Charles Lill, Greg Lill, Jay Soloff, and Chris Upchurch founded DeLille Cellars in 1992. Upchurch serves as executive winemaker and vineyard manager. Chris Peterson, a product of Walla Walla’s enology and viticulture program, holds the title of winemaker.
Located in Woodinville, Washington, DeLille is dedicated to making Old World-style wines from New World fruit. While a number of wineries in Washington favor a big, bold style that takes advantage of eastern Washington’s ability to produce extremely ripe fruit, DeLille’s flagship Bordeaux-style blends – Harrison Hill and Chaleur Estate – are noteworthy for their restraint and elegance.
Harrison Hill is named after a vineyard located within the Snipes Mountain American Viticutual Area (AVA) (DeLille continues to use the Yakima Valley AVA designation for the wine however). The five-acre vineyard, planted in 1961, is one of the older Cabernet Sauvignon sites in Washington. The vineyard is owned by the Newhouse family, also owners of nearby Upland Estates. Fruit for the two Chaleur Estate wines – the red and white – comes from some of Washington’s best vineyards, including Ciel du Cheval (Red Mountain), Klipsun (Red Mountain), Boushey (Yakima Valley), and Sagemoor (Columbia Valley).
DeLille has undergone a number of changes recently. Once open only for releases and special events, last year the winery opened a dedicated tasting room a short distance from the winery. The facility, called the Carriage House, is open seven days a week, a reflection of both the change in the economy and increased production at the winery. The tasting room is located in a suddenly bustling area that includes recent additions Alder Ridge (opened in January), Cañon del Sol (opened in December), Dusted Valley, Gifford-Hirlinger, Goose Ridge (tasting room having a soft launch today), and Otis Kenyon (tasting room officially opening today).
DeLille stirred up a bit of controversy recently when they decided to charge attendees of the Harrison Hill and Chaleur Estate release event. The event had previously been free and limited to people who had purchased the wine. While the fee was nominal at $10, some who had pre-purchased the $75 bottles took offense at having to pay extra money to attend the event (people who had ordered wines and just wished to pick them up to save on shipping costs could do so free of charge). Some people I spoke with prior to the event went so far as to say that they had decided to pass on the wines this year given the state of the economy and what some construed as a lack of appreciation by the winery.
When I asked founder Jay Soloff whether the winery had heard similar criticism, he responded, “Oh we heard it.” Still, Soloff said that after the winery’s last release event, they decided it was time for a change. Lines had been too long and the facility far too crowded. “We didn’t feel like it was fun for anybody,” Soloff said. So the winery made the decision to reduce the number of attendees by approximately one half and add a nominal fee. While the decision was controversial, Soloff said, “You have to understand. We were doing the same thing for more than fifteen years.” Still, Soloff said the winery could have done a better job explaining the rationale behind the decision.
Despite all of this, for those who attended the event, DeLille still knows how to put on a party. The winery, located in a restored 1890s farmhouse overlooking Woodinville Valley, is one of the most picturesque in the area. DeLille always has a festive atmosphere with a delicious cheese spread, a roaring fire, and piano music. The new releases of the winery’s flagship wines did not disappoint either.
DeLille Cellars Harrison Hill Yakima Valley 2007 $75
Rating: ** (Exceptional) An appealing nose marked by cherries, red vines, an undercurrent of toasty oak, and light herbal notes. Elegantly structured on the palate with restrained but richly textured fruit wrapped in silky oak. Beautifully understated. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot. Aged in 100% new French oak. 14.9% alcohol. 500 cases produced. Give three plus years or extensive decanting.
DeLille Cellars Chaleur Estate Yakima Valley 2007 $75
Rating: ** (Exceptional) A bright, fruit-filled nose redolent with cherries, blueberries, licorice, graphite, and light barrel notes. Rich and focused on the palate with lithe tannins and a pretty cranberry note on the finish. Shows remarkable restraint and finesse. 65.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 7.5% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot. Ciel du Cheval, Klipsun, and Boushey vineyards (95% Red Mountain). Aged in 100% new French oak. 14.1% alcohol. 950 cases produced. Give three plus years or extensive decanting.
DeLille Cellars Chaleur Estate Blanc Yakima Valley 2008 $34
Rating: * (Excellent) An alluring nose with gooseberry, toast, and light tropical fruit. A very pretty texture on the palate with a slightly rounded feel with retaining crisp acidity. Mineral notes linger on the finish. 62% Sauvignon Blanc, 38 Semillon. 100% barrel fermented (70% new). 2,400 cases produced.