Long Shadows Vintners and the phenomenon of big name, long-distance joint venturing

LONG SHADOWS VINTNERS TASTING – Artisan Wine Depot, Mountain View, California (9/16/2011)

This was my first chance to taste the entire lineup of wines from the consortium of mini-wineries that Allen Shoup, former CEO of Chateau Ste. Michelle, set up to lure distinguished winemakers from around the world to work with Washington State fruit and terroirs. The project, called Long Shadows Vintners, was launched in 2002. I’ve had a few of these wines in prior vintages, and even bought several of them when they were distributed through Garagiste, so it was interesting to taste through the latest releases, and one mini-vertical of the Feather, to get a sense of what these wines have in common, if anything, given that each has a different winemaker, or winemakers. The tasting also gave me occasion to ponder the wisdom and success rate of high profile joint ventures in the wine world.

Prior to becoming CEO of Chateau Ste. Michelle, Allen Shoup was in marketing for Amway, Gallo Wine, Max Factor cosmetics and Boise Cascade. His mentor and role model in the wine business was Robert Mondavi. Allen Shoup has acknowledged that his inspiration for high profile partnerships derives from Robert Mondavi’s partnership with Chateau Mouton’s Baron Philippe de Rothschild to create Opus One in 1979. That joint venture between a Bordeaux first growth and Napa helped give California wines an added shot of credibility in the early ’80s. While he was still running Chateau Ste. Michelle, Allen similarly reached out to Tuscany’s Piero Antinori to collaborate on Col Solare, a Bordeaux-style blend with Syrah in it whose first vintage was 1996. Three years later, also under Shoup’s leadership, Chateau Ste. Michelle partnered with Germany’s Ernst Loosen to create Eroica, a Washington State Riesling that has been reasonably successful.

Shoup has given two stories for the name of the project he launched, post-retirement from Chateau Ste. Michelle. He claimed that he originally planned to name it after Robert Mondavi, but “we couldn’t get through the legalities.” So he named it Long Shadows “as Bob cast such a ‘Long Shadow’ on the wine industry.” But he’s also referred to his current winemaking partners in saying that those who “have cast long shadows on the wine industry” inspired the name. Regardless of the precise origin of the name, it now encompasses seven small wineries, and each of Shoup’s partners is a 25% owner in their own brand. German Riesling producer and wine writer Armin Diel, of Schlossgut Diel, is the partner and winemaker for Poet’s Leap. Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari, a father-son team, are Shoup’s most recent partners, in Saggi, a Sangiovese-based wine that also contains Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Ambrogio was previously the president of Ruffiino, which he left in 2000 to form Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari Tenute with his son. Their wines include Nozzole Estate in Chianti and Tuscany, Cabreo Estate in Tuscany and La Fuga in Montalcino. Pirouette is the name of Shoup’s seemingly top-heavy partnership with Quintessa’s Agustin Huneeus, Sr., and consultant Philippe Melka. Chester-Kidder is made by Long Shadows’s “resident winemaker” Gilles Nicault, who trained in the Cotes du Rhone, Provence and Champagne before coming to America, where he was appointed head of enology and production of Woodward Canyon in 1999. Feather is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, made by Shoup’s partner Randy Dunn, of Dunn Vineyards, who also worked at Caymus from 1975 to 1985, as well as Pahlmeyer, Livingston and La Jota. Pedestal is a Merlot blend made by Pomerol-based international wine consultant Michel Rolland. And Sequel, a Syrah with a touch of Cabernet, is made by John Duval, formerly of Penfolds Grange, where he was winemaker from 1986 to 2002. Since his retirement from Penfolds, Duval runs Barossa-based John Duval Wines, whose major wine, a GSM blend first released in 2003, is called Plexus.

In general, these are well made and tasty wines, if not particularly exciting or characterful. I appreciate that Shoup has also not priced them at ridiculous levels, in an attempt to make them seem like “instant cult” wines, unlike Heidi Barrett partner John Schwartz, whose ridiculously over priced Coup de Foudre, Amuse Bouche and Au Sommet I’ve railed about here. The retail prices run from $20 for the Riesling, which I think is the least of the lineup, to $45 for the Saggi, $50 for the Chester Kidder, $55 each for the Pirouette, Sequel and Pedestal, and $60 for the Feather. (Artisan is selling them for significantly less than that.) I particularly like the Sequel, the Chester Kidder, the Pedestal and the ’07 edition of the Feather.

