Years ago, in the early 1990’s I prepared my first Winemakers dinner as a chef. The winery was L’Ecole No. 41 that was the first time I met Winemaker Marty Club. At that point the winery was less than 10 years old and Marty has just joined the winery a few years earlier. Since that time L’Ecole No. 41 has gone on to garner international acclaim and be recognized as one of Walla Walla’s First Growths. But, it was the day that I became a lifetime fan of L’Ecole. The wines were fantastic and Marty was one of the most generous nicest people in the business I had met.
The winery itself has become an Icon. Driving into Walla Wall on highway 12 you can’t help but notice the old school house. The Frenchtown School was built in 1915, so named because of the number of French Canadians that settled in the Walla Walla valley. The Original label was a watercolor painting by 8 year old cousin Ryan Campbell,( now in his 40’s).
L’ Ecole was founded by Marty’s in laws Jean and Baker Ferguson as a little “Retirement project”. Jean and Baker always believed in the potential of Walla Walla Wines, and that dream was finally realized when L’Ecole’s 2011 Estate Ferguson was awarded the Best Bordeaux Blend in the World at the 2014 Decanter World Wine Awards in London. Over the years the accolades and awards have piled up, but unlike many wineries that have achieved certain notoriety, the family has always remained approachable, friendly and generous. You are just as likely to Marty or his daughter Rebecca at a tasting or dinner as you might one of theirs sales team, many of whom have been with company 20 years or more.
“Marty Clubb has built L’Ecole N° 41 into one of Walla Walla’s flagships…making wines that represent the region, the wines that signify Walla Walla.” Patrick Comiskey, Wine & Spirits Magazine
Marty is highly respected in the wine industry and continues to give back and pay it forward. Marty has served more than 20 years on the boards of various wine industry associations like the Washington Wine Commission. He is currently President and Director of the Washington Wine Institute. Marty was instrumental in the founding of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance and served as its president for six years. Marty worked with other industry pioneers in the development of the Walla Walla Community College Center for Enology and Viticulture.
In 1977, the Fergusons bought the old school house with the idea of starting a winery. That same year that Gary Figgins started Leonetti. Now 40 years later their legacy lives on in one of the most beloved wineries in Washington State.
I recently had the privilege of attending a tasting in Woodinville at the Long Shadows tasting room for a vertical of the Pedestal Merlot. These limited releases were conceived by Washington State wine pioneer Allen Shoup and he teamed up with Michel Roland (Pomerol vintner and consultant to many of the world’s most famous wines) We were seated and poured the 2003 vintage thru the 2008 and finished with a couple of surprises that were not expected; the 2009 and the 2014!
In attendance were the Director of Wine making and Viticulture for Long Shadows since the first vintage Gilles Nicault, Allen Shoup himself Sean Sullivan (Writer for the Wine Enthusiast) and others
Let’s jump in and see what I thought.
2003: 14 years later and this baby is still holding up, aromas of leather and freshly shaved pencil with dried fruit characters. Tasting, blueberry, cedar and spice with nuances of mocha. A little Petite Verdot and a splash of Cabernet Franc with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon from Ciel du Cheval on Red Mountain helped this wine last in a hot vintage. Surprising
2004: My favorite of the flight! 2004 was a cold winter and the fruit aromas are still intense with blackberry and baking spice that carry thru to the palate and weave thru layers of ripe tannin resulting in a full bodied Merlot with concentration and length. The blend very similar to the 2003 very impressive. 2005: I see a difference here from “03” and “04” the fruit is fresher with dark cherry and blackberry on the nose and the palate with toasty oak and intensity in the mid-palate finishing with layers of black fruit. No Petit Verdot in this blend for the first time. Showing very well. 2006: More intensity than any of the previous wines, deeper, darker, richer. The 2006 was nearly a perfect growing season and produced big jammy wines well suited to Michel Roland’s style. There were some early worries of high heat but in September temperatures cooled enough for flavors to fully ripen. This was the first time the wine was made at the new winery and fermented in 1500 gallon wood tanks and first time using a splash of Malbec. Very good and my second favorite of the flight. 2007: A very similar vintage to 2003 as they were both hot and very close in the blends with no Malbec added. I find this wine to be a little smoky and has a wonderful intensity of vivid black currant cocoa and violets. Rich and focused, I think this one is still a little tight and can go for a while but will be better in the long run. Amazing considering it is ten years old. 2008: This was a bit cooler vintage than previous ones resulting in grapes with wonderful acidity. Modest summer temperatures and meticulous care thru the growing season set the stage for an excellent harvest. September and October were picture perfect delivering fruit brimming with flavor. The palate was vibrant with blackberries, currants and red fruits framed by oak and bittersweet chocolate. Drink this one before your 2007’s. Everything just seems to be in balance. 2009: The 2009 vintage was hot in the beginning but cool at the end with some rain and fog a tricky vintage but the wine is showing beautifully. Flavors of cherry preserves black and blue fruits coffee and toasted coconut. Once again meticulous care during the season and in the blending give proof that these wines are consistent year to year. This wine has a younger personality but will still age well.
2014: The 2014 vintage was the hottest vintage of record to date. Wow a big rich wine deep purple in color. This wine has a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon, smaller amounts of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec similar to previous vintages. This is an awesome wine with its deep purple color and flavors of black fruit, plum, coffee, baking spice and sweet oak. Once again showing a consistency in style due to meticulous vineyard management and blending regardless of the vintage.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog and look for more in the future with Washington’s rock star wine makers. If you ever have any questions contact me
The Yamhill-Carlton American Viticultural Area, home of many Oregon wine industry pioneers and the oldest soils in the Willamette Valley, is coming to Seattle! Join 12 wineries for a memorable tasting experience on June 27th from 6-8pm. The producers will be pouring wine all exclusively made from Y-C AVA fruit, concentrating on Pinot Noir, as well as a small selection of other varietals. This is a great opportunity to taste Oregon wines without traveling hundreds of miles. Learn firsthand about Oregon’s geology and climate and what makes the wine so alluring, complex and age worthy. While you sip, enjoy delectable bites that complement these world-class wines.
This is a unique opportunity, as many of these wines are not for sale in Washington state. If you like what you taste at the event & want these wines in your own cellar, Esquin Wine & Spirits will be taking wine orders!