Monday, June 25, 2012

Get on the Good Fruit; McKinley Springs

The McKinley Springs wine label was launched in 2002 but the Andrews family has been growing wine grapes in the Horse Heaven Hills since 1980 and have been in the agriculture business there for nearly 70 years.  With one of the state's larger vineyards at 2,000 acres, they've planted the vineyard to twenty different grape varieties.

The Horse Heaven Hills became an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 2005.  Over 6,000 acres of vineyards are planted on mostly silty loam soil that drains very rapidly.  The Horse Heaven Hills is also one of the warmest AVAs in the state with its average Growing Degree Days up close to 3,000 a year, trailing only the hottest site in Washington, Red Mountain and the Wahluke Slope. McKinley Springs fruit is being purchased and used by several winemakers throughout Washington state and its reputation is very good.  While most wine makers rely on the fruit as part of a blend there are quite a few single vineyard bottlings out there; Syncline makes a 2009 McKinley Springs Syrah for example.

McKinley Springs vineyard owner and manager Rob Andrews and winemaker Doug Rowell are pleased with the  "intensity, and increased level of tannins and structure" that their site adds to the wines. Both are a result of the ample warmth required for ripening as well as the wind that blows through the Horse Heaven Hills, making it the state's windiest AVA. Windy sites often produce grapes with thicker skins, which can result in more tannic structure and more intense coloration. While the fruit from McKinley Springs is ripe in tannins and color, it is not known for being overly fruit forward. As a result their fruit is often blended by winemakers to provide a critical element to the wine; what Andrews and Rowell like to call “backbone.”

The vineyard's size, warmer location, and reputation means that McKinley Springs will offer reliable fruit year after year, and that financial security along with a family focused, DIY approach to the vineyard and the winery allows them to produce the wines from their own label at a very reasonable price.  They're approaching the winemaking methodically and with intent; producing a quality wine. If there's any doubt, the McKinley Springs Cabernet has quickly developed a reputation as one of the best bargain wines in the state for that varietal.

McKinley Springs doesn't simply bottle declassified wine but rather, they select particular blocks of their vineyard and bring you a well made, very thoughtful wine experience at a bargain price.  The Cabernet, for example, is a blend of their older vines planted in 1980 as well as some youthful fruit.

The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon is a really nice example of the underlying elements of the varietal. Aromatics are nuanced with dust, baking spice and a hint of herbal notes.  The wine tastes sophisticated and delicious particularly for the $20 pricetag.  More sophistication on the palate of the wine, hints of chocolate, barrel spice and more dusty cherries.  This is far more refined and intellectual than a typical value priced Cabernet.

The 2009 Viognier is done in a sur lie style (or "on lees," meaning it was aged with sediment and yeast cells that accumulate during fermentation) in stainless steel.  The time on lees has rounded out the aromatics and tames a bit of acidity of the wine. Honey and floral aromatics give way to a similar rounded palate with a touch of orange zest backed by honey, chalk and a rounded finish. $15

These wines were provided as samples.


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