Winners of Seattle Magazine’s 11th Annual Washington Wine Awards
A celebration of the state's very best wines and all the people behind them
By Paul Zitarelli and Jessica Yadegaran; Wine awards produced by Yashar Shayan
July 21, 2016
After back-to-back cool vintages in 2010 and 2011, Washington has seen a four-year run (2012–2015) in which each vintage has been warmer than the last. The results of those warm vintages—and the plush, delicious wines they produced—are on display in this year’s group of winners, which includes a mix of industry veterans (L’Ecole Nº 41, Woodward Canyon, Pepper Bridge) and buzzy up-and-comers (Two Vintners, Kevin White, Secret Squirrel).
Winemaker of the Year Gilles Nicault of Long Shadows Vintners, photographed June 15, 2016 at the Long Shadows property in Walla Walla, holding a prized bottle of his Chester Kidder wine.
Winemaker of the Year
Gilles Nicault, Long Shadows Vintners
Being director of winemaking and viticulture for Walla Walla–based Long Shadows (longshadows.com) has to be one of the most challenging jobs in the Washington wine trade. It requires skills not just in enology, but also a level of psychological intuition bordering on extrasensory perception. After all, this is the winery that famously invites the same group of outstanding vintners from around the world to come to Washington every year, offering each one the chance to make a single wine from our state’s fruit. Those winemakers fly in and fly out, but it is Gilles Nicault who sticks around to help ensure that each winemaker’s vision comes to fruition. Born and trained in France, Nicault moved to Washington in 1994, and after a nearly decade-long stint at Woodward Canyon, joined Long Shadows as its first lead winemaker, a position he has held ever since. In addition to the wines made cooperatively with Long Shadows’ stable of winemakers from around the world (Poet’s Leap, Pirouette, Feather, Pedestal, Sequel and Saggi), Nicault has a Long Shadows label he makes entirely on his own, called Chester-Kidder (a Cabernet-Syrah blend). But that’s not all. He makes the Nine Hats and Dazzle wines (also under the Long Shadows umbrella), a highly regarded Cabernet Sauvignon called Andreas for Den Hoed Wine Estates, and personal labels for Long Shadows founder Allen Shoup (Shoup) and for himself (Côté Nicault).
Vineyard of the Year
Vineyard of the Year winner Celilo Vineyard emeritus wineyard manager Rick Ensminger (left) and vineyard manager Daniel Guillen, photographed June 16, 2016, at the vineyard overlooking the Columbia River across from Hood River.
Just west of the town of White Salmon in the Columbia Gorge, an extinct volcano called Underwood Mountain rises from the north bank of the Columbia River. On its sun-soaked southern flank sits Celilo Vineyard, a singular site in the growing of Washington wine grapes. In addition to its unusual volcanic loam soils, Celilo also occupies a rare middle ground between wet western Washington and the arid eastern desert (where most of the state’s wine grapes are grown). This is Goldilocks territory climatically: rainy enough that irrigation is rarely needed, and yet not so wet as to encourage the molds and mildews that make grape growing difficult in the Puget Sound region. A former apple and pear orchard, the site was planted with vinifera grapes in 1973 by the late Seattle surgeon William McAndrew, and has been managed for more than 40 years by Rick Ensminger. Ensminger recently made the transition to vineyard manager emeritus, with Argentina native Daniel Guillen taking over vineyard manager duties for Celilo, which was purchased by Corliss Estates in 2015. Its cool climate makes it perfect for white varieties, especially Chardonnay (for years, Tranche Cellars has been turning out a Celilo Chardonnay with bracing purity and acidity), Pinot Gris (Ross Andrew’s version is excellent) and Gewürztraminer (the finest Gewurz produced in Washington is Chris Dowsett’s Celilo bottling under his Dowsett Family label).
Winemaker to Watch
Morgan Lee, Two Vintners
Winemaker to Watch Morgan Lee of Two Vintners; Sommelier of the Year Tim O’Brien of Salty’s; Winemaker Michael Savage of Best Emerging Winery winner Savage Grace Wines; Photographed June 10, 2016.
