Big Devine Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
I’ll start a longer diatribe about Washington State and Cabernet Sauvignon in a moment, but first I want to mention the 2014 vintage in the state of Washington as well as the Columbia Valley AVA.
The Columbia Valley AVA isn’t very helpful in regard to figuring out what’s in your glass. It basically includes all the growing regions in Central and Eastern Washington State, plus a bit of northern Oregon to boot. It’s about equivalent to slapping California on a wine and expecting people to know anything about what’s inside. Napa’s quite different than the central valley after all.
But, the 2014 vintage is at least a bit more instructive. It’s funny, every year a ton of ink is spilled in the mainstream wine press about the differences between different AVA’s within Napa Valley, but little more than a paragraph often gets written about Washington State and their vintage reports. Wine Spectator’s reports are about as good as it gets, but Washington gets less ink than Oregon which specializes in a single varietal from one region. Washington’s so much more diverse and produces a much higher quality of wine than say, Virginia which also gets listed alongside.
So the 2014 vintage in the Pacific Northwest was warm, quite consistent and warm throughout. For many, the thoughts of a ripe Washington Cabernet was pretty exciting. Really though, this was ideal for the Washington folks in many ways. First, there was no spring frost. That’s an increasing issue for vintners in the state, if the frost comes too late in the season it kills off entire crops as has happened in and around Walla Walla in the past. There’s also frost issues during harvest in some years, but 2014 ran a few weeks early and the frost late, so no issues on either side and a beautiful growing season was the result.
One thing you’ll notice about the wine in your glass, the tannins are quite a bit lower than you’d expect from a similarly priced Cabernet Sauvignon from California. That’s why Washington, over the long term is a threat to California’s preeminence with the varietal. Plus, with vineyard land being so inexpensive in comparison, the end price point for many wines ends up being a fraction of what it might be elsewhere.
I’ve talked about a few of the brands that are attached here before, but Big Devine is one of the few wine labels where I know the owner a bit and the winemaker, not so much.
I originally met Damian Davis at a wine tasting some time ago, it was a pretty good intro to someone whose brands make about 100,000 cases of wine per year….but still considers himself an owner of a startup.
Damian is one of those guys in the wine trade that’s willing to do two things. First, he snuck in some of the wine he made that wasn’t suppose to be at the tasting. Of the room of 150 wineries, I think he was the only one. Secondly, he’s an energetic guy. Like really energetic. Large scale wine tastings are nothing but groups of tables set up in ballrooms or convention centers. If you’re pouring wine, it’s hard not to be checked out at times. It’s hard not to tell people the same thing every 2 minutes over the course of three hours, then take the half gone wine home and call it a day. When I met Damian I got the feeling that he would have been much, much happier walking about the room with a few bottles of wine, seeing which conversations he could join. It seemed that the table wasn’t something that he was happy to hide behind like about 90% of the people pouring, but a confining thing that he would have been happier to remove. His nervous energy was endearing at an event, where too many end up simply going through the motions, or as retailers, only talking to the folks we already know.
It’s that energy that made me stop and taste through a range of wines that I didn’t have on my initial list and it’s that type of energy that makes his winery (really a group of separate labels) successful. He tells the story of starting to sell wine out of the back of his car, that’s something I can appreciate….that’s the way I normally pick up wine, much to the humor of those working in the large scale warehouses that store wine around Napa Valley and Sonoma.
In any case, Rainier Wine (the larger name of the winery here) makes quite a bit of wine. But, it’s spread out over many, many labels. For those outside of the Pacific Northwest, these wines simply aren’t available.
I’ve talked at length about how challenging it can be for wineries outside of California to gain attention on a national level, but Washington has some advantages. Surely, some of that advantage comes from the fact that they can produce high quality Cabernet Sauvignon for about $10-$15 less than many in California based on land values. But, there’s something else interesting and fun about seeing names before they end up everywhere right?
Big Devine is following the footsteps of other Washington labels that have made a name for themselves nationally. It’s a short list, but if someone were to have Chateau St Michelle and Charles Smith series of wines on their lists, there is absolutely zero reason to not feature a Big Devine Cabernet Sauvignon as well.
This month, the Big Devine is being featured in our Explorations Wine Club, our cheap wine club option. Well relatively cheap, but I think you see where I’m going here. It’s a damn good Cabernet that would be more expensive if made elsewhere.