From the tender age of 14, Kevin Lantz has found wine barrels to be “so cool”. Now, he is one of the few wine makers working with Acacia wood barrels. Kevin ages Lantz Cellars Sauvignon Blanc in Acacia barrels and he still thinks wine barrels are “so cool!”
Kevin’s mom told me the story about Kevin’s barrel fascination on Mother’s Day 09, the grand opening of the Lantz Cellars tasting room in Lake Stevens. Lantz Cellars is truly a garage winery. The winery and tasting room are located in an residential area of Lake Stevens. It can take determination to find this unassuming winery, but that determination is well repaid once you taste the wines!
Kevin started home brewing and home wine making as a hobby. He was happy with his beers and continues his home brewing hobby, but not quite the 5-6 batches of brew that he used to make each year. Kevin quickly got frustrated with the quality of wine available from wine kits for the home wine maker. After just a year of working with wine kits, he refinanced his house in 2003 and started buying commercial winery equipment so he could work with grapes instead of canned juice. Although he is an engineer by day, Kevin admits that he is not the most traditionally academically inclined. He learns by reading at his own pace and by doing. He studied commercial wine making by reading UC Davis text books, wine journals and self taught via bench work. His “can do” attitude and his passion for learning by doing has paid off. Last fall, Kevin Lantz unveiled his first commercial release. Almost immediately after release, his 2006 Rattlesnake Hills Syrah won the President’s award at Gusto. The Lantz Cellars 2006 Rattlesnake Hills Syrah went on to win the President’s Choice award at Sexy Syrah. Not bad for a freshman effort!
Currently in the winery
On a sunny Sunday morning, we visited Kevin at the Lantz Cellars Winery to check out harvest activities. The winery was ripe with the potent aromas of Merlot and Syrah fermenting in their vats. Another vat held the freshly crushed Cabernet Franc grapes, crushed the afternoon before and awaiting today’s inoculation. The Syrah grapes were crushed last week and busy fermenting away. If you click the picture to see the expanded image, you can see how much of the juice and color has been extracted during fermentation and punch down. The picture may give you an idea of the process but it can’t convey the rich and powerful aromas of sweet grapes, yeast and infant wine.
The Cabernet Franc was almost ready to be inoculated with the yeast that will jump start the fermentation, or as Kevin states “knocking up the must“. Before preparing the yeast, Kevin needs to evaluate the juice. Besides sending a sample of the Cabernet Franc to Enolab in Woodinville, Kevin does his own bench testing. He measured the brix and specific gravity of the Cabernet Franc juice and it came in high. Although Kevin likes a long hang time on his grapes to ensure that his wines have adequate fruit, the harvest was delayed a bit on these grapes. That will give the wine a lot of fruit but it could also make the alcohol level higher than he wants. The wine maker has a couple of options to preserve fruit and limit the alcohol level and Kevin will use a technique called water back as part of this strategy. On the vine, grapes can shrivel a bit which concentrates the sugar, by adding water back to the juice, it corrects the high sugar concentration. We tasted the juice and it was sweet indeed! In addition, Kevin has added oak powder to the grapes. This powder won’t take the place of barrels, but this oak powder helps bind the vegetal tannins that can give a Cabernet a green pepper flavor. Kevin is NOT a fan of green pepper!
We also had the opportunity to taste the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc fresh out of the tank. This Washington Sauvignon Blanc had pretty much finished primary fermentation so it was technically a wine. It even tasted like a wine, a wine that I am excited to meet again once it grows up a bit. When we tasted the wine it was cloudy with yeast, but at 21 days it was already showing a lot of character. It had a lot of lovely tropical fruit notes balanced with a bracing acidity. This wine will be placed in those Acacia barrels this week, adding color, complexity and a bit of nutty character. The Sauvignon Blanc going into barrel also makes room for 2.5 tons of 50% Clone 2 and 50% Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon and .5 tons of Clone 12 Riesling grapes coming in this week from Lawrence Vineyards. The 2009 vintage of Lantz wines will include two whites, his Acacia barrel aged Sauvignon Blanc and an off-dry Riesling. This will be the first Lantz Cellars Riesling.
Kevin Lantz believes in letting the grapes tell him what they want to be. The wines are fermented and barreled separately by vineyard and varietal. The wine is what it is and as it ages, the wine introduces itself to Kevin. Although certain grapes are fermented with an eye towards blending, the wine may have a different idea. Kevin firmly believes that there is a “palate for every wine” and he isn’t afraid to release a small lot of 25 cases if a barrel of wine wants to stand alone. Currently, Lantz Cellars has three different Syrahs from three different vineyards. The differences between these Washington Syrah is a testament to Kevin’s respect for the individual variance in terroir as well as palate.
- 2006 Rattlesnake Hills Syrah
- 2006 Buoy Vineyard Reserve Syrah
- 2006 Yakima Valley Syrah
- 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
- 2007 Sauvignon Blanc SOLD OUT
In an interview with Sean Sullivan of Washington Wine Report, Kevin distinguished two of the Syrahs as follows:
“The Yakima Syrah…has brighter, acidic fruit and smoky aromas – like a northern Rhone style, whereas 55 miles to the west, the Rattlesnake Hills Syrah…has a heavy, spicy, dark fruit with pencil eraser aromas – like a southern Rhone.” Lantz says the Rattlesnake Hills offering is a “drink now” wine whereas the Yakima wine is a “wait a while and you won’t be disappointed.”
What’s next for Lantz Cellars?
Although Kevin Lantz will continue to make the Washington Syrah wines that he is known for, his passion is to focus on more traditional Bordeaux styles. Kevin is particularly excited about his 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Lawrence Vineyard. According to Kevin:
This (2007 Cabernet Sauvignon) wine is going to have tons of fruit and it will spend 30 months in the barrel. “It will kick your mouth around six times!“
In July, I had the good fortune to barrel taste several of Lantz Cellar’s 2007 wines. I tasted that 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and Kevin is not exaggerating about that Washington Cabernet. It is going to be a big wine and I appreciate Kevin’s patience in giving the wine the time needed to age before release. His goal is to create wines that are drinkable upon a release and will peak in 3-5 years.
My favorite of the barrel tastings was the 07 Rattlesnake Hills Syrah. It was excellent out of the barrel but it will only improve with maturity. That Syrah will be aged two years in barrel, then aged in the bottle and released in the spring. The 08 Rattlesnake Hills Syrah has different character and will not benefit from the extended aging the the 07 requests. The 08 Rattlesnake Hills Syrah will be bottled the same time that the 07 Rattlesnake Hills Syrah is released and the 08 Rattlesnake Hills Syrah will probably be priced under $20. Another example of how Kevin pays attention to the grape when creating the wine, aging the wine and marketing the wine.
Ed and I both really liked the barrel tasting of the 07 Malbec. Let me correct that statement, Ed LOVED the Malbec. He became an unofficial spokes person at Gusto, telling anyone carrying a Lantz Cellars bottle, that they needed to keep their eye out for the Malbec release.
Lantz Cellars only produces about 450 cases of wine a year in this small garage winery outside of Everett, Washington. Only one barrel of the acacia aged Sauvignon Blanc is made each year. The 2007 Lantz Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, released in May 09, is already sold out. If you are interested in Lantz Cellar wines, be sure to sign up for their mailing list so you won’t miss out on any releases.