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Zillah vineyard brings Mercer Islander full circle
While Mercer Island High School has graduated eight winemakers, there are residents who are also winemakers. In Washington state in 2003, there were 29,000 vineyard acres and 240 wineries. Now there are over 43,000 acres and almost 700 wineries.
John Ramseyer and his wife, Heather, moved to Mercer Island in 2003 when Scott was 4 and Jessica was 2. Soon after they moved here, they planned to fulfill a dream: owning their own winery. In 2003, there were 29,000 vineyard acres and 240 wineries. Now there are over 43,000 acres and almost 700 wineries.
Ramseyer grew up with a winemaking dad.
“My entire childhood was filled with grape-picking, winemaking, swirling and sniffing,” he said.
His dad was a serious winemaker who produced cabernet sauvignon, merlot, riesling, chardonnay, gewürztraminer and pinot noir. Their family would pick grapes from a vineyard in Grandview.
Growing up in Bellevue for 14 years, Ramseyer moved to California when his father was transferred. He graduated from the University of Oregon.
“My genuine interest in wine occurred after college,” said Ramseyer. “I worked nights and weekends in a wine store in San Francisco, spent countless days in Napa and Sonoma, and really fell in love with the pursuit of winemaking and farming grapes.”
In 2005, John and Heather found their vineyard site near Zillah, which was a 70-acre apple orchard with full water rights. By 2007, they had begun planting the four grapes that make up their wine: cabernet, merlot, malbec and cabernet franc.
While waiting for his own vineyards to mature, Ramseyer purchased grapes. By 2010, he used his own grapes and is now entirely estate grown.
Anyone with a home garden knows farming is hard work. Factor into that: your “farm” or vineyard is 2 1/2 hours away.
“Either Heather or I go to Zillah every other week, but much more during harvest and crush. At that time, we’re not home very much,” Ramseyer said.
A home gardener harvests his crop and usually eats it right away — tomatoes or corn, for example. With grapes, you aren’t even halfway there. Grapes are picked and crushed. Yeasts are selected, wood for the barrels is chosen, and the finished wine varietals are blended.
Fortunately, for the Ramseyers, they have a competent vineyard manager. Patrick Rawn, from Two Mountain Winery, manages their vineyards with a crew that prunes and mows.
“We are to harvest our ninth vintage. Our model has not changed from the start,” Ramseyer explained. “We make only one wine … a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and malbec. We produce between 250 and 300 cases annually and release the wine to a mailing list in the spring.”
“This should be another great year in the vineyard,” commented Ramseyer. “It’s been warmer than normal, and if it stays like this, we will be harvesting about two weeks earlier than usual.”
Ramseyer has received critical acclaim.
The Wine Spectator rated Ramseyer Vintage Five, 93/100: “Supple, rich and expressive, this is vibrant with acidity against ripe cherry and raspberry fruit with earthy notes and undertone of mint.”
The Wine Advocate, which many consider to be the ultimate critic for wines, rated 2010 Ramseyer Vintage Six, 92/100:
“Looking at John’s latest release … offers up a pure, classy and complex profile of exotic spice, cedar, sagebrush licorice and creaming raspberry-styled fruit on the nose … it’s a beautiful, balanced medium to full-bodied effort that has a polished texture, sweet fruit, integrated acidity and fantastic length on the palate. Drink this serious effort over the coming 10-12 years.”
In 2012, Compass Wines, a venerable wine store in Anacortes, selected Ramseyer’s 2009 as the Washington Wine of the Year. “In just a few short years, Ramseyer has gone from an unknown commodity to up and coming superstar. John’s latest release is a textbook example of Yakima Cabernet that just keeps getting better and better. When folks call from out of state and want a representative of Washington Cab, this is the first bottle we grab. Bravo!”
To find out more, go to ramseyervineyards.com or (206) 909-1548.
The Ramseyer family, from left, Heather; daughter, Jessica; son, Scott, and John in the vineyard.