elegant providing a soft mouthfeel and great complexity. Hints of spice and bitter chocolate poke through on the finish which goes on for nearly a minute. Power and finesse.
Excellent+(US$54 at their tasting room)
2014 Stillwater Creek Cabernet Sauvignon
A blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Merlot. Possibly the most powerful wine in the Adam’s Bench line-up, but it manages to retain what we came to realize is the Adam’s Bench signature: polished ripe tannins that maintain definition without adding any harshness. Great extraction yet smooth and seamless. Quite a feat of winemaking. The dark fruits combine with mocha, minerals and notes of cedar to offer up something slightly different each time you bring your glass to your lips.
Excellent+ (US$70 at their tasting room)
2015 Ursula Sangiovese
We have very little experience with Washington State Sangiovese but this was an eye opener. Similar wines from Tuscany can be quite acidic and can need a fair amount of cellar time. This might have been the most approachable wine in the line-up! From a block of the Ursula Vineyard planted in 1994. Cherry and dried herbs on a medium frame with a soft and rounded texture. A Merlot-lovers Sangio!
2015 May’s Discovery
A blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot. Very intense black fruit flavours! This one is built for the long haul. Blackberry, plum and notes of espresso and baker’s chocolate. At this point not quite as tame or polished as some of the other wines. We think this one may have spent some time on that bench outside the principal’s office! The best is yet to come for this wine yet it was still a joy to drink right now. Not shy or retiring, it comes on strong with dark fruits and forest floor. Despite the power, Tim’s trademark balance still shows through.
Excellent+ (US$60 at their tasting room)
Open for tasting on most Saturdays 12pm-4pm
Appointments required for groups of 8 or more.