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Sagelands Vineyard

Sagelands is located in the "Four Corners" of Washington's Columbia Valley-Wahluke Slope, Horse Heaven Hills, Rattlesnake Hills and Walla Walla Valley. The area has become known as one of the better growing regions for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in Washington State.

Profile:
Sagelands VIneyard Winemaker
Frederique Spencer

Sagelands Vineyard Winemaker Frederique Spencer says one of the best things about her job is she's always trying to improve. "We're always trying something new in the vineyard to make the best wine," says Frederique. "And every year we learn something about winemaking. You never stop learning."

A native of Provence, France, Frederique went to Perpignan University in southern France to study agriculture. While in college she began visiting wineries and discussing wine, and soon realized she could combine her two loves of farming and wine by becoming a winemaker. Frederique earned a degree in agronomy and then continued her studies in winemaking for two years at Toulouse University, graduating "with distinction" in enology and viticulture.

Sagelands winemaker Frederique Spencer

While the university gave her the scientific knowledge needed to become a winemaker, Frederique decided she needed hands-on experience to complete her education. She built an impressive resume in the famed Bordeaux regions of Pauillac and Haut-Medoc. Starting at entry-level positions, Frederique did lab and cellar work and helped during the harvest.

Wanting to travel abroad and expand her wine horizons, Frederique joined a student exchange program that gave her the choice between working in California or Washington. "All my friends had gone to California but I wanted something different," she explains. "I had never tasted Washington wines before, so I went." In 1993 she traveled to eastern Washington where she learned American cellar techniques at Covey Run Winery, and then worked the harvest in North East Victoria, Australia. Equipped with a broad knowledge of winemaking in some of the world's best red wine regions, she returned to eastern Washington in 1994 as Cellar Master for Staton Hills Winery and was promoted to Assistant Winemaker in 1997. Chalone Wine Group bought Staton Hills in 1999 and renamed it Sagelands Vineyard. Frederique was promoted to Winemaker in 2002.

"I think of myself as the link between the vineyard, the winery and the wine in the bottle," says Frederique. "Each vintage we try to make even better than the last."

About The Vineyards

The "Four Corners" that produce the winery's grapes are located in Washington State's preeminent wine region, the Columbia Valley. Here's why this area is the perfect spot to produce world-class wines.

Exceptional soils

During the last ice age, glacial ice blocked the river that drained the Clark Fork Valley at the Idaho-Montana border, creating a lake that extended 3,000 miles and contained about half the volume of present-day Lake Michigan. When the ice dam broke, it created the Spokane Flood, the greatest deluge known to science. A wall of water swept between the surrounding mountains, all the way from the Montana border to the Pacific Ocean, carving deep channels and depositing layers of sedimentary sand and gravel on top of basalt (black volcanic rock) from ancient lava beds. These layers were later topped with wind-deposited sandy loam soil. This mixture allows the vine roots to drill deep for nutrients while providing excellent drainage.

Arid climate

The Cascade Mountains create a rain shadow, blocking the moist ocean air moving east from the Pacific Ocean, while the Rocky Mountains protect the area from the coldest of the arctic storms that sweep down from Canada. Average rainfall is a meager eight inches. This limited rain, combined with excellent soil drainage and a drying wind, allows us to control perfectly the timing and quantity of water given to the vines during their growing season. Through deficit irrigation we control vine vigor, thereby increasing the concentration of the characteristic flavors in our wines.

Extended sunlight

Although it is located closer to Canada than to California, Columbia Valley enjoys more than 250 days of sunshine a year, and during the peak growing season receives seventeen and one half hours of sunlight a day, three hours more than does Napa, California. During summer, extended daylight pushes the grapes to produce concentrated, complex flavors with supple tannins. Come winter, temperatures drop to below freezing, causing the vines to become fully dormant. This deep sleep allows the vines to store up energy for the next year's growing cycle.

Own roots

Sandy soils and the area's below-freezing winters have prevented infestation of Phylloxera, a root-feeding aphid that devastated French and California vineyards. Because the only known cure for Phylloxera is to graft European Vitis vinifera vines onto American vine rootstock, almost all French and California winegrapes are grafted. In the Columbia Valley, however, we can grow vines on their own roots so the grape's true varietal character is not modified by a grafted-on rootstock.