I do wonder, though, about the continuing value of importing distant big name winemaker/partners to bring more attention to an up and coming region like Washington State. I think there’s already a great deal of respect for Washington State wines, based on the terrific Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots and Syrahs that have been produced by the likes of Quilceda Creek, Leonetti and Cayuse. I don’t really see these one-off mini wineries adding that much additional luster to the image of Washington State. And I also question Opus One as a model for much of anything in the wine world. Yes, Opus One was a big deal when it was launched, but the legacy of their wines isn’t really all that great. For awhile they made very Bordeaux-influenced red blends, which were okay, but never worth the huge prices the venture asked, and commanded. Then they became more or less indistinguishable from other concentrated, rich Napa Cab fruit bombs, which continue to sell, especially to Asia-based customers, more or less as commodities rather than really desirable or characterful wines. Just keepin’ it real here. So I have to be dubious of any venture that looks to Opus One as its model. That said, I think there are some decent wines being made under the Long Shadows umbrella, and I appreciate that they are more or less reasonably priced, given the high priced talent involved.

Artisan Wine Depot continues to offer tastings at least twice a week, on Friday and Saturday evenings, and many of the guest distributors and winemakers that come through there are worthy of interest. I’m anxiously awaiting Artisan’s move into a bigger space, with more room for the tastings (which currently snake through very limited passage space between high stacks of cases) on El Camino Real in Mountain View.

For more details on each of the wines, including my tasting notes, see below.

Poet’s Leap Riesling

The majority, 54%, of the grapes for this wine come from the Sonnet Vineyard at The Benches, which was planted with German clones in 2004. Other grapes come from Columbia Valley’s Dionysus Vineyard, Phil Church Vineyard in Yakima, and Weinbau Vineyard in the Wahluke Slope AVA. The grapes were fermented at 60 degrees in stainless steel tanks. Armin Diel visited in early 2011 to assemble the final blend, which is broad and appealing, but lacking the cut and vibrant acidity that I most value in Old World Rieslings. At 12.9%, the alcohol level is also a lot higher than my beloved German Kabinetts and Spatlesen. Poet’s Leap also produced a 2008 Late Harvest Botrytis Riesling that I tasted recently and rated 91+ points, for its lush flavors and balancing acidity.
Poets Leap

  • 2010 Long Shadows Wineries Riesling Poet’s Leap – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    Very light yellow color; ripe peach, green melon, lime cream nose; tangy, broad, tart peach, tart apple, tart green fruit palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish 88 points

Saagi

Columbia Valley had an unusual heat wave in the spring of 2007 before bloom, resulting in smaller-than-average berries and higher concentration. The summer was relatively mild and ideal. The Folonaris fermented the grapes in two-ton tanks, and extended the maceration of the Sangiovese on its skins for 25-35 days. The wine was aged in French oak, 55% new, for 18 months. Both the concentration of the vintage and the sophisticated oak treatment came through on this wine for me, which is one of the better domestic Sangiovese blends I’ve tasted.
< Saggi

  • 2007 Long Shadows Wineries Saggi – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    Very dark red violet color; high pitched, caramel oak, caramel syrup, blackberry syrup nose; tight, tasty, blackberry, ripe black fruit, with sweet, firm and smooth tannins and integrated oak; medium-plus finish (43% Sangiovese, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Syrah) 91 points

Pirouette

Philippe Melka and Agustin Huneeus, Sr.’s wine (who the heck does what?) went through “a variety of fermentation techniques.” Some of the wine was fermented in stainless steel, while other lots were kept on their skins for 40 days in 400 liter oak barrels. Instead of using pumpovers or punch downs, fermentation barrels were rolled to gently mix the cap and extract color and structure without bitterness. After pressing, the wine was aged for 22 months in French oak barrels, 20% new. The result is a very accessible wine with soft, sweet tannins and commercial flavors (coffee, ripe berries) that also tastes a little too manipulated for me.
Pirouette

  • 2006 Long Shadows Wineries Pirouette – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    Very dark red violet color; oak, roasted berry, plum, cedar, instant coffee crystals nose; plush, black fruit, berry, coffee palate with sweet tannins; medium-plus finish (54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Syrah) 91+ points

Chester-Kidder

The grapes for this Chester-Kidder red blend come from vineyards located throughout Columbia Valley, including Red Mountain, Candy Mountain, Stillwater Creek, 27 Benches and Weinbau. Resident winemaker Gilles Nicault has, by far, the longest experience of making wine in this area, as he’s been there for 15 years. The 2006 was aged for 30 months largely in French oak, with a small amount of Hungarian oak. It had appealing ripe flavors and sweet tannins, without the sense of manipulation I found in the Pirouette.

