Most Washingtonians know the view crossing the Columbia River on I-90 near Vantage—the desert suddenly opening up on sparkling water and cliffs that look ripped from a western. Few know of the grape growing region immediately to the south that makes equally stunning wines. Thomas Vogele aims to change that.
“I wanted to put a spotlight on the Wahluke Slope,” Vogele says of starting the winery with his wife Kristin in 2012. His Luke Columbia Valley wines do just that, dedicating themselves to the region in grapes and name—a play on the appellation as well as a mysterious character described on the back label, in the prose of a dime store Western: “I heard stories about him for years, saw him in the flesh a few times, and spoke to him only once…. He revealed himself slowly, like a freed wind emerging from the shadow of a mountain.”
As a growing region, the Wahluke Slope is defined by a large alluvial fan (a sort of half funnel etched into a hill) that stretches down to the Columbia River. South facing, the slope soaks up the sun. In the grapes, that yields the rich, ripe flavors Washington is known for while still retaining plenty of acidity.
“You can have really, really warm days, but we also have nice airflow, so you get some cooler nights too from the river effect,” explains Peter Devison, who serves as Luke’s consulting winemaker.
Though home to nearly a sixth of Washington’s grape-growing acreage, the Wahluke Slope has remained largely anonymous, with many wines ultimately bearing the larger Columbia Valley label given its greater brand recognition. The newly released 2018 Luke Wines, however, seem certain to bring the area attention.
“The 2018 vintage to me—there is a core of fruit, coiled up tannin, and just energy,” says Devison. “The wines seem really focused and dense.”
Indeed, 2018 might well be Washington’s top red wine vintage of the last 20 years, with Luke wines as exquisite examples of its bounty. They are outrageously rich and layered, while retaining freshness, with the limited use of new oak keeping the fruit in vivid focus. The entry level reds run $22–$25 and are the state’s best red wine values on the shelf right now.
“I just fell in love with the flavor profile,” Vogele says of the Wahluke Slope. Tasting the 2018 wines, no doubt many wine lovers will too.
The 5 to Try
2018 Luke The Companion Red Blend Columbia Valley $22
On the Nose: chocolate, cherry, red fruit.
On the Palate: full-bodied and fruit-filled with plenty of backbone to stand it up straight.
Note: This is mostly Wahluke Slope fruit but below the 85% required to be labeled as such.
2018 Luke Merlot Wahluke Slope $25
On the Nose: raspberry, cocoa, spice.
On the Palate: mouthcoating, dense, and intense.
2018 Luke Cabernet Sauvignon Wahluke Slope $25
On the Nose: black raspberry, scorched earth.
On the Palate: a big mouthful of a wine, unabashedly delicious.
2018 Syrah Wahluke Slope $25
On the Nose: pomegranate, bacon fat, blue fruit.
On the Palate: delicious yet pleasingly complex.
2018 Reserve Syrah StoneTree Vineyard Wahluke Slope $45
On the Nose: prosciutto, smoke, and wet rock.
On the Palate: rich and layered, with gravitas.
Note: This is one of the winery’s two inaugural reserve wines.