Pomum Cellars was founded by Javier and Shylah Alfonso. The word ‘Pomum’ comes from a Latin term for fruit. In naming the winery, Javier Alfonso says, it “is our homage to the heroes in this perpetual story that manage to capture the essence of the land and preserve them until they are released into a beverage we really can’t survive without.”
Javier Alfonso, who serves as winemaker, grew up in the Rivera del Duero in Spain. There he says, “Wine was always a part of life.” Contrasting Spain with New World areas such as Washington, Alfonso describes winemaking in Spain was “free” saying, “vineyards were already planted generations ago by your ancestors on land you owned in the worst possible patches. The vines didn’t require planting, irrigation, or fertilizing. All you had to do is prune in winter and collect your reward at the end of the season.”
While a native of Spain, Alfonso has roots in the Wapato and Zillah areas of the Yakima Valley where ancestors on his mother’s side settled several generations ago. Moving to the United States in 1995 to attend school, Alfonso did not think much about the connection between wine and the land because this thinking is so inculcated in the culture of Spain. However, when he saw Washington emerging as a wine region Alfonso says, “developing this culture in such a ‘blessed’ region eventually became my obsession.” Like many winemakers in Washington, it is an obsession he has focused on nights and weekends after his day job. Unlike many though, he works as a rocket propulsion engineer (insert your rocket science joke here).
While he grew up around vineyards his entire life in Spain, Alfonso did not start making wine until he came to the United States. In Spain, Alfonso’s family grew grapes but sent most of them to commercial wineries. They saved a small amount to make wine with family and friends to “celebrate the harvest.” Alfonso started making wine from Yakima Valley fruit in 2000. His decision to start a winery was an organic one. He says, “By 2004 we were making so much (wine) we couldn’t give it away to friends and family so we decided to get licensed.”
In selecting vineyard sources, Alfonso looks for uniqueness. He seeks out areas where the vines tend to be older and “have had time to become entrenched within their surroundings.” The winery uses top vineyard sources for its wines including Dineen (Yakima Valley), DuBrul (Yakima Valley), Upland (Snipes Mountain), Konnowac (Yakima Valley), and Elerding (Yakima Valley). Many of the vines in these vineyards range in age from twenty to forty years old.
Pomum Cellars’ wines show a balance of Old and New World styles. The 2008 Riesling comes from Upland Vineyard near Sunnyside, Washington. The vines for this offering approach forty years of age, and it seems to show on this beautifully balanced effort. The 2007 Red Blend, made from declassified barrels, is the most enjoyable $20 bottle of wine I have had in a long, long time, drinking like a wine at a considerably higher price point. The aroma and flavor profile is quite unique for Washington with alluring black tea notes. While not built for the long haul, the wine is too enjoyable to hold on for long anyway. The Syrah on the other hand is a dark and brooding wine that promises to mature nicely with a few extra years in the bottle. The 2007 Tinto – very enjoyable but the weakest of the current releases – is a blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Still, this wine shows the promise of Tempranillo in Washington.
While Washington is a young wine region compared to his native Spain, Alfonso is excited by what he sees here. “The soil and the climate constitute some of the best conditions for growing vinifera vines I have seen anywhere in the world,” he says. Alfonso is particularly excited about the possibilities for Spanish varieties in Washington, such as Garnacha, Tempranillo, and Monastrel.
Although Alfonso is excited about the possibilities for these varieties in Washington, it is the land that is paramount. Alfonso says, “I tend to avoid calling the fruit we make wine of simply as ‘grapes.’ The fruit is just an intermediary state between the land and the wine in your glass at dinner.” He continues, “Tonight, make a toast to the vineyards because they are the real stars here.”
Pomum Cellars produces 2,000 cases annually.
Pomum Cellars Riesling 2008 $19
Rating: * (Excellent) Light floral aromas along with tangerine mark a nose that is a bit quiet at the moment. Dry and beautifully balanced on the palate with a lingering, mineral-laden finish. 100% Riesling, Upland Vineyard (Snipes Mountain). Fermented and aged in stainless steel. 12.5% alcohol. 0.8% Residual Sugar. 125 cases produced.
Pomum Cellars Red Blend Columbia Valley 2007 $20
Rating: * (Excellent) Black cherry, a dusting of black tea, mocha powder, earth, and light herbal streaks on a gorgeous, engaging nose. Intense and loaded with fresh cherry and cranberries on the palate while still showing incredible lightness. Opens up in series of concentric rings before making a giant exclamation point on the finish. An outrageously high Quality-to-Price ratio wine. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc. 14.3% alcohol. 140 cases produced.
Pomum Cellars Syrah 2007 $36
Rating: * (Excellent) Dark and purply in color. An appealing, understated nose with ground spices, stone, bittersweet chocolate, a light earthiness, herbal streaks, and brambly fruit. On the palate, round and firm with a tight core of black fruit and a pleasing citric uptick toward the finish. Opens up and evolves over time and promises to mature well in the bottle. More Old World in style than most being made in Washington. 100% Syrah. Upland (Snipes Mountain) and Elerding (Horse Heaven Hills) vineyards. Aged in used 225 liter French (77%) and 500 new liter (23%) French oak. 14.9% alcohol. 215 cases produced. Give one year or decant.
Pomum Cellars Tinto Columbia Valley 2007 $25
Rating: +/* (Good/Excellent) Nose is fairly locked up at the moment, although it shows dark fruit, mineral notes, light chocolate, and floral aromas. The palate, on the other hand, packs a wallop. Dry, tart, and beautifully structured. Quite tight at present but shows promise. 72% Tempranillo (Snipes Canyon Ranch, Elerding), 16% Cabernet Sauvignon (Upland Estate), and 12% Merlot (DuBrul). Aged in once used French Oak barrels for 14 months. 14.3% alcohol. 197 cases produced.
Red Wine and Syrah provided as samples. Riesling and Tinto from purchased samples.