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The Wines of Chris Figgins

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Figgins family has already cemented its place in Washington wine history. The family’s story is well known. In 1977, Gary and Nancy Figgins founded Leonetti Cellar, the first bonded winery in the Walla Walla Valley. More than thirty-five years later, a thriving wine industry with over 100 wineries has sprung up across the valley. During this time, Leonetti has played a pivotal role not just in establishing the valley as a premier wine region but also in establishing Washington’s reputation for quality.

Still, as much as the Figgins family has accomplished in the last 35 years, Figgins Family Wine Estates president and director of winemaking Chris Figgins – Gary and Nancy’s son - is looking to accomplish much more.

Chris Figgins joined Leonetti Cellar in the late 1990s, taking over head winemaking responsibilities from his father in 2001. Since that time, he has plotted somewhat of a new course for the winery, one that focuses exclusively on Walla Walla Valley fruit. He has also fine-tuned the winemaking program, dialing back the use of new oak to better highlight the fruit sources. However, in addition to refocusing the Leonetti portfolio, Figgins has brought much deeper ambitions.

Perhaps the first sign of this was the creation of FIGGINS. The focus of this winery is an estate red wine made from a single vineyard located in the Mill Creek Upland section of the Walla Walla Valley (read a Focus Report about the project here). The winery also produces a limited amount of Riesling.

It’s almost lost to the passage of time and Leonetti's focus on Bordeaux varieties that Riesling was in fact the winery's first released wine. Decades later, Chris Figgins has again turned the family’s attention to the grape. Walla Walla Valley-designated whites are few and the fact that the FIGGINS Riesling drinks dry – a rarity in Washington – only adds to the wine’s intrigue.

Chris Figgins also recently announced another new wine project called Toil. This separate winery, under the umbrella of Figgins Family Wine Estates, will be dedicated to the production of Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley. Figgins says of the Willamette Valley, “I’ve been going down there for years. I love Pinot. Any winemaker that doesn’t have some fascination with Pinot and isn’t tempted…”

2012 will be the first released vintage for the wine, though Figgins made a limited amount in the challenging 2011 vintage. Vineyards for the fruit are currently located in the Eola-Amity Hills and Ribbon Ridge, though Figgins hopes to establish an estate site in the future (read more about the project on the winery’s website here). Tasting this wine at a young age, it was showing all of the richness of the vintage.

“I guess I’m a glutton for punishment,” Figgins joked of the new project. Of the name he says, “What it’s really about for me is hard work. I like the connection between toil, soil, and hard work.” In a callout to the family's history, the label image is a silhouette of Figgins' great uncle Bill taken on the first day that Leonetti Vineyard was planted in 1976.

In addition to the Pinot Noir project, Figgins is also – in a nod to his Italian roots – establishing a new-to-Washington Aglianico-focused vineyard called Serra Pedace. This terraced vineyard is located high up in the SeVein project in the southern section of the valley (more on this project in a future post).

While Figgins is pushing into a number of new frontiers, he is also not sitting still at Leonetti. He recently planted Sangiovese down in The Rocks region of the Walla Walla Valley with the hope of adding this to the winery’s Sangiovese. “It’s another arrow in the quiver,” he says of working with Rocks fruit, noting that he’s hoping the area can bring to the wine the earthy qualities it is so well known for. “If I can make earthy Sangiovese, I’m going to freak out!” he said excitedly. The site is named Holy Roller.

In addition to his work on his own projects, Figgins also continues to serves as consulting winemaker for former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe’s Doubleback winery (read a Focus report on the winery here). In terms of the two Doubleback releases, it’s clear that, stylistically, owner Drew Bledsoe is searching for refinement rather than sheer power.

Of note, the 2010 Doubleback Cabernet has the winery’s first significant amount of McQueen Vineyard fruit, the winery’s estate site. The wine also includes some fruit from LeFore Vineyard in The Rocks, which lends a distinct earthiness. Impressively, I tasted both the 2009 and 2010 releases from Doubleback over the course of week and they held up beautifully, something that augurs well for how they will age in the cellar. If I had to pick just one, I would give the edge to the 2010 – perhaps the winery’s best to date in an impressive string of releases.

Overall, tasting through the full lineup of Figgins’ wines, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the across the board high quality. Additionally, while some winemakers can fall into a trap of making wines that are more the same than different, there are clear delineations between each of these wines that make them unique.

Where will each of these projects lead? Of course, only time will tell but while Figgins has already left an indelible mark at Leonetti Cellar over the last decade, truly, he is just beginning to make his imprint on Northwest wine.

Pictures courtesy of Figgins Family Wine Estates. 

NB: Of note on the Leonetti Reserves in 2009 and 2010, there was no Petit Verdot included due to early frost and subsequent cool growing season.

