Mercer Estates Columbia Valley (Washington) Sauvignon Blanc 2007 ($15): The first time I ever had a bird's eye view of the vineyards of eastern Washington State, it was in a small plane piloted by grapegrower Mike Hogue of The Hogue Cellars. Recently I encountered Mike in a whole new capacity, seven years after he sold The Hogue Cellars; he is now co-owner of the new Mercer Estates winery in partnership with grower Bud Mercer and both of their families.
The new venture was intriguing to me, because Hogue Cellars was --and still is--a hugely successful operation, making reliable, crowd-pleasing wines with true varietal expression, many in the $10 and under category: What would Mike Hogue do for an encore?
Mercer Estates as a grapegrowing operation draws its fruit from the Horse Heaven Hills, as well as various vineyards in the Yakima and Columbia Valleys. Both families have a strong background in agriculture and grapegrowing. Mercer's family started farming and ranching in Washington in the late 1800s, and Bud Mercer began growing wine grapes in the 1970s; Mike Hogue started farming in 1969, and in 1978 planted his first wine grapes. For winemaking expertise at Mercer Estates, the two turned to David Forsyth, who was the first winemaker at The Hogue Cellars.
The new wines seem different from those under the Hogue brand in that they are less fruit-driven and are subtler in flavor. But their varietal character rings true, and they are affordably priced. A favorite of mine is the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc. Produced mainly in stainless steel with 20% fermented in American oak, this is a dry, fragrant, fresh Sauvignon Blanc that avoids today's common pitfalls for this variety, namely sweetness, over-ripeness, and bitterness created by high alcohol extraction of flavor from the grapes.
The wine's medium-intense aroma has a gentle perfume from its oak, but is hardly what you would call an oaky nose; it suggests greengage plum, delicate citrus and herbal notes, and a vague whiff of cumin. In the mouth, the wine is medium-plus bodied with crisp acidity, succulent flavor, decent concentration of fruit character and long length. It combines an almost creamy texture with crispness--two attributes that seldom co-exist in a wine. A wine to enjoy now, it will complement delicate fish dishes, salads, and fresh chèvre, among other foods. Serve it nicely chilled.
Another wine I recommend is the 2005 Merlot from Horse Heaven Hills ($24). This dry wine is unmistakably Merlot in its dusty, plummy aromas and flavors, and its smooth and velvety texture. It also has depth on the mid-palate, very subtle oak, spicy and also juicy flavor notes, sophisticated understatement of style, and lovely balance. This wine can age and improve for a few years, although it is delightful now.
Mike Hogue has a hard act to follow, but with Bud Mercer and the Mercer Estates team, he can be proud of his second act.