Monday, August 8, 2011

Thomas O’Neil Cellars Open In Northern Richland

I’m strange. I admit it. It comes from my childhood when my very “artistic” mother used to say “If all your friends were jumping off a cliff, it doesn’t mean you should do it”.

So, a few months ago when all my friends were going to the newest winery in the Tri-Cities I was a bit standoffish. I wanted the hubbub and craziness to wane a little before I went rushing in. After all, by the end of the first day of business most every wine writer in town already had at least a tweet up about the new place in town.

This week I finally decided it was time to make my way to the Thomas O’Neil Cellars in Richland, near the Horn Rapids golf course. The tasting room is visible on the north side of Highway 240. You really can’t miss it.

We were greeted warmly at the door by Tricia O’Neil and a couple of their fantastic staff. Their French intern Clémence, who is with them for just a few more weeks, poured wines and Tricia ran to the tank room to pull Thomas from his task of racking wines. Within moments my quiet and unannounced visit became a grand scale tasting and interview.

Thomas and Tricia have a very interesting story. Living most of their lives in Michigan, Tom worked many years in business administration, with wine being a serious hobby for the couple. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago, when Michigan State University’s Enology center opened that Tricia urged Tom to go back to school and follow his dream.

Tom interned at Ste. Michelle in Patterson, and then went on to take the assistant winemaker position at Milbrandt Vineyards. A few years ago he decided it was time to stop making mass amounts of juice for others and focus on making smaller lots of wine for himself. That was the birth of Thomas O’Neil Cellars.

Tom, having been trained in white wine country, and a lover of red wines, is well versed in all varieties. The wines all show a considerable amount of fresh acidity which compliments Tom’s desire to make wines ready for food and focus away from “cocktail wines”.

Clémence started me off with the 2009 Chardonnay. It is primarily American neutral oaked, Chardonnay grapes sourced from the Walluke slope, with a little Pinot Gris for the balance. The wine is full of fresh apples, pears, and pineapple, with a gentle acidity on the finish. Some oaky vanilla, but overall very crisp.

The 2009 Riesling offers a light residual sugar of 1.6% making it a delicious off-dry wine. I loved the florality of the wine, with a nose of white flowers and orange water. I picked some up to enjoy with ceviche this weekend.

The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon offered up a light fruit forwardness of cherries, raspberry, and cocoa. Very enjoyable.

I loved the 2009 Merlot. A combination of jammy fruit forwardness. Black cherry, vanilla, and cocoa, with a light tanned leather finish.

Tom’s 2009 “Fusion” is his flagship wine. It is a red blend of Syrah, Petite Syrah, and Grenache. Dark blueish purple in the glass with a rich nose of prune orchard. The wine has a hint of toasted oak that mixes with the dark fruits to fill the palate. Nicely balanced on the finish. This wine was a must have for my cellar.


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