Napa Valley’s loss was Maryhill Winery’s gain in winemaker

Just two months before the 2009 harvest began, Richard Batchelor relocated from the center of the American wine industry to its new frontier.

Moving from California’s bucolic Napa Valley to the starkly beautiful eastern Columbia Gorge was a challenge for the New Zealand native, especially when he arrived at Maryhill Winery, which works with a wide array of grape varieties.

But based on his first red wines, which are newly released, Batchelor didn’t just start a new job. He found a home.

“I knew something about Washington wine,” he said from his office at the 80,000-case winery near Goldendale. “I was quite aware of its market influence and tasting profile. I just hadn’t played with Washington fruit before.”

Maryhill, founded in 1999 by Craig and Vicki Leuthold, has been a success since the day it opened, thanks to great wines, stunning views and a popular concert venue.

They were looking for some stability in their winemaking position when they brought in Batchelor, and it looks like they’ve found it.

Batchelor jumped in quickly at Maryhill, working with everything from merlot, cabernet franc and zinfandel to sangiovese, grenache and barbera. He is quick to give credit to the winery’s vineyard sources.

“Maryhill has had the same sources for a long time,” he said, adding that his primary role in 2009 was figuring out the optimal ripeness for harvest. “If that’s done correctly, the wine will fall into place.”

Batchelor is adding eight wines to Maryhill’s broad lineup, all of which will be available only to members of its reserve wine club. The winery also is building a reserve wine club room, which will open Memorial Day weekend.

We recently tasted through Maryhill’s new 2009 red wines, which are widely distributed or available directly from the winery. Here are a few of them:

Maryhill Winery 2009 Zinfandel, Columbia Valley, $17. One of the Northwest’s premier producers of zinfandel offers an inexpensive example that comes across as markedly different from the syrupy zins from California. Brown sugar, black currant, strawberry leaf, buttered toast and a pinch of sand begin to describe the aromatics. The flavor profile carries bright red fruit akin to raspberry, dark strawberry and cherry as a wealth of acidity arrives. There’s good control of alcohol and some milk chocolate in the finish.

Maryhill Winery 2009 Barbera, Columbia Valley, $17. Barbera is a niche grape in Washington. This new release opens with aromas of dusty blueberries, black currants, rose hips and blackberries, followed by flavors of black cherries, leather and blueberries. Modest tannins don’t get in the way of all the delicious fruit.

Maryhill Winery 2009 Proprietor’s Reserve Merlot, Columbia Valley, $25: This opens with aromas of black cherries, chocolate, minerality, rose hips and a hint of cedar, followed by rich, dark flavors of black cherries, blackberries, dark chocolate and underlying herbal notes.

Maryhill Winery 2009 Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $17: This cab franc reveals flavors of dried cherries, dark fruit compote, pomegranates and a hint of fresh rosemary, all of which lead to notes of milk chocolate on the finish. It has tons of bright acidity and a fair bit of tannin and oak, all combining with the delicious fruit for a wine that simply shines.

Maryhill Winery 2009 Proprietor’s Reserve Grenache, Columbia Valley, $20: Maryhill makes a delicious grenache year in and year out. This is a superb example with aromas of cherries, minerals and a blueberry milkshake, followed by easy-drinking flavors of blueberries, marionberries, blackberries and Rainier cherries.

Maryhill Winery 2009 Proprietor’s Reserve Sangiovese, Columbia Valley, $20: This opens with aromas of black currant candy, blueberries and Cherry Garcia ice cream, followed by bright flavors of cherries, blackberries, leather and tobacco leaf. It has just a hint of oak and is backed with sturdy acidity and tannins.

Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest magazine. For the freshest reviews, go to www.winepressnw.com/freshpress.

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