Jeff and Bill Gordon: The veteran winery brothers are back

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When you reach a certain age, you suddenly realize you can't go back and make any more old friends. Old friends have been there all along; they don't pop up late in life.

They started out on the road with all the people who have since faded from memory or disappeared from your world; but they are the ones who, time-tested, remain.

It's like that in the wine industry also.

Gordon Brothers winery dates back to 1980, when Jeff and Bill Gordon planted their estate vineyard atop a spectacular bluff overlooking the Snake River, a few miles north of Pasco.

The Washington wine industry was barely begun; existing wineries numbered fewer than a dozen, many of them now extinct.

Jeff was the original winemaker, and when his first vintage (1983) debuted, the Gordon brothers unexpectedly found themselves in the midst of the first great bumper crop of new Washington wineries.

Arbor Crest, Barnard Griffin, Champs de Brionne, Columbia Crest, Covey Run, French Creek, Hogue, Langguth, Latah Creek, L'Ecole No 41, Stewart Vineyards and several others had joined the ranks in 1982 and '83; a tidal wave of others followed throughout the decade.

Gordon Brothers was one of the first to focus on red wines, to use estate-grown fruit exclusively and to plant its grapes in a unique location that is still somewhat off the beaten path (the only vineyard close at hand is Charbonneau).

Other than Leonetti Cellar, whose wines have only recently been produced entirely from estate vineyards, the Gordons' is -- they believe -- the oldest, family-owned winery in Washington using estate-grown fruit exclusively.

As with any successful business, Gordon Brothers does not -- cannot -- rest on its laurels. In fact, the road got a little rocky in the early part of this new century.

Failed sale of the winery (not the vineyards), a succession of owners and winemakers who let the brand suffer and a difficult time working through backed-up inventory are, happily, all behind them now.

New winemaker Tim Henley is making the best wines since the brief period when Marie-Eve Gilla (now at Forgeron) was Gordon's winemaker.

Jeff Gordon is farming organically and experimenting with interesting new varietals such as malbec, petite sirah and tempranillo. Chardonnay, cabernet, merlot and syrah remain the mainstay wines.

The chardonnay ($14) is a lightly buttery wine with apple and banana flavors. The merlot ($22) is chewy and tannic, quite European in its structure.

Best of all are the cabernet ($23) and syrah ($20), pure varietal wines that emphasize black fruits and dark flavors of coffee and chocolate.

About 20,000 cases of these wines (along with small amounts of an off-dry sauvignon blanc, a reserve chardonnay, a rosÈ, an ice wine and a superpremium red named Tradition) are produced, so you will not have trouble locating them.

Of particular interest are two new releases from a second label, Kamiak.

It is named in honor of Chief Kamiakin, who was born nearby, outside the present-day town of Starbuck, and was one of the first in the area to plant a garden and use irrigation to grow vegetables.

The 2008 Kamiak Windust White ($10) is 85 percent sauvignon blanc and 15 percent chardonnay.

It has full-throttle fruit flavors, round and ripe with sweet apple and pineapple, and a finish highlighted with a pleasing toastiness.

Despite a hint of residual sugar, it's still plenty dry for a wide range of food, and I think would be a killer bottle served with sweetly spiced autumn squash or pumpkin pie.

The companion wine, Kamiak 2007 Rock Lake Red, is my Pick of the Week.

Paul Gregutt is the author of "Washington Wines & Wineries." Find him at www.paulgregutt.com or write to paulgwine@me.com.

Pick of the week

Kamiak 2007 Rock Lake Red; $15

This blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah and malbec roars out of the glass with a big, dark, toasty edge to the tannins and plenty of ripe fruit. Meaty and rich, the color of ink, it skirts a pruney border, tosses in some earth and leather and soy, and shows plenty of power.

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