Prosser winemaker has long history in Washington state

Wade Wolfe has influenced the direction of the Washington wine industry more than most people realize.

Most know him as the owner and winemaker of Thurston Wolfe, a 6,000-case winery in the Yakima Valley town of Prosser. Many know he ran winery giant Hogue Cellars for several years as its general manager. Some know he started his career in Washington wine as a viticulturist for Chateau Ste. Michelle. And few know he is the person primarily responsible with establishing the Columbia Valley American Viticultural Area.

Wolfe arrived in Washington in 1978 after earning his bachelor’s and doctorate at the University of California-Davis and working briefly on a viticultural project for the University of Arizona. In the late 1970s, he was part of Ste. Michelle’s plantings in the Horse Heaven Hills near Paterson, where Columbia Crest was built.

In 1984, the federal government approved the 11-million-acre Columbia Valley AVA, which stretches from Lake Chelan in the northwest past Milton-Freewater, Ore., in the southwest. Wolfe worked on the project with Walter Clore, a retired Washington State University researcher who is affectionately known as the “father of Washington wine.” Today, the Columbia Valley is the most widely recognized wine region in Washington, and most of the state’s 11 other AVAs are within the Columbia Valley.

Wolfe left Ste. Michelle in 1985, the same year he met Becky Yeaman, who worked for Quail Run (later Covey Run) Winery in the Yakima Valley. They married two years later, the same year they launched Thurston Wolfe. In 1991, Wolfe began working for Hogue as a vitculturist and later became general manager, overseeing the production of a half-million cases. He left Hogue in 2004 to focus full attention on Thurston Wolfe. A year later, Wolfe and Yeaman began building a new winery in the Vintners Village in Prosser and were the first to move into the complex in February 2006. Today, a dozen tasting rooms and a restaurant are within strolling distance of each other. Since the move, Thurston Wolfe has grown from 1,500 to 6,000 cases.

For Wolfe’s influence on Washington and his wines’ consistently high quality, Thurston Wolfe was honored this spring as Wine Press Northwest’s 2012 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year.

Here are a few Thurston Wolfe wines we’ve tried in the past several weeks. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or order directly from the winery:

Thurston Wolfe 2011 PGV, Columbia Valley, $16: This white blend starts with aromas of starfruit from the pinot gris and orange Creamcicle from viognier, backed by notes of jasmine, lychee, passionfruit and enjoyable grassiness and minerality. It’s a refreshing drink with lots of accessible fruit flavors such as Cameo apple, Bartlett pear, pineapple and apricot.

Thurston Wolfe 2009 Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $25: This opens with aromas of fresh-baked brownies, blackberries, mint and toasted nuts. On the palate, it unveils flavors of boysenberries, marionberries, loads of licorice, vanilla extract and black tea. The finish hangs on for an eternity.

Thurston Wolfe 2009 Doctor Wolfe’s Family Red, Washington, $16: This blend consists of equal parts primitivo and lemberger, along with a fair bit of petite sirah. It opens with aromas of cedar, blackberry jam, black currants and minerality. On the palate, it shows off bold blackberries, bing cherries, tons of chocolate, crushed walnut and Saskatoon berries. It’s all backed by sturdy tannins, which makes this a great wine for a sizzling steak or other hearty fare.

Thurston Wolfe 2009 The Teacher Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington, $25: Wade Wolfe named this wine for Stan Clarke, his best friend — and the guy who introduced Wolfe to his wife, Becky. Clarke, a longtime educator, winemaker and wine writer, died in 2007. This opens with aromas of boysenberries, marionberries, cola, mint and spearmint, followed by flavors of president plums, blueberries and freshly brewed coffee.

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

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