Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Robison Ranch Cellars - 2010!

Our valley has long been known for wheat and with the growth of vineyards in the horizon, vineyard expansion and wine production has not been embraced by everyone in our prolific little valley. However, it’s exciting when some of the valley’s wheat ranchers do get behind the wine community and understand it's importance to the livelihood in Walla Walla – creating more jobs and revenue.

Jim Robison, of Robison Ranch, a third-generation, family-owned ranch located in Walla Walla County, is one of those wheat ranchers who is delighted the wine industry has taken root in the Valley. It’s no surprise, especially when Robison Ranch also owned a specialty foods company featuring agriculture products such as pickled vegetables (asparagus, green beans, etc), Walla Walla Sweet Onions and was also one of the nation’s largest producers of shallots. So it seems only natural they would take the next step and open a winery.

Brad Riordan and Jim Robison have teamed together to form Robison Ranch Cellars. Like Jim, Brad also has some strong roots planted. He had the good fortune to have studied under Stan Clarke, former Associate Director at the Center for Enology and Viticulture at WWCC before Stan died in November of 2007. From learning at Stan's "knee," Brad established a small hobby vineyard (1/4 acre 220 plants of Merlot and Syrah) and later in 2005 he produced 60 gallons of "vins de garage" Cabernet Sauvignon from Spofford Station Vineyards. Eventually Jim Robison would sample the 2005 Cabernet and asked Brad if he would be interested expanding his wine hobby out at the Robison Ranch. And do I dare say, "the rest is history" as they became a bonded winery in May, 2008.

During this long winter naturally I was "more than happy" to sample some of their first "garagista-style" wines due to the generosity of Brad and Jim's daughter, Margaret Robison Ely. The Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah were produced with local fruit and showed all the character of Walla Walla terroir. The real surprise was Brad's "Tuscan-blend" of Sangiovese and Cabernet. Hearty, yet with a velvety finish and so generous with flavors and nose. This, no doubt could be Brad's signature wine. One important thing I learned about these wines - - very food friendly.

This last weekend we did some barrel sampling out at the Robison Ranch. First of all, let me say before I get on with descriptions of wines, the hospitality of Jim and Brad was wonderful - a first class barrel sampling! And one more thing - - this ain't no "hobby-tasting" wine. Brad has the talent to understand the fruit and is pulling out their best qualities. With the first crush of 2008, Robison Ranch will produce about 300 cases. During the barrel sampling we were generously treated to tastes from several barrels and some of the real show stoppers were a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and a rose'.

One of the Cabernet Sauvignons was produced with fruit from Dwelley Jones Vineyards. It was big, complex and showing the characteristics that Walla Walla fruit is known for. The Syrah from Spofford Station had a smoky, bacon-y nose and the flavors of ripe and juicy blueberries. The Bordeaux-style rose' was aromatic, crisp and the notes of Cabernet Franc were dominant. The beautiful dark-pink color was not only striking in the glass, but the essence of strawberry was lively. At first taste, all of us were "oohing and ahhing" and even Jim Robison, with a slight smile and a gleam in his blue eyes, modestly said, "It's not bad."

If you expect to see Robison Ranch Cellars wines in the near future, you're going to have to be patient. Remember the ol' saying: "Anything worth having is worth waiting for."

Robison Ranch Cellars goal is to have their wines out on the market about mid-2010. The red wines will age an average about 18+ months in a deliberate combination of new and old oak. Brad's approach to winemaking is very much like the Robison family's style of doing things: conservative and committed to quality - - or nothing.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I am from Prescott and I used to work for Gene Robison during the years of 1956 to 1958. I drove cat and pulled machine in Harvest. at the age of 16. I worked there the last time in 1964 driving my first self propelled combinel. No air conditioning. and the tar weed was bad that year. I had just returned from the Army in Europe so was glad to have a job right away before I went back to college that fall. My father was Spud Divens, the UPRR agent in Prescott. I always enjoyed working for Gene, even though I got a few good ass chewing when I did something wrong. When I went into the Army, the Sargeants didnt bother me at all after working for Gene a few years. Glad to hear you are now in the wine business and hope you do well. Merle Divens
Vancouver Washington retired home builder.

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