Donedei has lost one of our key wine family members. Mike Murphy died very suddenly in June. Mike had worked nearly every bottling event at Donedei from day one. His laughter and up beat attitude will be greatly missed. Mike was always up for anything and no job was too big or too small. The winery and myself personally will miss him greatly.
An Interview with Carolyn Lakewold, Donedei owner and winemaker
Many wine lovers can point to one moment when their love affair with the grape began. Did you have a wine epiphany?
“24 years ago we were able to have lunch with Julio Gallo and his wife. I remember he poured his Hearty Burgundy for us then he leaned over and whispered to me “What do you think of my wine?” I stammered and said “It’s good.” What else does one say to Julio Gallo? But after that tasting, I was hooked.”
What is your winemaking philosophy?
“Keep it unfiltered, unrefined, and truly 100% free-run. We don’t press our grapes - only 2% of winemakers do not press. It creates a more pure, less astringent wine. The more it’s pressed, the more you’re changing it. The color goes down and the taste changes as the biter compounds are in the skins and pits. Our winemaking, unlike many wineries, is not about technological improvement. It’s not about the newest thing that’s out there. We embrace old world and old school wine making. There is a casual relationship with the more you manipulate, the more you deal with the consequences. Wine is a natural process.”
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in winemaking since you started?
“Surprisingly, less technology! Wine makers are coming back to the more traditional European style of winemaking.”
If you could make wine in any wine region in the world, other than Washington, where would you be making and why?
“I wouldn’t want to trade Washington for anywhere in the world! For the same reasons our cherries, apples, hops, potatoes, and other crops are regarded as the best in the world the same is also true of Washington wine grapes. We have best fruit in the world! There’s a reason why global wine leaders from all over have come to Washington State.”
Where do you see the Washington wine industry in 10 years?
“I think we will continue to be regarded as one of the top wine producing areas in the world.”
Where do you get your grapes?
“Ciel Du Cheval on Red Mountain (arguably one of the best vineyards in the world) and the soon to be famous Elephant Mountain - near Union Gap.”
Why did you chose the varietals in the vineyards that you have?
“Location, location, location! Terroir, terroir, terroir!” How many cases do you produce a year?
“600-1000” What are your recommendations for drinking Donedei?
“If you are going to have a 7:00 pm dinner, open it at noon. Always decant! In as big as a decanter that you have. Donedei wines need a lot of air.”
What are your pairing suggestions for Donedei wine?
“Our Cabernet pairs best with lamb or sauce based dishes such as bolognese over spaghetti. The Merlot pairs best with lamb, sausage, and italian style dishes. Or just when you want a glass of wine!”
What are your recommendations for aging Donedei wine?
“Our wines will age easily 15-20 years. Our experience with Red Mountain wines is that they age considerably longer than most red wines you will encounter.”
What does the future hold for Donedei?
“As a tiny, artisanal Washington wine producer, our challenge is to explore how best to reach the informed consumer and therefore we are trying to get more advanced marketing and distributing wise. Our winemaking style is not going to change though. Our goal is not to do the latest, greatest thing. It’s all about maintaining the quality!”
Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate Reviews Donedei Wines:
Donedei 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
91 Points Donedei 2009 Merlot
89 Points Force Majeur Collaboration Series IV 2011
Wine Advocate Jeb Dunnuck rates 2010 Force Majeure Collaboration Series IV 94 pts
Series IV is made by Carolyn Lakewold of Donedei, and it is a right-bank Bordeaux blend, made entirely from Ciel du Cheval Vineyard fruit (location here). What makes this Series special is the Merlot. It’s from the 1982 block at Ciel, among the oldest vines on Red Mountain, and it forms the spine of this wine (75%). The remainder is Cabernet Sauvignon (13%), Cabernet Franc (10%), and Petit Verdot (2%). They only produced 200 cases in 2010, and for me, this is a hidden gem of the lineup. It seems to fly under the radar a bit, perhaps because Merlot is not as sexy as some of the other bottlings (Cab! Syrah!), but this is the fifth vintage of Collab Series IV, and it has proven extremely consistent in its purity, elegance, and finesse.
It is also the most insistently earthy/old-world of the lineup, especially in a cool year like 2010 (13.8% listed alc). There’s a real wildness at the heart of this bottle, a mildly rustic character that holds deep appeal for me. The mix of plum and fig, soil and gravelly mineral is terrific, and seems to me a dead ringer for some quality right-bank Bordeaux. With chew, intensity, and length, this is one beautiful monster.
