Hogue sold the winery he owned with his brother Gary to Vincor in 2001, but now he's ready to roll out some new wines, which are being made by his longtime winemaker, David Forsyth.
"I missed it," Hogue said on a visit to San Francisco recently. "I missed the challenge of selling my wine."
Those who know Washington wine history might remember when the vineyard now known as Champoux Vineyard was known as Mercer Ranch. It has been a source for some of Washington's greatest reds, including Quilceda Creek's, Andrew Will's and Woodward Canyon's. The Mercer family sold it to a consortium of wineries and Paul Champoux in 1996.
Mercer is planting a new vineyard next door to Champoux, on the same sort of land in the Horse Heaven Hills, which will be the source for the reds of Mercer Estates. First crop is 2009. For now, the winery is using red grapes purchased from other growers, mostly in Horse Heaven Hills.
Most of the white grapes come from Hogue's vineyards, which the family retained when they sold the winery. Those vineyards are in Yakima Valley. Other fruit comes from some warmer sites, including Sagemoor and Desert Wind.
That makes sense to me. I've always believed that Yakima Valley's cool climate tends to make reds that are more savory, earthy and herbal than most wine drinkers want. There are exceptions, of course. A few blessed spots can produce special reds. Red Willow and Sheridan vineyards come to mind. But for the most part, the whites come out naturally bright and juicy while the reds need special care to keep from tasting like vegetables.
"Now that we have 20 years under our belts we have a pretty good idea where to grow grapes and how to treat them," Hogue said. "We tried everything to get the reds ripe in our Yakima vineyards. It can be done but it's just better in Horse Heaven Hills."
After tasting the first releases, which are rolling out in March, I can definitely say I like the reds better. Watch for scores and reviews when they are published, but for now just make a note to look for the Merlot and Cabernet with the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. At $24 they are a step up from the Columbia Valley bottlings, which sell for $15. The new whites are good values at $15.
The winery is in Prosser, practically around the corner from Hogue's facility. A tasting room is expected to open later this year at the winery.