Auclair Winery takes prize for Washington’s earliest harvest

By on August 31, 2015
Charlie Auclair in Artz Vineyard on Washington's Red Mountain.

Charlie Auclair, owner and winemaker for Auclair Winery in Woodinville, Wash., checks Cabernet Franc in Artz Vineyard. Auclair harvested Sauvignon Blanc from the Red Mountain vineyard on Aug. 6, which likely is the earliest harvest in Washington’s wine history. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

WOODINVILLE, Wash. – Remember Washington’s historically early harvest, those Chardonnay grapes that went to Treveri Cellars on Aug. 7?

It turns out a Woodinville winemaker picked Red Mountain Sauvignon Blanc one day earlier – making that what likely is the earliest harvest in the history of the Washington wine industry.

Charlie Auclair, owner and winemaker for Auclair Winery, brought in the white wine grapes from Artz Vineyard on Red Mountain.

“I was certainly shocked,” Auclair told Great Northwest Wine. “I was here the weekend before for Fred Artz’s memorial here up on the bluff. Just out of curiosity, I went down to my rows of Sauv Blanc to taste them, and I said, ‘OK, these taste ripe.’ ”

Artz, a longtime grape grower on Red Mountain, died in January at the age of 64. He worked for Klipsun Vineyards beginning in 1984 and planted his own vineyard next door in 1996.

Auclair Winery produces just shy of 1,000 cases of wine at its location in the area of the Woodinville Warehouse District called “Artisan Hill.” The facility is near where such producers as Betz Family Winery and Ross Andrew Winery began.

Auclair Winery’s humble beginnings

Artz Vineyard is on Washington's Red Mountain

Artz Vineyard is on Red Mountain. Fred Artz planted his vines in 1996. Artz died earlier this year. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Auclair, a Massachusetts native, fell in love with wine after a 1980s visit to California’s Napa Valley. In 1992, he moved to Washington, where he is an engineer.

“My company builds aircraft assembly lines,” he said.

Auclair began making wine as a hobby in 2000, and since then, “it’s gotten out of hand.”

In 2008, he decided to launch Auclair Winery. He didn’t originally plan to get grapes from Red Mountain.

“It was fortuitous,” he said. “I had arranged to get Sauv Blanc from another vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills. In June, the grower said he didn’t have enough crop to give me any grapes. I panicked.”

Fortunately, Auclair had a friend in the Boeing Wine Club, an organization of amateur winemakers that happens to get Sauvignon Blanc from Artz Vineyard.

“So he put in the largest order for Sauv Blanc in the history of the Boeing Wine Club,” Auclair said with a laugh. “They usually get hundreds of pounds, not thousands.”

After he made the wine, Auclair brought a bottle to the vineyard the following spring and met with Artz.

“He tasted it. He became thoughtful for a few minutes, then he looked at me and said, ‘OK, what else would you like?'”

These days, Auclair Winery brings in 10 tons of red wine grapes from Artz, as well as 3 tons of whites. It also buys grapes from Heart of the Hill, a vineyard owned by Kiona Vineyards & Winery.

Auclair Winery’s wines

Charlie Auclair checks Cabernet Franc grapes in Artz Vineyard on Red Mountain.

Charlie Auclair of Auclair Winery in Woodinville, Wash., checks the status of Cabernet Franc grapes at Artz Vineyard on Red Mountain. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Auclair focuses on Bordeaux varieties. In addition to Sauvignon Blanc, he also gets Sèmillon, another white grape.

On the red side, Auclair produces multiple blends. His Right Blend leads with Merlot, in the style of Bordeaux’s Right Bank wines. His Left Blend is heavy on Cabernet Sauvignon, similar to Left Bank reds.

Auclair also makes a blend called 96 Cedars, which uses barrels that don’t fit the Right or Left blends.

“The 96 Cedars allows me to be very selective for the Left and the Right,” he said.

He also produces a Cabernet Sauvignon and – for the first time – a Petit Verdot that has proven so popular, he’s already down to eight cases.

As for that 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Auclair picked the grapes at a little more than 22 brix (a measurement of percentage of sugar). The ripeness so caught him by surprise. He already had a week-long trip to Europe planned – which he left for when those grapes came in and were starting to ferment.

Auclair Winery is more than a hobby, but it’s not quite yet a livelihood, as his day job continues to help cover the bills.

His tasting room at 18654 142nd Ave. N.E. is open from noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is founding partner of Great Northwest Wine LLC and a longtime wine columnist. He is a third-generation journalist who has worked at newspapers since the mid-1980s and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Eric Degerman and served as its editor-in-chief for 15 years. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books.


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