How does an Oregon-based winery end up making four Washington Zinfandels including three vineyard-designated wines? This is how.

Ed and Laureen Fus moved their family to Oregon in 1997 to pursue their dream of establishing a small vineyard. In 2001 they began planting Three Angels Vineyard in Oregon’s Eola-Amity Hills. The vineyard was named after a term of endearment used by Ed’s father to refer to Laureen and the couple’s two daughters. Ed says, “When (my father) would call on the phone, he’d always ask how his Three Angels were doing.”

At Three Angels Vineyard, the Fuses planted Pinot Noir, selling fruit to Dobbes Family Estate and Domaine Coteau. After several years of assisting wineries that purchased his fruit, Fus became interested in making his own wine. He decided to focus on Zinfandel, his wife’s favorite wine. The couple had originally hoped to plant Zinfandel at Three Angels Vineyard. After deciding it wasn’t practical to grow in the Willamette Valley, the Fuses turned their attention to Washington.

In terms of finding fruit sources, Fus says the vineyards he chose were as much a practical matter as anything else, saying, “There are too few to choose from. For whatever reason, Zinfandel has been virtually ignored by Washington growers.” Indeed, Zinfandel is, comparatively, a rather rare beast in Washington State. It is even more rare for a winery to make multiple single vineyard Zinfandels in the state.

Fus made his first Zinfandel in 2006, trading Pinot Noir fruit from Three Angels Vineyard for the custom crush fees. In 2007, he made his first commercial vintage for Three Angels. Unfortunately, a trademark dispute forced a name change to Angel Vine starting with the 2008 vintage.

For their 2008 Zinfandels, Angel Vine sourced fruit from Les Collines, Avery, and Stone Tree vineyards – each located in a different American Viticultural Area (AVA). Les Collines Vineyard is located in the Walla Walla Valley AVA. The vineyard, which is nestled up against the Blue Mountains, is best known for producing exceptional Syrah grapes. Avery Vineyard is located in the Columbia Valley AVA, a short distance from Maryhill Winery. With south-facing slopes, the grapes receive full exposure to the sun, and the nearby Columbia River moderates temperatures. Stone Tree Vineyard is located in the Wahluke Slope and is the hottest of the three sites.

Although producing Zinfandel from Washington may seem at odds with producing Pinot Noir from Oregon, Fus says, “ I feel Zinfandel is as transparent as Pinot Noir in demonstrating the characteristics of the site where it is grown.” To highlight these differences in site, Angel Vine produces three single vineyard Zinfandels, as well as a non-vineyard designate blend from the three vineyards. The winery also makes varietal bottlings of Primitivo and Pinot Noir, the latter from their estate vineyard.

The four Zinfandels sampled here are far from the big, bold, spicy wines California popularized. Rather, all of the Angel Vine wines are reasonably light on their feet and display abundant red fruit aromas and flavors. They are also each distinct from each other with the Les Collines showing more blue fruit, the Avery Vineyard wine a distinct herbal tone, and the Stone Tree a bolder aroma profile. At times the wines want a bit more structure and have some missing pieces. The Columbia Valley Zinfandel is the most complete of the set (this wine also contains 18% Primitivo and 6% Petite Sirah) with the Les Collines perhaps the most intriguing.

Angel Vine also sourced Zinfandel from Coyote Canyon in 2008 and received fruit from Alder Ridge in the 2009 vintage. Fus says other vineyard-designated Zinfandels may be considered in the future.

Angel Vine produces 1,500 cases annually.

Angel Vine Zinfandel Columbia Valley 2008 $20
Rating: + (Good) Nose is marked by the funky, earthy aromas of the Stone Tree Vineyard wine along with blue and red berries, pepper, and a touch of chocolate. Tart and a bit more full on the palate than the other offerings. The most complete overall. 76% Zinfandel, 18% Primitivo, and 6% Petite Sirah. Les Collines, Avery, Coyote Canyon, and Stone Tree vineyards. Aged in French and Hungarian oak (10% new). 14.8% alcohol.

Angel Vine Zinfandel Les Collines Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2008 $22
Rating: + (Good) A moderately aromatic nose with fresh raspberries, blueberries, and tart red fruit. A bit more full on the palate with light red fruit and a zing of acidity. Comes up a bit short on the finish. Pairs well with food but doesn’t quite stand up on its own. Aged in French and Hungarian oak (25% new). 14.0% alcohol. 420 cases produced.

Angel Vine Zinfandel Avery Vineyard Columbia Valley 2008 $20
Rating: . (Decent) Fairly restrained on the nose with raspberries, currant, pepper, and tomato leaf. Tart and acidic on with crisp red fruit flavors and herbal notes. A bit lean on the back end. 14.4% alcohol. Aged in French and Hungarian oak. 100 cases produced.

Angel Vine Zinfandel Stonetree Vineyard Columbia Valley 2008 $20
Rating: . (Decent) Nose is considerably more aromatic than the other wines with earth, berry, herbal notes, and pepper. A bit of a stinky aroma to it (in a good way). Taste is straightforward and pleasing but wants a little uplift in the mid-palate. Aged in French and Hungarian oak. 15.2% alcohol. 75 cases produced.

Samples provided by winery.