Seven Hills, Walla Walla
Part 19, Washington State: visiting one of North America's leading wine growing regions

The next stop in the Washington State wine trip was Walla Walla, and a beautiful old 1904 building that was previously a cabinet-making plane mill. This is the home to Seven Hills Winery, and we met with owners Casey and Vicky McLellan, and sales/marketing person Eric McLaughlin.

Walla Walla is an appellation that straddles a state boundary. It's both Washington State and Oregon, but the wines fit much more easily into the Washington State scene than they do into Pinot Noir/Willamette Valley dominated Oregon. Seven Hills started out on the Oregon side in 1988, and the Seven Hills vineyard was planted by Casey and his father in 1982. 'We spent 10 years trying to get the Oregon wine brand extended beyond the Cascade Mountains,' says Casey. They ended up moving north over the state border in 2000. 'This historical bias has improved over the last decade,' he acknowledges.

Casey McLellan 

They developed the Seven Hills vineyard until 1995, when they sold it. They still have 10 hectares of estate grapes, but buy in from growers (including buying wine from the original vineyard). In 2016 Seven Hills was sold to the Crimson Wine Group (who also own Seghesio, Archery Summit and Pine Ridge), but Casey and Vicky are staying on running the show, and retain the McLellan Estate vineyard. Crimson have purchased the Seven Hills Vineyard, too, uniting the winery and vineyard again.

‘We tend to pick a little earlier than others,’ says Casey, ‘and use a little less oak. The aim is to let the vineyard personality show through.’ He’s also a fan of Merlot. ‘Merlot is exceptionally suited to Washington State. If you make it carefully it ca be pretty ageable, too.'

'The next frontier of Washington State wine is moving beyond style, making wines that are more true to place and variety,' he says. 'There is a general quality level in Washington State that is extraordinary, but the style hand is heavy among certain producers. Seven Hills has been the flag bearer of restraint.'

We tried current releases plus some older bottles. I really like these wines. The Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are both lovely, and the Pentad, a blend of the five best of the six Bordeaux red varieties each year, is quite special. I loved the 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon, which was beautiful. Small quantities of varietal Malbec and Petit Verdot are also made, and these are really interesting.


Seven Hills Merlot Seven Hills Vineyard 2013 Walla Walla, Washington State
Very fresh with nice definition to the blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. Ripe with good definition and purity. 92/100 (08/16)

Seven Hills Merlot Seven Hills Vineyard 2012 Walla Walla, Washington State
Sweet and quite rich with nice definition. Hints of chocolate and spice. Nice density here with a bit of grip and generous fruit. 92/100 (07/15)

Seven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Seven Hills Vineyard 2012 Walla Walla, Washington State
Supple, sweet and rounded with nicely defined blackcurrant fruit. Subtle and textured with a bit of spiciness. Very pretty and pure with lovely finesse. 93/100 (07/15)

Seven Hills Pentad 2012 Walla Walla, Washington State
They vinify all the six Bordeaux red varieties for this wine, but include only the five best each year. Sweet and richly textured with a lovely smooth, silky mouthfeel. Elegant and pure but still has lovely definition to the blackcurrant and black cherry fruit, with some floral overtones. Supple and pretty yet not lacking in concentration. 94/100 (07/15)

Seven Hills Merlot 2001 Walla Walla, Washington State
Fresh, really elegant nose is supple with a lovely sappy, leafy green edge. Elegant, pure and open with nice purity and some good detail. Nicely integrated green notes. 93/100 (07/15)

Seven Hills Pentad 2001 Walla Walla, Washington State
Debut vintage of this wine. Fine and expressive with a complex, perfumed nose and fine green, herby, olive-tinged detail to the sweet cherry and berry fruits. Ripe but smooth with lovely elegance and some warm autumnal flavours. 94/100 (07/15)

Seven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Walla Walla, Washington State
Supple, ripe and smooth with nice open black cherry and plum fruit. So supple and open. Textured and expressive with lovely weight. Fine, gentle and pretty. 93/100 (07/15

Seven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Walla Walla, Washington State
A warm vintage. Developed, with a perfumed, aromatic nose of dried mushrooms and soy, with fine herbs and fresh cherry fruit. This has clarity and detail still, but drink up. 94/100 (07/15)

Seven Hills Ciel du Cheval Vineyard 2013 Red Mountain, Washington State
Concentrated and a bit spicy with some meatiness. Spicy and vivid with some phenolic notes. Grippy and structured. 91/100 (08/16)

Seven Hills Ciel du Cheval Vineyard 2012 Red Mountain, Washington State
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%) with Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. So different, and very Red Mountain. Vivid red berry and spice fruit with some blackcurrant. Very stylish with ripe but structured fruit. 94/100 (07/15)

Seven Hills Cabernet Franc 2014 Walla Walla, Washington State
Lovely freshness here: very detailed and fresh with sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit. Nicely textured and generous, with some grip too. Rich but focused. 93/100 (08/16)

Seven Hills Petit Verdot McLellan Estate 2013 Walla Walla, Washington State
Vivid and fresh with raspberry, blackberry and cherry fruit. Fresh, floral and expressive with good structure. 92/100 (07/15)

Seven Hills Malbec McLellan Estate 2013 Walla Walla, Washington State
Planted in 2008, and aged in Hungarian and Russian oak. Pretty, pure and aromatic with floral red fruit and some spice and even passionfruit. Vibrant and supple on the palate with grippy raspberry fruit and some juiciness. Delightful. 93/100 (07/15) 

Columbia Winery
De Lille
WT Vintners
Savage Grace
Chateau Ste Michelle
Andrew Will
Airfield Estates
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
Woodward Canyon
Gramercy Cellars
L'Ecole No 41
Columbia Crest
Memaloose/Idiot's Grace
COR Cellars

Wines tasted as indicated
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