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Uncorked: Washington winery turning out world-class wines

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012 11:52 a.m. CDT

Washington presents an interesting dichotomy.

It’s a state split in half by drastic climate variations. The population epicenters have green vegetation and are known for rainy days and music. Baer Winery might get its fruit from the arid eastern portion of the state but is located on the west side in a warehouse district loaded with winemakers in Woodinville. Baer is miles from its vineyards but turning out world-class wines.

Winemaker spotlight Cabernet Franc takes on many personalities.

In Washington, specifically in Ursa, a Bordeaux-style blend by Baer has a solid backbone. “We have a pretty expression of Cab Franc in Washington,” said owner Lisa Baer. “It’s a varietal that can sometimes be green ... . But we get dried roses, black pepper, spice and a beautiful bouquet.” Ursa was near the top of a prestigious year-end wine list, and a media and customer blitz followed. The winery is a father-daughter operation that Baer quipped also features “one-and-a-half employees.” Despite the attention, Baer stayed focused on maintaining a family-run winery.

“We aren’t bound to sales and marketing,” said Baer who added the Ursa blend changes year-to-year based on the harvested fruit. “We produce a number of cases based on the quality of the fruit we encounter in a given year.”

Founded in 2000 by Baer’s brother Lance, who passed away in 2009, she’s continued to grow the business.

While Baer currently produces 2,500 cases of six different wines, they could eventually expand to 5,000. In 2011, Syrah was harvested as their first foray outside of traditional Bordeaux blends. Baer said it could provide a “unique experience for wine list members and tasting room guests.”

What to buy Baer, Ursa, Columbia Valley 2008, $35: This wine is spectacularly complex with a mingling of blackberries, cherries and a marvelous spice combination. There’s hints of clove, all spice and anise present to add to the beautiful fruit. Dried roses, violets and black pepper on the nose are hints of what is a long, velvety finish. The wine is 53 percent Merlot, 29 percent Cab Franc, 13 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 4 percent malbec and a touch of petite verdot.

Wine 101 Washington has a few instant identifiers.

Rainy Seattle, grunge music stalwarts Pearl Jam and bold coffee come to mind first. While dreary days might require power chords and warm beverages, there’s nothing lush about the eastern portion of Washington.

The Cascade Range prohibits the passage of weather systems, and much of the eastern portion of the state is classified as a desert. It’s also the region that produces fruit for the state’s top wines.

• James Nokes writes a bi-weekly wine column for Shaw Media. He’s been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Contact him at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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