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Brian Carter Cellars
January 15, 2021 | Brian Carter Cellars

Geez, what are Lees?

November,  and December and January, while a bit more relaxed than the previous two months of harvest, are pretty busy in the wine cellar. In particular, we perform the first racking of our red barrels.

While rack or racking is a common winemaking technique, what is it? In simple terms it is pulling the ‘clean’ or less turbid wine off the top of the barrel while leaving the lees behind. This of course begs the question: Geez, what (in the heck) are lees?

This starts me off on a longish description of the advantages and disadvantages of those murky fluids that collect on the bottom of tanks, barrels and even bottles of wine that have undergone fermentations. In general lees are the inevitable compacted ‘sludge’ that we eventually need to get rid of if we are going to give you a clear wine. We can look at lees as our best friend or our worst enemy depending on the winemaker, the style of wine he or she is trying to make and the stage of the wine. 

In fact, when I was at winemaking school in Davis, California, we were taught that lees were evil and that the sooner you could get the wine off the lees the better the wine would be. Lees were full of material that at best would take away from the fruit of the wine and at worst encourage off aromas and ultimately spoilage. While this overly cautious philosophy was not totally incorrect, most winemakers have rejected this notion. In fact, lees can be a highly effective tool in making a wine more complex both on the aroma and the palate in many types of wine.

First of all, what are these lees? They are largely spent yeast cells that have completed the alcoholic fermentation. When all the natural sugar is used up, the lees fall to the bottom of the vessel and start to break down. Most of them are dead, but not all. In addition to spent yeast there will be spent malolactic bacteria in the lees in those wines that undergo a malolactic fermentation. Similarly, to the yeast once the malic acid has all been converted to lactic acid, they will fall to the bottom of the vessel. It is unlikely that they contribute as much to the organoleptic (aroma, flavor and mouthfeel) properties of the wine but their impact should not be ignored. The third major component of the lees is finely divided particulate matter that came from the grapes themselves. The quality and quantity of this material varies considerably depending on many factors including the condition of the grapes when they came in.

For instance, if they were frozen, there will be a lot more grape material in the lees. In general winemakers want to limit the amount of grape material in white and rosé wines, and therefore will settle and rack of the juice before fermentation.  However, many winemakers will talk about the benefits of taking some of the lighter lees when racking off the clear wine and leaving the heaviest material behind. A large amount of grape material in a wine that you are leaving for extended lees contact is generally considered undesirable, resulting in more off aromas and possibly harshness on the palate.

So, what are these lees good for? The practice of leaving the wine to age on lees can be broken down into several categories. Perhaps the most common is leaving white wines, especially Chardonnay, on the lees for extended aging. In France this is called aging “sur lie” (sir-lee) or literally “on the lees”. This practice is commonly combined with “Batonnage” (bat-on-naj) which literally means stirring with a baton; I have pictured our stainless-steel baton that we use to stir our barrels.

The combination of sur lie and Batonnage  is often called Burgundian winemaking because the technique apparently originated there and is very common when making barrel fermented Chardonnay in that region.

Today it is used around the world and with other varieties as well such as barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.  At Brian Carter Cellars we use it in particular with the Array Chardonnay, stirring the lees on a monthly basis from the time it completes fermentation until just before it is bottled. Normally this is done for about 9 months between November and July but in the case of Nina’s Reserve we extend the process for another year giving us a full 20 months on the lees. I also like giving a portion of the Oriana and Abracadabra rosé some barrel fermentation in neutral barrels followed by sur lie and batonnage, although in this case it is only for about 5 months. We also get some benefit from leaving the stainless-steel fermented portion of Oriana and rosé on the lees for a similar period.

Another common way that lees are used is in extended aging of sparkling wine in the bottle. An important part of the complex process of producing wines using the méthode champenoise is the aging of the wine on the lees prior to riddling and disgorgement. In Champagne, this aging is required to be at least 12 months for a non-vintage and 36 months for a vintage champagne. Some houses will age their wines for over a decade giving them the greatest impact of lees aging. During the aging process the bottles are typically shaken every 6 months to help in the breakdown process and to minimize the compaction of the lees.

