Seven Hills Winery
Seven Hills Winery has
By Christina Kelly
Few wineries in the Northwest can boast residency in two different states, but Seven Hills Winery spent more than 10 years in Oregon before moving 10 miles down the road nearly three years ago to its current location in Walla Walla, WA.
Winemaker Casey McClellan represents the fourth generation in his family to work in agriculture in Eastern Washington. The family began growing grapes about 20 years ago with the Hendricks family, planting 24 acres. At the time, it was the largest vineyard in Walla Walla. The family also produced wheat and apples.
More About Seven Hills Winery
The families sold Seven Hills Vineyards in 1995, but the winery is thriving under McClellan, his wife Vicky and their business partners. However, McClellan still purchases many of his grapes from the old block of Seven Hills Vineyard, harvesting the same vines since 1988.
"We're working with some of the oldest Cabernet and Merlot vines in the Northwest," McClellan said. "With those old vines, we're trying to make wines that express the vineyards-with low yields and hand-picked fruit."
Although the fruit has always come from the Walla Walla region, the winery was located just across the Walla Walla River, about 10 miles away, in Oregon until April of 2000. McClellan produced Cabernets, Merlots and Syrahs-wines more typical of a Washington winery. Yet, being in Oregon, he also produced Pinot Gris and a Riesling.
"Spending time in both states gives me a good perspective of the industry in the Northwest," McClellan said. "I don't know of any other winery that has that unique experience."
In fact, most winemakers in Washington and Oregon only see their counterparts at conventions and seminars. Being part of both Oregon's and Washington's wine industry, McClellan says he is excited about new directions in both states.
For example, he said some Eastern Washington winemakers are producing Italian grapes for wine; a few Oregon wineries are producing the Spanish grape, Tempranillo (and McClellan himself is experimenting with Tempranillo); and the explosion of Syrah in Washington is also exciting, he says.
Casey McClellan received his undergraduate degree in pharmaceutical studies at the University of Washington. It's where he met his wife and winery partner Vicky, who was majoring in art history and economics.
"Right after we were married, we moved to Davis (CA.) where Casey worked on his graduate degree in enology and viticulture," said Vicky, who was raised in Puyallup, WA. "When it came time to raising a family, we wanted to be in a rural community."
The McClellans moved back to the Northwest. They are currently raising teenage three daughters. Being the lone male in the household is a far cry from McClellan's youth, when he was raised with eight brothers.
Seven Hills is producing around 9,500 cases of wine. The majority of the wine produced is Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. About 3,000 cases consist of Pinot Gris and Riesling. McClellan said he is careful not to overwhelm his wines with oak, or produce heavy fruit bombs.
"We allow for a warm, sweet, well-integrated oak in the wine," McClellan said. "Our goal is to make a whole wine-one where you can taste the personality of the vineyard-one that reflects a balance."
future includes a little growth, perhaps by 1,000
cases more, and the introduction of a Bordeaux
blend, named "
Pasad". McClellan says he is growing his own
grapes on his own "McClellan Estate Vineyard",
located right next to the original Seven Hills Vineyard,
although he says he is pleased with the fruit grown
by such vineyards as Klipsun and Ciel du Cheval.
tasting room wine bar, this is an example
Turns out, there really wasn't a story about hills or mountains. The vineyard took the name Seven Hills from the Seven Hills Road nearby. They winery adopted the vineyard name.
What Vicky learned is that at one time, the Seven Hills Road was the worst road I the county.
"I'd heard rumors about the name, but I finally learned that it was the name of a road," she said. "So, there really wasn't some mysterious story."
In recent years, Seven Hills wines have won numerous accolades and high scores from wine publications. The 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley bottling received a 90-point rating from Wine Spectator. The wine was described as dense, plush and generous with black cherry and currant flavors. The New York Times rated with same wine with four stars, and rated the 1998 Klipsun Vineyard Merlot with three-and-a-half-stars.
