Winemaking Philosophy

When we launched the winery in 2004, this is what we said we wanted to go:

“Our intention is to make wines that will one day be considered among the finest available.”

Such humility. Turns out, that when you source some of the finest fruit in the state and put it in cutting edge barrels and use traditional techniques used by industry icons, you stand at least a decent chance of producing some pretty nice wines. Not to flaunt our media supporters, but being named to Wine Spectator’s Top 100 and a Rising Star, Wine & Spirits’ Top 100 Winery in the World, and Wine Enthusiast Cult Winery we suppose gives us some claim to the notion that our wines taste great. We try awful hard.

So how did we get there?

2004: In our first vintage we made three wines: Stella Mae SyrahRuby Leigh Merlot Blend and Outlaw Merlot.

2005: We embraced the duality of our wild existential condition with Lumière ChardonnayDarkness Syrah and Wilderness Red Rhône Blend.

2006: Stella Mae became a Cabernet Sauvignon Blend, and Kingpin Cabernet Sauvignon and Ruckus Syrah joined the portfolio.

2008: We created Kindred Bordeaux Blend to compliment and augment Wilderness.

2009: Kelly launched her brainchild, Pearl Sauvignon Blanc, and we also added this old porch roséL’Autre Pinot Noir (from Oregon!) and Preposterous Malbec.

2010: The brilliant and reasonably diabolical Linn Scott joined our winemaking team. That year we added Rainmaker Cabernet SauvignonUntamed SyrahUnderworld Petit VerdotWonderland Grenache, and Hallelujah Port.

2011: We explored white Rhônes with Apparition Roussanne and added our second chardonnay, enlightenment.

2012: More adventure in this stupendous vintage as we brought to life Birdie Riesling, Yonder Cabernet Franc, Touriga Naçional and Petite Sirah and two more cabernet sauvignons, Evermore, from 40 year-old vines, and Holler, a compendium of fruit from our younger blocks from our all our cabernet vineyards.

So what is Sparkman Cellars wine about?

We believe it can be simplified something like this:

We produce a portfolio of wines that, at its core, is focused on Rhône and Bordeaux varietals, handcrafted in an elegant, yet fully expressionistic fashion. Simply put, our goal is to create wines that balance the finesse and earthiness of the old world and the power and richness of the new world, tasty wines that folks can enjoy now and, if they choose, for many years to come.

But these wines don’t just show up tasty. It happens by design. My father and brother are architects. My father-in-law was a technology systems designer. Our plan starts at the vineyard and progresses through many stages of design. The production details of every wine are provided HERE on our Geek Sheet.

Chris Sparkman and Linn Scott

 All of our site selections are based on what impact that place can have on those grapes. We currently source fruit from fifteen vineyards in six different AVAs. Within these vineyards we have chosen fifty different blocks. All but one vineyard, block and AVA are in Washington. We go to Oregon for Pinot Noir.

Varietals: In 2016 we made wine from 20 different varietals. So many flavors, so little time.

Clones: Clonal selection makes our flavor matrix even more complex. For example, we have five different clones for just Syrah, and they all bring a very different set of goodies to the blending table.

Harvest specs: Each year we spend time in the fifty blocks, detailing what we are trying to do and what the impact may be on the final design and execution of the wines involved. As harvest approaches we work with each grower to customize crop load, canopy, irrigation, and finally as we begin to sample fruit as it nears optimal ripeness, we resort to plain old measurement and sensory evaluation to decide when to pick.

Yeasts: I once had lunch with an old Italian winemaker who, in his best Itenglish, said, while explaining fermentation, “You know, Kreesuh, when theesuh buggsuh, they f@#$uh the sugar and uh sh#tuh the alcohol, eet uh-make-uh the wine.” Love that. And yet, these bugs – yeasts – do much more. Our program enlists the services of about a dozen different strains of yeast. Each has its own distinct impact on each different lot. Richness, mouth feel, floral amplification, structure, length, all manner of goodness.

Cooperages: Like many of the other factors already mentioned, cooperage – the barrels we choose – and how we apply them, is a major influence in each wine’s design and execution. Each barrel producer has a style. Some work with what we do. Some really good ones don’t. We are always experimenting to discover even more options to push our winemaking forward, but prefer to keep oak in a subservient role where it adds spice, richness, and dimension but does not dominate.

Blending: In this process we draft a wine’s actual composition. Several times in a wine’s life we taste through potential blend components. Later in the process we look at several iterations based on a wine’s protocol, some built on a label’s history. Still, other times we will radically alter a wine’s composition based on what we discover in the barrel. Check out the 2013 Pearl Sauvignon Blanc and 2012 Ruckus Syrah. These are significantly different than in the past because they are better this way.

Finishing: Fining and filtering are the final tools that we make granular decisions on. These can impact a wine’s aromas, mouth feel and clarity. We like to come away with a polished feeling so that what you sense is finely balanced, polished and complete.

Our winemaking involves planning on multiple levels, from vineyard to your face. We believe we are evolving and creating better and even more interesting wines as we enter our second decade of winemaking. Part of that is humility and thirst. If we thought we had it all figured out, it might be more manufacturing than art and science. So we stay open to what can be.

It gets wild during harvest, when eight weeks of our lives dissolve into a sort of improvisational dance/race/struggle against time and capacity. Logistics at times deals us a hand that we had not incorporated into our design and planning. So we go with it and learn from The Things We Hadn’t Planned On. Because they happen, and often times truly add to the end product in ways we could not foresee. We embrace that. We hope you enjoy the wines.

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