One of my favorite Northwest winemakers, Dan Wampfler, continues to impress with his fantastic new releases. I was recently able to taste some of the new wines from Dunham with head winemaker Dan Wampfler. Dunham Cellars was created in by Eric Dunham 1995 and is one of the older and most prestigious wineries in Walla Walla. Wampfler, formerly with Columbia Crest, has a background in making everything from Sparkling wine to Riesling to Cabernet at his former employer. Dan has brought that depth of knowledge to Dunham. His releases combine richness, fruit character and great terroir. As Dan says, he wants his wines to have a sense of place. . . and they most certainly do.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Dunham Cellars. I was very impressed with his new release wines, especially his new release late harvest Riesling (95, WWB), as well as his 2009 Founders Reserve (also rated 94 points), a wine that was dedicated to the founders of Dunham, Eric and Mike Dunham, who tragically both passed away in the last two years. The Founders Reserve is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah from the Lewis Vineyard. It is a full bodied, terroir driven and impressive effort that will cellar beautifully for decades and represents the highest rated red that I’ve every tried from Dunham. The 2014 Late Harvest Riesling is a special wine and is one of the best of its kind in Washington. The combination of richness and acidity in this wine is nothing short of superlative. It is the perfect pairing for a rich vanilla ice cream. Here is my latest interview with Dunham head winemaker, Dan Wampfler, followed by reviews of the new release wines from Dunham Cellars. Find these wines at dunhamcellars.com #dunhamcellars
WWB: Can you talk about the winemaking in the 2012 Dunham Cabernet which is your new release?
DW: I think with the prior vintage  being cool and more feminine and food friendly and lower alcohol. ‘12 was a ripe vintage and we didn’t want to swing too far the other way. We wanted to capture the brightness, acidity and fresh fruit but led the vintage speak for itself. It is kind of a transitional wine from two previous cool vintages. We dialed up the new oak percentage and pressed pretty gently.
WWB: One of the most esteemed vineyards in Washington is the Lewis vineyard. I am interested in what kind of flavor profiles that you are typically able to obtain in the red wines? Can you talk about the character of the vineyard?
DW: Obviously we do a single vineyard Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah and there is a common thread of ripe cherry and cherry pie character. The Lewis Vineyard Cabernet shows that cherry pie right off the bat. The Syrah has that cherry pie character but also earth, orange peel and subtle flavors. The Cab is more dark notes and with the Merlot as well you see that cherry pie flavor profile. You see that ripe cherry with all of our wines made from the Lewis vineyard.
WWB: One of the better value wines that I have had this year from Washington was the 2012 Trutina. I was impressed with the layers, as well as the richness and structure of the wine. Can you talk about the winemaking and the blending in this wine?
DW: Trutina is our Bordeaux style blend and is Latin for balance. . . as in, don’t drink too much you might lose your Trutina. To have a balanced wine that is layered is what you want. It has 45% Cabernet, 38% Merlot, 10% Malbec, 2% Petite Verdot, and a touch of Syrah, 5%. And we have a pretty varied barrel program for this from new oak and used oak. And that is the idea to make a balanced wine that is layered and intriguing.
WWB: We talked about your new wine, the 2009 Founders Reserve and this is the first time that you have done this project with the blending all three varietals to make this wine. It comes from an exceptional vintage, 2009. Can you talk about making this wine and choosing the blend for this wine and how you saw each Lewis vineyard varietal this year?
DW: 2009 was a ripe year as you have suggested and we have always kept the Lewis Cab, Merlot and Syrah separate. We thought that this year was so exceptional and purity of varietal character and we started playing around with a blend of the three varietals. We felt that during the bench trials of blending this wine that this [current blend] was the right combination that accentuated the cherry character and no one varietal was dominant. You didn’t want to put too much of one varietal in it and to me it was a balanced, premium, Lewis blend. I wasn’t looking for specific percentage points in the blend but was looking for the most balanced Lewis wine.
WWB: I know you are big fan of Riesling and I just had the opportunity to review new late harvest release. Can you talk about what you were trying to accomplish with the wine with balance, acid structure and richness?
DW: First of all, as a winemaker I love challenges. Late Harvest Riesling is a major challenge for a winemaker. You have to be concerned about the fruit and the timing of things, like when to pick and when to ferment and when to stop the fermentation process. The goal for me with this wine, and I think in any wine, is to seek balance and the balance for me in the late harvest Riesling is acidity, mouthfeel and aromatics. There is consistency with the aromatics and flavors from vintage to vintage but I am looking to find it as viscous as I can push it and I am looking for acidity that gives you the lingering finish. I want the wine to be so it is not so sweet that you don’t want another sip but that is where the acidity comes in that it makes you want more. The aromatics with this wine evolve with time and I want people to smell it and say that this is definitely a late harvest Riesling.
Here are the new release wines from Dunham Cellars:
2012 Dunham Cellars Cabernet- This Cabernet saw 75% French oak and 25% American oak. It was bottled in Late July 2014 and weighs in at 14% alcohol. It is sourced from the Lewis Estate, Kenny Hill, Wallula Vineyard and the Tokar vineyard. There are ripe aromas of blackberry, anise, smoked pork shoulder and sagebrush. There are flavors of blackberry, anise and black olive with a velvety texture and lovely long finish. This is impressive wine that will drink beautifully for decades. Drink 2015-2030. -94
2011 Dunham Cellars Lewis Vineyard Cabernet- The Lewis vineyard is located at 1200 feet in the Rattlesnake Ridge in the Columbia Valley. It is a small, family owned vineyard managed by Betty Lewis & son, Ken Jr. The wine was aged in 83% French oak and 17% American oak and was bottled in January 2014. This cool vintage Cabernet has lovely aromatics on the nose with red cherry, blackberry, cassis and anise as well as sagebrush. There are flavors of blackberry, anise, milk chocolate and moderate tannins. This one needs time in the bottle to mature. 375 cases made. Drink 2017-2030- 93
2011 Dunham Cellars Lewis Vineyard Syrah- The wine saw 85% French oak and 15% American oak prior to bottling in January 2014. This wine is only 13.5% alcohol and the balanced effort opens with aromas of sagebrush, red cherry and milk chocolate. There are flavors of red cherry, orange zest, blackberry, and a strong mineral streak. This is done in the feminine and balanced style. Drink 2016-2030- 93
2009 Dunham Cellars Founders Reserve- This wine celebrates Dunham’s 20th anniversary. It is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 10% Syrah and was named after the recently deceased Eric and Mike Dunham. This wine has a rich and earthy nose. There are aromas of cedar, blackberry, mocha and black cherry. There are flavors of mocha, blackberry, anise and lovely balance and acid affix fire. The finish is exceptional. Drink 2015-2035- 94
2014 Dunham Cellars Late Harvest Lewis Vineyard Riesling-Aged in stainless steel, the wine was released in May 2015 and weighs in at only 7% alcohol. This has lovely aromas of orange marmalade, Lemoncello, and jasmine in this compelling nose. This wine has 30% residual sugar and there is wonderful richness and balance. There are ripe aromas of pineapple, golden delicious apple, white raisin and creme brûlée. This is ripe, concentrated and delicious. Drink 2015-2030- 95