When I travel to a winery for the first time it is always an incredible honor to be able to speak with the winemaker about their history, wine making styles, successes, and challenges. In this new series, A Word with the Winemaker, I will be sharing some of these one on one wine conversations.
“A winemaker never, never changes the character of a wine. The character comes from the grapes.” – Michel Rolland
There can be many reasons to visit a new winery, you get the first hand experience of tasting wines that are not likely to show up in a local wine store, and if you are lucky you will get the chance to meet the owner and winemaker which allows for some great insight into their story and winemaking process.
Firmly at the helm of one of Lake Chelan Wine Valley’s great producers, Angela Jacobs is crafting some outstanding Washington wines and telling a story with each of her eye catching wine labels.
Angela has been a wine maker for over 18 years, a career path that is both diverse, and has commonality with her Science background and degrees in Biochemistry and Cell & Molecular Biology. Following graduation in 2003 her keen interest in wine, which began in college and gave her the nickname WineGirl, prompted Angela to follow the world’s grape harvests and learn winemaking skills from renowned winemakers.
After some time spent in Oregon as an Enologist in the Willamette Valley, Angela answered the deep desire to develop her own wines under her own label by returning to Seattle and purchasing two tons of ultra-premium grapes from Red Mountain, WA. Hence, WineGirl wines was founded in 2007, when Angela licensed her first winery in Seattle and produced her debut vintages of WineGirl Wines which included Viognier, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. In 2010 Angela made Lake Chelan Wine Valley her home due to the areas potential this area of Washington state has to become a ‘world-class wine destination’. WineGirl Wines now calls the Village of Mason, along the north shore of Lake Chelan, its home with the wine operations and tasting room situated in the heart of this charming lake side town.
With this amount of winemaking experience I was curious what Angela felt one of the most important variables of Lake Chelan was, and what set it apart from other Washington Wine regions and AVAs.
“I think Lake Chelan, when compared to every other AVA on the coast, has screaming potential as a unique wine region producing equally unique and stunning wines. I feel the lake effect produces intense flavors like none other especially for spicy varietals such as Syrah, Gewurztraminer, and Malbec. The spicy characteristics of these wines stands out stunningly and the wines are never aggressively over ripened. Oftentimes, winemakers in warmer regions go for the ripest they can get and end up with wines that are too high in alcohol with flabby acids and too much overripe oxidized, raisin characteristics that get in the way of the natural characteristics of the fruit. In Lake Chelan you get a well balanced wine with alcohols that are moderate, and acids that are perfectly balanced needing little adjustment, and flavors that profile the actual varietal characteristics of the grape. I also grew up visiting this area with strong family ties to the region, combined with my passion for winemaking, the pairing was perfect.“
When asked what the most rewarding things about her job was Angela shared;
“The most rewarding thing about my job is seeing the look on a guest’s face when they have found their favorite wine and it has made their day.”
The day that I visited Angela at the WineGirl Wines in Lake Chelan they were busy with the Fall Harvest and in between driving the fork lift and watching over the process of juicing the Syrah, Angela and I talked about her favorite varietals to work with.
“I love working with all the different types of rosés. Each one is SO unique. So the complexity and comparisons are so much fun. I love working with barrel fermented Viogniers and Chardonnays. The body and flavors are so alluring and the bouquet during fermentation is what I want heaven to smell like. I feel like red wines make themselves, so I love working with many different vineyards so that I can achieve the perfect blended balance for Syrahs or Malbecs. We often have more than one version in a year of Malbec or Syrah, so that our guests can find their favorite. Malbec is always one of my favorites and for which we are well known.”
Angela has a passion for letting the grapes express themselves and she believes that her story as the winemaker will be told in how she guides the grapes into the wine they will become with as soft of a hand as possible.
I often wonder if winemakers are seeing a change in the grape harvest due to climate change and if so how does that affect their winemaking process. Angela shared with me a little about what her thoughts were regarding climate change.
“I’m not sure I could attribute changes in growing seasons to climate change per se, since I suppose I would likely want data from more than 20 years to look at, however, yes the last ten years have been quite different for the Lake Chelan area. In 2011 and 2012 they were very cold and we saw very high acid profiles in a lot of the red wines, and flat out unripened tannins in 2012, that every winemaker in the state was grateful to finally sell out of. No other year since, had that problem, but many of those nice and warm “ideal growing” years, had fires in all different regions of the state including 2012 and 2015 and 2017 for Lake Chelan area. I would say the 2017s, however were not affected like the 2012s and 2015s were affected by smoke taint. It’s all so crazy how many and how different the variables are each year and for each individual vineyard even. I think because of all this variability, my winemaking style has developed to “cast a wide net” and include many small lots of wines. Thus, any one lot in particular that may not turn out “naturally superior” may be able to be a part of a blend that is looking for exactly that acid hit or smoky flavor. And, my favorite thing about all the selection is that then my guests can find multiple favorites from our large portfolio of annual releases.”
At the WineGirl Wines tasting room I sampled a variety of their current releases and came home with a few bottles to enjoy. A stand out favorite of mine was the 2017 Syrah which had such a unique flavor profile with incredible notes of vanilla. (Just a note this wine may be sold out now).
A perfect wine for the holiday season you can see my post on how I paired this lovely Gewürztraminer with a seasonal Spiced Gin Pear Cake here.
After talking about some of her current releases I asked Angela if she had a favorite wine or vintage and what elements played a part in making that wine or vintage unique, here’s what she told me:
“Every year in the last ten has been so different. From freezing cold overall temps in 2011 and 2012 to aggressive heat profiles in 2013, to this currently wet and cold end of 2019. I think we enjoyed a series of more consistent “more like normal” years in 2016 and 2017 and 2018, although in 2017 in particular we saw little ripening in September because, although a beautiful fall, it never got over 70, thus the grapes just kinda hung out and the brix levels never really rose before harvest. I was on pins and needles to see what the flavors would be like for the reds, but they have turned out to be some of the best ever, perfectly balanced.”
Always looking to try something new and expand on her wine making talents, Angela told me that her newest ventures include releasing their first “Pet-Nat Sparkling Wine this winter and next year they already have new plans for summertime fun in Lake Chelan.
A trip to Lake Chelan are would not be complete without a visit to the incredibly friendly and down to earth WineGirl Wines. If you are lucky you will be able to chat with Angela while tasting her exceptional wines and find out what new and exciting things this incredibly busy winemaker has on deck.
I want to thank Angela and the rest of the staff at WineGirl Wines for allowing me to be part of their Syrah pressing day and for the memorable wine tasting experience.
Images © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.