Interview with Marty Taucher, Owner of Avennia Winery
Marty Taucher has created an impressive project at Avennia. Taucher signed on at Microsoft in 1984, spending 15 successful years there before taking wine classes at South Seattle Community College. He later met Chris Peterson, winemaker at DeLille Cellars during an internship at DeLille and Taucher hired Peterson as head winemaker at Avennia since. There are hundreds of Washington wineries out there but you know that wine is really good when nearly all of it sells out. Avennia’s first vintages were during difficult, colder growing seasons of 2010 and 2011, yet the wines still impressed. Their recent releases from 2012 are rich and balanced, coming from an exceptional vintage. I had the chance to interview Marty, as his impressive background in business and wine has made Avennia a household name in Washington Wine and is all over fine dining lists from Chandler’s Crabhouse to El Gaucho. Here is my interview with Marty Taucher, former Microsoft exec and current owner of Avennia Winery.
WWB: Can you talk about the vintage variation between 2012 and 2013?-
MT: ’12  as a great vintage for us, Chris says that it is up there with the 2007 in his experience. Our first two vintages, (2010 and 2011) were cooler years that nevertheless produced some very exciting wines. 2012, by comparison was a welcome change of pace. It will be remembered most for the intense heat of mid-August through most of September, ripening the earlier varietals such as Merlot and Syrah from warmer sites, very quickly. The autumn weather cycle finally started to kick in early in October, leading to a nice slow ripening throughout the month. We picked our last Cabernet, the 1972 planting at Bacchus, on October 22nd, a full 10 days ahead of 2011. Yields were low to moderate at nearly all sites, with small berries and ripe flavors, full richness, and ample but supple tannins. 2013 was yet another warm vintage in Washington. The season started earlier than normal, and was a scorcher all summer long, with a number of days over 100 degrees. Luckily the autumn began to cool down, allowing even ripening and additional hang time to develop flavor. The grapes were harvested only slightly earlier than normal, with moderate alcohols and acid levels. In the cellar, the wines somewhat belied the heat of the year, showing great focus, pure fruit flavors, enlivening freshness, and ample structure.
WWB: What are some of the challenges in 2013 and 2014 in maintaining the type of acid structure and balance that you guys are known for?
MT: Chris likes to pick fruit on the edge of ripeness so I think the key for him is to be able pay close attention to the vintage and make many trips to the vineyard. Chris likes to be in the vineyard at least once a week. He goes out to sample the fruit and to make sure that the fruit is reaching optimal ripeness and works closely with our vineyard partners to manage crop loads for the optimal balance of ripeness, complexity and acidity. We are also very selective in choosing vineyards that are able to successfully manage yields for the best results. We also use native yeast fermentation across the board, which helps to give the wines more old world style complexity and balance.
WWB: I just had the opportunity to try your 2014 Sauvignon Blanc and you have been experimenting with concrete and oak. Can you talk about those influences in the wine?
MT: We have always fermented our Oliane Sauvignon Blanc in neutral and new French oak. In 2014, Chris decided to experiment with concrete which allows for the introduction of a slightly different oxidative ageing technique in the fermentation process. We work with two exceptional vineyards for this wine, Boushey and Red Willow, and have been pleased with the success we have had with the neutral and new oak barrels. Adding a concrete egg to the mix gives a little more lushness or fullness on the mid palate. It is a small percentage, about 15 percent [concrete] but I think makes a noticeable difference. We will watch it over the next few vintages. Chris is also interested in experimenting with concrete for the other varietals, perhaps Grenache and Cab Franc. But concrete is a fantastic tool to incorporate into our program. We were in Bordeaux in 2011 as part of a research trip and we went to these great houses and much of the wine was in concrete or oak tanks, so it really opened my eyes to the possibilities.
WWB: Taking about expansion for your wines, they are selling out. You have been incredible successful in a shorty amount of time. What are your plans for winery expansion?
MT: For Avennia the production limits can be defined by the vineyards that we work with. Chris has a specific vision for the wines we want to create at Avennia, much of which is predicated on using fruit from some of the older, more established vineyards. There is a limit on the number of old vines in Washington State so we can’t really be a high production winery if we stay true to that vision. Also, from a facilities standpoint, we have the capacity for 4 to 5 thousand cases. We are also excited about the loyalty we have from our mailing list and want to stay true to our vision to honor their commitment. That being said, we are launching the new line this week, called Les Trouvés, ( French for ‘The Found”) which is modeled after the French negociant table wines you find all over Europe. Chris has actively sought out and found declassified wines from a number of terrific producers and chosen the best to build a new line of table wines from Washington fruit. The wines are made to be immediately delicious and yet affordable enough for everyday consumption. We are releasing two wines this fall. We will see how roll-out goes with the initial production of 800 cases. We are excited about the project. This leverages Chris’s talent without us having to the bulk of the winemaking here. I think this is a nice growth opportunity.