Washington's Pacific Rim brand gets rieslings right
After downsizing his Bonny Doon empire, winemaker Randall Grahm turned his attention to rieslings and Washington state, creating a new brand, Pacific Rim, that has been turning out some very good products.
Special to the Seattle Times
Pick of the week
Andeluna Cellars 2008 Torrontés; $9
OK, what's torrontés? A place, a person, a river? No, it's a grape — a fragrant white grape rarely seen except in Argentina and Chile. Done right, it mixes the tang of sauvignon blanc, the green-apple snap of unoaked chardonnay and the floral/citrus highlights of viognier. Serve it chilled but not iced. (Unique distributes)
PACIFIC RIM brings together several of the critical threads that are weaving the 21st-century Washington wine industry. The brand dates back to 1992, when Randall Grahm — a notoriously wacky California winemaker whose main calling card was his Bonny Doon Cigare Volant (flying saucer) red — introduced a Pacific Rim riesling. It was dry, most unusual for the time, and it was crafted with a mix of grapes from Washington, California and Germany.
Grahm's interest in Washington riesling hit its tipping point more than a decade later when he decided to radically downsize his Bonny Doon winery and hired Nicholas Quillé to oversee the restructuring. Quillé, who holds degrees in winemaking from the University of Dijon and the University of Reims, along with an MBA from the University of Washington (can you say overachiever?), quickly downsized himself out of a job. Once Bonny Doon had been reduced to a tenth its former size, he began thinking about what to do next.
"I went to Randall and said I thought I could do something with Pacific Rim," Quillé recalled recently. "It was a 15-minute, Warren Buffett-type conversation. I asked him, 'Wouldn't it be nice to have a producer in North America that focuses solely on riesling — someone who would really hang their hat on that grape and take it to a deeper level?' "
Grahm agreed to keep the Pacific Rim brand, relocate the winemaking to Washington state and focus almost exclusively on making a full lineup of rieslings. Local partners in the Den Hoed family played a hugely important role, developing a biodynamic vineyard and funding a $5.7 million production facility — stuffed with all the best winemaking toys — that opened in West Richland in time for the 2007 crush.
The first release of the Washington Pacific Rim wines included such innovations as a single-vineyard biodynamic riesling. "The goal," says Quillé, now the full-time winemaker for the brand, "is to have all the grapes be as close to organic and biodynamic as possible."
Let's tally it all up. Washington vineyard expertise and California winemaking credentials. French training and experience. Riesling focus. Biodynamic vineyards and other green inducements, such as a free, biodegradable shopping bag, given away on the Web site (all gone now, sorry). Stitch stitch stitch stitch. It's no exaggeration to say that Pacific Rim is one of the most thoughtful and timely winery projects to be introduced in this state in at least a decade. And best of all, the wines are excellent, widely available and priced to move.
The brand has grown rapidly. Though 85 percent of the 14-wine total production remains riesling, it also includes a chenin blanc, a gewürztraminer, a raspberry dessert wine and a red blend called Autumnus. Among the new releases for summer are these three recommended rieslings:
Pacific Rim 2008 Organic Riesling ($14) is off-dry, the sweetness perfectly proportionate to the acid, with refined flavors of honey, jasmine and tea. The classy label shows a raised etching of a grapevine with the soil cut away, revealing a trailing root system.
Pacific Rim 2007 Dry Riesling ($11) is a tart, tangy mix of apple, lemon, grapefruit and pear, full and fleshy, with excellent persistence.
Pacific Rim NV 'White Flowers' Brut Sparkling Riesling ($14) is their first bubbly, clean and dry with a suggestion of white flowers and citrus. Not at all yeasty or bready, it's a refreshing sparkler with a crisp finish.
Copyright © The Seattle Times Company
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My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.
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