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Originally published Saturday, April 23, 2011 at 7:01 PM

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Wine Adviser

Washington's StoneTree Vineyard is growing great grapes

StoneTree Vineyard, in the heart of the Wahluke Slope, belongs on any list of Washington's best — in fact, the best in the country. It has earned accolades from dozens of winemakers, and its vineyard-designated offerings are often in high demand.

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Sawbuck 2008 Malbec; $10

A CATCHY story (I didn't know the word Sawbuck was slang for sawhorse and a $10 bill) and a well-made wine from Matchbook Vineyard grapes. These folks know what they're doing. Chewy, earthy, minty, with strawberry fruit and excellent penetration.

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IN THE MOST recent edition of my book ("Washington Wines & Wineries") I profiled 20 vineyards that I chose as the best in the state. Of course, there is always an element of subjectivity in any such list, and inevitably, hard choices must be made about those "on the bubble," as they say in spring training. Here's one I missed.

StoneTree Vineyard, in the heart of the Wahluke Slope, certainly belongs in any list of the best of the best in Washington — in fact, in the country. It has earned accolades from dozens of winemakers, and its vineyard-designated offerings from leading boutiques are often in high demand as limited-edition, tasting-room or wine-club-only offerings. That alone is a mark of exceptional quality. Even more remarkable is that StoneTree's managing partner, Tedd Wildman, has achieved all this in barely a decade; the first vines went into the ground in 2000.

"We have a simple mission statement," the vineyard's website proclaims. "We at StoneTree Vineyard are going to grow the best wine grapes in the world."

The name references the petrified tree fossils scattered in the surrounding hills, including sequoias from the Miocene Epoch, 20 million to 5 million years ago. The Wahluke Slope is one of the driest and warmest grape-growing regions in Washington, home to some large vineyard plantings as well as row crops and orchards. StoneTree is exceptionally well-sited on a gentle slope, rising from 940 feet up to 1,250 feet. That ensures good drainage and frost protection. In 2004 and again this past year, when many vineyards elsewhere in Washington suffered considerable frost and freeze damage, StoneTree came through unscathed.

There is little argument among those in the wine business that quality begins in the vineyard. So when you start seeing well-respected producers call out a vineyard by name on numerous wine labels, you can be certain there is something special going on. The grapes are in demand.

Wildman was a consultant to other vineyard owners before planting his own. At one time he managed about 5,000 acres, a significant percentage of the state's total. "I was able to evaluate all these different growing regions over 15 years," he explained when I spoke to him last month. "To me there was no question the place to be was the Wahluke Slope."

Much of StoneTree's production is purchased by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, destined for wines from Col Solare, Northstar and limited club reserve bottlings. The rest is divvied up among a host of smaller producers: Darby, Dusted Valley, :Nota Bene Cellars, Guardian, Bergevin Lane, L'Ecole No 41, Long Shadows, Kerloo, Hestia, Efeste, Kana, Brian Carter, Corliss and Reininger among them.

StoneTree has proved exceptionally good for red grapes, including cabernet sauvignon and the other Bordeaux reds; Rhône reds such as syrah, grenache and mourvèdre; and more unusual varieties such as barbera, tempranillo, primitivo and zinfandel.

In recent months I've tasted quite a few impressive bottles bearing the StoneTree designation. Here's a sampling (note that many are limited and some may already be sold out):

Kontos Cellars 2008 LVLL StoneTree Vineyard Malbec; $36

Efesté 2008 Emmy Red; $36 (all StoneTree fruit)

Hestia Cellars 2008 Merlot; $28 (all StoneTree fruit)

Angel Vine 2008 StoneTree Vineyard Petite Sirah; $20

Two Vintners 2008 StoneTree Vineyard Zinfandel; $25

Also check out three club wines from Columbia Crest (all $35), including a 2008 StoneTree Vineyard Reserve Primitivo, a 2007 StoneTree Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, and a 2007 StoneTree Vineyard Reserve Zinfandel.

Coming soon (not yet tasted) is a Brian Carter Cellars 2007 'One' StoneTree Cabernet Sauvignon; $48.

The revised second edition of Paul Gregutt's "Washington Wines & Wineries" is now in print. His blog is www.paulgregutt.com. E-mail: paulgwine@me.com.

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About Wine Adviser

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.
paulgwine@me.com

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