KENNEWICK, Wash. – In February, Greg Powers got his first taste of an obscure red wine called Marquette. Seven months later, he’s making the only commercial Marquette in Washington.
The owner and winemaker for Powers Winery and Badger Mountain Vineyards brought in 2.7 tons of Marquette from Champoux Vineyards – an estate vineyard for Powers. He has enough juice for fewer than 200 cases of wine, which will fit perfectly into his wine club and tasting room.
“The fruit tastes great,” Powers told Great Northwest Wine. “It makes a nice wine that’s easy to drink. We can make this work.”
Marquette is a relatively new grape variety developed at the University of Minnesota. It is bred to be able to handle extreme winter lows of minus-40 – the temperature where Fahrenheit meets Celsius. It is planted primarily across northern states such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Vermont, New York and Maine.
Champoux planted it at his eponymous vineyard in 2011, not because of extreme temperatures but rather because he went to Marquette High School in Yakima.
In 2013, Champoux brought in his first harvest of the grape on Aug. 18 – at that time one of the earliest starts to harvest in Washington history. Charlie Hoppes of Fidelitas made the wine for Champoux the first three years.
In 2014, Champoux and his wife, Judy, decided to retire and sold their shares of the vineyard to the owners of Quilceda Creek Vintners in Snohomish.
Powers, Champoux go back 25 years
Beginning in 1996, the vineyard had been a partnership between Paul and Judy Champoux and four wineries: Quilceda Creek, Powers, Woodward Canyon and Andrew Will.
Powers and his father, Bill, began buying fruit from Champoux Vineyards – then called Mercer Ranch Vineyards – in 1992, then joined the partnership four years later.
Bill Powers died two years ago at the age of 88. He was a pioneer in organic grape growing and winemaking in Washington.
“Paul’s a special friend,” Greg Powers said. “These grapes are special to Paul, so I said I’d take them.”
Champoux was pleased that Powers agreed to take the grapes this year.
“Having just a couple of tons is difficult for most wineries to take,” Champoux said. “I am interested to see how it goes.”
While Champoux no longer owns his namesake vineyard, he and Judy still own a home and small vineyard called Lady Hawk next to Champoux Vineyards. He enjoys keeping an eye on the grapes throughout the season, sending photos to fellow Marquette enthusiasts.
This year, Champoux noted that the Marquette began changing color from green to red – known as veraison – in late June. He was concerned that the grapes could actually be ready to harvest by the end of July. Fortunately, moderate temperatures put the brakes on ripening, and the grapes were brought in Monday. That put it a couple of weeks later than last year’s record-early harvest.
Walter Clore Center stages Marquette tasting
In January, the Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center in Prosser played host to a tasting of Marquette from across the country. Champoux organized the event, gathering examples of the wine from several states.
The tasting drew a crowd of winemakers, grape growers and wine researchers that filled the room. The group tasted a dozen samples, including two from Washington.
Participants noted that the wines were enjoyable, bright in acidity, mild in tannins and approachable in their youth. The grape is showing that it can do well in northern states where ripeness is an issue with traditional European varieties.
That is not an issue in Washington, where growers almost never face ripening problems. However, it was noted that colder areas such as Spokane or the Cascade foothills could be good locations for growing Marquette.
Mike Sauer, owner of Red Willow Vineyard in the western Yakima Valley, also planted Marquette after the cool 2010 and 2011 vintages. He sold the grapes to Eight Bells, a boutique producer in Seattle. However, after a four-year trial period, Sauer decided to remove the Marquette in favor of Malbec, a red Bordeaux variety that is quickly gaining popularity in Washington.
Powers was at the January tasting with Champoux and was intrigued by what he saw, enough to commit to buying the grapes. He was pleased with what he tasted when the fruit came in and one day into fermentation.
His only concern is that he’s never made Marquette before, so he spent this week talking to other winemakers and reading up on the variety. If the wine turns out, he will bottle it as a vineyard-designated wine and release it to his wine club and at the tasting room. Because it’s fewer than 200 cases out of the 80,000 cases Powers makes each year, he sees no issues.
“I think it will be easy to sell,” he said. “It’s something different, and customers like that.”
If the wine turns out as tasty as he expects, Powers said he’ll not hesitate to continue making it each year.