Palencia uses Grenache to top Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition

By on June 19, 2017
Taste Washington Seattle

Victor Palencia, owner and winemaker for Palencia Wine Co. in Walla Walla, earned gold medals with Iberian Peninsula varieties Grenache and Albariño at the fifth annual Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

WALLA WALLA, Wash. – Victor Palencia, a wunderkind of the Washington wine industry, paced the fifth annual Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition with five gold medals, led by his Palencia Winery 2014 Grenache as best of show.

“Wow, I have been drinking that wine pretty aggressively,” Palencia said with a chuckle. “The Grenache is doing really well, and I know the wine club took a big chunk of it. It’s all extremely humbling.”

A record number of 36 wineries combined to enter 125 wines in the competition that also serves as fund-raiser for the viticulture and enology program at Walla Walla Community College. The judging is a collaborative effort by Great Northwest Wine and WWCC’s College Cellars.

Palencia, 32, was a part of the first graduating class from College Cellars, and he wasn’t the only Latin winemaker from the College Cellars program to shine at the June 13 judging. One of his classmates, Amy Alvarez-Wampfler, helped Sinclair Estate Vineyard lay claim to three double gold medals for red wines from the 2013 vintage and best red blend for its 2013 Vixen. She joined her winemaking husband, Daniel Wampfler, at Abeja after the 2015 crush.

Johnson Ridge – formerly Walla Faces – has the acclaimed Chris Camarda as its consulting winemaker, however the day-to-day winemaking is handled by Victor de la Luz, who is continuing his education with a few classes at College Cellars.

“I call him ‘Victor Two,’ ” Palencia chuckled. “I’m so excited for him.”

Iberian varieties shine in Walla Walla judging

Adamant Cellars 2016 Albariño from Gateshead Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley earned the title as best white wine at the 2017 Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition. (Photo by Great Northwest Wine)

Adamant Cellars won the award for best white wine, a scintillating 2016 Albariño from Gateshead Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley near Pepper Bridge Vineyard. It marked Devin Stinger’s fifth commercial vintage with the white Spanish grape.

“When I lived in Colorado, I used to drink a ton of Albariño in the summertime,” Stinger said. “When we moved from Portland to start the winery, I thought it would be awesome to do an  Albariño, and it does so well here at about 4 tons to an acre.”

Stinger finishes it bone dry, and he sells all 110 cases of it through his wine club or his tasting room at the airport complex.

“When people have been tasting all day around Walla Walla, it’s red, red, red,” Stinger said. “We’ve got crisp white wines to offer, and our wine club eats it up.”

Adamant Cellars also earned three gold medals for red wines, and while Stinger, a former software developer, didn’t attend College Cellars, he can thank the program for two of his top interns. Chuck Hundley went on to create Tricycle Cellars not far from Adamant at the airport complex, and Jason Fox is a rising star in downtown Walla Walla with his Lagana Cellars and Nox Perpetua brands.

Grantwood Winery, a tiny husband/wife operation west of downtown Walla Walla, came away with four gold medals, which included three best of class awards and two unanimous double golds.

Zerba Cellars also won four gold medals. Balboa and Beresan wineries, two brands that recently merged under Thomas and Amy Glase, combined to win four gold medals.

Gilles Nicault of Long Shadows Vintners fame reeled in three gold medals for his work under Dazzle Cellars and the declassified Nine Hats Wine brand.

L’Ecole No. 41 displayed skill across the spectrum with gold medals for Merlot, Syrah and its white Bordeaux blend Luminesce — each made with estate fruit in the Walla Walla Valley.

Palencia’s haul from last week’s judging included a gold medal for his off-dry Albarinño, and his Grenache wasn’t the only one to earn gold. Mary Derby’s DAMA 2013 Grenache backed up its best of class award at the San Francisco Chronicle judging with a gold in Walla Walla. John Freeman and his Precept teams at Browne Family Vineyards and Waterbrook wineries combined for five gold medals — including best of class for the Browne Family Vineyards 2016 Grenache rosé.

“There’s an Iberian revolution in Washington,” Palencia chuckled.

Making a case for Grenache in Washington

Canyon Vineyard Ranch is an estate vineyard in the Yakima Valley near Prosser, Wash., for Seattle-based Precept Wine.

