La Dolce Vita: Casting Long Shadows indeed

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The barrel room at Long Shadows near Walla Walla

The barrel room at Long Shadows near Walla Walla

“Thank you for including us in your visit! We are delighted to have you join us.” My request to Long Shadows winery in Walla Walla for a tour and tasting received a reply within a half-hour after it was sent. It included available times on the day we would have to tour outside the city. This, I thought, is an indication of a winery that knows how to market its extremely good products.

We first visited Long Shadows last fall and were incredibly impressed with the winery concept and its wines. Last month, we planned a return trip to Walla Walla with our oldest son and his wife, and I thought that it would be great to introduce them to this by-appointment-only winery. They weren’t disappointed.

We arrived 15 minutes ahead of schedule and were greeted at the door with glasses of wine and invited to have a seat until our tour guide was available. He arrived a short time later. Bring your glasses, he advised, we’ll do some barrel tastings.

Long Shadows is the dream project of Allen Shoup, who has long been an acknowledged visionary in the wine industry. After retiring as head of a group that owned Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest and others, Shoup, according to the Long Shadows website, “retired to pursue a personal dream. For years he had envisioned a joint venture with highly acclaimed winemakers from different regions of the world. His goal was to bring their expertise to Washington to create some of the most special wines ever crafted from the region’s top vineyards; wines that would stand shoulder to shoulder with the world’s best.”

Shoup built a multi-million-dollar state-of-the-art winery on an acreage to the west of Walla Walla and went about attracting winemakers to partner in the project. Winemakers now making wine with Washington grapes and selling them under distinct labels include Randy Dunn, the famed California Cabernet Sauvignon maker whose resume includes a decade with Caymus Winery; Agustin Huneeus Sr., who helped Chile move onto the world wine stage with Concha Y Toro; Phillippe Melka, a University of Bordeaux graduate who worked with Petrus and Haut Brion before moving on to the Napa Valley; Michel Rolland, whose base is in the Pomerol region of France and who consults to more than 100 wineries around the world; Armin Diel, one of Germany’s most respected Riesling makers; Gilles Nicault, who might be described as the winemaker in residence, living in Washington and once a top winemaker with Woodward Canyon; Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari, who continue a family tradition in Tuscany that dates back to the 1700s; and John Duval, an Australian who spent 16 years with Penfold’s, helping to develop Grange into one of the most highly sought after wines on the planet.

Our barrel tastings were a treat, giving some insight into how several of the wines are doing after nearly a year in oak barrels. After a half-hour in the huge, partly underground winery (which helps to moderate temperatures), we moved back to the reception room, where plates of cheese, sausage and crackers were presented along with the first of 10 wines we would sample over the course of an hour. Three hosts kept busy serving and educating about 20 people in different groups scattered around the room.

Tasting at Long Shadows (so named because its winemakers are giants in the industry, casting long shadows wherever they go) is a remarkable experience, with wine after wine having a rating of 90 points and higher from magazines like Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate. Each sip elicited an “Oh, my” moment as we savoured the aromas and flavours of wines that were never less than superb.

As I did in 2011, I walked out with my purchase, a six-bottle selection of reds in a wood case, destined to spend a year or two more in the cellar before we begin to open the bottles for special occasions involving special company.

Long Shadows varieties, under names like Feather, Pirouette, Pedestal, Poet’s Leap, Chester-Kidder, Saggi and Sequel, are made in small quantities, but can be found in wine shops in Washington. A larger quantity of Nine Hats, a blend of wines from the different makers, turns up in places like Costco, and is a terrific value. If you are in Washington, these wines are definitely worth seeking out.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.