  • 2006 Long Shadows Wineries Chester-Kidder – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    Opaque red violet color; cocoa, sweet, toasty oak, dried fig nose; tasty, tart berry, tart blueberry, berry jam palate with sweet tannins; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish (45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Syrah, 10% Petit Verdot, 9% Cabernet Franc) 92 points

Feather

The big surprise about the Feather, given that it’s made by Randy Dunn–whose eponymous Cabs are among the most backward in Napa, requiring decades before they’re ready to drink–is that both of these recent vintages were fairly accessible. The grapes come from several different vineyards, and were fermented in small stainless steel tanks before aging for 22 months in 90% new Vicard French oak barrels. Randy assembled the final wine from his favorite lots. The 2006 had a lot of the mocha oak flavor I get in modern-styled Bordeaux, so I preferred the plush and more complex 2007, which will require some time in bottle, but not the 20 years or more needed before popping a Dunn Cab.
Feather

  • 2006 Long Shadows Wineries Cabernet Sauvignon Feather – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    Very dark red violet color; oak, mocha, roasted plum nose; roasted plum, currant, oak, mocha palate, like a modern-style Bordeaux; medium-plus finish 91 points
  • 2007 Long Shadows Wineries Cabernet Sauvignon Feather – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    Opaque red violet color; ripe raspberry puree, oak, vanilla, mocha nose; tight, plush, plum, currant, oak, spice, berry palate; needs 4 years; medium-plus finish (22 mos. in French oak, 95% new) 92 points

Pedestal

The grapes for this wine are “double-sorted to remove any green material.” The grapes are then whole berry fermented in 1500 gallon wood tanks imported from Bordeaux. The wine is aged for 20 months in French oak, 20% new, from Michel Rolland’s favorite coopers. The result is some pretty appealing, Michel Rolland-style juice, with sweet tannins, plush mouth feel, and ripe black fruit and chocolatey flavors. If that’s your sort of thing, this should be a very satisfying version.
Long Shadows reds

  • 2007 Long Shadows Wineries Pedestal – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    Very dark red violet color; milk chocolate, berry, raspberry nose; plush, milk chocolate, plum, ripe berry palate with fine grained, sweet tannins; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish (75% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot) 92+ points

Sequel

Finally Sequel, so named because it’s John Duval’s “sequel” to decades of making Australia’s great Penfolds Grange. This is a worthy effort. The grapes come from several different vineyards, a mix of warmer and cooler sites. Duval uses cold soaking and extended maceration (up to 30 days) to create a spectrum of flavors. He also uses “rack and return” or délestage to gently extract optimal color and concentration. This is a technique usually performed daily during fermentation where juice is separated from the grape solids by racking and then returned to the fermenting vat to re-soak the solids. The racking aerates the wine and softens the tannins. The wine is aged for 18 months mainly in French oak barrels, 65% new, with 5% aged in 300 liter hogs head American oak barrels. This is delicious juice that is reminiscent of Grange and some of the other better Australian Shirazes.

  • 2007 Long Shadows Wineries Syrah Sequel – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    Opaque purple red violet color; appealing, refined, berry, berry compote, black fruit, vanilla nose; rich, plush, tart plum, tart berry, creosote palate with hints of roasted meat; needs 3-plus years; medium-plus finish (98% Syrah, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon) 93 points
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2 Responses to Long Shadows Vintners and the phenomenon of big name, long-distance joint venturing

  1. allen shoup says:

    Richard thank you for you many kind remarks regarding my Long Shadows wines. To clarify …there is no inconsistancy of the naming of Long Shadows. Bob Mondavi and Augustin Huneeus, both close friend and mentors, were the first to know of this venture and it was while setting with Bob and Tim ( we were at the Bohemian Grove) that Bob excitedly agreed to be a part of my venture and it was then i told him i was naming it after him …the man who cast the longest shadow over the modern america wine world. The name went on to referr to all the men who i have partnered with as each in there own right has also cast a “long shadow” .. thus the plural “shadows”. As to whether WA needs this type of program or not, we will simply agree to disagree. Unlike you, i know no one in the WA wine industry that beleieve our reputation is already well established. Research would show that outside of the NW the average wine consumer doesn’t even know WA is a serious wine producing state. More to the issue of my venture is also the fact that because we are so young (90% of the wineries weren’t in existence 20 years ago) we have one or two second generation and no thrid generation wine families nor do we have winemakers with the breath of experience that the masters i have partnered with bring to this state. They didn’t come to teach or preach but they did bring new approaches … i see this as no different than bring great chefs to a developing metro region…today you can to Las Vegas and dine like you were in New York or Paris… it didn’t happen because of local talent (this is not to disparage local talent which is often as good as better than those imported… but by definition they don’t start with broad experience and outside exposture ). Anyway, it’s been fun. And WA needs all the exposture it can get …so again thank you for the kind words. Allen

    • Richard Jennings says:

      Allen,
      Thank you for the thoughtful comment, and your additional information. I guess where we mainly disagree is on the reputation of WA wine. When I reposted my post on Long Shadows to WineBerserkers, there were others there that felt the same way–that these kinds of high profile consultants aren’t needed as far as raising the profile or reputation of Washington wines, which is already high among those of us in the fine wine community. But as far as such consultants bringing in new approaches and trying new things, I’m sure that could be useful.
      warm regards,
      Richard

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