Former home winemakers find their ship has come in with critics and consumers.
WITH SEATTLE’S OPENING DAY in our wake, the city’s most nautical-themed winery is Eight Bells, a three-man operation that has made a splash with critics and consumers since its inaugural vintage in 2009.
For those of you whose seafaring experience doesn’t extend beyond a Washington State ferry (myself included), eight bells refers to when a sailor goes off watch. A bell is rung every 30 minutes. On the eighth bell, the watch changes, and your shift is over.
Owners Tim Bates, Andy Shepherd and Frank Michiels were home winemakers whose hobby got out of hand. Bates and Shepherd worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and have spent plenty of time at sea on research missions.
Three to try
Eight Bells Winery 2012 David’s Block, Yakima Valley, $35: Named for legendary Washington winemaker David Lake, this is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, carménère and petit verdot. It is a field blend, meaning all the grapes are harvested, crushed and fermented together. Exotic aromas of plum, sandalwood and cinnamon are followed by even-keeled flavors of blackberry, blueberry and lavender.
Eight Bells Winery 2013 Red Willow Vineyard sangiovese, Yakima Valley, $25: Aromas of raspberry, black cherry and black pepper, followed by the crowd-pleasing flavor of raspberry jam. Smooth tannins lead to a memorable finish.
Eight Bells Winery 2014 Red Willow Vineyard syrah 8 clones, Yakima Valley $32: Thanks in part to a dollop of grenache (3 percent), this reveals huge aromas of blackberry, vanilla and barrel spice. On the palate, it’s a classic Washington syrah with flavors of blueberry, plum, leather, blackberry and a whiff of white pepper.
Moving production out of their garages, the three now make their wine in an old building in Seattle’s…