Every year, when Wine Business Monthly creates our annual list of Top 10 Hot Brands, we look for vintners, growers, wineries and wines that are making a statement in our industry. Quality is always an important consideration, but Hot Brands is more than a list of the “best” or most interesting wines we’ve tasted during the year.
Through the years, the definition of “hot” has changed for us. When the list was first created, an oversupply of wine created a market full of “critter labels” and high-production, low-priced brands that would sell like “hot”-cakes. Eventually oversupply part of the wine cycle ended and so did that particular meaning of this list. Now, the Top 10 Hot Brands list delves into what it means to be a part of the American wine industry, part of the American wine culture. And that culture is increasingly more diverse.
This year, we’ve selected wines from pioneers, newcomers, long-standing winemakers and more. While each may grow a different grape or go about making wine in unorthodox ways, all the winemakers selected reflect the diversity that is the wine culture in the United States and all have an innate desire to produce something they, and the consumer, will love.
In the end, this list is comprised of wines that we here at Wine Business Monthly would serve to winemakers. Starting today, we are releasing the Top 10 Hot Brands, one per day, in no particular order, leading up to the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium. Wine Business Monthly will be serving these wines to winemakers, grape growers and industry members at our annual gathering Bottle Bash during Unified on Tuesday, Jan. 24 at cafeteria 15L.
2015 Walla Walla Valley Semillon
Forging Interest in a Lesser-known Varietal
Jean-Francois Pellet has been making wine in Washington state for decades. When he signed on as a partner/winemaker at Pepper Bridge Estate in 1999, there were only 18 wineries in Walla Walla. Today there are more than 100—but a very few number are making Semillon.
In the early days, the Switzerland native, along with the Goff and McKibben families, planted a variety of Bordeaux varietals for the Pepper Bridge Brand. Eventually, an interest in Syrah gained traction in the region, and Pellet knew it was time for the Pepper Bridge family to try its hand with the grape. However, the partners had already decided that they would not grow or make anything other than Bordeaux varietals for their Pepper Bridge brand.
Thus was the basis for the formation of Amavi Cellars—to focus on Syrah—but Pellet was thinking about the vineyard he had in his native Switzerland, the land planted to Semillon. He asked the owners if he could “borrow” a couple vineyard rows and made his first barrel of the grape in 2001, the single barrel that vintage. The wine proved a hit and since then, total production has multiplied to anywhere from 800 to 1,000 cases per year, which are poured and sold mostly in the tasting room and for visiting sommeliers.