Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Apple Cup, for Wine

I’ll admit it: I’m a Cougar.

I know that can be a dirty word in Seattle, but I’m also a Husky, and a Zag, and at one point in the not too distant past, was a Beaver. No, I’m not a fair-weather basketball fan or a perpetual student. A career spent working at colleges and universities in the Pacific Northwest has created divided loyalties, a colorful wardrobe, and a bit of confusion as to who to favor in events such as the Apple Cup. Through the years, I’ve had a nagging question in my mind: Who makes better wine? Being new to Seattle, I recently had the perfect opportunity to conduct some very unscientific research on the issue and explore some of the wines associated with the University of Washington.

In many respects, Washington State University has an unfair advantage in Washington. Most of the wine grapes are grown east of the mountains, WSU is home to a prominent viticulture program, and there’s even an official Wine by Cougs club. Logic would follow that those interested in agriculture and the like would attend the land-grant institution in the state. Nonetheless, I entered this experience knowing that some strong Husky winos are out there; I just had to find them.

I put the call out on the Twitter and started to scour the net for wineries with connections to the UW. Both efforts paid off and I quickly had a list of four wineries and with a tasting party scheduled for that evening I had no time to spare as I headed to the store to find the wines. Two hours and three stores later, I returned to my condo to get ready to host 9 of my closest friends for the Husky wine grand tasting event.

Wines on the docket for the evening included:
  • Brian Carter Cellars Corrida: Managing Partner Michael Stevens has degrees from the UW in business administration and public administration.
  • Gilbert Cellars 2008 Left Bank Red: Head winemaker Justin Neufeld graduated with a B.S. in Molecular Biology from the UW.
  • Waterbrook 2008 Melange Noir: Winery owner Andrew Browne holds a degree in history from the University of Washington.
  • Wilridge 2009 Estate Melange Blanc: Founder Lysle Wilhelmi holds a medical degree from the UW.
There were some notable names on the list, so I knew Huskies could make wine. How would it stack up? The guest list for my tasting included a menagerie of wine expertise, palates, professions, and school affiliations; about as neutral and unscientific as I could get. We tasted through the wines in progression, taking a moment to discuss the virtue of each bottle before it was gone. When the dust settled, the Brian Carter Cellars offering was the clear favorite among the purple and gold. The Wilridge was perhaps the most interesting leaving sediment in the glass, a rarity for a white wine.

Four bottles down, our group jumped to a Zag wine made by Va Piano out of Walla Walla, and agreed that the Cougs have an edge in this arena. UW Alum make some nice wine, however, to make a very broad generalization we find Coug wine has some more depth and complexity.

Disagree? Tell me about it!

Managing Editor Josh Gana also covers wine for Seattle Pulp, a place to share the things Seattle loves. This article was originally published there.


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