April 30 2011 issue

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WINERY SPOTLIGHT Long Shadows Wineries, Walla Walla, Washington Jennifer Cossey, CSW

Wine industry greats have been attracted by the vision of a Washington pioneer.

Tucked away in the rolling hills of Walla Walla, Wash., the Long Shadows winery is an imposing structure set in a stark landscape. The contemporary exterior merges with huge windows that hint at the clean lines of the interior design. Stepping inside, a visitor is warmly greeted by a roaring fire set in a stone hearth. The seven wines made under the Long Shadows roof are perched on a wooden table in the center of the room, above which hangs a bright purple-and-gold chandelier created by Seattle glass artist Dale Chihuly.

Even before the wines are tasted, the winery clearly evidences a passion and appreciation for quality. These themes run deep with founder Allen Shoup, who has long been considered a visionary among professionals in the state’s wine industry. Nelson Daquip, wine director and sommelier at Canlis Restaurant in Seattle, says, “There is a very short list in my book of people who have shaped and influenced the Washington wine scene, and none more important than Allen Shoup.” Adds Shayn Bjornholm, MS, “He is not only one of the true guiding lights of the wine industry in the Pacific Northwest, but also a personal and professional mentor to me for longer than I deserve.”

Knowing at an early age that one of his main goals in life was to own his own company, Shoup earned his undergraduate degree in business administration from the University of Michigan in 1965. While pursuing a graduate degree in psychology from Eastern Michigan University, he was drafted into the Army and sent to work at the Pentagon as a psychologist. He eventually crossed paths with Ernest Gallo, who gave him his first job in the wine industry. In 1979, he went to work for Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington, eventually becoming CEO of the parent Stimson Lane Wine Group. It was here that he developed the professional and personal connections that led to the formation of Long Shadows.

Shoup was influenced immeasurably by one of his closest friends, Robert Mondavi. “Bob and I got involved in the very earliest points of when I was working for Chateau Ste. Michelle,” he says. “We admired each other, and I used his inspiration much more than he would ever know.” Along with Gallo’s influence as a trusted adviser, Shoup’s connection with Mondavi helped him develop a philosophy in business that guides him to this day. “Gallo’s secret to success was his ingenious concept of sales organizations,” Shoup observes, “while Bob’s genius was quality. He was never ever satisfied.”

Although Mondavi was unable to participate in the new business concept that Shoup was envisioning, Shoup named the project Long Shadows in recognition of Mondavi’s far-reaching influence on the world of wine. With friendship as his muse, Shoup brought some of the world’s finest vintners to Walla Walla, using the opportunity to make exceptional wines with Washington fruit as an enticement. The list of partners reads like a ballot for the Winemaker’s Hall of Fame: Armin Diel of the Schlossgut Diel family, producers of top wines in the Nahe region of Germany since 1802; Randy Dunn, legendary winemaker of the eponymous winery on Napa’s Howell Mountain; John Duval, renowned for his 28 years of winemaking at Penfolds in Australia’s Barossa Valley; Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari, the father-son team now crafting artisanal Chiantis in Italy; Agustin Huneeus Sr., founder of Napa’s Quintessa and Chile’s Veramonte; Philippe Melka, who began his career at such iconic places as Châteaux Haut-Brion and Pétrus and is now becoming increasingly celebrated for his accomplishments in Napa Valley; and globetrotting super-consultant Michel Rolland.

Shoup’s concept was that each brand under the Long Shadows umbrella would be its own business. Having put up the initial investment, Long Shadows owns 75% of each company, and the winemaker who oversees the product owns 25%—thus benefiting not from a salary, but from the profits of the label. Every partner makes frequent visits to the winery throughout the year. Blurring the lines between cooperative, incubator, and independent business, it is first and foremost a labor of love for everyone involved.

Head winemaker Gilles Nicault is the daily overseer of Long Shadows and caregiver to the vision of these industry giants. After learning his craft in the Rhône Valley, Provence, and Champagne, he came to Washington in 1994. He worked at Staton Hills Winery, Hogue Winery, and Woodward Canyon, where he was head of enology and production from 1999 to 2003, before being hired by Shoup at Long Shadows. Nicault recalls, “I thought, how was I going to make wines for somebody from Italy, Germany, Australia, Chile, Napa Valley, and France in one place? It’s like someone is not going to be happy. But the thing is, they came not to duplicate their wines, but to learn more, and since I was here from the first day, we somewhat learned together.” Every wine is made differently at Long Shadows—a challenge that Nicault has risen to with steadfast enthusiasm. “I give him huge credit for the success of my business,” Shoup emphasizes.

Shoup and Nicault used their long-standing vineyard contacts to obtain some of the best fruit the Columbia Valley had to offer. “Each winemaker was shown wines from the best vineyards we thought they would like to work with, and then they visited the vineyards,” says Shoup. “We covered every base we could to see that each got the best grapes they wanted.”

