The Walla Walla Valley has a well-earned reputation for red wines. In fact, more than 90 percent of the grapes grown here are red wine varieties.
One winery that bucks this trend is L’Ecole No. 41 in Lowden, a town west of downtown Walla Walla. It’s the third-oldest winery in the valley, and has long had a reputation for a strong lineup of white wines.
Marty Clubb, owner and director of winemaking, credits his in-laws, L’Ecole founders, Baker and Jean Ferguson, who championed such varieties as semillon and chenin blanc early in L’Ecole’s history, and Clubb has continued that devotion after taking over. Today, Clubb makes two blends in the style of white Bordeaux (blending semillon and sauvignon blanc) as well as two distinct chardonnays.
After a long day of wine touring, wine lovers arrive at L’Ecole, which is in a century-old former schoolhouse. They’ve likely tasted little more than red wines all day, so they opportunity to try some whites is downright refreshing.
Another reason for Clubb’s devotion to a white wine program has to do with sales and balance. L’Ecole sells its wines in all 50 states, so it’s important to offer something beyond big reds in the portfolio.
For Clubb, making white wines is an important part of winemaking, as it gives him an opportunity to explore the wine regions of the greater Columbia Valley and work with varieties that most don’t. As a result, L’Ecole has earned a reputation for varieties such as semillon and chenin blanc. And without chardonnay, Clubb would have missed out on exploring the grapes of the Ancient Lakes region of the Columbia Valley.
We recently had the opportunity to taste through L’Ecole’s white wine program. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant, or contact the winery directly to purchase.
L’Ecole No. 41 2016 Old Vines Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley, $15: Using vines planted in the ’70s, L’ecole does chenin right, reinvigorating interest in a variety we all should love a little more. Aromas of herbs, kiwi and vanilla give way to flavors of melon, apple and a hint of citrus, all backed by a crisp acidity. Everything you could hope for. Enjoy with smoked salmon, pork chops, Indian curries and Thai dishes.
L’Ecole No. 41 2016 Sèmillon, Columbia Valley, $14: We’ve long admired Marty Clubb’s dedication to this white Bordeaux grape, and this bottling is a classic, with opening whiffs of fresh figs and toast, followed by flavors of melted butter and golden delicious apple within a rich midpalate. Pair with roasted chicken, smoked turkey, shellfish and pasta in a cream sauce.
L’Ecole No. 41 2016 Klipsun Vineyard Sèmillon-Sauvignon Blanc, Red Mountain, $21: A white Bordeaux blend from a classic vineyard, this offers huge flavors of fig and melon, backed by a huge acidity and great mouth weight. Pair with shellfish, grilled salmon, pork, chicken or veal.
L’Ecole No. 41 2016 Seven Hills Vineyard Luminesce White Wine, Walla Walla Valley, $22: This white Bordeaux blend from estate fruit shows off aromas of lemon zest and chiffon, all backed by an impressive acidity and a nice mouth weight. Pair with smoked meats, seafood or pasta.
L’Ecole No. 41 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $22: Using grapes from the cooler Yakima Valley and Ancient Lakes regions results in a white with bright flavors of citrus and honeydew melon, all backed by a startling bright acidity. Pair with risotto, scallops or tomato bisque.
L’Ecole No. 41 Evergreen Vineyard Chardonnay, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $35: From arguably the top white wine vineyard in Washington comes this small-production chardonnay. It reveals aromas of tropical fruit, including banana and pineapple, a hint of oak, butter and minerality. Dare we say it is quite chablis-like. Try with fish and chips, seafood chowder or soft cheeses.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.