We have a very exciting new feature as you begin your week. Will Wiles has had previous stops at Columbia Crest and Chateau St. Michelle before landing the assistant winemaker position at Col Solare. I recently had a chance to sit down with him and talk about his exciting recent releases at Col Solare. Having sampled every bottling since the first vintage in 1995, I have found that Col Solare is one of the most consistent Washington red wines. It is truly a premier winery that focuses on attention to detail that you see in the glass. The past two releases of the wine have been absolutely stunning, showcasing these fantastic vintages of 2012 and 2013. I think you will really like hearing from Will about his experiences at Col Solare and about his background. I've had several opportunities to chat with Will at wine events. He is a class act that has a tremendous knowledge of Washington wines and the history of Col Solare. Here is my interview with Will Wiles, assistant winemaker at Col Solare in Red Mountain.
WWB: You have previously worked at Columbia Crest and Chateau St. Michelle. How did those experiences prepare you for the winemaking and blending skills necessary for Col Solare? What was it like working with so many varietals, from Chardonnay to Riesling to Cabernet and Syrah?
WW: My time at Columbia Crest was spent working as a quality control technician, which was valuable experience in that I learned a great deal on bottle prep, finishing of wines, and the bottling process. There is a lot that can go wrong in the bottling process so I am very glad I had the opportunity to really dive into that side of winemaking. Thus since I was involved in that aspect I didn’t spend much time there doing blending. However during my time at Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Canoe Ridge Estate I was able to learn quite a bit about the blending process. At Canoe Ridge though it was entirely red wine, so my experience is definitely more on the red wine side than the white wine side. I had a great deal of exposure to many different red varieties though and was able to work on crafting high end reserve blends that ranged from a few hundred cases to larger blends that were upwards of a few hundred thousand cases. It made it quite a challenge working with not only a lot of different red grape varieties but also grapes from numerous vineyards from around Washington. For instance as I’m sure you know Cab’s from the Horse Heaven Hills are quite different than those from Red Mountain. Each can play a great role though when crafting a blend because they are so different they can each add a subtle nuance or layer to the wines, and that’s just the cabernet! Having that experience has really helped me at Col Solare as we source from not only our estate vineyard but also different vineyards on Red Mountain where each vineyard offers something a little different and so playing with different percentages of each can turn a decent blend into a spectacular blend.
WWB: I recently had the opportunity to sample the 2013 Col Solare (WWB, 94) which was a dense and layered effort. Can you talk about the blending of the wine and how you chose the blend? Looks like you really enjoyed the Cabernet that vintage?
WW: The Cabernet in 2013 was definitely amazing, there is no doubting that! Overall 2013 was phenomenal, so not only was the Cabernet delicious but our other components were outstanding especially the Cab Franc which has been increasing in our blends. Blending the 2013 was a fun process, each of our lots were unique and added something special but at the same time that can make it difficult because sometimes two great wines blended together don’t always make a better wine. We started playing with the blends in the spring of 2014 seeing what direction the wines would go. For instance the Malbec is amazing by itself but in the blend for 2013 it tended to overpower it even at small percentages. So for 2013 we decided to use Syrah and not Malbec. Slowly over the course of the next 9-10 months we tweaked and fine-tuned it, altering percentages of different lots, doing barrel selections of lots, and dialed it in until we had what we felt was the best possible blend. It is definitely a labor of love and takes a considerable amount of time, but I’ve learned over the years that even a small amount of a certain lot can make or break the wine so we dive into the detail of it as much as possible.
WWB: I had the chance to sample some barrel samples of your 2014 Col Solare. How excited are you about this wine? How was the 2014 a bit different from 2012 and 2013 on Red Mountain?
WW: To say I am excited would be an understatement. I love the 2014’s. There is a depth, intensity and concentration there that is beautiful, but at the same time is very restrained and approachable. 2014 has this racy vibrant natural acidity that has balanced beautifully with the tannins in the wine. The 2012’s and the 2013’s are both beautiful wines but out of the three I would have to say at the moment I’m really digging the 2014’s even though they are so young. The 2012’s are showing great right now, and for Washington 2012 was a statistically perfect vintage. Harvest was long and allowed for perfect hang-time with lead to wines that are balanced and complex. 2013 was slightly warmer than 2012 but it cooled off nicely during harvest which was perfect, it allowed us to let the fruit hang until the tannins were at the perfect stage of ripeness. There are definitely subtle differences in the structure and flavors of the wines from each year and the fun part is that it’s really a toss-up on which vintage people prefer. I guess that’s the great thing about wine right? Creates some fun debates! We’ve been very fortunate the last few years as we are on a string of stellar vintages but like I said, I’m really loving the 14’s and can’t wait for that to be in the bottle and released.
WWB: The 2012 Col Solare Component Collection Malbec (WWB, 94) is one of the best Washington Malbec’s that I've ever had. Can you talk about this special wine and the potential for Malbec on Red Mountain?
WW: There is something special about the Malbec on our estate, which is where the fruit for that wine came from. Throughout our estate vineyard we have a variety of row orientations with the goal to have the best fit for each variety. Along with different orientations we also have everything planted to a 7x3 spacing with unilateral cordons. Super tight spacing compared to traditional Washington standards. With that being said we decided to plant our Malbec on an east-west orientation. Malbec is highly susceptible to sunburn so the goal was to be able to protect it better and really be able to dial in that dappled sunlight. Needless to say our plan worked. We target about 3 tons to the acre on the Malbec and it is usually one of the first varieties off of the estate that we harvest. We always pick based on taste and typically we don’t let this get too ripe. We like to retain the vibrant natural acidity and so even in a hot year like 2015 the brix on the Malbec was right around 24.8-25 brix. There is an amazing potential for Malbec on Red Mountain and it goes to show how great of an area Red Mountain is because although Cab is king up here, I think there are some other varieties that can produce some outstanding wines.