As we honor Washington’s wines during Washington Wine Month, it is important to recognize the pioneers who made Washington a viable place for cultivating grapes and producing wine. It is also a celebration of our 2nd largest wine-producing state in the United States. This year Washington Wine Month has more meaning because it is a way to support Washington wineries and the local farmers during the pandemic. One such winery that deserves recognition is L’Ecole No 41 because they played a vital role in establishing the Washington wine industry.
Washington Wine Month and L’Ecole
Celebrating Washington Wine Month is rejoicing in L’Ecole No 41. They were the 20th winery in Washington State, the third winery established in Walla Walla, and they are one of the participants in this month-long celebration.
L’Ecole No 41 references the schoolhouse that houses its winery. The schoolhouse, constructed in 1915 is located in Frenchtown, a historic community west of Walla Walla. In the 1800s, French-Canadians settled in the valley. The winery’s name comes from the French term for school, L’Ecole, and the district the winery is located in, number 41.
With no pun intended, Owner Marty Clubb describes the winey as old school when it comes to winemaking and new school in technology and its state-of-the-art equipment.
In understanding L’Ecole’s impact on Washington wines and Washington Wine Month, one must go back to the beginning, discovering the wines that started it all. Two wines put L’Ecole on the map thirty-eight years ago, a white and red wine. The white was Semillon and the red Merlot.
Semillon Columbia Valley 2019
I think Constance Savage, General Manager of L’Ecole, describes the Semillon aptly as “Sunshine in a bottle.” Being one of the few Semillons on the west coast, let alone the United States makes L’Ecole a trendsetter. Following whole cluster press, the wine barrel ferments and ages in French oak for four to five months. I found a lively, lusciously delicious creamy-textured wine with aromas of citrus and honeysuckle and flavors of citrus. The wine is a testament to the variety and one no one should miss.
Merlot Estate Walla Walla Valley 2018
This Merlot consists of 84% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes come from two estate vineyards, 50% Ferguson, known for its basalt soils, giving the wine its minerality, and 50% Seven Hills with its wind-blown loess soils that instill complexity and structure into the wine. The Merlot ages 18 months in 35% new oak.
I discovered a well-structured wine with many layers resulting from the two vineyards’ different soil profiles. The wine exhibits aromas of dark fruit, tobacco, mocha, and savory earthy flavors of blackberry and chocolate.
Cabernet Franc/ Merlot Estate Walla Walla Valley 2018
This wine was a special treat for me to taste and celebrate Washington Wine Month. This unique wine is created explicitly for L’Ecole’s wine club. It is not a wine you can get all the time because L’Ecole only produces 298 cases.
The blend consists of 50% Cabernet Franc and 50% Merlot and like L’Ecole’s Estate Merlot 50% of the grapes come from the Ferguson Vineyard and the other half from the Seven Hills Vineyard. The wine ages 18 months in French oak with 30% new oak. This wine is created in the right bank Bordeaux style. It exhibits aromas of red fruit especially cranberry accented by savory notes of cedar and herbs. On the palate, the wine delivers a smoky, very rounded, and layered quality of flavors.
This wine can be ordered online directly from the winery if someone wants to take advantage of this unique blend. Please note the wine is available in limited quantities and recently released.
Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer received hosted wine samples. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.
Featured photo courtesy of L’Ecole No 41