Wine Advocate (Jeb Dunnuck): “The 2010 Collaboration Series IV is a Merlot-dominated blend that’s made by Carolyn Lakewold of Donedei Wines. The stated goal with this cuvee is to straddle the line between old-world and New World in style, and while I’m not sure how close they got to that mark, I can say that it’s certainly a beautiful wine. Possessing an inky purple color as well as an up-front, intense bouquet of black and blue fruits, violets, licorice, leather and liquid flowers, it flows onto the palate with a full-bodied, hedonistically styled texture that carries solid freshness and plenty of framing tannin that emerges on the finish. There’s a smidge of volatile acidity here, yet the wine handles it and is a plush, downright sexy effort that’s hard to resist. It should have over a decade of evolution. Drink now-2023. 94pts.”
To order this wine, click here
People have asked me repeatedly to do a wine version of Best Of The Northwest, my annual beer round-up. I’ve consistently declined. Reason?
I’m just plain white-trash lazy.
You’ll probably think I’m kidding or engaging in a little self-effacing humor. You’d be wrong. I am just exactly that lazy. There’s a small universe of wines out there and, honestly, the whole idea of even presuming to say which wines are the absolute best of a given year is the original chump job. I read the Spectator and Enthusiast and frankly wonder if they just put a bunch of names into a hat and drew them by category. I usually have tried about half of each list and some of the choices leave me scratching my head and other body parts in puzzlement.
And the thing is, they’re wrong. The Wine Spectator Top 100 is not, by any stretch, the 100 best wines of the current year. It’s just the 100 best they tasted, out of a total number that represents no more, usually, than about 5% of all the wines produced on the planet. And I have no use for $250 bottles of wine, anyway. I can afford ‘em but I’m nowhere near stupid enough to buy them, when I’ll be far more delighted with a wine that costs twenty or thirty bucks and doesn’t require a second mortgage to open.
BUT…I love the whole idea of value wines; the ones that pack waaaay more into the bottle than the price tag would indicate. These are the wines that produce the most swooning for me; the most contented, enthralled sighing and happy noises in my chest.
Of the 2900+ wines I tasted in 2012, this is a list of the truly exceptional values; the ones that stick in my mind and suck cash from my wallet and delight those for whom I pour them and to whom I recommend them. Like all those other lists that I just slapped up, mine is also just One Guy’s Opinion and is also limited to my own narrow percentage of the world’s output. But they were exceptional and I take great pleasure in sharing them with you…
_____________WASHINGTON’S BEST VALUE WINES OF 2012__________
Donedei Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
I say this with absolute certainty and zero fear of contradiction: Donedei’s Carolyn Lakewold is one of America’s two or three best underappreciated winemakers. Every winemaker in Washington knows about her and her stature is such that, when Force Majeure Cellars went looking for their three partner vintners in their brilliant collaboration series, they chose Carolyn Lakewold. This Cab is one of the best values in American red wine that I’ve ever seen. The fact that you can buy this kind of elegant, serious, balanced, impeccable Cabernet for right around $20 makes a mockery of the sudden proliferation of $80 – $100 Cabs we see each year. This is nearly flawless now…and getting better with each passing year! About $20 95 Points
Most wine producing areas of the world are challenged by grape growing conditions that contribute to balance in a wine, the sensory relationship between fruit, alcohol, tannin, and acid (sugar, by the way, is a means of determining the potential alcohol in a wine. Under-ripe fruit usually means a wine with low alcohol and high acids unless the grape- must has been chaptalization or sugar added to it to boost alcohol level. Residual sugar in a wine, the unfermented grape sugars, usually will contribute to a mid-palate richness in both reds & whites and discernible sweetness for dessert wines). If any of these components are missing or too prominent there is the potential that the other aspects of the wine will become too dominant and the wine will be “unbalanced” or not well integrated.
Typically, high sugars (potential alcohol) and high acids are mutually exclusive in most of the world’s growing areas resulting in wines that are either high in alcohol with little acid (hot growing regions, think Australia, Spain, Italy) or high in acid with low alcohols (cooler growing regions, think Germany, Austria, Burgundy, Champagne). While laboratory adjustments can work wonders in correcting these imbalances it is a winemaking axiom that perfectly balanced fruit out of the vineyard makes superior wine. Additionally, we must also remember that there is a difference between high sugar and physiological maturity of the fruit.
Just because a grape is ripe doesn’t mean that it will have mature flavors. In terms of growing temperatures and acid production (or lack thereof) the following is generally accepted as to what occurs in Washington. Firstly, we must remember that it is photosynthesis and not heat that ripens fruit. Heat, or the absence thereof, tells the vine when to turn on and off. Winters in the eastern half of the state, where the vast majority of the state’s grapes are grown, can be quite cold forcing the vine into complete dormancy and not just losing its leaves (as a side note, grape growing here is in the rain shadow of the Cascades and Olympic Mountains and most all vineyards are drip irrigated). As winter eases and soils begin to warm up the vine first begins to bud (around 50 degrees F) then to flower, then produce fruit, then to go through veraison, the time the berries begin to color and soften and the ripening stage begins. As ripening progresses, the color becomes more intense, the amount of sugar increases and acidity decreases.
