Reminder that this month’s Virtual Tasting is Thursday 2/25 from 7-9pm Pacific Time. Read about it here.

This is part of a report on 2009 Walla Walla Fall Release Weekend. Download a complete .pdf copy of the report here.

In 1897, James Dumas established one of Washington’s first commercial apple orchards in Dayton, Washington, a small town about twenty miles east of Walla Walla. More than one hundred years later, in 2003, Jay DeWitt and Doug Harvey started a winery in one of Dumas’ former apple packing sheds and named the winery in his honor – Dumas Station.

A fourth generation farmer and native of Walla Walla, Jay DeWitt earned an Agronomy degree (a branch of agriculture that deals with crop production and soil management) from Washington State University before moving to California to work as a crop consultant. It was there, drinking the wines of Napa and Sonoma, that DeWitt’s passion for wine – and Cabernet Sauvignon in particular – was formed.

DeWitt’s partner Doug Harvey also grew up in Walla Walla. Similar to DeWitt, Harvey’s love of wine came about living in California. At that point, Walla Walla was all about apples and wheat rather than wine. While they grew up in the same area and both lived in California for many years, Dewitt and Harvey did not meet until both returned to Walla Walla – DeWitt to raise a family and help his father farm wheat and Harvey to “slow down, travel and enjoy my wine collection” (hear hear).

DeWitt and Harvey met on the golf course where they quickly discovered their mutual passion for wine. By that time, DeWitt had turned his focus to winemaking. He made his first wine in 1998, destemming by hand one hundred fifty pounds of Merlot from Spring Valley Vineyard on the dining room floor with his wife Debbie. He says that it “wasn’t great wine, but good enough to encourage another try.” In 2002, DeWitt and Harvey made their first wine together, a “garagiste” effort. When DeWitt asked Harvey about his interest in starting a commercial winery, Harvey agreed to join DeWitt on the venture on one condition – “if we did it ourselves – and that meant everything.” The two spent all of 2003 doing the carpentry, plumbing, and electrical work needed to “have a place to follow the dream.” Dumas Station made its first commercial vintage in 2003, a Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot of outrageously high Quality-to-Price Ratios (QPR).

Like many, Dewitt believes that wines are made in the vineyard. It is for this reason that Dumas Station grows its own grapes, with the vast majority coming from Minnick Hills Vineyard (the winery also sources small amounts of fruit from Birch Creek Vineyard and Breezy Slope Vineyard). DeWitt worked with the Minnick Family in 1999 to establish their Walla Walla Valley vineyard. He subsequently became vineyard manager. DeWitt says, “As a winemaker I am a non-interventionist. My goal is to capture the uniqueness of the vineyard and vintage. As a grower I am much the opposite. I do everything I can to intensify the color and flavor of the grapes.”

Dumas Station’s 2006 vintage releases mark an expansion of the winery’s portfolio. The winery has released their first reserve wine – a Cabernet Sauvignon – as well as their first table wine – the Cow Catcher Red. As with previous vintages, the winery’s current releases deliver quality that exceeds their price points. At the entry level, the 2006 Cow Catcher Red Wine is a QPR standout at $19. At the top level, the winery’s Reserve is a dark, intense wine with gorgeous fruit and beautiful barrel accents. This wine only improved over several days and promises to evolve and mature over the next ten to fifteen years.

Dumas Station produces 1,000 cases annually. Wines were sampled at Merchants in Walla Walla where the winery was pouring for Fall Release and were sampled at 68 degrees (Note: The Reserve wine was resampled at 64 degrees as a bottle sample provided by the winery).

Dumas Station Cabernet Sauvignon Minnick Hills Reserve Walla Walla Valley 2006 $60
Rating: * (Excellent) Dark and opaque. Pencil lead, brambly black fruit, licorice, and light herbal aromas mark the nose. A touch of chocolate and light anise emerges and recedes. Rich and loaded with fruit on the palate along with silky oak and light stem flavors. An extended finish that rolls and evolves. 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 7% Merlot, and 7% Petit Verdot. 100% Minnick Hills Vineyard. 15.3% alcohol. 95 cases produced.

Dumas Station Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2006 $32
Rating: * (Excellent)
An exciting nose with coffee, spice, black cherry, dust, and light herbal streaks. Excellently balanced on the palate with a persistent finish. 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot. 100% Minnick Hills Vineyard. 15.0% alcohol. 490 cases produced.

Dumas Station Cow Catcher Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2006 $19
Rating: +/* (Good/Excellent)
A fun, enticing nose marked by ground black licorice and cherries. The palate delivers on this high QPR effort. 100% Minnick Hills Vineyard. 15% alcohol. 240 cases produced.