“I want more Americans to be drinking better quality wines,” says Meredith Hyslop.

Hyslop is the owner of Sapere Originis, an import, sourcing, and consulting company, and Top Source, a Washington winery. They are also Hyslop’s plan to achieve her goal.

From skiing in Washington to the slopes of France

Hyslop was born and raised in Spokane, coming from a homesteading farming family originally in Reardan, Washington. In her youth, she was an avid cross country ski racer. When graduating from high school, Hyslop looked for colleges with top academics where she could also continue skiing. One of them was Whitman College in Walla Walla.

At Whitman, Hyslop majored in French literature. She studied abroad in France, making sure she could continue to ski while there. During her time in France, Hyslop traveled extensively throughout the country. French wine and culture resonated with her, and she also saw a potential career.

“I knew France made a lot of wine, and figured I could use my French language skills because I love languages,” Hyslop says.

When Hyslop graduated from Whitman in 2005, her goal was to complete an international wine and spirits business master’s program in Dijon, France. However, a friend recommended she learn more about enology and viticulture first. To do so, she enrolled at the Institute for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College. (Full disclosure: I am an adjunct instructor at the Institute.)

“I was really trying to understand production as a way to make myself a stronger communicator about what really goes into how all these wines are made,” Hyslop says.

From Walla Walla to Vacquières

While at the Institute for Enology and Viticulture, Hyslop pruned vineyards and helped bottle at wineries around town. She worked as assistant of guest services at Northstar Winery.

“I was dealing with sales and marketing. That’s where I always thought my strength was going to be,” Hyslop says.

She waited tables at two now-defunct but historically important restaurants, Creek Town Café and 26 Brix. Hyslop was “the queen of the double shift,” putting away money to pay for her master’s program.

After she graduated from the enology and viticulture program (Hyslop was in the third graduating class), Hyslop completed a program called Work, Wine, Latin in Argentina. She also worked at two Argentinian estates.

In 2009, Hyslop moved to France to pursue the master’s degree at the Burgundy School of Business in Dijon. After completing her degree two years later, Hyslop worked for wine giant Ciatti Company as an assistant wine broker.

Hyslop then spent the next six years at Château de Lascaux in Vacquières as an export manager. At the Château, Hyslop handled business in 25 countries.

“I traveled to pretty much every corner of the world,” she says. “I learned a lot about distribution and how importing is done in every major market in the world.”

Importantly, all of the wine at Château de Lascaux was certified organic. Hyslop also had a friend from her master’s program that was a “militant” believer in biodynamic farming. Both made strong impressions.

The accidental importer

While working at Château de Lascaux, an associate asked Hyslop if she had ever thought about working for a group of producers instead of just one. It got her wheels turning, and she made the leap.

In 2019, Hyslop founded Sapere Originis. It stands for “know the source” in Latin.

Hyslop worked to find importers to bring the wines she was promoting into the U.S. However, a friend convinced her she needed to import the wines herself.

“I’m an accidental importer,” Hyslop says.

Chateau Saint Martin de la Garrigue in Languedoc-Roussillon is her key partner. However, the company also imports a portfolio of wines from Champagne, Alsace, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Loire, Bordeaux, Spain, and beyond.

“I look at all these different bottles, what I see is all the faces of the people who I’m working with, trying to spread the word about what they do and why you should care,” says Hyslop, who describes herself as a “wine ambassadrice.”

The focus throughout the portfolio is on wineries practicing sustainable and organic farming.

“One of the things I learned in France is how organic farming actually produces better quality wines,” Hyslop says. “You have to be more intentional about the way that you’re approaching viticulture, irrigation, everything. It’s also better for the planet.”

Returning to Walla Walla

Hyslop first met Christophe Baron of Bionic Wines as a student at Walla Walla’s viticulture and enology program. In July of 2019, the two reconnected and began dating.

Given Baron’s French heritage, decades spent in Washington, and Hyslop’s extensive time spent in France and Washington background, there was a strong connection. Now “life partners,” the couple split their time between Walla Walla and Montpelier, France.

In 2020, after a decade in France, Hyslop returned to Walla Walla. There she added the most ambitious part of her portfolio: Top Source. These are Hyslop’s own wines from Washington. The winery makes a Syrah-Grenache blend from Columbia Valley, a Walla Walla Valley Syrah, and a Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc.

