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Dumas Station – Quality At Any Price

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

It is uncommon for a winery to skip vintages. It is also uncommon, at least in the U.S., for a winery to adjust its price based on the quality of the wine. This is the story of one Washington winery that is doing both.

I vividly recall the first wine I had from Dumas Station. It was a 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon - the winery’s first vintage. Two things struck me. The first was the high quality of the wine. The second was the compelling price point, $25 for a superb Walla Walla Valley Cabernet. Though the prices have increased slightly over the years, Dumas Station continues to make its mark with extremely high quality wines that punch above their weight class. And the winery simply refuses to sacrifice quality.

Jay DeWitt and Doug Harvey founded Dumas Station in 2003. The winery is named after James Dumas, who started one of the first commercial apple orchards in Dayton, Washington back in the late 1800s. Thirty miles east of Walla Walla, freight trains from Dumas Station brought apples to points east and west. The winery’s logo is a train in homage to this history.

While both DeWitt and Harvey are Walla Walla natives, it wasn’t until they each moved to California and back that they met and discovered their mutual interest in wine. DeWitt, a fourth generation farmer, had worked with the Minnick family to establish Minnick Hills Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley in 1999 (NB: Not to be confused with Minick Vineyard in Yakima Valley). The duo made their first wine together in 2002 and decided to start a commercial winery the following year, with much of the fruit coming from Minnick Hills, which DeWitt manages.

Though Dumas Station’s commitment to quality has been exceptionally high over the years, in no case is this clearer than with the 2009 vintage. 2009 was a warm year. However, an October freeze cut the growing season short. Many of the varieties Dumas Station works with did not attain the level of quality that they were looking for. The winery could have made the wines anyway but at what cost to the brand?

Instead, DeWitt and Harvey decided not to produce their flagship Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot for the 2009 vintage - a bold decision and one for which the winery should be commended. Skipping a vintage, especially for a young winery, comes at a tremendous cost, financially and in terms of brand building. But if you are dedicated to making wine from specific vineyards and the quality is not what you want it to be, what price is too high to pay?

All was not lost in 2009, however. DeWitt and Harvey took their best juice and put it into the 2009 Cowcatcher Red, bulking off the rest. In terms of quality, the Cowcatcher Red, a wine typically made from declassified barrels, has consistently impressed. Notably, the 2007 vintage was in my Seattle Metropolitan Top 100 list for 2010.

The 2009 vintage does not disappoint. While the winery moved the price up from $19 to $24, who could blame them? This is all they’ve got! More to the point, it’s the winery’s best juice, showing added depth and breadth compared to previous vintages. While changing the price point to reflect the quality of the wine is atypical, doesn’t this just make sense? Besides, even with the higher price the wine is still true to the winery's calling card - a high quality wine that drinks above its price point.

Dumas Station Cowcatcher Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2009 $24
Rating: * (Excellent) Somewhat closed up initially, this wine reveals high-toned aromatics of baker’s chocolate, licorice, herbal notes, dark cherries, licorice, and a light medicinal note. The palate has a real weight and intensity, full of cherry fruit flavors. Once again, this wine delivers a lot of bang for the buck. 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot, 6% Syrah, and 5% Petit Verdot. 850 cases produced.

Dumas Station Estate Merlot Walla Walla Valley 2008 $28

Rating: * (Excellent) Extremely appealing aromatics of dusty milk chocolate, earth, a light herbaceousness, and tart red raspberries. A silky, plush palate with lush, tart fruit flavors and silky tannins. Drinking absolutely beautifully right now with years ahead of it. 75% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon. Minnick Hills and Birch Creek vineyards. Aged 22 months in American and French oak (40% new). 190 cases produced.

Dumas Station Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2007 $32

Rating: * (Excellent) Intriguing aromas of green olive, tobacco leaf, cherry, and an under layer of herbal notes and spice. Palate is tart with winding fruit flavors. An unusual profile that won’t necessarily please all comers but provides a unique expression of the Walla Walla Valley and the winery’s trademark high quality. 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, and 9% Petit Verdot. Minnick Hills Vineyard. Aged 22 months in American and French oak (70% new). 511 cases produced.

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