Thursday, April 4, 2019

Aquilini Red Mountain wines are launched






Photo: Winery president Barry Olivier and marketing manager Samantha Stanway

The Aquilini family, better known as the owners of the Vancouver Canucks hockey team, has just launched the first wines from Aquilini Red Mountain. That is their Washington State winery and it is destined to join the major leagues of wine producers.

The winery, which is soon to begin construction, is based on a 672-acre property in the Red Mountain AVA (American Viticultural Area), nor far from Walla Walla. Most of the property is planted, with multiple clones of Cabernet Sauvignon comprising about 80% of the vines. The blocks are not contiguous but are grouped closely together.

The Aquilinis know what they are doing to make such a big bet on Cabernet Sauvignon. “Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of grapes,” says Samantha Stanway, the Aquilini director of marketing. “We find it is impervious to trends. We did a competitive analysis of the wines from all the neighbours there. All our favourite wines, and the style that the Aquilinis like to drink, were Cabernets … across the board.”

The neighbouring twelve wineries include such heavy hitters as Hedges Family Estate, Kiona Vineyards and Col Solare, the joint venture between the Antinori family from Italy and Chateau Ste. Michelle.

The winery project was launched when Francesco Aquilini asked Barry Olivier to help create a top-drawer winery. Barry was then president of a Vancouver wine agency called Liquid Arts Fine Wine and he had been guiding the wine purchases for Francesco’s personal cellar.

“They are big visionaries, so I joined the Aquilinis,” Barry says.

“Barry came on the 2010, right around the time of the Olympics, and they scoured the globe,” Samantha recounts. “They looked in Tuscany, in Australia, in the Okanagan, Napa, Sonoma. In 2013, Luigi Aquilini, Francesco’s father, found out about this land auction in Washington State at Red Mountain.”
The irrigation district had a parcel of raw land, with water rights, available for auction; and at least 4o different wineries showed an interest in what is acknowledged as superior terroir.

The Aquilini family saw the auction flyer on a Friday and moved fast. “By Monday, the Aquilinis were the biggest land owners in the AVA,” Samantha says. “They now own 30% of the AVA.”

“The Kennewick Irrigation District had this land and they had released it,” she continues. “It was such a rarity. Nothing had been planted on it before. The really special thing about it is that it came with rights to water.”

The project started by planting one-year-old vines in 2013. Since then about 600 acres have been planted, about 85% of the plantable acreage.  Cabernet Sauvignon makes up about 80% of the plantings. The other plantings include Merlot, Syrah, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Sauvignon Blanc.

Even before their own vineyard was in production, the Aquilini family hired a top-flight winemaker to make wines with purchased Red Mountain fruit in the 2015 vintage.

“The Aquilinis are forward-thinking business people,” Samantha says, explaining the hurry to start making wines. “They don’t like you to sit there and twiddle your thumbs. You’ve got to be building something, getting some brand equity, getting some runway going. As a new producer, we are up against people who have had generations in the business. Every year that slips through our fingers is a year we don’t get back.”


The consulting winemaker is Philippe Melka. The Aquilini Red Mountain fact sheet says this about him: “Bordeaux-born, Melka apprenticed at Château Haut-Brion and Château Pétrus, then crossed the Atlantic to electrify the Napa Valley, working with icons like Quintessa, Bryant, Fairchild and Hundred Acre.”  The winery has a resident winemaker working under Melka’s direction.

The initial vintages are being made at a crush facility operated by the nearby Fidélitas Estate Winery. Construction is expected to begin this year on the Aquilini Red Mountain winery, sited in an abandoned quarry just right for a gravity-flow design.

“Fully scaled up, we want this to be a 10,000-case label, nothing more,” Samantha says. “We want to keep it very exclusive, made from the best grapes.”

Other labels also are under development to make use of the substantial production the vineyard will ultimately produce. A “second” label will be released later this year, made with 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon fruit. The proposed label is Red MTN.

The limited volume of Aquilini Red Mountain in the debut vintages – starting at 500 cases – has been released initially in the Vancouver market. The wines are available in several leading private wine stores and are on top restaurant wine lists. The winery will  begin offering its products in the U.S. when it has more volume.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Aquilini Red Mountain Horse Heaven Hills Syrah Rosé 2017 ($23.49 for 300 cases). This crisp, dry rosé begins with aromas of raspberry and rhubarb which are echoed on the palate. 90.

Aquilini Red Mountain Family Blend 2015 ($29.99 for 350 cases). This is a blend of 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Syrah, 28% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. This is an expressive and approachable wine, with the tannins polished by aging 28 months in new French oak. The wine begins with aromas of cherry, cassis and vanilla. It is full on the palate, with flavours of black cherry mingled with spice and dark fruit. 92.

Aquilini Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($53.99 for 187 cases). This is a bold (15.8% alcohol) and concentrated wine, aged 28 months in new French oak. The fruit has soaked up the oak and carries the alcohol well. There is what the winery, correctly, calls “dark and brooding fruit” that includes black cherry and black currant. The finish is long, with notes of cedar, mushroom and spice. The wine is drinking well now but will age superbly. 94.












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