Monday, May 23, 2011

Under Arrest

Ben and Gaye in their cellar
From mechanical engineer to brewer to winemaker, Ben Smith’s path to making righteous wines from Washington State isn’t exactly typical. In 1986, Ben moved to Seattle from Columbus Ohio where he grew up. As he’ll tell you, Ohio isn’t exactly an epicenter of epicurean delights so the move to Seattle was a bit of a culture shock. The biggest difference for him was that Seattleans actually cared about where their food came from. Everything had to be local. Working as a mechanical engineer for Boeing designing flight control systems for the Boeing 737 and 757 airliners, he found himself developing a fascination for fermentation and started home brewing beer with locally grown hops. From there, he developed a taste for wine and found a winemaking club at Boeing. Turns out, Ben had some skills. He continued to place 1st at Boeing’s annual winemaking competition. For those that don’t think that’s such a big deal, consider that this club now purchases 52 tons of fruit every year. Suppliers started approaching Ben, seeking his wines for their portfolio. Ben took is winemaking to the next level by “volunteering” at Andrew Will Winery where he gained invaluable experience under Chris Carmada’s wing for the ’94,’95, ’96, and ’97 vintages.  Cadence Winery was born in 1998

Cara Mia in her new vineyard
Ben and his wife Gaye do all the wine making together. The first commercial vintage was 1998 and produced about 630 total cases. The 2007 vintage is now in the market place with 2008 just around the corner. Total production is now about 2,400 cases. The wines are produced from fruit grown on Red Mountain, Washington State’s premier AVA. The Smith’s purchase fruit from the Ciel du Cheval and Taptiel Vineyards, among others. In 2004, they planted their first vineyard in Red Mountain with 40% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot. The vineyard is named Cara Mia after their daughter (now 10 years old). They realized the error quickly as Cara Mia now refers to it as “her vineyard”. Whoops.

It's all about terroir
It’s no wonder wine critic Stephen Tanzer commented on the Smith’s 2007 vintage, “There are any number of powerhouse Bordeaux blends being made in Washington, but very few wines with this degree of class.” The wines produced by Cadence Winery are nothing short of arresting. Powerful, yet seductive, use of Cabernet Franc lends full bodied wines that roll across the palate and with each turn, saturate it with daedal layers of fruit, earth and spice. Each wine more tenacious than the next, they handcuff your palate, steal your thoughts and force you to stare longingly into the glass as you try to grasp “just what is that subtle flavor in the back?” That subtle flavor is terroir, skill, class and passion. It can’t be faked.

Ben and Gaye’s names have been whispered among certain circles since their 2001 vintage. Their names are popping up more and more often in wine publications. They are clearly making an ascent to the top of the Washington wine list. That’s no small feat. When the Smith’s started the winery in 1998, there were only 125 wineries. Today, there are over 700.  But the wines are often overlooked by lazy restaurant and retail store owners who opt more for name recognition rather than quality from a region that is still just a pre-teen (in regional age). But as the Smith’s wines continue to garner praise from the press, wine geeks can expect to see the word “Cadence” on more and more wine lists and retail shelves. Production levels are enough so that serious collectors and curious enthusiasts can soak their palates. Don’t expect to trip over a stack of cases at discount stores or your local Morton’s. Thank goodness.

Recommend Wines:
2008 Cadence Winery Coda
2007 Cadence Winery Ciel du Cheval
2007 Cadence Winery Taptiel
2007 Cadence Winery Bel Canto

For More Information About the Wines:

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