L’Ecole No. 41 Takes Us To School
September 10, 2010 by Doug Haugen
Recently, we sat down to taste through some vino from L’Ecole No. 41, three bottles from the heart of the Walla Walla Valley. We’ve come to expect good things from Walla Walla grapes, and the ’07 Cabernet Sauvignon was nice, but L’Ecole’s Perigee and Apogee are, shall we say, stellar examples of what can be done with the fruit of the earth. Shazaam!
Located in historic Frenchtown just west of Walla Walla, L’Ecole No. 41 resides in a schoolhouse built in 1915 (“L’Ecole” is french for “the school”). Producing 30,000 bottles of barrel-aged wine every year, the winery is operated by Megan and Martin Clubb, daughter and son-in-law of founders Jean and Baker Ferguson. Martin is something of a colossus in the Washington wine community. Not only is he the head winemaker for L’Ecole, he is also a partner in Seven Hills Vineyard along with Leonetti Cellar and Pepper Bridge Winery. He was a Director for the Washington Wine Commission for ten years, and was the President and a Director of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance. Now he represents Washington as a Director of WineAmerica and is President and Director of the Washington Wine Institute. You would hardly think he would have time for wine-making, especially for a production level as large as L’Ecole’s, but the Perigee and Apogee show the care and attention to detail of small-lot artisan wines.
Walla Walla Valley, Seven Hills Vineyard
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Cab Franc
Make room in the cellar, this beauty is going to need some time. While it’s impressive now, it shows plenty of promise and room to grow, like a ten-year-old freshman at Harvard. The Perigee shows broad character spanning from the attack to the final notes of the finish. Balanced and deep with dark fruits, plum, and loganberry, this wine changes from minute to minute like a novel with multiple narratives, keeping you engaged and guessing. Red fruit makes its way forward after more than two glasses, and we guarantee you’ll go for that third. By the end of the bottle, the solid structure remains, keeping the many nuanced characteristics intact: earthiness suggesting peat moss, a wood shed stocked with pine and ceder, a candy counter hawking sugarplums and licorice, a long fruitstand with blackberries and black cherries on one end and raspberries and huckleberries on the other.
Walla Walla Valley
Pepper Bridge Vineyard
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 4% Cab Franc
If a wine can be passionate, the Apogee is just damned sultry up front, and the midpalate gets real serious real fast, going to third base faster than a cheerleader on homecoming night. The acid profile practically shouts what the potential of the juice will be after time in the bottle. The finish, more elegant than the attack, carries cherry and grapefruit notes, that sing a fairly short but impressive finale. Peaty earthiness return in this bottle along with cinnamon and crabapples, and the chewy mouthfeel is an alert that this wine means business.
Both the Perigee and Apogee warrant buying at least two bottles, one to stow and one to go. Drink what you can now, but be sure to add these volumes from “The Schoolhouse” to your library, because they’re going to be drinking even better in a few years.
These two wines were named after scientific terms. “Perigee” is the point where a body in orbit is closest to the earth. “Apogee” is the point where a body in orbit is the furthest away.