The third way that lees can be used is in the production of red wines where, instead of racking the wine off the lees after malolactic fermentation, the wine is simply topped up with the addition of some sulfur dioxide. It could be left this way for months to years and either stirred or left unstirred. This practice is a bit more controversial amongst winemakers. While I have tried this technique, and have seen some benefits especially in mouth feel, it has also led to some less attractive wines. In particular the production of hydrogen sulfide is a significant risk.

So why bother? What do lees contribute to the wine? Here is where I need to be careful not to get into too much complex chemistry!  As the lees breakdown they contribute a variety of soluble compounds to the wine. The compounds are mostly derived from the cell walls of the yeast and can be broken down into the categories of polysaccharides (long chain sugars), amino acids (proteins) and mannoproteins which are a complex combination of both.

These compounds add weight to the palate of the wine as well as a complex array of aromas and flavors including yeasty (similar to bready), cheesy, toasty, nutty and floral.  In addition to the direct organoleptic influence of lees they can have other benefits including protecting the wine from oxidation, softening the harsher effects of oak or red wine tannins and reducing the need for fining agents such as bentonite due to increased stability in the wine.  One significant advantage often cited in the production of sparkling wine is the effect of the lees aging on the quality of the bubbles in the wine, making the mousse finer and more persistent.

Hopefully you learned something in the never-ending wine education. Something else to contemplate as you open that next bottle, smell, taste and enjoy!

Brian Carter, Winemaker, Brian Carter Cellars

Brian Carter Cellars
January 8, 2021 | Brian Carter Cellars

Brian Carter Cellars’ new Dedication Series Wine celebrates WA state with a different twist!

After successfully releasing 3 previous dedication wines celebrating a person that has had a significant impact on Brian’s life, Brian Carter Cellars presents the newest dedication wine: the 2017 Big Daddy, a Douro River-style blend from Yakima Valley. 

Big Daddy is a tribute to both Brian’s winemaking success over 40 vintages as well as the outstanding performance of Washington State during the past decades. During Brian’s expansive career, Washington state has grown from an almost unheard wine growing area, to an internationally recognized region with 16 AVAs and 60,000 acres planted.

The key grape varieties of the Duoro Valley are Touriga Nacional, Souzao, Tinta Cão & Tinta Roriz.  Fermenting these varieties to dryness with no fortification, Brian has  created a deeply satisfying Portuguese style wine, Big Daddy.

The Columbia Valley AVA lies in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains where irrigation with river water is a necessity. This region perfectly resembles the rugged area of Cima Corgo in the Duoro Valley where hot summers, cold winters and less rain are the norm. Brian chose Upland Vineyard from Yakima Valley to source all the grapes for Big Daddy.

On the nose, the wine presents itself with a generous floral bouquet and notes of ripe fruit, leading with abundant complex dark fruit on the palate. We recommend pairing it with marinated, grilled meats from chicken to pork and beef with some spice. Big Daddy also goes perfectly with deep chocolate brownies to end your entire feast.

Wondering about Big Daddy’s irreverent label? Per tradition, we trusted our venerable label designer, Stephen Black, to present us with a unique design that could depict the inspiration behind this wine, and he delivered as always. Although originally presented as a prank, the image of Brian as Big Daddy was agreed upon by our entire team.

Visit our tasting rooms located in Woodinville and Vancouver, or our website to get your bottle of Big Daddy today!

Brian Carter Cellars
December 9, 2020 | Brian Carter Cellars

Brian Carter shares the highlights of our 2020 Harvest

Time to take a deep breath (hard to do with this mask on), relax a bit and assess the harvest 2020. Harvest time is inspirational and exhausting all in one big two-month mind and body expanding package. 

Actually, it is hard to separate out exactly what harvest means; it always seems like the rest of the year is either a big lead up to harvest or dealing with the results of the harvest.

