Hedges Family Estate is a Washington winery with soul. The family behind the winery understands better than most that location is more important that grape variety. In fact, Christophe Hedges will tell you that “wine doesn’t mean sh*t unless you know where it comes from.”
The Pacific Northwest Wine Region
Ryan Parnes from PNW Negociants started our wine tasting evening at Truvé Wines with a brief overview of the Pacific Northwest region. He chooses premium wines for his portfolio with an authentic sense of place and believes that Washington, Oregon and British Columbia have “become a hotbed of amazing wine grape production.” He imports wine from our “backyards” made from families like Randall and Jennifer Hopkins of Washington’s Corvus Cellars or Torsten and Kicki Allander of Fox Trot Vineyards in Naramata, BC. He is especially proud to represent Hedges Family Estate and introduces Christophe to the group of thirsty wine lovers, eagerly anticipating the evening of premium quality wines. In his pink t shirt that reads “I drink 88 point wines,” Christophe takes us through five Hedges wines unique to Washington, specifically the Columbia Valley AVA and the Red Mountain AVA, telling us the story of Hedges Estate then and now.
Hedges CMS White, with its inaugural vintage in 1987, was the first white blend that ever came out of Washington. However, the Hedges story starts long before that. Christophe’s parents, Tom and Anne-Marie Hedges, met in Guadalajara, Mexico while Tom was on a mission to learn about Tequila and the place where it is made. Anne-Marie had grown up in Champagne where a sense of place was tied into the identity of every bottle of wine produced in the region. They both understood the significance of terroir long before they started Hedges Estate.
In 1986s, the couple started an agency in Washington selling wines from California and Washington State. They worked with premium clients like Robert Mondavi, Joseph Phelps and the Heitz family. A year later, Hedges Cellars was created to answer the demand for American wine in Sweden. The people of Sweden were looking for an alternative to European wines and wanted Cabernet Sauvignon from the USA. Anne-Marie created a blend of Cabernet-Merlot from Columbia Valley and sold it to Vin & Spirit Centralen in Stockholm. Why a blend instead of the single variety that was originally sought after? Because the Hedges believed it wasn’t the grape variety that mattered most, but rather where it came from and the quality of the juice. With Hedges Cellars now established, Tom and Anne-Marie purchased land in Red Mountain and the Yakima Valley to start planting vines for the family estate. Today the whole family is involved in every aspect of the making wines, from soil to glass.
Wine Starts in the Vineyard
You may have heard the phrase “wine starts in the vineyard,” but may not fully understand what that means. Too often winemakers are exalted higher than farmers and wines become very crafted or worse, over manipulated. Importance is placed on following a formula for precision and consistency from year to year in the quest for high scores and loyal followers, instead of letting the land tell a story. The Hedges family does not believe in perfection. In fact, they’ll tell you there is much more beauty in imperfection because being too perfect can leave you soulless. Their approach to winemaking is to facilitate what the terroir has to say about each vintage, not get in the way. The wines should be a true expression of where the vines come from and a time capsule of what happened that vintage. In fact, their winemakers do not “make wine,” but rather “control fermentation.”
5 Hedges Family Estate Wines
A unique blend of Chardonnay, Marsanne and primarily Sauvignon Blanc, this CMS blend is a classic northern climate white. It may remind you of wines coming out of the Loire Valley, after all, it’s on the same parallel. Although Riesling and Chardonnay are much more widely planted in Washington, Sauvignon Blanc makes a lot of sense there. When you think about Bordeaux varietals, Sauvignon Blanc is the companion to Merlot and the Hedges family certainly knows their Bordeaux varieties. The 2016 vintage was just at the beginning of the cool down in Washington, so the temperatures were still fairly warm. Because of that, the texture is a bit creamier and it’s not too heavy on the acid. It’s a delicious, mineral-driven wine that you can count on to have a bit of vintage variation, but a solid offering year after year.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah make up the CMS Red Blend with all Columbia Valley fruit. In the 1980s and 1990s, Syrah was added to the blend to lower the “green” component and give it a softer texture. The blend continues to works well and is a reflection of “what Washington State is in totality,” says Christophe. The soil in Columbia Valley AVA is about a 6 pH which means it absorbs more nutrients. The berries are bigger and absorb more water giving the wine a brighter more perfumed quality. The CMS Red is complex, yet crushable with restraint and elegance. Because it’s not a giant, boozy fruit bomb you won’t get palate fatigue and it makes for a great everyday charcuterie wine.
