I’m going to go out on a limb here. Mountain climbers seem to make good winemakers. Now keep in mind that mountain climbing is one of my primary passions so I may be a bit biased here, but there are a few compelling data points. Chuck Reininger of Reininger Winery and Rob Newsom of Boudreaux Cellars were both formerly professional guides and have shown winemaking talent. Add Eric Murphy’s name to that list.

Murphy, of Ott & Murphy, works as a guide for Alpine Ascents International – one of the premier guide services in the Pacific Northwest. He has been guiding for fifteen years, and his job has taken him all over the world – including six recent back-to-back trips up Africa’s tallest peak, Kilimanjaro.

Murphy started out studying sculpture and ceramics in college. From there, he went on to working on construction before setting his sites on mountain guiding and winemaking. His interest in winemaking came from a housemate who had studied brewing and enology at UC Davis. His friend would go on to work at several top-flight Napa wineries, including Chateau Montelena and Barnett Vineyards. Murphy learned what he could from his friend along the way, starting out initially making beer and then wine.

In 2007 he teamed up with two partners, David Ott and Diane Kaufman, to start Ott & Murphy (Note: the branding can be a bit confusing here as the LLC is Swede Hill Cellars). David Ott also serves as winemaker and Diane as ‘cellar rat.’

Ott & Murphy makes Rhone wines a large part of its focus. “Those are my favorite wines in the world,” Murphy says. The winery makes a Syrah, Viognier, and several southern Rhone blends. Ott & Murphy also makes a Bordeaux-style blend and a Tempranillo.

The winery uses diverse vineyard sources for such a small operation, including Elephant Mountain, Sugar Loaf, Boushey, Ambassador (Red Mountain), Spice Cabinet (Horse Heaven Hills), Destiny Ridge, Coyote Canyon, Crawford, and Vineheart. “I’ve played around a lot,” Murphy says. “I like the artistry side.”

All of the Ott & Murphy wines are made in lots of 200 cases or less. For the wines, Murphy has focused on limited use of new oak without a significant amount of racking.

The winery’s inaugural vintage was released in 2009, and David Ott and Diane Kauffman recently opened a tasting room, which they operate, on Whidbey Island. The tasting room, in downtown Langley, boasts picture windows overlooking the historic waterfront and music on Saturday nights, making for a perfect island getaway. Or perhaps a launching pad for a nearby climbing expedition in the North Cascades?

Ott & Murphy produces 1,000-1,200 cases annually.

Ott & Murphy Viognier Columbia Valley 2009 $20

Rating: + (Good) Aromas of creamsicle, peach, lemon zest, and honeysuckle. The palate is full and broad with a textured feel. Alcohol and oak show through at times. 76% Viognier, 18% Roussanne, and 6% Chardonnay. Elephant Mountain, Vineheart, Coyote Canyon, and Crawford vineyards. Aged in neutral French oak. 14.9% alcohol. 110 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Ott & Murphy Double Bluff Red Wine Columbia Valley 2008 $19

Rating: +/* (Good/Excellent) Abundant raspberries, blueberries, spice, and light game notes on an appealing wine. Palate is well put together with rich, syrupy blueberry flavors and a slightly sweet finish. 46% Grenache, 44% Syrah, 7% Viognier, and 3% Cinsault. Spice Cabinet, Vineheart, Sugarloaf, and Coyote Canyon vineyards. Aged 18 months in French oak (20% new). 15.4% alcohol. 140 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Ott & Murphy OMpendium Red Wine Columbia Valley 2008 $26

Rating: +/* (Good/Excellent) Aromas of bacon fat, berries, and peppery spice on an appealing wine. The palate is soft and fruit-filled. Wood shows through a bit at times. 38% Cinsault, 37% Syrah, 22% Mourvedre, 3% Viognier. Coyote Canyon and Vineheart vineyards. Aged 18 months in French oak (20% new). 14.8% alcohol. 108 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Ott & Murphy L’Entente Red Wine Horse Heaven Hills 2007 $34

Rating: + (Good) Aromas of white pepper, high-toned floral notes, berries, and wood spice. The palate has plush dark fruit flavors and grainy tannins. 65% Syrah, 25% Mourvedre, and 10% Viognier. Destiny Ridge and Crawford vineyards. 15.1% alcohol. 50 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Ott & Murphy Mystique Red Red Wine Columbia Valley 2007 $27

Rating: + (Good) Aromas of plum, herbal notes, candied fruit, red currant, and wood spice. Palate has plump blue and red fruit flavors. 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Malbec, 18% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Petit Verdot. Inland Desert, Destiny Ridge, Crawford, Vineheart, and Elephant Mountain vineyards. Aged in French (20% new) and American oak (5% of total, second fill). 14.2% alcohol. 131 cases produced.

Ott & Murphy Tempranillo Columbia Valley 2008 $16

Rating: ./+ (Decent/Good) Aromas of dusky spices, pencil eraser, and red fruit. Palate is well put together with red fruit flavors and grainy tannins. 79% Tempranillo, 11% Grenache, 5% Syrah, and 5% Mourvedre. Crawford, Spice Cabinet, Sugarloaf, and Elephant Mountain vineyards. Aged 18 months in French oak (25% new). 14.2% alcohol. 137 cases produced.