From inspecting the vineyards and working with growers to trying to make the best grapes possible, to cleaning the grape bins and tanks, to running analysis on the wines, racking, topping and finally bottling, it is one continuous cycle of winemaking that never seems to stop. Indeed, since we now have wines in the barrel from both 2019 and 2020 vintages (and even some 2018 Solesce and 2014 Opulento), multiple vintages are pulling the winemakers in many directions at a given time. OK, OK, let’s focus on what happened this year the grapes were coming in the door. 

We had a good one, no major hic-ups, no one was injured, no serious breakdowns in equipment, the crew was excellent and overall things went smoothly.  And, by the way, we made some really good wine!  Harvest started a little ahead of schedule with Syrah and Tempranillo from the warm site of Stone Tree coming off on the 3rd of September. That was well before Labor Day which was late this year on the 7th, so no extended summer vacations for the harvest team.

From there, grapes came in steadily until October 24th when the last of the Sangiovese was plucked from Solstice Vineyard, just as a big freeze was arriving in the state, pushing all the winemakers to finish up. Overall quantity was down, partly because we cut back a bit this year but also because the crop was smaller than normal.  In the end, we brought in 106 tons of grapes, just over half of which was for Brian Carter Cellars and the balance was used for our custom-crush clients.

Reducing the harvest down turned out to be a good policy, in part because we were not able to crush as large a quantity of grapes per day as we normally do. This is because we had to ‘social distance’ on the ‘JACK’ picking line. We used plastic screens to separate the crew which meant there just was not enough space to have as many personnel and, as a result we had to run more slowly and crush less tons per day.

Fortunately, there never seemed to be a big rush, things got ripe in an orderly fashion and I was able to keep on top of my trips to the vineyard, walking the rows, tasting the grapes, bringing back samples for analysis and making keen decisions on when to harvest. Overall conditions in the vineyard were pretty optimal this year, with very few really high temperatures that could have caused much sunburn or burned up acidity, but with plenty of heat units for the size of the crop, allowing everything to ripen up on schedule.

These more moderate temperatures optimized both fruit character in all the grapes and color in the red grapes. The resulting wines have plenty to offer. Some really good varietal characters, excellent balance, and dark colors in the reds. Of course, we are still assessing the quality, but the whites and the rosé wines are particularly exciting along with Tempranillo.

We started the first post-malolactic rackings at the begining of December, and we were done by the end of the year which it was a great head-start. Now will be time to start getting Oriana and Abracadabra Rosé ready for bottling. Then there is my favorite time of the year when I get to start blending the 2020 wines. The cycle continues…

Drink some great wines this season. Stay Safe.  Hope to see you soon.

Brian Carter Cellars
August 8, 2020 | Brian Carter Cellars

Don't Underestimate Blending, by Cameron Cohn

Now that I’ve been eased into the weekly routine and introduced to ins and outs of the wine industry, it was time for me to learn about blending. Brian Carter Cellars is the first winery in Washington fully dedicated to making blends. Luckily for me over the past few weeks, I got to both witness and partake in the blending process that has brought them so much success. Just a warning – a fair amount of what I’ve seen so far from Brian and Robert makes almost no sense at all, so bear with me.

First, I got to visually learn and begin to understand what exactly blending is. This past weekend, Brian and staff set up a blending seminar for their exclusive Club Savant. For this, I was only tech support, but that meant that I had a front row view of Brian presenting his blending techniques. For this seminar, he was demonstrating how to blend the wines Tuttorosso, Solesce, and Byzance. Prior to the call, he sent out samples of Cabernet, Sangiovese, and Syrah to each of the club members. Listening to him explain the process of blending and how to make a successful blend was in a way poetic. The topic of blending just rolls of his tongue, and it shows that Brian really knows what he’s talking about when it comes to this difficult artform.

