What follows is an excerpt from the 2009 Walla Walla Spring Release Weekend Report. Download the full report here (Note: Opens .pdf).

Tasting Summary
3 days, 21 wineries, over 110 wines sampled.

Spring Release is one of the most exciting times in Washington wine country. Throughout Walla Walla Valley, vines are starting new growth and wineries are releasing their latest vintages. New wineries are opening their doors for the first time and are busy preparing for one of Walla Walla’s busiest weekends.

As usual, we tried to divide up the weekend between wineries we had visited a number of times and wineries we had never visited before. In terms of the former, Walla Walla stalwarts Long Shadows, Spring Valley, and K Vintners continued to impress. However, two wineries in particular stood up and demanded attention on this visit. These wineries were Trust Cellars and Forgeron Cellars.

Trust Cellars was started five years ago by Steve Brooks and his wife Lori. After working for twenty years at CNN in Atlanta, Brooks decided it was time for something different. An article in the New York Times about eastern Washington led Brooks to decide it was time for a leap of faith – Trust. In the ensuing years, Brooks learned the wine trade the old fashioned way, taking classes at the Center for Enology and Viticulture in Walla Walla and assisting a number of area wineries. Now releasing his fourth vintage, Brooks is showing why a little faith is not such a bad thing. Trust currently produces a Rosé, a Riesling, a Cabernet, and two Syrahs, one from Columbia Valley and one from Walla Walla Valley. Brooks’ wines are expressive and are distinguished both by diversity and exceptional quality across the lineup. While all are noteworthy, some, such as the 2007 Walla Walla Valley Syrah, are sublime. This wine is composed of Syrah from Les Collines and Va Piano vineyards, two of the finest in the valley. Brook’s addition of 11% Cabernet from Prosser’s Lewis Vineyard gives the wine additional structure and complexity that makes it shine.

Forgeron Cellars was founded in 2001. Marie-Eve Gilla serves as part-owner and winemaker. Forgeron sources grapes from excellent vineyard sources, including Stillwater Creek, Les Collines, Pepper Bridge, Klipsun, and Boushey. While Forgeron uses this fruit to produce a number of standard varietal wines, the winery also produces several less common varietal wines, including an excellent Roussanne and perhaps the best Zinfandel being made in the state. Gilla’s wines are simultaneously bold and understated – a compelling combination of the Old World and New. Of these wines, the 2004 Champoux Vineyard Cabernet was simply transcendent, a wine so good that it literally brought all conversation to a stop.

Wineries we visited for the first time included Le Chateau, Morrison Lane, Garrison Creek Cellars, Grande Ronde Cellars, and Rotie Cellars. Rotie Cellars was celebrating its first release Spring Release weekend. Winemaker Sean Boyd is currently assistant winemaker at Waters Winery. For his inaugural release, Boyd produced three Rhone-style wines. There are two reds – a 2007 Northern Blend that is Syrah co-fermented with Viognier and a 2007 Southern Blend that is composed of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. These are exciting, dynamic wines that offer restrained alcohol levels and terrific fruit. This is wine to seek out – and seek out quickly I might add. As of this writing Rotie Cellars had about a quarter of these wines remaining just two months after release.

In addition to wineries opening their doors for the first time, long established Waterbrook was also celebrating on Spring Release weekend. Here the occasion was the unofficial opening of their new facility west of Walla Walla. The production facility and tasting room were still under construction, so much so that the doors to the production center had just been installed that afternoon. Waterbrook’s new buildings are part of a trend over the last several years of creating large facilities west of Walla Walla. This list now includes Reininger (who is expanding), Three Rivers, Long Shadows, and Cougar Crest. However, in terms of scale, all of these facilities pale in comparison to Waterbrook’s 300,000 case production capacity. The majority of that production will serve Precept Wine Brands other labels, which include Magnificent Wine Company, Apex Cellars, Pine & Post, Pavin & Riley, and Washington Hills among many others.

Another trend that was apparent on this visit was for Walla Walla wineries to open tasting rooms west of the Cascades in Woodinville. In the coming months, look for west side tasting rooms from Dusted Valley Vintners, Tertulia Cellars, Sleight of Hand Cellars, Trust Cellars, and Gifford Hirlinger. I would expect more wineries to do the same in the future. While Walla Walla wineries are heading west, this is no reason not to head east as Walla Walla wine country gets more exciting with each passing year.