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Wineman’s Toast: Expanding tastes — Young vintner now producing wines under his own label

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Victor Palencia, winemaker at Jones of Washington, also makes his own wines.

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You’d expect to be drinking a very fine wine if you knew it had been made by a winemaker with millions of gallons of wine experience.

But it would likely come as a surprise to learn that the winemaker is still in his 20s.

Victor Palencia began his winemaking career at some of Washington’s best wineries before he was old enough to legally drink. Now 29, he’s head winemaker for Jones of Washington, one of the region’s most awarded wineries. The Quincy winery was picked Winery of the Year last year by Wine Press Northwest magazine.

Palencia is also director of wine making for J&S Crushing at its Columbia River’s Edge Winery in Mattawa. There, he oversees production of more than six million gallons of wine annually for clients like Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest.

The very fine wine I drank the other night is crafted on a much smaller scale. Palencia is making wine under his own labels in addition to his other day jobs. He sent me a few sample bottles of his limited production, mainly sold through his new tasting room in Walla Walla.

Wines are available at two different price levels. The Monarcha label wines — 2012 Columbia Valley Chardonnay, 2011 Pinot Noir Rosé and 2010 Wahluke Slope Merlot — sell for around $15. His Palencia label selections are his pride and joy and are definitely worth the few extra dollars he charges.

I liked the bright, crisp flavors of the Monarcha Chardonnay. It’s a fine example of the new style of Washington chardonnays that are fun and easy to drink and go with pretty much anything. Just a hint of oak here.

The Monarcha Merlot has that wonderful ripe cherry, earthy flavor that comes from merlot grapes that thrive in the intense heat of the Wahluke Slope.

The wine I recently enjoyed — really enjoyed! — is the Palencia 2010 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a big wine, full of ripe blackberries and dried dried cherry, vibrant and alive with fruit, but layered with earthy flavors of pepper, tobacco and wood. It would be nice to have a couple bottles of this one to put away for a few years.

I haven’t opened the Monacha Rosé of Pinot Noir or the Palencia 2012 Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc, but I know they will be knockouts. Palencia is a master of many wines, but the Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé he makes for Jones of Washington are truly exceptional.

And that’s good to know. Palencia’s own wines will likely be hard to find for awhile. He made only about 600 cases this year. He hopes to increase production to about 1,500 cases next year and expand varieties.

But the Jones of Washington wines are readily available here. They all carry Palencia’s wine-making mastery and, to my tastes, are among the best wine bargains to be found in the state. I can’t wait to taste the new spring releases just bottled.

Jones of Washington has tasting rooms at Pybus Market and in Quincy and can be found in most grocery stores and wine shops.

Sipping some local applejack

Wenatchee, well known as the Apple Capital of the World even if far fewer apples are grown here these days, now has an applejack to call its own.

Twin Peaks Cider House & Distillery, a new venture by the Phillippi family that has grown and packed apples in the valley for six generations, has just released a whiskey-like apple liquor, the first of a line of fruit spirits planned.

Applejack was originally made by freezing fermented apple juice to increase its alcohol content. The freeze distillation process — known as jacking — was responsible for the most popular strong alcohol drink in America in the 17th and 18th Centuries.

Twin Peaks Applejack is made in a traditional pot still to create spirits with fresh apple overtones and a fiery nature, like the American spirit, said Chris Phillippi. Phillippi worked with master distiller and winemaker Rusty Figgins to craft the first batch of applejack, made from nine apple varieties, many of them from the family orchard on Fifth Street. The liquor is 40 percent alcohol by volume — 80 proof — and has been finished with oak to achieve its characteristic flavor and golden hue.

Chris and his sister and business partner, Meagan Phillippi Davenport, plan to expand the Twin Peaks line of spirits with European-style schnapps made from cherries and pears, a barrel-aged French Calvados-style apple brandy, hard apple cider and apple wines.

Tastings and individual sales are available at the Twin Peaks tasting room at 1921 Fifth St., Wenatchee. Check out the Twin Peaks Ciderhouse & Distillery Facebook page for more information or to arrange a tasting.

Lutz corks her Wenatchee Wine Country career

Jan Lutz has resigned as executive director of Wenatchee Wine Country after five years promoting local wineries and putting Wenatchee on the map as a wine destination.

Lutz said she has no specific plans but wants to spend more time with her family, travel with her husband Steve and offer more care for her parents who live in Arizona.

I have nothing but high praise for the Wenatchee Wine Country board of directors and their hard work to make Wenatchee a wine destination,” she said. “I’m very proud of the wineries here. They’re getting awards from all over the country.”

Wenatchee Wine Country is made up of 15 wineries and one apple cidery located in the Wenatchee Valley, Quincy, Cashmere and Leavenworth.

The organization has a small budget for promotions, so Lutz was paid mainly in wine, she said.

But it was very good wine. Unfortunately, my husband drank most of my wages,” she said with a laugh.

Lutz said she will continue to attend wine events, but won’t mind not having the stress of organizing them. In her farewell tasks, she helped organize events at last month’s Wenatchee Wine Week.

The glass in my life is always half full and I’m ready for a new adventure,” she wrote on her Facebook farewell.

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