Woodinville, Washington; August 17, 2008: DeLille Cellars donated to the 21st Auction of Washington Wines, 21-Liters in five separate sand-carved and gold engraved bottles including a 9-Liter of DeLille Cellars 2005 Chaleur Estate, 6-Liter of DeLille Cellars 2005 Harrison Hill, 3-Liter of DeLille Cellars 2005 D2, 1.5-Liter of DeLille Cellars 2006 Chaleur Estate Blanc and a 1.5-Liter of DeLille Cellars 2005 Grand Ciel Cabernet Sauvignon, which fetched an all time highest bid for any single wine only auction lot for this event of $70,000.00. The auction this year raised a record total of over $2.25 MIL.
DeLille Cellars has earned a reputation for its Bordeaux-styled blended red and white wines. DeLille has received many accolades from Wine Spectator, The Robb Report, Decanter Magazine, The Wine Enthusiast, Connoisseur’s Guide, Food and Wine and has been selected as Winery of the Year 2000 by the New York Times on the web. Robert Parker Jr. has also chosen DeLille Cellars as one of only four Washington wineries to receive his highest, 5-star rating, and named the winery the Chateau Lafite Rothschild of Washington State.
One rainy March morning, a group of workers set up a large white tent behind DeLille Cellars.
On the next Saturday, the tent would be filled with friends, family, and business acquaintances celebrating the life of Charles Lill.
As the tent rose from the ground, Lill's son, Greg Lill, sat before the great stone fireplace in the French chateau-style house. He reflected upon his father's recent death, which came just as Woodinville-based DeLille Cellars received a slew of international acclaim for its wines.
"My father brought decades of business savvy to DeLille," Greg Lill said. "But we're not just a bunch of a kids with a startup now. His passing came at a point when we were adults as a business."
DeLille Cellars is entering its next chapter. Charles Lill's passing leaves the winery in the hands of Greg Lill and co-founders Chris Upchurch and Jay Soloff. The winery also just saw its best year yet, with DeLille Cellars named to the coveted Top 100 of 2007 lists from the Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, the Robb Report, and local columnist Paul Gregutt.
DeLille Cellars sits on a hillside overlooking the Sammamish Valley and Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery. The Lill family first bought the winery's property in 1981, when it consisted of little more than a small house and rundown barn. At the time, Charles Lill saw it as a hobby farm and vacation property.
"It reminded my father of Czechoslovakia, where he grew up," Lill said.
The Lill's family path to winemaking is a lengthy one. During World War II, Charles Lill was drafted into Hitler Youth as a young teen. He became a Luftwaffe pilot, and then ended up in the German infantry. During a large battle, Lill recalls crawling through a stairwell and bricks falling in on top of him. When he woke up, he was in a Russian prison camp.
Since Lill wore a Luftwaffe uniform, the Russian guards assumed he possessed special skills and kept him separate from the other prisoners. He worked as a cook for the Russian officers. One day when he was harvesting potatoes in the prison's fields, a Swiss train passed by. Lill ran and hopped aboard, escaping to Switzerland.
Following the war, Lill ended up in Munich and landed a job as an Army statistician for the U.S. government. He bought cigarettes and candy from the Army and resold the items on Munich's black market. This gig paid his way through college, and eventually, to Vancouver, British Columbia and then Seattle.
Lill came across the Woodinville property after a career in insurance and real estate. The woman who owned the land was on the verge of going bankrupt and needed a $30,000 loan. Lill agreed to give her the money, but said she needed to add his name to the property's title. Once she paid him back, he'd take his name off.
But she never did pay him back, and the land eventually became the Lills'. Once the former owner moved out, the family began spending money to renovate the house. They wondered if they could put the property to some sort of money-making purpose.
Greg Lill began thinking about the family's winemaking roots. Charles Lill's great grandfather had made wine and beer in Czechoslovakia. The family honored its European heritage when Greg was growing up with wine every night at dinner and a wine cellar in the basement.