Then, he would experiment with pouring different proportions of each grape into a glass. For example, Brian would combine three tablespoons of Sangiovese with 2 tablespoons and Cabernet and taste test. He wanted to see how much Cabernet could be used in the blend without overwhelming the fruity Sangiovese flavor. By comparing his sample with an all Sangiovese glass, he was able to achieve an accurate balance of the two grapes in order to create the right taste. When most would stop there, Brian went a step further and compared his sample to previous vintages to assess how close he is to recreating the beauty of an older wine, while at the same time creating a better version of it.

At the end, he opened a bottle of 2005 Tuttorosso to share with the staff and to show off the final product of a great blend. Now…I’m new to wine; my palate is not as experienced or knowledgeable as a regular wine enthusiast. But I can confidently say that is the first time I have truly been amazed by a bottle of wine. The smell of fresh fruit and the many different notes that grace your lips was beautiful, a perfect example of a brilliantly aged wine, and a testament to Brian’s knowledge of blending. The ceiling is endless for blends, but the process is very scientific and takes a lot of practice.

My second exposure to blending was a much more hands-on experience when I helped blend wine in the winery with Brian and Robert. For the majority of the time I was working, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. There were so many different types of grapes in various barrels, it made it difficult to keep track of what they were doing. On this day, we were racking and filling barrels of Solesce, Trentenaire and Le Coursier. Each barrel had a label with the type of  grape and the vineyard it was sourced from. The barrels would be racked into various tanks, then filled back up again.

In both a funny and frightening way, Brian told me that “for filling a barrel, all interns get one screw up.” Not surprisingly, I spilled three times, which honestly made me more mad than it did Brian. Initially, it seemed impossible to time the shut off exactly so no wine spilled over, even when I was giving 100% effort. Of course, then I look over at Robert filling the barrel perfectly every time while half asleep and talking about what’s for lunch. Things got even more complicated, we began racking some barrels for an exact amount of time, and some until they were empty. Partially racked barrels were used to achieve the exact ratio that Brian needs in his blend. I could go on and on, but the point is blending is such a complex process, and it's so crucial to be organized and understand the grapes and the measurements needed for each.

Let’s not forget about cleaning the barrels!! Given that this was my third time around, one would think that the splashing of hoses would dim down just a little bit. No, quite the opposite actually. I was splashed twice as much and came home soaked and feeling like a soggy prune.

Of the many lessons I’ve learned since my blending education began, the most prevalent is to not underestimate how intricate the process is, or how difficult it is to create an amazing final product. Blending takes practice, patience, and precision and takes a lot of time to master. Brian and Robert have been doing this for years and they have absolutely perfected their craft. They know the exact science behind combining grapes together in different proportions, and continue to set the bar for wine blends.

Brian Carter Cellars
July 14, 2020 | Brian Carter Cellars

At Long Last, Our Vancouver Location is OPEN!

VANCOUVER, WA - The Vancouver Waterfront added a new attraction on June 24th, when Brian Carter Cellars Tasting Room & Wine Bar opened its doors to the public. Currently in its soft opening phase, due largely to COVID-19 related restrictions, the Tasting Room has already garnered a following, including current and new wine club members.


With up-close views of the Columbia River, Brian Carter Cellars’ new venue joins fellow Washington wineries Airfield Estates, Maryhill, and others in their mission to reach folks where they live, work, and play.

Asked why Brian chose to expand, he said, “We are always looking for new ways to make our great wines more accessible to the public; opening a second tasting room is a great way to make that happen.” But why Vancouver specifically? “I looked at several possible locations in both Oregon and Washington. When I heard about the Waterfront project in Vancouver, I drove down there and immediately fell in love with the whole place. Beautiful river park, a nice collection of restaurants and wine tasting locations”

Originally slated to open in November 2019, the Brian Carter Cellars team, including a cadre of designers, architects, marketers, and Brian himself, ran into the typical challenges and delays that come with the territory of opening a new space, especially around the holidays. Then, enter a global pandemic and all of the confusion and shutdowns that came along with it. For nearly four months, the team was in a state of limbo. “Do we order tables and chairs now, or should we wait? Is it too early to create our menu? When should we start trying to create some hype?” These were but a few things that kept everyone on their toes.

