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Upchurch Vineyard

When worlds merge, part 2

Last month, we talked with Chris and Thea Upchurch about their backgrounds and what led them to start Upchurch Vineyard. This month, we'll talk about the vineyard, harvest 2017, and what's next.

"When land became available on Red Mountain, I offered it first to DeLille," recalls Chris. "They weren't ready to spend the money, but I had growers telling me 'don't think, buy.' It seemed self-evident; this is special property. I bought and planted it in 2007. I wanted to make wine here, but also knew that DeLille could use the grapes, too. Dick Boushey is our Vineyard Manager." They have combined Red Mountain terroir with European "small vine" methods. Worlds merging. In addition, they practice low-impact sustainable farming, certified by L.I.V.E. (Low Input Viticulture and Enology), and are certified Salmon Safe. They make 700 cases of very select wine, and will eventually make 1,500 cases maximum.

Chris in the vineyard, above, courtesy of Upchurch Vineyard

Kelsey, Thea, Chris in Kirkland, below

"This is something we really wanted to do: create a generational vineyard," says Chris. "One vineyard, one family, one wine. I couldn't do it at DeLille, there are too many partners. Kelsey, our daughter, works with us. We've launched another label which is Merlot dominant, called Counterpart. Both of our wines are estate wines. One is Cab dominant with just 10% Merlot. Counterpart is 65%/35% Cab/Merlot. This percentage changes yearly." Thea adds, "We have made Rose, 25 cases, that we pour for friends and family. It is not for sale. We keep a library of 10 cases of each vintage we've ever made. They're not for sale. We keep them to do verticals later to showcase how beautifully they age. Our model is to send the wine we make to our members. They buy in July, wine is released in November, and then what little is left is distributed, and we are sold out."

2017 has been an interesting year. "I think it's been a great year," says Chris. "We've had smoke, cold, heat. One thing I learned, mainly from Australian research, is that it's not the amount of smoke that harms grapes, it's the concentration. It almost has to be right next to the vineyard. It can do the most damage during veraison when skins are loosening and the color of the grapes is changing. We didn't have smoke during veraison this year. Smoke can also act like cloud cover and slow things down."

Thea brings up the latest family project: Sauvignon Blanc. "We're using cement eggs," says Chris. "Cement is a great insulator, there's no temperature fluctuation. There's been no reduction so far. The egg shape keeps the wine stirring itself, so there's no need to open the egg. We're leaving the wine sur lees for up to 18 months. We don't put it through malolactic fermentation, so there's more acidity. We've done one vintage and are on the second one. We're hoping to take Washington Sauvignon Blanc to a new level."

Chris is proud of the winemakers he's mentored at DeLille; those who are there now and who have moved on to do great things. "Jason Gorski graduated from Duke and is great. Nick Bernstein has made wine in the Margaret River area near Perth, Australia. Our enologist, Mari Rossi, is from the Cornell enology program. She's the best lab person I've seen in 26 years. Chris Peterson moved on to Avennia, Louis Skinner is at Betz. It's not that hard to find the right people. You can tell if they want to roll up their sleeves and get into it. It's a passion and we're craftsmen. You're not a winemaker when you come out of school. You get the basics there, but you have to work it to become a winemaker." Thea adds, "It's a sixth sense, not a formula."

Upchurch Cabernet Sauvignon and Counterpart wines, courtesy of Upchurch Vineyard

What's important to Chris and Thea with Upchurch Vineyard is setting up Kelsey with something of quality and a great reputation. The generational aspect is what they're after. "What Kelsey does with it is her business, but we expect her to contribute and take over more management duties. She is not interested in being a winemaker," says Chris. "But I'm not gone yet, I enjoy this. We made 1,400 cases at DeLille in the beginning, and this is like going back to that time. This has been fun for me and I'm glad we've done it."

Click here to read Part 1 of this story

Connie Adams/December 2017

Upchurch Vineyard
32901 Vineyard View PR NE
Benton City, WA 99320

Winery dog Paco, keepin' it real

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