Young Woodinville winery at the top of its game

GREAT NORTHWEST WINEApril 25, 2013 

If anything can be perceived by looking at Chris Peterson's first releases for Avennia, then Washington wine lovers are in for a treat. Not that initial success guarantees the future, but Peterson has a much better-than-average opportunity at greatness.

Though Avennia is one of Woodinville's newest wineries, Peterson, 42, is no newcomer to the Washington wine scene. The University of Washington grad worked for FedEx before deciding his calling was wine. So he headed east of the Cascades, where he was among the first graduates of the Walla Walla Community College winemaking program.

From there, he landed a job at DeLille Cellars in Woodinville, a winery with one of the finest reputations in the state for red blends and Syrahs. He became assistant winemaker, working for Chris Upchurch.

Along the way, he met Marty Taucher, an Oregon native who was a Microsoft executive and avid wine collector. After retiring from Microsoft in 1999, he began taking winemaking classes at South Seattle Community College and landed an internship at DeLille.

"We got to talking," Peterson said. "He wanted to do something fun, so we decided to get into business together."

Their first crush was 2010, with Peterson still at DeLille. He left the following spring after six years with DeLille, and they moved Avennia - a name inspired by the ancient French city of Avignon - to a nearby warehouse. Their first release, which includes four 2010 reds and a 2011 white, totals 1,100 cases. And Peterson managed to obtain grapes from some amazing vineyards, including Bacchus and Dionysus north of Pasco, Boushey and Red Willow in the Yakima Valley, Alder Ridge in the Horse Heaven Hills and Kiona on Red Mountain.

"My DeLille connection opened the door, no doubt," Peterson said. "But we still had to convince grape growers we were serious. They really care about where their fruit goes, so it took some convincing."

With the success of his first wines, including a Boushey Vineyard-designated Syrah that sold out almost immediately, Peterson should have an easier time getting the grapes he wants.

Avennia is available primarily at Seattle area wine shops and restaurants and on www.avennia.com.

Though Peterson and Taucher don't have a tasting room, they have three release parties per year for those on their mailing list.

Their 2011 reds and 2012 white will be about 1,700 cases, and they hope to build to about 4,500 cases, which would come close to maxing out their current facility.

Here are their two red blends, which we recently tasted and found to be outstanding.

Avennia 2010 Sestina, Columbia Valley, $50: The first vintage by this new Woodinville, Wash., operation is a stunner. It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (73%), Merlot (18%) and Cabernet Franc using grapes from Bacchus Vineyard's Block 10, a section of Sagemoor planted in 1972. It's a gorgeous wine with aromas of Vermont maple syrup, black walnut and facial powder, followed by flavors of dark chocolate, pomegranate and black cherry. The sturdy tannins are beautifully balanced with the rich dark fruit and sprinkle of cocoa powder. This wine drinks beautifully now, yet it will only get better for the next few years.

Avennia 2010 Gravura, Columbia Valley, $35: Winemaker Chris Peterson declassified seven barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc that did not go into his top-drawer Sestina blend - meaning they didn't fit what he was seeking. The result is in no way a step down, except in price. This is a stunning red that uses grapes from Bacchus, Red Willow and Klipsun vineyards. It opens with aromas of plum, sage, oak, smoked almond and black cherry, followed by a bold entry of ripe dark fruit, dark chocolate and espresso. Drink now or sometime in the next decade.

Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Great Northwest Wine. For more information, go to greatnorthwestwine.com.

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