Sunday, December 19, 2010

Wineries to Watch: Stevens Winery

If you've never heard of Stevens Winery then I feel sorry for you. That's why I'm rectifying that situation right now. You're welcome.

Tim Stevens is the winemaker at eponymous Stevens winery. His experience comes from working with Matt Loso at Matthews, where he started as Assistant Winemaker in 1998. I'm not the biggest fan of Loso's style; his wines are always super-rich, super-oaky, monolithic bombs (see: Barons V, Walla Faces). That's why I'm happy to report that Tim seems to have been able to take the best aspects of these wines and combine them with a gentle touch. More and more I find that this typifies my favorite Washington wines: tame the vibrant desert fruit with earlier harvesting, careful site selection, gentle processing and an eye towards the table.

Tim isn't afraid of oak, using a lot of new and once-used French barrels, but his fruit sourcing is so impeccable that the wines hold up well to this type of regimen. I've become convinced that there is a big difference between a top-notch vineyard such as Dubrul or Klipsun and sources that, without naming names, don't necessarily have the siting or vineyard management (which is probably more important) to produce fruit with the concentration to absorb an aggressive oak program.

Stevens focuses on the Yakima Valley; some of his best sources are Dubrul and Dineen vineyard, as well as Meek and Sheridan and others. Since 2002, he has been producing wines of great depth and character. They are unapologetically bold, but with a level of finesse that few seem able to achieve in Western Washington. His Merlot is by far my favorite wine that he makes; it has an incredible red and blue fruit character, a perfect level of spicy oak influence, and an exciting underlying mineral element. His Dineen Vineyard Viognier (called Divio) is no slouch either; it shines for its vibrant tropical fruit elements: green melon, papaya, and ripe peaches. At the same time, it's quite dry on the palate.

I urge you to seek out these wines. They're quite reasonable in price for their quality; the Viognier is retailing for as low as $17.99! Feel free to thank me later.

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