During our recent visit to Walla Walla, Winemaker Marcus Rafanelli gave us a behind-the-scenes look at L’Ecole wine production. Over the years, we have enjoyed facility tours at wineries around the world. But this is a different class altogether for small-batch winemaking. The technology at L’Ecole 41 is showcased in state-of-the-art equipment. It was so cool to see how automated data creates such quality wine. Marcus also poured his excellent 2020 Alder Ridge Vineyard Grenache Rosé. And we barrel-tasted five of his new wines created with this new technology. Read on for details about L’Ecole wine production, and Marcus’ wines.
L’Ecole Winemaker Marcus Rafanelli
Our friend and winemaker Marcus Rafanelli loves his job at L’Ecole. And his passion is evident on his face when he enthusiastically discusses new technology that he introduced at the winery. So when he offered to take us behind the scenes, plus barrel-tasting, we responded with a resounding yes.
We first met Marcus when he was assistant winemaker at William Church Winery in Woodinville. We immediately noticed his talent, skill and his love for Washington state wine. He went on to intern at renowned wineries in Australia and Germany. Marcus then became an instructor at the WWCC Institute for Enology & Viticulture program, where he had earlier graduated. He also studied oak production in France. In December 2019, the talented Marty Clubb, managing winemaker and co-owner of the winery, welcomed Marcus to L’Ecole as the new winemaker.
L’Ecole Wine Production
Marcus and his winemaking team produce 45,000 cases annually of grapes from 30 vineyards, which are fermented in 90 lots, and aged in 2,000 barrels. As a result, L’Ecole crafts 20 different wines, priced from $15-$70. In the past, the winemaking team collected manual data in spreadsheets and handwritten reports. Marcus suggested the time had come to upgrade their technology, which he showed us during our visit.
First, Marcus pointed to a complex yet speedy wine analysis machine, Oenofoss, also known as an ETS lab in a box. Oenofoss helps improve wine quality while saving money on wine analysis. “It’s been calibrated to our wines from the factory and allows us to make on-the-fly decisions since results only are three minutes away,” Marcus explained.
Next, L’Ecole upgraded to a precise Mettler Toledo pH meter, which measures pH to the thousandths. “This is extremely important. It also measures conductivity to check cold stability, and oxidatative reduction potential to check for wines going to a stinky reductive state,” Marcus said. “We also measure dissolved oxygen, before, during and after filtration and bottling, to make sure oxygen doesn’t get into the wine, diminishing its age-worthiness.”
In addition, Marcus installed Vintrace software to track all data in an integrated system. With access on his mobile tablet, he can display Brix and sampling data numbers immediately. And new barrels are entered digitally upon arrival to include cooper name and toast level, with bar codes replacing time-consuming hand-written entries.
Finally, L’Ecole added a new Bucher Vaslin cross-flow filtration system, which is fully automatic and very gentle on the wines’ structure and aromatics. “This one machine will increase the overall quality of the wines just by having it in the building,” Marcus said.
L’Ecole Alder Ridge Vineyard Grenache Rosé 2020
After our behind-the-scenes tour, we tasted Marcus’ first L’Ecole Rosé. 2020 Alder Ridge Vineyard Grenache Rosé is a classic lightly colored Provence-style Rosé that is simply delicious. Aromatics of strawberries, raspberries and watermelon lead into beautiful flavors of orange peel, pomegranate and juicy strawberries. Fermented in stainless steel tanks, this 100% Grenache Rosé is clean and crisp with bright acidity. It will definitely be featured on our lakeside deck this summer. We bought lots to bring home.
L’Ecole Barrel Tasting
Subsequently, we barrel tasted five wines: 2020 Luminesce, 2020 Columbia Valley Semillon, 2020 Columbia Valley Chardonnay, 2020 Yellowjacket Cabernet Sauvignon and 2020 Stone Tree Grenache. Each and every one of them shows spectacular potential.
2020 Luminesce blends 62% Seven Hills Semillon and 38% Seven Hills Sauvignon Blanc, somewhat different than the 50-50 split in the 2019 vintage. As always, Sauvignon Blanc’s crisp floral, mineral notes accent Semillon’s richness. This compelling Bordeaux-style white blend is always popular at the school house.
In the barrel, L’Ecole’s flagship 2020 Columbia Valley Semillon displays the promise of its predecessors. The palate is rich with mouthwatering acidity and complexity.
2020 Columbia Valley Chardonnay already offers a beautiful weight, balance and freshness, and is not at all buttery – our kind of Chardonnay.
2020 Stone Tree Vineyard Grenache demonstrates why L’Ecole uses it both as a 100% varietal as well as a blending component in Syrah. If you like spicy, savory and earthy wine, look for this one in the months ahead.
2020 Yellowjacket (Rocks District) Cabernet Sauvignon immediately grabbed our attention. It already has that wow factor, and we can’t wait to see where it lands.
Summary: L’Ecole Wine Production
In conclusion, with this new technology, L’Ecole can increase production while maintaining high-quality, small-batch winemaking standards. We can attest to this, judging by the wines we barrel-tasted with Marcus during our visit to the school house.
Once you’re vaccinated and ready to travel again, we highly recommend a stop at L’Ecole in Walla Walla. Or if you don’t want to hit the road or fly yet, you can always order their wine online. And don’t forget to try Marcus’ Alder Ridge Vineyard Grenache Rosé 2020. Bring on summer! Or simply Rosé all day, regardless of the season.
Previous stories about L’Ecole 41:
- L’Ecole Estate Syrah and Sustainability
- Artisan Wine by L’Ecole
- L’Ecole 41 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2017
- L’Ecole 41 2021
- Favorite 50 Wines in 2020
- Walla Walla’s L’Ecole 41
Margot and Dave