Last year, I was able to taste through Milbrandt Vineyard’s portfolio of wines, and quickly became a fan of their straight-forward, well made and affordable selections. Today I was able to taste through their new vintages, this time accompanied by owner Butch Milbrandt, whose eponymous wines showed just as well as I remembered.
The Milbrandts are a family of farmers, and have worked the land of Oregon and Eastern Washington for the better half of a century. They have only recently come into the wine business, planting their first vines in 1997, and launching their winery in 2005, and their roots as farmers are indelibly marked in their approach to the wines they make. If there is any question as to where Butch’s heritage lies, it is dispelled by one glance at the wide brimmed hat that sits on top of his head at all times – even indoors.
While not having a background in wine, it is the Milbrandt’s eye for land as farmers that have made them successful. By judiciously buying great vineyard sites, they have accumulated 2,300 acres of vineyards that produce highly sought after fruit, bought by some of the highest profile wineries in the business. If you’ve had a bottle of Chateau Ste. Michelle in the last ten years, chances are that many of the grapes that were squeezed to make it were grown by Milbrandt Vineyards. Rock-star winemaker Charles Smith’s Kung-Fu Girl Riesling (a perennial 90 point wine in Wine Spectator) is not only made from Milbrandt fruit, but is actually made at Milbrandt’s winery.
Harvest is in full-swing now across Milbrandt’s two-thousand acres of vineyards, and I asked Butch how he managed to get away to share his wines with the small trade group that met to taste with him. “Harvest actually started two weeks ago, and will continue into mid-November. Pinot Gris comes first – we harvest that at only 21 or 22 brix, then Riesling and Chardonnay, then Merlot and Cabernet. It all depends on the site and the grape.” Unlike some wineries, whose holdings extend to just a handful of acres and a couple of grape varieties, and whose harvest consists of just a few fevered weeks or even days, Milbrandt’s diverse collection of vineyards, each with their own mesoclimate and terroir, required months of attention. As to how he was able to get away, he assured me that the grapes were in good hands, and despite the fact that he was not at the winery, he was keeping close watch on what was happening at each vineyard site. “Every morning, our viticulture manager and our winemaker are in the vineyards, testing and tasting. They upload the Brix, yields and other information onto Dropbox.” Up until that moment, I never thought to associate cloud storage and winemaking, but Dropbox allows Butch to keep track of every detail of harvest, even while pouring wine for a group of thirsty retailers and restaurateurs.
The current vintage of Milbrandt’s wines show that Butch and the rest of the Milbrandt family made an inspired choice to move into the wine business, as all the wines demonstrate a fantastic purity of fruit and a straightforward, earnest appeal that makes them feel solid and satisfying. The wines are divided into two main tiers – Traditions and Estate. The Traditions tier is value driven, with prices ranging from $10.99 – $15.99, while the Estate tier prices in between $17.99 and $21.99. Don’t let the low price of the Traditions line fool you – they are quality wines that outperform for their price point. They other wines are perform well for their price as well, and all deserve a purchase.
I didn’t take the best notes while tasting the line-up, as I wanted to give my attention to Butch, but I did manage to jot down a few impressions.
Milbrandt Chardonnay Traditions 2012
Bright pear and green apple on the nose. The palate is surprisingly light for a Chardonnay, with minimal oak influence. Pear and apple continue on the palate, as well as a touch of lemon, which keeps things vibrant and playful. If you’re looking for a dry, stately Chardonnay, this will leave you wanting, but if you’re looking for something jazzy to pair with your chicken and pear salad with blue cheese, this is just the ticket.
Milbrandt Chardonnay Evergreen Vineyard 2012
The clean apple and pear flavors from the Traditions bottling are still present in this single vineyard Chardonnay, but wrapped in a rich coating of oak and cream. The mouthfeel is noticeably viscous, rolling around the tongue with caramel apple, vanilla and honeyed lemon. This a beautifully creamy fruit-driven Chardonnay.
Milbrandt Cabernet The Estate 2010
Dark purple in the glass, this wine exhibits ripe black fruit of the nose. Chewy on the palate, with big tannins and dark fruit wrestling it out on the tongue. Finishes long, leaving you with an impression of cocoa nibs and espresso. This is a great big Washington Cabernet, and while good now, it will reward a couple of years in the cellar as the brawny tannins come into balance.
Milbrandt Sentinel Wahluke Slope Northridge Vineyard 2010
This is the stunner of the lineup, and while it is primarily Cabernet, it possesses a roundness that the Estate Vineyard Cabernet lacks. The tannins here are grippy, but are melded nicely with the rich flavors of cassis, anise and blackberry jam. Rich, graceful and delicious, this bottle deserves to be shared with friends.