Waterbrook Library Tasting

Eric Rindal and John Freeman taste back to 1987

Great Northwest WineEric Degerman

WALLA WALLA, Wash. – Merlot has slipped to No. 2 when it comes to red varieties in Washington state, but a recent library tasting in Walla Walla of Waterbrook Winery has founding winemaker Eric Rindal believing in the grape more than ever.

“Merlot still could be the ‘state grape,’ ” Rindal said after a vertical tasting that began with a show-stopping Columbia Valley production from the 1987 vintage. “It was surprising how well these are doing.”

Rindal was age 23 when he started Waterbrook in 1983, and 23 years later, he sold it to Precept Wine in 2006.
“I still have a few of these wines in my cellar at the house,” said Rindal, who continues to live in Walla Walla, where he helps run a winery management software firm. “I have to admit it had been a long time since I tasted them, and it was kind of impressive, actually. There were wines that were really nice. It was a little bit unexpected on my part.”
When Rindal and his first wife, Janet, launched Waterbrook, it was the fourth winery in the Walla Walla Valley. The historic tasting, orchestrated by Precept and current Waterbrook winemaker John Freeman, included the 1984 Cabernet Sauvignon, 1987 Merlot and 1997 Meritage.

“We did an ’83 Chardonnay, but for Cabernet and Merlot, our first vintages were ’84,” Rindall said. “That was early, early on in Washington history. There were a few pioneers who came before me, obviously, Gary Figgins and Rick Small. The Prestons. There were a few out in Prosser, but it seems like there were only nine wineries in the state when we started.”
Rindall considers himself a longtime proponent for Merlot in Washington, and he credits much of his early winemaking style to Kay Simon – his first consultant.

“She had just started Chinook after leaving Chateau Ste. Michelle, and I think that what I learned early on probably came from Kay,” Rindal said. “She gave me a good minimalist basis for what she thought Washington was. And that has held true over time.”

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