Is Bigger Always Better?

I have found some absolutely wonderful wines from small, obscure, little-known, low-production wineries.  Such wineries are sometimes referred to as “boutique” wineries.  One such winery is located in the State of Washington and is known as Pomum Cellars.  There may be something out there that I might like better, but, at this point, the Shya Red is my favorite.  Some wine producers grow their own grapes and make their own wine.  Some purchase the grapes from vineyards which may or may not produce wine of their own.  Pomum is one which carefully selects the type of grapes (varietals) from the growing locations (AVAs—American Viticultural Areas), which the wine-makers, Javier and Shylah Alfonso, believe will best enable them to produce the wine product that they desire.

I first met Javier while on a wine-tasting trip through the State of Washington and into the Willamette Valley area of Oregon in 2007.  During this trip I had the opportunity to taste many excellent wines, visiting close to fifty wineries.  I was traveling with a friend, who also enjoys wines, and who had set up a private tasting with a winery located near Woodinville, Washington.  This winery produced some very good wines and had just recently received a very high rating for one of its wines from renowned wine expert Robert Parker, Jr.  This was certainly impressive.  While the three of us were tasting, the wine-maker invited his next-door business neighbor, who turned out to be Javier Alfonso, to join us in some after-hours tasting.  I began talking with Javier and learned that he was an engineer by day and a beginning wine-maker at night and that he made his wine in the small commercial, warehouse-type space next door.  I asked if he would show me his facilities, which he graciously did.  It didn’t strike me as being much bigger than a two to three car garage.  I don’t specifically recall, but it seems like he had about five or six large metal containers in which the wine was being made.  It was not particularly impressive, especially after many of the other wineries we had visited.  But, remember the book by its cover saying?  That definitely applied here.  I asked if I could taste some of his wine.  It was wonderful!!  It was better than anything I had tasted next door.  I bought a few bottles and, after figuring out a way to ship my wine home to myself (no small problem, I assure you), I euphorically enjoyed the few bottles I had purchased, at home.  I asked Javier if Robert Parker, Jr. had ever rated his wine to which he responded “No, I don’t make enough to give him any (to taste),” a response which I found somewhat amusing.

At that time Pomum Cellars produced primarily two wines:  Syrah and Shyah Red.  Both are good, but the Shyah Red grabbed my attention right away and has never let it loose.  As I understand it, Javier’s heritage is Spanish and he comes from a wine-making family.  Shylah is from Oregon.  The Shyah Red (that name seems to bear a resemblance to the name Shylah, doesn’t it?), is what is called a Bordeaux-style blend, that is, a blend of three or more grapes to arrive at the finished product.  Such a wine (as is true with most wines) may vary, somewhat, from year to year, due to the quality of the grapes, the growing conditions, barreling and other factors (disclaimer—I am not a wine-maker, just a wine enjoyer) AND due to the respective percentages used of the various grapes that are blended together.  Javier’s 2004 vintage of Shyah Red consisted of 2280  BOTTLES, not cases.  That’s only 190 cases.  The blend was 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot.  It was wonderful.  Oh, I already said that.  I asked Javier if it really mattered whether the blend was…say 5% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot, for example, as opposed to his 4% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot.  His answer, very simply, was “It matters to me.”  He is the winemaker and that was an important lesson in wine-making.  The percentages of the blends are by design, not haphazard.  I find it interesting that I discovered my favorite wine entirely by accident.

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