Kathy Shiels, Cote Bonneville
Cote Bonneville Winery and Interview with co-owner, Kathy Shiels
Cote Bonneville is a premier Washington producer of red and white wines, located in Sunnyside. The winery owners, Kathy and Hugh Shiels, set up their tasting room in the old town train station. This historic building is the perfect place to sample some of their critically acclaimed red and white wines. The Shiels daughter, Kerry Shiels, is their superstar winemaker. While Bonneville has made a name for themselves through their excellent red wines, their whites impress as well. In fact, their 2012 Chardonnay is one of the best Washington Chardonnays that I've tried in the past year. I was able to interview co-owner, Kathy Shiels, who has many years of experience in the Washington wine industry and vineyard management at the famed DuBrul vineyard, the source of fruit for Cote Bonneville wines. Here is my interview with Kathy Shiels, followed by a review of the excellent Cote Bonneville wines.
Can you talk about some of the other excellent Washington wines that you enjoy?
I prefer balanced and more elegant wine such as Chaleur Estate (a DeLille Cellars wine). At the time we founded our winery, they were the only winery who focused primarily on Bordeaux Blends. Most wineries at that time focused on varietals. DeLille was a role model for us. I also enjoy Owen Roe wines and are happy they have chosen to locate in the Yakima Valley. This speaks volumes on the quality of Yakima Valley fruit. Co Dinn will be releasing the first wines from Co Dinn Cellars this summer. He is making a beautiful Chardonnay and vineyard designated wines from vineyards he has identified as being premier sites.
What do you think about the differences between 2011 and 2012 vintages in Washington?
2011 was a challenging year. It was a cool year similar to 2004. 2004 was a bit warmer at the tail end of the growing season. We have an advantage that we have a spectacular site and were able to make the appropriate adjustments throughout the growing season to ensure full maturation. In 2004 our Côte Bonneville DuBrul Vineyard was chosen Wine of the Year by SEATTLE Magazine. 2011 will be very similar. Cool years in WA approximate Bordeaux, warm years California. There will be more savory notes in the wines vs the fruit forward wines of warmer years.
2012 was a beautifully balanced year. The heat seemed to come at all the right times. This vintage stands out as an exceptional vintage for Washington.
You make an exceptional Chardonnay. Can you talk about the wine and how you make such high quality Chardonnay?
Shiels: We introduced Chardonnay to our lineup of wines in 2004. It was ABC (anything but chardonnay) at that time. I have always loved Burgundian style chardonnays. If you are in this business long enough you see varietals come in and out of favor. Now there is a resurgence of Chardonnay and that is good. Our chardonnay is made in the classic Burgundian style, made in the barrel, sur lees, complete ML and bottled unfined and unfiltered.
I am particularly impressed with 2008 and 2009 bottlings of Carriage House, considering the price point. Can you talk about the Carriage House wines and what flavor profiles you are going for?
We let our wines express the site. We have two distinct growing areas within DuBrul. The Carriage House block is alluvial. Rocks and siltation have been carried through flooding from the hills over time. Our hillside is part of the Ellensburg formation. Comprised of fingerings of basalt, floods and volcanic eruptions. Washington State has own-rooted vines. Chile is the only other place in the world where you have that on a large scale. Own rooted vines express their site without the influence of grafted rootstock. The sense of place is the Holy Grail of wine.
Carriage House wines are characterized by bright cherry, red current and cassis. Our tannins are soft and approachable. The wines are balanced, complex and food friendly.
The hillside vines make up the Côte Bonneville DuBrul bottling, our flagship wine. They are often described as classic DuBrul cherry, more indicative of that ripe bing bursting in your mouth cherry. The berries are small, the clusters are small and the yields are low, resulting in bigger, well-structured and complex wines. Approachable while young yet continuing to mature and develop with age.
We source our wines from the same rows in the vineyard each year. It’s interesting to follow the vintages through a vertical of Côte Bonneville wine. You can tell they belong to the same family but reflex the nuances of the vintage.
Can you talk a bit about the 2008 and 2009 vintages in Washington? I know they were both excellent vintages but did you see any major differences in the vintages and the structure of the wines?
There are always subtle differences in vintages. I can remember in 2002 thinking that if it never got any better than this it would be ok. 2003 came around and it was even better. In 2004 we were chosen as Wine of the Year and Vineyard of the Year, for the second time, by SEATTLE magazine. 2005 Wine Spectator picked us as one of the 10 Rising Stars of American Wine. 2006 and 2007 were classic Washington vintages. 2006 was the first year that we made a Cabernet Sauvignon from a very tiny area of the vineyard that differentiated itself. 2008 was similar to 2003 and 2005. 2009 comparable to 2002. ’10 and ’11 more like ’04. Kerry (head winemaker) has a Master’s in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis. She has experience in California, Australia, and Argentina. Her philosophy is to celebrate the vintage, and make classic wines that let the vineyard speak for itself.