The Vineyards

Horse Heaven Vineyard

The Horse Heaven Hills rise up dramatically from the Yakima River a short distance from where the Yakima and Columbia rivers meet. As they gently slope to the south, the Horse Heaven Hills overlook Canoe Ridge and the Columbia River. This area has one of the longest histories for premium winegrape growing in Washington State. Early plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon at Mercer Ranch yielded some of the region's first award-winning red wines. The uniform silt soils, relatively mild winters and a long, even growing season make this an area well suited for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

We have contracted Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Rob Andrew's Horse Heaven Ranch. Rob was a pioneer in this area both for recognizing the area's potential for great wine and for pursuing quality. Planting his first Cabernet Sauvignon in 1980 from plants sourced from the famous Mercer Ranch Vineyards, Rob expanded his plantings in 1990 and again in 1997; these are now contracted to Sagelands Vineyard. Typical of grapes grown in these soils, Rob's grapes show lively raspberry and blackberry fruit. The wines from these vineyards have soft, velvety tannins that blend well with the bigger, firmer tannins from the Cabernet Sauvignon grown on Rattlesnake Hills.

Wahluke Slope Vineyards

The Horse Heaven Hills rise up dramatically from the Yakima River a short distance from where the Yakima and Columbia rivers meet. As they gently slope to the south, the Horse Heaven Hills overlook Canoe Ridge and the Columbia River. This area has one of the longest histories for premium winegrape growing in Washington State. Early plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon at Mercer Ranch yielded some of the region's first award-winning red wines. The uniform silt soils, relatively mild winters and a long, even growing season make this an area well suited for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

We have contracted Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Rob Andrew's Horse Heaven Ranch. Rob was a pioneer in this area both for recognizing the area's potential for great wine and for pursuing quality. Planting his first Cabernet Sauvignon in 1980 from plants sourced from the famous Mercer Ranch Vineyards, Rob expanded his plantings in 1990 and again in 1997; these are now contracted to Sagelands Vineyard. Typical of grapes grown in these soils, Rob's grapes show lively raspberry and blackberry fruit. The wines from these vineyards have soft, velvety tannins that blend well with the bigger, firmer tannins from the Cabernet Sauvignon grown on Rattlesnake Hills.

Pepperbridge Vineyard
in Walla Walla

This easternmost point of the "Four Corners" is the Walla Walla Valley, which was named an official American Viticulture Area in 1984.

The picturesque Blue Mountains form the backdrop for the valley's famed Pepperbridge Vineyard. In 1999, this vineyard site, which has a history of supplying high quality fruit to Walla Walla's premier wineries, was planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec for us.

The soils here are deep silt loam, which, in concert with the warm climate, yield a big, rich wine with firm tannin structure. The Cabernet Sauvignon produced from Pepperbridge Vineyard grapes is full bodied, with floral and blackberry aromas and a silky mouthfeel.

Rattlesnake Hills Vineyard

The westernmost point of the "Four Corners" is the hills forming the northern boundary of the Yakima Valley. The diversity in the climate and soil composition in these hills allows Sagelands to select areas with optimal growing conditions-warm sites with well-drained silt loam to rocky soils. The Yakima River along with the Roza and Sunnyside canals form an effective irrigation network for grape growing.

Joe and Tom Hattrup own Elephant Mountain Vineyard, which was planted in 1998. Located at approximately 1,400 feet in elevation, this south-sloping site is on rocky, well-drained silt loam soil. The vineyard lies on the western end of the valley, which has a distinctly different climate from both the upper Yakima Valley (only a few miles north), and the lower Yakima Valley. The average annual temperature here is three degrees Fahrenheit warmer and receives less annual rainfall than the lower valley. These factors make ideal conditions for ripening Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Consistent warmth throughout the growing season allows long hangtime for the grapes on the vine, creating intense flavors, most notably cassis.

We are also purchasing grapes from the eastern end of the Rattlesnake Hills near Benton City. A warm site with well drained, silt loam soils over broken basalt, Spring Creek Vineyard borders the Red Mountain AVA, which has an outstanding reputation for red winegrapes. The vineyard required extensive work to remove the large amount of rocks and, as with all rocky vineyard sites, irrigation is carefully monitored to avoid overstressing the vines. The reward for farming this difficult site comes in grapes with intense fruit character. The Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes from this vineyard produce wines with bright cherry and raspberry aromas and balanced, fine-grained tannins.

 


 

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