Jeff Gordon is now into his fourth decade of growing wine grapes on top of a cliff overlooking the Snake River near Pasco.
He and his brother Bill began planting wine grapes in 1980. They launched their eponymous winery in 1983 and released their first wines in 1985.
In 1998, Bill retired from the wine business, and Jeff took over the operation. He has continued to plant grapes and now is up to 105 acres, with cabernet sauvignon taking up a fourth of the space.
As recently as 15 years ago, Gordon made about 5,000 cases and sold most of his grapes to other wineries around the state. By 2001, that had grown to 10,000 cases, and a group in California became interested in purchasing the operation. The group appeared to have financing in place, a selling price was agreed on, and Gordon handed over the keys in 2002. The vineyard was not part of the deal, so the plan was for Gordon to sell all of his grapes to the new owners and keep that connection to his namesake winery.
"It was really a pretty good plan," he said. "Then everything unraveled on them."
The group ran out of money and stopped paying him, and it became a big mess, with Gordon taking back ownership in 2003. Back at the helm, Gordon decided to keep all of his grapes and increase production to 25,000 cases, making it one of the largest family-owned wineries in the state. He launched a second label, called Kamiak, which makes up to about 20 percent of his production.
In 2007, Gordon hired Tim Henley as his winemaker. The Fresno State grad had worked in the California wine industry for about a decade at large and small producers.
"Tim has done a great job with our wines," Gordon said. "He's done a great job of demonstrating the consistency and quality we can get out here. He's had a lot of ideas for making improvements, and he's been a real solidifying influence."
Here are some Gordon Brothers wines we've tasted in recent weeks. Look for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the winery directly (www.gordonwines.com).
Gordon Brothers Family Vineyards 2009 Six, Columbia Valley, $50. This wine is named after a version of cabernet sauvignon called "clone 6." It is nothing short of remarkable, opening with aromas of attractive aromas of chocolate, black cherries, blueberries and black licorice, followed by ripe, even flavors of black olives, black cherries, black tea, dark chocolate and black licorice. It's an intensely complex wine backed with beautifully balanced tannins and acidity.
Gordon Brothers Family Vineyards 2009 Block 3 merlot, Columbia Valley, $30. This opens with aromas of vanilla, black cherries, mint, cedar and sweet herbs, followed by delicious flavors of black cherries and blueberries, all backed with supple tannins and ample acidity. This will stand up to rare grilled steaks but also will work with Cornish game hens.
Gordon Brothers Family Vineyards 2008 tempranillo, Columbia Valley, $65. This reveals complex aromas of boysenberries, strawberries, chocolate, cinnamon and spicy chocolate. On the palate, it is loaded with massive levels of flavor, including dark berries, tobacco, rich chocolate, black olives and ultra-ripe cherries. Pair with venison, tri-tip or a hearty winter casserole.
Gordon Brothers Family Vineyards 2007 syrah, Columbia Valley, $17. In recent years, Gordon Brothers has gained a lot of fans with this variety, thanks in large part to some major awards in international competitions. This shows off aromas of ripe plums, sweet Italian sausages, fennel, blackberries and leather, followed by complex flavors of blackberries, bacon, black olives and leather, all backed with rich, chewy tannins and an impressive finish.
*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.