2016 DV "l'Isle Verte" Chenin Blanc
2016 Division-Villages “l’Isle Verte” Chenin Blanc
Columbia Valley AVA Willard Vineyard
One of fastest growing and diverse American wine growing regions of the past 40 years is the Columbia Valley, a wide swath of land that reaches from the northern border of Oregon to well into the northeastern parts of Washington State. Within this region is a is the Yakima Valley, home to our old vine Chenin Blanc at Willard Farms. This Chenin vineyard has over 35 years of own-rooted development at the highest elevation in the north central Yakima, both of which aspects have helped insulate the vines from the year to year climate variation, and also from the intense daytime heat and cool to cold temperatures at night that Yakima is known for.
The Willard Chenin vines are planted on soils formed from volcanic Miocene uplift against basalt bedrock with the primary top soil being made up of quartz and lime- silica, overlaid with the mixed sedimentary runoff of Missoula floods that makes the soils in the region so dynamic and unique. We love this particular site, as it is one of the last remaining old vine Chenin Blanc sites in the Pacific Northwest, has demonstrated a unique and interesting terroir influence in the wines, and is farmed by an excellent, albeit quirky, farmer named Jim Willard who has a deep understanding of the soils and region.
We believe the best wines are made by picking before overly ripe characteristics dominate and fresh- ness and finesse suffer. Taking a page from the books of some of our favorite domaines of the Loire Val- ley, we make multiple picking passes (typically two in the year) to pick both vibrant and lively earlier acid driven grapes, and the more fruit concentrated and complex flavored later picked grapes. After two years of record breaking early picks, the weather patterns in 2016 finally slowed down some, allowing us to make our first pass on September 12th, with fruit quality that was very healthy and with some variabil- ity in ripeness, which is typical of the varietal. After 2015, when ripeness advanced rapidly after the first pick, we anticipated being back within a week or two for the second. However, ripening slowed consid- erably and we were able to accumulate some nice hang time on the vines before picking the for the sec- ond time on October 1st. The second pass was perfectly ripe and perhaps our best picking decision for the Chenin to date.
We created a pied de cuve (early native ferment) with a small amount of grapes from the vineyard to build a strong yeast population from the native flora. This was added to the first pick juice before being moved into two neutral white Burgundy barrels and a 75-gallon stainless barrel for fermentation. The second pick juice was split between the heart of the press, which went directly into a stainless 75 gal bar- rel and the rest, which went into mostly neutral and one year old French oak barrels. The ferments took off quickly this year and completed quite quickly going completely dry, the first time in our experience from this site.
The 2016 “l’Isle Verte” Chenin Blanc is a return to the vibrancy and freshness we achieved in 2013, but without the residual sugar retained in that vintage. The wine has laser like precision, a lovely nervy quality, is savory, and dominated by the classic lanolin and beeswax that Chenin is famous for. The palate is full of minerality, with hints of lime zest, and classic pear and stone fruit. The wine’s medium bodied paired with it’s racy edge make it a deliciously refreshing option now, but also allows plenty of room for development into a compelling and complex Chenin as it ages.
Alc 13.2%, 175 cases produced