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Like many, Joe Forest of Tempus Cellars graduated from college at a loss for what he wanted to do next. An English Literature major at the University of Washington, Forest started his post-college career working at Seattle’s Wild Ginger.

Known for its exceptional wine list in general and Washington wine list in particular, Forest gained exposure to a broad array of wines during his time at the restaurant. Forest’s father was a home winemaker, so wine had always been part of the household. His experience at Wild Ginger, however, piqued his interest and opened up a new world.

Forest moved on from Wild Ginger to a job working with his hands. He spent the next three years remodeling houses. During this time, he continued to explore his interest in Washington wine. While going from house remodeler to winemaker may seem like a leap, Forest does not see it as such. With both involving a great deal of manual labor, Forest says it was, “surprisingly a natural flow into winemaking believe it or not.”

Forest decided to move to Walla Walla for the 2004 harvest. There he interned at Seven Hills Winery and began taking classes at the Center of Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College. The following year he was hired as assistant winemaker at Dunham Cellars – a position he held for three years.

Working at Seven Hills and Dunham gave Forest exposure to differing styles and philosophies. He began to think about developing his own style and creating his own wines. Forest also says, “Eric Dunham started producing the Dunham wines while working as assistant winemaker at L’Ecole, so I saw an opportunity while working there.”

In describing his own style, Forest says, “ I prefer to pick on the early side as I like greater varietal character, better natural acidity and not as jammy, over the top. Wine is meant to be consumed with food in a complementary manner. I try to make wines that are more finesse driven, soft and integrated, varietally correct and food friendly.”

In coming up with a name for his winery, Forest chose Tempus – a Latin word for time – that also loosely means a series of first. Forest could have just as easily chosen Tempest. In a period of eighteen months, Forest got married to his wife Mollie, bought a house, got a dog, had a baby, and started the winery.

Forest says that in addition to the allusion to a series of firsts, the term Tempus also represents the time wine needs to spend in the barrel. Forest leaves the wine in French oak for twenty-two months to allow aromas and flavors to develop. “Complex flavors do not happen overnight,” he says. A tortoise adorns the Tempus Cellars label – half on one side creeping onto the label and half on another crawling off.

Tempus Cellars’ inaugural releases are from the 2006 and 2007 vintages and include a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Syrah, a Merlot, and a Red Wine. The standout from the lineup is the Cabernet Sauvignon, which uses a 1972 planting from Sagemoor’s Bacchus Vineyard and Klipsun on Red Mountain.

Tempus produces approximately 500 cases annually. Forest says, “The Tortoise motif has extended to the building of the brand. We are creeping up our production, but just a little each year.”

Tempus Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2007 $30
Rating: * (Excellent) An appealing nose with chocolate, spices, toast, cherries, and a whiff of pepper. On the palate, a rich, fruit laden wine with luscious red and black fruit flavors. 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot. Aged in French oak (60% new). 14.8% alcohol. 150 cases produced.

Tempus Cellars Syrah Columbia Valley 2007 $25
Rating: + (Good) The nose is quite quiet with red fruit and a whiff of spice. Palate has pretty red fruit flavors, although the oak becomes a bit intrusive at times. 80% Syrah, 20% Grenache. Aged in 100% French oak. 14.8% alcohol. 112 cases produced.

Tempus Cellars Merlot Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2007 $28
Rating: ./+ (Decent/Good) Shows a lot of oak notes on the nose, particularly pine and mint, along with anise, chocolate, and cherry. A big dollop of fruit and licorice on the palate with chalky tannins. Wood bleeds through quite a bit. 100% Merlot. 14.7% alcohol. 51 cases produced.

Tempus Cellars Red Wine Columbia Valley 2006 $28
Rating: . (Decent) Shows a lot of wood aromas, wintergreen, some sweet, raisiny notes, and black cherry along with a pleasing touch of earth. Tannins are a bit drying. 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc. Aged in French oak (50% new). 14.6% alcohol.

Samples provided by winery.