Even with the economy contracting, the Washington wine industry continues to expand. One indication of this is the economic impact study released by the Washington Wine Commission last week. Another is that new wineries continue to spring up each month all over the state. One of the more exciting wineries to debut in recent years is Woodinville’s Avennia.

Avennia was founded by businessman Marty Taucher and former DeLille assistant winemaker Chris Peterson. The winery’s first releases are due out this fall.

An Oregon native, Taucher graduated from Oregon State in 1977 and later moved up to Seattle to start a high tech marketing agency. In 1983, a friend at Microsoft enlisted Taucher’s company’s assistance. Taucher subsequently joined the Microsoft staff in 1984, right as the company first announced Windows.

Taucher spent the next fifteen years at Microsoft, leading the Public Relations and Event Marketing teams for ten years and spending another five as Director of Marketing and Brand Strategy for an on-line product group. While he enjoyed working at Microsoft, he had two young boys at home and says of the time, “I missed out.” He subsequently retired from the company in 1999 to become a full-time dad.

Nearly ten years later with his youngest graduating high school, Taucher began to think about what was next. “I knew I’d run out of things to do quickly,” Taucher says of being retired with an empty nest. He decided to explore a new career in the wine industry.

Taucher’s entry into the world of wine had a somewhat inauspicious start. He was on a press tour for Microsoft on the east coast. At a restaurant in New York with a number of high profile clients, the waiter handed him the wine list. After spending an interminable amount of time scanning through a list of names that meant nothing from him, one of his colleagues snatched the list and quickly ordered a few bottles for the table.

Embarrassed and knowing that this circumstance was bound to repeat itself, Taucher began educating himself about wine. Soon his efforts to save himself from future embarrassment evolved into a passion, and he began collecting wines as well – although he says he is far from a high-end collector.

Flash forward to 2008. To begin exploring a career in the wine industry, Taucher started taking classes at South Seattle Community College. Come harvest time, he looked for a winery to do an internship. He had a friend who had interned at Woodinville’s DeLille Cellars, so Taucher went to inquire about volunteering.

Taucher recalls, “So this broken down old guy walks in the door and says, ‘I’m ready to clean barrels!’” He got the job.

Taucher loved interning at DeLille, although he noted that the work was physically demanding. “I was pretty beat up by the end of harvest,” he says. After crush, Taucher stayed on at the winery helping out where he could. He soon found a common spirit with assistant winemaker Chris Peterson and began discussing the possibility of opening a winery together.

Peterson started at DeLille as assistant winemaker in 2003 after becoming the first graduate of Walla Walla Community College’s enology and viticulture program. At the time, Lance Baer had just left DeLille to focus on Baer Winery. When DeLille winemaker Chris Upchurch called Walla Walla Community College’s Stan Clarke in search of a new assistant, Clarke gave him Peterson’s name. Peterson would spend the next seven years at the winery helping craft some of the state’s finest wines.

Taucher and Peterson named their winery Avennia after the Roman name for the city of Avignon which they say, “signifies for us the heart of Old World Winemaking.” Taucher says of starting the winery with Peterson, “It’s Chris’ vision behind the wines. I have no pretenses.” Peterson says he is looking to achieve, “Old World-style complexity using Washington fruit,” adding that the winery will emphasize typicity and terroir.

Avennia is currently making two Bordeaux-style blends, two Syrahs, and a Sauvignon Blanc. Starting with the 2011 vintage the winery intends to replace one of the Syrahs with a Southern Rhone-style wine. The Rhone wines will be released in the fall, the Bordeaux blends in early 2013.

With Peterson’s contacts, the winery has lined up some exceptional fruit sources including Red Willow, Sagemoor (1972 block), Force Majeure, and Boushey. In deciding on vineyards, Peterson says that he looked for cooler sites compared to some of the vineyards DeLille works with, which has an emphasis on Red Mountain.

The Avennia wines all have colorful names. “I’m a literature nerd,” Peterson explains. The Boushey Syrah is named Arnaut after Arnaut Daniel, a Provencal troubadour from the 12th century. The Parapine Syrah (pronounced ‘parapeen’) is, intriguingly, named after a ghost that Peterson says inhabits his house. Peterson took the name from an old French novel from the 1930s called Journey to the End of the Night. “Ever since I named a wine after it, it hasn’t haunted us,” Peterson says of the ghost. The Avennia label is (yet another) eye-catching design from Seattle-based Boxwood.

All of the Avennia wines are notable for their refined elegance. They are far from bold, in your face wines, and each of the 2010 wines shows the freshness of the vintage. Expect these wines to lay down well in the cellar for many years to come. The Avennia wines are also notable for being well priced relative to the quality that’s in the bottle.

Taucher and Peterson have no plans to open a formal tasting room at present, intending instead to have an occasional open house for list members, the first of which will be this weekend (Note: There is very limited space available to attend this Sunday. Contact the winery at [email protected] to reserve a spot if interested).

Avennia made 1,100 cases in 2010 and 1,700 in 2011. Peterson and Taucher plan to grow the winery to 3,000 to 4,000 cases over time.

Avennia Arnaut Syrah Boushey Vineyard Yakima Valley 2010 $45
(Exceptional) A dark, glass staining wine. Compelling aromas of mineral, blueberry, cherry, and bacon fat. The palate is silky and textured, bright and lively with sappy, tart fruit flavors and a light peppery streak. Displays the freshness of the 2010 vintage. 100% Syrah. Boushey Vineyard. Aged 16 months in French oak (20% new). 15% whole cluster with native yeast. 15.1% alcohol. 170 cases produced.

Avennia Parapine Syrah Yakima Valley 2010 $35
(Excellent) Dark in color with purple at the rim. An aromatically appealing wine full of mineral, floral notes, savory notes, and dark fruit. Palate is tart and full of savory flavors and pepper with a tart finish. An expressive wine that will only improve with additional time in the bottle. 100% Syrah. 53% Force Majeure, 47% Boushey vineyards. Primary and secondary fermentation with native yeast. Aged 16 months in French oak (17% new). 15.0% alcohol. 170 cases produced.

NB: Avennia’s 2011 Sauvignon Blanc from Boushey Vineyard had not yet been bottled at the time of my visit, so I have therefore not reviewed it here. However, I’ve sampled it twice and it looks to be a winner.

Rating System

Please note, my rating system was revised at the beginning of 2012 as follows. Read additional details here. (Exceptional)
(Not recommended/Flawed)

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