Pepper Bridge Winery Merlot, Walla Walla Valley Estate Vineyards 2014

Very deep ruby color; dark fruits, pencil shavings, crushed gravel on the nose; black cherry, black plum, blueberry, redcurrant tang, chocolate on the palate.

Pepper Bridge Winery Merlot, Walla Walla Valley Estate Vineyards 2014

Dry; full-bodied, rich and full in the mouth; blend of 77% merlot, 16% cabernet franc (provides the deep darkness and gravel), 7% malbec. Superb, ripe, juicy fruit; polished tannins; very well managed oak—100% aged in French oak, 63% neutral, 37% new. Apparently unfiltered because there was significant sediment, which adds to the depth and complexity while also calling for decanting or very careful pouring at the end of the bottle. Time in bottle helped this round into a serious, sensuously delicious pour.

Norm McKibben is a founding father of the Walla Walla wine industry. A trained engineer, McKibben worked for decades in construction, then decided on a new career as an apple farmer. On his way to that career, wines and vines lured him away. He planted his first vineyard in 1989 with his wife, Virginia, and eldest son, Shane. He established Pepper Bridge Winery in 1998 in a partnership with Ray Goff, and later was joined by winemaker Jean François Pellet. The families also created Amavi Cellers—whose wines I have reviewed in the past and found excellent, too. Another son, Eric McKibben is an active partner in Pepper Bridge and Amavi and general manager of Amavi.

Norm McKibben and Jean François Pellet

McKibben was early advocate of sustainable viticulture. All of their vineyards are certified sustainable by VINEA (the winery was a founding member), the Walla Walla Valley’s Sustainable Trust, and LIVE (an Oregon-based sustainable viticulture organization). The vineyards also are certified Salmon Safe and are monitored by the IOBC, the international body responsible for setting sustainability standards. Pepper Bridge proudly proclaims they are 100% estate (they own the vineyards), 100% sustainable, and 100% Walla Walla.

Pepper Bridge Winery Merlot, Walla Walla Valley Estate Vineyards 2014 is another knockout wine from Pepper Bridge, presenting a full and rich merlot that even Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) from Sideways could enjoy. The merlot is outstanding, but the cab franc—a Pepper Bridge specialty—works wonderfully to add layers and hedonistic pleasures to this effort. You could pair this with dishes you also enjoy with cabernet sauvigono—rich, grilled steak, grilled and roasted meats, roast lamb, hot game pies and beef stew, venison and other wild game—including wild game birds. Meatloaf, cheeseburgers, mac and cheese, and spaghetti and meatballs would work, too, but why pair this upscale beauty with everyday comfort food. Aged parmesan, blue cheese, and hard cheeses such as cheshire will also pair. $48-56

Pepper Bridge website

Ray Goff
Eric McKibben
Pepper Bridge Winery Walla Walla tasting room
Pepper Bridge Winery solar panels
Pepper Bridge Winery Seven Hills vineyard
Pepper Bridge Winery food and wine pairing