Big Dipper Chronicles: The Making of Northstar Premier
Join us behind the scenes of the “Big Dipper Project.” The goal: to produce Washington’s best Merlot.
Beginning with the 2009 harvest, award-winning writer Leslie Kelly leads readers through the life cycle of this special wine, originally project-named “The Big Dipper,” and now officially named Northstar Premier. Guided by Northstar winemaker David “Merf” Merfeld and his team in the vineyards, cellar, and tasting room, the Big Dipper Chronicles will give readers an inside look at the making of what we hope will become a favorite, sought-after wine.
Select a Chapter
Consumers and critics agree: Northstar Winery in Walla Walla makes great Merlot. So, how do you make a great wine even better?
At wineries around the globe, harvest means a dramatic rush of picking, sorting, fermenting, punching down and pressing. The stage is set with shiny tanks and hoses moving grapes from the sorting table to the tank, while forklifts doing a mobile mambo lift bins of fruit.
Winter is typically the quiet season for wineries. The adrenalin-pumping rush of harvest fades, the palate-staining pleasure of tasting and blending begins. Visitors find there’s plenty of elbow room at the bar in the tasting room.
The Big Dipper is right on track, and the 2009 wines that winemaker David “Merf” Merfeld has handpicked for this project are exceeding his great expectations.
The curious are already clamoring for a taste of Big Dipper, the Northstar project launched in 2009 to showcase the superstar potential of Washington state’s best Merlot.
When telling any compelling story, it’s natural to recap the action about halfway through. Readers get a chance to reconnect with the plot and the characters. The fires are stoked in anticipation for a thrilling conclusion.
It’s often said great wine is made in the vineyard, the culmination of well-tended fruit, a fine growing season and careful clone selection. Not to mention the enigmatic factor known as terroir.
When it comes to understanding terroir, nothing beats a field trip to one of Washington’s famous vineyards
Standing under the blazing August sun in a block of Merlot at Klipsun Vineyard in the Red Mountain AVA, a group of wine writers from across the country listened intently to Russell Smithyman, Director of Viticulture for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, talk about the unique makeup of the soil, a historic remnant of the cataclysmic flooding that took place more than 10,000 years ago. .
On a warm, slightly hazy morning in early September 2011, the special 2009 “best-of-the-best” Merlot known as the Big Dipper made a short journey from oak barrels to tanks, then through hoses into a mobile bottling unit where it filled label-free “shiners.” That’s because its official name was still up in the air.
Celebrations – even if it’s just marking the end of a hectic week – call for a trip to the wine cellar. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as pulling the cork on a bottle that’s been aging for a few years, and finding the wine’s complexity and character has concentrated over time. While most bottles these days are consumed shortly after purchase, some wine is made to be enjoyed after spending some time in the cellar.