Canyon Vineyard Ranch is an estate vineyard in the Yakima Valley near Prosser, Wash., for Seattle-based Precept Wine. (Photo by Andréa Johnson Photography/Courtesy of Precept Wine)

A decade ago, Palencia first made a Grenache from Canyon Vineyard Ranch, a 500-acre planting known as Snipes Canyon Ranch when Precept purchased it from Bob Stiles. Soon after Palencia launched his eponymous brand, he made a standalone Grenache in 2012. He also produces bottlings of Mourvèdre, Syrah and a GSM blend, and Palencia’s wine club nearly wipes out each release. What’s left is sold at his tasting room among the Port of Walla Walla winery incubators near the airport.

“Grenache has got great potential, and it’s almost an advantage to us because it’s still a niche variety in the marketplace,” Palencia said. “That adds to the attraction because people will take a second look.”

This past winter during the Washington Winegrowers Association annual meeting, storied viticulturist Kent Waliser encouraged his peers to plant more Grenache. Earlier this year, Palencia’s 2013 Grenache earned a gold medal at the 2017 Judgment of Geyserville, an invite-only tasting staged annually in Sonoma County. Sales for his 2014 Grenache will outstrip the 120 cases he produced.

“Grenache performs really well,” Palencia said. “It has good depth and color. As far as how strong the variety can be in Washington? That depends upon the market. It can happen, but we might have to define the style. I like more spice, more acidity and lower alcohol, but I do know that more folks like the riper style of Grenache.

“If I was a grower, I think I would get behind Grenache,” he added. “It gets pretty huge clusters and yields really well.”

Yakima Valley roots run deep for Palencia

The Palencia Winery 2014 Grenache captured best of show honors at the fifth annual Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition. (Photo by 60’s Kid/Courtesy of Palencia Winery)

Palencia grew up in the Yakima Valley and graduated from Prosser High School in 2003. He spent much his youth working at what is now Canyon Vineyard Ranch, the source of his award-winning Grenache, which retails for $36.

“I always knew it as ‘Klingele’ when I was growing up,” Palencia. “We lived a few miles down the road from there. It’s more of a temperate climate, and it’s been a great site.”

He contracts for that Grenache with David Minick, vice president of vineyard operations at Precept Wine. It was Minick, as founding winemaker of Willow Crest Estate Winery in Prosser, who hired Palencia as a teen to work in the cellar.

“We have a level of understanding because even though he’s a grower on a corporate level, he’s a winemaker at heart,” Palencia said. “We look at the chemistry pretty closely, and I give him the feedback to guide him to the style of fruit that I’m looking for.”

Palencia’s career took off in earnest via a scholarship to Walla Walla CC courtesy of famed Leonetti Cellar. He was the youngest student in the nascent program and not of legal age to consume wine. His background and success in the College Cellars program led him back to Willow Crest as Minick’s assistant winemaker and attracted the attention of the New York Times and Good Morning America because he was not legally able to drink.

“That Grenache takes me full circle,” Palencia said. “It brings me back some to my college years when I made a similar wine in 2005 with Grenache while I was at Willow Crest. It’s cool because I have a real connection to that vineyard, and I think it helps with the end product.”

Success leads to opportunities for Palencia

Washington Pinot Gris

Victor Palencia of Jones of Washington makes Pinot Gris from three different Washington American Viticultural Areas. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

In 2007, he was hired by Jack Jones and Dick Shaw to oversee the massive production at J&S Crushing on the Wahluke Slope. There in Mattawa, Palencia is in charge of 1.5 million cases worth of wine, working with clients that include the Jones family’s Jones of Washington brand and some of Shaw’s own Henry Earl Estates wines.

Palencia said his background of working in the vineyards and being able to communicate so easily with the workforce continues to helped him. His winemaking accolades include Wine Press Northwest magazine’s 2012 Washington Winery of the Year for Jones of Washington and best of show awards at the 2015 and 2016 Cascadia International Wine Competition for Pinot Noir rosé and Albariño, respectively.

“I’m proud of being a Latino,” said Palencia, who begins moving his own brand into the Port of Kennewick’s Columbia Gardens wine project this fall. “I enjoy my culture, the lifestyle and the work. It’s a way of thinking, that connection to the vineyards, that sometimes I take for granted, but I think it shows in the wine because I am a Latino.”

The Columbia Gardens location also means he’ll have his wines just across the Columbia River from Pasco, one of the state’s largest Latin communities.

“I’m pretty excited,” he said. “The Port told us we can start getting in there in early to the middle of September, which will be a little nerve-racking because I’ll be in harvest mode, so I’ll get my feet in the door and next year hit the ground running hard.”

