Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Watermill 2017 Hallowed Stones Cabernet Franc, The Rocks District

Hallowed Stones 2017 Cabernet Franc SMReady to rock your world? Try wines from this small Oregon wine region.

Terroir For Perfect Wines

What’s the most exciting AVA in the US? That’s a difficult question to answer. A number of new ones were approved in 2020, even one called Candy Mountain in Washington State.

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An AVA that is opening eyes and pleasing palates is The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, established in 2015. The Rocks District is located in the Walla Walla Valley AVA, which overlaps the Oregon and Washington border, but is located entirely on the Oregon side.

In 2019 I visited the region and was dazzled by the quality of wine and the unique growing conditions of the land. The Rocks District is a mere 3,767 acres, of which less than 350 are planted. Compare that with the Columbia Valley AVA, which also includes parts of Washington and Oregon, at more than 11 million acres of which roughly 60,000 are under vine.

The quality tops the charts: Four perfect 100-point wines were made using Rocks District grapes -- and the Rocks District is the only Oregon AVA to produce any 100-point wines. How can such a small space so captivate wine lovers?

Hallowed Stones Soil SMA Singular Soil

Other AVAs include patchworks of different soil types, but the Rocks District boasts the largest percentage of a single soil type of any AVA. What soil it is! The AVA boundaries are based upon the geographical distribution of the Freewater soil series, which comes from the cobblestone-rich gravels deposited by the Walla Walla River. The cobblestones consist entirely of basalt, a dark-colored, volcanic rock whose origins are the Blue Mountains.

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The soil would seem a very unlikely candidate to farm anything, let alone world-class wine. The fields are filled with softball-size cobblestones that seem to make any planting or tilling a gargantuan task. Therein lies the secret.

The cleared soil between rows of vines absorbs solar radiation and transmits it to the roots and low-hanging fruit to encourage early bud-break and growth. The surface stones help moderate the effects of cool weather by radiating warmth at night. The mineral elements in the weathered basalt? Well, the resulting flavors are sublime.

Finesse In A Glass

Watermill Winery is producing Rock District wines that positively shine. I enjoyed a lovely tasting and tour during my visit. Cabernet Franc is always a favorite with us, so I purchased a bottle that we opened recently.

Watermill Hallowed Stones Cab Franc and Beef Stroganoff SMAndrew Brown is the winemaker for the 2017 Hallowed Stones Cabernet Franc of which 250 cases were produced. It is 100% Cabernet Franc from the Freewater Cobble soil of the Rocks District. It gets 11 months of aging in French oak, (30% new).

In this Cab Franc creation, the vegetal notes are dialed-back in favor of a flowing minerality. There are precise chords of raspberry and blueberry with some savory notes.The ABV is 13.9%, but the wine is approachable and balanced so well we gave it nary a thought.

The wine is truly finesse and grace in a glass. We paired the wine with vegetarian beef stroganoff and it melded wonderfully with the creamy sauce.

Both the 2017 and 2018 vintages are available from Watermill at $40. I’d suggest the 2017 while you can get it. The Hallowed Stone series also features Syrah and Tempranillo. It’s time to rock out!

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