Soon after Clark County entered Safe Start Phase 1, it became clearer that the Tasting Room would be able to open in some form or another. Exactly when was another story. But the team used that time to put in all of the finishing touches, including the “Brian Wall,” a familiar sight for those who have frequented Brian Carter Cellar’s flagship location in Woodinville.

At full capacity, the space can seat about 35 people inside, with outdoor seating available in the warmer months. Their wine list includes a rotating selection of Brian Carter Cellars classics. Their menu will feature house made soups, salads, flatbreads, and other small plates. In addition, Wine Club benefits will extend to the Vancouver tasting room, including special offers and the always popular release parties (when they’re allowed again). And just like Woodinville, you may see Brian floating around from time to time. “Sit and enjoy a glass of my wine, eat some fantastic food pairings, and look out at the evermoving Columbia River; we guarantee a good time at the new Waterfront location in Vancouver.”

Brian Carter Cellars Tasting Room & Wine Bar is open Tuesday – Sunday, 11:30-8:00pm, and is located at 660 Waterfront Way, Vancouver, WA 98660. Visit for more info, or contact us at or (360) 216-1444.

Brian Carter Cellars
July 10, 2020 | Brian Carter Cellars

My Intro to the Wine Business, by Cameron Cohn

When I first walked into the cellar to work with Brian and Robert, I didn’t know what to expect and I knew close to nothing about wine, wine vocabulary, or the industry. I was told to bring clothes that can get wet, painting a very strange picture in my head of what I just signed up for. To my surprise, it didn’t take me long to get the hang of things and begin to understand everything that Brian was teaching and instructing me. On this particular day, we were racking 2018 Abracadabra red from barrels to tank for bottling in mid-July. This procedure is very intricate and it requires you to strictly follow the steps in order.

First, I carefully plunged the racking wand connected to the pump into the bottom center of the barrel. I made sure that wine didn’t overflow from the top, which didn’t necessarily happen every time (sorry in advance if I wasted a glass of wine or two). Next, I would turn the valve perpendicular and begin pumping the wine into the tank. Then came my favorite part of the process, which was holding a flashlight up to the pump to observe the lees content. It fascinated me to see the particles running through the wine and compare the lees of one barrel to the other. Once all the wine is pumped, I would shut it off and repeat this process with what seemed to be an endless number of barrels. After each one, I would make sure to turn it over and dump all the lees into a bucket to preserve them for later.

Of course then came the fun part, which was scrubbing and cleaning the barrels. They must be scrubbed with a hydrogen peroxide solution to remove the stains, while the inside of the barrel is cleaned with hot water, steam, plugged close with a bung, and finished with cold water, each for a duration of four minutes. Being my first day on the job, I didn’t escape without an occasional splash to the face from a hose that I forgot to turn off.

Throughout this process, I took away two important lessons. On one hand, I now have a slightly better understanding of the phrase “every wine tells a story”, which really didn’t make any sense to me at first. As I was working, Brian would go around tasting every barrel, then take a second to think. He had a slightly different reaction to nearly every one. Some of them he liked, some just ok, and others were not up to his standards. Watching him do this helped me realize that even though it was all the same blend of wine, every barrel was different and told its own story.

The second and more blatant lesson I learned was that the beauty process is not beautiful. On the outside, the industry has a beautiful and glamorous image and wine has always been associated with luxury and high class occasions. But after being sprayed in the face and flinching after handling a scorching hot hose, I learned the process of making wine takes a lot of time, and is labour intensive. It showed me just how hard Brian, Robert, and the rest of the staff work to create a beautiful bottle of wine and make people happy.

Brian Carter Cellars
July 8, 2020 | Brian Carter Cellars

Meet Our Vancouver Tasting Room General Manager: Rick Montgomery

Rick MontgomeryRick Montgomery, a longtime veteran in the food and wine touring business, has taken a break from travel to manage our exciting tasting room and wine bar on the newly developed Waterfront in Vancouver WA. Rick and Brian became friends over ten years ago when Rick and his ex wife, Alessandra, wined and dined our Wine Club from Southern France to Northern Italy. During their trip together, Brian and Rick realized they share the same love for the spectacular Chateauneuf Du Pape blend. Rick, in fact, knew he wanted to work for Brian after his first sip of Byzance — Brian’s spectacular Chateaneuf du Pape-style wine. 