Palencia plans to maintain a presence in Walla Walla beyond the move of production for his own wines from the Port of Walla Walla’s incubator project next year. That path began more than 15 years ago when he followed his father into Minick’s vineyards at Willow Crest.

“Everything has an inspiration, and I have a wonderful support system,” Palencia said. “We really enjoy what we’re doing.”

2017 Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition results

Grape varieties native to the Iberian Peninsula shined at the 2017 Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition as Browne Family Vineyards 2016 Grenache Rose, Palencia Winery 2014 Grenache and Adamant Cellars 2016 Gateshead Vineyard Albarino swept the superlatives during the fifth annual fundraiser for College Cellars.

Grape varieties native to the Iberian Peninsula shined at the 2017 Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition as Browne Family Vineyards 2016 Grenache Rose, Palencia Winery 2014 Grenache and Adamant Cellars 2016 Gateshead Vineyard Albariño swept the superlatives during the fifth annual fundraiser for College Cellars. (Photo by Great Northwest Wine)

Double gold/best red/best of show

Palencia Winery 2014 Grenache, Yakima Valley, $36

Best white wine

Adamant Cellars 2016 Gateshead Vineyard Albariño, Walla Walla Valley, $25

Best rosé

Browne Family Vineyards 2016 Grenache Rosé, Columbia Valley, $19

Double gold/Best of class

Grantwood Winery 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $22
Grantwood Winery 2015 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $18

Gold/best of class

Grantwood Winery 2015 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $16
Sinclair Estate Vineyards 2013 Vixen Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $43
Walla Walla Vintners 2015 Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $36
Waterbrook Winery 2014 Reserve Malbec, Columbia Valley, $23

Gold medal

Adamant Cellars 2013 Nalin Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley, $32
Adamant Cellars 2013 Winemaker’s Select Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley, $42
Adamant Cellars 2013 Winemaker’s Select Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $42
Balboa Winery 2013 Mith Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley, $55
Balboa Winery 2016 White Mith, Walla Walla Valley, $30
Beresan Winery 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $32
Beresan Winery 2014 Carménère, Walla Walla Valley, $40
Browne Family Vineyards 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $36
Browne Family Vineyards 2015 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $26
Canoe Ridge Winery 2014 The Explorer Red Blend, Horse Heaven Hills, $22
DAMA Wines 2013 Grenache, Columbia Valley, $38
DAMA Wines 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $55
Dazzle Cellars 2016 Julia’s Dazzle Rosé, Horse Heaven Hills, $20
Eleganté Cellars 2016 Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, $36
Enchanted Cellars 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $40
Eternal Wines 2014 Eternal Patience Roussanne, Walla Walla Valley, $40
Eternal Wines 2015 RocketMan Red, Columbia Valley, $35
Eternal Wines 2016 Eternal Perspective Grenache Blanc, Columbia Valley, $30
Grantwood Winery 2015 Zinfandel, Walla Walla Valley, $19
Johnson Ridge Vineyard 2014 Estate Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $32
Johnson Ridge Vineyard 2016 Estate Rosé, Walla Walla Valley, $20
L’Ecole No. 41 2014 Estate Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $37
L’Ecole No. 41 2014 Estate Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $37
L’Ecole No. 41 2015 Estate Luminesce White Wine, Walla Walla Valley, $22
Nine Hats Cellars 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $25
Nine Hats Cellars 2016 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $14
Nox Perpetua 2015 Seven Hills Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley, $45
Palencia Winery 2013 El Viñador Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $50
Palencia Winery 2013 El Viñador Petit Verdot, Wahluke Slope, $50
Palencia Winery 2014 Syrah, Yakima Valley, $36
Palencia Winery 2016 Albariño, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $20
Saviah Cellars 2013 Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $30
Saviah Cellars 2014 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $32
Scarlet Oak Barrels 2016 Sèmillon, Columbia Valley, $15
Sinclair Estate Vineyards 2013 Pentatonic Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $43
Sinclair Estate Vineyards 2013 Sangiovese, Walla Walla Valley, $37
Sinclair Estate Vineyards 2013 Syrah, Wahluke Slope, $37
Skylite Cellars 2013 Soiree Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $27
Tamarack Cellars 2014 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $28
TERO Estates 2013 DC3 Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley, $38
TERO Estates 2013 Super Tuscan Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley, $38
Three Rivers Winery 2014 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $39
Three Rivers Winery 2016 Cabernet Franc Rosé, Walla Walla Valley, $16
Walla Walla Vintners 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $42
Waterbrook Winery 2015 Reserve Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $16
Waters Winery 2013 Flying Trout Block 2 Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $36
Waters Winery 2014 Waters Old Stones Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $50
Woodward Canyon 2014 Estate Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $69
Woodward Canyon 2016 Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Walla Walla Valley, $29
Zerba Cellars 2013 Mourvèdre, Walla Walla Valley, $45
Zerba Cellars 2014 Estate Red Wine, The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, $30
Zerba Cellars 2014 Syrah, The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, $45
Zerba Cellars 2016 Cockburn Vineyard Estate Sangiovese Rosé, Walla Walla Valley, $24

