For those of you who are regular readers of Vinotology, you know that I am a sucker for a winery with a great story. I always enjoy hearing about the history of the wineries that I visit, and I also love it when the winery does a good job of incorporating that story into their marketing. Of course, it doesn't hurt when the winery also produces incredible wines. Last week I had the opportunity to visit L'Ecole No. 41, which has been producing quality wines in Washington for almost 30 years. L'Ecole has consistently produced quality wines during that time that are loved by consumers and critics alike.
The L'Ecole story starts with a schoolhouse built in 1915, which serves as the winery's home. The schoolhouse is located West of Walla Walla, in a community known as Frenchtown. The tasting room was built in the 2nd and 3rd grade classroom, with a dining area situated one room over in another classroom. Downstairs you will find more evidence of the scholastic history of the building, with one room containing a child-painted mural that served as the background for the last school play produced at the school. The original wood that is still in place in the winery even contains the name of a former student scratched into it. When the time came for labels to be designed for the winery, a contest was held among the elementary school children in the family. The winner received $100 for their efforts, and their work has been featured on L'Ecole labels ever since. The chalkboard on the label also features little pieces of family history as well, including pieces of poems, songs, and cursive practice. All of these elements really strengthen the family feel that you get at L'Ecole.
Honor Roll Tastings
In addition to the great story that the winery has, they have also been producing high quality wines for many years, some of the most respected in Washington State. I was fortunate enough to be hosted by Brandon Kubrock, Tasting Room Manager, and Jaime Chalk who manages Consumer Direct Sales and the Wine Club, for one of L'Ecole's Honor Roll tastings. These private tastings will be offered by reservation on Fridays from 2:00-3:00 through November 26th. The special tastings offer a unique opportunity to tour the schoolhouse and production facilities, as well as taste some wonderful wines. Our Honor Roll featured a library tasting of their Apogee and Perigee blends.
The Apogee and Perigee wines are produced from two different vineyards. Apogee was the first wine crafted from fruit from Pepper Bridge Vineyard, and Perigee is made from the choice fruit from L'Ecole's estate Seven Hills Vineyard. These vineyards are separated by only 10 miles, but are also between 100-300 feet different in elevation. These two locations feature differences in temperature, soil and rainfall, and the two blends produce very different styles of wine. The two sites are a perfect case study in terroir, as the wines produced from each reflect their place so well.
The wines that we tasted ranged from the 1997 vintage to the 2009 vintage. The main wines in the tasting were the Apogee and Perigee wines, but we were also able to taste their wonderful Luminesce white. Some of the library wines that we tasted are not available for purchase anymore, but the quality and drinkability on these older wines really shows how age-worthy these wines can be.
2009 Luminesce – $19 a bottle
L'Ecole has been making fantastic white from Semillon for some time now. This blend of 67% Semillon and 33% Sauvignon Blanc is certainly no exception. The tropical flavors and crisp acidity on this wine are anchored by some really nice minerality. The nose of this wine offers some really beautiful floral notes, as well as tropical and mellon notes.
1997 Pepper Bridge Apogee – not available for purchase
At 13 years, this first vintage of the Apogee blend from Pepper Bridge Vineyard is drinking incredibly well right now. The blend is made up of 60% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Cabernet Franc. Aromas of tea leaves, dust, and leather dominate the nose at this point. On the palate, the structure of this wine still shines, with notes of dark fruit, tobacco and a touch of mint. This wine has aged quite well.
57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, and 6% Cabernet Franc blend. Dark fruit, floral perfume aromas, and cedar headline the nose. The palate is elegant, with very nice blackberry and chocolate components, and a finish that seems to go on forever. Great velvety texture and well structured.
2002 Pepper Bridge Apogee – Around $60 – Purchases limited to 2 bottles
Five years later, and the blend for Apogee has shifted to 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 48% Merlot, and 4% Cabernet Franc. The nose still has the same spicy essence as in the earlier vintage, with cloves and leather standing out. Red fruit and dark cherries join with some nice spiciness on the palate.
2007 Seven Hills Perigee – $45
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc. Dark fruit, cedar, caramel and spices meld with some really lively perfumed aromas on the nose. The palate really shines with dark cherry, plums and blackberries, with smooth tannins and a great finish. The tannin structure on this wine makes it very drinkable right now, but hints at some good age-ability.
2007 Pepper Bridge Apogee – $45
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 6% Malbec, and 4% Cabernet Franc blend. Notes of tobacco, leather, and spice show on the nose. The palate features dark cherries and earthy components, as well as a little bit of mint. Great acidity and chalky tannins make this a great one to lay down for a while.
As a whole, the Apogee and Perigee blends have wonderful acidity and character, with each site showing it's own unique personality in the wines. These are all beautiful wines, and should definitely be a part of your cellar.
If you are in the Walla Walla area, L'Ecole No. 41 is a must-visit. Their unique story and tasting room make for a fun stop, and the wines will not disappoint. They have a wide range of wines in the tasting room. Regardless of your preferences, L'Ecole should have something of interest for you to taste. They have a $5 tasting fee that is refundable with a purchase. If you are interested in their Honor Roll tastings, they are $20 a person and run every Friday, but you will need a reservation. For more information contact Tasting Room Manager Brandon Kubrock at (509) 525.0940 ext. 111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.