In his 35 years in the Washington wine industry, Rob Griffin has gained a deep understanding of the vast Columbia Valley, and he uses his knowledge to craft wines that are routinely among the best in the Pacific Northwest.
Now, Griffin, 58, is beginning to pass his insights along to his two daughters, who are poised to one day take over the 65,000-case winery in the heart of Washington wine country.
Griffin and his wife, Deborah Barnard, launched their eponymous winery in 1983, six years after arriving from California.
He graduated from the University of California-Davis with a degree in fermentation science and worked at famed Buena Vista Winery in the Napa Valley's Carneros district. He was lured to Washington by Bill Preston, owner of Preston Wine Cellars north of Pasco. He stayed there until 1983, the same year the couple launched Barnard Griffin with 400 cases of wine. In 1984, he took over as head winemaker for burgeoning Hogue Cellars in the Yakima Valley. He stayed there until 1991, when Barnard Griffin had grown large enough to command all of his attention.
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Griffin is assisted by Mickey French, associate winemaker. French started in the Richland tasting room in 1997 and moved into cellar operations the following year.
And now Griffin's daughter Megan, 24, has joined the operation as staff enologist. She earned a degree from Washington State University's horticulture and viticulture program in Pullman and now is immersed in the family business. While she has not made a Barnard Griffin wine on her own from start to finish, her proud dad said he probably will have her do so during the 2012 vintage.
Megan is joined by her sister, Elise, 26, who earned a degree in business and marketing from WSU. She represents the winery in many ways, promoting the operation at events, online and on site.
Combined, the sisters are a formidable pair, and their parents could not be prouder that they have chosen this career path.
"We never felt that we forced them in this direction," he said. "We always made it clear it was an opportunity that most people don't have -- to take a functioning family business and make it better."
He even envisions a day -- long into the future -- when he and Deborah, a glass artist with a studio near the tasting room, can retire to rocking chairs on the front porch and let the kids take over.
Here are some Barnard Griffin wines we've tasted recently. They should be available through your favorite wine merchant or order them directly from the winery.
Barnard Griffin 2008 Gunkel Vineyard barbera, Columbia Valley, $35. Gunkel Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge near the community of Maryhill is one of winemaker Rob Griffin's favorite locations, and this superb barbera is a great example of what the Gunkel family can provide, opening with aromas of black currants, black cherries, Marionberries, leather, mint and pomegranates. On the palate, it's a hedonistic wine with big black cherry and ripe boysenberry flavors, backed with well-managed tannins and a late boost of acidity.
Barnard Griffin 2008 Lonesome Spring Ranch Vineyard Cotês de Rob, Columbia Valley, $25. This fanciful blend of syrah, durif (petite sirah), grenache noir, grenache, counoise and mourvédre results in a wine as delicious as it is unusual, opening with exotic aromas of gaminess, chocolate-covered blueberries, mincemeat spices and black peppers. It is a well-constructed wine, revealing rich flavors of blackberries, black olives, black currants and black licorice. Fine-grained tannins allow zingy, juicy notes to shine through the lengthy and memorable finish.
Barnard Griffin 2010 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $17. This young wine opens with luscious aromas of blackberries, plums and sweet oak, followed by wonderful flavors of dense black fruit, tobacco leaf, bright acidity and a long, plush finish.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest magazine. For the freshest reviews, go to www.winepressnw.com/freshpress.