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Wine Scene: Paying homage to a wine pioneer

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davids block

A 2014 bottle of David's Block from Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley; the wine is produced by Eight Bells Winery.

Wine is much more than just a beverage; it evokes passion, emotion and curiosity.

The story behind the label often adds to our fascination with it. And every wine has a story.

David’s Block, a red blend produced by Eight Bells Winery, a small urban winery in the Ravenna neighborhood of North Seattle, has a fascinating history.

The wine is a field blend of cabernet sauvignon, malbec, merlot, cab franc, carménère and petite verdot. Even without its story the wine is lovely. But learning why the vineyard was planted and what it means to the evolution of Washington wine is heartwarming.

The vineyard and the label of this wine pay homage to one of Washington wine’s more influential pioneers, David Lake. Lake was an Englander who made his way to the Woodinville-based Associated Vintners (now Columbia Winery) in 1978 as the winemaker. He was also a Master of Wine. During his career, he brought several key viticultural concepts to Washington state.

Lake worked extensively with Mike Sauer, owner of Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley. Together they pioneered new viticultural practices for the region including multiclonal wines and field blending.

A field blend is a wine made from grapes harvested and fermented together from a vineyard planted with multiple grape varieties. The blend is determined by what is planted in the “field,” rather than by what is blended by the winemaker.

If a cutting or bud of a “mother” plant or vine is taken, it’s considered a clone. When winemakers talk about distinctive clones, it’s a good thing.

The benefits of multiclonal wines are reflected in this quote from David Lake after one of his trips to Bordeaux, France: “Many top estates employ a very large number of clones. Ch. Haut Brion has around 360. The one important fact, agreed by all, is that monoclonal wines are dull; the best and most interesting wines are made from a combination of clones. This has great implications for Washington and our clonal trials of cabernet sauvignon at Red Willow.”

Sauer, too, respects the impact that Lake had on the industry and his own vineyard.

“During the latter part of David Lake’s career, we were looking at multiple clones in the vineyard,” Sauer said. “Some of the fine Bordeaux vineyards of France have multiple clones. It gives layers of complexity to the wine. It’s a blend of multiple clones and varieties in this single wine.”

You will find these layers of complexity in the David’s Block red blend.

As the two men traveled to the famous chateaus of Bordeaux, they came across the idea of field blending. They observed very little blending being done in the winery since many of the chateau’s wines were based off mixed varietal blocks in the vineyard. In 1999, Lake asked Sauer to allow him to experiment at Red Willow Vineyard.

Sauer planted a 1-acre block as a test plot. The wine from these vines was always treated and marketed separately at Columbia Winery. Today, Eight Bells is the winery working with these grapes, and to honor David Lake and what he brought to this state, they have renamed the 1-acre plot and the wine it produces “David’s Block.”

The 2016 David’s Block, Red Willow Vineyard is an exceptional wine. It received 93 points from Wine Enthusiast Magazine and was noted as an Editor’s Choice. Featuring aromas of cherry, herbs, spice and plum with soft, palate-coating flavors that follow, this $38 wine offers an exquisite sense of freshness to its plump fruit flavors.

• Barbara Glover is executive director of Wine Yakima Valley, an industry group representing member wineries. She writes this biweekly column for SCENE.

Reach Pat Muir at pmuir@yakimaherald.com.

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