Issue #10: Tribute (Courtesy of Winemaker, John Freeman)

All or at least most winemakers love to blend – it is the true art of the field. More than that, it is exceptionally educational as every blend in every vintage is different, even if the same vineyards, varietal percentages and oak regimes are used. Why, you may ask? Simply put, wine is a place and a moment in time. The fruit harvested from vintage to vintage is a true expression of a place and time, a characterization of the land, climate, soils and yes, even the winemaker’s hand.

Tribute has been an anchor in our portfolio for many years and it is truly one of my favorite wines to blend, year in and year out because it is so much fun to discover what the next vintage will give me. By now, I should have you yearning for more details, so I’m going to give you a glimpse into my world.

I start creating Tribute by identifying a base wine, which will make up about 20 percent of the total volume. Tribute is mostly a Bordeaux blend so the early days of blending are strictly made up of ascertaining what amounts of each varietal are appropriate. The layering of the bouquet, or the salt, pepper and spice, components come much later.

After identifying the base wine, the actual blending process begins by setting all the barrels down onto the floor to rate each and determine whether it will end up in Tribute or not. As you can imagine, we have a lot of barrels, so this process takes a while and while it may sound like fun, a lot of crackers and water are needed after tasting the 30th barrel.

We are very fortunate to not only own thousands of acres of vineyards, but we can also source from many of Washington state’s top vineyards and that is why the vineyards used year to year for Tribute will change. Sometimes we have a beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon from Walla Walla Valley that is just too big or a Merlot that is just too floral to sing on their own, but when blended they harmonize with other varieties. For Tribute, we only use the right fruit to make the right wine, no exceptions. We let the wine tell us what needs to happen.

Finally, we use fine, French oak to add structure to Tribute, not only for our drinking pleasure now, but to ensure it can withstand the test of time. I truly believe Tribute ages gracefully and improves with each passing day. They say good things come to those who wait.

I am very proud to make this wine and enjoy it, so I always have some on hand to share with friends and family over meals. The 2014 Tribute is no exception to this rule. It is maturing impressively as the aromas, flavors and finish pull together. The wine has a silky viscosity that envelopes your palate leaving lingering sensations of spice, dark fruit and dried herbs. The tannins are structured, yet the mouthwatering acid keep the wine clean, crisp and young. It will continue to progress with time but it quite enjoyable now with red meat or a cigar on the patio. The varietal break down for this year’s blend is:

  •  39% Merlot
  • 23% Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 15% Malbec
  • 10% Petite Verdot
  • 7% Petite Sirah
  • 6% Carmenere

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