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Washington wine tasting month
March is Washington Wine Month, when retailers have displays of Washington wines and the wineries have good prices.
March is a great time to tell you about a new winery: Mercer Estates in Prosser, Wash. This winery has an amazing pedigree. It is the new offering from Mike Hogue, previously of Hogue Cellars. When Hogue Cellars sold, I thought to myself: “Good for Mike. He can put his feet up and take a well-deserved rest.” I was surprised to hear about Mercer Estates and delighted that Mike has reassembled some folks who had made Hogue Cellars such a success.
First is Winemaker David Forsyth, who grew up in eastern Washington and spent 23 years with Hogue Cellars. He has happily downsized from his staff of 45 at Hogue Cellars to a staff of three at Mercer Estates.
“I missed the simplicity of family winemaking and am in a unique position to be part of the Mercer Estates from the ground up,” he said. “When you’re more hands-on, you can influence every part of the process personally to make the subtle decisions that define quality.”
While Hogue produced 500,000 cases yearly, the Mercer Estates’ ultimate goal of 60,000 is still not small. In fact, Mercer Estates will be among the state’s largest wineries. Officially, Mercer Estates is winery number 525 to be granted a license; however, many of Washington’s wineries are tiny — often selling their wines only at the winery site.
I sat with Mike Hogue recently at a launch luncheon for Mercer Estates. I swear he hasn’t age ... maybe the hairline has receded a tad. He still looks like he stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting with his freckles, reddish hair and an all-shucks kind of smile.
When I said that I was surprised that he was re-entering the wine industry, he said that it was his kids and Bud Mercer’s kids who got together and proposed the new winery. Those kids are Mercer’s son Rob and Hogue’s daughter Barbara and her husband Ron Harle.
For those Washington wine aficionados, the name Mercer Ranch is synonymous with a vineyard producing great grapes. Bud Mercer sold Mercer Ranch Vineyards to Paul Champoux, Mercer Ranch’s vineyard manager, and it is now called Champoux Vineyards, again a name associated with great grape production. These grapes appear in prestigious Washington wines: Quilceda, Woodward Canyon, Andrew Will, Three Rivers, Powers.
There was a 120-acre site adjacent to Champoux Vineyard. Mercer and Hogue planted vineyards there in 2006. Now called Dead Canyon Vineyard, it is planted with red grapes: cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah. Horse Heaven Hills is the appellation for their white wines: chardonnay, pinot gris, riesling and sauvignon blanc.
I personally predict great wine from Mercer Estates. With Mike Hogue, former winery owner; Bud Mercer, with access to the best grapes, and David Forsyth, one of the best winemakers in the state, Mercer Wine Estates will soon be accumulating good reviews and awards and be another feather in Washington state’s winery cap.
Being a new winery, the wines are not widely distributed yet.
Mercer Estates cabernet sauvignon, $23
Mercer Estates merlot, $23
Mercer Estates pinot gris, $14
Mercer Estates riesling, $14
Mercer Estates sauvignon blanc, $14
Mercer Estates chardonnay (not yet released)
Mercer Estates is located in Prosser, not far from the Hogue Cellars Winery.
11th Annual TasteWashington: April 5 and 6. Seminars all day Saturday. Grand Tasting at Qwest Field on Sunday. Contact TasteWashington.org for ticket information. Check QFC for $5 discount tickets for Grand Tasting.
Dee Hitch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.