El Gaucho Hospitality visits Col Solare Winery on Red Mountain
“Wine is sunlight held together by water,” ~Galileo Galilei
This phrase, from the 16th century, could have been a foreshadowing of the wines made on Red Mountain and, specifically, Col Solare, which literally translates to “shining hill.”
Over forty El Gaucho Hospitality employees were graciously invited to the 40-acre estate last Monday to see first-hand the beautiful facilities, learn more about the special wine-making techniques, and understand the fascinating Red Mountain terroir. It was on the four-hour bus ride from Seattle to Benton City, WA, that the team learned El Gaucho Hospitality is the number one seller of Col Solare in the country.
Referred to as the crown jewel of Red Mountain, Col Solare sits atop one of the many rolling hills identifying the region – remnants of the Missoula floods that formed the distinctive landscape millions of years ago. Its stately presence and commanding view over the valley is nothing short of extraordinary; the winery itself is old and new world combined, with a modern, curved roofline, but an old-world, 56’ bell tower. The precisely planted vines fan out in a Southwest/Northeast orientation, and create a shaded effect on the fruit zone from 1-4pm, the hottest hours of the day. The open canopy on both sides allows for “even” ripening, ensuring the grapes avoid sunburn. Col Solare is the only vineyard planted this way.
After our group was offered a glass of 2008 Col Solare, winemaker Darel Allwine (yes, that really is his last name. Rumor has it that during his interview process with Columbia Crest in 1996 for a cellar/barrel worker he was hired for his name. Six months later, he knew the wine industry is where he belonged) guided us through the equipment and winemaking process on the crush pad, through the fermentation tanks, and the three temperature-controlled barrel rooms. It was easy to visualize the hand-picked grapes coming off the fields, then feeding through the Mistral (“air” in French) sorting system, which destems but keeps the fruit whole, to yield the highest quantity possible for the press.
Through this process, Darel and his team taste the wines 2-3 times/day, because the juice evolves so quickly. Depending on the harvest that season, the wines might go through a conventional pump-over system, or through a “rack return” process, which is the trick of taking the juice from the bottom of the barrel and pouring it back over the grapes. From there, the grapes are aged 22 months in new tight-grained French oak.
Red Mountain is known for its rich, black fruit characters and is the #1 AVA for red wine in the state. Much of this is due to the sandy loam soil, which contains fractured basalt, and the high Ph content of the soil (8.3-9%). This, with the combination of a dry climate (average rainfall is 6-8”), causes the vines to struggle and produce beautiful grapes.
Varietals planted in the 28-acre vineyard include Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and even some Carmenere. Darel says the Carmenere is finicky and typically likes really hot weather, which is why it thrives in regions of Chile, and why they haven’t yet done anything with their estate grown; however, with 2013 being such a hot, dry year that could soon change.
Col Solare is a partnership between Chateau Ste. Michelle and the Antinori family from Italy, who have over 600 years of winemaking experience. Darel explains that Col Solare’s goal is, “To be the best Cabernet Sauvignon wine in the state through three aspects: intensity, ageability, and authenticity.”
Every job has its perks, and for El Gaucho Hospitality employees, the commitment to staff education and development, as well as having access to fantastic wines like Col Solare, and winemakers, like Darel Allwine, is one of them. The El Gaucho team was already a huge fan of these delicious wines, and no doubt will continue after this day-long excursion, seeing the land itself, experiencing such fantastic hospitality, and witnessing the passion from the Col Solare team.
“El Gaucho and AQUA by El Gaucho have already created many fans and ambassadors of Col Solare,” said Director of Luxury Wine Sales for Chateau Ste. Michelle Estates, Joe Aschbacher. “We so appreciate El Gaucho’s support of Col Solare, and we will keep the excitement for this brand and others in our portfolio at a high level.”