More than 100 years ago, Canadian-born William B. Bridgman made his way to the Yakima Valley, where for the next half century, he put the modern Washington wine industry on track for success.
Bridgman was a two-time mayor of the town of Sunnyside and a lawyer who wrote irrigation laws, some of which remain on the books to this day.
In 1914, Bridgman began to grow table grapes, then three years later planted some of Washington's first European wine grapes on Snipes Mountain, a hill near Sunnyside. Some of those vines are still growing and producing grapes to this day for the Newhouse family, which bought Bridgman's vineyards after he passed away. And vines he planted in the 1950s also are still in production.
In 1934, not long after prohibition was repealed, Bridgman launched Upland Winery, one of Washington's earliest wine producers. While Bridgman wanted to focus on dry table wines, consumer tastes at that time leaned toward sweeter wines, so he and other wineries in the '40s, '50s and '60s accommodated.
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Bridgman also convinced Walter Clore, a scientist for Washington State University, to take an interest in growing wine grapes in Washington. Clore, who passed away in 2003, now is known as "the father of Washington wine" for his tireless work developing the industry.
Bridgman sold Upland in 1960 and passed away in 1968. In 2006, Todd Newhouse, a fourth-generation Yakima Valley farmer, launched Upland Estates near Snipes Mountain to honor Bridgman.
For the most part, Bridgman's contributions to the Washington wine industry have been forgotten. But in 1993, Washington Hills, a Sunnyside winery, used his name for a second label. Today, Precept Wine Brands in Seattle owns the label and annually releases a line of high-quality, value-priced wines that no doubt would please its namesake. Here are a few we have tasted recently:
W.B. Bridgman Cellars 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $10: This cab includes a bit of Merlot and Syrah, and the nose shows raspberry, dried strawberry, cedar, pink peppercorns and a rub of eucalyptus. On the attack is pleasing sweetness of those strawberry and raspberry notes, but the structure features nice leanness with blueberry acidity and restrained tannins.
W.B. Bridgman Cellars 2008 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $10: Dried apricot, lime and orange marmalade on toast aromas lead into Asian pear and tart lime flavors. There's good roundness on the palate with hints of cucumber chip and baked bread in the finish.
W.B. Bridgman Cellars 2007 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $10: Out-of-the-oven brownie aromas indicate the oak influence, but there's plenty of fruit behind it with pomegranate and blueberry, then dried leather and green peppercorn spice. Pomegranate and huckleberry syrup flavors drizzle into the late arrival of tannin. And while priced for Tuesday night, its racy acidity will serve it well paired with a New York strip.
W.B. Bridgman Cellars 2008 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $10: Generous aromas and flavors of peach, Granny Smith apple, lychee and jasmine are held steady by a finish of tangerine acidity that cleans up the residual sugar of 2.2 percent. Serve as a cocktail or alongside a plate of pork chops with peach salsa.
W.B. Bridgman Cellars 2007 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $10: Blue aromas of Western serviceberry, blueberry and plum get lifted by barrel notes of chocolate, vanilla bean and tar. The palate brings more expression of fruit with Bing cherry, nice acidity and tartness from the blueberry and serviceberry, and a send off of blackberry and coffee grounds.
W.B. Bridgman Cellars 2008 Viognier, Columbia Valley, $10: The nose opens with a lake breeze, followed by orange Creamsicle, lychee, jasmine, yellow grapefruit, citronella and Velveeta-influenced mac and cheese. On the palate, it's less fanciful and more serious with orange creme soda and lychee leading the way. A flourish of tangelo and lime at the end make it a lip-smacking drink.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a website that provides news and information about the wines of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.