One of the stops on our Walla Walla wine trip two summers ago was Forgeron Cellars, where winemaker and managing partner Marie-Eve Gilla gave us a splendid introduction to her winery. We learned while there that her husband, Gilles Nicault, was involved with another local winery, Long Shadows, but the name didn’t mean much to us.
Half a year later, our friends Brooke and Robin brought a bottle of Nine Hats Sangiovese to my birthday dinner. Nine Hats didn’t mean much to me either, but when we tried the wine, we quite liked it. Searching on the web, I learned that Nine Hats wines are made by Long Shadows. As the website explains:
Nine winemakers. Nine hats. The nine renowned winemakers of Long Shadows’ signature wines discover after each harvest that a percentage of their resulting barrels are more than they require to achieve that perfect balance in their final blends. These extra barrels now produce NINE HATS…wines of complexity and distinctive character.
Ten days later, Gail and I made an excursion to Bainbridge Island, at the end of which—with time to kill before the next ferry back to Seattle—we stopped at Harbor Square Wine Shop & Tasting Room. I wrote at the time that the
wine that immediately caught my eye was Saggi, produced by one of the Long Shadows winemakers. Just a week ago, we were given a bottle of Nine Hats Sangiovese. In reading up on it, I learned the story behind Nine Hats and Long Shadows. … [Quote above.] … Reading further, I discovered that the “signature wine” corresponding to the Nine Hats Sangiovese is the Saggi, a Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah blend. I thought—last week, this is—that we might enjoy trying both and comparing. First we would try the Nine Hats. If we liked it, we’d look for the Saggi.
But here it was, a 2008. No looking required. I put the bottle on the counter to buy.
It was months before we tried another Long Shadows wine. Our local grocery store had a bottle of the Pirouette, which we bought last spring but didn’t drink until our Yom Kippur pre-fast dinner in September. I devoted a post to it, prompting me to learn more about Long Shadows. Let me quote from that post.
Long Shadows brings seven highly acclaimed vintners from the major wine regions of the world to Washington State, each an owner-partner in a unique winery dedicated to producing Columbia Valley wines that showcase the best of this growing region.
Founded in 2003, Long Shadows is the brainchild of Washington wine luminary Allen Shoup. As president and CEO of Chateau Ste. Michelle and its affiliated wineries, Allen spent 20 years building the reputation of the growing region … .
After leaving Ste. Michelle in 2000, Allen’s commitment to advancing the Columbia Valley remained undaunted. He spent the next three years developing Long Shadows, a proposition that was as simple as it was complex: recruit a cadre of the finest winemakers in the world; give each vintner access to Washington State’s best grapes; and outfit a winery to accommodate a diverse group of winemakers’ exacting cellar specifications.
With the vision in place, Allen began by introducing a dream team of celebrated vintners to the vines and wines of the growing region. The idea quickly sold itself; and from the beginning, the wines have enjoyed critical acclaim that has continued to grow, vintage after vintage.
Philippe Melka and Agustin Huneeus, Sr. teamed to combine the traditions of old world winemaking, the advancements of new world technology, and small lots from Washington State’s finest vineyards to craft this enticing red blend.
The 2009 is a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Malbec. Oh, right, it says so right there on the bottle, pictured at the top. I really didn’t need to add much. The bottle just about says it all.
What the bottle doesn’t say is that it was as fine a bottle of wine as we have drunk in ages. Unfortunately, we bought just the one, and they’re now sold out. Perhaps we should invest in the 2010.
It was around that time that I signed up for the Long Shadows mailing list, subscribers to which learn about and are offered the opportunity to order each of their new releases. I also discovered that Long Shadows had a tasting room in Woodinville. If we ordered some wine, we wouldn’t have to drive to Walla Walla or pay for shipping (and be home to sign on delivery). Gail and I could just drive up to the tasting room.
Later still, I realized through one of their emails to the list that they have regular Friday programs in the Woodinville tasting room, listed on the events page of the website under the heading “Unwine’d in Woodinville.” The calendar listing for each has the note:
Please join us at our Woodinville tasting room to unwind for the weekend and enjoy a sampling of our wines. Choose from a selection of small pours, by the glass, or by the half bottle. With live music from [name of musician or group] to help kick off the weekend.
How could we resist?
Well, resist we did, for months. The drive out to Woodinville after work on a Friday never seemed all that enticing. Then, a couple of weeks ago, Long Shadows sent out an email announcing special Valentine’s Day events at both the Walla Walla and Woodinville tasting rooms. Gail and I agreed that this would be our opportunity to get up there. Only later did I realize that the Valentine’s event was just the usual Unwine’d evening, with dessert options thrown in. Still, we planned on going.
Last Tuesday, three days before our planned outing, Long Shadows sent out an email to the list announcing the establishment of a wine club.