The breadth of morgan lee’s winemaking portfolio is dazzling. A few examples: a single-vineyard Gewürztraminer that’s fermented longer than usual on its grape skins (the wine, called OG, pours into the glass with an orange hue); a ringer for Brunello di Montalcino Sangiovese, called Ode, that isn’t released until 50 months after harvest; a single-vineyard Zinfandel that pushes 17 percent alcohol and yet still manages to convey a sense of balance. But Lee’s talent is not limited to the obscure. He also makes lovely, down-the-middle versions of Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, all well received by consumers and critics alike. His winemaking path began in the Midwest, where he worked the 2005 wine grape harvest in Michigan after graduating from Purdue University’s hospitality management program. The next year, he was hired on as an intern at Columbia Crest, and that gig led to an assistant winemaker role with Woodinville-based Covington Cellars beginning in 2007. Covington’s owners, David and Cindy Lawson, eventually promoted Lee to the lead winemaking role, and also partnered with him on a separate label called Two Vintners (twovintners.com). “Washington [wine] is taken much more seriously today than when I arrived here 10 years ago,” says Lee. “Consumers, both regionally and throughout the country, have gained respect and appreciation for what we are doing.”
Sommelier of the Year
Tim O’Brien, Corporate Director of Beverage, Salty’s
It’s a point of pride for Salty’s Waterfront Seafood Grills (saltys.com) that they offer a come-as-you-are vibe that makes diners feel as comfortable ordering a cheeseburger and beer as they are ordering lobster tail and Champagne. That ethos carries over to Salty’s wine program, capably run by its corporate director of beverage and our Sommelier of the Year, Tim O’Brien. “At Salty’s we have a very wide demographic of guests, from locals to international travelers,” notes O’Brien. “I want our wine program to be accessible to everyone who picks it up, yet still impress the most knowledgeable wine geek.” O’Brien began his career by getting a bartending job in Pioneer Square while attending Seattle University, and then spent a decade with Red Robin (finishing as its corporate beverage director) before joining Salty’s, where he has been since 1994. He is known in the trade not just for the excellence of his wine programs, but also for his role as a mentor to young talent who worked for him. Notable examples include Brian Grasso—who went on to launch Seattle-based Structure Cellars—and Chris Horn, this magazine’s 2015 Sommelier of the Year, who went on to fulfill roles at Wild Ginger and Heavy Restaurant Group.
Best Emerging Winery
Savage Grace Wines
Michael savage launched his Woodinville-based winery (named after Savage and his wife, Grace; savagegracewines.com) in 2011, and rarely has a winery emerged so quickly with such a distinctive house style. Savage’s first wine love was the Loire Valley region in France, and when launching his own winery, he set out to make wines inspired by those from that area: low alcohol, high acid and food friendly. Making this style in Washington requires seeking out fruit from some of the state’s coolest-climate pockets, and that’s exactly what Savage has done. His Chardonnay comes from Vineyard of the Year Celilo Vineyard in the cool Columbia Gorge, and his Riesling, Grüner Veltliner and Pinot Noir come from a neighboring site, Underwood Mountain Vineyards. He has found chilly nooks high in the Yakima Valley foothills for Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cot (Loire-style Malbec). Savage’s winemaking style seems almost countercultural in Washington, where bigger has often been considered better, but the results speak for themselves, including two wins in this magazine’s 2015 awards (Savage’s Riesling was White Wine of the Year; his Syrah, Best of Class, $20–$40).
Best Place to Buy Wine
The vast selection at Compass Wines in Anacortes includes a hefty Washington wine section.
That this year’s winner for Best Place to Buy Wine is a full 80 miles north of Seattle speaks to just how impressive and unique Compass Wines is among Washington wine retailers. After more than two decades in the wine and hospitality trade, Doug Charles launched Compass Wines in Anacortes in 2001 with a pair of partners, one of whom (Will Parks) is still involved in the business. The Compass location (Anacortes, 1405 Commercial Ave.; 360.293.6500; compasswines.com) is perfectly situated to lure the long lines of cars that flow toward the Anacortes ferry terminal, bound for the San Juan Islands or other destinations. From very early on, Compass developed a special reputation among Washington wine lovers, based on three main attributes. First, breadth of selection. At any given moment, Compass typically has thousands of different wines available for purchase. Second, Charles’ skill as a curator. Compass quickly became known for offering wines from rare, under-the-radar, difficult-to-find producers, boutique wineries that would only sell their wines directly through their tasting rooms and through Compass. “The purpose was to have the cool stuff that others didn’t,” says Charles. “Otherwise, why on earth would someone come all the way up here to buy wine?” The final item that cemented Compass Wines’ reputation was Charles’ willingness to cellar wines for years before offering them for sale. In a trade where cash flow is king, stashing away inventory is practically unheard of, but it offers Compass customers the chance to access wines that are at their peak.
