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Eat & Drink » Wine

Finding Closure



For many years, I’ve thought of Hogue Cellars wines as representing some of the best values this country has to offer in wine. And obviously, many others agree. Since its inception in the early 1980s, Hogue has become the largest family-owned winery in the state of Washington, producing more than half a million cases of wine annually. That’s a lot of juice.

But Hogue wasn’t always the massive wine-industry presence it is today. As the story goes, Gary Hogue and his brother Mike were tasting wine at the Prosser Wine and Food Fair in 1982 when Mike announced he was going into the wine business. He had planted six acres of Riesling on his parents’ farm back in 1974 and made his first batch of wine in 1981. Over the next three years, Hogue’s wine production essentially doubled each year. By 1984, they was producing 10,000 cases of Hogue wine, and brother Gary Hogue was lured into the wine biz, handling sales and marketing duties for Hogue Cellars.

Well, as I mentioned, sales of Hogue wines have been phenomenal. This good fortune allows co-founder Gary Hogue to be involved in a number of boards and charities, including Hogue Springs Eternal, which he created. Hogue Springs Eternal is Seattle’s annual celebrity chef dinner and auction, held to raise funds to support services for people with HIV and AIDS.

But back to the wines. As I say, I’ve been a fan of Hogue Cellars’ wines for quite a while, especially their white wines. Recently though, I had the opportunity to taste of couple of newly released Hogue Cellars reds: 2004 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and 2004 Columbia Valley Merlot. Both sell for about $9. I was struck by two things about these wines. First, they were both bursting with flavor, especially the Merlot. That’s not so surprising. What did surprise me was that these were both screw-cap wines.

Hogue Cellars'along with Bonny Doon and some others'were on the leading edge of the screw-cap movement in the wine industry. However, until now they’d only used screw caps on their white wines. Hogue reds were still traditionally corked. The common thinking was that white wines aren’t usually cellared for very long so it doesn’t much matter what you seal the bottles with. Some reds, on the other hand, are meant for aging. And there’s always been the presumption that aged wines need the miniscule amounts of air that seeps through microscopic holes in cork in order for the wine to develop and mature.

Well, not so fast. At the 59th annual conference of the American Society of Enology and Viticulture'yes, there really is such an organization'Hogue Cellars released the results of an in-house, three-year study of wine-bottle closures. The findings, in a nutshell, were that screw-cap closures “hold fruit and maintain freshness more effectively than natural and synthetic corks, and eliminate cork taint.” Since that study, Hogue Cellars’ winemaker David Forsyth has delved even further into the controversy over bottling with screw caps. His findings are fascinating.

According to Forsyth, laying down a dozen bottles of wine closed with natural corks for a decade “will result in 12 very different bottles of wine; some bottles will be ruined by cork taint and the rest will taste slightly different due to the variances in each cork.” So his formula for consistency is to bottle red wine with screw caps, but to “bring in the appropriate amount of oxygen to age the wine” prior to bottling. A screw cap eliminates the variability of oxygen entering a bottle after being sealed; thereby ensuring what Hogue Cellars calls “a more predictable and extended development curve.”

And you thought winemaking wasn’t rocket science.