One of the beautiful paintings in the "gallery" at Seven Hills Winery
Klipsun Vineyard sits on the western slope of Red Mountain (Washington's most recently designated AVA), receiving the intense light of the afternoon sun. Frequent breezes stress the vines further. In combination with silty sand and shallow soils, these factors produce very ripe grapes with abundant flavor and extract.
The Gelles family and vineyard manager Fred Artz manage the vineyard to achieve a consistently high level of quality year after year. Historically these grapes produce very ageable wines.
Walla Valley Vineyards
Fruit from four different sites in the Walla Walla Valley is used for our Syrah. Morrison Vineyard was our first syrah source and is the oldest Syrah vineyard in the Valley. With time we added Patina, Cailloux and Seven Hills Vineyard-East as Syrah sources. Each vineyard brings particular nuances and benefits to the blend, responding in their own way vintage to vintage, but the final result unmistakably reflects the appellation.
History of Seven Hills Winery
In 1988, Casey and Vicky McClellan joined the founding partners of Seven Hills Vineyard to create Seven Hills Winery. In their first vintage, they crafted four tons of select Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot into 250 cases of critically acclaimed wines.
Since that first vintage they have grown to crush 160 tons of fruit adding Syrah, Pinot Gris and White Riesling. Their emphasis has always been to augment and elevate the expression of terroir arising from the meticulous viticulture and low yields of their chosen vineyards.
In 2000, Seven Hills Winery relocated to the historic Whitehouse-Crawford building at 212 North Third Avenue in downtown Walla Walla, Washington.
The Whitehouse-Crawford building was erected in 1905. It has been transformed from a woodworking mill into a thoroughly modern winery and tasting room. The renovation was carefully planned and carried out to preserve the working character and emphasize the architectural charm of the building. The building is listed on both the Washington State and National Historic Registers.
Winemaker Casey McClellan first worked for Seven Hills Winery in the early 1980's. After receiving his Masters at UC Davis in enology and viticulture, he worked for Preston Vineyards, in California, and then in Portugal, making Porto. He returned to Oregon and Seven Hills WInery in 1988.
"My goal as winemaker for Seven Hills is the production of intensely structured, balanced wines expressing the distinct terroir of their vineyard origin. I believe that the soil, climate and grapes in the Northwest appellations afford the opportunity to make wines ranked among the best in their class.
I have been fortunate in my 12 years as winemaker for Seven Hills to have developed fruit sources where I harvest from the same rows-the same vines each year. This is a precious resource for us, knowing the vines and working closely with our growers, we can craft wines attaining the full potential of the grape.
With our wines we aim to establish a singular quality, not necessarily echoing styles common to the Pacific Northwest. " –Casey McClellan
the Difference Between
The McClellan family partnered with the Hendricks family in the early 1980s to found what would become the Seven Hills Vineyard with the wild scheme to plant alfalfa land into wine grapes. Gathering the scientific data they could find, relying on the wisdom of old timers and the strength of their dreams, they began planting the first 8 acres in 1980. Over the next six years, the planting increased to 24 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Seven Hills Winery has an enduring commitment to the old block of Seven Hills Vineyard. The families sold the vineyard in 1995, but the winery retains its contract on the same rows of vines we have been harvesting since 1988.
The vineyard is sited on deep, well-drained Ritzville silt-loams, with a slight northern slope. Sun exposure is excellent. The vines are "own-rooted," the way things used to be done in California and France in pre-phylloxera times. Vines this old are a precious winemaking resource the winery treats with great respect.
Red wines from this site are some of the most highly regarded from the Northwest.
The Whitehouse Crawford Planing Mill
In 1905, for almost a century the Whitehouse Crawford Planing Mill in downtown Walla Walla, Washington produced finely crafted wooden fixtures and decorative elements. In 1998, the building was targeted for destruction by the City of Walla Walla and out-of-town motel developers. The heroic efforts of Salvation! LLC owners Carl and Sonia Schmitt resulted in the saving and restoring of the historic building. Casey McClellan, Seven Hills Winery owner, anchors the building, which is also home to a wonderful restaurant.
The beautiful stairwell in the L'Ecole #41 banquet room was made by the Whitehouse Crawford Planing Mill.
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