Columbia Valley, Washington
Corliss Estates is a family run winery with a strong perfectionist bent. Michael and Lauri Corliss founded the estate in 1999, but the first two vintages were discarded entirely, having not passed the muster they sought. The third vintage made the mark qualitatively, but they did not release it until 2008; in Michael and Lauri’s estimation, if a wine is purchased it should be ready to drink immediately, and they have the resources to make that possible. Their daughter, Katie Davis, has since come on board, overseeing the estate as President of Wine Operations.
More recently, the Corliss team has rolled out their "second" wine: the playfully named, "Secret Squirrel." Fruit from the same Red Mountain and Walla Walla vineyards as Corliss’ most sought-after Cabernets, those commanding triple digit price points on the shelf, is used here, together with the same attention to detail on the winemaking side of the ledger. At this intersection of provenance and precision, Secret Squirrel offers real value in a challenging category.
All vineyards are farmed organically at Corliss with a majority of the vineyards within the heralded Red Mountain AVA. The remainder of the fruit coming from the Blue Mountain Vineyard within the Walla Walla AVA, along with some younger vines in the greater Columbia Valley - this facilitates Secret Squirrel's comparably modest pricing. Both areas feature windblown loess soils not unlike some areas near the feet of the Alps, a result of glaciers grinding down rocks over time.
All of the grapes are harvested by hand, and the wineries are gravity-flow – gentle handling is the crux of the entire operation. No less care is taken in the winemaking process itself. Unlike scores of producers in the U.S., the Secret Squirrel wines are all made using indigenous yeasts and slow fermentations. The wines are neither fined nor filtered.
For ageing, Secret Squirrel employs a combination of puncheons (the larger vessels allowing for more control over the oak influence) and some barriques (generally 40%-50% new). Time is taken here: 22-24 months of ageing depending on the wine and vintage. Then the wines are laid down for significant bottle age.
The results of their precise approach show in the glass. The wines showcase the ripeness that made the west coast the envy of the wine world, but are fully dry, resolved, and tempered in manner. And despite their considerable pedigree, the pair of offerings from Secret Squirrel still manage to embody the whimsy of their label - fun and congenial.
Secret Squirrel Cabernet Sauvignon
Secret Squirrel Rhône Blend