For someone who has enjoyed tremendous success as one of America's top winemakers, Chris Camarda's proudest moment as owner of Andrew Will is surprisingly simple.
In the early 1990s, he was walking through Discovery Park in Seattle's Magnolia neighborhood. It was the year his first wine from the 1989 vintage had come out, and he happened to look toward a picnic table and saw a bottle of his wine being enjoyed.
"That was a big deal to me," he said. "I had done it. I had made a wine."
The Wisconsin native grew up in Seattle and worked in restaurants. He and his friends were exploring wines in the mid-1980s, so in 1987, he decided to make some as a hobby.
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"I was fascinated by it," he said.
After a second batch the next year, he was hooked, so he went professional in 1989. In 1994, he moved to Vashon Island, a short ferry ride from the West Seattle neighborhood of Fauntleroy. Today, Andrew Will is one of three wineries on the island. The 5,000-case winery is not open to the public.
Camarda is a partner in famed Champoux Vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills with Quilceda Creek Vintners, Powers Winery and Woodward Canyon Winery. He's also an owner in Two Blondes, a vineyard near the Yakima Valley town of Zillah. And he has purchased grapes from Ciel du Cheval on Red Mountain since his inaugural vintage. He also gets grapes from Discovery Vineyard, near Champoux.
Despite Andrew Will's acclaim, Camarda still has room on his mailing list for wine lovers who want access to some of the Northwest's finest reds. Those interested can sign up at www.andrewwill.com.
We recently tasted through Camarda's recent top wines. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant.
Andrew Will Cellars 2009 Champoux Vineyard Red Horse Heaven Hills, $60: Using grapes from vines with an average age of 30 years, Chris Camarda has blended four Bordeaux varieties into this wine: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. It opens with aromas of black tea, chocolate, dates, figs and toasted marshmallows. On the palate, it reveals flavors of chocolate and dark fruit, all backed by bold tannins. If your child was born in 2009, here's a candidate for a wine to serve in another 18 years. (64 cases, 14.5 percent alcohol)
Andrew Will Cellars 2009 Two Blondes Vineyard Red, Yakima Valley, $55: This is a blend led by Cabernet Sauvignon with equal parts Merlot and Cabernet Franc. It is an instant classic, thanks to aromas of blueberries, cloves, brown sugar, blackberries and vanilla. On the palate, it's a bold wine with flavors of Bing cherries, blueberries, dark chocolate, black tea, olives and dark plums, all backed with perfectly balanced acidity and tannins. (925 cases, 14.5 percent alcohol)
Andrew Will Cellars 2009 Sorella, Horse Heaven Hills, $70: Here is Chris Camarda's best wine. Using estate grapes from Champoux Vineyards that average 33 years in age, it is a blend heavy on Cabernet Sauvignon, along with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. It offers aromas of dark plums, blueberries, chalkboard dust, cedar, toast and wild roses, followed by flavors of plums, pomegranates, huckleberries and black tea. (1,026 cases, 14.5 percent alcohol)
Andrew Will Cellars 2009 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red, Red Mountain, $55: This wine from some of the oldest vines on Red Mountain (average age: 23 years) leads with Merlot, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It is a delicious wine with aromas of black fruit, moderate oak and dark chocolate, followed by flavors of black cherries, black plums, olives and a whisper of toast. Pair with prime rib, cured meats or grilled steaks topped with blue cheese. (982 cases, 14.5 percent alcohol)
*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.