Tuesday, December 1, 2009

J Bookwalter: The Subplot Thickens


When I first moved to the Northwest, J Bookwalter was making Lot #17, and I remember it fondly, I felt the same about 18, 19 and 21 (which I bought from their gorgeous facility in Richland). A couple years ago (I missed exactly when it happened), Bookwalter decided to really play off the name and go with a literary theme to their wines. Lot became Subplot, and their Riesling has become Anecdote and their Cabernet has become Foreshadow. While this provides a natural and more literary connection to Library Releases, I'm not sure how I feel about it. At the end of the day, the wine hasn't changed and we're all more educated for the change.

On a recent weekend we had company in town and drove over to Woodinville to do a little tasting. Without any real plans, we pulled into one of the first places we came upon; at Gwynne's request, we headed into J. Bookwalter's Woodinville tasting studio, which opened in September of 2008. The tasting room itself is on the small side, but is very well done. In addition to the bar and some display areas to showcase the wine, there's a larger dining space to one side. Additionally, there appears to be a smaller private dining area that is separate from the rest of the space. The studio is very tastefully designed, from the wine-related large format artwork to the understated wine racks and the mahogany colored bar. J Bookwalter is in the same complex as Mark Ryan and Ross Andrew, and in the spirit of the Mark Ryan release party, J. Bookwalter was waiving their tasting fee, which is typically $5.

We started out with the Subplot #23, which quickly became a favorite, particularly at the price point. The Subplot series is a continuation of the aforementioned Lot series and is a combination of multiple vintages. The #23 consists of small amounts of wine from '08 and '04; most of the blend comes from '06 & '07. It's also a combination of seven different grapes, mostly Cabernet and Merlot, with Syrah, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and tiny bits of Barbera, and Cab Franc. Bookwalter is one of the few wineries in Washington making a multi-vintage wine, and they do a hell of a job with the Subplot series, and they've been doing it for 23 years. The Subplot is comprised of so many grape varietals that you're not able to pick out any particular varietal characteristic. What you get instead is a real treat. At the risk of being cheesy, imagine that a virtuoso solo musician calls a bunch of friends over, and they jam. That melody makes for a completely different, albeit equally enjoyable experience.

The nose of this wine gives you a lighter spice and currants. On the palate the wine is red berries, and the big surprise, and selling point where Gwynne was concerned, was the butterscotch. We walked away with a bottle of Subplot #23, and have since purchased two more. The wine is priced at $20 in the tasting studio, but can be found as low as $14 in various groceries.

We also had a chance to taste the Protagonist, which was done off the tasting list. The Protagonist is a big, beautiful Red Mountain blend that spent 20 months in the barrel. It's a beautiful wine that would look good in your cellar, and 5-10 years would really make it a treat.

The beauty of J Bookwalter is that while they're not among the largest wineries in Washington, they're large enough to make enough wine that you can get your hands on some, but not so large that the craftsmanship is lost. Their Richland tasting room is a beautiful facility that includes a restaurant and a beautiful patio. Get to one of the two locations if you can, and get your hands around a glass of J Bookwalter wine.


  1. Great winery with consistent wines. We reviewed one for Thanksgiving.

    Josh @nectarwine