Suggested Retail: $29
L’Ecole No. 41 certainly qualifies as a pioneer in Washington’s wine industry. When founded, it became the 20th commercial winery in the state and the third In the Walla Walla Valley.
The name might seem curious until you realize that the winery is situated in the former Frenchtown School and that ecole is the word for school in the French language.
L’Ecole was established in 1983 in Lowden, by Jean and Baker Ferguson, who were then in their 60’s. Six years later their daughter Megan and her husband Marty Clubb, a chemical engineer for Bechtel, moved up from San Francisco to assume their roles at the winery, Marty becoming the General Manager and Winemaker.
The winery is in Lowden, which is about 15 miles west of the City of Walla Walla. It is known not just for its relative longevity, but for its reputation for quality. Wines from L’Ecole No. 41 have been on the annual Top 100 Winery list of Wine and Spirits Magazine 15 times. The august English wine magazine Decanter called their 2011 Estate Ferguson the Best Bordeaux Blend in the World.
L’Ecole produces several different bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet-based wines. This week’s “Pick” comes from the Columbia Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area), the largest of these geographically delimited regions in the state of Washington. After tasting this wine, we phoned Marty Clubb, the winery’s owner and winemaker about the grape sources for the Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. He explained that the fruit was sourced from what the winery calls its “Heritage Portfolio,” which includes “older, proven vineyards”. L’Ecole has been using Cabernet grapes from some of them for 30 to 35 years, he added, before ticking off names like Candy Mountain, Alder Ridge, Klipsun and a few others. Most are on what are defined as “acre contracts” which give the winery control of the grapegrowing practices to result in what they deem will give them the best fruit.
Your writer’s tasting notes included, “Aromas of berry/cherry, roasting coffee and some herbal notes. Deep, dark flavors of plum/blackberry/black cherry follow. Some brown spice qualities. There’s a nice mouth-feel. Tannins and acids are there, with a good balance. Medium-to-long finish.”
Marty Clubb commented that the winery strives for a consistent style year-in and year-out. He described the result as producing wines that are initially “aromatic and showy, yet having the structure and balance for ageability.”
Taste’s Pairing Suggestion: "Need something to pick up and/or harmonize with those spice and coffee components. Grilled Tri-Tip that’s received a good dose of spice rub. Maybe osso buco slowly simmered in a spicy tomato sauce would work well because of the good acidity in this wine."