Mindful Winemaking in Washington State

Musician-turned-winemaker Michael Savage hits a high note in the Columbia Gorge.
Photo by Orshi Kiss

Michael Savage, owner and winemaker at Savage Grace, is making a splash in his home state with vineyard-driven wines that show freshness, purity and restraint. We sit down for a one-on-one.

How did you come up with the name, Savage Grace?

It’s a combination of my last name and my wife’s first name. But more than that, it represents what I’m going for in the wines, which is a minimalist but thoughtful approach to the winemaking—with the goal of making graceful wines. The “savage” part was also sort of a reaction against a lot of the way that I saw wine being made, where there’s kind of a list of ingredients. I don’t want to make wines that way. I try not to make any adjustments in the winery, but instead make changes in the vineyard.

Your wines are often lower in alcohol than the norm in the state. Is that a stylistic decision and, if so, what drives it?

I’m trying to make wines that reflect a specific place in Washington. I generally do prefer lower-alcohol wines, but it’s more of an outcome of trying not to adjust the wines in the winery. In order to have acid in the grapes, I need to pick earlier. Lower alcohol also usually means it’s going to go with food better and be more balanced for drinking, which is important to me. I want to make wines that pair with food.

“When I find the right vineyard, there’s so much complexity without needing to add anything.”

Tell me about your winemaking philosophy and how that’s reflected in the wines.

I’m trying to showcase wines that are vineyard-, varietal- and fermentation-driven. When I find the right vineyard, there is so much complexity without needing to add anything else to the package. New oak would just get in the way, so it’s not even a consideration for most of the wines that I’m making.

Why did you choose the Columbia Gorge appellation for your Riesling and Pinot Noir?

The Columbia Gorge is a great place for really crisp whites and reds. It’s one of the cooler appellations in the state and a lot of the vineyards there are not irrigated, which I think particularly helps increase the quality of the Pinot Noir.

Your labels are striking, with one solid, strong color. Is there any meaning behind the color palette?

I like clean, clear labels, but I also use the color scheme to give some hint about the wine inside. For example, for the Cabernet Franc, that leafy green color on the label to me is like the earthy, green flavors that make Cabernet Franc so interesting.

You’re a musician, playing guitar and piano. Do you find similarities between music and wine?

Music was one of the more important parts of my life for a long time, though it has sort of transitioned into wine now. I play guitar and piano, and also have a studio. A lot of what I do in wine, I learned through recording…learning how to not mess with things and trying to keep an honesty to what you’re starting with, whether it’s a vineyard or a song.

Published on September 7, 2016
Topics: Wine Enthusiast Q+A
About the Author
Sean P. Sullivan
Contributing Editor

Reviews wines from Washington and Idaho

In addition to his work at Wine Enthusiast, Sean P. Sullivan is the founder of Washington Wine Report, a site dedicated to the wines and wineries of the Pacific Northwest that has twice been named ‘Best Single Subject Wine Blog’ by the Wine Blog Awards. Sullivan has authored over 100 print articles on Northwest wine. He resides in Seattle, Washington.

Email: ssullivan@wineenthusiast.net.




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