GOLDENDALE, Wash. – Richard Batchelor was fresh off of his first harvest and winter in Washington when he happened upon a table at Taste Washington in March 2010 in Seattle. It turned out to be a profound moment in his winemaking career and in the future direction of Maryhill Winery – his new employer.
Batchelor, a New Zealand native who had been working in Napa Valley before coming north to Washington in summer 2009, liked what he was tasting and began chatting with Joe Hattrup, owner of Elephant Mountain Vineyards.
“I tasted through some of the wines made from Elephant Mountain grapes,” Batchelor told Great Northwest Wine. “I really enjoyed all the options and wanted to expand the portfolio.”
That opportunity helped lead him and Maryhill Winery owner Craig Leuthold to create a new tier of wines. Just their second vintage produced a red Rhône-style blend that caught our attention this year and led us to name it our Great Northwest Wine of the Year: the Maryhill Winery 2011 Hattrup Farms Marvell GSM, a $40 blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.
Maryhill Winery gains momentum
Craig and Vicki Leuthold launched Maryhill Winery with the 1999 vintage and opened their showpiece winery in the southern Columbia Valley in 2001. They began with just a few thousand cases and have since grown production to 100,000 cases, making Maryhill one of the largest wine producers in Washington.
After their first winemaker, John Haw, established a high level of quality for Maryhill’s wines, he departed to become a consulting winemaker. Maryhill’s next two winemakers couldn’t help the Leutholds make the jump in production they sought while also keeping quality moving in the right direction. So in 2009, they recruited Batchelor from Napa Valley, where he had spent several years honing his talents.
The improvements under Batchelor were immediately apparent, as his first vintage resulted in remarkable wines across the board.
But the best was yet to come when Batchelor began to immediately explore various corners of Washington’s vast Columbia Valley.
Maryhill Winery launches Vineyard Series
Starting with the relatively cool 2010 vintage, Batchelor created a new tier of wines called the Vineyard Series. The purpose was to showcase specific wines from acclaimed vineyards in various Washington AVAs. Batchelor’s wines included reds from famed Les Collines Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley, as well as Clifton Hill and Northridge on the Wahluke Slope and Alder Ridge in the Horse Heaven Hills.
But the wines that really stood out from these new bottlings were from grapes grown by Hattrup, including his Sugarloaf and Elephant Mountain vineyards.
The Vineyard Series was created not only to showcase the vineyards and regions, but also to give Batchelor a creative outlet and to explore different varieties, including Mourvèdre, Primitivo, Grenache, Carménère, Cinsault and Counoise. The wines are available primarily to Maryhill wine club members, but they also can be tried at the tasting room, which sits atop a basalt cliff overlooking the Columbia River and providing stunning views of the Columbia Gorge and Mount Hood.
Batchelor handles cool 2011 vintage
When the 2011 vintage came along, winemakers quickly realized that 2010 was not an aberration, as 2011 turned out to be even cooler and more difficult. But Hattrup said that gave him the advantage.
“Sugarloaf is a warm site and can ripen those Rhône varieties,” Hattrup said. “We do put a lot of effort into it and are careful about how we manage the vines.”
By the end of the long 2011 season, Hattrup’s Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre had perfectly ripened, and he delivered the fruit to Batchelor, who puts about 9,000 miles on his vehicle each harvest as he criss-crosses the Columbia Valley.
“Going from Walla Walla to Wahluke is a long way,” Batchelor said. “And it’s a really long way from the winery in Goldendale.”
Batchelor said the key to the success of his 2011 wines were on the growers’ shoulders, and Hattrup didn’t disappoint.
“We were able to leave the fruit out for quite a while,” Batchelor said. “It was cooler, but it was a very good season. It’s a meticulous vineyard, and I know everything is done on time and Joe is detail-oriented. Those wines from his two vineyard sites are becoming a real hit in the tasting room, and that’s great to see.”
Plenty to love from 2011
While Maryhill Winery wasn’t alone in gaining praise for the wines from the difficult 2011 vintage, Batchelor’s wines were particularly impressive. For example, Maryhill earned the distinction of “Winery of the Year” at the prestigious San Francisco International Wine Competition last summer, when its wines earned several top awards. Batchelor’s wines pushed Maryhill ahead of several high-end wineries from California and abroad to earn the award.
“We were absolutely stunned,” Leuthold said. “Interestingly, our four wines that showed the best in San Francisco were the Rhône grapes. We can’t ignore those facts.”
In 2014, Maryhill Winery won an astonishing 45 gold and double gold medals – and 35 of them were red wines from the 2011 vintage. And 14 of those were for Rhône varieties, including two gold medals for the GSM Marvell. The Marvell also earned an “Outstanding!” rating in Great Northwest Wine’s blind tastings.
Leuthold said Washington’s ability to grow a wide variety of grapes is both a strength and a weakness.
“Unlike Oregon, which has Pinot Noir to hang its hat on, our diversity is our strength,” he said. “But that also makes us difficult to market. We have to create a brand for our region rather than a specific variety. The most fun I have is the diversity and the high level of quality across the board. And the Rhône grapes seem to like the climate in Eastern Washington.”
More wines coming for Maryhill
Batchelor and Leuthold are not about to rest on their laurels. Instead, they continue to charge forward with new wines and varieties.
In 2015, Maryhill Winery will release 23 different wines under the Vineyard Series, including a Petite Sirah from the Yakima Valley and a Petite Sirah-Zinfandel blend.
That means nine new wines from 2014 – totaling an astonishing 63 different wines being bottled by Maryhill Winery.
“We’re probably at a maximum number of wines,” Leuthold said with a chuckle.
But maybe not. When asked why he doesn’t yet have a Tannat – an obscure French variety – Leuthold admitted he had a bead on a vineyard source and might just include that in the future.