An Afternoon with Olsen Estates at Sip
February 25, 2010 by Doug Haugen
This winter, we were invited to sit down with the folks from Olsen Estates to sip on their new portfolio of 2007 wines. We jumped at the opportunity, and headed down to the new Sip at the Wine Bar & Restaurant in downtown Seattle to meet Martin Olsen (winery manager) and Robert Johnson (distributor).
Walking into Sip, you feel like you’ve just joined a millionaire’s club. A long strip of terraced seating areas with leather couches and chairs complete with coffee tables and lamps suggests relaxed but swank social situations. (If only you could smoke cigars!) At the top of the ramp, you find a 3/4-circle bar protruding into the restaurant area, and table-seating facing an unlikely outdoor seating arrangement with a lawn. The sun was shining through the windows, tempting us to go outside, but it was still ridiculously cold outside, so we resisted.
The layout of the restaurant caters to any situation; casual cocktail hour, light lunch, or dinner parties. You could easily pass your entire Friday night away with vino and friends, or grab a quick glass and some nosh with your co-workers after the horn blows.
Sitting down with Martin and Robert, we decided to order lunch. Service was friendly and attentive (black-clad and fishnets all), and to complete the something-extra vibe of Sip, Voss water in glass bottles was brought to the table with accompanying goblets. A swank touch.
Portobello Sandwich ($14), with grilled portobello, sweet onions, arugula, fontina, piquillo pepper aioli and artisin bread. The piqullo pepper aioli made the portabello sing.
Chicken Focaccia ($13), with marinated tomatoes, grilled chicken, herb mayo & house made focaccia. Served with a side salad (oil / vinegar) that was damned tasty. The house-made focaccia was flawless, and the chicken was fork-cutting tender.
Then, Martin and Robert started bringing out the wines.
First, a word about Olsen Estates. “We’ve been growers first since 1980,” said Robert Johnson, “the winery is new.” Dick and Larry Olsen founded the Olsen Brothers Farm in 1972, planting apple and cherry orchards like so many farmers in Eastern Washington. In 1980, they started planting wine grapes, providing fruit for wineries around the state. Dick was even a founding member of the Washington Wine Commission and served as a commissioner for twelve years.
The Olsen Estates winery came around later, beginning with the 2006 crush. Olsen now has 2,500 acres of farmland, 800 of which are vineyards thriving with twenty-three varietals, and Olsen Estates uses fifty of those acres for their own wines. Since contracts with other wineries are renewed annually, Olsen essentially gets to choose which rows are growing the best and use them for their own wines, and then contract out the rest.
The winery follows a purist philosophy. Every wine is a 100% varietal; the only blending that occurs is of the same fruit from various sites–there are 28 vineyard sites in all. “We like to show off what our vineyards can do,” said Martin. Producing pure varietals can better exhibit the quality of the fruit. “We’ll always be a boutique winery,” he added. Boutique or not, they have a gorgeous tasting room in the Vintner’s Village area of Prosser. We visited there in the summer of 2008, and the whole Vintner’s Village area is a mecca for winos.
Let’s get to the wine. The level of quality in Olsen Estates wine is remarkable, and all being 100% varietals–something you don’t often see–you get an up-close-and-personal sense of Olsen’s fruit. While all are really well done, here are a few of the standouts:
This one made #68 on Paul Gregutt’s Top 100 list. Sporting a very creamy mouthfeel, it’s a little buttery, but not overwhelmingly so. Nice use of oak (16 months in 100% French oak, 74% new oak). It measures up to other of the state’s fantastic Chardonnay efforts.
Ripe, warm, yet sharp and focused. With grapes from four different sites, one of which is fifteen years old, the natural fermentation with only light filtration really showcases the fruit.
This PV has beautiful color, a tight nose, and inky and dense texture giving it a sense of maturity. If other Petit Verdots aim to kick you in the teeth, this one would rather wrap you in velvet and kiss you on the forehead. Only 200 cases were produced, and Olsen isn’t going to grow much in the next few years, but there is more planted.
“This wine is very special to us as a family,” said winery manager Martin Olsen. “Not only is the varietal on its own unusual, but the grapes were grown in a vineyard on our family’s newly dedicated Olsen Hill and released in our family’s centennial year in the Yakima Valley.”
Balanced and structured, the Coteaux is a contender among other $28 blends. Even character throughout and a kickin’ finish. Rich and round showing ripe fruit and an undertow that could be certain death. 700 cases produced, it’s the largest of their productions.
Olsen only released 297 cases of this one, but are releasing nearly 700 cases of the ’07 to rival the Rouge des Coteaux. A solid syrah effort showing quality Washington fruit.
The new flagship wine from Olsen Estates, it has a unique story and a “100 year finish.” The profile is as deep as the finish is long. Wino Approved and a “deal” at $55. This is a 2007 syrah from two vineyard sites, jazzed up in a beautiful label with a new mountain/leaf logo.
Olsen Estates announced this wine at the beginning of 2008 at the Centennial Celebration kickoff in their newly named Olsen Hill Vineyard, the first vineyard that was actually named (where the PetitVerdot is from). Since the Olsen family first settled in the area in 1908, after a hundred years, it was time to do something special, and the Heritage Series was born.