October 24, 2011
Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries of the Year
L'Ecole No. 41
L'Ecole No. 41 revamped their packaging this year. The label still displays the 19th-century schoolhouse where the winery and tasting room is housed, as close to a maison as any wine structure in the Walla Walla Valley. Gone, though, is the child's rendering of the school in a parti-colored drawing.
According to Marty Clubb, it was time for their packaging to grow up the way their wine had. "It was a gesture," he says, "reflecting the maturation of the brand."
That maturity is reflected in Clubb's winemaking team, led by Mike Sharon, who's been with the winery since 1996, and his assistants, each of whom have been with him for seven years. "You're lucky when you have that kind of consistency," says Sharon. Working with Clubb, the team brings a light touch to the wines, which has become the brand's hallmark. "Balance is the top of every decision we make," says Sharon. "Each year it becomes just a matter of little tweaks and tests, knowing what not to do as much as what to do."
Though his family had been producing wines in Bierzo since the 18th century, Raul Perez wasn't particularly interested in making and drinking it. In fact, he planned to study medicine. But he showed up too late for his medical school registration and ended up signing up for enology.
Today, at 39, Perez is one of Spain's brightest winemaking stars, driving some 100,000 miles a year to his wine projects in Galicia, Madrid, Leon and Portugal's Douro. He launched his own company in 2004, working out of a garage and later moving to an 1810 town hall in Salas de los Barrios. And he has settled back to making the wine at Castro Ventosa, the family winery in Valtuille de Abajo, a small town of stone houses in the heart of the region.
"The most important thing is wine is to have your own opinion," Perez says. "The important thing is to be capable of making the wine that one has in his head."