Sleight of Hand, The Enchantress Old Vine Chardonnay 2017 Yakima Valley

Sleight of Hand Cellars, French Creek Vineyard

Magical Chardonnay from Washington State.

From $31.50, £34.10

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Trey Busch, in an online encounter with various Chardonnay producers earlier this year, rather winningly introduced Sleight of Hand Cellars by announcing that they had the best winery T-shirts in the States and they played the best music. Even at 5.30 am on the other side of the world from me in Walla Walla, this slightly blurry figure with an unmistakably wide smile, a great sense of humour and a wicked twinkle in the eye, gave me the distinct impression that if you want to work at Sleight of Hand, you probably need to have ‘Pearl Jam fan’ on your CV and a stash of rock vinyl in your living room. (The winery is even named after Busch’s favourite Pearl Jam song…)

Sleight of Hand Cellars, Trey Busch
Trey Busch

Busch co-founded Sleight of Hand in 2007 with husband and wife team, Jerry and Sandy Solomon. Jerry Solomon left behind a 30-year career as a real-estate attorney, but Busch had a more meandering path which brought him to wine via music and Nordstrom, and then he ended up spending seven years working for Dunham Cellars in Walla Walla.

At that Zoom tasting, we had a little ‘around the world’ line-up of Chardonnays, presented by their winemakers: Chablis, Margaret River (poor Virginia Willcock was in the middle of crush and trying to keep her eyes open at 10 pm), Walker Bay and Washington. The wines included Simonnet-Febvre’s Premiers Crus Fourchaume and Montmains Chablis 2018s, Vasse Felix’s 2019 and 2014 Heytesbury Margaret River Chardonnays, and Creation Wines’ 2020 Walker Bay Chardonnay. All really good Chardonnays. But one wine stood out for me, and it was the one I was least expecting to stand out – the Washington Chardonnay.

Sleight of Hand Cellars, 40-year-old Chardonnay vine
One of French Creek Vineyard's 40-year-old Chardonnay vines

The Enchantress Old Vine Chardonnay comes from the organically farmed (the wine is Ecocert certified organic) French Creek Vineyard in the eastern Yakima Valley, planted in 1980 with Wente clone vines (pictured at the top of the article). It’s one of Washington’s oldest Chardonnay vineyards. Busch explained that a westerly wind blows through the valley in the evening, cooling the vines, and they get a huge diurnal range – in July it can be 32 °C (90 °F) in the daytime but drop down to 4 °C (40 °F) at night. They pick twice – early, to get natural acidity and freshness, and later, for more ripeness and richness. The wine is made by 100% spontaneous fermentation, which can take anything from 20 to 40 days, because they ferment in their very cool barrel room. Fermentation takes place on the lees and after fermentation they do a bit of lees-stirring. The wine usually goes through partial malo (but they prefer it not to go through full malo as it gets too soft and blowsy). It’s aged on lees in a combination of concrete tanks and old French oak barrels (8–12 years old).

Apart from the unfortunately heavy bottle, I was captivated (no pun intended – all their wines’ names have a magical theme, and the labels are riffed off vintage magic-show posters from the 1920s and 30s).

It was just so very different from the other Chardonnays. To begin with, it was playful, teasing, tongue-in-cheek, even. It tasted like a key-lime pie and pink-grapefruit cheesecake topped with rhubarb. But I started to realise that the wine was almost distracting me from how very intense and complex it was. Whirring with a high-wired energy, the very unusual pink fruit seemed to be sprinkled with black salt and have a cool apple-mint underlay. The acidity was absolutely stunning, filling the mouth with great sweeping arcs of three-dimensional acidity and flavour and texture, ripe and complex, super-high-res pixelated. As it sat in the glass, hazelnut and sour-cream richness amplified through the length of the palate, then some smokiness, a homeopathic drop of honey on the finish.

Enchantress, indeed. I know that £34 is pretty expensive for a wine of the week, but I think it’s worth every penny. Spoil yourself.

Sleight of Hand Cellars, The Enchantress Old Vine Chardonnay 2017

It’s imported in the UK by Ester Wines and it’s available from Theatre of Wine for £34.10 a bottle, and in the US, from Wine Watch in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, although other vintages of the wine can be found in Seattle, Washington DC, Memphis, St Louis, Virginia Beach, Palm Beach and Walla Walla.

See more in-depth coverage of Washington wines by our US correspondents.

The photos all come from the Sleight of Hand website.