Rick has assembled a top-shelf team, including a great young chef named Kyrstin Gurule, who Rick says is a “rising culinary star in the Pacific Northwest.”

Rick is a 5th generation Oregonian who prefers Brian’s red blends over his native Pinot Noir. He says he is thrilled to "jump the river to pour wine for the greatest wine maker on earth because man can’t live on Pinot alone." 

Rick and his team are excited to treat you to an exceptional food and wine experience the next time you are in Vancouver!

A few more things to know...

  • Favorite TV show: Gravity Falls (he has an eight year old.)

  • First car: VW Scirocco

  • Cake or pie: Yes, please

Brian Carter Cellars
July 1, 2020 | Brian Carter Cellars

Bringing Wine to the Fourth of July: Cameron Cohn

Our favorite summer holiday is right around the corner. The Fourth of July has always been characterized as a time to celebrate with friends and family, light off some fireworks, and of course enjoy the outdoors with some delicious food and drinks. A great food and wine pairing can turn any ordinary meal into a luxurious treat for you and your guests. To give you some advice on matching food and wine, here are some Fourth of July pairing recommendations for six of our favorite wines.

2018 Oriana: This white wine is richly aromatic with a fruity, crisp acidity, a great wine to enjoy on a hot summer evening. Pair a glass of Oriana with your family’s signature fried chicken, savory crab cakes, or even some beautiful oysters from Puget Sound. It also goes great with snacks such as chips and sweet onion dip, mac salad or potato salad.

2019 Abracadabra Rosé: The perfect outdoor wine. Enjoy this electric pink rosé with classic grilled meats like grilled salmon, pork chops, or hot dogs. The fruity aromas of strawberries, peaches, and orange blossoms make it an excellent complement to any fruit salad, or a delicious berry cheesecake.

2015 Abracadabra Red: The fruity, dark aromas of blackberries, black cherries and cedar make this wine the perfect pairing with any picnic-style feast. Pour a glass with a mouthwatering burger, lamb kabobs, or even spaghetti with a rich bolognese sauce.

2014 Le Coursier: Our amazing right bank Bordeaux blend gives off subtle notes of blackberries and aromatic spices, making it a perfect companion to a lovely dessert. We highly recommend trying Le Coursier with a small chocolate tart, or fudge chocolate ice cream with drunken cherries on top.

2016 Corrida: This bold, peppery wine emits aromas of fresh black cherries and pomegranate that really wakes up the pallet. Pair this beautiful and colorful wine with a juicy plate of steak frites, or any smoked meats that you love like pulled pork or tri-tip, and lift any regular dinner into a luxurious feast. 

2015 Opulento: The king of dessert wines. This Portuguese beauty melts your palate with sumptuous berries and chocolate. Aside from the obvious chocolate pairing, try taking a different approach to this wine and enjoy it with your favorite ribs with BBQ sauce, teriyaki chicken, or some late night smores.

Luckily, it just so happens that our 2018 Oriana, 2019 Rose, and 2015 Abracadabra Red are included in our Fourth of July wine bundle, on sale for $55. It's the easiest way ever to make new friends at a BBQ.

We hope you all have a splendid Fourth of July and spend it in style. Cheers and stay safe!!

Time Posted: Jul 1, 2020 at 11:59 AM Permalink to Bringing Wine to the Fourth of July: Cameron Cohn Permalink Comments for Bringing Wine to the Fourth of July: Cameron Cohn Comments (2)
Brian Carter Cellars
March 26, 2020 | Brian Carter Cellars

Why That Vineyard?

