In my own version of this theory, about 90% of what you taste is just . . . wine.
Certainly, some examples are better than others, but this large category doesn’t lend itself to instant judgements. Enough concentration is necessary to analyze and rate these wines to nearly rob any pleasure from the exercise. It’s easier on the fringes, where maybe 5% of what you taste is lousy and another 5% really lights up your day. A wine from that latter category led to my meeting Brad Binko.
At the conclusion of an all-day meeting of growers and winemakers in Prosser several months ago, those who didn’t have to drive too far stayed around for some snacks and a glass of wine. Some of these wines were provided by winemakers who’d attended the seminar. Always interested in trying something new, I spotted an unfamiliar label. It said Walla Walla, or more specifically, “Enjoy Walla Walla.” Was this a brand, I wondered? Or perhaps something left over from a promotional campaign for the City of Walla Walla or the Walla Walla winegrowing region? Regardless, the label indicated it was a Carménère, an obscure grape variety here though popular in Chile and native to Bordeaux. That was worth a try.
It was spectacular--one of those times when you do a physical double-take and say, “Hey, what is this stuff?” It turns out that it was one of several wines Brad Binko produces for his second label, “Drink Washington State.” All of them reference parts of the landscape with titles like, “Welcome to the Yakima Valley” (a sparkling Riesling) and “Groovin’ on Wahluke Slope” (Cabernet Sauvignon). The post-meeting reception was a social occasion than a time to take notes. However, the winery describes the 2014 Carménère as having “Dark plush fruit on the nose wrapped in vanilla soy. Spicy white pepper, plums, dark cherry on the palate with a nice jalapeno finish” and concludes, “This wine has big flavor and length on the finish.”
Seeing a fellow at this gathering wearing a Buffalo Bills sweater I struck up a football-oriented conversation and discovered that the man was Brad Binko, once of Buffalo, New York, and now a Washington winemaker. Furthermore, it was his wine that I was so taken with. He invited me to visit his downtown Wallla Walla tasting room and sample more of his wines. Drink Washington State offerings would be there, of course, but so would examples of Brad’s primary identity--Eternal Wines.
The 34-year old’s journey from Buffalo to Walla Walla is an interesting one that deserves more than a brief synopsis, but the short version is that he worked in fine dining establishments, first in Charleston, South Carolina and later in Las Vegas. As a sommelier buying a lot of wine for his Las Vegas employer, Brad took many trips to West Coast wine regions. He became quite familiar with California, but was intrigued by Washington—in particular, the Walla Walla appellation. Seeking a new career direction, he moved from the bright lights and neon of Las Vegas to the more pastoral environment of Washington’s wheat and wine country, where he enrolled in a two-year Viticulture & Enology program at Walla Walla Community College.
Between the Eternal and Drink Washington State labels, Brad Binko produces about 1800 cases of wine a year. This is small production, but sufficient to support an operation selling most of its wine from its own tasting room. The weekday on which I visited the tasting room of Eternal Wine, it wasn’t yet busy. It was an opportunity to learn more about Brad’s background, as well as sample much of the diverse array of wines he makes for his two brands.
Drink Washington State selections include a sparkling wine (100% Riesling) and a Chardonnay, a white blended wine and a Bordeaux blend, in addition to the Carmenere that so charmed me. They range in price from $19 to $26.
The current lineup of Eternal Wines is focused on Rhône varieties and carry proprietary names. There are two whites—a Viognier (Eternal Sunshine) and a Roussanne (Eternal Patience); a Syrah Rosé (Eternal Beauty), and a Fortified Syrah (Eternal Blss), made in the style of a vintage Port. There’s also a Bordeaux blend dubbed Rocketman Red, which relies heavily on its 65% Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines start at $21 for the Syrah Rosé and advance to $50 for the Fortified Syrah.
I sampled most of these wines and enjoyed a wide-ranging hour or two of conversation with Brad. Of course, we talked about the wines, but other topics, too. The day I visited his tasting room the winemaker wasn’t wearing Buffalo Bills gear, but a jersey from his favorite basketball team, the Boston Celtics. It had been my favorite team also, from the year the team acquired two stars from the University of San Francisco (USF) Dons, Bill Russell and K.C. Jones. Brad enjoyed baseball and basketball growing up and currently gets his exercise playing golf. I also met Brad’s pal Picasso, maybe an appropriately named canine companion for an artisan winemaker. What does all this have to do with the wine, you say? Well, nothing in the sense that it doesn’t give any of the descriptors from the usual possibilities on a cliché-laden list. However, my visit was to learn more about Brad Binko and his wines, not to pass judgement. That said, I liked ‘em all.
Editor’s note: Of course, the best way for you to learn about Eternal and Drink Washington State wines is to visit the tasting room at 9 South First Ave in Walla Walla and taste them for yourself. Alternatively, you can visit www.eternalwine.com.