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Washington Wine Month Stop #25: Rotie Cellars

No Rottweiler lovers, Rotie Cellars is not a winery dedicated to the Rottweiler breed.

Our 25th stop on our Washington Winery tour simply loves the Rhone Valley and started Rotie Cellars as a tribute to the region.

For all Rhone lovers, this is a stop not to be missed.

About the Winery:

Rotie Cellars was born out of a desire to pay homage to the wines of the Rhone Valley. From the deep and complex Syrah-Viognier blends of the Northern Rhone, to the sultry GSM’s of the South, the renowned region offers a wealth of inspiration.

Since 2007, winemaker and owner Sean Boyd’s goal has been to make traditional Rhone blends in Washington State. Boyd’s winemaking philosophy is simple – combine old world winemaking techniques with the highest quality Rhone varietals that Washington has to offer. Boyd sources from some of the best and oldest vineyards in the state in an effort to showcase the most elegant blend possible, while ensuring the typicity of the fruit is expressed.

Each year a new vintage of the Northern and Southern red and white blends is released, bringing different attributes of the growing season to the table. The Northern Blend is a savory companion to the Southern Blend, a rounded trifecta of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. Always stainless steel fermented, Rotie’s whites are crisp, bright, and the perfect pairing to raw oysters and fresh seafood. On truly exceptional years, a vintage of varietal wines may be released, such as Grenache and Mourvedre.

Rotie’s program is small and focused, and production limited. Each lot is individually attended to, allowing for an uncompromising approach to quality.

About the Winemaker:

Before moving into the wine industry Boyd worked in Oil & Gas Exploration as a field geologist for roughly 10 years. His work entailed huge jobs that define project management, needless to say after long days, the nights usually ended with a bottle of wine.

Wine with Boyd is personal. “There is no right or wrong, you might like something that I can’t stand and vice-versa. The fun part is figuring out what you like. One constant for me has been Rhone varietals.”

Rotie Cellars was founded to pay homage to the wines that Boyd loves — those of the Rhone Valley.  Washington’s climate happens to be almost perfect for growing Rhone varietals, namely, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, and others. With such great ingredients Roite and Washington State has the potential to rival the storied wines of the Rhone Valley.

Yet many wines made in Washington are made with a different philosophy. Many winemakers focus on what they know and what they’ve been taught. Like a family tree of learning, one winemaker learns from another and so our techniques are passed on down the line. In Boyd’s opinion, this can be limiting and result in a homogeneous selection of wines.

Boyd’s idea is to make French-style Rhone Blends right here in Washington. To him this means less alcohol, less ripeness, and less oak. No manipulation. “My goal is to make beautiful, graceful wines. I started this venture to make the wines I like to drink, and share them with others. Come taste our wines.”

Their Winemaking Ethos:

The whole point of Rotie Cellars is to make traditional Rhone Blends with Washington State fruit. So what do traditional Rhone blends mean? To start with, they mean lower alcohol, less ripe, less oak, balanced, finesse driven, mouth coating wines.

So how is this done? As with most vague questions there are complex, lengthy answers but without writing a book, here are the basics:

•    Finding vineyard sites that mature as late as possible with brix levels no greater than 24.5.

•    Understanding that 90 percent of making wine occurs within the vineyard. For Boyd this means finding smart vineyard managers that listen to his goals and do everything in their power to achieve his vision. “For me, tasting grapes on the vine, while plotting data points of Brix, Ph, and TA every week plays a crucial role. Then as pick times near, I continue to plot the same points every other day, making it easy to see patterns.”

•    Not messing up the 10 percent we, as winemakers, control. “For example, I like Grenache that tastes like Grenache. Grenache by nature is light in color, lean, bright, and spicy. So, I am not going to disrespect it by co-fermenting it with Syrah to extract color and mess up its beauty.” All of Rotie’s vineyard sources possess a unique beauty. Boyd believes that it’s not his place to alter this beauty. The finesse of winemaking is making complimentary blends from contrasting sites. Subsequently, the addition of wood also needs to enhance the profile rather than overpower it.  “Personally, I like 15-20 percent new oak on dark syrahs and only second fills or less on lighter Grenache or Cinsault.” Finally, temperature of fermentations, lees management, and stems need to be utilized in most cases for added viscosity and mouth feel.

•    Understanding that wine-making is a constant learning process, where no vintage is the same. Each year the weather patterns dramatically affect the outcome of the vintage. “My knowledge and skills as a winemaker are ever-evolving, and I love the challenge each vintage brings.”
These wines are not meant for grocery store shelves, but rather they need to be cellared as they are still evolving in bottle.

