One of the more exciting wineries to come on the scene this year is Lantz Cellars. I first tried Lantz Cellars’ wines at Seattle Uncorked’s 8th Annual Sexy Syrah event where it made quite an impression not just on me but also on the other attendees who voted it first in the “People’s Choice” awards.
Lantz Cellars was founded by Kevin Lantz in 2003. Lantz, who works by day as an engineer, is a self-taught winemaker who learned the trade by reading the University of California-Davis textbooks as well as whatever other publications he could get his hands on. Kevin dates his interest in winemaking back to his first winery tour at age fourteen where the aromas of the barrel room overwhelmed and inspired him.
For Lantz’ first commercially available releases he produced two Syrahs, one from Rattlesnake Hills and another from the Yakima Valley. Lantz states that he particularly focused on the aroma and finish of these wines. Believing many Syrahs have a slight bitterness on the finish, he worked to mitigate this by gentle fermentation cap management, light pressing, and extended barrel aging. For aging, Lantz used 350-400 liter casks. His goal in using these large, Rhone-style casks, was to reduce the surface area to volume ratio of wood to wine. Doing so allows for extended aging (18-20 months) in a high percentage of new wood to soften the wine “without it tasting like a lumber yard” Lantz says. For the cooperage, Lantz chose fine grain French oak (Demptos, medium plus toast) to add aromatic complexity. The wines were racked only 3-4 times before bottling. Lantz believes that this, along with the large cooperage, allows the wine to retain its freshness and vibrant color.
The Rattlesnake Hills Syrah hails from Verhey Vineyards, the Yakima Valley from Buoy Vineyards. While the vines were grown from different clones (the Sara Lee and Washington clones respectively) these wines were otherwise handled almost identically. Grapes for both were received at the winery within twelve hours of each other; both were fermented in the same manner; and both were aged in identical cooperage. The only significant differences, outside of the location, clone, and viticulture influences, were that the Rattlesnake Hills wine was co-fermented with 3% Viogner and the Yakima Syrah was aged an additional two months in the barrel.
The resulting wines however are quite distinct. The Rattlesnake Hills wine - a standout - has an engaging yet understated nose and a soft, creamy palate. The Yakima Valley wine, which is also drinking very well but will benefit from some additional time in the bottle, bears a good deal of similarity on the nose to a Red Mountain wine. This is not particularly surprising as Buoy Vineyard, where the grapes were sourced, is located in Benton City and is just outside the Red Mountain AVA.
Describing these two wines, Lantz says “The Yakima Syrah…has brighter, acidic fruit and smoky aromas - like a northern Rhone style, whereas 55 miles to the west, the Rattlesnake Hills Syrah…has a heavy, spicy, dark fruit with pencil eraser aromas - like a southern Rhone.” Lantz says the Rattlesnake Hills offering is a “drink now” wine whereas the Yakima wine is a “wait a while and you won’t be disappointed.”
Lantz Cellars currently produces 450 cases annually with plans to expand to 3,000 cases in the coming years. In addition to these two Syrahs, the winery has also released a Sauvignon Blanc and a Cabernet. Lantz Cellars is located in Everett, Washington.
Where to Buy: Winery
Photos courtesy of Kevin Lantz
|Lantz Cellars Syrah Rattlesnake Hills 2006|| An understated nose with light game, spice, and lots of red and blue fruit. Raspberries and cream on the palate. Beautifully constructed. 97% Syrah; 3% Viognier. Verhey Vineyards, Rattlesnake Hills AVA. 14.4% alcohol.116 cases produced. ||$27|
|Lantz Cellars Syrah Yakima Valley 2006||Earth and mineral notes on a nose that shows similarities to many Red Mountain wines. Rich in texture with an elegant creaminess woven with light vanilla threads. 100% Syrah. Buoy Vineyards, Yakima Valley AVA. 14.2% alcohol. 38 cases produced.||$27|