Winemaker Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen founded W.T. Vintners with the intention of revitalizing the beauty of Burgundian wines in Washington state. In his pursuit to craft a wine that reflects centuries of tradition, this winemaker has been taking strides to prove to himself and the community that, when making a delicious wine, doing less is more. And after enjoying a glass of his own creation with him, I see that his philosophy is one to be emulated.
Lindsay-Thorsen sat across from me in the W.T. Vintners tasting room of the Hollywood District in Woodinville, Wash., and offered me a glass of Syrah as his excitable pup Clarence begged to be pet and chased his tail. With the wine poured, he enthusiastically began to explain how every vintage he creates reflects the vineyard and climate in which the grapes were grown. He wants to make a wine that he would enjoy, and that is also “delicious, that respects and reflects the vintage, the hard work of the grape grower, and brings joy,” says Lindsay-Thorsen.
This holistic growing style is inspired by the times he worked harvests in Burgundy, France, a wine region that motivated him to pursue winemaking. While there, he learned that good winemaking is the result of having the confidence and courage to do less. And for W.T. Vintners, less is more. Every wine is made in a holistic style, wherein the flavor profiles of each bottle vary vintage to vintage based on the natural weather occurrences in the vineyards and how the grapes grow on the vines. He uses little additives, if any, and relies solely on the grape’s natural flavors to be at the forefront of each wine.
In the winery, he engages in meticulous and personal winemaking style. A technique called a ‘punch down’ requires winemakers to gently press fermenting grapes to release juices and color. It is a common practice, typically executed by a machine. Lindsay-Thorsen and his team however, do it differently. “We do everything by foot and hand,” he says. “It’s super gentle and forces you to slow down and be present with every fermentation. When you’re dealing with each fermentation on a more micro level, we’re focusing on the process.” He goes on to add “it takes longer, but we’re doing less. And the end result is wines that don’t taste like everybody else’s wines.”
Lindsay-Thorsen has always had a passion for the vinous industry, but it wasn’t until 2003, when he tasted life-altering Burgundian wines, that he decided to become a winemaker. The night before one of his first sommelier exams, his good friend, a collector of Burgundian wine, brought two bottles to share during dinner. At that point, Lindsay-Thorsen knew that what he was drinking was special. “It was one of the most inspirational tastings I’ve ever had. That totally changed my perception of what wine could be. That’s where my deep love for the wines of Burgundy came from.” Four years later, in 2007, WT Vintners began in a garage, and in the first year they created 50 cases of Syrah.
As the company has matured, so has this winemaker’s confidence. For about four years following the inaugural vintage, he would reach out to winemakers to ask for advice. “For our first four-to-five vintages I had three winemakers on speed dial and would bounce ideas off of them.” But, in 2012 and 2013, he stopped needing to make those calls, and he reminisced on the day when that stopped. “I got a call from a winemaker who said, ‘you didn’t call me.’ ” Lindsay-Thorsen chuckled in response, “I think I got this figured out.” Years later, Lindsay-Thorsen is the one receiving calls from winemakers, asking for his opinion about techniques.
Lindsay-Thorsen is proud of where W.T. Vintners is today because he can see the happiness in every customer. “Without our customers we don’t exist,” he says appreciatively. “And to look around, seeing everyone engaged with the wines and smiling, that makes it totally worth it.”
While he is excited about where the winery is currently, he added that they have a long way to go. “We’re a decade in as a commercial winery and we are in our infancy as far as our potential. What we’re doing and what we’ve achieved so far is cool, but we’re just scratching the surface.”
Lindsay-Thorsen ended our conversation with the same amount of enthusiasm that he started with, explaining that pursuing any passion requires full commitment and striving for nothing less than excellence. As a wine enthusiast, I smiled at his dedication to create delicious wine, and after chatting with him I see nothing less than an artist disguised as a winemaker.
Savor these “sips” from W.T. Vintners
2018 Chenin Blanc Upland | 12.5% ABV | $22
Upland Vineyard, Snipes Mountain AVA, WA (301 cases)
Vines planted in 1979, 75% stainless steel, 25% neutral barrel
2018 Boushey Vineyard Mourvèdre | 13.8 % ABV | $40
Boushey Vineyard, Yakima Valley AVA, WA (146 cases)
100% Mourvèdre, 85% whole cluster
2018 Stoney Vine Syrah | 12.1 % ABV | $49
Stoney Vine Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, OR (149 cases)
100% Syrah, 100% Whole Cluster