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Friday, May 5, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


Cup of cheer overflows for Snohomish vintners

Seattle Times business reporter

A Washington state winery was blessed last week with perfect scores on two vintages by one of the most influential wine publications in the country.

Although everyone agrees Quilceda Creek's achievement is a big deal — only 15 other U.S. wines ever received perfect scores from the Wine Advocate, all of them from California — the wine community has mixed feelings about wine scoring.

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate gave a perfect 100 points to Quilceda Creek's 2002 and 2003 vintages of cabernet sauvignon, bolstering the Snohomish winery's already heady reputation and giving other Washington winemakers reason to celebrate.

"It's a tremendous honor for the entire state's wine industry, because it proves that Washington state wines are on or above par with the finest wine regions in the world," said Robin Pollard, executive director of the Washington Wine Commission.

Some wine experts, however, worry about the hype created by wine scores.

"It's like saying Michelangelo is a 99-point artist," said Patrick Anderson, owner of The Vineyard Wine Shop in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood.

In his shop, Anderson displays a photo of Robert Parker, probably the world's best-known wine scorer, with a big red bull's-eye over it and "Public Enemy No. 1" written beneath.

Quilceda Creek

Location: Snohomish (no public tasting room)

Owners: The Golitzin family

President: Alex Golitzin, a chemical engineer by training, spent 27 years at Scott Paper in Washington. In 1974, with the help of an uncle, Andre Tchelistcheff, winemaker at Beaulieu Vineyards in California, Golitzin made his first barrel of cabernet. He retired from Scott Paper in 1994 and, with his son Paul and sons-in-law Marv Crum and John Ware, is pursuing the quest for the ultimate cabernet.

Lead winemaker: Paul Golitzin has been striving for Washington state's first 100-point wine, creating innovations in winemaking techniques along the way.

Wines produced: Cabernet sauvignon, merlot, Columbia Valley red wine

"Parker has the most pedestrian palate on the planet," said Anderson, who is frustrated that so many winemakers cater to the tastes of Parker and other wine scorers.

"Wine Spectator and Robert Parker and a few British magazines to boot have really changed the wine world," often favoring ripe, sweet, high-alcohol wines, he said.

There are waiting lists for many Quilceda Creek wines. Alex Golitzin, patriarch of family-owned Quilceda Creek, said its 2002 vintage is already gone but that a few 2003 bottles might be found in restaurants and some wine shops. The Wine Advocate lists the prices for those bottles at $90 and $95.

Golitzin is excited about what the ratings mean for his winery and the region.

"It makes Washington a very credible grape-growing area, and I suspect you'll see people from outside Washington interested in starting vineyards and wineries looking at Washington," Golitzin said.

The Wine Advocate's raves about Washington's Columbia Valley wine-producing region could spur that interest.

Besides anointing Quilceda Creek last week, Wine Advocate critic Pierre-Antoine Rovani hailed the entire Columbia Valley, where grapes for many Washington winemakers, including Quilceda Creek, are grown.

"Over the past ten years, I have witnessed Washington State progress from being the 'frontier of wine' where cannery machinists, waiters and paper engineers were producing wines in converted shacks, barns, and garages, where farmers were sacrificing valuable apple orchard land for less profitable — but more interesting and ego gratifying — vineyards, into a world-class wine producing region," Rovani declared.

Now, he wrote, "Land is cheap (a fraction of the cost of other successful wine regions) and plentiful, the weather (with the exception of potential winter freezes) ideal, and the knowledge base top-flight and ever improving."

Gladys Horiuchi, spokeswoman for The Wine Institute in San Francisco, cautions that wine scores not be taken out of context.

"To say wine ratings are going to make an industry, I don't think that's a fair statement," said Horiuchi, whose group represents California wineries.

She thinks Washington's wine industry is doing a good job but said that, in general, creating reputations is an incremental process, involving what wineries do on a day-to-day basis to build consistency and quality and trust with their customers.

"It's a lot of good stories in magazines, winning wine competitions, people tasting them in restaurants and learning to trust a particular brand to have consistent quality," Horiuchi said.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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