I was in the right place at the right time. When Dr. Carrie York, our family’s dentist, couldn’t use her reservations for a wine event at the University Women’s Club, I happily filled in for her.
Jones of Washington was the featured winery. I was familiar with the label, but had not even tasted their wines or knew any of the history. The Jones family is indeed a pioneer Washington farming family, but grapes are not their only crop. They also grow mint, potatoes, wheat, cherries, apples and many other crops. Jack Jones, the family patriarch, planted grapes in 1997. The family now has over 1,000 acres in grapes alone.
I never can put myself in the place of farmers who grow grapes well and can sell them to other wineries. Then, they also choose the major step of making wine out of their own grapes. The Milbrandts of Columbia Valley, the Hogue family of Prosser, and the Jones family have all taken that extra step of additional worry and added work.
The Jones family did make the auspicious choice of Victor Palencia in 2008 as their winemaker. Palencia is basically a winemaking wunderkind. He studied at Walla Walla Community College’s Institute for Enology and Viticulture, and was making wine before he was legally able to drink alcohol. Under Palencia’s tutelage, Jones of Washington has garnered many awards for its various wines, culminating in being chosen as Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest. While studying at Walla Walla certainly increased Palencia’s knowledge, the instruction basically just enhanced his natural proclivity for winemaking.
In 2008, Palencia met the Jones family and they immediately clicked. Coming from a family of seven brothers and sisters, Palencia found a home with the Joneses with their common love of family, passion for the grapes and working in a family-oriented business.
At the dinner, we were among the first in the state to know about the most recently granted AVA for Washington state: Ancient Lakes. Washington state is now comprised of 13 official American Viticultural Areas (AVA), also known as appellations. These are distinct wine-growing regions as recognized by the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. It usually takes two years of constant document submission to be granted AVA status. The other 12 Washington state AVAs are Yakima Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Columbia Valley, Puget Sound, Red Mountain, Columbia Gorge, Horse Heaven Hills, Wahluke Slope, Rattlesnake Hills, Snipes Mountain, Lake Chelan and Naches Heights. Columbia Valley AVA is called a “macro” AVA, as it contains other AVAs such as Yakima Valley. In turn, Yakima Valley also contains AVAs, such as Rattle Snake Hills.
Jones of Washington red wines are from the Wahluke Slope AVA, which is a geographically isolated, generally south-facing slope near the Saddle Mountains in southeastern Washington. Temperatures are among the highest; precipitation, the lowest. Jones of Washington white wines are from the new Ancient Lakes AVA, which is cooler and is near the town of Quincy.
The Ancient Lakes AVA was an outlet point for floods that are estimated to have taken place about 15,000 years ago. Ice dams would repeatedly form and break, releasing torrents from Lake Missoula, which would surge across Eastern Washington, eroding the soil to barren scabland. Today, a thin layer of soil sits atop basalt. In some places, it is three feet deep; in others, three inches.
To add an AVA name to a wine label, 85 percent of the wine must come from that AVA.
At the dinner, the Jones of Washington wines were paired thoughtfully with each course. I am constantly impressed at how we consumers do not have to endure terrible wines anymore … except the occasional corked wine, but that’s another whole article! The winemaking expertise and technology precludes bad wines as well as intense competition. I especially enjoyed the rosé, which was made with syrah.
These are some of the more recent awards for Jones of Washington:
• 2012 Washington Winery of the Year (Wine Press Northwest Magazine)
• 2011 Grand Harvest Awards - Gold Medal: 2007 merlot; Silver Medal: 2007 sangiovese; Bronze Medal: 2009 chardonnay
• 2011 San Francisco Wine Competition - Gold Medal: 2008 syrah; Silver Medal: 2007 merlot; Silver Medal: 2208 cabernet sauvignon
• 2010 Wine Press Platinum Judging - Platinum Medal: 2009 rosé of syrah