For more than a decade, Casey and Vicky McClellan had the only winery on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley.
But being in Milton-Freewater was a bit of a no-man’s land. Seven Hills Winery was not a Washington winery, so it couldn’t easily be involved in Washington wine events. And it was more than 200 miles away from Portland and the Willamette Valley and, thus, was virtually ignored by the Oregon wine industry.
So in May 2000, the McClellans relocated to downtown Walla Walla, sharing a building with Whitehouse-Crawford, one of the best restaurants in Eastern Washington. Being a block away from the revitalized Marcus Whitman Hotel and the energetic downtown corridor has been much more profitable for Seven Hills Winery.
Ironically, about a half-dozen wineries are on the Oregon side of the valley, and more than 20 wineries are just north of the state line. But the McClellans aren’t looking back.
Casey McClellan has always worked both sides of the border. The fourth-generation farmer was born in Oregon City but grew up in Walla Walla. In 1982, he joined his father in planting Seven Hills Vineyard, which became one of the first commercial vineyards in the valley. Today, that vineyard is owned by Gary Figgins (Leonetti Cellar), Marty Clubb (L’Ecole No. 41) and Norm McKibben (Pepper Bridge Winery). It produces the most cherished grapes in the Walla Walla Valley and is easily one of the top vineyards in Oregon, regardless of the fact that not a single Pinot Noir grape is grown there. Six years after the vineyard was first planted, the McClellans launched Seven Hills Winery.
We recently tasted through several new wines from Seven Hills Winery, all crafted by Casey McClellan. Ask for them at your favorite wine shop or contact the winery directly.
Seven Hills Winery 2012 Carménère, Walla Walla Valley, $30: Carménère, a red Bordeaux variety once thought lost to history, enjoys a renaissance in the soils of the Walla Walla Valley, and this is a delicious example, thanks to aromas of deep black cherry, cinnamon powder and black pepper, followed by flavors of blackberry and hints of minerality and bay leaf. It’s all tethered together with suave tannins and juicy acidity. (13.7 percent alcohol)
Seven Hills Winery 2013 Pinot Gris, Oregon, $17: For this bottling, Casey McClellan uses grapes from Oregon’s Willamette and Umpqua valleys. A theme of orchard fruit and rounded acidity makes for a fascinating and dry Pinot Gris. Aromas and flavors white peach, Anjou pear and starfruit lead to a smooth entry followed by lemon/lime acidity that continues to push into a finish of fresh apricots. (13 percent alcohol)
Seven Hills Winery 2012 McClellan Estate Vineyard Petit Verdot, Walla Walla Valley, $35: This cellar-worthy bottling features lovely ripe purple fruit aromas and vanilla extract with floral notes of lavender and lilac, which give way to dense flavors of blackberry and black currant.
Seven Hills Winery 2012 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard, Red Mountain, $45: This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc provides graceful aromas and flavors of dried herbs, dusty Bing cherry, black currant and dark chocolate. There’s the typical Red Mountain assertiveness of fine-grained tannins.
Seven Hills Winery 2012 Seven Hills Vineyard Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $38: Blackberry, blueberry, plum and tar aromas are joined by white chocolate, chalkboard dust and black pepper. The flavor profile is one of dark purple fruit amid a suave and lengthy structure of fine-grained tannins and blueberry acidity. (14.2 percent alcohol)
Seven Hills Winery 2012 Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $30: Creamy blackberry and dark plum aromas pick up notes of chalkboard dust, allspice and brioche. Black cherry, black plum and Marionberry flavors lead into an elegantly structured midpalate that transitions into a complex finish of chocolate-covered pomegranate, anise, fennel and black pepper. (14.4 percent alcohol)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.