2010 Reader Survey Wine of the Year and 2011 Wine to Watch

Well folks, another year and another Reader Survey – now the 3rd annual – has gone by. Before formally announcing this year’s winners, let me thank all those who sent in nominations and took part in the voting.

My intention in starting the Reader Survey three years ago was to hear about what Washington wines my readers thought were most exciting from the year gone by and what wines they were most excited about in the coming year. This goal remains.

Of course, it is unfortunately nearly impossible to maintain the integrity of the survey, as some readers and wineries marshal forces to support specific wines (which is of course perfectly fine), and some people inevitably determine ways to vote multiple times. Despite this, many readers have told me they enjoy the survey, and this remains a reader survey – a survey for you.

Each year the most interesting thing for me is to see is the list of wines nominated – what people have liked and have been excited enough about to pick above others. This year, as in previous years, the list of nominated wines comprises an excellent list of the best of the best in Washington. See the complete list of nominees here.

This year, two wineries rose to the top in the survey – with the same wineries coming in first and second in both the 2010 Wine of the Year and 2011 Wine to Watch voting. I will first list the winners and then talk a bit about each winery and wine. See the final voting tally at the bottom of the post.

2010 Washington Wine Report Reader Survey Wine of the Year

Adams Bench Cabernet Sauvignon Red Willow Vineyard Yakima Valley 2007

2010 Washington Wine Report Reader Survey Wine of the Year Runner-up

Reynvaan Family Vineyards In the Rocks Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2008

2011 Washington Wine Report Reader Survey Wine to Watch

Adams Bench Reckoning Red Wine 2008

2011 Washington Wine Report Reader Survey
Wine to Watch Runner Up

Reynvaan Family Vineyards Stonessence Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2009

First, a bit about Adams Bench.

Adams Bench, located in Woodinville, Washington, was founded by Tim and Erica Blue. The winery is named after the school bench where students were sent as punishment when Tim was a boy in Indiana.

Adams Bench displays a consistent style of big, dense, tannin-filled wines. The winery makes a very small production of about 1,000 cases and focuses on a limited number of wines. While Chris Camarda of Andrew Will Winery consulted for the winery when the Blues started out, Tim has winemaker responsibilities and has shown a skilled touch with these wines.

Perhaps most impressive, the Adams Bench wines continue to get better and better with each vintage. This type of continual improvement and focus is a rarity and is a tribute to Blue’s focus on what he wants to do stylistically and his quest for excellence.

While the Adams Bench wines have always been very well made, the 2007 vintage releases are a revelation, squarely putting the winery into the upper echelon of wineries in the state. In no case is this clearer than with the 2007 Red Willow Cabernet Sauvignon – the 2010 Reader Survey Wine of the Year.

Red Willow stands among Washington’s finest vineyards, and the 2007 Adams Bench Red Willow Cabernet Sauvignon a beautiful expression of this site. Tim and Erica Blue described this wine best in their release letter back in February:

“Are all wines improved by blending? No. Sometimes a vineyard delivers something perfect, a jewel, complete unto itself—and so special there is no improving it with blending. In 2007, one block in one vineyard—Red Willow Vineyard--became for us a most wonderful 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a wine so special we’ve preserved it utterly pure and untouched.”

While I have not reviewed this wine in this space (I have elsewhere), I can say that it is nothing short of an exceptional expression of Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon and is certainly among the best wines to come out of the excellent 2007 Vintage.

The 2011 Reader Survey Wine to Watch – the 2008 Adams Bench Reckoning – is one of the winery’s Bordeaux-style blends. More information on this wine and its expected release date shortly.

On to Reynvaan Family Vineyards…

Reynvaan Family Vineyards
made an extremely impressive entrance onto the Washington wine scene almost exactly one year ago. The winery, located in Walla Walla, was founded in 2004. In the ensuing years, the Reynvaan family planted their estate vineyards and waited patiently for their first fruit.

One of these vineyards, called In the Rocks, is located (no surprise here) in the Rocks region of the Walla Walla Valley. Vigneron Christophe Baron of Cayuse Vineyards put the Rocks region of the valley on the map with his standout Syrahs – consistently among the most highly rated in the world.

In recent years, dozens of other wineries such as Reynvaan have followed suit, planting numerous vineyards in this area. While many have shown impressive results, none have the advantage that winemaker Matt Reynvaan at Reynvaan Family Vineyards does – having Baron as consulting viticulturalist and enologist. Baron has worked with the Reynvaan family at every step.

The results are nothing short of extraordinary, easily among the best wines in the state. Though the Reynvaan wines are reminiscent of the Cayuse style – certainly more so than any other Washington wines out there – they also bear the unique stamp of the of winery and the vineyards they come from.

The 2007 vintage wines, released in November of 2009, were all standouts. However, the wines from the 2008 vintage, released in November, were a gigantic leap forward. These wines, including the 2008 Reynvaan Family Vineyards In the Rocks Syrah – the 2010 Reader Survey Wine of the Year Runner-up - were each among the most exciting wines I tasted this year (see review here).

