Long Shadows was the last and greatest project from Allen Shoup, who was at the helm of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates (then called Stimson Lane) from 1980 until the turn of the century. Among his many innovations while there were winemaking partnerships with Ernst Loosen (Eroica) and the Antinori family (Col Solare).
Those seminal projects blossomed into Long Shadows in 2002, when Shoup rolled out a portfolio of ultra-premium wines carefully concepted to have each of them express a particular Washington wine industry strength. From concept to bottling every wine was guided by a well-known partner/consultant from outside the region – a marketing stroke of genius and a testament to Shoup’s gift for gentle persuasion.
Though it was the visiting winemakers who frequently grabbed the spotlight, the actual day in and day out winemaking at Long Shadows was handled from the start by Gilles Nicault. A native of southern France and graduate of the University of Avignon, Nicault arrived in Washington 30 years ago, intent on further expanding his winemaking knowledge. He wound up at Woodward Canyon, working with Rick Small, and from there took the reins at Long Shadows, his self-described “dream job.”
Long Shadows wines were great from the start, and over time it became clear that it was Gilles, the onsite Director of Winemaking & Viticulture, who was the glue that tied them all together. After two decades they continue as a seamless portfolio of exemplary, even iconic wines. And though he is too modest to take the credit unless pressed, the winery has made a gradual and challenging transition under Nicault’s careful guidance. Not only has Long Shadows weathered the passing of Allen Shoup, who died last November, but also the gradual decoupling of the original group of partner/consultants.
That process began as some of these mentors aged out, and was (perhaps) accelerated by the impact of Covid on travel. Whatever the reasons, currently all Long Shadows wines are made by Nicault and his team, while the winery remains in family hands, with Shoup’s step-son Dane Narbaitz serving as President & CEO, and son Ryan Shoup as Director of Retail Sales.
Gilles and I sat down in the Long Shadows tasting room on a sun-splattered early April morning to taste through some of the current releases and talk about the challenges ahead. The Blue Mountains were snow-covered and sparkling, the air so clear they seemed close enough to touch. I’d just learned that the cold weather that has settled on the entire Pacific Northwest for weeks on end brought with it the dubious distinction of recording the greatest disparity between average and actual low temperatures anywhere on the planet! That didn’t seem to bode well for this year’s grapes. So we started the conversation there.
PG: We’ve been enduring record cold and it looks as if it will continue well into April. In your three decades here have you ever seen this before?
GN: I have not. But also I’ve never seen such amazing September/October weather as we had last year. The good thing is that so far it’s like last year when budbreak was delayed and we had a very late frost so the buds were safe. It’s hard to say where we’re going this year, but I like where we are now with good moisture in the soil profile. We didn’t have a really harsh winter. It got down to zero degrees but there was no vineyard damage.
PG: Apart from the challenging weather how are you dealing with the passing of Allen Shoup? How does that impact the management and especially the vision for the brand?
GN: He was so smart, and such a visionary that he set Long Shadows up to be run without him. Dane is now President/CEO, and we’ve been working together for 15 years. I’ve been here since the beginning in 2003. Allen was my mentor and he left us in a very strong position to be able to run the company.
PG: The original partner winemakers are no longer involved. How do you replace them? Or do you?
GN: I am the sole winemaker now. I got to work for many years with all these talented people, and from the beginning I knew the terroir. So slowly but surely I have taken over, starting with Poet’s Leap and Saggi around 2017, and over time (and with Covid) the rest. It has not been a very precise jump from everything to nothing. It evolved. But I’ve been here all along, getting dirty during harvest, doing vineyard maturity checks, fermentation checks. And for each different wine I had an incredible mentor.
PG: So where do you go from here?
GN: We are going to continue to focus on increasing quality. Because if we just keep it where we are already we’ll stagnate. Allen always pushed us to be active in creating better and better wines with a focus on what we are.
PG: You do have superb vineyard sources, although no estate vineyards. And you seem to get the best old vines from each site. What do old vines give you that makes them special?
GN: It’s both the site and the deep roots. An old vine needs less water, so it can go through hot weather much better. You don’t need to keep adding water drop by drop – hydroponic irrigation – as you do to young vines which swells the grapes. So the old vines give more complexity. Young vines are like little kids – they can run run run and then they collapse. An adult can go longer. Old vines can take more stress.
Let’s taste the wines!
Long Shadows 2021 Poet’s Leap Riesling
Hand-picked and whole cluster pressed, this strikes a generously juicy balance between acid and sugar, fruit and phenolics. Some new grape sources are in the mix that now includes DuBrul, Bacchus and Gamache old vines. Packed with fruit, the wine has great weight and persistence, accented with threads of chamomile, butter and finishing with lingering softness that adds a touch of vanilla. As good or better than ever. 3335 cases; 12.5%; $20 (Columbia Valley) 95/100
Long Shadows 2020 Dance Chardonnay
First and lasting impression – this is immaculate, clean, perfectly proportioned and defined. If Dance is the name, the dancer is Baryshnikov. Restrained power is the template here. The Wente clone fruit from French Creek and Boushey vineyards is given full expression without becoming at all blowsy or too broad, as can happen at times with this clone. If memory serves, this 2020 shows a bit more fresh green tea, green herb flavors than the previous vintage. 790 cases; 14.1%; $42 (Columbia Valley) 94/100
Long Shadows 2020 Saggi
Emulating a SuperTuscan blend, this current vintage is 62% Sangiovese, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Syrah. It’s a bright ruby red, with equally bright flavors and a cherry candy character that is charmingly fresh. The Sangiovese component blends grapes from three AVAs – Walla Walla, Candy Mountain and Yakima Valley. The flavors coalesce in the finish around muscular tannins from the Stone Tree Cab, and licks of spice from the Boushey Syrah. 2155 cases; 15.1%; $65 (Columbia Valley) 92/100
Long Shadows 2019 Chester-Kidder Red
This is roughly two thirds Walla Walla Cabernet and one third Candy Mountain Syrah, with a splash of Petit Verdot punching up the tannins. It’s a solid, muscular wine that benefits from the best of both the main grapes. Firm, compact flavors of cassis are framed with 85% new French oak, adding more spice and finishing with a toasty note. This will want plenty of aeration and/or more bottle age in order to show its best. 2160 cases; 14.9%; $65 (Columbia Valley) 92/100
Long Shadows 2019 Sequel Syrah
Sourced from various sites and clones, this pure varietal is a classic evocation of cool climate Syrah powered by Washington fruit. Deep blueberry, blackberry and black cherry flavors penetrate down through the palate with juicy persistence. The acids are clean and splendidly fresh and the tannins just strong enough to provide a framework to the finish. Young as it is this wine is already drinking nicely, though primed for medium-term development. Best drinking? 2025 – 2030 would be a good guess. 2130 cases; 15%; $65 (Columbia Valley) 94/100
Long Shadows 2019 Pirouette
A five-grape Bordeaux-style blend, this is principally composed of Red Mountain and Wahluke Slope fruit. It’s a great Pirouette, poised and potent, with a seductive chocolatey entry, good grip and prevailing richness on through the extended finish. Spicy, savory and lightly floral, this brings the full flavor palette to the tasters’ palate. Drink now and over the next 15 years. 2515 cases; 14.8%; $70 (Columbia Valley) 95/100
Long Shadows 2019 Pedestal Merlot
Kind of old school, given the 15+% alcohol and 85% new oak barrels. With one quarter of the blend being Cabernet and Malbec it nonetheless makes good sense and good wine. The grapes were sourced from two of Washington’s warmest AVAs and allowed to achieve full maturity. This is smooth, dark and dense. The black fruits are packed down tightly, and the ripe tannins have a slight grainy character that enhances flavor suggestions of ground coffee and ultra-dark chocolate. This is the style evangelized by consultant Michel Rolland, chosen as the original designer of this wine, and here executed to perfection. 2615 cases; 15.1%; $70 (Columbia Valley) 94/100
Long Shadows 2020 Feather Cabernet Sauvignon
Beginning with the newest releases, Long Shadows has labeled its wines as coming “From The Long Shadows Vintners Collection” – a nod to the changes occurring at the winery, detailed above. This is simply stunning, a Vegas-style display of fruits and flowers, spices and barrel toast. Somehow it is silky, savory, textured and lush all at once. The flavors run through a long finish like threads in a shawl, and trying to untangle them is an impossible challenge. This wine is inescapably delicious, beautifully focused, and surely destined to be long lived. 3985 cases; 14.9%; $75 (Columbia Valley) 96/100
Long Shadows 2019 Feather Vintage Select Cabernet Sauvignon
Historically Feather is classic expression of pure Washington Cabernet, and this is no exception. It is as clear and focused as Washington fruit can be, sourced from old vine sites at Weinbau, Dionysus, Bacchus and Sagemoor, along with a newer vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills. It’s rich, chocolatey, nutty and lush, with a mix of black fruits, graphite and baking spices seamlessly integrated. 3720 cases; 15.4%; $70 (Columbia Valley) 95/100
Côté Nicault 2019 GSM
Beautifully built, judicious use of different fermentation vehicles. This is layered nicely. Gilles – when I make a GSM I try to go back to my roots, with layers, elegance, some garrigue notes. Concentrated, stacked wine with clear minerality from homogenous, gravelly soils high up on the mountain. The fruit opens up with marionberry, blueberry and blackberry compote, expanding and long lasting through the finish. 309 cases; 14.9%; $85 (Red Mountain) 94/100
Purchase these wines here.