An uber-talented man, Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen somehow manages to play winemaker, lead sommelier and father all in one day. It is hard to find a busier guy than Jeff. It is also hard to find a cooler guy to chat wine with. Jeff has a longstanding history in the wine industry, working as a sommelier for more than a decade. Jeff is one of the few advanced sommeliers (Level 3) in the Seattle area. He utilizes his vast knowledge of wine in his impressive winemaking. Jeff crafts some absolutely incredible wines at W.T. Vintners, including one of the best value wines in Washington, his Stoney Vine Red Wine. The last two releases of this wine (2013 and 2014) are some my the highest rated wines from Washington that I have ever sampled at this price point. I recently had the chance to sit down with Jeff and chat about his background and his wines. I think you are going to really enjoy learning more about him. Here is my interview with Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen, co-owner and head winemaker of W.T. Vintners.
WWB: What were your first jobs in wine?
JT: My interest in wine was peaked early, from 19-21 my mother was dating a man with a Chateauneuf du Pape fetish and I tried a lot of wines with them. During the same period, the woman I was dating had a father with a monster cellar. I was trying Lafite, Grange and very special wines, I yet didn't know the stratosphere in which I was drinking, but I knew they were very good. Wine then became a hobby. I made the decision to drop out of the corporate world and wanted to go back to school to learn about ethnobotany and anthropology. My wine hobby became larger. Not too long after that I was working in restaurants while in school. I started really learning about wine through fine dining, working at the Hunt Club at the Sorrento Hotel in Seattle. The Hunt Club had a strong wine list at the time and we had absurdly low markups on the wines. The wine director brought in great old vintage wines. I sought certification through the International Sommelier Guild to learn more about wine and I had learned that the job of a sommelier actually existed which meant that my burgeoning hobby could become a career. I started to do some international travel to learn about wine. I wanted to earn a living sharing my passion for wine. In 2005 I had my first sommelier job which quickly progressed into becoming the wine and spirits director at Cascadia (Seattle). At Cascadia I was given enough rope to be successful, or hang myself, and I built a great wine program. The dining scene in Seattle was pretty exciting at that time. Fine dining was still thriving, unlike today.
WWB: You have a sommelier background and are and Advanced Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers. How did you make the transition from sommelier to winemaker?
JT: In 2005 I was hungry for knowledge and I wanted to learn more about wine. What better way to learn than hands on. I helped out with the harvest in 2005 in the Willamette Valley and then here in Washington in 2006. Life happens and it is hard to go back all of the time to far off winery’s to see the wine from grape to bottle. During that time I was talking with my future business partner and I told him that I wanted to learn more about making wine. Together with his father and his garage W.T. Vintners was born. In our first year we made only two barrels of Destiny Ridge Vineyard Syrah. That wine turned out pretty good. I learned a lot through my first vintage as winemaker. My wife and I opened that same wine the other day and it was delicious still. After working two more harvests, one in Burgundy and another in New Zealand, we got a better sense of what we wanted to achieve and how to do it. We figured out stylistically and philosophically what we wanted to create. We worked on building relationships with growers to have access to these great vineyards.
WWB: The 2013 W.T. Vintners ‘Stoney Vine Vineyard’ Red Wine (WWB, 94) landed at #13 on my 2016 Washington Wine Blog Top 100 and is truly one of the best values in Washington wine. Can you talk about this particular wine and what makes it so special?
JT: We made this wine in 2012, 2013 and 2014. This wine is a GSM, as we build the blend a variety rises up to take lead. It was the Mourvèdre 2012. In 2013 the Grenache was so aromatically pretty and focused so that varietal took the lead. Grenache was effortlessly center stage. The Grenache from the Stoney Vine Vineyard just has a wonderful purity — a varietal purity that you don't often see in the rocks. The rocks for me sometimes can be where site trumps varietal. There is the iodine and seaweed, dead animal character. In 2013 the stars aligned for Grenache and it was so varietally correct. Everything else played a supporting role.
WWB: What wine you drink at home? What are you into right now?
JT: Champagne, White Burgundy and German and Austrian Riesling. Some of my favorite producers are on the Austrian side, Knoll and Nigl. On the German side, Grunhauser, and Keller. In Burgundy I am super excited about the wines of Sylvain Pataille. The purity of those producers is just amazing.