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Expressive wines with balance

Avennia wines taste like they're from an established winery, telling the story of their origination with complexity and balance, echoing Bordeaux and Rhône traditions while flaunting their Washington roots. Yet the winery was launched in 2010 with a first release in 2012. It's all about the two partners, winemaker Chris Peterson and managing partner Marty Taucher.

Marty and Chris met when Marty became a harvest intern at Delille Cellars in 2009 and Chris was the assistant winemaker. "DeLille hired Marty, an ex-Microsoft marketing executive, as a harvest intern. "He was also attending the wine program at South Seattle Community College, and as an assignment was working on a business plan to start a winery." After harvest, Chris and Marty would go to their 'corporate headquarters,' The Fiddler's Inn pub, and talk about Marty's assignment. "He decided if it was something he could be really proud of, he wouldn't be the winemaker. Who would he get? I don't know which of us brought it up, but eventually it became 'what about us doing this together?' Marty looked at it from a business standpoint, the rate we could grow the winery in five years. Then I came up with what that would look like in winemaking terms. By March of 2010, we had signed contracts, and that fall had crushed 15 tons of grapes, to be released with our 2011 white. We had 1,000 cases for our first release."

Chris's winemaking plan was based on what could he do on a world-class level with Washington grapes and be as natural as possible. They don't use commercial yeast, enzymes, or egg white fining (the white grabs the excess tannins). "We used egg white fining on certain wines early on. For certain vintages, you need methods in place to deal with any shortcomings." They also agreed to stay focused on what they wanted to produce, Bordeaux and Rhône-style wines. "It's easy to get sidetracked when someone says, 'hey, I've got some incredible Riesling grapes.' No, that's not what we're doing, stay focused. Everything we've done, both wine and business-wise, has thought and purpose behind it."

They produce about 10 wines, with a core of six: three Bordeaux blends (Gravura-from 30-year-old Merlot vines, Sestina-Left Bank, Valery-Right Bank), a southern Rhône blend (Justine), two Syrahs (Boushey Vineyard Syrah, Discovery Vineyard Syrah), and their Red Willow Cabernet Sauvignon, made from single 1985 planting of Cabernet. They also produce a 100% Sauvignon Blanc (Oliane) with grapes from Boushey and Red Willow vineyards, and a Rose (L'Egerie). "Every little decision we make, whether it's when to pick or something we do in the winemaking, makes the wines different. We like the complexity of old vines."

In 2015, they started a second label, Les Trouvés, but have decided not to pursue it. It's there and they use whatever grapes they have left over from the Rhône wines, which are of the highest quality. It's used as glass pours at restaurants, and sold at Metropolitan Markets, but they aren't buying grapes specifically for Les Trouvés wines. They also make a house wine for Ethan Stowell Restaurants.

"We want to stay a boutique wine," says Chris. "We're pretty much there at 4,500 cases. Opening the tasting room made sense as we grow our membership club. People need a place to taste the wine and pick up their purchases, and we sell to non-members as well. There's so much competition out there, we really needed a better, more professional front face for our wine. If we reach the point where we sell all our wine to members, maybe we won't need a tasting room. We won't make wines specifically for club members. Each wine needs a compelling reason for being."

In addition to Avennia, Chris is the consulting winemaker for Passing Time wines, owned by Dan Marino, Damon Huard (both former NFL stars), Doug Donnelly, and Kevin Hughes. Their first release from the 2012 vintage was 500 cases of Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon. In 2014, they added two more Cabs, getting grapes from Red Mountain and Walla Walla, and taking over the physical space vacated next to Avennia. "That year was the best Cab vintage I've seen," says Chris. "We got the first fruit off the Champoux block in Horse Heaven Hills. I had access to '84 vines from Klipsun on Red Mountain. And Chris Figgins (Leonetti, Figgins Family Wine Estates) helped us secure Walla Walla grapes from Seven Hills and Pepper Bridge, as well as Merlot from Figgins Family for us. Passing Time will probably stick with the three Cabs. They only open once or twice a year to the public."

Passing Time production warehouse with football door

Chris Peterson has landed in the right places at the right times. He studied abroad his last quarter in college (France) and loved the Bordeaux wines. He came home with a renewed interest in wine, and visited Walla Walla with his dad and snuck into a DeLille event with his brother in 2000. "Those wines were other-worldly." In 2001, he was driving a FedEx truck and thinking he couldn't do it forever. When Walla Walla Community College started their enology and viticulture program, he enrolled and attended from 2001-2003. Stan Clarke and Myles Anderson were teachers and there were 8-10 students. "I think I was the first to complete all the courses," Chris recalls. "I had a job set up with a winery in Walla Walla when Stan told me there was a job open at DeLille and he got me an interview. Chris Upchurch eventually hired me. I started as the cellar master, became the assistant in 2005, and the production winemaker in 2006. I was there eight years, leaving in 2011. In that time, we went from 5,000 to 12,000 cases, and started a new label, Doyenne. I helped design new wines and got to play around with older wines."

Chris at Avennia tasting room, Woodinville

Although done growing Avennia, they are still refining, plus there are things on the horizon they can't talk about just yet. Keep an eye on Chris and get to the Avennia tasting room; you'll be in wine heaven.

19255 Woodinville-Snohomish Rd NE
Woodinville, WA 98072

Connie Adams/February 2018

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