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Uncorked: Temperature shifts help balance Washington wine

Ned Morris is the winemaker at Basel Cellars in Walla Walla, Washington.
Ned Morris is the winemaker at Basel Cellars in Walla Walla, Washington.

Dramatic temperature swings in the fall mean Ned Morris could show up to work in shorts and a polo and leave wearing jeans and a sweatshirt.

The Basel Cellars general manager and winemaker was introduced to the wine through the restaurant industry. As a sommelier, Morris sought out wines with an acidic backbone that could compliment meals. The desert of eastern Washington is the ideal location for Morris, who has relished the opportunity to make balanced wines from estate vineyards. 

Winemaker spotlight

Just like Morris, who adds layers of clothes at night in the fall, the vines at Basel Cellars also undergo a transformation. 

While the cold might force Morris to add a sweatshirt, the Basel Cellars' vines are busy losing layers. With daytime highs in the 80s and nighttime lows in the 40s, the vines undergo a dramatic physical change. 

In the sunshine they are able to ripen and add sugar. But as the temperatures rapidly descend and night falls, the grapes develop a crisp acidic balance. It's the best of both worlds: Wines with New World-style fruit development and Old World-style acidity.

"Eastern Washington is so unique," Morris said. "There is no place like it in the world. The winemakers here have done a great job of embracing our climate and terroir. The wines from Walla Walla show a great sense of place. Our climate is so northern it is on line with Bordeaux. But we get more sun and cooler nights which is like the Rhone Valley." 

Because of his experience in the restaurant industry, where Morris sought to marry food with the perfect wine, Basel Cellars has a balanced portfolio. 

"The acidity we get from our nighttime temperatures makes our mine more European in style," Morris said. "Wine should enhance the experience of a meal. My training as a sommelier helps me focus on restraint as a winemaker." 

What to buy

Basel Cellars, Merriment, Walla Walla Valley 2007 ($36): Dark fruit, mocha and espresso notes expertly minglein this wine. There's a big mouthfeel that's held together by a crisp acidity and rocky minerality. This drinks like a special occasion wine at an amazing price. 

"Merriment represents the best of our vineyards," Morris said. 

Basel Cellars, Claret, Pheasant Run Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley 2009 ($15): This entry-level wine is perfect for a weeknight dinner. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc and Syrah has cassis and dark chocolate notes, a velvety mouth feel and a gamey backbone from the Syrah. 

"We want our entry wine to drink like a $40 wine," Morris said. "We want that kind of value to translate to our whole lineup. We want to blow you away with our quality for the value." 

Wine 101 

Basel Cellars is a certified sustainable estate that also is salmon friendly. It's a certification that ensures the sensitive salmon-breeding grounds in the Pacific Northwest won't be harmed through farming.  

• James Nokes writes a bi-weekly wine column for the Daily Chronicle. He’s been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Contact him at

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