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posted: 7/11/2012 1:00 AM

Good wine: Father of Washington State wine honored with premium label

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  • "Walter Clore" from Columbia Crest

      "Walter Clore" from Columbia Crest

 
 

Every once in a while, someone comes along to change the world. That happens in the wine world as well.

In the fourth century A.D., Roman poet Ausonius grew wine grapes along the Garonne River in southwest Gaul and sang his vineyards' praises throughout the ancient world. Seventeen centuries later, modern France's Bordeaux region remains a cornerstone of world wine and Chateau Ausone is one its top collectibles.

In 1966, Robert Mondavi opened his namesake winery and -- through winegrowing prowess, diplomacy and grit -- transformed an out-of-the-way valley called Napa into some of the most valuable land on earth.

In 1982, Nicolas Catena applied international economics and viticultural research to Argentina, selecting a virtually unknown grape -- Malbec -- as his marquis. Today, Malbec is a tireless engine of Argentina's economy, commanding half of all U.S. red wine imports, even as its value soars.

In 1937, Walter Clore arrived in Prosser, Wash. and began to change his corner of the world. The 26-year-old horticulturalist had been dispatched to the new Irrigation Branch Experiment Station to identify eastern Washington's most advantageous crops. Fruits for jelly and vegetables were the focus. Clore decided to also plant seven Vitis vinifera, i.e. wine grape vines.

Today, Washington grows more than 43,000 acres of wine grapes, its industry valued at $14.9 billion nationally, (including 70,000 jobs), but throughout the mid-1900s, Clore's vision could easily have been branded a delusion.

"Somehow, this boy from Oklahoma who'd never seen wine grape, this son of teetotalers, recognized eastern Washington as one of the finest regions for growing wine in the world," laughs Juan Munoz Oca, head winemaker for Washington's Columbia Crest.

While others saw eastern Washington's desert climate, with a fraction of the precipitation a vine needs to survive, Clore saw ample water in the Columbia River and the benefit of controlled irrigation.

"With controlled irrigation, we water when the grape develops flavor and ripening, but withhold water to control vegetation," explains Oca.

While others pointed to killing winters that stalled at -15 degrees Fahrenheit, Clore identified sites with sunny slopes rising from massive rivers and the temperature-moderating affect of water.

Columbia Crest's "Grand Estates" label recognizes two sites -- Horse Heaven Hills and Wahluke Slope -- with consistently vibrant Chardonnay and Merlot, widely available and earning "best value" ratings from critics and consumers alike.

The commitment to expressing each vineyard with traditional winemaking techniques are key to Columbia's Crests' popularity in Oca's opinion. "Wine is a living organism; if it's treated roughly, it loses vitality. In 1985, we hand-stirred the yeasts in our "Grand Estate" Chardonnay, all 100 barrels of it. It took a full day. We still hand-stir "Grand Estate" Chardonnay and we make 8,000 barrels."

Columbia Crest's "H3" label highlights the bold, concentrated flavors of Horse Heaven Hills in popular flavors including Merlot and Chardonnay, available at wine and liquor shops, about $15.

Columbia Crest's reputation for quality and value carries over into their premium tier with "Walter Clore Private Reserve Red" (see Ross' Choice), dedicated to a man who changed winegrowing in Washington State, economy in the United States and enjoyment for wine lovers around the world.

• Contact Advance Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross at food@dailyherald.com.

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