Basel Cellars: It’s the one winery in Walla Walla you won’t want to miss
A 13,800 square-foot estate house, wonderfully approachable wines and unforgettable views of the Blue Mountains create a unique experience for visitors to the Walla Walla Valley.
By Kent Settle
Over the past several years, I have been asked the following question several times by friends and family visiting Walla Walla: If you only had time to visit one winery in the Walla Walla Valley, which winery would that be?
Since there are well over 120 wineries to choose from, the answer is not necessarily an easy one. However, over the past couple of years, one winery has begun to stand out in my opinion. That one winery is Basel Cellars. Basel Cellars Estate Winery presents a unique experience by offering wonderfully approachable wines, served up by friendly, down-to-earth people in one of the most beautiful settings in the valley.
It got its start in 2001 the Basel family purchased the 85-acre Double River Ranch and the estate house located on the ranch. They saw two unique features that presented a wonderful opportunity to create an estate winery. The first: Location. The estate house was perched on a hilltop nestled between Yellowhawk Creek and the Walla Walla River, commanding a nearly 360° view of the valley, and the hill was comprised of rich soil, perfect for a vineyard site.
The second: a manmade 9,600-square-foot, subterranean, temperature-controlled space used to house an expansive car collection. This underground space would be a perfect place to house the winemaking production area.
Basel Cellars was born when the Basel family started producing high quality wines and began transforming the estate house and surrounding grounds into an expansive tasting room and a beautiful space for private retreats, group getaways and weddings. The estate house now spans 13,800 square feet.
The Basels partnered with Steve and Jo Marie Hansen in 2004. Steve grew up in a farming family in Yakima and had a long career as a construction executive managing major bridge and highway projects in the western US. He brought an entrepreneurial spirit with him along with a love for the sunny side of the state.
Steve and Jo Marie became majority owners of the winery in 2011 with Steve as the managing partner. The couple truly enjoys meeting guests and sharing with others the Basel Cellars wines and experiences that have captivated them since their first weekend on the property.
Since then, Basel Cellars has built a strong team, led by General Manager and wine grower Ryan Sams and Winemaker Dirk Brink. Together, they are producing wonderful wines, showcasing the best qualities of the fruit they manage.
If you have never tried Basel Cellars wines, or haven’t in the last few years, I recommend you do, as the wines continue to get better and better. “It’s no secret that a good glass of wine starts in the vineyard, “ Sams explains. “We are constantly evaluating our growing practices in order to deliver the highest quality grapes to the winery.”
Basel Cellars currently produces about 15 wines and generally pours 6 or 7 on any given day at the winery’s expansive tasting room. The tasting room itself can accommodate more than 50 people, not counting its adjacent patio with a panoramic view of vineyards and the Blue Mountains.
Basel Cellars wines can generally be grouped into three categories: House Wines, Estate Wines and Winemaker’s Vault Wines. The current lineup of House Wines includes 2016 vintages of the “2901” White Blend, “2901” Rosé, “2901” Red Blend and the 2013 Claret.
Lest you think “2901” is a typographical era, it’s not. It’s actually the name of the wine, which comes from the street that Basel Cellars is located on: 2901 Old Milton Highway. The “2901” wines are not distributed at retail outlets, so they are only available in the winery’s tasting rooms. There is no need to shy away from House Wines at Basel Cellars. These are great value, handcrafted wines that are worth every penny.
The Estate Wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Syrah and Sémillon, while the Winemaker’s Vault reserves the best vineyard blocks for these wines: “Inspired” – a Merlot and Cabernet Franc blend, Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Reserve Merlot, Estate Merriment – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, and when all the elements align, Basel Cellars creates a dessert Ice Wine.
During our most recent visit to the tasting room, my wife and I sampled the “2901” White Blend, which combines Estate Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc to create a light, fruit forward wine with a surprisingly long finish. This wine can be enjoyed by itself or perhaps with cod and a beurre blanc, or even a spicy rich Indian dish such as butter chicken.
We then sipped the 2016 Vue de Blues Estate Sémillon, a delicate wine perfect for sipping by the pool or pairing with a rich lobster dish.
Unfortunately, the “2901” Rosé had just sold out so we moved on to the “2901” Red Blend, which combines Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. This wine starts with a cherry and cedar nose, with hints of tobacco and raspberry on the palate, and ends with a bright, lingering mineral finish. A wonderful pairing for chicken or eggplant Parmesan, lasagna or beef and Guinness stew.
The 2013 “Inspired” was the next wine on the taste tour. This is a beautiful wine that is drinkable now or for years to come. It presents a supple mouth feel with strong hints of cherry and tobacco on the palate and a long, smooth finish. “Inspired” would be a wonderful companion with a Beef Bourguignon, or a hearty steak with spices.
Our final wine for the day was the 2013 Cabernet Franc. While tannins lurked in the background, this is a very soft, smooth wine. It would be very drinkable now when decanted but should age well for years. It has anise and pepper on the mid-palate and a nice long mineral finish, making this Cabernet Franc pair beautifully with Beef Stroganoff.
While some might fear that a winery attached to a 13,800-square-foot estate house might be unapproachable and pretentious, nothing could be further from the truth. Basel Cellars’ people are passionate about what they do and love to share that with their guests.
Pre-arranged times can be set up to tour the estate house, the poolside cabana and the surrounding grounds, as well as the production facilities. Ask Josh Wood, Basel Cellars’ Hospitality Manager, to show off the private theater, or watch winemaker Dirk Brink’s eyes light up when you talk about pairing the perfect food with a specific wine.
Should you be in the market for that perfect wedding venue, that corporate getaway, or just looking for the best place to stay with 19 of your best friends for a weekend wine experience in Walla Walla, look no further than the Basel Cellars estate. The estate house and accompanying 2,000 square-foot poolside cabana would be right at home as a lodge at Yellowstone, and all of it is available for you to rent.
For information about renting the estate house and cabana, visit: www.vrbo.com/409954. Or contact Josh Wood (509) 522-0200, ext. 202; firstname.lastname@example.org. The estate house boasts eight bedrooms, four full baths, two half baths, a chef’s kitchen, three indoor dining areas, an outdoor kitchen and a basement that includes a board room, pool table, full bar and home theater. The cabana sleeps four more people, so the estate house and the cabana can accommodate 10 couples.
Fabulous wines, beautiful setting and wonderful people – put them all together and they create that unique experience that is Basel Cellars Estate Winery. Learn more at: www.baselcellars.com.
If you can’t get to Walla Walla, Basel Cellars has tasting rooms in Woodinville and Leavenworth where you can taste, and buy, their wines. The tasting room in Woodinville is located at 15029 Woodinville-Redmond Rd. NE., Suite 400. Phone: (425) 497-1910. The tasting room in Leavenworth is located at 217 9th St. Phone: (509) 888-7054.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Kent Settle writes a great blog covering the Walla Walla wine scene called “WallaWallaWineAmbassador.com” Make sure to check it out.