Silver

ALUVÉ Winery 2014 Menozzi Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $52
ALUVÉ Winery 2014 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $44
Canoe Ridge Winery 2016 The Expedition Rosé, Yakima Valley, $16
DAMA Wines 2014 Collage Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley, $50
DAMA Wines 2016 Rosé, Columbia Valley, $25
Drink Washington State 2014 Enjoy Walla Walla Carménère, Walla Walla Valley, $26
Drink Washington State 2014 Groovin’ On Red Wine, Wahluke Slope, $26
Drink Washington State 2015 Escape to Walla Walla Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley, $26
Dunham Cellars 2014 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $35
Eleganté Cellars 2009 Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $36
Eleganté Cellars 2010 Sangiovese, Walla Walla Valley, $36
Enchanted Cellars 2013 Crimson Blend, Columbia Valley, $26
Eternal Wines 2015 Eternal Heritage Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $60
Eternal Wines 2015 Eternal Sunshine White Wine, Walla Walla Valley, $35
Grantwood Winery 2015 Petit Verdot, Walla Walla Valley, $23
Grantwood Winery 2015 Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, $18
Johnson Ridge 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $32
L’Ecole No. 41 2014 Apogee Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley, $55
L’Ecole No. 41 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $40
L’Ecole No. 41 2014 Estate Ferguson Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley, $65
L’Ecole No. 41 2014 Estate Perigee Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley, $55
L’Ecole No. 41 2014 Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley, $36
Lagana Cellars 2016 Cockburn Ranch Vineyard Chardonnay, Walla Walla Valley, $25
Nine Hats Cellars 2015 Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $20
Nine Hats Cellars 2016 Pinot Gris, Horse Heaven Hills, $14
Palencia Winery 2015 Pinot Noir, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $36
Saviah Cellars 2013 Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley, $30
Saviah Cellars 2014 Barbera, Walla Walla Valley, $30
Saviah Cellars 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $30
Scarlet Oak Barrels 2014 Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $30
Scarlet Oak Barrels 2014 Petit Verdot, Walla Walla Valley, $30
Sinclair Estate Vineyards 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $43
Sinclair Estate Vineyards 2013 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $37
Skylite Cellars 2013 Malbec, Yakima Valley, $34
TERO Estates 2013 Petit Verdot, Walla Walla Valley, $38
Walla Walla Vintners 2014 Bello Rosso, Columbia Valley, $42
Walla Walla Vintners 2014 Estate Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $60
Walla Walla Vintners 2014 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $30
Walla Walla Vintners 2015 Dolcetto, Walla Walla Valley, $29
Waterbrook Winery 2016 Sangiovese Rosé, Columbia Valley, $12
Woodward Canyon 2013 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $59
Woodward Canyon 2013 Estate Reserve, Walla Walla Valley, $79

Bronze

Canoe Ridge Winery 2015 Reserve Chardonnay, Horse Heaven Hills, $22
Don Carlo Vineyard 2012 Estate Merlot, The Rocks of Milton-Freewater, $34
Don Carlo Vineyard 2013 Estate Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley, $34
Dusted Valley Vintners 2014 Tall Tales Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $60
Enchanted Cellars 2013 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $32
Eternal Wines 2015 Eternal Bliss Fortified Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $50
Eternal Wines 2015 Eternal Restraint Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $60
Lagana Cellars 2014 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $30
Walla Walla Vintners 2015 Sangiovese, Columbia Valley, $29

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About Eric Degerman

Eric Degerman is the president and CEO of Great Northwest Wine. He is a journalist with more than 30 years of daily newspaper experience and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest with Andy Perdue and served as its managing editor for 15 years. He is a frequent wine judge along the West Coast and contributor to Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine, the region's longest-running golf publication.

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