Olsen Estates, Fondly Remembered

I had the privilege of visiting Olsen Estates Winery in Prosser, Wash. a few years ago, when the farming company decided to make its own wines rather than sell only the grapes. Dick and Larry Olsen, brothers who wanted to leave a legacy to their sons Leif and Martin, were convinced by their boys to open a tasting room and use their fabulous fruit to make Olsen wines.

Leif and Martin gave it a strong effort and turned out good to outstanding wines, but in a harsh economy, could not get the buzz to showcase and distinguish their wines from the many bottles occupying shelf space in wine and high-end grocery stores. In an interview a few years ago, the two cousins said they would give it about five years to make a profit, and 2011 was the fifth year. Sadly, Olsen Estates closed its doors for winemaking in 2011, after a valiant effort.

There are still Olsen wines in the marketplace and I recently tasted the 2008 Malbec and 2008 Petit Verdot with a stewed beef and vegetable dish, the kind of hearty meal that sticks to your ribs, warranting a heartier wine. The malbec tasted lighter than the 14.2 percent alcohol, with spiced plum, blackberry and a lingering pepper in the back of the throat. It has heft with tannins, so a little cellaring would make it even better. The petit verdot was much more muscular and yet more floral, with violets, lilacs and hints of tobacco and leather.

I will miss what the Olsens could have done, had they managed to keep the doors open, but I also know that some of their fruit will land in some of my favorite Washington and Oregon wines. I wish them luck.

Happy tasting!

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