L’Ecole No. 41 Merlot Walla Walla Valley 2018

Deep ruby color; dark cherry, plum, blackberry, oak, wet stone on the nose; black cherry, plum, raspberry, boysenberry, chocolate, smoke, vanilla on the palate.

L’Ecole No. 41 Merlot Walla Walla Valley 2018

Dry; silky elegance; supple tannins. Rich, ripe, robust, drinks almost like a cabernet sauvignon. Medium-plus body. Good balance and structure; good acidity (3.67 pH). Serious wine with depth and substantial red fruit from initial attack through good finish. Blend of 84% merlot, 12% cabernet franc, and 4% cabernet sauvignon. Grapes came 50% from Seven Hills Vineyard (wind-blown loess) and 50% from Ferguson Vineyard (fractured basalt).  Both vineyards are certified sustainable and certified salmon safe.

Grapes hand-harvested, then gently crushed into 1.5-ton stainless steel fermenters. Hand punch-downs and gravity-assisted movements. Racked into small French oak barrels, 35% new, with four rackings over 18 months. White label L’Ecole efforts receive more oak than their black-label bottlings, but this is not an oaky wine. 14.5% ABV

L’Ecole Walla Walla Valley

L’Ecole makes a white label and a black label merlot. White labels focus on terroir. Black labels focus on grape variety. This is a white label, so the emphasis is on the terroir of the two estate vineyards that provided the grapes. It is identified as “Walla Walla Valley.” Production is relatively small at 1,070 cases, and their market for this tends to be restaurants rather than mass sales. Their black-label effort has a slightly different mix of grapes and the fruit comes from many different vineyards—thus it is identified as “Columbia Valley.” Black label production was 5,300 cases for this vintage, thus it is much more widely available and sells for about half the price.

L’Ecole founders Jean and Baker Ferguson

Baker and Jean Ferguson founded the winery in 1983 in the Walla Walla Valley, just the third winery in the Valley. It is housed in the historic Frenchtown School, which appears on the label. L’Ecole wines focus on quality and typicity of Washington State in general and the Walla Walla Valley in particular in their white label offerings. The Ferguson’s daughter, Megan, and her husband, Marty built on the Ferguson’s legacy. A third generation, Riley and Rebecca, participate in the winery today.

The website notes: “Our focus is to produce ultra-premium, distinctive wines that reflect the unmistakable typicity of Washington State and the unique terroir of our Walla Walla Valley vineyards.  We are engaged in growing and making 100% of our wine. Each bottle is handcrafted with a commitment to quality in the vineyards and the winery. More than three decades of winemaking experience, ongoing investments in our Walla Walla Estate Ferguson and Seven Hills Vineyards, and long-term relationships with many of the most prominent vineyards in Washington State are central to our well-known reputation for quality and consistency across our wine portfolio.”

Clubb family, second and third generations at L’Ecole: Riley, Rebecca, Marty, Megan

Marty Clubb is the co-owner, with his wife Megan, and managing winemaker today. Wine & Spirits magazine has recognized L’Ecole as a Top 100 winery for 15 consecutive years. In 2014, Decanter praised their 2011 Estate Ferguson as the best Bordeaux in the world. 

Very old vines are a key to L’Ecole success. Many were planted in the 1970s and 1980s. Winery literature notes: “Meticulously managed to L’Ecole specifications, we farm the same vineyards and specific blocks of fruit each year with the goal of achieving the highest level of quality. These efforts contribute significantly to the trustworthy reputation of our wines vintage after vintage.”

L’Ecole Ferguson vineyard
L’Ecole Seven Hills vineyard

L’Ecole No. 41 Merlot Walla Walla Valley 2018 is L’Ecole’s premier merlot bottling. It delivers the whole package—elegance, structure, earthiness, minerality, plush tannins, balance, rich and tasty fruit, a long and satisfying finish. Good now, but has significant aging potential. Pair with beef dishes—grilled or roast beef; filet mignon; beef stew; lamb; veal; grilled or roast chicken; roast pork and pork loin; blue cheese, cheddar, gorgonzola cheese. $36-40

L’Ecole website

L’Ecole extolls virtues of Washington State vineyards
L’Ecole Winery in old schoolhouse
L’Ecole tasting area
L’Ecole harvest
L’Ecole winemaking team
L’Ecole owner and winemaker Marty Clubb with viticulturist Mike Sharon