Every year we recognize the passionate people and projects standing behind some of Washington's best wines. Click through (or scroll down) for the full list of winners in our seventh-annual awards.
Best Washington Winemakers
Honoring some of our longtime favorites, and unearthing some new ones.
| August 2012
Best Washington Winemakers - Full Descriptions
Best Emerging Winery
A winery that, with fewer than five vintages, has made a distinct impression for its quality and style in a short period of time.
Reynvaan Family Vineyards
When wine-loving attorney Mike Reynvaan and his wife, Gale, decided to start a winery, they created it from the ground up. Its name highlights their estate vineyards rather than the winery; the Reynvaans’ goal is to make wines that highlight the terroir of the Walla Walla Valley. They started out by planting 5 acres at a time as they learned about the terroir, choosing the best vines for particular locations. Consulting winemaker Christophe Baron worked with Mike and Gale’s son, winemaker Matt Reynvaan, to create wines that highlight the fruits of the vineyards. The 16-acre In the Rocks Vineyard was started in 2005; two years later, the 42-acre Foothills in the Sun Vineyard was planted. Both focus mostly on Rhône varieties, and the resulting wines show surprising elegance and seamlessness, considering the youth of the vineyards. Their In the Rocks Syrah is fermented with a bit of Viognier, lifting the aromatics of the wine and adding a delightful floral note to this classic, smooth and rich wine, which is full of black fruit, game and mineral notes.
Winemaker of the Year
Known for the quality of his winemaking and his contribution to the industry, helping put Washington in the national spotlight over the past year.
Ben Smith, Cadence
Ben Smith and Gaye McNutt have been quietly producing superb wines at Cadence, their urban winery in South Seattle (recently relocated to South Park) since 1998. Ben is obsessed with letting his wines express the characteristics of the sites on which they are grown, and is uncompromising about balancing boldness with elegance. Focusing on Bordeaux-style wines, he combines grapes from the much buzzed-about Red Mountain American Viticultural Area (AVA)—known for producing wines with lush, ripe fruit, excellent acidity and firm tannins—with an Old World sensibility and a gift for finding the right blend. He and Gaye also own their own vineyard on Red Mountain, Cara Mia, now in its eighth year, from which they are producing their extraordinary Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot blends. They also make wines that highlight the best fruit from other sites, such as Klipsun, Tapteil and Ciel du Cheval vineyards on Red Mountain. Under the radar, but over the top in quality, Cadence shows how great Washington wines can be.
Winemaker to Watch
This award goes to the winemaker—new to the scene or evolving—who is crafting wines of distinctive style and who we expect to continue making an impact on Washington wine.
Anna Schafer, áMaurice
Anna Schafer has traveled to 36 countries, but calls a little corner of Walla Walla Valley home for her family’s winery. The name áMaurice is French for “to Maurice” in homage to her paternal grandfather, who owned a large timber company and planted the first certified evergreen farm in the state. Her parents, Tom and Kathleen Schafer, her business-savvy brother Nicholas, and sister Stephanie, an interior designer, work to build and promote the family business. Anna handles the winemaking, and works alongside vineyard manager Ken Hart. In 2006 and 2007, she travelled to Mendoza, Argentina, to work the harvest at Paul Hobbs’s Viña Cobos winery. At her small Walla Walla facility, she found a mentor at Walla Walla Cellars: Winemaker Gordy Venneri generously shared his experience with the then 25-year-old Schafer. Gaining accolades early for her wines and admiration from restaurants such as The French Laundry in Napa, California, Anna approaches winemaking with the attitude of making wine simply, focusing on the fruit. She spearheaded one of the state’s initial “salmon safe” wine certifications, planting a 13-acre estate vineyard focusing on low-impact viticulture, becoming a charter member of Vinea: The Winemakers’ Sustainable Trust; eschewing herbicides and pesticides in the vineyard and building soil health. We look forward to seeing what delights this talented winemaker will bring us in the years to come.
Sommelier of the Year
Exemplifies the profession, delivering exceptional service and education to his guests, and continues to develop his own knowledge and that of his staff.
Erik Liedholm, John Howie Restaurants
In a YouTube video, sommelier Erik Liedholm says that the question most asked by guests at the many restaurants where has worked—Elliott Grand Hyatt, Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar, and now John Howie Steak, among others—is, “What is your favorite wine?” For Liedholm, that’s a tough question, since this star sommelier has had a chance to taste thousands in his more than 20-year career. “If you asked me what wine I’d take to a desert island, it would be sparkling wine,” he says. “It is like a chameleon in your mouth, melding with all sorts of foods.” It is Liedholm’s job to create a memorable food and wine experience, and he does so with class, humor and a flair for finding great pairings. At Seastar, he worked with a seafood-heavy menu, focusing on delicate Rieslings, Chardonnays and other light wines. Now at the other end of the spectrum, with the bold meat options at John Howie Steak, he gets to explore the range of robust red wines, including an amazing selection of Washington reds from the state’s top wineries such as DeLille, Cayuse, Mark Ryan and áMaurice. He has created and managed wine lists that have won many accolades, including the coveted Wine Spectator Grand Award, and helped organize the Masters of Food & Wine event, which has featured top personalities such as Julia Child, Eric Ripert and Gordon Ramsay. We hope Liedholm doesn’t end up on a desert island. But if we were to choose a sparkling wine with which to toast Liedholm, we’d choose this one from his list at John Howie Steak: the delicate and refreshing White Flowers Sparkling Riesling from Pacific Rim Winery. Cheers!
The wine grape making the biggest impact as a single bottling or in blends, whether new on the scene or a classic varietal that’s creating buzz again.
Over the past few years, Syrah has gained fans and acreage in Washington. It is no surprise, then, that friends of Syrah are tagging along for the ride. Mourvèdre is commonly blended with Syrah in the Rhône region in the warm south of France, bringing depth, darkness and spicy fascination to a blend. In Washington’s wine country, with its similar hot, dry climate, Mourvèdre has found a new home. Although there are only 165 acres planted in the state, several savvy winemakers—such as Syncline and Robert Ramsay Cellars—have been producing single varietal wines from Mourvèdre, using it as an important part of their Syrah blends and even making it into a varietal wine, impressed by its depth, bright black fruit and dried herb and spice complexity. Next year, the deep, dark, mysterious Washington Mourvèdre wines will be a special varietal tasting in our awards, bringing yet another grape into the Washington repertoire to love.
Community Service Award
This award is given to the person in the wine industry who has significantly contributed time, talents and/or wines to charitable causes via Washington wines.
Rick Small & Darcey Fugman-Small, Woodward Canyon
Rick Small and his wife, Darcey Fugman-Small, are busy people. Besides making great wines at Woodward Canyon Winery since 1981, Rick was instrumental in applying and receiving approval for the Walla Walla Valley AVA in 1984. He’s served on many boards in the industry, including the Washington Agriculture and Forestry Education Foundation and the Washington Wine Institute. He is currently chair of the Washington Wine Commission and president of Vinea: The Winegrowers' Sustainable Trust, where he helps promote ecologically sustainable winegrowing and winemaking practices. But Darcey is busy too. She has served on the boards and advisory committees for the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, Planned Parenthood of Walla Walla, the American Association of University Women, United Way of Walla Walla and the Walla Walla Public School District’s Facilities and Math Curriculum committees. Currently, she is secretary of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance and Chair of the Carnegie Art Center Trustees. Together, the couple makes an unstoppable team, leading by example and encouraging excellence—not only in their wines, but in their lives, as well.