Northwest Wine

Milbrandt brothers make their mark

Butch and Jerry Milbrandt are relatively new arrivals to the Washington wine scene, but they've already become important players as growers and wine producers.

The brothers entered farming when their parents moved from the Midwest to central Oregon. In the 1950s, they moved to the Columbia Basin town of Quincy, where the family purchased 160 acres.

In 1997, the Milbrandts planted their first grapes. Today they run 13 different vineyards totaling about 1,600 acres. Primarily, their vineyards are on the arid and viticulturally important Wahluke Slope near Mattawa, as well as in the Ancient Lakes region near George.

They sell grapes to dozens of wineries, including those that go into Chateau Ste. Michelle's Eroica, considered one of the New World's finest rieslings. The Milbrandts' Evergreen Vineyard contributes the bulk of the fruit for that high-end wine.

Not satisfied just growing grapes, the Milbrandts launched a winery in 2005, and today their Wahluke Wine Co. near Mattawa produces wine for dozens of labels around the state. In 2007, they started Milbrandt Vineyards and soon after opened a tasting room at the Vintners Village in Prosser. Gordy Hill, a Washington winemaker with 30 years experience, crafts all the wines for Milbrandt.

Here are a few Milbrandt Vineyards wines we've tasted recently:

2007 The Estates cabernet sauvignon, Wahluke Slope, $25: Cinnamon, chocolate, sandalwood, crushed leaf, teriyaki and eucalyptus notes show the influence of oak in the aromas. A long list of big fruit and concentrated flavors await, starting with black currant jam and blueberry. They blend into vanilla bourbon, Girl Scout chocolate mint cookie and cherry juice. There's nice acidity for aging, and decanting will allow this wine to show its best.

2007 The Estates malbec, Wahluke Slope, $25: The 92-acre Northridge site produced the fruit for this dense drink that opens with aromas of Cherry Garcia ice cream, poached blueberries and freshly scraped vanilla bean. Plum and boysenberry meet lots of chocolate on the palate, where there's a finish of black cherry and cherry skin tannin.

2007 The Estates merlot, Wahluke Slope, $25: Plums, pomegranate, blueberry, vanilla, tar and cherry cough drop aromas transition into a easy-drinking merlot that's not a mind-bender. Bing cherries hanging on the tree, backed by plums, polished mahogany and lingering blueberry acidity.

2009 Traditions pinot gris, Columbia Valley, $13: Nectarine, red grapefruit, pear juice and sliced peaches over vanilla ice cream create the aromatic profile. Its follow through on the palate is accented by lime and grapefruit acidity with pineapple in the finish. Its structure should pair nicely with a Waldorf salad.

2007 Northridge Vineyard Sentinel, Wahluke Slope, $55: A blending of Bordeaux varieties cabernet sauvignon (63 percent), merlot (25 percent), petit verdot and malbec (6 percent each) releases aromas and flavors of plums, black currants and vanilla extract with a structure akin to a bite of pomegranate arils.

2009 The Traditions riesling, Columbia Valley, $13: Pineapple, orange, honeydew melon, honeysuckle and diesel aromas include a hint of lemon meringue pie. Orchard fruit flavors of peach, apricot and Gala apple join fresh pineapple on the palate, where mouthwatering acidity balances and refreshes the residual sugar (1.4 percent). River rock and green banana add complexity.

2007 Traditions syrah, Columbia Valley, $15: Dusty blackberry, raspberry, pie cherry and salmonberry tones include smoky bacon, tobacco and crumbled Oreo for an easy-to-approach drink with lip-smacking acidity for grilled meats.

2007 The Estates syrah, Wahluke Slope, $25: Hill steers out an oak-driven wine using four estate vineyard sites while staying true to the variety. Just under the hood are notes of sizzling bacon, blackberry and black pepper with plenty of smoothness and juicy acidity that will serve well with smoked ribs.

*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.