ThePourFool

Doug McCrea: A Small Paean and a Large Plea For Ideas

Northwest wine icon, Doug McCrea

I want to make this as brief as possible but I will probably fail.

I have a lot to say about Doug McCrea. Note, right here, that I have actually met him ONE single time and that for about five minutes. We are not buddies, except for a fairly cordial few conversations via Facebook. I have a great deal of respect for him and he knows it…or should, as much as I have belabored the point.

I’ve been a fan and advocate for McCrea Cellars since I tasted my first sip of one, many years ago, while working as a wine steward on Bainbridge Island. At that time – and still, mostly, today – Washington wine was ALL about the five Bordeaux grapes and at least two of those were almost never used. Syrah had not yet “arrived”, even though it was being grown here. Grenache and Mourvedre, those two Rhone Valley brothers of Syrah, were so obscure, here in the PNW, that I once read the program for a tasting called “Obscure Wines from Obscure Grapes”, held in Seattle, back in 2001, and the first four grapes listed were…Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Counoise.

Into this homogenous mass of wineries producing Variations on A Theme, strode some brash weirdo named Doug McCrea. “Brash” is the exact term. He didn’t make wine in any of the state’s anointed hotbeds, starting first in Lake Stevens, about thirty miles north of Seattle, and later moving the operation to Tenino, a tiny hamlet seventy-five miles south of the Emerald City. He produced not ONE Cabernet or Merlot or Cab Franc and need I even say that, just as with every other winemaker in this region, Malbec and Petit Verdot, the other two Bordeaux grapes, were nowhere on the radar. He used those “obscure” grapes, and blends thereof, that the rest of the wine world, outside of America, knew and respected – the varietals originating from France’s Rhone Valley, including every single one of the four headliners at that Obscure Grapes tasting, which were made by only a scant handful of American winemakers, at that time. McCrea, in fact, was responsible or getting Cinsault and Counoise introduced to Washington, working with two of the state’s best growers, Dick Boushey and Jim Holmes, to bring the vines in and do the first-ever plantings of them here.

The Salida Wine Line-up

I’m not going to go into the details about this, because I have a fairly highly developed sense of what is None Of My Business, but just let me say that Doug McCrea has run upon some hard times, lately, which has resulted in the loss of his namesake winery and his second label, Salida Winery, with which he made another bold leap forward: specializing in Spanish varietals like Albariño and Graciano and Tempranillo and the Spanish analogs of Grenache and Mourvedre, Garnacha and Mataro/Monsatrell. ALL of the wines I’ve ever sampled from either McCrea or Salida have been among the best of their types that I’ve tasted from any American producers of those varietals and blends, including that most omnipresent of Washington wine grapes, Syrah, of which McCrea crafted what remains one of the best 100% varietal  versions I’ve found from any WA winery, the towering Cuvee Orleans.

Photo from LuchaVino wine blog

I am not at all concerned with the reasons for McCrea’s losing his winery. Whatever personal shortcomings he may have, whatever legitimate grievances any detractors may have, whatever family or legal facts may pertain, I don’t care any more than I care about anything else that is none of my business. What I care passionately about is this ridiculous notion that, just because somebody screws up, they must lose EVERYTHING, including their ability to make a living at what they’re best at doing; possibly the only thing they know how to do at all. Our collective thirst for vengeance, these days, says something about us as a society that I don’t think many people would like to have said about themselves. I do not even know, in fact, that Doug McCrea did ANYTHING to warrant losing his livelihood. What I DO know is this:

Doug McCrea has earned the respect of winemakers across this entire country, has made an extraordinary and incalculable contribution to whatever Washington wine has evolved into, here in 2018, and has the desire and the skills to achieve even greater things, even in what we might call, for him and for me, the Era of Geezerhood. The idea of a talent for doing anything with the degree of skill and accomplishment and passion and commitment that has marked the entire history of McCrea Cellars and Salida being abruptly severed, and to have that enormous skill and remaining potential lay fallow and never produce another of those little miracles, is absolutely unthinkable to me.

If I could finance a new winery for Doug McCrea, I would do it without a moment’s hesitation. I firmly believe in second chances. I also, quite frankly, expect some pious email from persons unknown, telling me why I should not lift a finger to help generate either sympathy or assistance for Doug McCrea. Such responses to almost any situation in which personal agendae are involved are as common as whack-jobs screaming at people on the streets of New York and every bit as unflattering to those who write them. I can say that any such message communicated to me will be deleted, unread. This is not about personalities or wounded feelings. For me, this isn’t even totally about Doug McCrea. What is IS about is the health and continued growth and evolution of the Washington wine culture, which is FAR more vibrant and energized with McCrea in it.

I don’t know what the answer is because I was just notified this morning that Doug McCrea is still around and still interested in making wine. I haven’t even had time to think about it from a productive or creative angle. But if it involves crowd-sourced funding, seeking out investors, forming a consortium, begging, or tapping rich relatives, I am willing to do anything within my power to help insure that we have another ten or fifteen or twenty or whatever years to enjoy the next new vintage from a man who has produced wines unlike any made in this state. Someone whose intellectual curiosity, married to a passionate interest in pushing a rather complacent wine culture a bit outside its comfy box, and has devoted literal decades to changing the way we Northwesterners think about wine, is worth a hand up. I don’t really understand crowd-sourced fund-raising, so if anyone does and would like to help, contact me and I’ll provide more contact information, so we can talk further. If anyone knows of an investor who would enjoy the challenges of building a new winery – and not even from the ground up, because this is NOT one of those cases in which a novice winemaker is going to learn on the job for five to eight years – I’d appreciate a heads-up or a contact number. The email link for this website is on the welcome page and I check it at least daily.

In fact, I haven’t even asked Doug McCrea if he is interested in partners or investors or 942 total strangers pitching in some bucks in return for wine discounts for ten years to life. Like I said, Doug and I are not bosom buddies. I don’t even have a phone number for him. But, to me, the sheer, unconscionable waste involved in the last vintage he made at McCrea/Salida being the last wine any of us ever tastes from him offends my sense of economy and fairness and karmic balance. This is every bit as much a matter of preservation of our resources as is repurposing a grand old building or laying off using pesticides or turning off the spigot when you’re not watering your lawn. It’s about WASTE; the deliberate squandering of potential and talent and pleasures that all of us would treasure in the future.

I don’t have the answer for what is going to become of Doug McCrea, winemaker extrordinaire…but even if it is sticking my nose in where it doesn’t belong…I plan to find it or help in any way I can to bring it about.