When Kevin and Kathryn Mueller launched Virtue Cellars in 2017, they eschewed the popular winery locations of Woodinville and SoDo. Instead, the couple planted their flag in Shoreline, a suburb of Seattle.
“We’re a neighborhood winery in the North End,” Kevin says proudly.
In fact, the winery’s production facility, set up to make about 1,000 cases annually, is located next to the family home.
“One of the main requirements when we were looking to buy a house was, ‘How many barrels can we fit?’” laughs Kathryn.
Kevin started out making wine in 2013, after learning his best friend’s neighbor, Brian Grasso of Structure Cellars
, was looking for some help at the winery. Having long had an appreciation of wine, Kevin subsequently spent three years assisting at Structure, making his own wine on the side.
Tasting the 2018 Virtue Cellars wines, the primacy of the fruit immediately stands out. The winery accomplishes this in two ways. The first is using 100% whole berry fermentation.
“I think what that does, at least in our experience, is it tends to draw out the ferment a little longer,” says Kevin. “You get a little bit more fruit forwardness.”
The second is judicious use of new oak, with the 2018 wines seeing no new wood.
“You lose some of the finesse if you over-oak [the wines],” says Kevin, who prefers second fill and older barrels. “That, to us, gives just the right blend of the barrel characteristics without overpowering the amazing fruit you get out of ripe Washington wines.”
Another aspect that stands out about Virtue Cellars is price. Whereas many new producers seem to be trying to buy their way in to the quality discussion, the Virtue Cellars wines are all modestly priced, ranging between $18 and $28 for non-reserve wines. They are shockingly good values for their level of quality.
“We’re in it to make a great product that people are thrilled about,” says Kevin. “Part of being thrilled about [a wine] is its value.”
All of the Virtue Cellars wines are nano-produced, ranging from 23 to 100 cases. Fruit comes from exceptional sources that include Lawrence, Stillwater Creek, Conner Lee, Olsen, Wallula Gap, and Red Mountain Vineyard.
“Everything we do is handmade,” emphasizes Kevin. “There’s no compromise in quality.”
“We named our winery Virtue for a reason,” explains Kathryn. “It bodies exactly what we want to do. We want to produce high quality wines without compromise.”
Though Virtue Cellars does not have a tasting room, they do sell direct from the winery and also sell tasting kits, allowing people to try the wines before they buy. Additionally, taking advantage of its suburban location, the winery does a healthy business selling to people in their neighborhood and surrounding area.
“What we love about wine is it brings people together,” Kathryn says. “It’s been so exciting to have people walk down to our winery to pick up cases.”
Reviews from December 31st 2020 issue of Wine Enthusiast
Virtue 2018 Sincerity Syrah Columbia Valley $25 93 points
All of the fruit for this wine comes from Wallula Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills. The aromas pop, with notes of freshly chopped parsley, whole tangerine, fresh boysenberry and smoked meat. Rich, layered flavors follow. It brings intensity and depth, but there is still plenty of freshness. But it’s the purity and lengthy finish that captivate.
Virtue 2018 Enthusiasm Grenache Columbia Valley $26 92 points
All of the fruit for this wine comes from Thunderstone Vineyard on the Royal Slope, and is fermented as whole berries, with extended maceration. The aromas aren’t fully ready to reveal their charms on first pour, but they eventually open to reveal notes of chopped parsley, black pepper and pure berry. The palate is full of grace and polish, ramping up in intensity over time, with a lingering finish. It has the stuffing to go the distance. Editor’s Choice
Virtue 2018 Fortitude Columbia Valley $24 92 points
This is 48% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Malbec, with fruit coming from Olsen and Solaksen vineyards. The aromas are compelling, with notes of raspberry, dried herb, plum and cherry, showing mesmerizing purity. Full, achingly pure flavors follow, with knee-buckling texture. It’s an end-to-end delight. Editor’s Choice
Virtue 2018 Unity GSM Columbia Valley $24 92 points
Syrah makes up 48% of this wine, with the rest 32% Mourvèdre and 20% Grenache. With fruit coming from Wallula, Des Etes Long, and Thunderstone vineyards and seeing only second-fill and neutral oak, the aromas are light but intriguing, with notes of smoked meat, medicine, fresh parsley, plum and berry. It’s beautifully textured but still sleek and velvety in feel, showing exquisite polish, structure and a long finish. It’s gorgeous stuff at a can’t-be-beat price. Editor’s Choice
Virtue 2018 Vitality Malbec Columbia Valley $25 92 points
All of the fruit for this 100% varietal wine comes from Solaksen Vineyard on the Royal Slope. Aged in second-fill and neutral oak, the aromas are brooding initially, with notes of cherry, plum, orange oil and dried herb, showing a sense of purity. The flavors are expressive and focused, showing density and richness. Editor’s Choice
Virtue 2018 Charisma Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley $28 91 points
Fruit for this wine comes from Olsen and Solaksen vineyards. Seeing no new oak, the aromas are pulled back, with notes of herb, anise, fresh black currant and plum. Exquisitely pure dark-fruit flavors follow. It’s a window into a pure expression of the variety, absolutely delicious. Editor’s Choice
Virtue 2018 Authenticity Merlot Yakima Valley $26 91 points
Though not labeled as such, this is all single-vineyard Olsen Merlot. Roasted coffee-bean aromas are out front initially, followed by notes of herb and raspberry. Smooth fruit and barrel flavors follow, showing depth and structure. The barrel influence shows more prominently than other inaugural offerings from the winery, smoothing out over time, but it still impresses. Drink from 2022 to 2030. Cellar Selection
Virtue 2018 Temperance Cabernet Franc Horse Heaven Hills $26 91 points
Fruit for this 100% varietal wine comes from Destiny Ridge Vineyard. Brooding cigar-box, dried herb and cherry-licorice aromas lead to fruit flavors that show a lovely sense of purity, depth and freshness. Editor’s Choice
Image courtesy of Virtue Cellars.