Winemaker Jason Morin of Woodinville’s Ancestry Cellars grew up in Gig Harbor, where his forbearers were among the first of the Croatian fishing families to move to the area. His experience with winemaking started younger than most – in the third grade.

“I started making wine with my grandfather in his basement,” Morin recalls. “It was an opportunity to see and learn.”

As an adult, this initial exposure blossomed into a full fledged interest and passion, with Morin’s work as a pharmaceutical representative for Sanofi affording him frequent opportunities to entertain. His interest took a fateful turn, however, in 2009 at the Auction of Washington Wines when Morin bumped into Chris Sparkman (Sparkman Cellars), who Morin knew from Sparkman’s Waterfront restaurant days.

With a background in science, Morin was always interested in how things worked and talked to Sparkman about his interest in the winemaking process. Sparkman said simply, “’Tell you what. Come on out and help out a little bit and see what you think.’”

Morin took him up on the offer and subsequently did some volunteering at other area wineries. Inspired, he began taking classes at Seattle Community College. In 2011, he made his first commercial wines. The results are impressive – among the most exciting new wines that I’ve sampled this year.

Of his decision to start a commercial winery Morin says, “My dad owned a lumber yard and hardware store when I was growing up. I loved working for him and with him. I liked the idea of having a small family business.” Morin and his wife Erin, who have a three year old child, continues, “I was interested in starting something that has the potential to go down generations maybe. If he wants to. If not, that’s fine too.”

Morin named the winery Ancestry Cellars. He says of the name, “It really represents what Erin and I are about and what’s most important to us in our daily lives which is our family.”

The current releases include a Merlot-dominant blend (La Souer, ‘the sister’) and a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant blend (Le Frère, ‘the brother’). Morin says of the wines, “I’ve always been preferential to Bordeaux varietals, just personal preference.” Stylistically, he says, “I tend to like bigger reds. Granted 2011 was a little more a finesse year.”

Indeed, the 2011 Ancestry Cellars red releases both have a beautiful understated elegance to them. The use of new oak is judicious, and they are wines that take a day to fully blossom but show impeccable elegance, restraint, and precision.

Equally impressive – perhaps more so even – are the 2011 and 2012 Chardonnays. White wines are often where many new winemakers fall short, but Morin has excelled. The two wines are both quite stylistically distinct, reflecting the vintage from which they came with the 2011 lighter and more elegant (and with less new oak) and the 2012 richer and bolder. Both are of very high quality.

“I didn’t want it to be over oaked but I don’t like stainless steel Chardonnays either, so I was looking for that balance,” Morin says. He also made a 2012 Riesling. “I made that one for my parents,” he says. “They love wines with residual sugar in them.” (NB: Look for my review of this wine in an upcoming issue of Wine Enthusiast).

Morin currently self-distributes his wine and is making 800 cases annually with plans to slowly grow the winery. The winery is located in Woodinville’s Warehouse District and is open weekends 1 to 5pm.

Pictures courtesy of Ancestry Cellars.

Ancestry Cellars Reunion Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2011 $25
 (Excellent) An aromatically compelling wine with pumpkin spices, straw, candy corn, toast, and sweet spices. The palate brings an exquisite mixture of deftness, texture, and lively acidity leading to a lemony finish. An exciting first vintage of this wine. 100% Chardonnay. Arete Vineyard. 100% Chardonnay. Aged in French oak (15% new). 13.1% alcohol.

Ancestry Cellars Reunion Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2012 $25
 (Excellent/Exceptional) A moderately aromatic wine with squash, straw, toast, and light barrel notes. The palate has sweet – almost seeming off-dry but its just richness – fruit flavors with a textured, broad feel. Quite different from the 2011 vintage – much fuller in style – but every bit as successful and, again, an exciting wine. 100% Chardonnay. Wautoma Winds Vineyard. 100% Chardonnay. Aged in French oak (55% new). 14.6% alcohol.

Ancestry Cellars Le Frère Red Wine Columbia Valley 2011 $35
 (Excellent) The barrel notes of char, licorice, and sweet baking spices are up front – though far from over the top – followed by brooding dark fruit and herbs. The palate is on the lighter side of medium bodied demonstrating a pretty sense of texture, balance, and freshness leading to a tart finish with a light but not at all unappealing bitterness. Give one to two years or a several hour decant, ideally a full day. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot. Klipsun, Ambassador, Stillwater Creek, Copeland, and Dineen. Aged 19 months in French oak (47% new). 14.0% alcohol.

Ancestry Cellars La Souer Red Wine Columbia Valley 2011 $35
 (Excellent) Draws you into the glass with a complex mixture of baker’s chocolate, raspberry, mint, herbal notes, pencil shavings, and cedar. The palate doesn’t have an ounce of alcoholic fat on it; it’s all flavor. It’s all about elegant, pure, velvety fruit flavors finishing on a tart note. Give two plus years or a long decant (24 hours). 53% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Petit Verdot. Stillwater Creek, Copeland, and Dineen vineyards. Aged 19 months in French oak (36% new). 13.7% alcohol.