THE MONSON FAMILY of Goose Ridge Vineyards near Richland was quick to hire winemaker Maurine Johnson, who became a free agent three years ago in one of the biggest deals in the history of the American wine industry.
“When Hogue was sold to Gallo, there was no work for me,” Johnson says. “It happens.”
The Utah State graduate honed her ability to make deliciously affordable wines at scale during her 29-year career at Ste. Chapelle—Idaho’s largest winery—followed by three vintages as a red winemaker at Hogue Cellars in the Yakima Valley. One of the first wines she made at Goose Ridge was the 2019 g3 Merlot, and it topped our list of the 20 Best Northwest Wines Under $20.
The Monsons price this widely distributed bottle of Merlot in the lower teens, and it’s another example of the red Bordeaux grape that’s a go-to varietal for Washington’s wine industry. Alas, sales suffered following a ridiculous comment made in the 2004 film “Sideways”. I’m leaving. I don’t drink. [expletive] merlot! Research from Sonoma State University indicates that Merlot sales fell about 2% in the three years after the film’s release, while Pinot Noir sales increased 16%.
Last year, the federal government established Goose Gap as an American wine growing area, and this mark pays homage to the eastern Yakima Valley flyway for Canada geese as well as three generations of Monsons involved in the cellar. They are proud of their 2,200 acres of vineyards along Interstate 82, one of the largest plantations in the Northwest. Their huge cellar produces up to 1.2 million cases of wine each year. The unflappable Johnson is responsible for around 80% of this wine and oversees the family’s 100-tonne fermenters.
“The wines here are better than anywhere else I’ve worked,” says Johnson.
1. Goose Ridge Vineyards 2019 g3 merlot, Goose hole, $15: The Monson family aims to offer the best Merlot value in the United States, and this bottling deserves to be in the discussion. Its dark plum, marionette, mocha and black licorice profile is supported by suave tannins and Bing cherry juice, a combination that makes for a remarkable long finish at any cost.
2. King’s Wine Estate Pinot Gris 2021, Willamette Valley, $19: At over 100,000 cases, this perfect Pinot Gris might be Oregon’s best-known white wine. Think Pinot Gris and things from the sea.
3. Kiona Vineyards 2020 real estate lemberger, Red Mountain, $18: Famed researcher Walter Clore championed this Austrian red varietal for Washington, and third-generation winemaker Tyler Williams continues to produce a barbecue-friendly wine.
4. Indian Creek Vineyard Viognier 2021, Snake River Valley, $17: Grapes native to the Rhône thrive in Idaho’s Snake River Valley, and Boise-area winemaker Mike McClure crafts a deliciously aromatic Viognier while retaining the often-falling sparkle.
5. Browne Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Heritage 2020, Columbia Valley, $12: This soft cabin shows remarkable density around its core of dark fruits, toast and baking spices, which made it a hit during a promotion at T-Mobile Park this season.
6. Holesinsky Vineyard + Cellar Stainless Chardonnay 2020, Snake River Valley, $14: Fun-loving James and Caitlin Holesinsky grow and craft serious wines at crazy prices. Their chardonnay is bright, juicy and finished with a hint of guava.
seven. The Miscreant Project 2018 The Good Bastard, Columbia Valley, $19: This second label for TruthTeller Vineyard takes no shortcuts with its wine springs – Kiona on Red Mountain and Stillwater Creek along the Royal Slope. This is a fashionable merlot blend of those on the right bank of Bordeaux, only this one comes with a jammy mouthfeel similar to blackberry, vanilla and dark plum.
8. Sources Wautoma Rosé 2021, Columbia Valley, $18: Jessica Munnell has a well-deserved reputation for her beautiful rosé reminiscent of pink strawberries and watermelon, and that starts with the syrah managed by her business partner, the famous producer Tom Merkle.
9. Indian Creek Winery 2019 Star Garnet Red Wine, Snake River Valley, $17: Mike McClure learned winemaking from his late father-in-law, and this Malbec-based blend would make Bill Stowe proud.
ten. Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery dry riesling 2021, Columbia Valley, $9: Simply put, this remarkable, balanced expression of Riesling should be in every wine drinker’s fridge.
11. Acrobat Pinot Noir 2019, Oregon, $19: Seattle Kraken fans might not appreciate knowing that Vegas Golden Knights Governor Bill Foley owns this brand, but the wines play just as well as when King Estate created this line.
12. Wine estate of the Gehringer brothers 2021 Old Auxerre Vines, Golden Mile Bench, BC, $16: These German-trained brothers planted this Alsace-native varietal in the 1980s, and it’s been a favorite of critics and seafood lovers ever since. Americans this fall.
13. Thurston Wolfe Vineyard 2020 Dr. Wolfe’s Family Red, Hills of Horse Paradise, $18: Zinfandel from the prized Zephyr Ridge vineyard, Lemberger and a burst of Petite Sirah combine for the flagship bottling filled with tangy berries from Wade Wolfe, a Ph.D. winemaker in the Yakima Valley since the 1970s.
14. be human Merlot 2019, Columbia Valley, $17: The family behind the Vancouver Canucks hockey club owns hundreds of acres of vineyards in Washington and has hired Cornell-educated Joshua Maloney to lead its wine program. This Merlot is filled with candied cherries, dusty herbs and light cocoa.
15. Saviah Cellars 2020 Le Jack red wine, Columbia Valley, $18: One of Walla Walla’s top producers relies on Merlot for this dense, creamy blackberry compote drink found at Costco and Total Wine.
16. Aerodrome wine estates Sauvignon Blanc 2021, Yakima Valley, $17: The Miller family has been growing this varietal for 40 years, and winemaker Travis Maple relies on a New Zealand yeast for a grassy, lemony white that’s ideal with pasta and calamari.
17. Maryhill Vineyard canelli muscat 2019, Columbia Valley, $19: Visitors to the Maryhill Museum drive near Gunkel Vineyards, whose grapes go into this fun, off-dry white filled with tropicality. It’s a perfect pairing for a bowl of spicy pho or the sharing plates at Leutholds’ four tasting room bistros across the state.
18. Waterbrook Vineyard Malbec 2020, Columbia Valley, $15: Walla Walla winemaker John Freeman draws exclusively from Canyon Vineyard Ranch near Prosser for this remarkably accessible work with a Bordeaux red varietal rarely seen at this price.
19. Barnard Griffin Vineyard non-vintage This is the rosé wine of Sangiovese, Washington State, $8: Washington’s oldest winemaker, Rob Griffin, now has his highly decorated rosé wine in a 355-milliliter can — thanks to the insistence of his winemaker daughter, Megan Hughes.
20. House wine Non-vintage rosé bubbles, American, $6: Seattle-based Precept draws from the Columbia Basin for this canned draft enlivened with notes of strawberry-rhubarb and lemon-lime. A portion of its sales is donated to the Human Rights Campaign.