In normal times, starting a winery is a risk. Even for a small operation, you invest tens (if not hundreds) of thousands upfront. You work like hell. Then you wait—for the grapes to ferment, for the bottles to be ready—for a year, even two, before you can introduce the wine in your tasting room or sit down with restaurant sommeliers to try to move some cases, spending more money all the while. Well, the coronavirus pandemic this year has stymied a lot of new wineries’ release plans, leaving them without the usual sales methods. Here are four you might not hear about elsewhere, but are very much worthy of attention.
Itä is one of five wineries in Walla Walla’s “incubator” buildings, facilities built to help newer producers find their footing. Owner and winemaker Kelsey Albro Itämeri focuses on grapes from the foothills of the Blue Mountains, where she is currently planting an estate vineyard. This year’s inaugural release has a couple of racy Les Collines vineyard sémillons, one aged in stainless steel and the other in neutral oak, that announce Itä as a producer to watch.
Peter and Kelsey Devison planned to officially launch their winery at Taste Washington in March 2020. Taste Washington didn’t happen. But the inaugural releases are stunning, including a best of class sauvignon blanc, a knee buckling rosé, and powerful, graceful reds. With no tasting room currently, this winery is as word-of-mouth as it gets.
Washington wine has become largely known for its decadent reds. But Grosgrain (pronounced grow-grain) has something new to say. Founded by Matt and Kelly Austin, the winery champions “underdog” varieties in a reserved style: a lemberger pet-nat, a particularly vigorous albariño. The reds are light and nimble. In just a year and a half, Grosgrain has expanded the idea of what Washington wine can be.
Owners and winemakers Jay Krutulis and Matt Reilly left behind law and architecture careers respectively to study winemaking at Walla Walla Community College. They found kinship there and decided to start a winery together. Prospice, which debuted last year, is one of the most exciting entrants on the Washington wine stage in the last decade. These wines—syrahs, a cabernet sauvignon, a viognier—smack with finesse.