As many of our current releases are selling out quickly, some of our customers are discovering it is difficult to find our wines. We are excited to offer new supporters the opportunity to have guaranteed access to their favorite Long Shadows wines by joining our Winery Key Club. As a member you will be assured early notification of all regular releases, with special pricing included. You’ll also receive complimentary admission to release events, VIP experiences at the winery and tasting rooms, priority access to library wines, large formats and gift boxes, and other exclusive benefits available only to our valued club members. If you have been interested in our wines but were waiting for the right opportunity to discover them for yourself, Key Club membership is a wonderful way to begin your relationship with Long Shadows.
Perfect. There were three club levels, as described in the email and also at the website. The lowest level offers two shipments a year of six bottles each, with 10% discount on those and any other purchases, pick up available at either tasting room or shipping at extra cost. Other perks were listed with the parenthetical comment “as available.” By stepping up to level two, we would get three shipments a year of six bottles each—three bottles of each of their six red wines—with 15% discount on those and other purchases plus guaranteed access to events, library wines, and so on. I signed up that night.
The next day, at work, Brooke asked if I had read about a Long Shadows wine being served the night before at the state dinner. I hadn’t. I knew French president Hollande was in DC to visit Obama, but I hadn’t heard about the dinner. As it turned out, while I was joining the Long Shadows wine club, President Obama was serving Long Shadows’ 2009 Chester-Kidder. The news was covered even before the dinner took place, Eric Degerman writing:
Political blogs in our nation’s capital are buzzing with the choice of wine for tonight’s State Dinner at the White House for French President François Hollande, and Washington state will be represented by Long Shadows Vintners‘ 2009 Chester-Kidder from the Columbia Valley.
Politico.com reports the other two wines being served by President Barack Obama’s culinary team are Morlet 2011 La Proportion Dorée from Napa Valley and Thibault-Jannison Blanc de Chardonnay from Monticello, Va. Dinner entertainment will feature pop singer Mary J. Blige.
Dylan Byers of Politico.com poignantly pointed out the French connection at Allen Shoup’s rockstar winery in Walla Walla.
The affable and talented Gilles Nicault has overseen the production at Long Shadows from the start. And while he works alongside such world-renowned winemakers as Armin Diel (Germany), Randy Dunn (Napa), John Duval (Australia), Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari (Italy), Philippe Melka (France) and Michel Rolland (France), the Chester-Kidder brand is a separate collaboration of Nicault and Shoup.
“Gilles Nicault was born and raised in southern France, and received his degree in viticulture and enology from a French university. And yet, he chose to move to Washington state to make wine,” Steve Warner, president of the Washington State Wine Commission, told Great Northwest Wine. “His story is a testament to the quality and international reputation of our grape growing region. We hope the French President appreciates the balanced style and food friendliness of this and all Washington State wines.”
Shoup spent 20 years at Ste. Michelle before retiring as CEO in 2000. Soon after, he developed Long Shadows and one of his first moves was to hire Nicault in 2003 from famed Woodward Canyon, where the graduate of the University of Avignon had worked seven years for Rick Small.
Nicault made wine in Champagne, Côtes du Rhône and Provence before he arrived in the Yakima Valley in 1994. He worked for Staton Hills and Hogue Cellars before landing a position with Woodward Canyon.
The first vintage of Chester-Kidder was 2002, and the blend is a tribute to Shoup’s grandfather, Charles Chester, and grandmother, Maggie Kidder.
The 2009 Chester-Kidder ($50) will be paired with Dry-Aged Rib Eye Beef served with Jasper Hill Farm Blue Cheese Crisp, Charred Shallots, Oyster Mushrooms and Braised Chard. That vintage of Chester-Kidder was a blend of Cabernet Sauvigon (50%), Syrah (28%) and Petit Verdot (17%) using grapes from Candy Mountain near West Richland, Wash., and StoneTree Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope. Production was 989 cases.
Between joining the club and learning about the White House dinner, we were even more excited about our Valentine’s plan. Then again, by joining the club, we had signed up for regular visits to the tasting room to pick up our wine, so getting up there that Friday night was less urgent. This is the quandary we faced when I got home from work Friday afternoon. And didn’t we need dinner anyway, not dessert?
Finally, around 6:30 PM, we headed out. The unwine’d evening ran from 6:00 to 9:00, so we had some time and really needed a meal. But not too much time. What to do? Burgermaster!, It’s a beloved Seattle-area institution with a charming drive-in site in Bellevue, just off State Route 520, the road we needed to take to get to I-405 and up to Woodinville.
One might not have guessed, but the drive-in turned out to be quite the Valentine’s Day hangout. Boy was it crowded! We ordered, ate a most satisfying meal in the car, and headed out.
Fifteen minutes later, we were lost in Woodinville. We headed up 202, the Woodinville Redmond Road, coming to a traffic circle just north of which was a concentration of winery tasting rooms and other commercial establishments. But where was Long Shadows?
