Brad Binko only just started his winery, Eternal Wines in 2014, but he already has a second label, Drink Washington State Wines. Stop by his tasting room in downtown Walla Walla at 9 South 1st Avenue (just a couple of doors down from Sweet Basil Pizza) to taste his dazzling array of whites and reds. Brad will be pouring his wines at CBRC Tennis in Richland, WA on June 9th and at the Grand Syrah Tasting in Walla Walla on June 16th. Don’t miss out on his fabulous winemaker dinner at the Point Casino in Kingston, WA on September 21st. To read Part One of this interview, click here. Part Two can be found here.
WALLA WALLA WINE LIMO: Can you talk about the unique community among winemakers and the wineries here in Walla Walla?
BRAD BINKO: It’s unreal. It’s amazing. So supportive. It’s awesome. It’s unlike any other community ever. It really is. If you need something or you have a question, you can ask people and they’ll give you an honest answer. That just doesn’t happen in other communities. You don’t see the CEO of McDonalds asking the CEO of Burger King how to make burgers (laughs).
WWWL: And it doesn’t seem like they have that kind of community in other wine regions. People elsewhere would be like, “He’s my competitor, I can’t help him!”
BRAD: That’s because it’s not competitive in a cutthroat kind of way. Sure, there’s a certain competitiveness which comes with wanting to make the best wine.
WWWL: You of course want to get better scores, better reviews than your buddies.
BRAD: Sure, but if you’re making good wine, I’ll support you. I don’t care if the wine got an 88 or a 94. It doesn’t matter to me. If you’re a good person and you’re making good wine I’ll support it.
WWWL: Talk about the wines you like to drink when you’re not at work. What’s in your wine cellar?
BRAD: Most of my cellar is early 2000s Napa Cabs. That’s kind of what I’ve been getting into lately. They don’t suck (laughs).
WWWL: What producers?
BRAD: I’m a big fan of Arrowood. Nickel and Nickel is good. I like the Robert Sinskey wines. Old school producer, those are good values. I’ve also got a couple of old ones from Dominus, a couple hundred pointers that I’m sitting on, waiting for the right time to open them.
WWWL: 100 pointers!
BRAD: 100 point wines, yes. I mean, what does 100 point wine taste like?
WWWL: Well, that’s a perfect score, so the wine should be perfect I guess! My problem with wines over a certain price point is that there’s just too much room to be disappointed. For that kind of money I want the wine to wash my car, do the dishes…the expectations are so high.
BRAD: Sure, the wine should also give you a massage and put you to bed! I hear ya.
WWWL: Tell us about some of your current releases. They’re not distributed, right?
BRAD: I’m self-distributed actually. That means I’m making every contact myself, hand-delivering every case of wine personally. That’s what keeps me on the road so often. Trips to Seattle, Spokane and all over the state.
WWWL: You’re the hardest working guy in wine!
BRAD: (laughs) I’ll take that. Maybe I should start marketing that
WWWL: So with the self-distribution it’s not exactly what one would call “widely distributed” I suppose.
BRAD: True. There’s literally like a place in Renton and a place in Everett and a place in Kent that you can find my wine.
WWWL: You’ve got a white wine, a Roussanne, that sells for $40! That’s pretty unique. You don’t see many whites in that price range. But it’s selling well.
BRAD: The Roussanne does well. It got great scores, it’s won awards. It’s been a good wine for me. It sells mostly at the tasting room. I babysat that wine for two years – nobody babysits a white wine for two years! That just doesn’t happen. I get excited doing different things, trying new things.
WWWL:So when you say you “babysat” the wine you mean that you refined it, made changes to it to get it to where it’s how you wanted it?
BRAD: That’s right. It spent two years in the barrel. Every month I top my wines, sometimes every two weeks in the offseason. When I do that, I stir the barrels and the lees get stirred up. It creates a bigger, broader mouth feel.
WWWL: And eventually it tasted like you had envisioned?
BRAD: It’s a fun transformation, it really is. At first it tastes vibrant and fresh and spicy, kind a racy wine. And over time it mellows and it gets these big broad, nutty characteristics. “Oh hello, you’re so much more than I thought you could be”. It’s a fun wine.
WWWL: That’s a good story. Have you had a wine where you made a lot of changes and no matter what you did, you just couldn’t get it right?
