When Marty Taucher retired from both Microsoft and raising kids, he knew he wanted to start a new chapter in his life. The question was, what would that chapter be? Having developed an interest in fine wine, he enrolled in South Seattle College’s Northwest Wine Academy to study it. Given a requirement to serve an internship at a winery, Taucher took a gig at Washington State’s DeLille Cellars where he met winemaker Chris Peterson.
The meeting was serendipitous. Taucher, by then determined to start a wine brand, drafted a business plan. After harvest, he shared it with Peterson. Peterson’s comment: Looks great but who is going to make the wine? Realizing one had business savvy, the other cellar experience, they formed a partnership in 2009; by 2010, the duo had contracts in place to crush their first vintage of fruit in Woodinville, Washington.
Avennia, by all standards, is still a young company. A winery only has one chance to turn fruit into something eminently drinkable, and hopefully exquisite, once a year. And each year brings new weather conditions and by default, different fruit. So, it’s remarkable that in the span of less than a decade, Avennia has attracted a loyal following of wine lovers for their single-site Syrah, Cab blends, and Rhône-style reds.
According to Peterson, the reason for their success may lay in their winemaking techniques and style goals. “We appeal to sommeliers and wine geeks. They like our wines because we work with old vines and native yeast, which lend more complex and interesting flavors. But the regular drinker can still enjoy our wines because they’re not puzzles. So, we manage to bridge that divide. We don’t dumb the wines down. They are elegant and sophisticated, but at the same time accessible.”
Peterson says he works more or less naturally in the cellar, but he hesitates to label their brand as a “natural” wine. “That’s such a polemic word nowadays” he says. Indeed, a recent DailyBeast interview with legendary sommelier Bob Stuckey in which he compared natural wine to “Fox News” has made the internet rounds, highlighting once again, the deep divide over the category within the wine world.
Asked about the inspiration behind the wines, Peterson explains they are driven by the French notion of terroir and in some circumstances, French cellar work. For example, taking the centuries-old tradition of blending from Bordeaux while focusing on single-vineyard expressions of Syrah like the great wines from Côte-Rôtie. But he discovered that unlike the Bordelaise, who typically use cultured yeast, his wines fare better with native ferments and minimal intervention.
“During the first year, I did one block of Cabernet native and one with cultured yeast, and decided the result wasn’t even close. Since then, I’ve only done native ferments, and have eschewed fining, filtration and even adding malolactic cultures.” He posits that the only way one can work naturally, however, is to have great resources.
“In order to make that all work, you need great fruit. We were lucky to get some old vines and put an emphasis on that for our natural style; plus, we’ve gained a lot of fruit while retaining the three core growers we started with. We’ve also added some specialty vineyards like older vine Grenache from 1999 which we use in our Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre (GSM) blend.”
Peterson says he’s grateful for the success Avennia has enjoyed but that there’s much work to be done in the bigger picture for Washington wine. Nowadays, most consumers know Washington makes great Cabernet Sauvignon, but few understand the nuance for which the state’s regions are capable. “Columbia Gorge is doing bright, bright Chardonnay, Syrah that’s lean, and even interesting Gewurztraminer” he explains.
Peterson also wants Washington to come out from under Napa’s shadow. “We’ve shown that our Cabernet can stand up to any wine in the world. Washington wines have gotten some of the highest scores and press. And yet, people still say things like ‘Washington is almost as good as Napa but for way less money.’”
To that end, Peterson and Taucher both spend time on the road sharing Avennia but also the message of Washington wine. “We are all fighting to be better known on the world stage. There’s still a lot of work to be done. As people discover Washington wines, they realize Washington is not all one thing.”
Avennia Tasting Room, 19255 Woodinville-Snohomish Road NE, Woodinville, WA 98072
We appreciate the knowledge of wine expert, Lauren Mowery, J.D., D.W.S. She really knows great wine! Lauren is a journalist, award-winning blogger, photographer, and second stage Masters of Wine candidate. She currently contributes regularly to Forbes, USA Today, and Wine Enthusiast.