Coolest Wine Label
NumbSkull Winery by Mark Ryan
Artwork by Cherylin Andre; Creative concept by Mark McNeilly; Production design by Gary Fozard of Advanced Labels NW.
Cherylin Andre is a Seattle-based artist and a friend of Mark McNeilly, the founder and executive winemaker of Mark Ryan Winery (markryanwinery.com). McNeilly went to one of Andre’s art shows and noticed “Skull,” a piece made via a clever, complex method Andre calls “flame painting,” involving scorch marks and candle soot on watercolor paper. Making the piece, according to Andre, “took a lot of burnt paper and set off a lot of fire alarms!” McNeilly purchased the piece on the spot and very quickly began talking to Andre about using “Skull” for a wine label. As it happened, the winery needed to develop a label for a new set of wines based on Walla Walla Valley fruit (the main Mark Ryan label is based largely on Red Mountain fruit), so the timing was serendipitous. McNeilly had been spit-balling other names, but the strong visual image of the “Skull” piece inspired the selection of NumbSkull as the name of the new label.
White Wine Awards
White Wine of the Year
Long Shadows 2014, Poet’s Leap Riesling, Columbia Valley, $20
Our White Wine of the Year is a collaboration between Armin Diel of Schlossgut Diel in Germany and our 2016 Winemaker of the Year, Gilles Nicault of Walla Walla–based Long Shadows. The 2014 Poet’s Leap comes from four sites, nearly half from the estate Sonnet Vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills. Finished alcohol is 12.9 percent, residual sugar is 1.2 percent, and the flavors of white peach and key lime drink just off-dry. Pairs with: Chicken tikka masala and a side of saag naan.
Sauvignon Blanc, $20 or less
Novelty Hill 2014, Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, Stillwater Creek Vineyard, $20
Woodinville-based industry vet Mike Januik takes Sauvignon Blanc from Novelty Hill’s estate vineyard, Stillwater Creek, and then ferments and ages it in a mix of new and 1-year-old French oak. Flavors mix tree fruits (apples, pears) and citrus, and the texture is creamy, thanks in part to the 22 percent Semillon in the blend. Pairs with: Arugula salad with a panko-coated, shallow-fried disk of goat cheese.
Chardonnay, $15 or less
Milbrandt 2014 Traditions Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $14
The Milbrandt brothers, based in Mattawa on the Wahluke Slope, also farm Evergreen Vineyard in the Ancient Lakes AVA, which is the predominant source for this spicy, oak-kissed Chardonnay. Evergreen’s bright acidity and minerality beautifully balance the plush pear and apple fruit. Pairs with: Shrimp and grits.
Ashan 2014 Barrel-fermented Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $25
Chris Gorman (Gorman Winery) launched Woodinville-based, Chardonnay-only label Ashan Cellars in 2012. Along with a series of single-vineyard Chards, Gorman has released this multi-vineyard blend, which drinks like much more expensive Napa Valley whites. Look for rich layers of fruit—lemon curd, peach, plantain, mango—swaddled in luscious barrel notes of smoke, toast and caramel. Pairs with: Jacques Pépin’s classic poulet à la crème (chicken in cream sauce).
Chardonnay, more than $40
Côte Bonneville 2013, Chardonnay, Yakima Valley, DuBrul Vineyard, $50
Côte Bonneville was founded by Hugh and Kathy Shiels to produce wines from their outstanding estate vineyard, DuBrul. Their daughter, Kerry Shiels, is the winemaker for this glorious Chardonnay, which dazzles with its intensity and concentration. The purity and depth of the lemon and pear fruit are impressive, as is the supple texture. Pairs with: Perfectly seared scallops topped with a lemony vinaigrette.
Riesling, $15 or less
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2014 Harvest Select Riesling, Columbia Valley, $10
Washington’s flagship winery, Woodinville-based Chateau Ste. Michelle, turns out a deeply impressive, sawbuck-priced Riesling under the direction of Bob Bertheau. This is sweeter than the winery’s Columbia Valley Riesling (1.9 percent residual sugar), and that extra sugar and peach-preserves ripeness are balanced by pinpoint lime and tangerine acidity. Just 11 percent alcohol. Pairs with: Duck liver pâté with Dijon mustard and cornichons.
