Casey McClellan has had his hands in the soils of the Walla Walla Valley for nearly a half-century, helping his father, James, and Herb Hendricks plant the original Seven Hills Vineyard, which they established in Oregon in 1981. It features the region’s earliest plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon.
In 1988, Casey and his wife, Vicky, launched Seven Hills Winery, making it the valley’s fifth bonded winery. They began in the Oregon town of Milton-Freewater, but after a dozen years they moved to downtown Walla Walla near the iconic Marcus Whitman Hotel. The McClellans share the historic furniture factory building on Cherry Street with the popular Whitehouse-Crawford Restaurant, which offers diners a view into the Seven Hills barrel room.
McClellan quickly gained a reputation not only for great wines, but also a focus on Bordeaux varieties. Today, he makes stand-alone bottlings of each of the six Bordeaux reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carménére). Recently, he began making Sauvignon Blanc, a white Bordeaux grape.
McClellan also brings in red grapes from some of Red Mountain’s top vineyards, including Klipsun, Artz and Ciel du Cheval. He has done this for more than 20 years, recognizing that some of Washington’s best grapes come from Red Mountain.
Three years ago, the McClellans sold their winery to California-based Crimson Wine Group, but Casey continues to spearhead the winemaking, and the Walla Walla tasting room is as charming as ever. Crimson has strong ties in the Northwest, owning Double Canyon in Washington and Archery Summit in Oregon’s Dundee Hills. The company also operates The Estates Wine Room in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, where Seven Hills wines are available for tasting and purchase.
Seven Hills Winery 2016 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $25: With 30 years of crafting Merlot, Casey McClellan makes a classic vintage after vintage. This example offers notes of blackcurrant, black olive, black licorice, plum and blackberry syrup, making for a long and luscious finish. This has the structure for long-term cellaring.
Seven Hills Winery 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, $20: Just the second vintage making this sleek white, it opens with bright and charming aromas of honeydew melon, lemon zest and bright apple, followed by crisp flavors of Asian pear, lime zest and fresh fig from the inclusion of Sèmillon (14 percent). It’s an ideal wine for roasted chicken, fresh oysters and grilled halibut.
Seven Hills Winery 2016 McClellan Estate Vineyard Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $35: McClellan has been working with Malbec for 15 vintages, and his experience shows with this rising red Bordeaux variety using estate grapes. Loaded with aromas of black pepper, plum, blackberry and black cherry, it’s followed by smoky flavors of blackberry syrup and blackcurrant, backed with mild tannins and rich acidity.
Seven Hills Winery 2015 McClellan Estate Vineyard Petit Verdot, Walla Walla Valley, $35: Often blended, this Bordeaux variety rarely stands alone. However, this bottling serves as an example of why more Northwest winemakers should look more closely at this richly structured red. It is loaded with aromas and flavors of smoky black fruit, including ripe plum, blackberry, black olive and mocha, all expertly backed with firm tannins and bright acidity. It’s built to serve with roasted meats and rich Italian fare.
Seven Hills Winery 2016 Carménère, Walla Walla Valley, $35: McClellan’s dedication to Bordeaux varieties shows with this rare grape, once thought to be lost to history. This example is loaded with peppercorns, cocoa powder, black raspberry, plum and fresh-cut herbs, all backed with mild tannins.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com