If you’ve never been to JM Cellars in Woodinville or Maltby, you are missing out on many wonderful Washington wines crafted by talented winemaker John Bigelow. John is the epitome of a winemaker who is both an artist and a scientist. We’ve been drinking his impressive wines since we moved to Seattle in 1999, one year after JM Cellars opened its doors at the picturesque Bramble Bump hill in Woodinville. We caught up with John a few times this spring and summer. In March, we chatted with him at Taste Red Mountain Woodinville. In April, we visited his Maltby location. And subsequently, we talked to him at Celebrate Washington Wine this month (pictured here with his son and Cellar Master, Tommy). We really enjoy listening to John Bigelow’s passionate stories and tasting his wines. Read on for more details.
Celebrating Washington Wine
On July 11, Washington Wine invited media and trade to the scenic Chateau Ste. Michelle to a “Celebrate Washington Wine” Grand Tasting with 116 wineries. Of course, we stopped by the JM Cellars table to see John and Tommy, his son and Cellar Master. First, John poured Grenache Blanc 2021, the third vintage of a refreshingly crisp wine showing lots of lime and other citrus flavors. It paired perfectly with the hot, sunny day. (Note: It will be released later this summer.)
Next, we tasted his 2020 ‘Ancora Imparo’ Grenache, partly fermented and aged in a clay amphora. Ancora Imparo is Italian for “Yet, I learn” – a perfect name to represent his winemaking ideology. This a smooth 100% Grenache with a pretty raspberry nose, made with estate fruit from Shaw Ridge along with Ciel du Cheval Vineyard. Specifically, one-third of the wine was fermented and aged in a clay amphora, and the other two-thirds in French oak.
By the way, until last year, Tommy was Viticulture Technician at Seven Hills Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley. He worked for Sadie Drury, one of the most respected grape growers in the northwest.
Visiting John Bigelow at JM Cellars Maltby
In April, we spent a fun and informative afternoon with John at his Maltby location of JM Cellars. He gave us barrel tastes of many of his upcoming wines, including an amazing “Concrete Chardonnay” (to be released this fall), crafted in a concrete egg. We also tasted the second vintage of Pinot Noir Amphora Sonoma Coast, which John produced in a clay amphora from Montecchio, Italy. John sourced the Pommard clone from notable Doña Margarita Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast AVA.
John is the only Washington winemaker to create Pinot Noir from California grapes. We also tasted the initial vintage, Pinot Noir Amphora 2020, which is unfortunately sold out. This 100% Pinot Noir benefits from the low-iron content in the clay, which is great for aging the wine. And what pretty aromas and flavors of strawberries, spices, orange zest, and a pop of pepper, freshness and salinity.
Taste Red Mountain Woodinville with John Bigelow
Likewise, we caught up with John at Taste Red Mountain Woodinville in March. He poured some of his superb new wines from Shaw Ridge Vineyard. Shaw Ridge is an estate vineyard, planted five years ago with Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah. John told us there was essentially no soil, only fractured basalt to plant into, and they had to drill 10,000 holes to start the plants. Wow. Irrigation was pulled to the top of the mountain and over the next two years, the vines established deep root structures through the fractured basalt. Subsequently, John says, the quality of fruit from their first harvest in 2020 was outstanding. These wines were aged about 16 months in a combination of French oak and clay amphora.
Shaw Ridge Vineyard Wine
For example, we tasted Thirty Six Degree 2020 Shaw Ridge Vineyard GSM blend. The slope of the vineyard is 36 degrees, hence the name of the wine. Layers of cherries, berries, plums and dark chocolate integrate with savory flavors of smoked meat, black pepper, olive tapenade and earthiness. Oh my, we look forward to tasting this beauty again in a few years.
We also tasted 2020 Shaw Ridge Vineyard Syrah, an elegant blend of two separate vineyard blocks, and co-fermented with 3% Viognier from Stillwater Creek Vineyard. Hints of nuts and chocolate from the amphora enhance the aromas and flavors of red and black fruits, pepper, olives and smoked meat, and a whiff of perfume from the Viognier.
Hops and Seed
During our April visit, we also discovered Hops and Seed, a small brewery inside John Bigelow’s Maltby winery that produces delicious, fresh, small-batch beer. Brewmaster Dru Seed and John were celebrating its first anniversary, so John kindly shared this growler of Citra Stacked Fresh Hop Double IPA. Packed with citrus flavors, this beer is lip-smacking good. We will definitely try more when we go back to Maltby.
In conclusion, we’ve been drinking JM Cellars wines since we moved to Seattle in 1999. We met John Bigelow ten years later. From our initial conversation, we found him engaging, friendly, passionate about wine, and a class act. That has not changed.
These days, in addition to wine and beer, he is also very excited about a port project that he began after his “incredible experience in Portugal.” We can’t wait to see what he does next.
Margot and Dave