Greg Lill began to discuss the idea of a winery with wine broker Jay Soloff and winemaker Chris Upchurch. The three sketched out a rough plan on a cocktail napkin, and then Greg Lill wrote up a formal business proposal.
Armed with the proposal, Greg Lill met with his father on a Lill family Thanksgiving holiday in Hawaii. Then 32 years old, Greg Lill was nervous about asking his father to invest several thousand dollars in a new business. He knew his dad was conservative when it came to money.
But Charles Lill liked the idea, and the whole family voted to give it a shot. The Lills located grapes from the Yakima Valley and rented a small warehouse in Woodinville to make the wine. In 1992, DeLille Cellars produced its first vintage. According to Greg Lill, the winery was the fourth to come to Woodinville, and the beginning of a wave of boutique wineries.
"They were pioneers in Western Washington," said Bob Betz, owner of Redmond-based Betz Family Winery. "They created a new model for high quality, artisan wine, and a lot of us followed that."
DeLille Cellars has grown far beyond its initial small warehouse space, and now uses a 8,000-square-foot Woodinville warehouse to make its wine. When Betz was starting out, the Lills agreed to give him 12 barrels for free in their warehouse. In exchange, the Lills asked Betz to do the same for another new winemaker one day.
"We're big believers in helping other wineries," Greg Lill said.
Betz said he shares Lill's mentality, and has in fact lent a hand to other startups in subsequent years.
"DeLille was instrumental in helping us get started," Betz said. "There's an uncommon spirit of assistance and camaraderie in Washington's wine industry."
DeLille Cellars produces high-quality wine, with each bottle costing $30 to $120. The winery replaces its several hundred French oak barrels every year, and each barrel runs about $1,000. It took the company 10 years to become profitable. DeLille Cellars' revenues are currently around $3 million a year.
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THE 2007 JEFFERSON CUP INVITATIONAL
in the category of Red Vinifera Wine
DeLille Cellars 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon
Grand Ciel Vineyard
Has been awarded a 2007 Jefferson Cup
The Eighth Annual Jefferson Cup Invitational took place on November 29 and November 30, 2007 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Jefferson Cup is a different sort of wine competition, in that it is an invitational in which approximately six hundred wines are pre-selected which exemplify viticulture and winemaking in America.
The Jefferson Cup Invitational is an eight-year-old competition founded by Doug Frost, one of only three individuals in the world to have achieved the titles of Master Sommelier and Master of Wine.
Those who have won a Jefferson Cup in the Red Vinifera Wine category comprise a very short list with wineries such as Ridge Vineyards, Stone Hill Winery, Joseph Phelps Insignia and Dry Creek Vineyards among the winners in the eight year history of the wine competition.
This year, fifty-one wines were selected as Jefferson Cup honorees; these wines were nominated by the four judging committees to receive Jefferson Cups. Out of those fifty-one honored wines, the judges picked thirteen wines to be awarded these Jefferson Cups.
DECEMBER 3, 2007 PRESS RELEASE
Kansas City, Missouri – The Jefferson Cup Invitational, now in its eighth year, is the only competition that honors the best of the best among US wineries from all of America’s wine regions. Each year we select great wines from across America. This year, at the end of the second day of tasting, November 30th, 2007, wines from six different states had captured top honors. Just as the event’s namesake would have it, democracy reigned at this year’s Jefferson Cup Wine Competition.
This year, fifty-one wines were selected as Jefferson Cup honorees; these wines were nominated by the four judging committees to receive Jefferson Cups. Out of those fifty-one honored wines, the judges picked thirteen wines to be awarded these Jefferson Cups. By selecting both vinifera and non-vinifera wines for the Jefferson Cup each year, the hope is to respect the diversity of American viticulture and Jefferson's own acceptance of native varieties and hybrids.
