One of the state’s great winemakers and an even better guy, Darel Allwine is the superstar winemaker at Col Solare. Darel had an illustrious career serving our country in the Air Force. Upon retirement, he wasn’t entirely sure what career he would choose. He began learning about winemaking while living in the Tri Cities area and got his start working under famed winemaker Ray Einburger at Columbia Crest. Darel has been with Chateau Ste. Michelle now for 23 years and has been the winemaker at Col Solare since 2013. I recently had the chance to sit down with Darel and chat about his wines as well as his incredible career. I think you will enjoy hearing more about his story. Here is my interview with Darel Allwine, Head Winemaker of Col Solare.
WWB: How did you decide to join the Air Force? Can you talk about some memorable experience while serving our country?
DA: I spent 20 years n the air force and I retired in 1995. I had two different tours in Germany and that was a great experience what I had to do over there during the Cold War. My last experience was in Okinawa, Japan fir six years and did extensive traveling as well. I was also in the Gulf War for a year. There have been some astounding experiences that I had while serving my country but getting into the wine business has happily been the highlight of my life.
WWB: At what point did you realize that you would like to pursue a career in wine?
DA: Getting interested in wine hadn’t even crossed my mind when I moved back to the Tri Cities area. I also worked as a research scientist. There was an ad for a cellar worker at Columbia Crest and I sent them my resume. I had five interviews and my last interview was with Ray Einburger the winemaker there, I started two weeks later. Once I got into it I never looked back. It is astounding what goes into a bottle of wine. The fermentation and vineyards to the aging and blending. I learned a lot from him and also did some online Course work from UC Davis. Washington State University has their program so I did both the enology and viticultural certificate. It has been a good journey. I have been with the Ste. Michelle company for 23 years now. It has been a great journey and wine is such as fascinating aspect of how it is made and there are so many varietals that happen. It is so different and each winemaker has their own nuances for the same kind of wine.
WWB: What was it like working alongside Marcus Notaro? What were some of the challenges with taking over the Col Solare program?
DA: Having worked with Marcus at Columbia Crest, he started there in 1995 as a lab person and then became the enologist for the red wine. I was there as a cellar master for the reserve program. We had worked together extensively for many years. The Col Solare project we both started working there in 2003. When we build the facility here in 2006 we would work together. He taught me a lot of good ideas especially when training my palate and understanding the vineyards and the sources that would dictate the style of wine that we wanted to make. Then he had the opportunity to move down to Napa to make wine for Stags Leap Wine Cellars in early 2013 and after that they were looking for the winemaker position and I interviewed for that and talked with them. They decided to go with me which was a very happy to start. Working with Renzo Cotenella works directly with us as well to help develop the blends and the style as far as we do things. Working with him since the beginning in 2003 has been great. Working with him has been a wonderful part. Red Mountain here can be challenging because of the heat and the vines can struggle. Fruit can be very concentrated and tannic so understanding that through the vineyards and the fermentation process can be a challenge.
WWB:: I am highly impressed with your ‘Component Collection’ bottlings. How did you decide to start that project? Can you talk about your 2015 releases?
DA: The Component Collection wines were first started in 2009. This is exclusive to the winery and is not available on the market. We did a Cabernet in 2009 as well as a Syrah. That was very limited. We didn’t do a 2010 and then did it again in 2011, we had three different varietals that year. WE have continued that from then on. That highlights the vineyard and how it is orientated and controlling the aspect of what we can do with each vine. The Cabernet we ferment each clone in different aspects, from stainless steel to barrels and we can go through and taste each barrel after it is processed and decide to make that selection for the component wines. Typically the rest of the wine in the clone goes into the main blend of Col Solare. It is a barrel selection for the Component wines and then the balance goes into the blend of Col Solare. The 2015 Col Solare Red Wine is as 100% Cabernet Sauvignon so we didn’t have any other varietals blended. The 2015 vintage was hot here and it was sometimes hard to manage the vineyard and keep it healthy when it was so hot in July and also June. Berries were small and very concentrated from the 2015 vintage.
WWB: Harvest has just concluded in 2018. What do we have to expect from this exciting new vintage? Was heat an issue for Red Mountain fruit in 2018?
DA: I think that the 2018 vintage started later in terms of bud break. We were two weeks behind normal, so we had a cooler spring here. This year actually warmed up quite a bit in May and June and moved the physiology of the vine ahead. We were actually ahead of schedule and had bloom and fruit set is typically 14 plus days but this year we had 5-6 days between bloom and fruit set. I think that highlighted how set was put in. We had nice and even clusters. There were really good looking clusters and then the rest of the season we had some 100 degree days but that wasn’t very extensive. We didn’t have many extreme temperatures where we had 14 days in 2015 of 100 degree temperatures. We had a haze of smoke over the vineyards in early August to mid-August but there weren’t any issues from what I could see. That tended to filter out the sun a bit. Late August had perfect temperature and in September with the temperatures in the mid to high 80s was really good, especially the cooling effect at night. We had good ripening and good flavor development. The tannin profile also helped a great deal, not being harsh or bitter. Overall this is going to be an exceptionally good vintage. I started bringing in estate Merlot on September 6th and Cabernet followed. We finished all of our fruit on the 10th of October. It was somewhat condensed but developed really nicely.