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JB Neufeld - "that uniqueness of place"

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Winemaker Justin Neufeld of JB Neufeld Winery was taking a mycology class (the study of fungi) his junior year at the University of Washington when the class went on a field trip to Columbia Winery. “I was at that point in my life where I needed to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of it,” Neufeld says (Ah seems like yesterday. Wait! It was yesterday!). Pondering the question further at Seattle’s Green Lake, Neufeld started thinking about the people who make wine. “Why not me?” he asked. For Neufeld, winemaking seemed like a perfect blend between art and science.

After completing his degree in molecular biology, he started out as a laboratory technician/enologist at Silver Lake Winery. As the UW did not offer winemaking classes, Neufeld had to learn on the job. “Suits me better than academia,” he says. Neufeld subsequently became winemaker for Glen Fiona Winery in Walla Walla for the 2006 season before moving to Gilbert Cellars in 2007. Neufeld continues to serve as winemaker at Gilbert and also took over the winery’s vineyard management in 2009.

Neufeld credits his wife, Brooke, with giving him the inspiration to start his own winery. “I didn't know how I was going to pay for it, but my wife convinced me that we would find a way and to just go for it!” he says. The couple has been paying for the project using personal savings.

In thinking about names for the winery, Neufeld says that he wanted to use his last name, as an homage to his grandfather – “Even if no one can pronounce Neufeld!” He added the initials of his and his wife’s first names. Doing so only seemed fitting as the couple had given the first wine he had made, which they had bottled together, as gifts to guests at their wedding.

The 2008 JB Neufeld wines, the first releases from this winery, are both vineyard designated wines and 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon. Neufeld says that one of his favorite aspects of winemaking is seeing how the same variety, made by the same person but from different vineyards can make such different wines.

“I really don’t like to use the word terroir, but I haven't come up with a better term yet....I'm working on that,” he says. Neufeld notes that in blending a wine, something is lost of the sense of place. Of his new winery he says, “The focus of this project is maintaining that uniqueness of place.”

For the winery’s start, Neufeld has selected two exceptional and distinctive sites: DuBrul Vineyard in the Yakima Valley and Artz Vineyard on Red Mountain. Though trying to keep the focus on the vineyards, Neufeld says, “I do use new oak, which might seem contradictory to my focus, but I'm very selective with my coopers and use barrels that are made to contribute sweetness on the palate, while minimizing the impact on aromatics.”

The two 2008 JB Neufeld are intriguing contrasts – two wines that almost demand to be sampled side by side. The DuBrul Vineyard Cabernet has a unique profile with a poblano pepper note on the nose and palate that becomes more prominent over time. It is an elegant expression of the grape. The Artz Vineyard wine is a rich, dense, offering with well-integrated tannins. Both wines are at very reasonable price points for these well-regarded vineyards. For those interested in teasing out the expression of Cabernet Sauvignon at two distinct Washington vineyard sites, look no further.

JB Neufeld makes 350 cases annually.

JB Neufeld Cabernet Sauvignon DuBrul Vineyard Yakima Valley 2008 $32

Rating: +/* (Good/Excellent) A unique aroma profile with a poblano pepper top note, cherry, orange rind, and mineral notes on a moderately aromatic wine. A flavorful, elegant palate that sustains beautifully from start to finish with a persistent intensity. Dry tannins with a slightly sweet finish. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged 17 months in French oak (66% new). 14.9% alcohol. 85 cases produced.

JB Neufeld Cabernet Sauvignon Artz Vineyard Red Mountain 2008 $32

Rating: * (Excellent) An aromatic wine with milk chocolate, herbal notes, blackberry, licorice, spice, and mineral notes. The palate is dense and rich with well-integrated, chalky tannins. A persistent finish. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged 18 months in French oak (80% new). 15.0% alcohol. 270 cases produced.

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