One question I hear consistently from staff and customers is why I choose to source certain grapes from certain vineyards. There are three criteria that I use for choosing a vineyard:

  • How good is the site for the grape variety I am looking for?
  • How good is the grower at managing that site?
  • Do I enjoy working with the grower? (Life is too short to have people in your life that you do not enjoy.)

In this article I would like to address the first of these questions. It is no secret that certain varieties do much better in some sites than in others. Hey, they don’t grow Pinot Noir in Burgundy and Cabernet in Bordeaux without a reason. Brian Carter Cellars brings in about twenty varieties and buys from about a dozen growers, most of whom I have been working with for as long as Brian Carter Cellars has existed, and many for much longer – dating back thirty years or more. Over that period, I have tried a lot of varieties from a lot of sites and landed on my favorites for each. All of the growers I deal with are great for the last two items above, but not every grower excels with every variety.

For most of the major varieties I use, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Viognier, I use more than one site, often two or three.  Why? I may need a different style of wine for each of several different blends I produce with any given variety. For instance, the Cabernet I use for the base wine in Solesce, which often comes from the hot area of Red Moutain, needs to be full flavored, well-structured, and of moderate acidity. The Cabernet that I use as a blending grape for Tuttorosso, which comes from a much cooler part of the Yakima Valley, needs to be much less aggressive, less structured, and higher in acidity. My favorite blending Cabernet for Le Coursier and Trentenaire comes from Stone Tree Vineyard on Wahluke Slope, and in certain vintages it can also make a very positive addition to Solesce. The Stone Tree Cabernet is generally full and ripe but without the structure or tannins that the Red Mountain Cabernet has. So, to summarize, the reason for sourcing from these different sites gives me more diversity when I sit down to blend, or to put it metaphorically, more colors on my painter’s palette.

 I cannot always predict which vineyard source is going to work best in each blend until I sit down to make the blend. Each vintage is different; the wines that work in a cool year may not work for the same blend in a hot year.  This leads me to the second reason why I diversify my sources: to give me a sort of insurance policy. It is not just the vagaries of the weather during the growing season that determine what happens to the quality of the grapes. It can be a winter freeze or a spring frost that destroys the crop in one area but not in another. It can be the failure of the irrigation system at a particular vineyard. It can be an insect infestation that destroys or limits the crop. I have even seen hailstorms dramatically affect a crop in just a matter of minutes. Diversity helps make better wine and also secures that I will have grapes with which I can make wine.

In deciding if a site will work, soil type is certainly a factor, but in general, soils are not as diverse in Washington as they are in a lot of other grape growing areas. Most of the soils here are relatively loose and shallow, which means they do not have a lot of moisture holding capacity. This is one of the real reasons our grape growing area is so successful, as low moisture holding capacity means we can use deficit irrigation to control the growth of the vine, giving us smaller berries and focusing the energy of the plant into ripening grapes, not growing excess leaves. This smaller berry aspect is particularly important for larger berried varieties such as Grenache, Tempranillo, and Sangiovese, so paying attention to the soil is especially important when selecting a site for those varieties.

While soil is important, heat is probably the most critical variable. Some varieties can do well in more diverse heat sources.  As mentioned above, the style of Cabernet Sauvignon can vary greatly depending on its source, and Cabernet could certainly be considered adaptable to a variety of sources.  Another variety that falls into this category is Syrah. The one variety that I would say really requires a hot site is Petit Verdot, as it is a very late ripening grape. Varieties, in my opinion, that can do well in medium-warm to quite hot areas are Malbec, Tempranillo, Mourvedre and the Port varieties, including Touriga Nacional and Souzao. Those varieties that require a pretty narrow range of moderate heat – not too cool and not too hot – are Grenache, Counoise, Cinsault, Viognier and Roussanne. These more medium heat areas are probably my favorite and are exemplified by Olsen and Lonesome Springs Vineyards west of Benton City, and also the Dineen Vineyards near Zillah.

