Quilceda Creek Vinters
Making Wine With "Style"
Quilceda Creek cabernet has elegance, substance and style
Opulence Magazine, September 2000, By Ed Brivio

Not long after meeting Alex Golitzin, founder and winemaker at Quilceda Creek Vintners in Washington State, you begin to recognize his two passions: the Pacific Northwest and his wine.

Red Mountain
Attracted by the region’s scenic beauty, Alex and his wife Jeanette moved there from San Francisco in 1967 when he took a job as chemical engineer with Scott Paper, In 1974, they purchased 6.5 acres in rural Snohomish, about 45 minutes north of Seattle, and set about building themselves a home overlooking the Cascade Mountains.

“I decided to make wine,” Alex said, “due to a total lack of availability of fine wine in Washington at the time.”

In 1974, he bought grapes and made his first barrel (25 cases) in the garage. Output remained the same for the next three years. His first commercial production (150 cases) came in 1979, and it was this vintage that won him his first award – the Grand Prize from the Enological Society of the Northwest.

Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon
Construction of the winery proper, which at present covers 3,000 immaculate square feet, with room for 300 barrels, began in 1983. In 1992, his son Paul joined the winemaking team. Today, their still limited production – 1600 cases in 1997, 2400 in 1998- satisfies an international market, and many consider the Quilceda Creek Cabs as among the best being produced in America.

Alexander Golitzin was born in France to a Russian émigré family-a distant relative was Prince Lev Sergeyevich Golitsyn, who was instrumental in creating Russian champagne late in the 19th Century at the outset of World War II, and lived in Paris for the duration of the war. In 1946, his family moved to California and settled in San Francisco, to be close to their uncle who worked for Beaulieu Vineyards in the nearby Napa Valley.

“Being close to Napa, our family would often visit Uncle Andre and tour the winery, and I would play in the vineyards,” Golitzin remembers.

Uncle Andre was, of course, Andre Tchelistcheff, whom the Oxford Companion to Wine refers to simply and unequivocally as “…the founding father of the modern California wine industry,”. Andre retired from Beaulieu in 1973 and soon after began a long association with Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington. “Andre started consulting with them about the same time we moved to Washington, but this was just a coincidence.”

Champoux Vineyard
It was Andre who first recommended Washington state’s grapes to Alex, but “…his most lasting advice, that we heed to this, is that wine should be primarily fruit driven and to use oak in such a way that it is an additive to the fruit rather than dominating it.”

For many winemakers here, grapes are bought, not grown. Washington wine is a story of two very different regions: the western part of the state with its mild maritime climate and urban markets, where many of the best wineries are located; and across the Cascades to the east, the Columbia River Valley that is really irrigated desert, where the vineyards are. In the torrid heat of the valley, ripeness is rarely a problem.

What is necessary here to produce world-class wines are low yields, something it can be hard to make grape growers, who as farmers equate high yields with good husbandry, comprehend. As a result, and in and effort to ensure their supply of high quality grapes into the future, the Golitzins have purchased the Mercer Ranch Vineyard. Alex considers it not only the best of the four sites he deals with in the Columbia valley, but also, unquestionably, one of the best in the state.

If you start with ripe, healthy grapes from low-yielding vines, good winemaking is a question of doing as little as possible. They will blend small amounts of other grapes when needed, but father and son have come to believe that cabernet sauvignon does best on its own – their ’92 Reserve, and ’94, were 100% cabernet.

French Oak Barrels
As Alex explained: “We have found that neither Merlot nor Cabernet Franc have the fruit density and texture of cabernet sauvignon. Both tend to thin out the wine. If the cabernet sauvignon is made correctly, it is not necessary to soften it with other varietals.”

Fruit this physiologically mature can standup to the new French oak barrels – Alliers, Troncais, Nevers – that are used here for 22 months of aging. One of the Quilceda Creek cabernets’ great charms is their aromatic, yet unobtrusive oak.

From Alex’s unassuming start in the early ‘70s through his development as a winemaker in the ‘80s, followed by a string of successes for both father and son in the ‘90s, the watchword here has always been learning to make the wine better. In 1988, the first reserve wine (50 out of 925 cases) was produced. In 1993, the entire production was changed to the reserve style, and, in 1997, 38% of the wine was declassified into a second wine.

In this long-term commitment to quality, Alex has been very fortunate in that Paul is as passionate about wine as he is. When I asked him about when his son decided to follow in his father’s footsteps, he replied: “Paul decided to follow a career in winemaking in 1992. It would be more proper, however, “Alex quickly added, “to say that I am following in Paul’s footsteps, as he is a far better winemaker. He has an outstanding palate and is extremely creative in his ability to alter the winemaking process. Our wine is as good as it is today primarily due to Paul.”

Their goal is simple: “to produce a wine true to its varietal character: a wine that has lots of elegance so that it is approachable when first released, reaches its plateau of maturity 7 to 8 years after the vintage, and has the structure to cellar for at least 20 years.”

The ’97 QC Cabernet (89% Cab. Sauv., 9% Merlot, 2% Cab Franc), in the shops now, is already delicious. From a difficult vintage, it’s not as massive as either the ’94 or ’96, or the ’98 that is still in the barrel. Packed with fruit and tightly wound aromas and flavors, it has excellent balance, a velvety texture and supple tannins. Like all the QC Cabs, the toasty oak is beautifully integrated, and the wine has a focused, elegant style-really a kind of well-bred restraint – that is one of the hallmarks of great winemaking. With years of aging, it should be outstanding.

The Grapes of Champoux Vineyard
Quilceda is the name of a creek about 15 miles from the winery and comes from a Native American word meaning “salt water people.” As the wines achieved national prominence, a new label was needed. The design, created by Paul is both beautiful and appropriate to be a bottle of wine; graphically striking without making you wonder if the gorgeous exterior may be all there is. The tall conifer of the of the Pacific Northwest are silhouetted in black against the golden backdrop of the Cascades – incidentally the very view from the Golitzin’s front windows – with a full moon, also in gold, floating over it all. White and red lettering provide all the required information.

“The black, white and red colors,” Alex said, “are predominant in Northwest Indian art, although we were not conscious of this when the label was created. We feel it expresses the scenic beauty of the Northwest that we love so much."

The Quilceda Creek cabernets are understated wines that combine power and elegance, substance and style. They seem shy at first about revealing the true splendors, much like the magnificent Cascade Range itself, which so rarely emerges from behind its veil of clouds.