My conversation with Owen Roe owner and winemaker David O’Reilly began with his vivid description of wild horses he’s seen running near the 1973 Block of Washington’s Red Willow Vineyard in Yakima, Washington. The breathtaking vision is just another reason he loves the hills of central Washington.
above: wild horse on the plains west of Yakima in central Washington
David was at Red Willow to walk the vineyard and assess the vines, something he does many times a year. Constantly on the road in Washington and Oregon wine country, his truck is his office, and most of my conversations with him occur while he drives through the mountains around Yakima, visiting his new winery, his estate vineyard, and the central Washington vineyards he makes famous. Owen Roe Winery is located in Oregon’s North Willamette Valley and makes Washington as well as Oregon wine in both states, but his new winery often takes him to Yakima.
The occasion of my call was to ask David about his new 2011 vintage wines, especially the release of Owen Roe’s new 2011 Abbot’s Table.
David describes Washington’s 2011 harvest: “An early deep freeze in late 2010 took crop levels down by 30%. Early ripening varietals like Cabernet Franc and Merlot were fine. Later maturing Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache were hurt – they had just been harvested and the sap was still flowing. Syrah pulled through just fine – much more so than in 2010.”
A smaller crop means that the 2011 Abbot’s production is down by half from normal levels. Like 2010, 2011 was another year with small and very high quality harvests. David says: “I am really happy with the 2011 wines. The vines ripened completely and the cooler summer (than the extreme heat of 2008 and 2009) made ripe, perfect grapes.”
I don’t know of another northwest wine that combines so many different red varietals. Since his first vintage in 1999 it has variously included as many as twelve different grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Sirah, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Blaufrankish, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, Cinsault, Pinot noir, Grenache, Counoise, and Malbec. The 2011 Abbot’s is a blend of Red Willow Vineyard Blaufrankish, Hillside Vineyard Zinfandel, Marcoux Vineyard Sangiovese, and Owen Roe’s estate vineyard, Union Gap Malbec.
The 2011 Abbot’s Table is only 13% alcohol, the lowest level ever. Washington grapes are grown in very hot conditions and the wines tend to be high alcohol. A lower alcohol level gave David the opportunity to try a slightly different style.
He says: “The 2011 Abbot’s is restrained and food friendly with a prettiness and fresh, primary fruit flavors. It has a myriad of complex flavors that fit with all cuisines. Balance and style makes it age-able – throw a couple of cases in the cellar and in 3-4 years you’ll have a $50 wine.”
David released the Abbot’s last week and we rushed to get a sample. Tasting the wine, Marcus commented on the quality and made an important point. The Abbot’s is an intentional blend. David sacrificed two successful and profitable wines, his Zinfandel and Sangiovese, so he could use the fruit for Abbot’s.
Year after year, there’s really nothing else like it. You might expect a wine with so many different grapes to be a mishmash, and it might be in lesser hands. But the Abbot’s is always delightfully surprising. Sipping it, big black cherry and plum flavors of Zinfandel mingle with Sangiovese’s spice, earth and tart red cherry. Hints of Blaufrankish, Merlot, and Malbec flavors show through and add interest. This vintage, the wine is quite young, best cellared for a few months, or decant before drinking.
Abbot’s Table 2011
$21.55 in any 12 bottle order or “Build a Case”
Abbot’s Table 2011 MAGNUMS – very rare
$60.75 in any 12 bottle order or “Build a Case”
Another great image of wild horses in Eastern Washington