Washington Wine Heritage
Births New Premium Label
By Fred Delkin
Oregon's northern neighbor boasts a thriving wine industry which has just acquired
a new effort spawned by collaboration of two families, both pioneers in planting the eastern
Washington vineyards that supply the bulk of the state's vinous activity. The Hogue and Mercer families established premium varietal grape vineyards in the early 1970's. The Hogues went on to open Hogue Cellars, largest family-owned winery in Washington, producing 500,000 cases annually. The Mercers were a primary grape supplier to the Hogue effort. Hogue Cellars was sold to a conglomerate in 2001, but continues as a vineyard resource. Now there is Mercer Estates, aiming at modest volume, but superb quality.
Former Hogue winemaker David Forsyth is the creative master for Mercer's six varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. We can testify to the excellence of his output, being treated to a wine tasting session with David, Rob Mercer and sales honcho Jeff Peda. WINE SPECTATOR, the oenophilic Bible, seems to agree with my palate, ratng these initial bottlings from 86-91. The Riesling achieves an admirable dryness with full flavor. The Pinot Gris, until recently an Oregon exclusive, is from the inaugural crop from the Columbia Valley and a perfect seafood partner, fruity, smooth and dry. Sauvignon Blanc rivals the best from New Zealand, while the Cabernet Sauvignon earns the 90-point blessing of the Spectator. We are delighted to report that Forsyth shares our prejudice against over-oaked Chardonnays and blends a complex offering with elegant, fruity body.
While the Hogues cultivated vineyards in the Columbia and Yakima valleys, the Mercers launched growing efforts in the Horse Heaven Hills, arguably the region responsible for world-class red wine grapes. Each of these regions has ideal growing conditions for the panoply of Mercer wines. Rob Mercer, son of vineyard founder Bud, applies his MBA to the presidency of the new winery and declares that his family's provision of grapes to Washington's finest vintages easily earns this venture of completing the production cycle.
Each of the Mercer wines is reasonably priced in reference to its outstanding quality. Get thee to your local purveyor and please thy palate with Forsyth's food-friendly efforts.
© 2009 Oregon Magazine