The Schoolhouse

Winemaker Marcus Rafanelli at the schoolhouseWe know whenever we spend time with L’Ecole 41‘s passionate winemaker Marcus Rafanelli at the schoolhouse, we’re going to have a fun and educational time. And our recent trip to Walla Walla continued that trend. For example, last month Marcus poured us recent releases and library wines in addition to tank and barrel samples. We compared the future releases to the current and older ones, and we can definitely say there is more impressive L’Ecole wine in the years ahead.

The Schoolhouse Comparisons

L'Ecole 41 SchoolhouseWe’ve been to L’Ecole 41’s historic schoolhouse so many times, it feels like home. Every time we visit Walla Walla, we always stop there first. Therefore, we knew we would enjoy our tasting with winemaker extraordinaire Marcus Rafanelli at the schoolhouse in late May.

Marcus offered us a number of barrel and tank samples from 2022, which he called “a fantastic year.” Subsequently, he opened a few current and previous releases for comparison.

About a year ago, Marcus told us, “Winemakers are artists and scientists, always experimenting. So if wine is exactly the same every year, something is wrong.” This year, he added that he and his team are constantly stepping up. And after tasting his future releases, our opinion is the already-excellent wines crafted by pioneer super-star winemaker Marty Clubb are improving even further under Marcus’ stewardship.

Photo Credit: L’Ecole 41

So here we go! First, Marcus poured the newest gem in the L’Ecole portfolio — the winery’s inaugural Sauvignon Blanc 2023. Moreover, L’Ecole also calls this refreshing sip of summer Frenchtown White, the companion wine to Frenchtown Red, both of which honor of Walla Walla’s first settlement, founded by French Canadians in the early 1800s. The 2023 Sauv Blanc is a limited, small production (350 cases), with aromas and flavors of stone fruit, citrus and green apples. It’s a Sauv Blanc with substance and a silky texture that invites you to pour another glass. Or three.

Barrel Samples at the Schoolhouse

Next, Marcus treated us to our initial comparative tasting: barrel samples of Rhône-style wines and previous releases.

Sauvignon Blanc and Comparisons of Syrah, GSMEstate Seven Hills 2023 GSM blends 35% each of Grenache and Syrah with 30% Mourvèdre, all from estate Seven Hills Vineyard. While still tannic, it will soften up in the barrel and seamlessly integrate by its spring 2025 release. Further, GSM 2023 shows the promise of its 2021 predecessor. which featured beautiful red and dark fruit flavors, with savory, spicy and peppery notes.

L’Ecole won’t release its Estate Seven Hills 2023 100% Syrah until 2026, but we could already taste the structure and sturdiness, especially when compared favorably to the 2021. Marcus crafted both vintages from some of the earliest Syrah plantings in the Walla Walla Valley. Not surprisingly, we found the 2021 even more luscious and savory than when we previously tasted it upon release, with earth, spice and everything nice (for instance, blackberries and bacon).

Tank Samples at the Schoolhouse

Up next, Marcus shared tank samples of Bordeaux-style wines, which are also incredible.

Candy Mountain Vineyard 2021 Red, Right Bank, and Malbec

Candy Mountain Red Wine, RB and MalbecTo start, we tasted Candy Mountain Vineyard 2021 Red Blend, which combines 70% Cabernet Sauvignon with 30% Merlot, and offers tantalizing flavors. While L’Ecole has produced this wine in the past, Candy Mountain, adjacent to Red Mountain, became an AVA in 2020. So, the name is now displayed more prominently on the label.

After sipping wine from that bottle, Marcus poured a barrel sample of Cabernet Franc-Merlot 2022. This right-bank Bordeaux-style wine is a 50/50 split of Cab Franc and Merlot from two estate vineyards, Ferguson and Seven Hills (another 50-50 split). Talk about symmetry! This stellar blend, which was about to be bottled when we tasted it, displays the potential of its spectacular predecessors. That is to say, the structure and elegance of Seven Hills fruit marries the minerality and earthiness from Ferguson. L’Ecole only produces this classic wine during exceptional vintages. We adore it.

We then tried 100% Walla Walla 2022 Malbec, which will be a small-production, winery exclusive. What a treat — L’Ecole has only created two previous vintages in 2007 and 2012. The Malbec was sourced from Pepper Bridge, estate Seven Hills and estate Ferguson vineyards (1/3 from each). We can’t wait to see where this one lands.

Cabernet Sauvignon at the Schoolhouse

Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla and Yellowjacket)We also tasted two tank samples of Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet Sauvignon 2022 Yellow Jacket
is 100% Rocks District Cab Sauv. We did not find the funk that is typical in Rocks Syrah, but it already has the wow factor. It can be aged up to 10 years, and we look forward to tasting it again at some point during that window.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2022 Walla Walla is 100% Cab from several prestigious vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley, representing unique soil types. Marcus calls it “a sipping Cab.” This is already a smooth, sophisticated Cab Sauv, which we’ve loved since the 2001 vintage. This beauty has a long future.

Perigee and Apogee

Apogee and Perigee at the SchoolhouseThese two blends are in a class of their own. Estate Perigee from Seven Hills Vineyard is the winery’s flagship Bordeaux-style blend. We first tasted the 2003 vintage of this head turner. Meanwhile, L’Ecole has produced Pepper Bridge Vineyard Apogee since 1993. Marcus has always told us Apogee makes him happy, which we understand. We compared tank samples of each to earlier vintages.

Marcus started with the killer Perigee 2014, which epitomizes Seven Hill’s distinctive cedar and dark fruit aromas and flavors, framed by a structured elegance. Then, we tasted a Perigee 2022 tank sample, which offers a similar composition and thread as the 2014 because they’re both from Seven Hills vineyard. This is a young, tightly wound wine at this stage, but it is bursting with rock-star potential.

Next came Apogee 2020, which features a special richness and concentration of fruit that immediately grabbed our attention. We hadn’t tasted this vintage in a few years, and it has evolved even further into a superb wine. Like the Perigee tank sample, Apogee 2022 is tight, tannic and needs air. But we are confident it will wow us in the future. We can’t wait to taste these two wines when they’re released.

Ferguson Estate

Ferguson Estate Wine and FuturesL’Ecole named its esteemed Ferguson Estate Vineyard after winery founders Baker and Jean Ferguson. The vineyard provides grapes with power and earthiness from fractured basalt soil with big-iron minerality.

A tank sample of Ferguson Estate 2022 Cabernet Sauvignon already has that wow factor. This single vineyard, 100% Cab shows minerality and as Marcus described it, “fruit waiting to spring out of your glasses.” We compared it to the 2020 vintage, which we called a “stunning, sophisticated showstopper” when it was released. And now, with a bit more age on it, Ferguson is one of the brightest of all of L’Ecole’s stars at the schoolhouse.

Another tank sample, Ferguson Estate 2022 blend is just now ready for bottling, and won’t be released until the spring of 2025. So, you can imagine, it needs more time to evolve. But we know it will be as impressive as previous vintages — proven when we tasted the 2014. Whoa! What an intoxicating wine. Marcus opened it five hours before we tasted it, and it was plush and amazing. Even with ten years already on it, he said it has aging possibilities for at least 10-15 more years. Gorgeous!

Summary

In conclusion, L’Ecole is, and always has been, a shining star. Read back on the words we used to describe their wine: stunning, intoxicating, head turner, showstopper, and more. You can’t go wrong with any of these L’Ecole wines. Each and every one of them is remarkable.

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Cheers!
Margot and Dave