FIGGINS Riesling Walla Walla Valley 2012 $30
(Excellent) Walla Walla is red wine country but this wine (and a few others) show that whites can do well here. It’s a moderately aromatic wine full of white peach, a touch of lime, and floral notes. It drinks dry with bright, tart acidity. 100% Riesling. Fermented and aged in stainless steel. Figgins Estate Vineyard. 12% alcohol. 6.0g/L Residual Sugar. 9.0g/L Total Acidity. 114 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Leonetti Cellar Sangiovese Walla Walla Valley 2009 $65
 (Good) Draws you into the glass with saddle leather, cranberry, game, and medicinal notes. The palate is medium bodied with soft fruit flavors. 92% Sangiovese and 8% Syrah. Seven Hills, Mill Creek Upland, and Pepper Bridge vineyards. Aged 22 Months in French Oak Puncheon and neutral French oak botti. 700 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Leonetti Cellar Sangiovese Walla Walla Valley 2010 $65
 (Exceptional) Aromatically brooding with dark cherries, cranberries, underbrush, and barrel spices. The palate is tightly wound with tart fruit flavors, cranberry-like acidity and firm tannins. Everything you could want in a New World Sangiovese with a long life ahead of it. 89% Sangiovese and 11% Syrah. Seven Hills, Mill Creek Upland, and Pepper Bridge vineyards. Aged 22 months in French oak puncheons and neutral French botti. 710 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Leonetti Cellar Merlot Walla Walla Valley 2010 $73
 (Excellent/Exceptional) Quite wound up at present with mocha, spice, red currant, brambly red fruit, and underbrush. The palate is soft with, rich, seamless red fruit flavors and supple, structured tannins and a drawn out finish. Give a couple years or an extended decant but this is an outstanding Merlot that should last in the cellar about as long as you care to keep it. 100% Merlot. Mill Creek Upland, Loess, and Seven Hills vineyards. Aged 15 months in French and American oak. 1,500 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Leonetti Cellar Merlot Walla Walla Valley 2011 $75
(Excellent) Aromatically generous with plum, scorched earth, and toasty spices. The palate is soft with plump, luxurious red fruit flavors and tannins that ramp up in intensity toward a tart finish. 100% Merlot. Loess, Seven Hills, and Mill Creek Upland. Aged 15 months in French oak. 2,044 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2009 $88
(Exceptional) Locked up tightly with dark cherries, raspberries, spice, incense, dry chocolate, and scorched earth. The palate is a showstopper, rich and opulent, packed full of dark fruit flavors, tightly wound tannins, and a coil of rich fruit flavors. Give this two years or more but this is a wine for the ages – perhaps the winery’s best of this last decade. 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 4% Carmenere, and 1% Malbec. Aged 22 months in new and neutral French oak. Mill Creek Upland, Loess, and Seven Hills vineyards. 2,760 cases produced. Reviewed December 31 2012

Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2010 $90
 (Exceptional) Aromatically locked up at present with scorched earth, black cherry, and toasty spices. The palate is intense, rich, weighty, and structured with equal parts power, and grace with a firm grip of tannins that occasionally run a touch dry and cranberry like tartness. Needs more time to develop but has a long life in front of it. 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, and 4% Carmenere. Seven Hills, Mill Creek Upland, and Loess vineyards. Aged 22 months in French oak. 2,330 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Leonetti Cellar Reserve Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2009 $140
 (Exceptional) Aromatically intoxicating with black currant, a medley of red and black fruit, bittersweet chocolate, anise, scorched earth, and oak spices. The palate is dense, rich, and concentrated with black fruit flavors and plump, plush tannins. A gorgeous, showy wine that displays beautifully after a few hours open. 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Merlot. Mill Creek Upland, Seven Hills, and Loess vineyards. Aged 22 months in French oak. 1,060 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Leonetti Cellar Reserve Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2010 $140
(Exceptional) Locked up tightly initially it opens to be richly aromatic and complex with dark coffee, rich black cherry, licorice, earth, and spice. The palate is concentrated with dark fruit and cranberry flavors and tightly wound tannins with a long, lingering finish. A beautiful wine with decades of enjoyment in front of it. Give five years or an extended decant. 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, and 9% Malbec. Loess, Mill Creek Upland, Seven Hills, and Leonetti Old Block vineyards. Aged 22 months in French oak. 1,003 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

FIGGINS Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2009 $85
 (Excellent/Exceptional) Locked up tightly at present with chocolate, red and black fruit, and scorched earth. The palate has densely concentrated fruit flavors with velvety, fine grained tannins and a lingering finish. A beautiful mixture of grace and power. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. Aged 22 months in French oak (55% new). 1,630 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

FIGGINS Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2010 $85
 (Exceptional) An aromatically appealing wine with mocha, earth, and a medley of red and black fruit, and graphite. The palate is a showstopper with a perfect balance of concentration, richness, and grace supported by firm tannins that need some time to unwind. Alternate parts a callout to Bordeaux and uniquely Washington. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. Aged 20 months in French oak (75% new). 14.3% alcohol. 1,550 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2009 $89
 (Exceptional) An immediately appealing wine with plump black cherries, cranberries, spice, toast, and earth. The palate is a Cabernet Sauvignon prototype with concentrated dark fruit flavors and soft, supple, beautifully integrated tannins and a lingering finish. 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, and 10% Petit Verdot. Loess, Seven Hills, LeFore, and Pepper Bridge vineyards. Aged 20 months in French oak (50% new). 14.4% alcohol. 1,600 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2010 $89
 (Exceptional) An aromatically complex wine with dusty chocolate, a distinct earthiness, cherry, spice, toast, and floral notes. The palate is arresting with tightly wound cherry flavors and supple tannins. One for the ages. 87% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Merlot. McQueen, Loess, Seven Hills, LeFore, and Pepper Bridge vineyards. Aged 20 months in French oak (67% new). 14.4% alcohol. 2,000 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.


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2 comments

  1. Jameson Fink Says:
  2. Look forward to hearing more about the Aglianico project. Intriguing!

     
  3. Anonymous Says:
  4. Very interesting with the Aglianico planting in SeVein. When I was in Walla Walla in September I was told Figgins had planted the vineyard but no one could tell me what was there. Those terrances do look impressive on the East-Southeast facing slope.

    Shawn Luke

     

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