BRAD: For sure. I had that happen with my Red Mountain Cab. It was a wine that I had a battle with I guess. It was the most expensive fruit I had bought and I had a vision for what it could be. But it just wasn’t turning out like that by itself, so the fruit ended up going into my Rocketman Red. It ended up working out fine, but I had to blend it with some other things. So the Rocketman Red ended up being a better value than I had planned, but that’s OK.
WWWL: With all the wines you make, you’re sourcing grapes from many many vineyards. What kind of research goes into deciding where you’re gonna buy your grapes from?
BRAD: Honestly, it’s a lot of tasting wine. It’s about tasting wine from that wineyard, cause if you taste wine from that vineyard and it’s big and bold and tannic and you’re trying to make a fruit-forward “finesse wine” maybe you’re looking in the wrong place (laughs). It’s just not gonna work. But seriously, you’ve gotta taste the wine, you’ve gotta taste the soil.
WWWL: It helps that you’ve got a sophisticated palette, you’ve tasted a lot of really good wine.
BRAD: Definitely. That helps a lot. Sometimes I’ll brainstorm, taste the wine and if I know who made it, I might get in touch and talk to them and ask them about the grapes from certain years, find out what they liked and what they didn’t like. I’ll try to find out as much as I can before I start making the wine because once you start making the wine it’s on a path and you want it to stay on that path as long as possible.
WWW: So when you’re talking to the people from a particular vineyard and they’re asking a certain price for their grapes, how do you know that that’s a good value? How did you learn whether or not buying particular grapes is a good deal?
BRAD: Experience and tasting the wine. It really comes down to tasting the wine from winemakers you trust, ones that you respect and you can understand what they’re doing. It all really comes down to tasting the wine. It’s as simple as that. If you’re tasting a lot of Red Mountain Cabernet and it’s tasting really good to you, well guess what, don’t go to Snipes Mountain for Cabernet, go to Red Mountain!
WWWL: Tell us about your Carmenere.
BRAD: It’s a fun wine. I had noticed that people in Walla Walla were really loving Carmenere and loving different varietals. One of the most unique things about Walla Walla is that t’s not just about Cab, Merlot and Syrah. Those are great, but the wine buyers and drinkers in Walla Walla want something different, they want to taste something new. Carmenere is a great grape. It’s food-friendly and it’s got a great story behind it. It does well in Walla Walla. There’s just a handful of producers that are bottling single vineyard Carmenere in Walla Walla. I’m enjoying seeing that and I wanted to be part of it.
WWWL: The problem I’ve always had with Carmernere is that they’re all $45+ and to me it’s not such an approachable wine right off the bat. It seems like more of an acquired taste – and it’s hard to acquire that taste when the entry-level wines of that varietal are that expensive. But your Drink Washington State Carmenere is just $26. At that price point, it was a lot easier for me to develop a taste for it.
BRAD: That’s cool. That’s the great thing about the Drink Washington State wines. Even though it’s bigger production, I’m gonna do some smaller lots of different things and people like that. I like that. I don’t think I’d be happy if I didn’t make each wine varietal at least once.
WWWL: There’s an interesting story behind your Rocketman Red. You picked all that fruit yourself, right?
BRAD: Yes, me and a few buddies from the EV program went out and picked the fruit ourselves. Typically I’d buy the fruit and I’d pick it up after it had already been picked. But all the grapes that went into that bottling of the Rocketman Red, we went out to the vineyards and picked ourselves.
WWWL: So how would you know which grapes to pick and which ones not to pick?
BRAD: That’s something you learn in the wine program. We were taught what to pick and what not to pick, how to identify diseases and such. Going out and picking the grapes ourselves was not only fun, but part of the learning curve.
WWWL: Kind of like a class trip!
BRAD: (laughs) Yup. We went up to Gamache Vineyard, about an hour and a half from here and loaded up three truckloads.
WWWL: So there’s no wine you won’t make?
WWWL: So when’s your White Zinfandel coming out?
BRAD: I can guarantee I won’t be making White Zinfandel! Barbera and Pinot Grigio are two others I probably won’t make. Too acidy to me. But you never know. I had a customer once who all he drank was White Zinfandel. I tried as hard as I could to get him into other wines, whites, reds, everything, but it didn’t work. That’s when I realized that some people just don’t want to be saved!