About the Vineyards:

The Rocks SJR

Steve Robertson began growing in 2007 and has had nothing but success in his vineyard. Now he and his daughter, Brooke Robertson, manage the vineyard together. Their land is located on “the rocks,” which is quickly becoming one of the premiere grape growing areas within the Walla Walla AVA. The rocky soil and the heat that is trapped on the valley floor in the winter gives the grapes enough stress but also enough focus on the fruit for a great combination. The vineyard is LIVE Sustainable Certified.

Grape Usage – The Syrah and Viognier are cofermented to create the Northern Blend.


Snipes Mountain rises up in the middle of the Yakima Valley, just southwest of Sunnyside, Washington. The odd formation of the hill and the soil compilation of Snipes Mountain were caused by the ancient Columbia River route and the rerouting of the river by the Missoula Floods. The soils of Snipes Mountain AVA are dominated by fist- and melon-sized river rock, intersected by a fine silty soil, and interspersed with basalt rock and gravel. The vineyards that now belong to the Newhouses’ began to be planted between 1914 and 1917. Now there are more than 700 acres of wine grapes at Upland Estates.

Grape Usage – The grenache and mourvedre is used in the Southern Blend. The syrah is cofermented with viognier from Dwelley to make the Northern blend.


Nestled against the Blue Mountains on a sweeping rise that looks West over the city of Walla Walla, this spot is a gem for growing vines. It is a twenty acre oasis of vines amidst hills of ripening wheat throughout the summer. The site is warm, and sitting up on the hills, is above the early frost pockets. The fruit is able to hang in order to complete flavor development. The soil is Walla Walla silt loam and is over 200 feet deep before gravel appears. Vine rows are watered on only one side to assure vine stress resulting in very small berries and moderate cane growth. Leaves are thinned the second week of September for good sun exposure on the fruit. Clusters are pruned to one or two clusters per cane to encourage fruit maturation during the critical period before harvest.

Grape Usage – The Syrah and Viognier are cofermented to make the Northern Blend.


A perfect confluence for grape growing in the Yakima Valley. A gradual sloping, south facing, cool climate allows the perfect conditions for ripening and then long hanging times. The 240 acre vineyard is located just outside of Prosser. The soils are great for stressing the vines a little bit because the topsoil is not very deep.

Grape Usage – Syrah is used in both Northern and Southern Blends.

Alder Ridge

Alder Ridge is set atop a series of arid, sparsely vegetated ridges that shoot up nearly 1000 feet at their highest point above the great river below. The view is breathtaking – the bounty, endless. This hot landscape receives just 5 inches of rain each year, on average, and it’s precisely this climate and the steep, south-facing slopes that make Alder Ridge the perfect spot for growing high quality, heat loving wine grapes. The huge river below acts as an insulator and keeps the surrounding hills safe from most sudden changes in weather.

Grape Usage – The Grenache and Mourvedre are used in the Southern Blend. The Marsanne and Rousanne are used in the Southern White.


The vineyard was hit hard by the Thanksgiving 2010 frost. There was extensive damage, but with some encouragement much of the Rotie blocks were growing again by summer 2011. At Pepperbridge, the team practices sustainable viticulture, using compost and compost tea for nutrients, as well as leaving ground cover for beneficial bug habnitat. In 1991 potential was realized on the current Pepperbridge site for the amazing Walla Walla Silt Loam soils. The soils are a wind-blown glacial loess that is young and full of minerals. This silt loam contains one-third sand and is very free draining.

Grape Usage – Syrah is used in the Northern and Southern Blends.

Gunkel’s River

A rolling and not easily contained area pushed out into the Columbia River. The river elevation is 164 feet, so the vineyards start less than 30 feet above the Columbia River. Dan Gunkel has found interesting ways to lasso acreage that seem impossible. He uses his background in engineering roadways and runs equipment himself in order to tame large sections of land for growing use.

Grape Usage – Grenache is blended with Mourvedre and Syrah to create the Southern Blend.

Rotie Cellars Tasting Room

31 E. Main Street, Ste. 216
Walla Walla WA 99362


Maddie Shero at

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    Theresa Dillon

    Theresa Dillon
    Theresa Dillon earned her bachelor’s degree in print journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU. In her spare time she enjoys reading, attending concerts, weekly trivia nights, watching movies (especially her favorite The Wizard of Oz), and of course wine.