Tucked away in a small corner of the historic Marcus Whitman Hotel is one of the hotel’s five on site tasting rooms and one of Walla Walla’s 140 wineries, tasting rooms and wine bars. Mansion Creek Cellars, a 12-year-old family winery was founded and managed by Julia Russell, who is referred to as Mama Julia, to those who know and love her, until recently when she handed over the reins to her son and daughter in law. Julia’s passion continues, reflected in wines inspired by Mama Julia’s love for wine and her desire to bring influences from her native Spain. The wines at Mansion Creek Cellars exude Julia’s Spanish heritage and the new owners, her son and daughter in law, Denny and Tina Russell, work hard to source grapes from vineyards around Washington state to continue to bring the Spanish flavor into their wines.
Tinta Cão is the predominate grape in their 2015 Red Dog Blend comprised of 70% Tinta Cão, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Grenache-Syrah.
Tinta Cão is a varietal that isn’t as common in Washington state and Mansion Creek Cellars had to really look to find a vineyard growing these grapes. Tinta Cão is a red Portuguese wine grape variety that has been grown primarily in the Douro region since the sixteenth century. The vine produces very low yields which has led it close to extinction despite the high quality of wine that it can produce. This grape can add finesse and complexity, which you can taste in this blend. Tinto Cão in Portuguese translates to Red Dog, hence the name. With aromas of plumb, violet and blackberry leading to flavors of cedar, ripe red fruits, tomato leaf and olive mid-palate, at $46 a bottle, this wine is delicious now, but has potential to age. It’s already showing a good maturity for a 2015 vintage and will be even more delicious with a few years in the bottle.
While Mama Julia’s son and daughter in law are now at the helm of the winery, her influence can be seen in the wine club and fan favorite, Julia’s Blend. Each year, Julia creates this blend and the 2016 vintage is no different. Released the weekend of my Walla Walla visit in October 2018, this $40 bottle is dark and jammy with ground coffee, green pepper and leather
on the nose. These flavors are also reflected on the palate. The 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon blend is a tribute to Mama Julia and is another age worthy wine from the Mansion Creek line up.
The 2015 Reserve Tempranillo spent 32 months in both French and American Oak and is amazingly balanced with wonderful herbal and cold tea aromas. This mouthwatering wine leads with flavors of ripe red cherry, baking spice and a bit of earthiness. The wine has remarkably smooth tannins and amazing flavors already and like all their wines, will taste spectacular after a few more years in the bottle.
Producing about 600 cases per year, their wines are all limited production and this is one Walla Walla winery to watch! They are open seven days a week and are worth the visit to not only taste the wines but hear the story of the history and heritage that makes Mansion Creek Cellars what it is.
Denny Russell sharing his family's history and heritage with customers in the tasting room.