Kerloo Cellars – named for the call of the crane – made as impressive a debut as any Washington winery last year with two compelling 2007 Syrahs from the Walla Walla Valley. The first was a vineyard designate from Les Collines Vineyard. This vineyard, located at the foothills of the Blue Mountains, is producing Syrah that goes into some of the valley’s best bottles, including wines from Gramercy, Trust, Sleight of Hand, and Rasa. The second wine was a blend from Va Piano Vineyards, where Kerloo Cellars’ winemaker Ryan Crane works as assistant winemaker, and Les Collines.

While Crane was pleased with the results of his first release (as were consumers with the wines quickly selling out), the 2007 vintage was one of Washington’s finest with near perfect growing conditions. Crane says, “2007 was easy. In 2008 I worked a lot harder.” The results, however, are equally impressive.

For the 2008 vintage wines, Crane stuck with the two Syrahs – using the same blocks from each vineyard – and also added a Columbia Valley Tempranillo to the lineup. Tempranillo is an emerging varietal in Washington with an increasing number of plantings and bottlings. Thus far the best bottles have come from Doug McCrea’s Salida and Gramercy Cellars. Add Kerloo Cellars to that list.

For his Tempranillo, Crane looked to make a low alcohol, Spanish style wine. “My hope is that no one picks it from Washington State,” Crane says. The wine is a blend of two vineyards – Stone Tree in the Wahluke Slope and Les Collines. Stone Tree is an extremely hot site that receives a mere six inches of rain annually. Crane believes this is “the perfect Tempranillo site.” Les Collines on the other hand is a cooler site due to its elevation. The vineyard also receives a substantial amount of precipitation each year. Crane says the Stone Tree grapes provide the Tempranillo’s weight and structure and the Les Collines grapes fill out the mid-palate. While Crane uses a limited amount of American oak on the wine (20%), the wood is tight grained and the focus here is clearly on the fruit.

Though the Kerloo Cellars 2008 vintage releases are still microscopic in production at 400 cases, Crane plans to expand to 1,000 cases for the 2009 vintage. In addition to the Walla Walla Valley Syrahs and Tempranillo, the winery will add a Malbec and Grenache for club members. The Malbec comes from Chelle den Mille Vineyard in the Yakima Valley and the Grenache from Alder Ridge and Cockburn Ranch. Based on barrel samples, both look to be impressive additions to the lineup. For the 2009 vintage Crane and his wife Renee also added a new family member – Beckett Ronin Crane (Note the Kerloo Cellars shirt in the picture).

While the most recent growing season and harvest was one of the more challenging ones in many years, Crane – like many – is excited about the prospects. Summarizing his thoughts on the wines at this early date, Crane says, “Color, color, color! It’s unlike anything I’ve seen.” Indeed this dark juice was gurgling away on my visit to the winery in November.

As both the winery and his family grow, Crane says his goal remains the same. “I just want to make good wines.” At this, he is surely succeeding.

Read a Focus Report on Kerloo Cellars here.

Kerloo Cellars Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2008 $32
Rating: ** (Exceptional) Jumps from the glass with floral notes, plum, smoke, spice, and dark fruit. A seamless palate with full of fruit and chocolate along with a solid backbone of tannins beautifully balanced by acidity. A persistent finish. 100% Syrah. Va Piano Block 6 (80%) and Les Collines Block 30 (20%). 20% whole-cluster fermented. Aged in French oak (20% new). 14.6% alcohol. 115 cases produced.

Kerloo Cellars Les Collines Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2008 $32
Rating: */** (Excellent/Exceptional) Dark in color. Lightly aromatic on the nose with carob, high-toned violets, lavender, and plum. Perfumed and fleshy on the palate with a dense core of tightly wound fruit speckled with slightly citric acidity. A persistent intensity on the mid-palate. The finish swoops in underneath and sails off into the distance. 100% Syrah. Aged 16 months in French oak (29% new). 14.1% alcohol. 81 cases produced.

Kerloo Cellars Tempranillo Columbia Valley 2008 $34
Rating: * (Excellent) Dark in color. Brooding aromatics of pencil eraser, spice, leather, smoke, and a touch of vanilla. On the palate a big, grippy wine with racy acidity. 100% Tempranillo. 56% Stone Tree, 44% Les Collines. Aged 17 months in new American (22%) and neutral French oak. 13.9% alcohol. 207 cases produced.

Samples provided by winery.