Dusted Valley heats up in Walla Walla appellation

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A little humor can go a long way when you are marketing a new brand in highly competitive times.

The first time I tasted a bottle of Dusted Valley wine, I was struck by the owners' motto: "As we say in the Dusted Valley, open that bottle. The first two glasses are for your health; the second two for ours!''

Chad Johnson and his brother-in-law, Corey Braunel, are the authors of that savvy bit of copy, and co-owners, along with their wives, of Dusted Valley Vintners.

The four friends met in college in Wisconsin, with Chad and Corey seemingly headed for careers in pharmaceutical sales.

Then the wine bug bit. The dream of abandoning a safe career to make wine is a story often told, but rarely with such authentic verve as on the Dusted Valley website:

"Dusted Valley was founded on the notion that when family pulls together the American dream can turn into a living reality. Hey, we're just a proud bunch of farm-raised Wisconsin Cheeseheads, and what goes well with cheese? You guessed it -- wine. It's all about the wine. . .''

In 2003 the families moved to Walla Walla, at a time when dozens of others were setting up shop in the valley.

But Dusted Valley made some unusual, and clever, decisions. They hired excellent winemaking talent (Steve Lessard and Gordy Hill) as consultants.

They made wines in rented facilities (to save money) and leased or purchased vineyard land instead.

Besides their premium label, they offered a low-priced line (now called Boomtown) long before it was a necessity for economic survival.

Some quirky details attracted attention and stimulated interest.

Some of their new oak barrels are made with Wisconsin oak -- high-altitude, tight-grain wood from a family-owned forest.

An early DV viognier experimented with an unusual South African yeast -- "trying to get away from gourmet yeasts that are high nutrition,'' the winemakers explain.

"We wanted to step back a little and let the wine make itself.''

Along with such brands as Balboa and Substance, Dusted Valley has come to define the new wave in Walla Walla. Their wines sport hip, artistic labels, and spotlight interesting grape varieties, sourced from excellent vineyards a ways off the beaten track. The quality, overall, started out quite good and has kept improving.

I've been especially impressed with the Dusted Valley viogniers, cabernets, malbecs and syrahs.

This fall they are harvesting the first grapes from their Stoney Vine vineyard, a choice site on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla appellation.

Here are the newest releases:

Dusted Valley 2009 Boomtown Pinot Gris; $13. Fresh and spritzy, this is almost like drinking the wine straight from the winemaker's fermentation tank; it's that juicy and delicious.

Dusted Valley 2009 Ramblin' Ros; $18. Watermelon and strawberry fruit flavors introduce this bone-dry ros?©, the color of a new dawn.

Dusted Valley 2007 BFM Red; $45. Spicy and precise, this Bordeaux mix offers sharp-edged cassis, black cherry and blackberry fruit, encased in a strong, fortresslike, oak stockade.

Dusted Valley 2007 Reserve Syrah; $45. Lively acidity adds some zip to blackberry and black-cherry fruit. There's a smoky edge to the polished tannins, and lemony acids keep the wine bright and fresh.

Note: DV has tasting rooms in Walla Walla and Woodinville. For upcoming events, visit www.dustedvalley.com.

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

Syncline 2009 Subduction White; $18

The latest version of this blended white wine drops the chardonnay and adds 11 percent Grner Veltliner to the roussanne and viognier. Lush scents of lemon drop, pineapple and candied orange peel lead into perfectly rendered citrus-peel flavors that put a frame around the tart fruit, spice and white pepper. (Triage distributes)

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