The Long Shadows winery was not completed until 2006, but the first release was Nicault’s 2002 Chester-Kidder, a Bordeaux-style blend named after Shoup’s grandmother and grandfather. Most of the Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from warm vineyard sites on Red Mountain and Candy Mountain, with additional Cabernet from Walla Walla, Syrah from Red Mountain, and Petit Verdot from the Wahluke Slope. Nicault keeps the juice in contact with the skins for as long as 40 days during fermentation, then ages the wine for 30 months in 90%-new French oak.

Nicault began making the Pedestal Merlot, alongside Rolland, with the 2003 release. They obtain the Merlot and small percentages of other Bordeaux varieties from vineyards around the Columbia Valley, focusing on Red Mountain and the Wahluke Slope. Pedestal is fermented in 5,500-liter wood tanks made in France exclusively for Rolland, providing a full and complex mouthfeel as well as enhanced color. The wine is then aged in 85%-new French oak.

Dunn has produced his Feather Cabernet Sauvignon since the 2003 vintage. His preferred vineyards include Sagemoor’s Dionysus (near Pasco, Wash.) and Weinbau (Wahluke Slope), as well as sites in the Horse Heaven Hills and Red Mountain subregions. During the peak of fermentation, he uses vigorous pumpovers to achieve maximum extraction. Once in barrel, Feather is aged in 95%-new French oak.

Huneeus teamed up with Melka, his Quintessa winemaker, to produce the Bordeaux-style Pirouette beginning with the 2003 edition. They have gradually narrowed down their favorite vineyards to a few on the Wahluke Slope and in Horse Heaven Hills, with Petit Verdot from Dionysus Vineyard added for complexity. Fermentation takes place in 400-liter, mechanically rotated oak barrels, using only native yeasts. The wine is aged in 75%-new French oak.

Sequel Syrah, named to represent the next phase in Duval’s winemaking life, also came on line with the 2003 release. Vineyard sources are scattered around Horse Heaven Hills, the Yakima Valley, the Pasco area, and Red Mountain. Twice a day during fermentation, Duval has the juice drained from the tank, the skins removed, and the juice pumped back in to soften tannins while maximizing extraction. Despite his background with American oak in the Barossa Valley, he works with 100% French oak, 65% new, to capture the vibrant character of Washington Syrah.

The Folonaris’ Saggi (Italian for “wisdom”) was launched in 2004. Most of the Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah for this super-Tuscan-style blend come from Horse Heaven Hills, but the Boushey Vineyard in Yakima Valley is especially important for a block of Sangiovese planted in 1993 on a steep slope. Once in barrel, Saggi ages in 55%-new French oak.

The most recent partner to come on board, beginning in 2005, was Diel with his Poet’s Leap Riesling. Grapes from Dionysus vines dating back to 1972 are blended with Riesling from the Yakima Valley and Wahluke Slope. In addition, a growing percentage comes from The Benches, a 150-acre site in Horse Heaven Hills planted in 1997 and purchased by Long Shadows in 2008. Even before Long Shadows took over full control of The Benches, Shoup and Nicault were given the opportunity to plant German Riesling clones in the Sonnet Vineyard block in 2004, under Diel’s direction. To maximize the grapes’ freshness and lively acidity, Diel asks the vineyard team to maintain an extensive canopy during the growing season. The fruit is hand-picked and whole-cluster-pressed.

Earning high ratings from their first releases and currently distributed in 40 states and seven countries, the wines of Long Shadows are increasingly recognized by both the trade and the wine-drinking public. Considering the variety of wines, each with its own individual branding, a retailer or restaurant wine director can include the entire collection without looking underdiversified. Since Long Shadows offers a mixed case with one of each wine, buyers can stock up economically.

Daquip has used Long Shadows in a variety of ways on his wine list at Canlis; last fall, for example, he matched the Saggi to a venison with smoked-onion-and-ash powder, poached pears, and venison sausage. He has also incorporated the Poet’s Leap, which he says “allows for a great geoduck or scallop pairing,” but for him, the standout bottling is the Chester-Kidder. “Cabernet and Syrah do very well in Washington,” he says, “and it seems like such a natural fit to blend them together—Cabernet for the richness and power of the wine, while Syrah provides the aromatic complexity and savory quality on the midpalate.”

At the intersection where his passion and creativity come together, Shoup has built a company based on the principles and guidance of his mentors. Rising to an unknown, eager for the undertaking, his partners, these steady pillars of the industry, have come to Washington to add their signature and grace to the lush fruit of the region—and we are all the beneficiaries.

Long Shadows
1604 Frenchtown Road
Walla Walla, WA 99362
(509) 526-0905
www.longshadows.com