There was a time when the vast majority of wine professionals never worked a harvest. Wine buyers and sommeliers hit the books, passed exams, and traveled the world with glass in hand, but had never punched-down a still-fermenting Pinot Noir or sorted through freshly picked Sauvignon Blanc clusters.
Like so many things, sommelier culture has grown increasingly experiential. Wine pros are digging in during harvest, learning the ins and outs of their craft firsthand. Further, some are even going so far as to launch their own labels. It’s part of the ultimate quest of understanding the winegrowing journey and being able to share the results with the world.
As you ponder your next glass pour, think about the following sommelier-made wines this harvest season.
We’re just tasting the results of Echolands, a Walla Walla-focused label that launched in 2018. The aspiring outfit is out to showcase the tremendous quality of the appellation, sourcing fruit from an estate within the lauded SeVein Vineyards. Echolands is led by the accomplished Doug Frost, a Master of Wine as well as Master Sommelier. So far, the project is working on Syrah and red blends, but look for more options very soon.
A New York enterprise specializing in Riesling, Empire Estate is orchestrated by the duo of Kelby James Russel and Thomas Pastuszak. The latter is an acclaimed somm with experience at places like the Manhattan’s Nomad Hotel, and has a passion for Riesling. Together, they pull pristine fruit from the nearby Finger Lakes region, engineering clean, fresh, and memorable white wine.
Maison Noir is the brainchild of André Mack, an NYC-based sommelier with a love for the Willamette Valley. He makes approachable Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and more (with immensely clever names, mind you) and is constantly singing the praises of the acclaimed Oregon wine scene. He’s also a standup guy who knows his stuff and is a joy to drink wine with.
Sommelier-turned-winemaker Michael Claypool started Clay Pigeon in 2011. Since, the Portland winery has quietly turned out exquisite small-batch wines, ranging from Pinot Gris and Cab Franc to Syrah. Claypool even makes a tremendous Jura-style Chardonnay, good and oxidized and dense with structure.
Washington label W.T. Vintners is commanded by the winemaking efforts of Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen, a well-traveled certified sommelier. The project focuses on hip and flavorful wines like Chenin Blanc, Mourvedre, Gruner, and even a Syrah made via carbonic maceration. The releases emphasize the unique ability of a sommelier to spotlight a specific varietal or style before it becomes a trend.
California’s Sandhi is run by one of the best-known sommeliers on the scene in Raj Parr. It’s a love letter to standout Burgundian varietals Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Now a decade on, the label remains a model of how best to marry sommelier wisdom with detail-oriented winemaking.
Initiated in 2013, Annona is fronted by sommelier Joe Campanale. The Italian wine admirer stresses indigenous varieties from organically farmed Old World sites. There’s a real element of discovery here, with unusual offerings like Fiano, Anglianico, and some deftly made Montepulciano.
Master somm Larry Stone first fell for the Willamette Valley long ago while getting his start in what would become a long and storied career in wine. He’s now the face of Lingua Franca, one of the most buzzed-about operations in all of the Pacific Northwest. The label is routinely turning out gorgeous Chardonnay and Pinot Noir made from Eola-Amity Hills fruit.
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