In 2011, Reynvaan Family Vineyards will be adding a fourth wine to its lineup – the 2009 Stonessence Syrah, which is our 2011 Reader Survey Wine to Watch Runner-up. This wine is 100% Syrah from a single clone from the In the Rocks Vineyard. Tasting this wine in November, it is again another significant advancement for the winery – bold and quite stylistically unique from their previous offerings. This wine is currently available via futures and will be released in November of 2011.

Again, thanks to all who took the time to vote in this year’s survey and happy holidays!

Final Voting - 2010 Wine of the Year

Adams Bench RW Cab 07 127 (45%)
Reynvaan In The Rocks 08 112 (40%)
Adams Bench V 07 39 (14%)
Votes: 278

Final Voting - 2011 Wine to Watch

Adams Bench Reckoning 08 107 (41%)
Reynvaan Stonesscence 09 85 (32%)
Grand Reve V 08 43 (16%)
Efeste Tough Guy 08 24 (9%)
Votes: 259

Note: Several readers brought to my attention that the Grand Reve Collaboration Series V 2008 was released in November of this year. My apologies for its inclusion in the voting.

Sean P. Sullivan


  1. Sean, I appreciate your staying above the fray here in "certifying" what seems to be some funny voting. There is a lot of great wine in Washington, but in all the reviews and throughout the blogosphere there does not seem to be nearly the kind of feedback or hype over Adams Bench or Reynvaan to support such lop-sided results, even from a readers survey. I'm unsure whether either winery had anything to do this funny voting, but to be safe, I am going to refrain from purchasing wine from either producer. Thankfully there is plenty of great Washington wine to be had from other makers.

  2. what if someone that didn't know much about washington wines came to your site? they could assume that these were some of the best that we have to offer and try them, be disappointed, tell their friends,and never try washington wine again. this kind of marketing based on a shady survey could be extemely detrimental to washington wines' reputation as a whole. it may be a "readers survey" but this is YOUR website and you need to be more responsible when it comes to the content YOU post. just because you CAN do something doesn't mean you SHOULD.

  3. i do kinda see what these guys are talking about. maybe you just don't do the survey again and let it be.

  4. Lots of sour grapes out there. I am certain that if you could get your hands on either of these, or the others which were reader nominations, there would be no dissappointment.

  5. Not buying a wine because it did well in an on-line poll is about the oddest thing I've ever heard of.

    As for Adams Bench Red Willow or Reyvaan In the Rocks not meeting expectations, check out some of the pro reviews.

    Rand Sealey, 40 years in WA wine and possessing a wine palate unmatched according to some reports, gave the AB 07 RW his only perfect score for a Washington wine. EVER. Maybe Rand was stuffing the ballot box.

    Reynvaan In the Rocks got 94 points from Jay Miller/Wine Advocate and 92 from Harvey Steiman/Wine Spectator.

    To think these wines won't show well outside the state is assinine.

    Sean, you can't win for losing. This is a fun poll, where all your readers and commenters have equal access to the site, the votes, etc.. and yet the comments you get from those same people are the ones just above mine.

  6. Chris, I was typing some thoughts to the same effect when you posted your comment. I'll supplement what you said with a few additional things.

    Anonymi, regarding both a lack of ratings to support the apparent enthusiasm for these two wines (Reader Survey WOTY) as well as concerns about people trying these wines and getting a bad impression of Washington (?), it's clear that the people who wrote these comments have not tried these wines. I have.

    As stated in the post, with the exception of the 2008 Adams Bench Reckoning, I have sampled each of these wines - some on multiple occasions. I rated the 2008 In the Rocks Syrah as exceptional (Double Star). In fact a friend brought over a bottle last night, and it wowed a room of ten people with one saying he was going to go out and buy a bottle (and this is not a man given to buying lots of $50 wines). I rated the Adams Bench 2007 Red Willow Cabernet at 92 points in the Seattle Met. Anyone who would come to this site and come away with the impression that these are two of the best wines in the state would be...correct. They are in my opinion, although this was, again, a reader survey.

    In addition to my own reviews, as Chris mentioned, there are published reviews for the 2007 In the Rocks Syrah (08 reviews are not out yet). Again, as I wrote above, the 2008 release of this wine is even better than the 2007 wine in my opinion, so I would expect these scores to be as high or higher. Regarding the Red Willow Cab, in addition to Rand Sealey's perfect score - who writes the excellent Review of Washington Wines and for whom I have nothing but the highest regard - there are published reviews for the Adams Bench 2007 Red Willow Cabernet as well (WS 92, WA 93).

    Bottom line, I have no problem whatsoever with these wines winning the Reader Survey as they are quite deserving. I find it odd to imply otherwise.

    I have, however, heard the concerns about the legitimacy of the voting. This obviously concerns me greatly. I spent a good deal of time looking into this prior to posting the results in both rounds. I did not find any evidence to support that an individual rigged the voting in some fashion to determine the outcome. This is not to say that it definitely did not occur, but I didn't see anything obvious (you'd be amazed at what you can see from analytics btw).

