Airport Estates is no fly-by-night operation. In fact, the Prosser, Wash., winery has a history that goes far beyond its first vintage in 2006.
The Miller family began farming in the Yakima Valley four generations ago. In the 1940s, the federal government came in and built and airfield, likely serving as a defense post for Hanford’s part in the Manhattan Project and its role in ending World War II.
Marcus Miller, the winery’s winemaker, does not exactly come by the business naturally. His mother is a teetotaler, and his father rarely drinks. The young Miller went through Walla Walla Community College’s winemaking program, then worked in Lake Chelan and New Zealand before launching Airfield Estates. The winery now has two locations: its beautiful winery just off Interstate 82 in Prosser and a satellite tasting room in Woodinville.
Airfield pays homage to its vineyard’s role during World War II by coming up with clever names and labels for its various wines, including Mustang, Hellcat, Spitfire, Thunderboat and Flygirl White. And all the wines are secured under screwcaps rather than corks, which wine lovers have embraced as innovative.
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The critics also are paying attention. Earlier this year, Airfield was named Washington Winery to Watch by Wine Press Northwest and is gaining praise from national wine publications.Here are a few Airfield wines we’ve recently tasted:
Airfield Estates 2008 Mustang, Columbia Valley, $25: Five red Rhone varieties — Grenache (53%), Syrah (35%), Cinsault (8%), Counoise (2%) and Mourvedre — make this fruit-driven drink featuring strawberry, Bing cherry, sweet plums, vanilla and Nestle's Quik accents. It's a good homecoming drink and quick to get into.
Airfield Estates 2009 Vineyard Salute Flygirl White, Yakima Valley, $12: Support for this mission comes from Viognier (60%), Chardonnay (18%), Gewurztraminer (14%) and Roussanne, and the payload delivers aromas and flavors of peach, apricot, mango, muskmelon, honeysuckle and pillow mints. The soft approach gains a bit of traction from citrus pith in the finish.
Airfield Estates 2008 Hellcat, Yakima Valley, $25: This blend is primarily Tempranillo (88%), with 6% each of Grenache and Syrah blended in. It is a sensual wine with aromas of chocolate chip cookies, blackberries and leather, followed by smooth, juicy flavors of black currants, blackberries, Bing cherries and bittersweet chocolate. The tannins provide a bit of muscle to this wine.
Airfield Estates 2008 Spitfire, Yakima Valley, $25: Marcus Miller's version of a Super Tuscan takes a blend of Sangiovese (60%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), Merlot (10%), Petit Verdot (5%) and Malbec into a very juicy direction. Aromas of strawberry candy, peppermint and smoky oak play out into flavors of more strawberry and raspberry with some leather. Abundant acidity makes it light, lively and food-friendly.
Airfield Estates 2008 Vineyard Salute Bombshell Red, Yakima Valley, $16: This blend of Syrah (41%), Merlot (35%), Cabernet Sauvignon (5%), Malbec (4%) and Cabernet Franc flies in fields of strawberries and raspberries for a smooth touchdown that grabs some late acidity via a long finish of cherries and plums.
Airfield Estates 2009 Thunderbolt Sauvignon Blanc, Yakima Valley, $12: In the past, the Millers featured the Thunderbolt as a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. This time, it's labeled as straight Sauvignon Blanc. Bosc pear, lime, spearmint and mineral aromas meld with bright citrus flavors of orange and lemons.
Airfield Estates 2008 Lightning, Yakima Valley, $18: Among the blends at Airfield is the mixture of Viognier (50%), Roussanne (25%), Chardonnay (20%) and Marsanne. Aromas and flavors feature a baked lemon tart, rosewater, cardamom and vanilla bean. There's also a touch of smashed banana on the palate, which is nicely balanced with acidity and finished with cinnamon sprinkled over a baked pear.
*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.