Maryhill Winery’s tasting room offers an elevated view of the Columbia River and the opportunity to experience wines from the first producer to record 100 Platinum Award winners in the 23-year history of the judging.
This fall, winemaker Richard Batchelor won eight Platinums — more than any other winery — which gave owners Craig and Vicki Leuthold a total of 103 since they started in 1999 at the eastern edge of the Columbia Gorge near Goldendale, Wash. Using the Platinum as a guide, Batchelor is making the best wines of his career, having garnered 42 Platinums in the past four years and 94 during the previous 10 years.
“I’m kind of a broken record on this, but it speaks to the quality of the fruit grown in Washington and the Columbia Valley, and Richard is such a great steward who takes care of those grapes,” Craig Leuthold says. “We went from making 25 different wines in 2008 — the year before Richard got here.
“We added three wines in 2009, which started an evolution of our program,” Leuthold added. “The next year, we grew by 15 more wines because I recognized after that first vintage that Richard had a special talent.”
Seven of the eight Platinums this fall were for red wines from the 2019 vintage. Three of those highlighted the New Zealander’s touch with Syrah. His highest-scoring wine, with 97 points, was the 2019 Classic Zinfandel — which retails for $21 a bottle.
Six of Maryhill’s Platinums were vineyard-designates, led by the Double Platinum given to the Klipsun Vineyard Syrah. Art den Hoed’s Painted Hills Vineyard accounted for a Tempranillo and a Primitivo.
Historically, Maryhill has shown consistently high standards with Syrah (13 Platinums), Cabernet Sauvignon (12), Zinfandel (7 winners), Cabernet Franc (7), Malbec (7), Sangiovese table wine (6), rosé (6) and Cinsaut (5).
“I’ve trusted him with all of these varieties, and it’s amazing to me how he keeps up with it all,” Leuthold said.
Maryhill’s first Platinum, back in 2004, was for a Zin from nearby Gunkel Vineyard. Prior to that, Maryhill made headlines in California by winning best of class with its Zin program.
“We actually had one of the judges from that competition come up to the winery and question where the grapes were from,” Leuthold said with a chuckle.
The Leutholds credit having a bistro at each of their four tasting rooms across Washington state with helping Maryhill withstand the downturn of the pandemic. And now, after two smaller vintages, Batchelor will be using the 2022 harvest to ramp up production again.
“Yields were up quite a bit this year, especially on the whites, so we’ll be slightly over 90,000 cases from 2022,” Leuthold said. “We’ve only been over 90,000 two other years, but this time it was without adding a new vineyard source.”
Gehringer Bros. in BC ranks No. 2 with 97 Platinums
On the heels of Maryhill in Platinum awards won is venerable Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery along British Columbia’s Golden Mile Bench. The higher hurdles of getting wines across an international border during a pandemic explain why Walter and Gordon Gehringer haven’t already broken the century mark for career Platinums. They are now at 97 after winning five, and each was made with a different aromatic white variety.
Stephen Reustle in Southern Oregon’s Umpqua Valley maintains his hold on the No. 3 ranking after five Platinums boosted his total to 53.
The leading Walla Walla Valley producer in the history of the Platinum continues to be Zerba Cellars in Milton-Freewater, using four Platinums in 2022 to move into a tie for fourth with Château Ste. Michelle.
There’s no one close to supplanting Coco Umiker as “The Empress of the Platinum.” The Lewiston, Idaho, whiz recorded seven Platinums this year, giving Clearwater Canyon Cellars a total of 41 and moving to No. 6 on the all-time list. No other woman winemaker has won more than 15 career Platinums. This year, two of Umiker’s seven Platinums were for white wine. And for the second time in three years, she used Crawford Vineyard in the Yakima Valley to win a Platinum for Albariño.
Brian Carter also continues his remarkable run. His seven Platinum winners places him inside the top 10 on the all-time Platinum list with 33. Of this year’s seven Platinums, five were Double Platinums. He also makes the wines for Bayernmoor Cellars, so the pair he picked up for the Harris family for the first time meant Carter produced at least nine Platinums in 2022. (There are a number of Northwest wineries that he’s signed nondisclosure agreements with, so there may be more.)
Cathedral Ridge Winery in Hood River, Ore., with Sonoma-based winemaker Michael Sebastiani still at the helm, emerged with seven Platinum winners as the investment in grapes from Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills and Columbia Valley continues to reap rewards for owners Robb and John Bell.
Eight wineries around Lake Chelan combined for 25 Platinums in 2022. Leading the Lake Chelan wine community continues to be Tsillan Cellars, a testament to the vision of Dr. Bob Jankelson and decades of work by vineyard manager Bal Flores and the transition to head winemaker Garrett Grubbs. Tsillan Cellars won five Platinums this year and moved to No. 11 on the all-time list with 31 in its history.
The judging panel for the 23nd annual Platinum Awards featured:
- Amberleigh Brownson is a certified sommelier and business development specialist for Bellingham (Wash.) Alive! Magazine
- Danny Gordon, winemaker, Tamarack Cellars, Walla Walla, Wash.
- Clinton Hoiland is owner/operator of Twisted Vine Wine Tours, Lewiston, Idaho, and works Northern Idaho on- and off-premise sales for Idaho Wine Merchant.
- Ellen Landis, certified sommelier/journalist, St. Petersburg, Fla.
- Richard Larsen, research winemaker/enologist emeritus, Washington State University, Puyallup, Wash.
- JD Nolan, certified sommelier/wine buyer/general manager/owner of Fat Olives Restaurants, Richland, Wash., and Homer, Alaska
- Dan Radil, journalist/proprietor, Bellingham Northwest Wine Festival, Bellingham, Wash.
- April Reddout, Reddout Wine Consulting, Kennewick, Wash.
- Brad K. Smith, certified sommelier, retired viticulture/enology instructor, marketing consultant, CellarDoorConsultants.com, Grandview, Wash.
- Gordy Venneri, co-winemaker, Neher Family Wines, Milton-Freewater, Ore./co-founder, Walla Walla Vintners
The judging coordinator was Mike Rader, First Vice President, Senior Financial Advisor, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, Kennewick, Wash. Backroom team included Dan and Laura Corbiani, Sue Anne Marple, Helen Moir, Paul Sinclair, Reneé Staat, Lisa Veinpel and Charlotte Zissel.
Moderators were Eric Degerman, Great Northwest Wine, Richland, Wash.; Jerry Hug, Great Northwest Wine, Kennewick, Wash., and Ken Robertson, associate editor/columnist, Great Northwest Wine magazine, Kennewick, Wash.