With more than 80 wineries and tasting rooms in Woodinville, it's increasingly difficult to stand out, especially with so many great producers within a few miles of each other, so you need to consistently make outstanding wine and give consumers a reason to remember you.
That's exactly what Rod and Leslie Balsley have been doing since they launched William Church Winery in 2005. Two years ago, the winery in the "warehouse district" of Woodinville got our attention when its 2008 viognier and 2007 malbec earned top awards in our year-end best-of-the-best competition. That's not something we see from wineries we have barely heard of.
And it wasn't a fluke. The Balsleys' wines continue to show well in our blind tastings as well as other competitions. This spring, their Viognier won double gold and 2 Spires red blend earned gold at the Seattle Wine Awards, continuing their string of award-winning wines.
The Balsleys came up with their winery's name by honoring their fathers. Rod's dad's name was William, and Leslie's dad's middle name was Church. They also have played off "Church" with such wines as "Bishop's Blend" and "Bad Habit." Their label artwork represents windows found in medieval cathedrals found in France, where Leslie was born.
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Their superb wines are no accident. Rather, the Balsleys have managed to procure grapes from some of Washington's top vineyards, including Stillwater Creek, Red Willow, Conner Lee, Gamache and Dineen, using them to craft 2,000 cases of wine.
Their wines should be easy to find in the Puget Sound market, where they are sold in more than 60 stores. If your favorite wine merchant doesn't carry William Church, give the winery a call at 425-427-0764.
Here are a few William Church wines we've tasted recently.
William Church Winery 2007 Molly's Vintage cabernet sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $29: They have named this bottling in support of a late friend who launched a foundation for diabetes and transplant research. The Balsleys will donate some of the proceeds from this bottling.
William Church Winery 2008 Jennifer's Vintage syrah, Columbia Valley, $25: Three highly regarded vineyards -- Dineen, Red Willow and Stillwater Creek -- play significant roles in this opulent offering. The nose features hints of blackberry jam, black pepper, Aussie black licorice, smoked ham hock and celery leaf. Many features become capitalized on the palate, starting with a sweet blackberry approach, rolling acidity and thick tannins. A slice of chocolate cake with raspberry jam shows up, along with vanilla extract. Enjoy with a porterhouse steak or pork bellies with cracklings.
William Church Winery 2008 Philip's Vintage Gamache Vineyard malbec, Columbia Valley, $30: William Church releases its third vintage of malbec, this from the Columbia Basin, and it's a bit on the hedonistic side. The nose sends out hints of black cherry, strawberry, root beer, tar and Cocoa Puffs. The palate comes soaked with sweet cherries, Raisinets and white pepper.
William Church Winery 2007 Amy's Vintage Sur La Mer, Columbia Valley, $28: This blend of cabernet sauvignon (40 percent), merlot (20 percent), cabernet franc (20 percent), malbec (10 percent) and petit verdot is named after the French birthplace of winery co-owner Leslie Balsley. A warm Milk Dud joins blackberry, cherry and oregano aromas. The drink is a quaffer of the same fruit, all spice and chalkboard dust. Enjoy with braised buffalo chuck roast.
William Church Winery 2008 Max's Vintage Bishop's Blend, Columbia Valley, $20: Unofficially, this is viewed as the "cellar blend" at the Woodinville winery. The components are cabernet sauvignon (39 percent), malbec (38 percent), syrah (11 percent), merlot (9 percent) and cabernet franc, and together they make up a wine that's light and easy to get into. Aromas include hints of raspberry juice, Hershey's Syrup, cinnamon and slate. It's a full-flavored drink of blackberry jam, gobs of chocolate, pomegranate acidity and some lime in the finish. The tannin level is almost imperceptible.
*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.