PROSSER, Wash. One of the Yakima Valleys most-tenured winemakers continues to make great strides in his career without traveling far.
David Forsyth arrived in Washington wine country in 1984 at Hogue Cellars. In 2007, he moved a few hundred yards east to Mercer Estates. Then last summer, he went a few hundred yards north to take on the winemaking duties for the new Zirkle Wine Co., a crush facility in Prosser, at the same time starting his own boutique label.
Ive run out of room, Forsyth said with a laugh. Im on the Yakima River now.
But that doesnt mean hes reached the end of the road.
Forsyth grew up in Ellensburg, Wash., and earned a degree in zoology and psychology at Central Washington University. Back then, he had no thoughts about wine.
He discovered his love of the grape in Idahos Sun Valley where he worked as a ski instructor after college.
One of his students owned a Napa Valley winery and he invited Forsyth to work harvest for him. He decided to give it a go and at the same applied for the vaunted graduate enology program at the University of California-Davis.
Three years later in 1984, masters degree in hand, Forsyth tried to find a job in California. When that didnt pan out, he came home to Washington and took an assistant winemakers position at Hogue Cellars, which at the time was a startup 7,000-case winery.
By 1991, Forsyth was Hogues head winemaker. His predecessor, Rob Griffin, left to focus on his own brand, Bernard Griffin. He stayed for 15 years as Hogue grew into a Northwest powerhouse.
In 2006, his former boss Mike Hogue who had sold Hogue to a large company five years earlier lured Forsyth to Mercer Estates, a winery he was launching with the Mercer family.
So Forsyth went from making a half-million cases per year at Hogue to about 25,000 at Mercer.
Then last year, Forsyth left Mercer for Zirkle, which processes grapes for other wineries, including Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Hogue Cellars. Construction of the state-of-the-art, 50,000-square-foot facility was completed just as harvest began in September, and Forsyth and his crew crushed 5,000 tons of grapes.
As Forsyth continues to make a lot of wine, he also decided to go small.
Starting with the 2006 vintage, he and his wife, Suzie, launched their own micro-production winery called Forsyth Brio. The focus is on small lots of vineyard-designated Cabernet.
Im working with growers Ive worked with over the years, he said.
His first release is a 2006 Cab from McKinley Springs Vineyard, of which he made just two barrels. Most of it is being sold directly to consumers via a mailing list, as well as a few select retailers.
When he releases the 2007s, it will include wines from the Horse Heaven Hills, Wahluke Slope and Red Mountain. With such small amounts, Forsyth Brio is not self-sustaining.
I definitely need to keep my day job, he said with a laugh.
To learn more about the wines, go to ForsythBrio.com.
Forsyth Brio 2006 McKinley Springs Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $50: Theres a tiny tinge of brick to the color, followed by attractive and mature aromas of cordial cherry, cocoa powder, roasted coffee, black pepper and vanilla.
The delicious and creamy drink shows refinement with flavors of milk chocolate and Chukar Cherry, backed by blackberry and cola, then finished with black licorice and cedar as the tannins have been melted by time yet remain in focus by ample acidity. If you want to show off a beautifully aged Washington Cab, heres Grace Kelly in bottle form. (53 cases, 14.5 percent alcohol).
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine. For more information, go to GreatNorthwestWine.com.