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DeLille Cellars lays claim to world-class wines

'Uncompromising attitudes towards making the finest wine'

DeLille Cellars

Greg Lill (left) and Chris Upchurch pictured with some of their award winning wines at DeLille Cellars' base of operations in Woodinville's Sammamish River Valley.
Photo by Jeff Switzer/Woodinville Weekly.

DeLille Cellars by Jeff Switzer
DeLille Cellars has a winemaking history stretching back more than 400 years, and with international honors and a reputation for the highest quality, this 5-year-old winery, nestled in the Sammamish River Valley along the Woodinville-Redmond Road, continues to make its mark on the industry.
   Charles Lill and his son Greg, along with winemaker Chris Upchurch and broker Jay Soloss, have run the winery since the fall of 1991 on the family's nine-acre hobby farm bought by Lill 20 years ago.
   "Somewhere in the past 400 years, the 'De' dropped off," said Greg Lill, chief operating officer of the winery. A descendent of Julius DeLille, a brewer and winemaker in Bohemia and what was Czechoslovakia, Greg's father Charles Lill grew up in a winery family, whose Czechoslovakian vineyards were confiscated by the Russians during World War II. A native German, he came to the United States in 1951.
   Lill retired to his renovated 1920 estate house and began connecting with his European roots, producing wine which has received worldwide acclaim.
   DeLille's first crush was in September 1992, and the winery produced 1,300 cases of Bordeaux-style red wine. Chaleur Estate and D2 are blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.
   D2 was so named because it was DeLille's second label, as well as for the Route du Vin known as the "D2" in the Bordeaux region of France, "kind of like the I-5 of France's wine area," Greg Lill said.
   Lill says the "very small winery" will produce about 2,000 cases this year, primarily reds, all aged for 20 months in 100 percent new French oak, followed by six months in a bottle. The barrels are stored at the Woodinville estate, and the bottles are stored in a Woodinville warehouse.
   This November marks the first release of DeLille's white: 250 cases of Chaleur Estate Blanc made from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Chaleur Estate and Harrison Hill, the winery's other label, are $27.50 a bottle; D2 is $18 a bottle.
   "At that price, people expect it to be good wine, and we can't take any shortcuts," Lill said.
   The grapes are all grown in the Yakima valley, some 50 tons harvested and sorted by hand, preventing anything extraneous--pruning shears, files, watches, bad grapes--from getting in the mix. Lill and Upchurch say that as little as one percent of a blend can make a difference, "especially in the nose."
   "Every process we do is handcrafted," said Upchurch. A confessed Francophile, Upchurch says sometimes people think DeLille is being too French. But he stressed the winery's roots. "We are a Pacific Northwest Winery," he said.
   DeLille Cellars has no tasting room or facilities open to the public, save for press or visiting dignitaries. Their wines are released each November and always sell out within a few short months.
   The company does its own distribution, and its wines are available by mail-order, in 40 restaurants throughout the area, and at wine shops which have a manned wine section. But because the wine is expensive, it isn't always on the list and patrons may have to ask for it.
   "Woodinville's great for wineries with the tasting rooms, but we stay pretty quiet," said Greg Lill. "Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia are very generous with help and advice. Everyone is extra helpful; nobody's out there with trade secrets."
   The winery has an interesting story about how they came upon the grapes they use in their fourth wine, Harrison Hill.
   Ste. Michelle owned a four-acre vineyard by contract known as Sunnyside Vineyard, planted by one of the original Associated Vintners, Lloyd Woodburne. The vineyard, second oldest in the state with one acre of 34-year-old vines, had a history of producing very good grapes for Columbia's Cabernet Sauvignon.
   "Ste. Michelle said, 'If you can do something great with them, it's only going to help us,'" Upchurch related. The remaining three acres have been replanted for Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot for the Bordeaux-style blend.

Awards and honors
   DeLille can boast that it is the only winery in the state to have won the Certificate of Excellence from England's Institute of Masters of Wine for its 1992 Chaleur Estate.
   The Wine Spectator gave DeLille's 1993 D2 a score of 92 points and a "highly recommended" rating, and the 1993 Chaleur Estate earned 91 points.
   The Wine Guide, by Robert Parker, author and publisher of The Wine Advocate, rated DeLille Cellars "Outstanding" with five stars, along with Leonetti Cellars and Quilceda Creek.
   For economic reasons, Lill said they hope to expand DeLille Cellars to about 2,500 cases each year. "But we will only expand as outstanding grapes become available to us," added Upchurch. "Somewhere along the line you have to decide if you are going to be a large winery making good, everyday wines, or a tiny winery making exceptional wines," he said.

Second in a series of features on the wineries and breweries which attract so many to the Woodinville area.