During this part of the growing season photosynthesis begins soon after sunrise . Given Washington’s northern location there are 2 more hours of sunlight over that of California. This is a very important aspect of our grape growing as we typically have a later bud-break and flowering then California or other hot growing areas but we make up for it by having longer daylight hours. As temperatures increase in the early morning the vine is increasing sugars in the grapes. As temperatures continue to climb the vine begins to react to adverse conditions. Around 90 degrees F. sugar production is arrested. This is why in many hot growing areas the grapes get “stuck”, they are not ripening because it is too hot. It seems counter-intuitive but from time to time this condition may occur. As temperatures continue to climb past 100 degrees F. the process of transpiration is compromised.
Transpiration is the evaporation of water from plants. It occurs chiefly at the leaves where their stomata (the cellular openings on the undersides of the leaves) are open for the passage of CO2 and O2 during photosynthesis. Plants transpire more rapidly at higher temperatures because water evaporates more rapidly as the temperature rises. At 90°, a leaf may transpire three times as fast as it does at 70°C.
A plant cannot continue to transpire rapidly if its water loss is not made up by replacement from the drip irrigation. When absorption of water by the roots fails to keep up with the rate of transpiration, loss of turgor occurs, and the stomata close. This immediately reduces the rate of transpiration (as well as of photosynthesis, sugar production). Wilting may occur and the plant begins to metabolize it’s acids as a survival mechanism.
If this environment persists over time the grape is left with mostly sugars, therefore the typical hot climate type of grape with high sugars and low acids. In Washington, however, our peak daytime temperatures are usually around 4 PM. Temperatures soon begin to drop (and in many places of the state late afternoon winds also arise helping to sweep hot air off the vineyards and replaces it with cooler air from river areas and higher elevations also serving to drop temperatures). As temperatures begin to drop the stomata re-open, transpiration renews, the plant stops metabolizing as much acid and as temperatures continue to fall sugar production is renewed. Washington, with our northern location still is receiving significant sunshine in the late evening so photosynthesis is still occurring when most growing areas would be in darkness. Finally, nighttime in Eastern Washington can be quite cool with temperatures in the 50’s not at all unusual, so 50 degree temperature swings are normal.
So, in our area, the actual time of no sugar production and of the vine metabolizing its acids due to high temperatures is small in comparison to other warm growing areas due to longer daylight hours and the desert effect of cool mornings and evenings. The net effect is grapes high in sugars and high in acids, a condition mutually exclusive in most grape growing areas, with high physiological maturity ultimately resulting in perfectly balanced fruit and thus great wines.
Seattle PI, The Pour Fool, April 2012: Oh, yeah: the title of this entry. Well…it’s a bit of hyperbole, I admit, akin to that old trick of putting up a sign that says “SEX!!” and then, at the bottom, “Okay, now that we have your attention…” I don’t know for sure, of course, that Carolyn Lakewold – former ESL teacher and professional fast-pitch softball player from Spokane – is the actual “best” unsung winemaker in the US. There may well be some guy in Dubuque, with a quarter acre of Norton growing out behind his barn, who’s turning out juice that would make wine-weenie types like me see unicorns and deceased ancestors. Stipulated that I – and everybody else in the world – cannot know every bottle of wine being made in any given year. But for my practical purposes, as someone who tastes a literal pond full of wines each year, IF there is someone making better wines than what Carolyn Lakewold is crafting down there in Tenino, WAH, I maybe don’t want to know about it because I would probably set up a fan club and sell t-shirts. I’m close to doing that for Ms. Lakewold but, since it’s actually the wines that give me these fluttery feelings in my diaphragm, I’m quite content with them and happy to avoid the hustle-bustle of downtown Tenino, that metropolis of…well, I’m not sure what’s in Tenino, other than Donedei/Gibbons Lane Winery.
Donedei winemaker Carolyn Lakewold has been chosen by Force Majeure Vineyards (previously known as Grand Reve Vintners) to participate in a collaborative winemaking project utilizing fruit from renowned vineyard Ciel du Cheval, located in the famed Red Mountain AVA. Known for her powerfully elegant wines, Carolyn produced the only Merlot in the series. A "dream team" of Washington winemakers was carefully selected to work with the fruit farmed specifically for this exclusive project. The winemakers include Ben Smith of Cadence, Mark McNeilly of Mark Ryan Winery, Ross Mickel of Ross Andrew Winery, and Chris Gorman of Gorman Winery. Available in extremely limited quantities, the wines showcase the finesse, balance and complexity of Ciel du Cheval fruit.
Seattle Wine Awards, June 1, 2011: Both the 2006 Donedei Cabernet Sauvignon and 2006 Donedei Merlot were recognized at the recent 2011 Seattle Wine Awards. 909 Washington wines were submitted to this prestigious tasting event, whose widely-respected tasting panel includes top industry experts, known for their knowledge of Washington wines.