“One of the things that’s going to help Washington be able to sell wines outside of the Pacific Northwest is differentiating itself more from California,” Hyslop says. “That’s why I wanted to have Syrah and Grenache. They are unique, and it’s not the same as the South of France. Sauvignon Blanc from Washington State is excellent, and there’s actually a shortage of Sauvignon Blanc worldwide.”

The Top Source wines are distinctly Washington. However, they are also informed by Hyslop’s experience.

“I say that I make my Washington wines with a French touch,” she says.

Selling Washington via France

For her Washington wines, Hyslop leverages relationships she developed in school and while waiting tables. Fruit sources remain confidential. While at odds with the “know the source” adage, it allows Hyslop to offer wine she would not otherwise be able to. It also means she can substantially overdeliver on price.

“I really want to put something out there in front of my American colleagues that is unique and exceptional and that shows what Washington winemaking can produce so well without it having to cost so much money,” Hyslop says.

Hyslop’s approach in selling her Top Source wines is unusual. She often leads with the European wines in her portfolio. Hyslop then leverages interest in those wines to talk about Washington, often pouring the two wines side-by-side.

“It gives people a lot more context for what I’m doing with my Washington wines and also where my inspiration is coming from,” Hyslop says.

Overall, Hyslop’s mission at Sapere Originis and Top Source is to promote producers that use sustainable and organic farming and help spread the message of Washington wine. In doing so, Hyslop hopes the result will be Americans drinking better wine.

As someone who has worked in the global wine market, Hyslop is keenly aware of Washington’s strengths but also the state’s underrepresentation in retail and on-premise. Hyslop says that creates challenges but also notes that there are benefits.

“There’s actually a huge opportunity here because my wines are serving a unique niche that’s missing on most shelves.”

Wine Reviews

NB: The reviews below were published June 26, 2023.

Top Source Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2020 $50
94 points, Critic’s Choice
This is an aromatically expressive wine, chock full of notes of wet rock along with peat, pepper, raspberry, smoked meat, olive, and flower. Palate-coating fruit and savory flavors follow, showing depth and intensity. It exhibits profound hang-time on the flower-filled finish, moving it up a notch. 13.8% alcohol. 100 cases produced. TCA-free micro-agglomerated cork.

Top Source Red Wine Columbia Valley 2020 $30
94 points, Critic’s Choice
This is a blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, with a sizable portion of that fruit clearly coming from the stones in Walla Walla Valley. The aromas are exuberant, leading with notes of peat, fresh and dried tobacco, olive brine, crushed violet, wet rock, and a whiff of tangerine. There’s pleasing delicacy while still plenty of intensity to the soft-feeling, savory and umami-filled flavors, accented by olive and mineral notes. The finish sticks around for at least a 30-second count. It’s a stunner and a rare find at this price. 13.5% alcohol. 926 cases produced. TCA-free micro-agglomerated cork.

Top Source Red Wine Columbia Valley 2019 $30
93 points, Critic’s Choice
This is a blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah. The aromas are perfumed, with notes of huckleberry, stem, plum, raspberry, and flower. Soft, textured-feeling fruit and savory flavors follow. It hangs on the supremely long, flower and savory note-filled finish. Dee-licious and a stupendous value. 13.6% alcohol. 1,017 cases produced. TCA-free micro-agglomerated cork

Top Source Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2019 $50
93 points, Critic’s Choice
The aromas captivate, with notes of soil, olive, black pepper, and a whiff of flower. There’s impressive richness and intensity to the dark fruit and savory flavors. It’s an attention-getter. 13.6% alcohol. 98 cases produced. TCA-free micro-agglomerated cork.

Top Source Red Wine Columbia Valley 2018 $30
92 points, Critic’s Choice
Syrah makes up 70% of this wine, with the rest Grenache. The aromas place at least some of the fruit for this wine in the stones, with notes of funk, earth, and olive, showing some reduction initially. Tobacco notes follow. The palate is soft in feel, mixing fruit and savory. The flavors persist on the finish. It’s a whole lot of wine for the money. 14.2% alcohol. 1,106 cases produced. TCA-free micro-agglomerated cork.

Look for a list of Seattle-area retailers that sell Top Source wines in the comments.

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