For years, one of the Northwest's most distinctive wine labels has adorned bottles from L'Ecole No. 41.
A children’s drawing of the 1915 schoolhouse that is home to the Lowden, Wash., winery has helped L’Ecole’s wines stand out on wine shop and grocery shelves since the winery opened in 1984. The name, L’Ecole, is the French word for “school,” and the Walla Walla Valley town was known as Frenchtown when it was settled by French Canadian fur traders in the mid-1800s.
L’Ecole was started by Baker and Jean Ferguson and now is owned and operated by their daughter, Megan, and son-in-law Marty Clubb, who also is the winemaker for the 30,000-case winery.
That famous label was the result of a family contest amid the Fergusons’ extended family. Ryan Campbell, an 8-year-old cousin, won a $100 prize for the winning drawing. Many of the original entries can still be viewed in L’Ecole’s tasting room.
Two wines that don’t carry the drawing are the high-end Perigee and Apogee red blends, which use a photo of the schoolhouse shortly after it was built.
Clubb’s wines are considered some of the finest in the Northwest, particularly his Merlots and Syrahs. He also is dedicated to Semillon, making no fewer than four styles of the relatively obscure white grape.
Here are some L’Ecole wines we’ve tasted recently:
L’Ecole No. 41 2007 Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Perigee, Walla Walla Valley, $50: The name of this wine is a term that refers to the point where Earth is closest to the moon, and this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60 percent), Merlot (30 percent) and Cabernet Franc is heavenly. Aromas orbit around a theme of fruit with black currant, Maraschino cherry and strawberry soda, backed by a whiff of cedar and teriyaki. Cassis and Marionberry flavors splash around a structure of pleasing tannin and bright acidity that will accompany grilled chicken or pork chops.
L’Ecole No. 41 2007 Pepper Bridge Vineyard Apogee, Walla Walla Valley, $50: This blend of Bordeaux varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon (60 percent), Merlot (30 percent), Malbec (6 percent) and Cabernet Franc – is quite similar to that of the Perigee, though the vineyard source is different. There’s a definite strawberry/watermelon theme to the nose, along with coffee, but the palate is high-toned red fruit with cassis, pomegranate, cranberry and Rainier cherry.
L’Ecole No. 41 2007 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $25: The big, fruity nose of blackberry and blueberry includes pleasing barrel char, gun metal, lavender and cedar notes. Tremendous richness streams through the lips with blueberries, black cherries and another rub of lavender. Then it muscles up for complexity in the finish with chocolatey tannins and black licorice.
L’Ecole No. 41 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $30: Black currants, plums, dark strawberries, raspberries, vanilla and cedar shavings fill the nose. Expect richness and depth on the entry, which repeats the currants and plums. Pomegranate acidity builds the midpalate, and tantalizing tannins will reward grilled meats.
L’Ecole No. 41 2007 Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $37: Raspberry, cranberry, strawberry fruit leather, smoked meat and sandalwood aromas and flavors are carried in a structure of abundant acidity and late tannins.
L’Ecole No. 41 2008 Semillon, Columbia Valley, $16: No fewer than seven vineyards contribute to one of the largest productions of Semillon in the Northwest. Mature French barrels allow the fig, tangy citrus and basil notes to flourish. The structure is one of mouth-filling creaminess, balanced by lemons and a sheen of olive oil.
L’Ecole No. 41 2009 Walla Voila Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley, $15: The famous little schoolhouse in Lowden has promoted this under-appreciated grape since 1987. Effusive florals include segmented orange, honey, baking spices, fresh-cut grass and banana Laffy Taffy. It’s a charming drink of sweet lemons and orange with huge acidity as the residual sugar (1 percent) merely keeps it sophisticated.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are editors of Wine Press Northwest magazine. For more information, go to www.winepressnw.com.