There was Brian Carter Cellars, off to the left, and more wine rooms in a strip mall just north of it. To the right was a Mexican restaurant, Mazatlan, and more wine rooms, some with well-lit signs, plus a sign along the road listing Mazatlan and the wine rooms but not Long Shadows. We drove past, then back south, way south on discovering no good place to turn around, then back north, then finally into the crowded parking lot on the left, even though I knew from the address that Long Shadows should be to the right by Mazatlan.
We got out, crossed the street, wandered toward Mazatlan, passing a crowded room with small unlit signs high up on the walls. A guard was in the parking lot, so I asked where Long Shadows was. It was the crowded place, and when we got close enough, it turns out that the sign I couldn’t read said “Nine Hats.” Another sign said Long Shadows. Unreadable though unless you’re close. How would we have known, especially given that neither they nor Nine Hats was listed on the big sign along the street that had all the other establishments?
No matter. We had arrived. We walked in, went to the counter in the back, past people sitting and standing, with featured artist Billy Brandt singing and a small jazz band backing him up.
At the counter, we were given menus. You could choose any of the six Long Shadows wines, $12 each, or order from a small dessert menu. I asked if we could buy bottles using our new club membership. Sure, 15% off. And we had privileges in the private tasting room in the back, though nothing was being served back there.
We ordered two glasses of 2010 Sequel:
John Duval, formerly of Australia’s iconic Penfolds Grange, chose the Columbia Valley as his “Sequel” for the continuation of his life’s work with Syrah.
Cool spring temperatures delayed flowering and reduced fruit set, while the summer temperatures remained moderate. In response to these conditions, we opened up the leaf canopies and dropped clusters so that the vines were well positioned to finish ripening when the warm weather arrived in the fall. The 2010 vintage was a cooler than average growing season that produced bright, fresh wines with excellent acidity, color, flavor and varietal character.
Deep and inky in color with vibrant aromas of wild blackberries, crushed rock, smoked meats and spicy oak. Concentrated dark fruit flavors are accented by a savory mid-palate and excellent acidity that provides a seamlessly balanced finish.
Syrah from Yakima Valley’s Boushey Vineyard (40%) gives Sequel its bright, fresh fruit character. These grapes are the perfect complement to the dense, dark fruit grown at Bacchus Vineyard (23%), from one of the oldest Syrah blocks in the state. Grapes from Candy Mountain (26%), adjacent to Red Mountain, give the wine its backbone. The remaining Syrah is grown at Sonnet Vineyard at The Benches in the Horse Heaven Hills, planted to a Shiraz clone that John recommended for its dark, rich and complex character. Dionysus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon contributes structure and adds to the wine’s appealing mid-palate.
Glasses in hand, we wandered into the back room, then returned to stand at a counter supported by two barrels, then grabbed two seats at the end of the bar and focused on the music as we drank an outstanding wine. The set was soon over, and Billy, the singer, headed toward us to start up a conversation. It turns out he’s from Boston. I mentioned that I lived there for twelve years and soon we were talking college hockey. He played on Boston College’s JV team one year (BC is currently ranked #1 in the country, was national champions three of the last six years) and described his career highlight scoring a goal against Harvard in a preseason game.
If not for Billy, we might have finished our wine, bought some bottles, and left. But now we wanted to hear his next set, so we stuck around. Gail bought a glass of the Chester-Kidder, allowing us to taste what Obama and Hollande had drunk three nights earlier. I had just a sip, and without benefit of dry-aged rib eye beef, but I imagine they were happy with it. With a bottle of Pirouette at home, we decided to buy the other five Long Shadows wines, using our new 15% discount. We paid, listened to some more music, then headed out between songs, with Billy calling out our names and saying goodbye as we exited.
Back home, we read up on Billy.
Having an affinity for the bluer side of jazz that rocks as much as it swings, Billy tends the musical bar with playful and wise originals and standards. A smooth and smoky voice with a swingin’ jazz combo mixes a delicious melodic libation best served up or on the rocks.
Bringing his New England background to the fore against the breathtaking backdrop of the Pacific Northwest, Billy entertains audiences drawn to his humor and storytelling. While immersing himself in the rich music community of Seattle, Billy has played at Tula’s, the Triple Door, the Columbia City Theater, Egan’s, Lucid, and the Paragon. He’s also busy writing songs, collaborating, and producing shows such as the popular annual The Big Gig (of which there have been four; the last two sold out the Triple Door).
With style and showmanship that is warm and easygoing, possessing a hint of swing and a blues sensibility, Billy is sure to charm as he celebrates the release of his first album, The Ballad of Larry’s Neighbor.
Here’s a video of Billy just last month at Seattle’s Triple Door.
We saw him on Friday singing with a guitarist, upright bassist, and drummer.
We look forward to seeing Billy again. He mentioned that he’s at Long Shadows about every six weeks. Indeed, we’ll be happy to return to unwine’d on any Friday, regardless of who’s playing. Maybe next time we’ll eat at Mazatlan first. Even with Burgermaster, it was a lovely evening.