A Reputation for Cab
John Abbott made a reputation for himself as THE guy for Merlot when he made wine for Canoe Ridge. Now, at Abeja, he's becoming the insider's "go-to-guy" for superlative Cabernet Sauvignon.
The small size and collaborative ownership of Abeja Winery allow John to explore the range of styles possible when the winery is your own, and you get to choose from a combination of Estate fruit and purchased fruit from trusted vineyards in the Walla Walla area. After three very different vintages, John has shown his mastery of Washington Cabernet. And his tiny production of Chardonnay is gone before it's even released.
Abeja Winery's name is pronounced 'ah-bay-ha,' ... the word is simple, lyrical, and lovely, and is Spanish for "bee". Its origin honors the immeasurable contributions of Latino workers to the NW wine industry. The bee also represents Abeja's respect for the land and their desire to work in tandem with nature.
Abeja is Ginger and Ken Harrison, Winemaker John Abbott, and marketer Molly Galt (John's partner). The winery is located on a hundred year old farm east of the town of Walla Walla, on rural Mill Creek Road. Established as a winery and Bed and Breakfast in 2000, the original estate was built between 1903 and 1907, and was restored 1997-today.
Abeja's wines are made from both purchased and estate-owned fruit. After the ruinous freeze of early 2004, Abeja depended more on purchased fruit for the small vintage that became the 2004 Abeja wines. No Reserve Cabernet was made in 2004. Yields were larger in 2005 and 2006, and we expect to see more wine, and more made from Abeja's estate vineyards, starting with the release of the 2005 and 2006 vintages (in 2008 and 2009).
Abeja's estate vineyards are named Heather Hill (17 acres), and Mill Creek (15 acres). John plans on Cabernet Sauvignon being 85% of production when the vineyards are fully in production, with small amounts of Chardonnay and Viognier also offered. 650 cases of the 2001 vintage were produced from purchased fruit. The 2002 Cab was the first made wth Heather Hill Vineyard fruit. The vineyard is only 17 acres, so John will continue to work with fruit from Sagemoor, Seven Hills, Minnick Hills, Conner Lee, Kestral View Estates, and Celilo Vineyards.
Winemaker John Abbott
John Abbott is a native Oregonian and studied Veterinary Medicine at Oregon State Univerity in Corvallis, where Avalon is located, so we have a special relationship to this reknowned winemaker. John found inspiration in the sensory evaluation experiments of OSU's Food Sciences Department, discovering his affinity for sensing flavors and aromas. John was involved with some of the first experiments on cork taint conducted at OSU, connecting with the VIticulture and Enology Department, and eventually transferring to Fresno State's E & V program.
John started making wine professionally in 1999, at Pine Ridge Winery, then owned by Gary Andrus (of Oregon's Archery Summit fame). Working with Cabernet Sauvignon at Pine Ridge, he expanded his knowledge of wine by working at Acacia, known for Pinot noir and Chardonnay. Acacia is connected to the Chalone Wine Group, as is Canoe Ridge, in Walla Walla. After gour years at Acacia, John was offered the opportunity to help found Canoe Ridge Vineyard's fledgiling winery. He joined Canoe Ridge in 1996.
John Abbott made a name for himself as winemaker at Canoe Ridge Vineyard, creating a series of vintages of rich, well-crafted wines. After ten years of hard work for corporate owner The Chalone Group at Acacia and Canoe Ridge, John was ready in 2002 for many winemakers' dream- his own small winery, where he could make small amounts of wine driven by his personal vision of the perfect wine.
So John left Canoe Ridge after the 2001 harvest, and dropped off the NW wine radar screen for about 18 months. I saw him at a tasting in Walla Walla in August of 2002, when John was careful to keep his future plans private, promising to tell all when plans were definite.
What we did not know at the time was that John was negotiating with Ken Harrison, a wealthy retired banker with a yen for great wine. And the planning resulted in an interesting combination of luxury Bed and Breakfast, Winery, and Estate Vineyards.
