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Revolve Nov 8 winemaker dinner


W.T. Vintners

Old world elegance and finesse

"It's not enough for wine to just taste good," muses W.T. Vintners' winemaker Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen. "There's plenty of good tasting wine out there. I feel that wine needs to reflect the place through the grape. And it needs to reflect the place, not just the region."

Jeff's an Old World wine appreciator. "In Burgundy, there are nuances in wine made from one vineyard to the next, and very distinct differences from one village to the next. I want my wines to be that distinct and I make five single-vineyard Syrahs the same way that are distinctly different. It's important to me to strip away as many variables as possible."

The work continues in the cellar where only old oak is used, which slows oxidization and allows chemical changes in the wine creating flavor and longevity. "The impact after fermentation is more gentle guidance. You have to respect Mother Nature and the vintage."

The vineyards are where the work begins. W.T. Vintners partners with seven vineyards: Destiny Ridge, Boushey, Grande Cote, Les Collines, Seven Springs, Stoney Vine, and Rainmaker. "Our first wine came from Destiny Ridge's 2007 harvest. We made 50 cases of one Syrah. We continued that with the 2008 and 2009 harvests. In 2009, I said to partners George White, Sr., (who has now been bought out) and George White, Jr., 'let's do this'. In 2010, we added Les Collines vineyard. Every year after that, we added a new vineyard and honed our style. We were seeking out the most singular places in Washington and Oregon."

Working with growers, Jeff likes to pick grapes early. "It has to do with acid and sugar. As grapes ripen, acid goes down and sugar goes up. High sugar means high alcohol content. Some winemakers add acid or water to dilute the sugar level, but that also lessens the connection with place. You have to pay attention to the different locations. For instance, Stoney Vine in Walla Walla's Rocks District (photo) has very low acid. For the 2018 and 2019 vintages, I really pushed the limits on early picking. The wine was 12% alcohol. In the '80s and early '90s, David Lake's wines, the early Quilceda Creek and Woodward Canyon wines, were 12-14% alcohol - they were lighter on their feet and age-worthy. In the mid-'90s, big and bold Napa wines came into vogue. 1997 was a transition point. Robert Parker and the Wine Advocate touted wines made from grapes left on vines longer with higher sugar. If your wine was appreciated by them, you were anointed, and it helped you succeed. '80s and '90s wines emulated Old World and the new wines emulated Napa Valley. Syrah, first planted in Washington in 1986 at Red Willow, began to emulate the Barossa Valley instead of the Northern Rhone. Use of American oak was in instead of the more subtle French oak. So the style of Washington wine shifted. If you taste one of the older wines, it's a time capsule to a different experience."

Jeff also uses whole clusters vs. berries only. "This is rooted in tradition from the Rhone Valley. Stems can give structure and a more savory profile; wines have savory flavors and aromas, with additional layers of complexity. Flavors like bacon fat and black pepper are elevated. This isn't meant to subdue the wine, but to bring a counterpoint and allow them to age well. Stems are green and brown. If you use machines, it can rip into the green stems which can add bitterness to the wine."

In terms of release dates, W.T. Vintners does release some wines quickly, but others are held back a few years. "We want the wines to express themselves as they should. We hold some wines back quite a while and do a second release, mostly to show people the wines as we hope they'd be drunk."

As a long-term goal, Jeff works toward using grapes grown sustainably, organically, biodynamically. "Washington is rooted in industrial agriculture; we're moving from one cash crop to another. I'd like us to be looking at ways to elevate quality, not just quantity. Alcohol is already a poison we put in our bodies, why add to it with things like Round-Up? We're small, so I can only lean so hard on growers. But I ask the questions: Would you let your kids play in the vineyards tomorrow? Are you comfortable with your workers in this environment? We just haven't made the jump to wine yet in the way we look at food. We buy heirloom tomatoes, eat grass-fed beef, but we'll drink wine from tank farms, wine made for massive production. Wine is made to taste just like the focus group likes it, and that means changing the original product.

"Sustainable vineyards in Eastern Washington's high desert are great places to start because mold and rot pressures are very low. But transitioning to sustainable and organic farming is very expensive; you won't make your money back. The decision has to be a personal one, not a monetary one. As a starting point, we seek out vineyards that are Salmon Safe. The next level is Live Certified, and then organics. Again, the trouble with certification is that it's costly. Making wine takes lots of water. I'm excited now about the Columbia Gorge area where grapes are grown right along the river. My hope is that through the success of our wines, our long-term partnership with growers will include answering the questions and ultimately caring for our planet better while producing food and drink that brings us joy. Our philosophy is little impact, small force of change."

Connie Adams/October 2020


W.T. Vintners
19495 144th Ave NE, Ste B210
Woodinville, WA 98072


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