As I’ve always said, choosing a winery of the year is a difficult task, mainly because there are so many great wineries to choose from. However, this year was a bit easier for me. My wife and I made a trip over to Eastern Washington in the fall of 2020. We visited a few wineries in Walla Walla, then we moved on to the Tri-Cities with a stop at Red Mountain to meet with Keith Pilgrim managing winemaker and owner at Terra Blanca Winery. Keith met us and we tasted through quite a few of their wines. Afterward, we had lunch with Keith and his wife ReNae. During lunch, Keith opened a few older vintages of their flagship red wine, Onyx. I was deeply impressed with all the wines Keith shared with us and the Onyx was simply mind-blowing. When we left the winery, I had already made up my mind as to who would be my winery of the year in 2021 ( had already decided on Barnard Griffin for 2020.
Terra Blanca is nestled on the lower side of Red Mountain and one of the first wineries you will spot a sign for. I’ve been to a lot of wineries all over the world and I have to say that Terra Blanca stands out in the crowd. Just walking to the tasting room and restaurant makes you pause and reflect. The tasting room is expansive and well designed. They have a restaurant that is worth the trip all by itself, with beautiful views of the well-maintained property which Keith and ReNae purchased in 1992.
They purchased three hundred acres back then consisting of rattlesnakes and sagebrush. Keith had flirted with the idea of buying some land in Paso Robles, CA. However, he made a trip to Red Mountain to taste some of the wines being made there. A U.C. Davis trained geologist, he was intrigued by the soil type and climate on Red Mountain. After tasting through a few wines, he was convinced that this was the spot where he and his wife would build a winery. Terra Blanca was born in 1993 and they released their first estate-produced vintages in 1997. Their first tasting room Opened in ’98 which was located in the house they built on the property. Construction on the facility that we see today started in 2001, the same year Red Mountain was officially made an AVA.
Red Mountain is the smallest AVA (American Viticultural Area) in the state of Washington. The whole area is 4040 acres and let me tell you, in that small area of land come some of the best wines you will find in the state. Red Mountain had its first bonded winery in 1980, spearheaded by John Williams and Jim Holmes who planted ten acres of vineyards on Red Mountain in 1975. It’s hard to nail down, but as far as my research has taken me, there are now twenty wineries in this AVA. Keith and ReNae were one of the early wineries to be established on Red Mountain and today they have come to be one of the many success stories in Washington wine history.
I chose Terra Blanca this year for the same reasons I have picked other wineries in the past. All the wines produced by Terra Blanca from the Arche Terrace Series to the Signature series to their flagship wine Onyx, show an outstanding quality-to-price ratio. I often lead my customers who are looking for good Washington State wine at a lower price to the Arch Terrace wines. Although the Signature Series wines are a big step up in price point, they do not disappoint. The JT wines are only available on their website, but you can find their flagship wine Onyx in many wine shops. When Keith shared the older vintages of Onyx with me as I mentioned earlier, I was deeply impressed with how they improved over time. To put things in perspective, if Onyx came from Napa Valley, it would be at least twice the price.
Keith and ReNae Pilgrim take great pride in what is being accomplished at Terra Blanca and they should. My focus will be on this winery for the following months. I will be reviewing the wines on my YouTube channel as well as making the trek over to the winery to interview Keith. I encourage you to explore their wines if you haven’t already and I believe you will agree that Terra Blanca is deserving of being my pick for winery of the year.