A typical Willamette Valley winery produces a handful of wines — a couple of pinot noirs, a pinot gris, a rosé and perhaps a riesling or chardonnay — from three different grape varietals. This is sufficient challenge for the average winemaker, tasked with perfecting beverages for a wide-ranging market.
Imagine what it might be like for the Maryhill Winery’s Richard Batchelor, who in 2017 alone made 62 different wines from 35 varietals.
“We like to think of ourselves as a one-stop shop for Washington wines,” said tasting room manager Miles Clarke. “We are trying to feature the quality and variety of wines from all regions of the state, and especially throughout the Columbia Valley.”
That’s a bit ironic, given that Maryhill is so close to Oregon, you could almost fire a cannon across the Columbia and hit the mouth of the Deschutes River.
One might easily argue that Maryhill has the most spectacular vantage point of any winery in the Pacific Northwest, perhaps the world. Perched atop a bluff nearly 1,000 feet above the Columbia River Gorge, it looks west to Mount Hood, 50 miles distant, and east toward the Horse Heaven Hills beyond the Maryhill Museum of Art and the Stonehenge memorial. In summer, its outdoor concert stage presents major national acts, including (in 2017) Carlos Santana, Steve Winwood, and the Doobie Brothers.
A Spokane couple, Craig and Vicki Leuthold, bought the property in 1999. For decades prior, it boasted vineyards planted by the Gunkel family, who had discovered that the fertile terraces left by the ice-age Bonneville Floods produced grapes much cherished by earlier Northwest wineries.
Construction of the Maryhill Winery production facility and tasting room began in 2000; it opened on Memorial Day 2001. The winery expanded in 2012, adding a reserve tasting room that showcases its library wines and other small-lot varietals. Today, open daily except major holidays, Maryhill draws more than 75,000 guests a year. A new tasting room, opened Veterans Day weekend in Spokane, can be expected to draw many more.
It would be impossible to do a full tasting of all of Maryhill’s wines. On any given day, the winery offers a flight of eight tastes for a $10 tasting fee, refunded with a $20 purchase. Mine featured three whites, four reds and a rosé. Most of the selection was proprietor’s reserve wines, available at Maryhill or by shipment to wine club members — but not sold at retail outlets.
I began with a 2015 reserve chardonnay ($29) and a 2016 reserve albariño ($20), both sourced from the Otis Vineyard in the central Yakima Valley.
The creamy chardonnay has honeysuckle and pear on the nose, then shows butter and oak, demonstrating 10 months of malolactic fermentation in 60 percent new French oak. (A classic chardonnay, finished in stainless steel, shows much less oak.) The albariño, a Spanish grape, is crisp and fruity, with none of the chardonnay’s butter. Green apple is prominent on the nose, along with ripe pear and pineapple.
I moved on to a trio of reds aged in new French oak. The 2014 reserve grenache ($36) is a fruit-forward, medium-bodied wine with smoky tannins that follow a cherry-and-caramel nose. The elegant, 2014 reserve barbera ($32) awakens tastes of plum and cherry pie with an aroma of blueberry. The 2013 reserve Tavolo Rosso ($32), a “House Red,” is a Super Tuscan-style wine of 50 percent sangiovese, 25 percent cabernet sauvignon and 25 percent merlot. Suggesting dark cherry, strawberry and a hint of leather, it is notable for its smooth tannins.
I also sampled a viognier and a rosé. The 2016 classic viognier ($16), one of Maryhill’s best-selling wines, is partially fermented in French oak. A dry, floral wine, it offers notes of honeysuckle and cantaloupe on the nose, lemon and nectarine on the palate, ripe pear throughout.
The 2016 rosé of sangiovese ($16) is crisp and fruity but not overly sweet, what Miles Clarke termed “a classic summer gateway wine.” Finished in stainless steel, it expresses aromas of strawberry, peach, watermelon and apple.
It wasn’t part of the standard tasting, but Clarke also encouraged me to try one of Maryhill’s higher-end wines, the Marvell 2012 Elephant Mountain ($44). A “GSM” that blends syrah, grenache and mourvèdre (37, 34 and 29 percent, respectively) sourced from the Columbia Valley’s Rattlesnake Hills. It has the peppery spiciness of a good syrah, along with a delectable mouth of chocolate, cherry and raspberry.
Another superb Elephant Mountain blend is the lighter bodied, 2013 Indira ($45), which matches counoise and cinsault (54 and 46 percent).
Widely available is the Winemaker’s Red ($16), a red table wine that is an annual fusion of Bordeaux-style grapes (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah and cabernet franc). It offers a mild smoky aroma, vanilla on the finish, and plenty of blueberry, cherry and plum in the middle.
If Maryhill has a flagship wine, Clarke said, it’s zinfandel: “Long before Washington was associated with zin, it was reserve zin that put Maryhill on the map,” he said.
Maryhill zinfandel won “best of show” in 2014 at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, where winemaker Richard Batchelor was also honored as winemaker of the year.
The 2013 proprietor’s reserve zinfandel ($44) is fruit-forward, jammier and woodier than its 2011 and 2012 predecessors, which Clarke said were drier and spicier. The medium-bodied 2013 vintage is sourced from four different vineyards, with 84 percent of the grapes estate-grown. It is aged for 18 months in new French and Hungarian oak, and has a high alcohol content of 15.5 percent.
Batchelor is a native New Zealander who came to Maryhill in 2008 and is an American citizen. He blends roughly half of the annual production of 80,000 cases for the winery, which Clarke said “is perhaps the largest family-run winery in the Northwest.”
— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .