By Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman
PROSSER, Wash. — One of the Yakima Valley’s most-tenured winemakers continues to make great strides in his career, without having to travel far.
David Forsyth arrived in Washington wine country in 1984 at Hogue Cellars. In 2007, he moved a few hundred yards to the east to Mercer Estates. And last summer, he moved a few hundred yards to the north to take on the winemaking duties for the new Zirkle Wine Co.
“I’ve run out of room,” Forsyth said with a laugh. “I’m on the Yakima River now.”
But that doesn’t mean he’s reached the end of the road.
Forsyth grew up in Ellensburg and went to Central Washington University, where he earned a degree in zoology and psychology. At that point, he had no thoughts about wine.
Yearning to take some time off before entering grad school, Forsyth headed to Idaho’s Sun Valley and worked as a ski instructor. In the resort town, he began to explore wine and wondered if that might be a career path. One of his students owned a Napa Valley winery, and he invited Forsyth to work harvest for him. He did that, at the same applying for grad school at the University of California-Davis’ vaunted winemaking program. Three years later, he had his master’s degree in enology.
He wanted to stay in California, but the job market didn’t allow that, so he came back home to Washington, accepting an assistant winemaker job at Hogue Cellars, which was a new, 7,000-case winery. In 1991, winemaker Rob Griffin left to focus on his own brand, and Forsyth became head winemaker, a position he kept until 2006. At that time, his old boss, Mike Hogue — who had sold Hogue to a large company five years earlier — lured him to Mercer Estates, which 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.
Last year, Forsyth left Mercer for Zirkle, which processes grapes for other wineries, including Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Hogue Cellars.
Construction on 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 has 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 Sauvignon.
“I’m working with growers I’ve 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.
— Forsyth Brio 2006 McKinley Springs Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $50: Forsyth has served up a properly aged red wine for his devotees. There’s a tiny tinge of brick to the color, followed by attractive and mature aromas of cordial cherry, cocoa powder, graphite, lightly roasted coffee, black pepper, vanilla and a whiff of bacon. 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, here’s Grace Kelly in bottle. (53 cases, 14.5% alc.)
To learn more about the wines, go to www.forsythbrio.com.
— Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run greatnorthwestwine.com, a wine news website.