Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Seattle's Urban Wineries Part1: ...Where Everyone Knows Your Name
Kurt Johnson invited me to Ward Johnson Winery for their release party on November 21st, where they released their 2007 Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet and 2008 Counterbalance Chardonnay. The winery, run by brothers Kurt and Charlie Johnson is in an atypical location, between Magnolia and Queen Anne nearly under the Magnolia Bridge. They’ve been there about a year and a half now, and the location works quite well to back up their description of themselves as an urban family winery. The site is very welcoming and everyone goes out of their way to make you feel that you're part of the family.
Kurt invited me to belly up to the bar and as he poured he introduced me to members of the wine club who came and went throughout the evening. Kurt and Charlie knew everyone by name and they talked about little league coaches and where people were going for the holidays. Sitting there, the tasting room had such a homey, small-town feel that it was easy to forget that I was in Seattle and not Yakima or Sunnyside. The wine club members and regulars I spoke to talked about the personal relationship they felt to the winery and the Johnson brothers, the lack of pretension, and the fact that – when it came right down to it – we were drinking very good wine.
The Counterbalance Chardonnay ($20) that Kurt started me with is from the Sun River Vineyard (Columbia Valley). The Chardonnay is named after the old Queen Anne counterbalance, which was decommissioned in 1940. This wine is fermented in stainless steel and spends 8 months in neutral oak. It's a very crisp chardonnay, with a light color, and a fruity nose with bright minerality on the palate and a clean, crisp mouthfeel. Many of the guests I spoke with talked about how much they liked it; even those who didn't consider themselves "Chardonnay people."
The next wine was the 2007 Merlot ($30), from the North Block of the Hedges vineyard. My first impression was surprise: was a bit lighter and brighter in the glass than I expected. On the nose, there were cherries and a bit of tobacco, which was intoxicating. It tasted of dark and red berries with very well balanced tannins.
The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) was a departure from their ‘06 (I was told) which was 100% Cab Sauv. The ‘07 incarnation was sourced from the Red Mountain AVA and blended with 10% Cabernet Franc for a very promising wine. As Charlie poured my Cabernet he told me that it had just recently gone into the bottle. The Cabernet was a dark ruby color with an excellent tannic structure, a peppery nose, and dark herbal and spicy notes on the palate.
The last wine I drank was the Ward Johnson Syrah ($30). Sourced from the Ranch at the End of the Road Vineyard, this wine is a visual masterpiece in the glass with a beautiful dark ruby color that promises good things to come. The nose on this wine is incredible, and the taste was classically well made Washington Syrah; peppery, intensely smooth, and well-balanced. Charlie poured the ‘06 for me so I could compare and I was surprised to find that I preferred the balance found in the ‘07.
I had a great time talking with Kurt and Charlie and meeting Dierdre, their sister. They're a friendly bunch with a great space and well made wines, and I will definitely be going back. If you're in Seattle I recommend you swing by Ward Johnson for some quality wine and first rate conversation.
Ward Johnson Winery
1445 Elliot Avenue West
Seattle, WA 98119