To the Edge

Michael Savage Is Pushing Local Wine in Wild, Accessible Directions

The winemaker has a growing reputation for audacity, but you can still grab a bottle for $20 at the store.

By Sean P. Sullivan September 24, 2019 Published in the October 2019 issue of Seattle Met

Michael Savage is rewriting the supposed rules of Washington wine.

I remember the first bottle of wine I tasted from Savage Grace as vividly as I recall my first glimpse of Mount Rainier. It was a 2012 cabernet franc, released about six months after harvest, at least a year ahead of most of the state’s reds. Its ABV was 2 percent lower than you’d expect. Frankly, I assumed it would taste like a green bell pepper—underripe and awful.

Instead, it was transcendent.

Winemaker Michael Savage, whose wife’s first name makes up the second half of the winery’s moniker, said to me back then, “There needs to be something extra there to make the wine worth caring about.”

Savage Grace makes wines worth caring about, taking perceived boundaries—like our reds running big and rich—and stretching them. Or simply doing away with them. Savage has produced early release reds, white wines with skin contact (referred to as orange wines), pet-nats (see "The Old-School Sparkling Wine Pet-Nat Is Back"), and white wines made from red grapes. He has also used a neutral oak style on varieties like cabernet sauvignon, often amped with generous—sometimes too generous—portions.

All of this is only interesting if it works. But Savage Grace wines, like that first unforgettable, fruit-filled bottle, are sublime—fresh and pure, with varietal and vineyard expression always in focus. Indeed, they can be unlike anything else one has tasted from the state, more akin to old world table wines: great on their own, better with good food.

Some find them too audacious. “I go far but not Savage Grace far,” a winemaker recently told me. Others find them a revelation. Anyone can find them at local retailers like PCC, and at a good price (mostly between $20 and $35)—a reassuring populist gesture from a winery redefining what is presumed possible in Washington.

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