At the end of each year I recognize a winery that I feel stands apart from the rest. It doesn’t have to be a small winery, but it has to produce outstanding wines on a consistent basis. Wines with character and personality, wines that reflect both the artistic side of the wine maker and be commercially viable. Any wine maker can make what they like, but can they also make wines that others will enjoy without compromising their vision of what they want their wines to be. This is a fine line to walk, and I have found that Michael Savage has accomplished this at Savage Grace Wines.

The Wines of Savage Grace

A bit of a renaissance man, Michael Savage was involved in music and other things such as being in analog audio oriented software development before he started in wine. As he put it, “I still believe in tapes, not digital.” In 2011 wanting to learn more about wine, he studied for the WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) diploma. While preparing for the exam, he decided that instead of learning about it, he should probably just make it. He enrolled in the wine program at South Seattle College that same year and then made his first vintage of Cabernet Franc (2011). Talk about being on the fast track. “I like the Loire Valley Chinons, Burgundy and Beaujolais Crus. I like the softer style wines that are fruit and fermentation driven, rather than oak driven.” Michael adds “I also like lower alcohol wines and I felt that might not be possible in Washington. I started discovering some cooler sites in the Columbia Gorge for wines like Pinot Noir. I started to go in big on Columbia Gorge fruit.”

His 2011 Cabernet Franc was produced in a shared space with Lauren Ashton Cellars in Woodinville. He helped make their wines while working on his first wine, a Cabernet Franc. Now he and his wife have their own space in Woodinville and production is up to 2,400 cases a year of Cabernet Franc (Rattlesnake Hills), Pinot Noir (Columbia Gorge), Gruner Veltliner (Columbia Gorge), Sauvignon Blanc (Yakima Valley), Chardonnay (Columbia Gorge), Riesling (Columbia Gorge), Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley) and Malbec or Cot (Columbia Gorge). An example of his renaissance side is labeling his Malbec as Cot (pronounced koe). This is what Malbec has been called for hundreds of years in Cahors, southwestern France.

“I’m shooting for single varietal, single vineyard wines with lower alcohol levels that express the vintage and the soils. I’m not looking as much for consistency, but honesty in wine making. I’m shooting for the grapes I get, and let them do the work. I try to stay out of it.” His inspiration for the style of wines he works to achieve come from J. Christopher and Cameron wineries in the Willamette Valley. “Their philosophy in wine making hit a note for me. In particular, dry farming which is done in the Columbia Gorge.”

I asked Michael how he treads that fine line between artistic expression in wine making, sticking to his philosophy, and selling his wines. He said… ” I started at a point where I wanted to make wines that I could represent, that I believed in. People thought I was crazy to be picking fruit when I was picking, that the fruit wasn’t ripe enough and that I was bottling too early. Other wine makers told me that I would never sell the wines. I didn’t care, because I thought the wines tasted delicious. I couldn’t make big fruit driven wines, because I didn’t believe in it. I just wanted to make something that I thought was good and I didn’t care about selling it at that point. I just felt that if the wine was good, people would buy it.”

“I also wanted to make my wines affordable for everyday drinking. You can get a good Cab Franc from the Loire Valley for under twenty bucks, so I started at prices that I considered reasonable. I wanted to price the wines according to the quality and type of wine. I believe the fact that it is affordable and good to drink is why it sold. I never believed the wine maker makes the wine. I felt it was a vineyard thing. You find the right vineyard, pick the fruit at the right time, move it through and let the fermentation work its magic. I got in early with Red Willow and Celilo Vineyards, which I feel are some of the best in the state. I get my Riesling fruit from Underwood Mountain Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge. It ripens late (November), and still maintains high acidity while expressing wonderful tangerine and other citrus notes rather than going tropical.”

Michael has been successful in selling out each vintage and plans on reaching a 6,000 case production level over the next five years. “I want to stay single vineyard as much as possible. I get all the Cab Franc I can get out of Copeland Vineyards in Rattlesnake Hills. I want to stay boutique and special. I would like to get to the point where I can sell lower alcohol, less oaked wines for more money (laughs). We’re in a time now where if you oak your wines heavily and make them “big” you can charge more money. I just want to make fresh, delicious wines. I don’t make a lot of money on them because they are priced fairly. I just want to make better wines, wines you just can’t not buy.”

We are living in a time where folks are trending towards wines that have finesse and are less extracted. Fruit-forward wines are necessary to get people started on drinking wine. The two styles compliment each other. Michael agrees with this… ” I never liked white wines in the early days. I thought it was too subtle. Now, Gruner Veltliner is one of my favorite wines. I am in awe of some of the wines out of Austria. You get a lot of quality and terroir expressive wines for such a good price.”