Read what Paul had to say about DeLille Cellars and Doyenne in his new book below;
Winery Profiles, Part 2
“It would be foolish for anyone to propose that Washington state is made up entirely of notable wines and wineries. But in making my selections and further winnowing them down in this and the next three chapters. I have found what I consider to be Washington’s First Growths and Super Seconds. In this chapter I examine each of them in turn and discuss why they have elevated themselves to this level.”
"The Leaders", Chapter 5
Chateau Saint Michelle
Hedges Family Estate
L’Ecole No. 41
DeLille’s founders, Charles and Greg Lill, Chris Upchurch, and Jay Soloff, embody the ideal mix of marketing magic and winemaking savvy. Trace the arc of DeLille’s development from a tiny start-up modeled on the best chateaux of Bordeaux (right down to its second label, named D2 for the highway running through the Médoc) to its present-day portfolio of brilliantly conceived, unique wines. Encapsulated is the history of Washington’s Evolution from a state dominated by farmer-growers to one dedicated to the highest goals of the true garagiste.
DeLille Cellars occupies a picture postcard setting, from the restored 1890s farmhouse to the meadow dotted with lazily grazing sheep and the occasional peacock. The lovely 10-acre site, high above the Woodinville Valley floor, overlooks Chateau Ste Michelle and Columbia winery.
The partners who founded the winery – Charles Lill (now retired), Chris Upchurch, Greg Lill, and Jay Soloff – have turned it into one of the most dedicated party palaces in Woodinville, complete with a 40-foot dining table that has hosted many a fine dinner. The dinners, a fixture at DeLille since its first wines were released, featuring a visiting celebrity chef, a sampling of DeLille wines, and wines from a guest winery. “At first it was all about association,” Soloff explains. “In 1995, no one knew who DeLille was. But that first year we had Quilceda Creek, Andrew Will, Chateau Ste. Michelle, and Columbia as guest wineries.” Attendees couldn’t quite grasp why a brand-new winery was promoting other people’s wines, but the tactic worked perfectly. DeLille, by association, gained instant credibility.
Now one of the state’s premier producers of Bordeaux blends and Rhône-inspired wines (under their Chaleur Estate and Doyenne imprints), DeLille finds itself the name brand that up-and-coming wineries want to be associated with. In contrast to the elegant tasting room and offices, the wines are made in a humble warehouse, nothing charming about it. But what emerges from the pristine racks of French oak barrels is pure magic.
Magic is what winemaker Chris Upchurch speaks about when describing his newest project, the 18-acre Grand Ciel vineyard on Red Mountain. Beautifully sited (adjacent to Ciel du Cheval), it was planted in the spring of 2001, following two years of extensive (and expensive) clonal research. “The one thing all vineyards face,” says Upchurch, “is the potential for uneven ripening, when it doesn’t happen in that magic moment that great Bordeaux gets. The idea we had from the start was to get grapes to ripen evenly. Everything was done with the idea that it is possible to get even ripening here in Washington.”
Clonal research is the new viticultural frontier in Washington state, and Upchurch and his partners believe that their pioneering mix of cabernet and syrah clones at Grand Ciel will give them a five- or six-year jump-start on their competitors. The first couple of vintages so impressed the winemaking team that they have separated out specific blocks in both 2004 and 2005 and designated them for a new, superpremium DeLille bottling, to be called Grand Ciel. Grand Ciel will be 100 percent cabernet sauvignon, made from one or more of the new clones. Early barrel tastings of both the 2004 and 2005 vintages make it clear that their excitement is well founded.
In a sense, Grand Ciel brings them full circle. DeLille Cellars began with the goal of producing exceptional, Bordeaux-quality, cabernet-based wines. The flagship wine, Chaleur Estate, is now in its fifteenth year. At a retrospective tasting of the first decade’s releases, the 10 wines on display were balanced and silky, most still quite juicy and youthful. The wines from the mid-1990s were in particularly fine condition, the ’95 a standout for me, showing hints of cinnamon, cedar, incense, and tobacco, with concentrated raspberry fruit at the core.
