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McCrea Cellars

sirocco

I wrote recently about our delightful dinner two weeks ago at ART Restaurant, mentioning in passing that accompanying the food was a bottle of McCrea Cellars 2006 Sirocco. McCrea describes itself as “Washington State’s premier Rhone varietal winery.” Their list of current releases are what one would expect: syrah, grenache, mourvedre, counoise, and so on. Closer inspection shows that their wines aren’t pure varietals. Each is a blend to some degree, with the named grape predominating. The 2008 Grenache, for instance, is 81% grenache, with 7% syrah, 5% each of counoise and cinsault, and 2% mourvèdre.

The 2006 Sirocco stands out as a more balanced blend: 41% mourvèdre, 36% grenache, 13% syrah, and again 5% each counoise and cinsault. In mid-October, we ordered a half-bottle at Jak’s Grill, being fans of southern Rhone wines, and were pleasantly surprised by its quality. I made a note to explore McCrea’s wines further, and when we saw a bottle of their Grenache at our local grocery store a couple of days later, we bought it. It was good, but we didn’t enjoy it as much as the Sirocco. Our dinner at ART gave us the opportunity to try the Sirocco once again, finding it even better than we remembered. Not to mention that at $28 retail list price, it’s a lot lot cheaper than a bottle of our preferred Rhone wine, Le Vieux Télégraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

The McCrea winery is on this side of the Cascades, south of here a ways, near Olympia. Close enough for us to get to if we want a pleasant half-day outing, far enough that I hadn’t been tempted to jump in the car. From the website:

The McCrea Cellars winery is located in a lovely country setting with a stunning view of Mt. Rainier. We’re a half-hour from Olympia, the State capital, and benefit from being only about an hour [and a half] south of Seattle, with its many fine restaurants, markets, and cultural riches. Our lush, green maritime zone has a moderate climate with warm summers and occasional winter snow. Puget Sound is very close, offering superb boating, while in the opposite direction, Mt. Rainier provides outstanding alpine hiking, and only about an hour from the winery. These are the reasons we live here, rather than across the Cascades at our vineyards. It’s worth the three hour drive, a beautiful one at that, and it’s great having a business that’s a “tale of two worlds”, the verdant environment of Western Washington and the expansive, dramatic, desert setting of Eastern Washington.

Both our home and winery are located on a twenty-acre property, so our lifestyle resembles that of many European winemaking families. It’s handy to simply walk a few hundred feet down the hill to the winery at any time necessary. Most of the property will remain untouched, however, we plan to plant a small vineyard on a rather steep, south-facing, rocky hillside below the facility.

As for the grapes:

We’ve pioneered Rhône varietals in Washington for over two decades. In partnership with several dedicated growers, we began with a vision, believing that these grape vines would succeed in an unproven region. Today ten varietals thrive, an unprecedented achievement in our State.

The wines from these plantings have exceptional quality and accurately reflect the distinctive flavors of their Rhône Valley predecessors. Our story is not about a winery alone, but about relationships with inspired growers who believe in our passion and were willing to take risk.

[snip]

Championing these grapes has required perseverance and careful site selection to assure their survival in Eastern Washington’s cold winters. The State’s volcanic, glacial soils, combined with the arid, desert climate provide an ideal setting for complex, fruit-driven wines. We’re very proud to be at the forefront of this remarkable adventure.

When I read the next part, I realized we might not need to make a half-day drive:

McCrea Cellars is owned and operated by two couples. Doug and Kim McCrea have their home at the winery site with their two sons, Kevin and Kalen. Sales & Marketing Manager Susan Neel lives in West Seattle with her husband Bob who serves as our operations manager and chief engineer.

We don’t get to West Seattle too often, and I wasn’t clear on whether the Neels stock wine there, but it’s only about a half hour from our house. Better yet, if we find ourselves at Sea-Tac (our airport), we can get to West Seattle by taking only a slight detour on our way home. Indeed, we’ve made a tradition of this, stopping for breakfasts at Easy Street Cafe, pastries at Bakery Nouveau, or whatever else strikes our fancy.

Today, McCrea Cellars struck our fancy. We would be heading down to Sea-Tac in the late morning to drop Joel off for his flight home. I reviewed the McCrea website, called the Neels, and asked if it’s possible to buy wine directly from them. Susan said sure, but she would be out in the afternoon. She could, however, take my information and leave the wine for us to pick up. As we talked, Bob checked their stock to confirm that they had a case of Sirocco. Susan explained my options, including joining their wine club. That would give me a 15% case/club discount and the opportunity to get two shipments a year. And they’re flexible: take what they choose, or whatever we want.

In my previous visits to the McCrea website, I had considered joining the club. But we don’t want too many club memberships, or we’ll be getting daily notices of shipments with the need for one of us to be home to sign for delivery. I mentioned this to Susan, who pointed out that they’re out delivering wine around the area three days a week. They could simply drop the wine off at our house. No need to sign. No need to pay for shipping.

How can we say no to that?

So it is that we are now members of the McCrea wine club and owners of a case of 2006 Sirocco. After we dropped Joel, we found our way through West Seattle to the Neel home, where Bob happened to be out sweeping the porch steps as we arrived. We said hi and he told us about the open house wine tastings they have from time to time. Then we were on our way.

As a bonus, on this beautifully sunny winter day, we had the most breathtaking views over Puget Sound to the Olympics. Plus, as we descended from the heights of West Seattle onto the West Seattle Bridge, we came on the sight of Mount Baker (one of the dramatic volcanic peaks of the Cascade range, some 90 miles to the north) sitting behind the Space Needle. No doubt this is a familiar, though perhaps infrequent, image for West Seattle locals, but it was a new one to me. The bridge consistently offers some of the best views around. Too bad I was driving.

I’ll report again on McCrea after we attend one of the wine tastings.

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