    One thing that is clear from these comments is that people are passionate about wine. I believe that this is part of the reason why people nominate wines, vote for wines, and have concerns about the outcome itself. As I noted above, each year individuals (saw a good deal of stuff on FB and Twitter encouraging people to vote for specific wines this year) or wineries (via FB, Twitter, and email) marshal their forces to get people to vote for a specific wine. I have no problem with this. When people send me emails asking me to vote for something, if I care about it and believe in what they are asking about, I take the time to vote. If I don’t, I don’t. I think many folks are the same way.

    For example, this year, during the nomination period, I received about 50 emails nominating one particular wine. Some of the people wrote *extended* emails about why the wine should be nominated (I should add that this wine was not among the finalists). That so many people would take the time and effort to write extended emails to me about the virtues of a particular wine is fantastic. That so many people would care about the voting and outcome is a good thing. I believe that it is this same enthusiasm that ultimately sways the voting, legitimately or illegitimately. People are passionate about wine.

    All of that said, I would like it to be more difficult for individuals to compromise the voting in some way. This obviously concerns me a great deal as it defeats the entire purpose of the Reader Survey to the extent that it occurs. I haven't decided if I will do the survey again next year but most likely won’t unless I can find a solution to this issue that I’m happy with.

    Thanks for the thoughts!

  7. First Sky River Meadry won the King 5 Best of Washington winery and now Adams Bench winning this have me scratching my head about the meaningfulness of online polls such as these.

  8. the "CHRIS" that posted above is Chris Camarda. he is the consulting winemaker for Adam's Bench. his entire opinion is meaningless as he works for the company. sorry chris but the wine just isn't that good man. keep trying though

  9. @ Anonymous post above:

    What? Are you trolling? Did you not click the homepage link, or are you just high?

    Beyond that, these wines are good. I'm not sure what the scandal's about. Are you all just upset that Cayuse or Quilceda didn't win? Who the heck else would you have preferred?

  10. I have tasted all four of the above wines and found every one of them to be highly meritorious wines. So I really don't have any problem with the Survey's outcome. The Red Willow is, indeed, a 20/20 points wine, and the Reynvaans' In the Rocks scored 19.5 points (in the December issue of my Review of Washington Wines). The "Contender" would have scored 20 points were it not sold out. I tasted the Adams Bench 2008 Reckoning yesterday at the winery and found it admirable (19.5 points). The Reynvaan 2009 Stonessence Syrah is a potential perfect 20/20 points wine. Both are definitely wines to watch. I voted for the Stonessence in the 2011 Wine to Watch category, but as I stated above, I don't find fault with the outcome.

  11. One way to approach this next year would be to continue to have the reader survey but also announce your own WOTY and wine to watch at the same time the reader results are released. This would offer users of the site both a "professional" and an "amateur" perspective that could make the whole exercise a little more interesting. Also, it could be useful to not show vote results until voting is completed to possibly relieve the pressure to "stuff the ballot box".

  12. I fail to see why there is so much talk of ballot box stuffing here. Every wine nominated could have won WOTY. There are a LOT of great wines produced in this state. The first year of the Reader's Survey, from what I can tell, looks a lot like this year, as far as numbers go, with 163 total votes(at least in the preliminaries) and the win going to a wine that received a PERFECT SCORE from a publication that many bash(but most still read).

    This year there were a total of 278 votes, with the winner garnering 45% (127 votes)out of a mere three wines. That wine received a perfect score from one of Washington's most respected wine voices. One might attribute the jump in voting to a readership that has grown over two years time.

    What I fail to understand is last years numbers and why there is such seeming outrage(at least from Anonymous posters) about this year. 1840 votes cast? Where are all of those voters this year? Has the economy taken a toll on the readership of a free wine blog (and a fine one at that)? Were all those voters just not able to sample wine this year?

    Let me break down those numbers....803 votes for 1st place , 686 for second, 212 for third and 139 for the FOURTH PLACE WINE. I ain't no math scientist but that is 12 more points than THIS YEAR'S WINNER. I am not saying that those wines were not deserving to win the poll. I just wonder why this years poll fail to catch fire in the hearts of Washington wine lovers.

    Sean, I voted in the poll. I enjoy your blog. Maybe Alan k.(thank god he is not another Anonymous) offers a good suggestion. Keep the poll and offer your own choice as well. I read your blog because I enjoy your perspective and commentary.

    As far as the Anonomi go, if you think that ANY of the wines originally nominated are not good representations of Washington wine, then you probably don't know Washington wine anyway. Enjoy your sour grapes elsewhere because you won't find them in any of these bottles.

  13. Congratulations to Adams Bench and Reynvaan! Regardless of how you feel about the poll, it's clear that there was some passion around these two brands!

    Just as important to me is the list of nominees. As Sean said, the list of nominees is a good representation of the best wines in Washington. So thanks everyone for building me a personal shopping list! There were several nominated wines I wasn't familiar with before, and so I have some tasting to do in 2011.


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