White Wine Hall of Fame Award
Retired from competition after numerous years of winning:
Chateau Ste. Michelle Eroica Riesling Evergreen Vineyard, Columbia Valley, $22
Sparkling Wine of the Year
Domaine Ste. Michelle Michelle NV Brut Méthode Champenoise, Columbia Valley, $13
Back-to-back wins in this category for Michelle, Woodinville-based Ste. Michelle Wine Estates’ sparkling wine house. Last year, it was the brut rosé; this year, the brut, a blend of traditional Champagne varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier). Aromas combine delicate notes of apple, lemon and white flower, and the palate delights in its fine, persistent mousse. Pairs with: A cheese omelet and a simple green salad.
Rosé of the Year
Renegade Wine Company 2015 Rosé, Columbia Valley, $12
This is the second consecutive win in this category for Trey Busch’s Renegade Wine Company, based in the Walla Walla Valley, and it is especially impressive, given it is among the least expensive rosés considered in the category. It’s 80 percent Syrah; the remainder is Cinsault, Counoise and Grenache. The bone-dry fruit combines cherry and melon, with complexities ranging from mineral notes to green notes (watermelon rind, kiwi). Pairs with: A perfectly roasted chicken, with butter under the skin and caramelized lemons on top.
Red Wine Awards
Red Wine of the Year
Two Vintners 2013 Some Days Are Stones Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Stoney Vine Vineyard, $45
In a blind setting with multiple judges, it is truly impressive to win multiple categories, and that is exactly what Woodinville-based Morgan Lee has done here (see pages 86 and 94). His single-vineyard Syrah from Stoney Vine is an evocative expression of the recently minted Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA, with green olive brine and sanguine, meaty minerality complementing huckleberry fruit. It’s a deserving Red Wine of the Year. Pairs with: A lamb tagine with plenty of olives.
Merlot, $20 or less
Waterbrook 2014 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $15
This is the second of impressive back-to-back wins in this category for Walla Walla–based Waterbrook, one of the Precept portfolio of wineries. Canyon Vineyard Ranch, a Yakima Valley site planted in 1982, provides the backbone for this dense, delicious Merlot, awash in black cherry fruit and mocha barrel tones. Pairs with: Milk-braised pork loin with hazelnuts and green beans.
L’Ecole Nº 41, 2013 Estate Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $36
Likewise, Walla Walla stalwart L’Ecole Nº 41 takes it two years running in this category, winning again this year with Merlot from its estate sites (50 percent Seven Hills, 50 percent Ferguson). Aged for 18 months in French oak (40 percent new), this Merlot offers plenty of black fruit (black plum, blackberry) mixed with earthy and spicy notes in turn. Pairs with: Duck confit and crispy potatoes.
Merlot, $40 or more
Pepper Bridge 2013 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $50
Walla Walla–based Jean-François Pellet (this magazine’s Winemaker of the Year in 2015) produces this powerhouse Merlot almost entirely from the king and queen of the Walla Walla Valley, Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills vineyards. This kind of Merlot—with a chewy tannic structure that resembles Cabernet—shows off Washington’s unique ability to showcase muscular versions of the variety. Pairs with: A seared, medium-rare New York strip steak.
Red Blend, $20 or less
Tamarack Cellars 2014, Firehouse Red, Columbia Valley, $18
Year in and year out, this kitchen-sink blend (in 2014, featuring a full 10 varieties) is among the most complex, delicious reds produced in Washington for less than $20. The warm 2014 growing season is on fine display here, with ripe, delicious red and black fruits complemented by floral notes and brewed-coffee barrel tones. Pairs with: Short ribs braised in stout beer.
Red Blend, $20–$40
Kevin White Winery 2013, La Fraternité Rhône Red, Yakima Valley, $28
This magazine’s Winemaker to Watch for 2015 delivers in 2016, taking the midrange red blend category with his Rhône-style blend of Grenache (46 percent), Mourvèdre (46 percent) and Syrah (8 percent), from Upland, Olsen and Boushey vineyards, an all-star lineup of Yakima Valley sites. The soaring nose (plums and roses, exotic spices and minerals) leads into a balanced palate driven by brambly berry flavors. Pairs with: Braised white beans with garlicky sausages nestled on top.
