With hazy smoke drifting from Washington's forest fires on a warm Saturday afternoon, the atmosphere was warm and oppressive. I was also slightly hungover, the clanging in my head augmented by an outdoor pub-punk-metal band playing a block away from Woodinville's tasting rooms. These rooms are on an industrial estate, with dozens and dozens of sandwich boards pointing hopefully from the car park to a series of anonymous units. In the car park, there was a tour bus and a limousine, out of which staggered a high-heeled bachelorette party, as if they'd taken a very bad wrong turn from Napa. We wandered through the estate looking for a sandwich board to point us in the right direction, until we finally found Savage Grace, the estate's very last tasting room.
the tasting room experience
I really wasn't expecting to find Michael Savage, quiet and diffident, in the middle of an industrial estate visited by tour buses and bachelorette parties. Even though he's at the end of the estate, one of each came in while we were there, and he dealt with them nervously but efficiently. The tasting room is small, an industrial unit very tastefully converted into an intimate, stylish area.
Woodinville serves as a base for many wineries who source their grapes from distant, desolate eastern Washington. Like many other industrial tasting rooms, the wine is made on site, a tiny 'cellar' right next to the tasting experience. Michael took us into the cellar to show us the Sauvignon Blanc that had just been picked two days previously. He was ready to pour cultivated yeast into the tank - he described how he had experimented with native yeasts for Sauvignon Blanc and believed it made an inferior wine - and gave my friend Matt the opportunity to do it for himself. We all await with baited breath to see how the 2015 Sauvignon turns out: Michael thinks it will be bottled in February.
Michael SavageNervous, shy, and awkward, Michael Savage is not dissimilar to a quieter Woody Allen. Every question is received with a long pause as he considers the several different answers he could give. The answer he eventually decides to share is not likely to be the one expected, and it can take a while to follow his train of thought. Each answer takes a certain direction, however: his very particular take on how he thinks wine should be made and how he makes it.
Acidity is absolutely important. He picks his grapes earlier than anyone else does in the same vineyard, resulting not only in high acidity but wines with a very subtle, less fruity nature. He also chooses vineyards and growing regions that are cool, particularly Columbia Gorge, a wet AVA that straddles Washington and Oregon. The wines are generally released very young, giving the wines a raw just out of the barrel feel. This gives consumers the rare chance to taste quality, young wine near the beginning of its life. Although Michael is only into his fifth vintage with Savage Grace, the acidity and complexity of the wines offer definite ageing potential. Michael says he doesn't care when people drink his wines, though, just as long as they drink them.
|just-picked Sauvignon Blanc|