Vineyard manager Ken Hart of Tulpen Cellars started out farming at age 17. Since that time he has developed a long, diverse resume that now includes one of the more exciting, under the radar Washington wineries out there.

As General Manager of Appellation Management Group, Hart manages a who’s who list of sites for the likes of Dunham, Abeja, Walla Walla Vintners, àMaurice, Sinclair, and others. Hart also helped to plant some of Walla Walla Valley’s most prestigious vineyards including Pepper Bridge, Seven Hills, and Neuffer (now Blue Mountain).

In 2000 Hart began making wine along with vineyard consultant Rick Trumbull. While the original intent was simply to become better growers, the response to the wines convinced Hart and Trumbull to launch Tulpen Cellars. The winery, named after a German word for tulips, had its first commercial vintage in 2006.

As vineyard manager, Hart gets the pick of the litter for his fruit sources – allowing him to focus in on particular rows of fruit. The 2007 vintage wines come from impressive sites such as Heather Hill (Abeja), Tokar (Walla Walla Vintners), and Lewis (Dunham). Starting with 2009 vintage, all of the Tulpen fruit comes from the Upper Mill Creek drainage of the Walla Walla Valley. Intriguingly, all of the 2010 wines will come from non-irrigated vines in this region – an extreme rarity for Washington.

An avid cook with a more than hilarious sense of humor, Hart likens the vineyards he works with to cooking. “Tokar Vineyard is like adding the salt. Chan is like adding a little butter,” he says. In terms of style, Hart says, “I don’t get too tricky with the wines. I want them to represent the vineyard, not the winemaker.”

The current Tulpen Cellars releases are extremely impressive, not just for their quality but also for their price points. The wines are made in a full throttle, fruit laden style – no wimpy wines here. Each of the Tulpen wines drinks like a considerably more expensive bottle; these are shocking prices to find on wines of this kind of quality, a nod to the fact that launching a new winery in today’s economy is no easy feat.

Hart and Trumbull look to keep production at Tulpen Cellars low. With his trademark sense of humor Hart says, “I figure the best way to sell 1,000 cases of wine is to make 500. We both have day jobs.”

Tulpen Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2007 $28
Rating: ** (Exceptional) Aromatically closed up initially with milk chocolate, dark cherries, herbal notes, and wood spice. The palate is big, lush, and opulent with lingering flavors of milk chocolate and dark cherries. An extended finish. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Tokar, Double River, and Heather Hill vineyards. 14.9% alcohol. 205 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Tulpen Cellars Coalescence Red Wine Columbia Valley 2007 $26
Rating: */** (Excellent/Exceptional) An aromatic wine with abundant mocha, chocolate covered cherries, light herbal notes, and oak spices. The palate is lush, rich, and full of dense fruit flavors accented by oak notes. Lingers on the finish. Far from shy, this wine is full throttle largely maintaining its balance, although the alcohol shows through at times. 62.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12.5% Merlot, 12.5% Cabernet Franc, 6.25% Petit Verdot, 6.25% Malbec. Lewis, Wallula, Tokar, Frazier Bluff, Les Collines, and Chen den Millie vineyards. 15.4% alcohol. 185 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Tulpen Cellars Syrah Columbia Valley 2007 $20
Rating: */** (Excellent/Exceptional) Fascinating aromas of mineral, ground coffee, floral notes, plum, and blackberries. Rich and opulent with palate coating fruit flavors with silky oak accents. This is a rich, ripe wine that takes no prisoners. Alcohol shows through at times. 76% Syrah, 15% Grenache, 5% Viognier, and 4% Mourvedre. Mill Creek, Lewis, Double River, and Art Den Hoed vineyards. 15.4% alcohol. 257 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Tulpen Cellars Merlot Columbia Valley 2007 $28
Rating: * (Excellent) An aromatically appealing wine with aromas of red fruit, earth, and milk chocolate. The palate is opulent and full of rich, lush fruit. 85% Merlot, 10% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. Lewis, Wallula, Les Collines, and Frazier Bluff vineyards. 15.1% alcohol. 218 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Tulpen Cellars Sangiovese Columbia Valley 2007 $20
Rating: * (Excellent) Pleasing aromas of cranberry, raspberry, and spice. The palate is tart and puckering, full of red fruit flavors. 100% Sangiovese. Lewis and Desert Hills vineyards. 14.8% alcohol. 233 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.