Red Blend, more than $40
L’Ecole Nº 41 2013, Ferguson Bordeaux Red, Walla Walla Valley, Ferguson Vineyard, $60The inaugural vintage of this wine (2011) made a huge splash in Europe by winning the 2014 Decanter World Wine Awards for Bordeaux blends more than £15, and the momentum hasn’t slowed since. The blend of 56 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 33 percent Merlot, 7 percent Cabernet Franc, 4 percent Malbec comes from the broken basalt soils of L’Ecole Nº 41’s Ferguson Estate Vineyard and offers wonderful flinty minerality to balance its robust dark fruit. Pairs with: Wild game, like venison or elk.
Syrah, $20 or less
Purple Star 2012 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $18
Benton City–based Kyle Johnson is the winemaker for Purple Star, and in 2012, he made his Columbia Valley Syrah from a trio of sites: Weinbau, Red Heaven and Kiona vineyards. Aromas include blueberry, smoky chicory coffee and cracked black pepper, and the palate is rich and supplely textured. Pairs with: Braised lamb shank over tomato-studded polenta.
Two Vintners 2013 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $21
Morgan Lee, this year’s Winemaker to Watch, confirms his selection with this outrageous Syrah, at $21 besting a series of wines nearly twice as expensive. It’s a pan-Washington Syrah, coming from five vineyards in five separate AVAs, and it sees a 2 percent Roussanne coferment, adding one more layer of complexity to an already complex wine. In turn, smoky, earthy and floral. Pairs with: Smoked pork ribs, finished nice and crusty on a hot grill.
Cabernet Sauvignon, $25 or less
Secret Squirrel 2012, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $25
Secret Squirrel is a new project for the Walla Walla–based Corliss family of wineries (Corliss Estates, Tranche). This blend of two Corliss sites—Red Mountain and Blue Mountain vineyards in Walla Walla—was aged for 28 months in 70 percent new French oak. This complex, maturing wine offers notes of black currant and black olive, tarragon and espresso. Pairs with: Carne asada soft tacos.
Cabernet Sauvignon, $25–$65
Woodward Canyon 2013 Artist Series No. 22, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $59
Kevin Mott makes this benchmark Washington Cabernet (inaugurated in 1992) with fruit from seven different sites, including Champoux, Sagemoor and Woodward Canyon estate vineyards. A core of black currant fruit and pencil-lead minerality is lifted by notes both floral and minty, keeping this Cabernet fresh and vibrant. Pairs with: Dry-rubbed, oven-roasted brisket.
Cabernet Sauvignon, $65 or more
Upchurch Vineyard 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, Estate Vineyard, $68
Chris Upchurch—one of the original partners in DeLille Cellars and still the executive winemaker there—launched this wine, from his estate vineyard, with the 2010 vintage. The site on Red Mountain, planted in 2007 and managed by farming maestro Dick Boushey, is displaying breathtaking results for a vineyard this young. The tannins are perfectly polished, and they frame a core of high-energy, high-intensity black currant fruit. Pairs with: Go big with beef Wellington.
Red Wine Hall of Fame Award
Retired from competition after numerous years of winning:
Abeja Cabernet, Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $47
Reader’s Choice Awards
Charles Smith pours wine in his eponymous Tom Kundig-designed Georgetown tasting room, winner of Best Winery Tasting Room.
Best Winery Tasting Room in Washington State
Charles Smith Wines Jet City
The 2015 opening of Charles Smith’s Georgetown winery put all enophiles’ eyes on Washington state. At a massive 32,000 square feet, it is the largest urban winery on the West Coast, with stunning views of Mount Rainier and the main runways of Boeing Field. Designed by celebrated local architect Tom Kundig, the main-floor tasting room—with a single, busy bar and tall, solid Douglas fir cocktail tables—has a bright, rustic Northwest feel with wood planks and steel doors and walls, while the upstairs exudes early-’60s rock ’n’ roll. The main-floor tasting room is open for tastings ($10–$20) from Smith’s multiple labels, including Charles Smith Wines (the aromatic Kung Fu Girl Riesling is a must), K Vintners (we love the floral Milbrandt Syrah) and Sixto; the upstairs, generally reserved for wine club members and special events, is open on weekends for bottle service and light bites. 1136 S Albro Place; 206.745.7456; charlessmithwines.com
Best Washington Wine Touring Experience
Woodinville Wine Country
