Airfield Estate
Part 9, Washington State: visiting one of North America's leading wine growing regions

Next visit was at Airfield Estate, where we met with winemaker and owner Marcus Miller (below) and assistant winemaker Pamela Solis.

 

Marcus' great grandfather, H Lloyd Miller, came here from Illinois. At this time JC Penney was just starting, and Lloyd, who was managing the Pendelton (OR) store formed a bond with Mr Penney. He heard about the Yakima Valley: it was a fertile place where you could grow anything. So Lloyd parted ways from Mr Penney, and came here with some cattle from Penney's ranch to start afresh.

He got involved with real estate, selling land. He bought some for himself. There was a problem, though. It was just the valley floor that had the essential irrigation. A second irrigation district was needed higher up the valley. Lloyd managed to convince President Roosevelt to sign off this new irrigation project in 1937.

Shortly after, Lloyd sold his property to a client who was looking for an airbase. Between 1942 and 1944, troop barracks and a hangar were erected, and 1300 pilots were trained here. After 1944 they left and there was an auction for the building. Lloyd was the only bidder, and got it for $1. So the airbase became the heart of this farm.


Assistant winemaker Pamela with friend 

The first winegrapes were planted here by his son, Don, in 1968. Things took off in the mid-1970s when Chateau Ste Michelle started buying their grapes. Now they farm 1200 acres, 900 of which are vinifera varieties and 300 of which are Concord (a hybrid variety).

Airfield began making their own wines with the 2005 vintage, and currently make 40 000 cases annually. 'I think the future is bright for us,' says Marcus. 'For our estate, I want us to be the pound for pound champion when it comes to value.' They process around 700 tons of their 4500 ton production. They sell grapes to Chateau Ste Michelle at $850 per ton. Marcus says that the calculation should be that grape cost should make 12 c per dollar of the wine's sale price.

 

There are two labels: Airfield and Lone Birch (the value range). Last year Marcus produced 28 different wines: 6 in the Lone Birch range, 10 in the main Airfield range, and 12 Airfield wines that were tasting room focused. 'Washington is in this weird state of being able to do a lot of things very well.'

THE WINES 

Airfield Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Yakima Valley, Washington State
Very aromatic, fresh and open with clean tropical fruit notes as well as some citrus. A bright, modern style with lovely fruitiness. 88/100

Airfield Chardonnay 2014 Yakima Valley, Washington State
70% stainless steel with the balance neutral French oak. Fresh pear fruit with some nice white peach and a hint of spice. This is direct with nice texture and lovely focused fruit. 88/100

Airfield Viognier 2014 Yakima Valley, Washington State
There are just 5 acres of this. It has a bright fruity nose with fresh, youthful pear fruit. Maybe this lacks a bit of Viognier personality? 86/100

Airfield Lone Birch Pinot Gris 2014 Yakima Valley, Washington State
They have 160 acres of Pinot Gris. Lively with sweet pear and grape. Rounded, fruity and quite delicious with a hint of sweetness. Clever commercial winemaking. 87/100

Airfield Ros 2014 Yakima Valley, Washington State
Varietal Sangiovese. Nice pale pink colour. Fruity, clean and modern with a hint of creaminess, and notes of cherry and strawberry. Some supple green notes. 88/100

Airfield Merlot 2012 Yakima Valley, Washington State
Fresh and vivid with juicy berry fruits on the nose. Sweet berry fruits on the palate with a bit of spiciness and hints of tar. Direct, ripe and juicy with nice supple fruit. 89/100

Airfield Merlot 2013 Yakima Valley, Washington State (barrel sample of final blend)
Supple, juicy and vivid with nice direct berry fruits. Ripe and fleshy with some spicy structure and a  hint of tar. Fresh and juicy. 88-90/100

Airfield Cabernet Sauvignon 2102 Yakima Valley, Washington State
Deep coloured. Lovely blackcurrant fruit. Ripe, sweet and supple with a bit of spiciness. Subtle green notes add interest. A nice vibrant wine with lovely fruit intensity. 90/100

Airfield Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Yakima Valley, Washington State
Barrel sample of final blend. Juicy, vivid and very fruity with pure, bright, focused fruit. Supple and a bit green, and made in a more elegant style. Juicy direct fruit. 90-92/100

Airfield Aviator 2012 Yakima Valley, Washington State
A Cabernet-based Bordeaux blend. There's a spicy, tarry edge to the sweet, dense but fleshy black fruits. Juicy and focused with lovely blackcurrant and black cherry notes. Sophisticated and balanced. 92/100

Airfield Lone Birch Red Blend 2013 Yakima Valley, Washington State
A Merlot-based, inexpensive Bordeaux blend. Juicy and berryish with sweet supple raspberry and cherry fruit. Very drinkable and nicely balanced. 87/100

Airfield Syrah 2013 Yakima Valley, Washington State
Supple, rounded, sweet and juicy with nice texture to the ripe fruit. Sleek with some sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit. Approachable and ripe. 89/100

Airfield Cabernet Franc 2013 Yakima Valley, Washington State
Varietally true with sweet, supple, rounded black cherry fruit and a nice hint of green. There's a soft, broad mid-palate here, and lovely fruit purity. Polished but with some personality. 90/100

WASHINGTON STATE WINES
Introduction
Betz 
Columbia Winery
De Lille
WT Vintners
Savage Grace
Chateau Ste Michelle
Andrew Will
Airfield Estates
Hedges
Milbrandt Vineyards
Ciel du Cheval Vineyard
Col Solare
Powers/Badger Mountain
J Bookwalter
Pacific Rim
Gordon Estate
Long Shadows
Seven Hills
Charles Smith
Geology with Kevin Pogue
Leonetti
Woodward Canyon
Gramercy Cellars
L'Ecole No 41
Columbia Crest
Maryhill
Memaloose/Idiot's Grace
COR Cellars
Syncline

Wines tasted 06/15  
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