S P R I N G / S U M M E R 2 0 2 3
J e r e m y Y o u n g, S e n i o r E d i t o r
The 2020 vintage in Washington State faced significant challenges due to wildfires. The smoke from the fires enveloped the state, affecting quite a bit of the wine production. However, it was not widespread, and only a few of the wines that we tasted had noticeable smoke taint.
The wildfires impacted all regions, with the southern AVAs such as Horse Heaven Hills, Red Mountain, and Walla Walla being the most affected. The wines from these regions exhibited varying characteristics, with some showing a slightly smoky tone. The Bordeaux and Rhône varieties were particularly affected, but the patterns between what was affected and what was not were impossible to ascertain. The good thing is that most wines were good to even great, despite the difficult 2020 vintage. We even saw a few 100-point scores given to Cayuse and Reynvaan, with many other great wineries producing wines scoring in the 96-99 point range.
The 2020 vintage had a warm growing season. The bud break occurred in mid-April, followed by flowering in May. However, the windy and rainy weather led to shatter across the region. The summer months experienced above-average temperatures, with heatwaves in late July and August. This led to smaller berries and reduced yields. The harvest began at the end of August but was halted due to wildfire smoke, primarily in Oregon. This smoke covered the state for about 10 days, delaying the harvest to late September and October. Fortunately, the age of the smoke, because it was so far away from many of the vineyards, reduced its impact on the grapes.
The wines from 2020, at times, have a subtle smoky flavor with hints of earth and flint. However, very few wines were entirely spoiled by the smoke. The top wines from this vintage are focused and graceful, with a restrained style due to the lack of sunshine in September, which allowed them longer hang time. They are expected to age well. However, some wines lack vibrancy and are a bit tight. It will be very interesting to see how these wines show over the next 5-10 years. I have hope that we are going to have some spectacular wines that will age for a decade or more. The vintage, in the hands of great winemakers, made great wines, so look for those examples for cellaring potential.
The 2021 vintage promises to be more flourishing and uniform compared to 2020. The wines from this vintage have a rich and deep flavor while maintaining freshness. The growing season began dry and warm but experienced a significant frost event after bud break in late March. The temperatures soared in June, with a heat dome settling over the Pacific Northwest. The weather cooled down in September and October, which is expected to influence the style of the 2021 vintage positively.
However, the quantity of wine in 2021 is expected to be low due to the frost in October 2020 and the dry and hot conditions of 2021. Unfortunately, the production is reported to be reduced by up to half. Despite the limited quantity, the quality of the wines from 2021 will be incredible, and it’s such a shame that we have had back-to-back vintages with issues in Washington State. Thanks to Rob Geresi, our Contributing Editor over Washington Wines, for his help this year with many of these reviews.
Senior Editor Washington
Washington Winery of the Year
Hedges Family Estate - The Hedges Family Estate, located on Red Mountain in Washington State, is a renowned winery known for producing exceptional wines. The estate has a rich history that dates back to the 1970s when Anne-Marie and Tom Hedges established their vineyard and began crafting wines. Today, the second generation of the Hedges family, led by Sarah and Christophe Hedges, continues their legacy of winemaking excellence.o.
Washington Winemaker of the Year
Chris Peterson - Chris Peterson is the winemaker for several outstanding Washington wineries, including Passing Time, Avennia, and Liminal, and has been an integral part of the Washington wine scene for almost two decades. I’ve always loved the wines that he produces and recently had the opportunity to do a vertical of every Passing Time Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet from 2012 to the present. It was very much an eye-opening experience. Every bottle was fresh, elegant, textured, and beautiful in the glass, which was a testament to his incredible skills as a winemaker. It will be fun to see how Chris, and his wines, continue to evolve over the next 20 years.
Washington Wineries to Watch
Dossier burst onto the scene a few years ago with incredible marketing and professional athlete partner in Sydney Rice. While they made a big splash in the press, on social media, and at their events, they aren’t just window dressing - they have incredibly delicious wines that are scoring highly, will age for decades, and are delicious to drink now.
Dossier was lucky to bring on Billo Navarane, who is the winemaker for his own label, Rasa, as well as a few others, including Idaho winery Rivaura. Billo has crafted absolutely stunning wines in an old-world fashion that have already become some of my favorites in the state. They have a beautiful new tasting room being built in downtown Walla Walla that should be open in the fall of 2023.