Nestled in the Sammamish River Valley just 30 minutes northeast of Seattle, Woodinville continues to play a critical role in Washington state’s wine scene—and growth. A whopping 108 wineries now call Woodinville home, hauling grapes from vineyards in eastern Washington to crush, age and store them close enough to allow Seattle wine lovers to enjoy a day of tasting in the Warehouse District, or to stay for a weekend, dining in famed Hollywood District restaurants, including The Herbfarm. Signature events, such as this month’s Celebrate Woodinville festival and concert series (celebratewoodinville.com), December’s Saint Nicholas Day Open House and September’s inaugural Woodinville-to-Redmond Wine & Beer Country Half Marathon, provide a framework for experiencing this diverse wine region all year long. The Passport to Woodinville, a year-long ticket to all the wineries, has already sold out for 2016—a testament to the region’s increasing popularity. woodinvillewinecountry.com
Lead sommelier Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen has created a strong Washington wine program at RN74
Best Restaurant for Experiencing Washington Wine
Now in its fifth year, downtown’s RN74 has developed a comprehensive wine program that celebrates the vast diversity of Washington wine. Under the direction of lead sommelier Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen, one-quarter of the 1,300 wines on RN74’s list hail from Washington. Lindsay-Thorsen, a level-three advanced sommelier and winemaker, and a co-owner of W.T. Vintners, has created multiple entry points for locals and visitors alike to discover local wines: He hosts as many as three wine events per month, including the Behind the Bottle winemaker dinners, which have included the winemakers for Avennia, Va Piano, W.T. Vintners, Gramercy and Kerloo. The massive wine list also has a constantly evolving “Featured Washington Wineries” section, which offers wines by the bottle from at least 25 Washington wineries. Each winery gets a thoughtfully written introduction to share its story and help bring the guest closer to the wine. Finally, a plethora of red and white Washington wines are included in RN74’s by-the-glass program, starting as low as $7 during happy hour and as much as $46 for a glass of the iconic Washington cult wine Cayuse Syrah. Offering multiple price points and even more wine styles, this is perhaps the ultimate way to experience Washington wine. Downtown, 1433 Fourth Ave.; 206.456.7474; michaelmina.net/restaurants/seattle/
Wade Wolfe at the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center in Richland; he advises in the university’s department of viticulture and enology.
Walter Clore Washingon Wine Ambassador Award
Wade Wolfe, Co-owner and Winemaker, Thurston Wolfe Winery
Those who are familiar with Wade Wolfe, know him as the maverick winemaker behind Thurston Wolfe, the Yakima Valley winery he started in 1987 with his wife, Becky Yeaman. But, Wolfe’s impact goes far beyond his own bottles of wine. Wolfe, who holds a Ph.D. in plant genetics from the University of California–Davis, is being honored with this award for his tireless efforts in research and advancement of the entire Washington wine industry. One of his first projects as a technical viticulturist was in 1978 at Chateau Ste. Michelle, where he advised the expansion for the site that would become Columbia Crest. Wolfe left Ste. Michelle in 1984 to pursue a vineyard consulting business, through which he helped independent wine growers across the Pacific Northwest plant hundreds of acres of grapes. Over the years, Wolfe has served as an industry adviser to Washington State University’s Viticulture and Enology Program, helping to shape curriculum and make transitions from community colleges easier for incoming students. He has served on countless boards, including 31 years on the Washington Wine Advisory Committee. In 1982, Wolfe helped lobby for legislation written by state Senator Max Benitz that created the 25-cent-per-liter tax on all wines sold in Washington that is designated for viticulture and enology research. The funds from that tax ultimately helped bring to life many of the institutions that put Washington wine on the map.
Jennifer Ciuchta, wine steward at the Redmond Ridge QFC.
Retail Wine Steward of the Year
Jennifer Ciuchta, Redmond Ridge QFC
That this year’s winner is only 25 years old and already knows so much about wine is a testament to her passion and dedication. Jennifer Ciuchta began her career under the tutelage of her mother, Rhonda Ciuchta, a longtime wine steward with Fred Meyer. The younger Ciuchta began as an assistant wine steward at Fred Meyer and was promoted to wine steward at QFC three years ago, a position she held first in Issaquah, and, more recently, at the Redmond Ridge store. The store’s proximity to Woodinville has been a great resource for her education and frequent wine discoveries. In addition to managing all wine orders, sales and displays, Ciuchta holds free wine tastings on Fridays (4–6 p.m.) at her store, where she lets her customers—many of whom followed her from Issaquah—select the wines they want to taste and learn about. While she hopes to one day earn certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers and discover other areas of wine, she says she loves its retail aspect, because she enjoys getting to know her regular customers—and their palates. Redmond, 23475 NE Novelty Hill Road; 425.636.0420; qfc.com