Doug Brazil of Chateau Faire Le Pont Winery in Wenatchee, Wash., ranks among the Pacific Northwest’s most soft-spoken winemakers. His showing during the 20th annual Platinum Judging, however, proves the retired Navy helicopter pilot deserves to be in the discussion as one of our region’s most talented vintners.
This year, his Chateau Faire Le Pont 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from internationally renowned Red Mountain earned the title as “Best of the Best” — the highest-rated wine of the competition that featured a record 749 gold-medal winners.
“Oh, wow,” Brazil said quietly when told of the award.. “I felt like that was a pretty strong wine, and I was kind of surprised when it only got a gold at the Wenatchee judging, but I’m kind of prejudiced.”
The University of Georgia business graduate left the Navy after 21 years to pursue a winemaking passion. His final post was in Seattle as the commanding officer of recruitment, so he and his wife, Debé, moved to the Columbia Valley to launch Chateau Faire Le Pont in 2002. Their business partners include several Alaska fishermen.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Shaw Vineyard Cab is Chateau Faire Le Pont’s most expensive. It starts with grapes from “Shaw 32,” owned by Dick and Wendy Shaw, whose standing in the industry led to their 2018 induction into the Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame.
“I know Dick,” Brazil quipped. “We tried to buy his house years ago here in Wenatchee.”
Shaw fruit is farmed by Marshall Edwards — Honorary Grower for the 2018 Auction of Washington Wines. Brazil first got into Shaw 32 for the 2014 vintage, so “The Best of the Best” signals just his second effort with that fruit.
“I’m kind of limited on what I can get,” Brazil said. “I get eight tons from 2 acres, which come from Block 5 and Block 11 lots. Originally, I came down to Red Mountain to check on those grapes, but Marshall knows a lot more about growing grapes than I do. I trust him.”
Once the grapes are in the door at Brazil’s nearly century-old brick building in Wenatchee, there’s not much he needs to do.
“I just let it make itself,” Brazil said. “About 30% of the barrels are new oak, and I use American oak — Seguin Moreau and Canton. I’ve tried a lot of different barrels over the years, but I’ve stuck with those because they work best with my wines.”
And his wine club took a sizable chunk of that 2015 Shaw Cab upon release.
“I have a little bit left, but it was a good seller,” he said.
That wine’s rise to the top of the Platinum came via a unanimous vote of “Platinum” by the judges on the panel, boosted by two votes for “P+” — meaning it ranked among the top examples of that variety or style of wine those judges had ever tasted. It’s rather heady stuff for anyone, particularly a 3,000-case producer in a region best known for apples and hydroelectric dams.
“This is a boutique project, and if we go any bigger, you have to hire more staff and start to lose control of the details,” Brazil said. “We try to keep it manageable. We sell to our wine club and right out of the tasting room, so we are not in distribution, but we do supply some of the restaurants in our area.”
Chateau Faire Le Pont does ship beyond the state, however, and Brazil’s touch with Bordeaux varieties showed up in the Carménère category with a Platinum this year.
And this wasn’t Brazil’s first Platinum for Cab. He garnered one in 2016 for his thoughtful Elerding Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, a site established in the Horse Heaven Hills by Prosser physician Steve Elerding.
Each year, there’s a decent chance the top example of Cabernet Sauvignon will be the Platinum’s best-scoring wine. Five times in 20 years, the “Best of the Best” has been a Cab. It’s grown to become the most important variety in Washington state, which is the second-largest wine producer in the country, and there’s some historic pedigree with it in the Platinum and beyond.
In 2001, the Columbia Crest 1998 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon topped the Platinum. Then Wine Spectator magazine — the world’s most important wine publication — selected the Columbia Crest 2005 Reserve Cab as the No. 1 wine in the world that its panel tasted in 2009.
Brazil rarely sends out his wines for review or enters competitions beyond the Cascade Valley Wine Country. His two Platinum winners qualified via the Wenatchee Food and Wine Festival judging.
“We’re small, and we’re local, so we stick around town,” he said.
The Brazils, who recently opened a satellite tasting room 30 minutes away in downtown Leavenworth, also take pride in helping to pioneer in the concept of an on-premise restaurant in the Washington wine industry.
“We had a restaurant in July of 2007,” Debé said. “That is pretty significant for a small boutique winery to take such a large leap!”
Doug enjoys the 2015 Shaw Vineyard Cab with short ribs or prime rib.
Chateau Faire Le Pont Winery, 1 Vineyard Way, Wenatchee, WA 98801, fairelepont.com, 509-667-WINE (9463)