DeLille Cellars is a winery in Washington State whose name has become synonymous with producing consistently outstanding quality wines while at the same time garnering the respect and admiration of its peers. Not only has the winery played an integral part in putting Washington on the world wine map, they have also helped develop many winemakers in the process ensuring a legacy of continued quality winemaking coming out of the State for years to come.
Based in Woodinville, DeLille Cellars specializes in Bordeaux-styled wines while producing just 16,000 cases a year. Executive Winemaker Chris Upchurch primarily uses grapes from the Red Mountain AVA which he describes as an “in-betweener” with respect to the New World and Old World wine regions. He firmly believes Red Mountain possesses Grand Cru vineyards and that Washington winemakers have an incredible opportunity to realize the area’s full potential.
His team works with such renowned vineyards as Boushey, Klipsun and Ciel du Cheval, considered amongst the best in Washington and he has used Red Mountain grapes since the winery’s inaugural vintage. Part of what makes Red Mountain so special is its southwest facing slope. It is uncommon in the area and that specific slope direction provides the optimum opportunity to increase the ability of the vine to capture sunlight for heat and photosynthesis. Upchurch also loves the power combined with ripeness that the grapes afford him. They are high in tannin and for him tannin management is key, but the reward if managed properly is the beautifully balanced “iron fist in a velvet glove” descriptor that so many Bordeaux style winemakers strive for.
DeLille’s full portfolio of wines comprise of 6 different labels for their Bordeaux style wines: Chaleur Estate Rouge, Chaleur Estate Blanc, Grand Ciel, D2, Four Flags, and Harrison Hill; along with their Doyenne label which includes a Rhône styled Syrah, a Roussanne, a Rosé, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend and a Mouvedre dominant blend (with Grenache and Syrah) called Metier.
This year marks the 25th Harvest for DeLille and in August AdVINEtures had the honour of being invited to their Chaleur Estate Rouge Retrospective tasting which sampled DeLille’s flagship wine all the way back to its first vintage in 1992. Each wine we tasted received a rating of 90pts or higher by Robert Parker. Executive winemaker Chris Upchurch began the tasting by explaining why he loves vertical tastings, “Vertical tastings tell you two things about any particular Chateau…all the similarities should be the signature of the Chateau that you are tasting, and then all the differences of course would be the differences of the vintages you’re tasting. So you learn about a bunch of different vintages but you also should get the signature of the Chateau.”
Their inaugural 1992 vintage (90pts from the Wine Advocate) showed some age on the rim but still had fruit present despite being 24 years old. In similar fashion to the 1992, the 1998 vintage (91pts) came from a ripe year but the flavours were much more pronounced likely due to being 6 years younger. Upchurch described the 1999 vintage (93pts) as a very “friendly” year which meant a nice long fall that was sunny but cool where they had the benefit of not harvesting until October 31st. When they did pick they were getting half yields of 2 tons per acre. The 2002 vintage (95+pts) was a very warm year and as a result it showed a more New World style that was bigger with higher alcohol. The 2003 (95pts) followed up the 2002 as another hot year that was universally hot in most wine regions worldwide. Again the result was a wine that was a much bigger, New World style. The 2005 (94pts) was considered a classic year with steady ripening from start to finish and no big swings in diurnal temperatures. The 2007 (93pts) ended up being a great year but the winemaking team didn’t see that at the beginning. Again the steady longer fall made for a strong finish and a much better result than they had initially anticipated. And then came 2010 & 2011. Two back to back very cool years where many wineries struggled. But 2012 (95+pts) was another classic vintage which Upchurch jokingly referred to as “God’s reprieve!” –a beautiful long season from start to finish with perfect conditions for ripening.
We were extremely impressed with the wines poured at this retrospective. The 1992 was delicate and complex, just as one would expect from a wine being drank 24 years after the vintage, but it was still vibrant and a treat to drink. History in a glass! For us the 2002 and 2012 were our favourites. Both showed ripe fruit backed up with lots of structure, a combination that assures a long life in the cellar, as the 1992 so capably demonstrated. After tasting through the lineup, the Chaleur Estate signature became quite apparent to us: bold red and black fruit backed with solid structure that sits right at the fulcrum for near perfect balance, an ideal blend of New World and Old World, that offers complexity and rewards aging. These are sumptuous wines that have a mouth feel that is full and viscous while at the same time offering an array of different flavours and abundant nuance.
This coming weekend (November 4, 5 & 6) DeLille is holding their Annual Fall Release featuring the 2014 D2, 2014 Four Flags Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014 Signature Syrah and 2014 Doyenne (formerly known as Aix). While we haven’t had an opportunity to taste the 2014 offerings yet, all signs point to an excellent vintage defined by another warm summer. According to Wine Spectator’s vintage report, 2014 in the Washington wine region was a year, “…with no rain, no early freezes and a harvest that was mostly done by Halloween (about two weeks ahead of usual), Washington vintners are smiling. With no heat spikes and cool nighttime temperatures, the acidity balances in the young wines look to be ideal.”
We have no doubt Chris Upchurch and the DeLille winemaking team have produced yet another stellar offering and we can’t wait to get our hands on some to confirm that prediction.
For tickets to the Fall Release visit: www.delillecellars.com