The blend of the Chaleur red is consistently about two-thirds cabernet sauvignon, one-quarter merlot, and the rest cabernet franc, mostly from Red Mountain vineyards. There is also a Chaleur Estate Blanc made from sémillon and sauvignon blanc. Vinified in a rich buttery style, at times just this side of unctuous, it is smoothly wrapped in lingering layers of citrus oils, stone fruits, melon, and nuts.
The winery also makes a vineyard-designated Harrison Hill red wine, a Bordeaux blend showcasing the second-oldest vinifera vines in the state. A graceful mix of old-vine bramble, Yakima Valley herbs, and other peppery spices, with dry tannins redolent of Earl Gray tea, this supremely elegant wine wears its flavors like an immaculately tailored suit.
D2 is DeLille’s second wine, and in terms of quality there are a few wineries in the state whose best wines exceed it. Merlot-driven and blended from barrels not used in the Chaleur Estate, it is more likely to express vintage variation. Depending on the year, it can be ripe or herbal, hot or soft, on occasion it may even resemble a somewhat funky Bordeaux, replete with truffles, leather, and earth.
Upchurch spends a lot of time visiting wineries in France, and his is one of the most experienced and globally savvy palates in the state. He and assistant winemaker Chris Peterson are both Rhône wine lovers, and DeLille’s initial experiment with syrah (“only 100 cases”) has blossomed into a full-fledged winery of its own (see Doyenne in Chapter 8, “The Rookies”). Total case production for both wineries should reach 10,000 in 2006, about two-thirds of it DeLille.
Doyenne is considered Washington State’s premier Rhône Specialist, by Paul Gregutt
“The Rookies”, Chapter 8
Doyenne began as the name for DeLille Cellars’ syrah, which debuted with the 1997 vintage. In 2004, in an effort to differentiate between the Bordeaux focus of DeLille and the about-to-expand Rhône focus of Doyenne, it was officially made a separate winery. The change was inaugurated with an artist label and a massively thick bottle, heavy enough to put a hole in the Titanic.
Some recent vintages of Doyenne syrahs have been bruisers also, tight and chewy, with heavy tannins and an abundance of dark, roasted, espresso flavors. The 2004 shows the winery moving into a more elegant, more focused style, with beautifully ripened fruit that captures both the floral elegance and pure fruit power of Washington syrah.
Doyenne is rapidly expanding and has added both a varietal roussanne (creamy, and thick, with juicy flavors of citrus peel, honey-lemon, and white peach fruits), and a cabernet-syrah blend dubbed Aix. Named for the town in Provence, Aix shows some interesting hints of wild fruits and light, spicy herbs.
Notable: The newest Doyenne projects are Métier blanc and Métier rouge. The former, a Viognier-chardonnay blend, is loaded with pretty white peach, pear, and grapefruit, fresh and floral. The Métier rouge (half grenache and a quarter each mourvèdre and syrah) is a Washington Chateauneuf-du-wannabe. It’s a glorious effort, with a massive nose of charcuterie, wild herb, mint, and spicy plum. Concentrated and polished, it sets Doyenne on a path to join McCrea as this state’s premier Rhône specialist.
DeLille is not a winery to rest on its laurels. The winery's Chaleur Estate Red and White are industry icons; the D2 an exemplary second-tier red (in the tradition of a Carruades de Lafite). A new vineyard, Grand Ciel, is causing a buzz already for its much anticipated red wine. But somewhat lost amid all the excitement is DeLille's Harrison Hill Red, from one of this state's oldest cabernet plantings. The 2003 Harrison Hill ($68) shows you why old vines are so treasured; it's a paradigm of finesse and silky grace. Cherry, brambleberry, plummy fruit and exotic spices light up the flavors through a long, delicious finish.
Check out the awards and acclaim our wines have received, click here.