New Wines, New Faces: Mercer Estates
Two veteran Washington winegrowing families—including the familiar face of Mike Hogue—unite at a new winery in Horse Heaven Hills, making outstanding Cabernet and Merlot
The WIne Spectator.com
Posted: May 2, 2008
Who: Mercer Estates is a new family-owned Washington winery from Mike Hogue, 63, who sold Hogue Cellars in 2001, and his children, Barbara and Ron Harle, both 40; winemaker David Forsyth, 53, who left Hogue in 2007 after 23 years; and Bud and Rob Mercer, 69 and 40, respectively, father-and-son farmers who have grown grapes in Washington's Horse Heaven Hills since the 1970s.
What to drink: The Mercer Merlot Horse Heaven Hills 2005 (91 points, $24, 757 cases made) is round and polished, with spicy, chocolaty undertones to the ripe cherry and cola flavors and a refined finish; the Mercer Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills 2005 (90, $24, 585 cases made) is lithe, supple and silky, melding ripe currant, plum and blackberry fruit with cocoa and tobacco overtones. For more on Harvey Steiman's tastings of the Mercer wines and his visit with Mike Hogue earlier this year, see his blog entry, "Mercer Redux."
Where: The Mercer family sold what is now Champoux Vineyard in 1996, but is now developing the adjacent property, Dead Canyon Vineyard, a 120-acre site composed of the same soil types, which they planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah in 2006. (The grapes for the 2005 reds were sourced from Canoe Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills.) The winery is based in nearby Prosser, Wash., and the reds bear the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, while the whites, which include Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, come from the Columbia and Yakima valleys.
Why: When Mike Hogue and his brother, Gary, sold Hogue Cellars in 2001 to Vincor, Mike had no plans to return to the business. "I thought I'd probably retire and ride off into the blue horizon," Hogue says. "But things were different when my son-in-law and my daughter asked what I thought about getting back into this business, and my non-compete [with Hogue Cellars] was over. My thought was, 'If you kids want to do it, I'd jump over the house to make it happen.' It's basically another chance of a lifetime."
All in the family: "We've known each other for ... about 112 years," Bud Mercer says, only half joking. The Mercer family has been farming the Horse Heaven Hills for four generations; the Hogue family has farmed Yakima Valley since the 1940s. Bud and Mike grew up together in Prosser, and their children, also lifelong friends, hatched the idea for Mercer Estates, which Mike and Bud ended up shaking hands on after finishing a round of golf.
A familiar hire: Mercer winemaker David Forsyth was hired by the Hogues in 1984, and remained as Hogue Cellars' winemaker after they sold the label in 2001. Mike approached Forsyth in 2007 to be a part of the Mercer team. Forsyth jokes his initial reaction was "disbelief—I thought Mike was smarter than to get back into the wine business!" But Forsyth liked the idea of taking on a new endeavor. "If you work anywhere for almost a quarter of a century, you start to wonder if you're going to die there. They were starting to build a mausoleum for me," he jokes.
A farmer's call of duty: Rob Mercer was an intelligence officer in the Marine Corps in the mid-'90s and was called back for duty in Iraq in 2007. "When he got there, he found that they were trying to do some agricultural reconstruction in Anwar province," Bud says. "The general in charge had no agricultural experience, so Rob has fallen into being an ag advisor to the general. ... We've farmed vegetables in California's Imperial Valley, and the terroir, if you will, in Anwar province near the Euphrates river is very, very similar to what we had in the Imperial Valley, so he's comfortable with their soil and irrigation types.