DeLille Cellars: Woodinville winery has “hung its hat” on blending wine since it opened for business in 1992
DeLille’s vineyard sources read like a who’s who of Academy Award-winning actors: Harrison Hill, Klipsun, Ciel Du Cheval, Boushay, and Sagemoor’s Weinbau and Bacchus Vineyards.
By Dan Radil
Coming off of last year’s 25th anniversary, DeLille Cellars in Woodinville, WA. continues to maintain a rich winemaking history that has kept it firmly in the state’s upper echelon of wineries since its inception. In fact, DeLille Cellars was named the Washington Winery of The Year for 2017 by Wine Press Northwest.
Established in 1992 by Jay Soloff, Greg Lill and his father Charles Lill, and Executive Winemaker Chris Upchurch, DeLille Cellars was only the sixth bonded winery in Woodinville at the time (today there are over 100). The late David Lake assisted as a consultant and mentor to Upchurch during the winery’s early years, and Upchurch, in turn, has acted as mentor to current Winemaker Jason Gorski, who joined the team in 2011.
“We’re not the first winery in Washington to blend a wine,” notes Gorski, “but we ‘hung our hats’ on blends since day one…Chaleur Estate, Cabernet dominated; D2, Merlot dominated, and it’s been that way for 25 years. Today we make 16 to 18 wines a year and almost every one is a blend of multiple blocks.”
The Tasting Room Experience
Woodinville is home to two of DeLille Cellars’ properties: The DeLille Chateau, for private events, and the Carriage House Tasting room, open to the public seven days a week. The deceptively small looking Carriage House is an unassuming, converted rambler home with plenty of space for both stand-up or outdoor, undercover seated tastings.
Gorski notes that branding is important, and the customer service that guests receive at the tasting room goes a long way in developing a relationship with the brand.
“We have a lot of people that love DeLille and love to represent it. It feels like everyone helping to sell the wine cares about the wine the same way we do,” Gorski says, referring to his winemaking team.
“We firmly believe in good land, good people managing the vineyards, and everyone giving care, love, and passion every step of the way,” Gorski adds, and that extends to the tasting room. “It’s really rewarding for me to come and visit here and know that a customer is going to get one-on-one attention.”
For customers traveling a bit further south, the Maison DeLille Wine Lounge in Kirkland, WA. provides another venue for DeLille Cellars wines. The Lounge features wine flights, a light appetizer menu, and live music.
Stellar Sources, Harsh Critics
DeLille’s vineyard sources read like a who’s who of Academy Award-winning actors: Harrison Hill, Klipsun, Ciel Du Cheval, Boushay, and Sagemoor’s Weinbau and Bacchus Vineyards, to name a few. Gorski estimates that about 85-percent of their grapes come from the Yakima Valley AVA and that includes the 65-percent of the winery’s total that are grown within the Red Mountain sub-appellation.
As good as the wines Upchurch and Gorski have produced from these grapes, Gorski says, “The challenge in the cellar is to always find improvement. And the first thing that I always point out is…you won’t find a harsher critic than the winemaking team. We talk about it endlessly and we really foster passion, creativity, and commitment to what we’re doing in the cellar. The brand, as an organization, supports that approach, so it’s not very difficult to have confidence (in a wine) and to stand behind what we do.”
That confidence level includes entering their wines, even those at higher price points, in judged competitions where Gorski admits, “There’s a chance the wines won’t stand out.” But that’s rarely the case. For example, at last year’s Bellingham Northwest Wine Festival, the DeLille 2014 Four Flags Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2014 D2, and the 2015 Metier Red Wine earned Gold, Gold, and Double Gold medals respectively in the Festival’s blind tasting competition.
“The foundation of high quality gives you a lot of confidence,” Gorski says. “But it’s the ‘wine that got away,’ the one where we didn’t do the vineyards justice, that’s what really motivates me. Being able to identify ways you can get better…is really appealing to me. I’m uncomfortable if there’s no progress,” he adds with a smile.
Blends and Other Varietals
While blended wines have always been DeLille’s forté, 100-percent varietals have also been produced, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec (when a 2012 vintage was added for the first time in the winery’s 21st year of operation).
Gorski notes that Malbec will also be used in DeLille’s first-ever, five varietal Bordeaux blend in 2016, and he’s planning to bottle a Late Harvest Semillon dessert wine, also a first, this spring. And plans are in the works for a small release of Pinot Noir, most likely to DeLille wine club members only.
“I even have, just for employees, a little sparkling Grenache tucked away in the corner. The reason we do this is that we have a strong belief in keeping our winemaking team creative,” he says, only half-jokingly.
Consistency Amidst Change
One of the challenges DeLille has faced, especially as of late, “is the increasing number of (newer) wineries producing wine at such a high quality level,” says Gorski. “When you have 25 years of excellence it’s not new news,” he says, referring to the occasional wine drinker looking for something different and who might consider an established winery, such as DeLille, passé.
But he’s quick to point out his feelings on producing highly acclaimed wines year after year: “It’s wrong to consider consistency to be a weakness,” Gorski explains, “but it’s one of the more unique things about our winery, that consistency. For all the changes that have happened in the industry over the last 25 years…between viticulture, the economy, distribution…the one thing that we have absolutely never changed is the goal to make the best wine we can.”
Given the winery’s history and future winemaking philosophies, there’s little chance for fans of DeLille Cellars wines to expect anything less, anytime soon.
DeLille Cellars Tasting Notes:
2015 Chaleur Blanc – This blend of 73-percent Sauvignon Blanc and 27-percent Semillon is nicely complex, with aromas of fresh field grasses and honeysuckle flowers followed by gentle flavors of pineapple and tropical fruits and a finish of caramel and toasted oak. The 2016 vintage is also available at the tasting room.
2014 Signature Syrah – Brambly berry and herbal aromas work their way into the core of this flavorful, full-bodied Syrah. There’s also a dark, meaty texture to this wine that provides a balancing, savory quality along with smoky nuances and dried fruit flavors.
2015 D2 – A gorgeous fragrance of blackberry and blueberry fruit leads off, with the wine’s lead character – 57-percent Merlot – shining through beautifully on the palate. The base of velvety red fruit flavors are backed by a lengthy finish and beautifully integrated tannins.
2013 Grand Ciel Cabernet Sauvignon – This stunning Red Mountain Cabernet carries intense cassis and blackberry aromatics that lead to softer berry fruits on the palate. The finish is lingering and complex with notes of pepper, espresso, and savory herbs. Outstanding!
DeLille Cellars Carriage House Tasting Room is located at 14421 Woodinville-Redmond Road N.E.,Woodinville, WA 98072. Phone: (425) 877-9472. www.delillecellars.com/TastingRoom. Hours: Sunday to Thursday, noon to 5 p.m.; Friday, noon to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Please refer to the winery web site for policies on tasting fees and large groups).
Maison DeLille Wine Lounge is located at 15 Lake Street, Kirkland, WA. 98033. Phone: (425) 205-2147. www.delillecellars.com/MaisonDeLille.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dan Radil is a freelance wine writer and educator based in Bellingham, WA., and has been an avid follower and supporter of the Washington wine industry since the mid-1980s. He currently contributes to Wine Press Northwest and Bellingham Alive Magazine, is President of the Whatcom Beer & Wine Foundation, and produces a wine blog called: danthewineguy.com.