The Inn at Abeja
The Inn at Abeja is an integral part of the Abeja Winery. Original outbuildings have been restored into five private, spacious and beautiful guest accommodations. Each is appointed uniquely with eclectic furnishings, antiques and often, salvaged building materials. A room (actually, an entire cottage) will run you about $200 a night, and includes breakfast and access to 25 acres of estate vineyards, gardens, creeks, and wildlife. With only five "rooms", the Inn might be a perfect place for a honeymoon or a private retreat.
With a focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, Abeja has stiff competition from surrounding wineries like Leonetti, L'Ecole No. 41, and Woodward Canyon. John Abbott has the advantage of working with three Estate vineyards, management of which he can closely control. In addition, John works with fruit sourced from growers in both the Columbia and Walla Walla Valleys. His ten years wth Canoe Ridge Vineyard, and his deep knowledge of the region's vineyards, should result in Abeja's access to the best grapes available. John's partnership with Ken Harrison will add financial stability and business accumen to the mix.
John uses several labor intensive methods to make his first wine, his Cabernet Sauvignon 2001, a rich, complex, elegant success. The grapes were picked only when the fruit was absolutely ripe, meaning that the vines were re-visited several times over a several week period. Careful hand-sorting removed everything but perfect fruit- no leaves, stems, underripe grapes, damaged clusters allowed. Since the wine was made from Estate fruit, most likely John also controlled pruning, leaf thinning, and removal of clusters to control the tonnage per acre.
The resulting Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 (655 cases were made) was released in September, 2003, to impressive demand. High ratings for the 2001, 02, and 03 vintages have made Abeja Cab some of the fastest selling wines at Avalon. 2001 Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon Tasting Notes:
"The 2001 Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon has the aromas of a fire burning out in a hay field getting ready for marshmallows followed by juicy cherry notes. The flavors are rich with blackberries, dark chocolate, leather, smoke and spice. The finish is long with a cinnamon vanilla touch on the end. I had this wine with Wild Chinook Salmon and it held up beautifully to the Salmon. This wine complemented the fish perfectly."
"Not as hugely over-the-top as some Walla Walla Cabernets, this wine pairs deliciously with a range of foods. This is not to say that the wine lacks anything- although the age of the vineyards might have had some influence over the intensity and complexity of the wine. The grapes are from Abeja's Heather Hill Vineyard, 17 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon just east of Seven Hills Vineyard at the south end of the Walla Walla appellation." 2003 Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon Tasting Notes:
"From the winery: "Pretty, silky, rich and delicious. This is the follow-up to our first release, which sold out in less than two months, and we think you will enjoy it even more. Seven Hills Vineyard and Conner Lee, which were significant in the 2001 release, are blended with old vines from Sagemoor and our first harvest of Cabernet from our estate vineyard Heather Hill. These outstanding fruit sources combine to make a stunning wine that is stylish, elegant and pure. The nose is loaded with dense, dark blackberry fruit, cassis, sweet wood and shaved chocolate. The continuity from nose to palate is seamless. It is rich, intense and balanced with incredible depth and length. Enjoy now through 2014."
Consultant Zelma Long and Ajeja Winery
Before John Abbott arrived at Abeja Winery, world famous wine consultant Zelma Long assisted Ken in the selection and planting of the Estate Vineyards.
"Zelma was already working with Ken in the vineyards," Abbott recalled. "I saw no reason to change that. Having her experience has been extremely beneficial to us. She has an incredible palate and she doesn't sugarcoat her opinions. She has been invaluable."
Zelma Long, a native of Oregon whose career in the wine industry spans more than 30 years, including a stint as Robert Mondavi's chief enologist for 10 years in the 1970s. In 1979, she became vice president of winemaking at Simi Winery and revitalized the 100-year-old winery, later becoming its president and CEO. Before she retired in 1999, she served as executive vice president of Chandon Estates.