Varieties that can be successful in a variety of sites from cooler to warmer (but that I prefer to get from cooler to moderate sites) are Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Riesling. Last, the variety that I think cannot make great wine in anything but the cooler sites is Sangiovese. The central part of the Yakima Valley where the Willard Family and the Boushey Vineyards are located are the best examples of this. Of course, the grape that demands the coolest sites, Pinot Noir, needs sites so cool that they only exist in Washington and Oregon on the west side of the Cascade Range where the marine influence is greater.

What makes one site more suitable for a certain variety than another? It is important to mention that different winemakers prefer different sites for different reasons. I would say that selecting a site for its grapes, along with picking time, may be the biggest determining factors in the style and quality of the wines they make. The biggest effect of that is expression of varietal character. For instance, both Cabernet Franc and Merlot can make good wine in hot sites, but the cooler sites, especially in a warm vintage, bring out that classic cherry character in the Merlot and that bit of herbs in the Cabernet Franc that make these varieties sing. Color is also a big one: varieties with modest color, including Grenache and Sangiovese, seem to do best where the cool temperatures, especially at night, produce the highest amounts of anthocyanins. Then there is acidity, most important in white wines, rosé, and of course Sangiovese. The cooler the site, the higher the acidity. I have tried Grenache on Red Mountain and the Wahluke slope, and they are pale in color in most years.

Well, now you’ve got me started. Better reign me in before I write more pages.  Now you all know everything you need to go out, pick a vineyard and make some really great wine. Hmmm, maybe a couple more of these lessons first!


Time Posted: Mar 26, 2020 at 12:55 PM Permalink to Why That Vineyard? Permalink
Brian Carter Cellars
March 2, 2020 | Brian Carter Cellars

Bordeaux Blends & Lamb: A Perfect Pairing

Ever wonder why it seems like some wines are almost always paired with the same foods? There's a reason why these "classic pairings" are just that--classic. Both the food and the wine consistently bring out the best in each other, their flavors and textures intermingling and enhancing the whole tasting experience. Think freshly shucked oysters with a crisp sauvignon blanc, or a bold red sauce with an equally bold and bright sangiovese, or salty blue cheese with port...or, you guessed it--lamb with a traditional Bordeaux wine.

We don't want to leave you hanging. Check out this delicious and easy recipe from our friend Karen Binder, sure to pair beautifully with all of our Bordeaux blends.

Lollipop Lamb Chops Provencal & Olive Smashed Potatoes

Karen: I love rack of lamb but find it difficult to know precisely when the rack is how I enjoy it most…perfectly medium rare.  Thus, I’ve taken to cutting the rack into “lollipops”, so called because one picks them up to eat them.  They make a wonderful main course (3 or 4 per guest) served with olive smashed potatoes. It can be served (1 per guest) as an elegant appetizer on a buffet.


  • 8 Lollipop lamb chops (buy a whole Frenched rack of lamb which is made up of 8 ribs and cut between them to form lollipops)                                                                                     
  • 3 T olive oil                                                                                                                                              
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced                                                                                                                              
  • 2 or 3 T of Herbes de Provence or a mix of fresh rosemary & thyme

Marinate the lamb in the mixture of olive oil, garlic and herbs for a few hours in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before cooking if possible. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat until the pan is hot. Place the lollipops one one side in the skillet (the oil marinade should be enough oil for cooking). Sprinkle with a good amount of salt and pepper based on your taste. Turn chops after about 3-4 minutes and continue cooking on the second side for another 2 minutes. Remove to a warm plate and let rest a moment. Serve with olive smashed potatoes.

Olive Smashed Potatoes


  • 4-5 medium size Yukon gold potatoes
  • 3 Tb olive oil
  • ¼ C pitted Kalamata or Niçoise olives, chopped

Place potatoes (skin on) in boiling, salted water and cook until tender.  Drain and allow to cool.  Using a potato masher, coarsely “smash” potatoes (I leave skin on you but can peel if you wish!).  Add olive oil and olives and mix.  Serve with Lollipop Lamb Chops.


Time Posted: Mar 2, 2020 at 8:21 AM Permalink to Bordeaux Blends & Lamb: A Perfect Pairing Permalink