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Adams Bench, part 2

The growth of Adams Bench

In the summer of 2004, Tim had a two-month sabbatical from his law firm. He and Erica took winemaking courses at UC Davis. Fall of 2004 saw them taking their first fruit from Aldercreek Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills, making one barrel of wine as home winemakers. "We were licensed and bonded in 2005 and took our first commercial harvest that year: five barrels made in our home garage with fruit from Aldercreek and Windy Ridge vineyards."

Tim Blue

In 2006, Tim and Erica were looking for property commensurate to their wine. They found their current property in Woodinville and moved into the house up the hill, turning the barn into a production facility, and in 2011 building a shop/storage/underground barrel cellar. Fruit is trucked in and everything from pressing to bottling to capping and labeling happens here. Two wines were made in 2006, a Cabernet Sauvignon and their flagship red blend "Reckoning" - named for the Adams disciplinary bench. "Your time on the bench was a time of reckoning," laughs Tim.

Winemaker Chris Camarda of Andrew Will consulted with them the first few years. "Chris never made wine for us, but was very helpful especially with vineyard owners, like those at Quilceda Creek, Woodward Canyon, Champoux. I called Paul Champoux when we wanted to expand our fruit sources. He had nothing but referred us to Milo and Kay May. Paul had planted their Cabernet Sauvignon and we took one ton from their young vines. In 2007, got into a 2-1/3 acre block and still have it today. Quilceda Creek, Andrew Will, and Fidelitas are there as well. Our 2008 first single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon came from that vineyard and got 94 points from Wine Advocate." They get some Syrah from May and have a quarter acre of Petit Verdot, plus ¾ acre of Merlot. "Merlot gives us versatility for single vineyard wines and blends."

They attended their first Washington Wine Grape Growers meeting in 2006 and met people from Stillwater Creek Vineyard. They bought the Stillwater Clone 6 Cab lot in the auction and are still in that block. They get Merlot from Stillwater as well.

At the 2007 meeting, they met Mike Sauer of Red Willow Vineyard. "After David Lake of Columbia passed away, there were two winemakers at Columbia, which had been taking all the fruit from Red Willow and Otis in Prosser, which has the oldest Cab vines in the state, planted in 1957-58. "Columbia started pulling out of Red Willow and we started buying; we're still doing it today."

Tasting room

As of December 2007 they had been in business three years and hadn't bottled anything. "We were on the verge of bottling our 2005 wine when we opened for Woodinville's St. Nick's Weekend. We shared samples of '05 Horse Heaven Hills red wine, barrel samples of our '06 wines, and nearly sold out of our '05s, 100+ cases, pre-release. I'd had great moments in my legal career, but this was the first opportunity outside of that. This was tangible, I made a product you could touch and feel. It was a significant time for us."

Spring of 2009 brought Jay Miller from Robert Parker Wine Advocate for a one-hour tasting of the released '06 wines and barrel samples of '07s on the verge of being bottled. He stayed two hours. "We could tell he loved them. Five months later, in issue 185, he called us a rising star of the Washington wine scene. It was a defining moment. Over the years, the Wine Advocate has tasted 42 of our wines; 38 got 90-94 points."

Tim has always focused on reds. "Over the years, I've come to love Cabs. I believe that if you focus on one thing, you can become really good at it, especially in a small operation. Our goal was to make 1,000 cases per year and that's where we are. Along with Cabs, we do red blends and occasionally single vineyard red varietals like Sangiovese."

Tim believes the best wine of the type they produce comes from fruit grown in an optimal vineyard, carefully tended, grown to the right tonnage per acre for the vintage (but generally low tonnage), is ripe and harvested at ripeness. Then steps are taken in the winery to maximize what the fruit has to offer, not minimize it. "We do this by avoiding seed tannin, extracting as much color and sweet tannin from the skin as possible; using French oak for aging, which complements not dominates; and avoiding filtration which diminishes color and viscosity. We don't crush, we press, and de-stem at harvest. We ferment mostly in open-top stainless steel tanks and inoculate with a yeast strain we trialed in our first few years. I punch down twice a day. We have whole berries fermenting in the tanks; punching down reduces heat and re-immerses fruit into juice. When fermentation is complete, we press using an upright stainless steel basket press. Juice goes into barrels and the tank is left with whole berries. We press those lightly; we can taste when a hint of something other than sweet tannin appears. Sometimes winemakers take too much credit for a product that comes from the sun, moon, stars, and vineyard practices. You have to stay humble."

For his Cabs, Tim uses 100% new French oak. Blends use 75-80% French oak. "We use barrels for two years, then sell them. Wine to us is about balance. We want hints of the barrel, it can't dominate. We don't filter at bottling because we don't want to reduce the voluptuous mouth feel. We focus on racking to clarify wine and give it some oxygen."

Adams Bench has minimal visiting hours. "Our hours became more rigid during the pandemic and it's been a good thing. Fewer hours attract people who are probably in our wine demographic. With fewer people in the room, we can talk to everyone. Our main focus is our wine club. As the pandemic intensified, we reached out even more to club members to keep in touch. We love our members, they're good people, and they put up with our stories!"

For the future, Tim sees things staying as they are. "We're happy making 1,000 cases per year. I appreciate the physical aspect of the work. I've had two careers that I love deeply. I appreciate people like my dad and father-in-law who cared enough to speak frankly to me." Those moments became life enhancers, much like the way you feel after a glass of an Adams Bench wine.

Connie Adams/March 2021

Click here to read part 1

Adams Bench
14360 160th Pl NE
Woodinville, WA 98072

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