Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Meeting Winemaker and Owner Bob Harris from Robert Ramsay Cellars in Woodinville, Washington State, USA

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Bob Harris from Robert Ramsay Cellars, Woodinville, Washington State, in Seattle

When was in Washington State earlier this year, I did not have a chance to go to Woodinville. 30 minutes north of Seattle, Woodinville is increasingly becoming a new hot spot of wine touring. Besides the stalwarts Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia, Woodinville is now home to over 90 wineries, wine bars & tasting rooms, and hosts several large annual wine-tasting festivals.

But I was lucky insofar as Woodinville's Bob Harris, owner and winemaker, came down to Seattle to present his Robert Ramsay Cellars wine.

The Wines of Washington State

About half a century ago, there was basically no wine industry in Washington State. And if wine was made, it was not with the noble European vinifera grapes. But the American wine boom that had its origin in California moved to the north, first to Oregon and then it also reached Washington State.

In 1980, four years after Californian wines had out shined the French wines at the famous tasting in Paris, there were about 20 wineries in Washington State that were producing high-quality wines with European vinifera grapes. Today, there are more that 650 wineries. Valued at about $3 billion annually, Washington's wine industry ranks second behind California, which, however, has more than 10-times the acreage and four-times the number of wineries. Few Washington wineries are widely recognized by average consumers outside the region. More than half of the wine produced in Washington comes from wineries owned by Chateau Ste. Michelle.

Picture: The Wine Regions of Washington State

In the beginning, white wines were dominating. As recently as 10 years ago, 70 percent of the grapes planted were white grapes, with Chardonnay the No. 1 grape. But encouraged by the success of Oregon with its Pinot Noirs, the balance between white and red wine has shifted towards red; red wines now account for almost half of the wine production. In general, if California’s wines are rich and powerful, Washington State’s wines are more crisp and delicate, reflecting its location much more up in the North. They remind me a lot of the wines I know from Germany. Although a relatively young wine industry, Washington State is now the nation's second largest wine producer and is ranked among the world's top wine regions.


The small community of Woodinville, nestled in the Sammamish River Valley, is increasingly becoming a new hot spot of wine touring. Besides the stalwarts Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia, Woodinville is now home to over 90 wineries, wine bars & tasting rooms, and hosts several large annual wine-tasting festivals. A great variety of wine tasting experiences await you from the historical and beautiful grounds of Chateau St. Michelle to small boutique wineries and tasting rooms waiting to be discovered.

Chateau Ste.Michelle is producing in a joint venture with Dr. Ernst Loosen from Germany the famous Eroica Riesling. Weingut Dr. Ernst Loosen is owned and run by Ernst Loosen. I caught up with him in Washington DC a few months ago.

Robert Ramsay Cellars

Robert Ramsay Cellars, located in Woodinville, Washington State, is named for winemaker Bob Harris’s great uncle Mason Ramsay. When asked about the name, he jokes that “Bob Harris Winery” just didn’t have the same ring to it. Harris works in the software industry by day and devotes the rest of his time to producing high-quality Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre, and red blends.

The Wines Bob Harris Poured

2008 Mason’s Red

Mason’s Red was created as a food friendly wine with generous acidity. Mason’s is a Syrah-based blend that changes every year. “To me, it’s a very personal, creative exercise blending Mason’s Red,” said Bob.

Picture: The Wines Bob Harris Poured

2007 Horse Heaven Hills Syrah

92% Syrah, 3% Mourvedre, and 5% Viognier.

Dark purple. Aromatic with black plum on the nose. More black plum as well as blackberry and a hint of spice come through on the palate. Medium to full-bodied with lively acidity, medium to high tannins, and a long finish.

Bob explained that he co-ferments fruit from the Horse Heaven Hills,renowned for its long growing season, with a bit of Viognier to increase depth of color and character-in the traditional Cote-Rhone style.

2008 McKinley Springs Mourvedre

Deep ruby red in color. Aromatic with game, earth, white pepper, and wild berries on the nose and palate. Medium-bodied with sweet tannins and a long, smooth finish.

Wine Store and Starbucks

The tasting took place at an interesting wine store in Seattle, Pike & Western Wine Shop on 1934 Pike Place at the corner of Virginia Street and Pike Place, north end of the Pike Place Market. One reason, why it was an interesting wine store is the appealing selection of wines; another one is the closeness to Pike Market. Finally, the Pike and Western Wine Shop is located next to the first Starbuck’s.

Picture: First Starbuck's Shop in Seattle

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