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A Pinot noir winery in the Dundee Hills of Oregon is hardly where you'd expect to find one of the best Washington Bordeaux blends we've tasted. Unless you're at Alexana, that is.
Lest my mother be upset with me for swearing, I'll try to keep it clean: holy ___ we love this wine (that's as clean I can make it)! Beautiful, mesmerizing fruit grabs your attention: first blackberry, then black cherry and black currant, adding mocha, cedar, and spice accents. There's an elegance, balance and silkiness to it that I simply don't taste in the vast majority of Washington reds, which is evident from first sip and all the way through the richly expressive finish that fans out and keeps giving. Already gushing, this is equally outstanding as a wine for your next dinner party as it is for the cellar. 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Petit Verdot, 15% Merlot and 15% Malbec. - Marcus
Leaning on the connections Bryan developed while making wine in Washington, he sources a small amount of fruit from Yakima Valley's Lonesome Spring Ranch. Bryan utilized the strengths of Alexana's winemaking facility with the Lonesome Spring fruit. "We're a Pinot winery -- we don't even have a crusher so we made each lot of Washington fruit the way we make Pinot, more pump overs and more whole berries, so there is less tannin and more purity of fruit."
We still get excited re-telling the story, as excited as winemaker Bryan Weil is when he gets to the Washington barrels in the cellar at Alexana.
It all started roughly three years ago, when I was tasting through barrels of Pinot and Chardonnay at Alexana and Bryan mentioned a covert, soon-to-be-bottled Washington red blend he was working on. A Pinot noir winery in the Dundee Hills of Oregon is hardly where you'd expect to find one of the best Washington Bordeaux blends we've ever (ever) tasted, but that's just part of the story.
Bryan has a deep connection to Washington. Dr. Revana, proprietor of Alexana, has a track record of fostering innovation. The right ingredients made the most excellent stew.
I met Bryan in Corvallis, over 10 years ago, while he was in the fermentation sciences program at OSU. After Bryan finished school, he moved to eastern Washington to take a winemaking job at Hogue Cellars, one of the state's largest wineries.
In his time at Hogue, Bryan developed tons of Washington vineyard connections. "I got to play with a lot of fruit," joked Bryan, "and being involved in the reserve program at Hogue, I really fell in love with what I was tasting from eastern Washington."
In 2012, Bryan moved back to Oregon to become Alexana's Associate Winemaker (the "Associate" has since been dropped). Alexana specializes in small-lot, premium Pinot noirs; they have perhaps the most diverse estate vineyard in the whole Willamette Valley. More to the the point, they have the secret weapon: a winemaker with pure enthusiasm for Washington wine.
"I really like the intrinsic qualities of each grape -- I love Cabernet, I love Merlot -- but I particularly love Washington blends."
Jeff Lewis, a wine educator and jack-of-all-trades with Alexana, said of Bryan's blending skills, "he understands separate parcels' personalities and how they can come together, even tiny parcels. There's an elegance and balance that I don't normally see, probably because of Bryan's Oregon experience. There are 130 lots in the cellar and only 8 are from Washington. It's really fun to have it in the cellar. If you can't find Bryan, he's in the Washington barrel room."
Bryan knows what he wants to make. "I've talked to our wine club members and customers and I know what they want. I know I want to make good wines that I want to drink with my friends and family. You can drink them young and they're age-worthy. There's just enough tannins so you know they are there."
It's become a "cool" thing for Washington winemakers to make Oregon Pinot noir, but you don't hear much about how cool it is for Oregon Pinot-makers to make Washington Cab blends. "Oregon is pretty Oregon centric but Washington is different. I understand it more because of my background," said Bryan.