Michael released his 2011 Cabernet Franc and it sold out in two tasting events. “It was like the people who really didn’t know what Cab Franc was, didn’t realize that there was enough raspberry fruit with a lighter bodied wine, that it was really good. I’m still chasing that ’11 vintage. It was a cooler year and a lot of the fruit had that Loire Valley thing. When I make wine I shoot for concentration and beauty with 12.5% alcohol. How can I get tremendous amounts of flavor with a lighter body. That is what I am looking for in my wines.”

Michael Savage would like to leave a legacy of great, balanced wines that show sense of place and vintage expression. ” I feel like if I believe it and sell wine that I personally like, and communicate my vision to people who drink my wines, then I will be successful.” I believe he has hit a sweet spot in his wine making abilities. He is humble yet focused on what he wants to attain and his wines reflect his artistic and philosophical side which for most wine drinkers is a good thing. Michael Savage has a good palate and that is reflected in his wines. If you are looking for balanced, delicious, food friendly affordable wines, look no further than Savage Grace. Here are just a few of the wines that I have reviewed.

2014 Savage Grace Sauvignon Blanc Red Willow Vineyard (Yakima Valley, WA)… $20.

Aromas of melon, grapefruit pith and wet stone with a little cut-grass and orange peel sneaking in. Excellent balance of acid and fruit on the palate. Intense notes of grapefruit, pith, wet stone and white flowers with a backdrop of melon which gets just a little creamy on the mid-palate. The intensity of flavors maintain front to back with underlying mineral notes that linger on the mouth-watering finish. There is an interesting dried herb component that sneaks in. I am very picky about Sauvignon blanc and this one delivers a ton of quality for the price. (A-)

2014 Savage Grace Chardonnay Celilo vineyard (Columbia Gorge, WA)… $25.

This baby is mineral driven on the nose complimented by notes of ripe apples and a touch of peach and pear with an interesting nut component coming through. Creamy pear and apple notes on the palate with a solid bed of minerals underneath. Elegant on the palate with a lot of finesse and flavors. It has a little white Burgundy action going on with a new world kiss. Subtle, well structured, clean and delicious with a long finish showing a hint of spice. (A-)

2013 Savage Grace Pinot Noir Underwood Mountain Vineyards (Columbia Gorge, WA)… $29.

Aromas of strawberries and ripe cherries, backed by red flowers, tobacco and earth with just a hint of Sarsaparilla. Nice ripe cherries on the palate supported by a good backbone of acid and minerals. Tobacco notes lie underneath with a hit of sarsaparilla on the backside. There are baked earth tones front to back and a touch of cinnamon. This is a balanced Pinot Noir that is very elegant on the palate with solid fruit notes and a nice backbone of red flowers that linger on the finish. (B+/A-)

2014 Savage Grace Cabernet Franc Copeland Vineyard (Rattlesnake Hills, WA)… $25.

This is Michael’s flagship wine. The color on this baby is impressive… Very violet and purple. Deep aromas of bark, ripe cherry skins, nutmeg and blackberry stem. Smooth tannins support notes of cherries, white pepper, bark and trace tobacco. This is a very interesting wine with a lightness in the mouth that is still intense in flavors. You get no sense of fruit-forward, but the fruit is there if that makes any sense. It finishes with notes of red flowers, cherries and tobacco with just a trace of white pepper. A hint of blackberry stem comes through on the backside. Loire it is not, but good it is. (B+/A-)

2014 Savage Grace Riesling Underwood Mountain Vineyard (Columbia Gorge, WA)… $20.

Very interesting gold color on this one. Aromas of rubber boot (which I love), apples, tangerine and stainless steel. This baby is laser sharp on the palate with notes of tangerine, lemon and mandarin orange bouncing around the palate in a citrus party with a touch of petrol in the background. mouth-watering finish with a little wet stone and stainless steel hanging around the citrus notes. (A-)

Going into his fifth vintage, Michael is excited about 2015. I am personally excited to see the future unfold with positive results for this outstanding winery led by wine maker Michael Savage. I encourage you to seek these wines out, you will not be disappointed.

Stan The wine Man

About Stan The Wine Man

I am a blue collar wine guy who has been in the biz for over twenty years. I work at a store in a tourist destination stop. I work hard at finding the best wine for the money. I love the challenge of learning my customer's palate so I can find the best wine for them, whether it is Petrus or white zinfandel. Cheers!
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