Understanding Ferguson

December 27, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

Do experiences have expiration dates? Of course not. As long as we learn something, the experience has its value – and thus it can be shared.

And so here I am, sharing another experience from 2 years ago. Yesterday, I was talking about the Sanford tasting which took place in June of 2019. Today, I’m sharing yet another experience from the same June of 2019. Just follow along, please.

I remember attending a trade tasting in New York, probably about 5 or 6 years ago. One of the wineries at that tasting was L’Ecole No 41, one of the best wineries in Walla Walla in Washington. The rep poured a taste for me and proudly said “this is Ferguson, our newest vineyard, and this wine is amazing, taste it”. I can still vividly remember the punch of tannins from the first sip and my very first thought “how is this amazing, I can’t taste anything here”.

L’Ecole No 41 needs no introduction to the wine lovers. The third winery in Walla Walla in Washington, founded by Jean and Baker Ferguson in 1983, one year before Walla Walla received an official AVA status. From the moment the winery was created, the focus was always on the Bordeaux varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot.

Seven Hills Vineyard, 230 acres estate on the Oregon side of the appellation, is one of the oldest vineyards in Walla Walla, planted in 1980. L’Ecole No 41 manages Seven Hills Vineyard together with Pepper Bridge Winery and Leonetti Cellars, and it is a source of more than 1/3 of L’Ecole’s total red wine production.

The second vineyard, Pepper Bridge Vineyard, was planted in 1991 on the Washington side of Walla Walla. L’Ecole was the first winery to produce wines from the Pepper Bridge Vineyard.

In 2008, Ferguson Vineyard, named in honor of the founders of the winery, was planted on high elevation (1,350 ft – 1,450 ft) not far from the Seven Hills Vineyard, a thin layer of soil over the fractured basalt from 15-million-year-old lava flows. The vineyard now is 42 acres in size and the source of the latest additions to the L’Ecole portfolio – the one I was unable to appreciate during that trade tasting.

When I got the invite to attend L’Ecole No 41 tasting in New York at the Grapes and Grains restaurant, I got excited about the opportunity to have a deeper dive and learn more about L’Ecole No 41 wines.

What I learned from Constance Savage, General Manager of L’Ecole No 41 is that L’Ecole can be safely called a high mountain desert winery, with only 8” of precipitation per year. Irrigation is available, but very much controlled, forcing the vines to work hard.

The winemaking approach at the winery is very simple – let the terroir speak. Always do the same at the winery, and let Mother Nature to express itself. The winery is not trying to achieve persistent taste – and this can be easily seen in wines through the differences between the vintages. And this all works because the climate is very consistent.

We tasted through 4 sets of wines, each set containing 3 wines. Here is what I tasted with my notes.

The first set consisted of the 3 “classics” from the same 2008 vintage – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. The wines were 11 years old when I tasted them, and still you can see that they were still showing substantial level tanning and potential to evolve for the next 10–20 years.

2008 L’Ecole no 41 Estate Merlot Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in small French oak barrels, 40% new)
Cherries, iodine, mint
Tart cherries, pepper, a touch of vanilla
8

2008 L’Ecole no 41 Estate Cabernet Franc Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 100% Cabernet Franc, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 33% new, 198 cases produced)
Black currant, a touch of mocha
Tart, black currant, dry, very noticeable tannins
8, Block 8 Cabernet Franc is typically used for blending, except in the best years when enough grapes are harvested, so this wine was produced in 2006 and again in 2008.

2008 L’Ecole no 41 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new, 188 cases produced)
Touch of sweet oak, black currant
Much more open than cab franc, but still tannins are present


The next set of wines was made with the fruit from Seven Hills Vineyard, and they all belonged to the series called Perigee – as a scientific term, Perigee is the closest point to the Earth in the Moon’s orbit. The focus of these wines is on the earthy characteristics of the Seven Hills Vineyard.

2006 L’Ecole no 41 Perigee Estate Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.4% ABV, 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new)
Great complexity, plums, a touch of smoke and roasted meat, fresh onion peel (sorry about that)
Sweet plums, black currant, vanilla, good acidity, dry finish
8

2011 L’Ecole no 41 Perigee Estate Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new)
Closed nose
The palate is raspberry driven, good acidity, good minerality

2016 L’Ecole no 41 Perigee Estate Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 9% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 40% new)
Fresh, bright, fresh leaves, freshly crushed berries
Vanilla, plums, mocha, young, big body, soft and velvety initially, with the tannins gripping mouth in the second wave
8

Next, we tasted the Apogee series of wines, sourced from the Pepper Bridge Vineyard. Apogee is the point in the orbit of the Moon when it has the greatest distance to Earth. The focus of these wines is to showcase the ultimate expression of the fruit.

2006 L’Ecole no 41 Apogee Estate Pepper Bridge Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.3% ABV, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 8% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Franc, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new)
Touch of barnyard, intense, blackberries, minerality
Sapidity, onion jam, dark berries, baking spice, minerality,
8, wines are a lot more massive than previous ones

2010 L’Ecole no 41 Apogee Estate Pepper Bridge Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 7% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Franc, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new)
Elegant, raspberries, fresh
Round, clean, well-structured tannins, delicious
9-

2016 L’Ecole no 41 Apogee Estate Pepper Bridge Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 11% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Franc, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new)
Not ready – beautiful fruit and acidity, but tannins covering completely

And finally, the Ferguson. The vineyard built on top of the balsamic rock, so we should expect to see expressive minerality.

2011 L’Ecole no 41 Estate Ferguson Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new)
Smoke, gunflint, not a lot of fruit
Dark, powerful, perfectly structured, Bordeaux style, perfectly drinkable
9-

2016 L’Ecole no 41 Estate Ferguson Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 6% Cabernet Franc, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new)
Young fruit, crunchy berries,
Killer tannins, lock your mouth
Not ready

2014 L’Ecole no 41 Cabernet Sauvignon Ferguson Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 40% new)
Dark fruit, minerality
Touch of Black Currant, coffee, tannins are still overpowering, but you can taste the beauty of the wine. Needs at least another 10 years
8+

So what did I learn about Ferguson? These wines need time. And with time, they can be some of the best wines Washington has to offer.

As you can tell, 2011 Ferguson and 2010 Apogee were two of my most favorite wines, but really, give them time, and you will not go wrong with any of these wines. And it is interesting that all of the 2006 and 2008 can still enjoy more time in the cellar. For sure, L’Ecole makes some serious wines.

Do the experiences have expiration dates? Maybe only those which are not shared. Here, I did my part.

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