Some of the best wine grapes in America are grown in the Columbia Valley of Washington State. Butch and Jerry Milbrand are two of the farmers that made it happen. They were a top resource for winemakers in the Pacific Northwest. They still sell grapes to winemakers, but now they are holding back 10% of their grapes.
From Grower to Maker
After a decade of being grape growers, they are bottling their own wines under the Milbrandt Vineyards label. This project often ends with less-than-stellar wines: growing grapes and making wine are two very different skill sets. Thankfully, that is not the case here. Since their start in 2007, the wines continue to inspire and grow in complexity, vintage to vintage.
The original winemaker, Gordon Hill, who is now with the amazing Northstar winery, is key to their success. When he left in 2011, the Milbrandt’s brought in the highly talented Josh Maloney. Josh’s story is very familiar to many WSoP students:
He was on track to working in the Pharmaceutical industry. He was in the chemistry program at Cornell University. In his last year, he happened to take a course similar to our Foundation Wine Program and fell in love with wine. He decided there and then to change the trajectory of this life.
He landed a job at the Chicago Wine Company and then moved to an assistant winemaking job in upstate New York. From there, he went on to work in some awesome wineries in California and Washington, then landing at Milbrandt in 2011.
Wine Review: Milbrandt Vineyards 2010 Grenache, Clifton Vineyards
I’m not too fond of the word terroir. If I were a French poet, it would be a passable enough term. People use it when they want to describe why certain places make great wine. But the term has no exact translation into English: Here in the States, the word implies that certain –always expensive– wines are inherently magical… and better than other wines (i.e., the wines that the rest of us can afford to drink).
Good Science vs Terroir
“But so many winemakers use the term!” you may say, an objection. Like the concept of “vintage,” the term is used in the grand art of selling wine. In private, winemakers describe wine growing in academic terms: rain tables, hydric soils, clonal selections, and grape pH. Good science and hard work make good wine, not magic.
In other words, the term terroir is a litmus test for snobbish fools. Terroir doesn’t exist, at least not in the way 99.973% of how it is used here in the States. I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings.
Why the rant in a wine review? It would be easy, alluringly easy, to tell you this wine is awesome, you know, because of terroir. The alpine coolness, the rich texture, and the sweet, airy fruit of this wine are incredible. Why? It would be so easy to notch this up to “terroir. ” There are beautiful and mysterious flavors here. The fact that I can’t explain why doesn’t mean that it’s terroir. It’s just that I need to drink more Grenache from Washington State. And so do you. You know, because of terroir.