H.I.P. stands for House of Independent Producers and the first vintage from this line was 2012. This is the wine that bridges the gap between their Columbia Valley wines and the Red Mountain wines. The soil in Red Mountain is about an 8 pH which causes more stress on the vine resulting in smaller berries which means more focus and concentration of flavour in the wine. About 25% of the blend is unfiltered, biodynamic Red Mountain Syrah with the other 75% a Cabernet Sauvignon coming from a single vineyard in Columbia Valley. The Syrah is so concentrated and focused that only a small amount is necessary and offers a savoury mid palate with more intense flavour and a little bigger body without being over the top.
Back to the pink t shirt. It’s safe to say that Christophe has an aversion to high scoring wines, but more so to the scoring system itself. The consumer reliance on points-based ratings and a winery’s pursuit of creating wines solely for high scores, is a bone of contention for him. So he and his wife, Maggie thought “What if we removed the critics from the winemaking process. What happens if we do things naturally?” The first vines for Domaine Magdalena were planted in the Red Mountain AVA in 2004 and the vineyard was certified biodynamic in 2011. They literally live in the vineyard and the ecosystem is nearly completely wild; a throwback to pre-industrial farming. The idea behind being biodynamic is to let things happen naturally, the way they might if there was no human intervention. Maggie’s winemaking follows this concept as well, with native yeast fermentation and only 7 months in neutral barrels. Maggie makes very brooding wines with grape tannin, not barrel tannin and keeps the alcohol level moderate so as not to fatigue the palate. Again, it’s the idea that wine is made in the vineyard and she is there only to facilitate the process, not interrupt nature or “craft” wines. This wine is a true story of the land and what was happening in 2014.
The vineyard was planted in 1990 and is now in year nine of biodynamic farming. The wine is reminiscent of a Rhone Syrah with a very meaty nose and aromas of smoke, gravel, violets and blueberries. The palate is so refined it’s impossible to tire of it, even after tasting all evening. The flavour is ripe without high alcohol content and the wine is elegant with soft tannins. This is what how it feels to drink a wine made from grapes with phenolic ripeness, not just sugar ripeness. A great way to finish the evening.
Peasant Cheese for Wine Pairing
Once again I find myself impressed with a lovely cheese and charcuterie selection from Peasant Cheese. What a remarkable spread with selections that are perfect for the wines. The last several tastings I’ve been to have featured Peasant Cheese – they’re everywhere! I’m afraid I’m now completely spoiled. I already feel terrible for the next place I go to that doesn’t have Peasant Cheese. I can’t say enough great things about this place although I’ve never set foot in the shop yet. I will make it a point of doing that soon, in the meantime I am keeping my fingers crossed that every tasting I attend will have my favourite cheese shop featured. We’ll see how that turns out for me!
About Truvé Boutique Wine Store
I must mention how fabulous Truvé Wines is. A beautiful boutique wine store that makes you feel like you’ve left Calgary and walked into a cozy shop in France. The tasting room is the perfect setting for a premium wine tasting, with every detail on point from the chandeliers to the plates. I am given a warm greeting immediately upon entering the store then Guillaume Frelot takes me on a tour of the shop, stopping to tell me all about some of his favourite wine selections. The back room was especially exciting as it features a library collection of back vintages and specialty purchases. I’m told there are tastings happening every week so make sure you are on their mailing list as they update those tastings on a regular basis. I know I’ll be back there for another tasting in the near future as this experience exceeded my expectations.