When winemaker Brennon Leighton talks about his job, he may as well be speaking about a great love.
“The passion of it is the most important part. I fell in love with wine, and (winemaking) was really just an aspect of wine to be closer to it,” he said.
After getting a degree from the Viticulture and Enology Department at UC Davis, Brennon was a small fish in the massive sea that is the California wine industry. He eventually left his low-level position at a winery there in hopes of finding someplace where there was still room to be a trailblazer.
As it happened, he interviewed at for an assistant winemaker position — with the person who had years earlier advised him to go to UC Davis to pursue winemaking. Brennon got the job, and his relationship with Washington wine began.
“It seemed really exciting to me, and I could tell when tasting the wines that there was something very special in Washington and it was like a secret; no one knew about it,” he said. “It was intriguing and exciting to be part of something that wasn’t established and be part of the group that was establishing it.”
Five minutes talking to him and it’s readily apparent that the excitement of it all consumes him; he's inspired by sharing something remarkable that he had a hand in bringing forth from the planet.
“It was being knee-deep in it, being part of it. I could have done a lot of things in the wine industry and all of them are attractive, whether you’re a sommelier or a salesperson, but the big thing for me was the idea … of being part of Mother Nature; you know, the whole idea of bringing something from nature and bringing it out into the world and being in touch with that aspect of it,” he said.
And in making that connection to nature, Brennon strives to allow the wines to express themselves with as little interference as possible. He sees wine as children and believes there is a core character in every wine that may initially go unnoticed but becomes recognizable over time.
“A wine is born, goes through fermentation and it’s kind of rough; you really don’t know what it is. You can see qualities that it’s one way or the other but you’re really not sure. What I look for in a wine when it’s young, I try to find those cores. The great thing about my job is I get to see it every year so I get better at it.”
If this is Brennon “getting better at it,” it’s astonishing to imagine where his desire to be closer to wine will take him. EFESTE (pronounced as if saying the letters F-S-T, one initial for each of the founding partners) is being recognized left and right as a Washington winery to watch, with both high scores and glowing reviews in the wine world. His connection to wine is organic and motivated by his ability to see the potential in the raw ingredients, and then work them to create something he describes as part science, part art, and part craft — all with the ultimate goal of enhancing the experience of the drinker.
As far as knowing when the time is right to open that bottle of wine, you don’t need to worry if it’s aged long enough. According to Brennon, the core will remain but will be expressed differently, so your decision to uncork can be based on mood alone.
“Do you want a mature wine that really knows itself and is kind of set in its ways or do you want a youthful, kind of exuberant wine that has a little kick? When you decant, or let it air, you’re basically trying to force-age a wine. You’re trying to make that wine older than it really is. At the same time, when you have an old wine and decant, it’s like letting the old man out of his house, to kind of stretch a little bit, see the sun, adjust to its light and get settled into its ways so you can enjoy the company,” he said.
Should you seek the company of the winemaker to share your thoughts on his work, your best bet is to stop in at the winery's Woodinville tasting room on a Friday. He particularly enjoys the reaction from those who try each of his three syrahs.
The last chance to buy your Passport to Woodinville is today, April 16. Here's how to get yours now.
Passport to Woodinville Kick-Off Weekend Events
Saturday, April 16
- invites you to enjoy live music by Annie Lockwood, chocolate and red wine.
- Davenport Cellars hosts a jazz trio featuring Susan House.
- Kestrel Vintners will feature the Diana Page Quartet.
Sunday, April 17
- will feature singer/songwriter Annie Lockwood along with cheese, crackers, nuts and a limited number of pulled pork sliders.
- Veraci Pizza will be set up in front of Davenport Cellars, and Pondera Winery on Sunday.
Saturday and Sunday, April 16 and 17
- will have light appetizers all weekend and is offering 15 percent off 4-pack purchases of wine and 20 percent off cases (not applicable in addition to wine club discounts).
- will feature Pompeii Wood Fired Pizza.
- hosts The Tallboys on Saturday and Sunday.
- Challenger Ridge will feature tacos and chocolates and Patit Creek Cellars will joining Challenger Ridge as well.
- is taking 15 percent off 3-bottle purchases.
- is offering a commemorative limited blend with a special Passport label for $14.99/bottle and serving up tortilla soup.
- hosts May Palmer, The Queen of Ivory Soul, in the cellar Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m.
- has invited the Bistro Box back for Passport.
- Northwest Totem Cellars have a free Wolf Totem hat for the first 10 purchases each day, limit one per customer.
- will feature a special showing of original oil paintings by nationally renowned artist Connie Townsend in the tasting room/gallery beginning this weekend.
- kicks Passport off with a wine release, food and music. Enjoy four wineries and taste multiple wines in one location.
- is doing a special preview of the unreleased 2010 voignier and offers you an exclusive chance to buy it before it releases in May as well as offering 10 percent off six or more bottles of 2008 Bishop’s Blend (received 90 points by Wine Enthusiast).
Other events, April 16 to 22
- Red Sky Winery, 2006 syrah
- Tenor Wines, 2008 Merlot, 2008 Syrah, 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Adams Bench, 2008 Red Willow Cabernet Saveignon
Saturday, April 16
- , 16116 140th Place NE, welcomes Darin Leonardson of Edibility back to the Matthews Estate house to teach you how to make simple yet delicious spring appetizers and a dessert. The cost is $35 per person and includes wine tasting along with the fabulous food. Reserve your space online.
- Tenor Wines, 19495 144th Ave. NE A-120, is pouring its newly released wines in their newly opened tasting room in the Warehouse District from 1 to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Thursday, April 21
- Third Thursday Wine Walk is going on in the Warehouse District. Park your car and walk to the participating wineries. This month’s theme is Quiz Night – find the answers to the warehouse winery trivia questions and win a prize. The $20 cost covers your tasting at the 13 wineries. Bring your own glass or buy one for $5. Pompeii Woodfire Pizza, Watercress Asian Bistro and A Happy Hot Dog will have food available for purchase.
Friday, April 22
- , 14030 NE 145th St., is hosting the Spring Winemaker Dinner with Kerry Norton at the winery. Enjoy an elegant wine tasting reception, passed hors d’oeuvres and a five-course dinner with wine pairings. Beginning at 6 p.m. Tickets are $125 per person ($115 for Cellar Club members) and reservations are required by April 18.
Tasting Room Happenings
Wednesday, April 20
- , 15608 NE Woodinville-Duvall Road, hosts the weekly Wine Wednesday event from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. This week JM Cellars will be pouring two unreleased wines along with the 2008 Longevity red blend. $15 also includes pairings with classic Italianissimo appetizers.