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Andrew Will Winery


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"Andrew Will Winery reduces offerings
to concentrate on intense Bordeaux blends"

By Christina Kelly
Avalon Staff Writer

Chris Camarda, whose Andrew Will Winery produces some of the highest scoring Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends in Washington state will be reducing his offerings in the next few years to concentrate on blends from some of Washington's finest vineyards.

In the next two to three years, Camarda plans to reduce his inventory from about 11 different varieties to three or four. He will discontinue bottling single vineyard varietals, such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon after the 2001 bottling. Instead, he plans to "zone in" on the types of blends he prefers, such as his Sorella (Italian for sister) and his Champoux Vineyard Red Wine.

"I don't want to make just one wine from each vineyard anymore," Camarda said in a recent interview. "I want to put the emphasis on the vineyard because that is what makes the wine special. The blends are much more interesting to me. In the end, it's not a Merlot or a Cabernet Sauvignon-it's the blend we develop from our sources."

The result will be fewer wines, but Camarda says the wines will be better than ever, as he and his wife Annie focus on blending Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. He may add some Syrah to the mix and plans to add his own fruit on 30 acres planted in Zillah, WA.

When Camarda started his winery on Vashon Island, near Seattle, in 1989, he admitted he was "just making wine" because he wanted to be in the industry after spending years working in the culinary arts and managing restaurants in the Seattle area.

"Now, more than 10 years later, we can follow our road map, see how we've evolved and how our wines developed," Camarda said. "We're ready to zone in on what we've got, from the state's best vineyards, rather than go through the vineyards every year, trying to pick the best block of Cabernet or Merlot."

By producing only Bordeaux-style blends, Camarda will not be so dependent on one particular grape for a wine. If Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are not as good next year, he can focus on Merlot and other varietals to blend with the Cabernet. He says it will require more skill and free-up space in his ever-growing Vashon Island compound.

His skills are highly praised, as is his wine. In the just published sixth edition of Robert Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide, the wine critic lists only four Washington wineries as "outstanding." Andrew Will is one of the four, which includes Quilceda Creek, Leonetti and DeLille Cellars.

Parker calls Camarda "one of America's finest producers of Merlot. (His) wines have virtually perfect tannins. They are present but buffered by the loads of dominating sweet fruit.

"Furthermore, what is amazing about Chris Camarda's wines is that they are concentrated, yet graceful," Parker continues. "Camarda's (wines) blend power with elegance, concentration with finesse, and super sweet fruit with definition. (He) is a brilliant winemaker."

It is big praise for a man who plans to eliminate some of the highly touted wines of the past. Yet, Camarda says the new focus will produce even better wines.

If his 2000 Champoux Red Wine is any example, Camarda has little to fear. The wine is fabulous, with 62 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 19 percent Merlot and 19 percent Cabernet Franc. In a recent tasting, this wine came across as rich and dense, with layers of plum, currant, herb and blueberries. It has just enough oak to add to the wine, rather than detract. Although drinkable now, it should be cellared and after several years, you'll have a hidden treasure waiting to impress your taste buds.

Andrew Will's Sorella, another Bordeaux-style blend that Camarda calls his prototype, is also outstanding. The wine is wonderful now, but with a few years in the cellar, will knock your socks off, in a subtle way, of course.

Incidentally, Sorella, meaning sister in Italian, is a tribute to Camarda's sister, who died from cancer in 1995. The label is a portrait of his sister, painted by Seattle artist Randy Hayes.

Camarda can make this move because of his relationships with some of Washington's best vineyards, which include Klipsun, Pepper Bridge, Ciel du Cheval, Seven Hills and Sheridan. The fruit, under Camarda's touch, produces subtle wines that never overwhelm with power, making them very food friendly. He has captured the intensity of the fruit without producing such bombs that explode and overtake a meal.

The change will enable Camarda to spend more time with his two children, Will, 15, and Luci, 12. (The winery is named for Will and the Camarda's nephew Andrew). Both children were adopted from South Korea and have lived with the Camarda's since infancy. Camarda says the kids are more involved with school activities and growing more independent every day.

Since the winery is located on an island (and not open to the public), life revolves around the state ferry system. While Annie provides much of the Camarda transportation system for their children, Chris says he hopes to have more time to help out. He recently took his daughter to a concert in Seattle and said it was a great father/daughter experience.

The Camarda's live on several acres, surrounded by trees, flowers and a recent acquisition from South Korea-a Changsung. The Changsung, which looks like a totem pole, is a guardian spirit, in honor of his children. Life on the compound includes a couple of dogs, critters from the woods nearby, and a sitting area to enjoy in spring and summer.

Single-vineyard wines from Andrew Will will still be available for the next year or two. Barrel tasting reveals they will be as great as those in the past. But Camarda wants his consumers to experience his love of blends and those currently on the market are just a taste of what is to come.

It is his attempt to express in the glass the spirit of a particular season and a specific place. It is showmanship at its best. And that thought makes Camarda smile.