Why is it that people who become famous for one particular thing so often renounce what first brought them renown? Take teen actress Lindsay Lohan. As a redhead she got lots of money and magazine covers but then she decided to go blonde, thereby annoying movie executives and engendering tabloid scorn. Or John McCain, who had a big following as a Bush foe but turned into a Bush booster instead. Thankfully, winemakers are more consistent than starlets or politicians, though they too can have identities they want to shed—as I discovered during a recent visit with a bunch of top winemakers in Washington State.
I've been a fan of Washington wines for some time; in fact, I even agree with the somewhat immodest claim of the state's wine commission that theirs is a "perfect climate" for wine. Especially Merlot. Thanks to a fairly long, even growing season, the best Washington Merlots combine the ripe, lush fruit of the New World with the structure and acidity of the Old World, resulting in complex, well-balanced wines. So why were so many of the winemakers I met with so unwilling to discuss Merlot at all?
I took note of this reluctance in Red Mountain, the first stop on my self-guided Merlot tour. Red Mountain, a relatively new appellation in eastern Yakima Valley, is the home of two of Washington State's most famous vineyards, Klipsun and Ciel du Cheval, and not far from the Hanford nuclear site.