In 2012, California-based E. & J. Gallo Winery bought Columbia Winery. Now, Columbia has just released its latest 2012 wines.
The Chardonnay, Red Blend, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that were released earlier this month will only be available in the Northwest until later this year — a way to "pay homage and recognize Columbia’s roots," said Kristina Kelley, director of public relations for Gallo.
Columbia’s roots go back to 1962, when 10 friends — six of them University of Washington professors — founded Associated Vintners to focus on making table wines with European grapes. In the 1980s, the company changed its name to Columbia Winery and opened a tasting room in Woodinville, one of the first wineries here.
Columbia’s four newest wines represent changes in winemaking and sourcing. Winemaker Sean Hails said he sourced fruit from the Yakima Valley, Horse Heaven Hills and Wahluke Slope for these wines.
"They’re wonderful everyday food wines," Hails said.
The 2012 Chardonnay has flavors of apple and pear that are stronger than the oak flavor, Hails said. He also experimented with different yeast strains and cooler fermentation for this Chardonnay.
The Composition Red Blend uses a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah grapes from 2010 and 2011. Hails said he plans to release similar Composition blends every year.
"Moving forward, it’ll be the same idea from a blending standpoint," he said. "It gives me some flexibility and a place to play."
The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Hails said, is "varietally correct. You definitely know it’s Cabernet." It has good acidity and is good to drink with food, he added.
The 2012 Merlot has cherry and dark fruit flavors, with notes of spice and mocha, Hails said.
The wines aren’t the only thing that’s new at Columbia; the tasting room will begin renovations this week, said John Sportelli, senior manager of Columbia Winery.
When the renovations are done, Columbia will have a new private tasting room and an educational room where customers can learn more about the winemaking process. The tasting room will also be repainted for a high-energy look, Sportelli said. (The tasting room will still be open during the two to three weeks of renovations.)
Educating customers about the blend of art and science that goes into winemaking is one of Columbia’s main goals, Sportelli said.
"Our focus is on education when a customer comes in ...and we want to do it fun," he
explained. "We give you as much information as you want."
Columbia has also introduced new packaging and a new logo in the hopes of targeting a new audience.
"We’re looking at the consumer that’s really a foodie enthusiast ... the customer that enjoys a good food and wine pairing," Sportelli said.
To that end, Columbia’s tasting room has a chef on staff who prepares foods, such as unique flatbreads, to accompany the wines.
"It’s good to drink wine, but it’s at its best when it’s served with food," Sportelli said.