Brennon Leighton: Efeste's Tattoed Artist

Photo by Julien Perry
The Watering Hole: Efeste Winery, 19730 144th Ave. N.E., (425) 398-7200. WOODINVILLE

The Atmosphere: The tasting room, built in 2008, is a sleek, super fun and casual, come as you are, we can't wait to pour you our wines-type of space that truly feels like a living room. You know, if your living room was equipped with a pizza oven, a plasma TV, a lighted wine bottle display case and a private events facility inside a barrel room. It leans towards masculine, but ladies will love it, too. During the holidays, its personality is even more beaming, trimmed with trees, sparkling baubles, gauzy lights, and an air of holiday cheer that you usually only find by crawling inside a big bottle of booze.

The Barkeep Winemaker: Brennon Leighton. He's been the winemaker at Efeste since 2007. And just a few months ago, one of his wines, the 2008 Jolie Bouche Syrah, ranked #15 on Wine Spectator's list of the top 100 wines of 2011. In 2009, another one of his wines, the 2006 Ceidleigh (KAY-lee) Syrah from Red Mountain made the list as well. So, you know, he knows what he's doing. But the man himself? His story is even more impressive.

Photo by Julien Perry
The first thing you'll notice about Leighton (if he's not bundled up) is his tattoos. He has a lot of them. They span the length of his neck to his forearms. And those are just the ones I could see. They serve, perhaps, as a symbol of how he's left his mark on society since growing up in the dregs of Santa Cruz.

He moved to Seattle twice. The first time was in 1990, "I needed to get away from a few things," says Leighton. He squatted in a building off of Rainier Ave. for eight months while he worked at Piecora's. After saving up enough money, he moved into a house in the Central District. "This was when Seattle University was like an island in the middle of hell. The soccer field used to be some sort of dump and it was quarantined as hazardous waste, but there was no fence around it. There were just these warning signs. They had this big pile of trash and I remember being so drunk one time I climbed up on this pile of crap and fell asleep. I woke up the next morning, staring at the stars just going, 'Oh my God. What am I doing?' That's when I started to get my shit together."

"Before I turned 25 I never thought I was going to live to see 25, so when I hit that age I totally flipped out about everything. I broke up with my girlfriend and quit my band all in one week. I turned my world upside down. I went back to school and started taking classes at Seattle Central."

It was around that time that Leighton got a job downtown at The Brooklyn, which is where he discovered wine. "I got totally turned onto wine and got super geeky about it. Then I got a job at [the now closed] Bandoleone. I actually put their initial wine list together. One of the owners was a French chick who was fucking nuts and her and I got into it one night and the next day I was fired. After that I bartended at Palace Kitchen. And then by that time, I was finished taking classes at Seattle Central and transferred down to UC Davis in Sacramento."

Leighton spent years earning his degree from their prestigious Viticulture and Enology school. He came back to Seattle in 2001 to work as the Enologist at Chateau St. Michelle. "Within the first two months the assistant winemaker quit and so I basically took that role, along with the Enologist role, through the first crush. And then right after, the winemaker quite so all of the sudden for like eight months, I'm like everything. My learning curve was so huge."

He came to Efeste in 2007. "I felt this was a good avenue to have opportunities which, for me, include becoming one of the best winemakers in the world."

A quick note: Efeste is pronounced F.S.T. It's the first letter of the last initial of the three owner phonetically spelled out: Ferrelli, Smith, Taylor.

The Drink: Leighton pours me the 2010 Lola Chardonnay. "In general, I tend to like to drink white wines," he tells me. "You can generally drink more of it without feeling like shit the next day."

Lola has been a part of the Efeste family since 2008. "We only made a little over 100 cases and sold out within a week. All the fruit comes from Evergreen vineyard which is probably my favorite white wine vineyard in the state. If you've ever been to the Gorge Amphitheater and you drank too much or taken too much and wandered off into the wilderness, you might have found yourself in this vineyard."

Who is Lola?

"Lola is [owner] Daniel 'Big Poppa' Farelli's granddaughter. And she's a little cutie."

"The only problem is," chimes in Ferrelli, "I have eight grandchildren, so we need more wines to name after all of them!"

"So, this wine is just high acid," Leighton picks up where he left off. "It has lots of focus, it's not over-oaked, it's not super buttery, it's just one of those really nice drinkable wines. And the 2009 got 96 points [from Wine Spectator] which is the highest scoring dry white wine in the history of Washington State."

A bottle of Lola is about $30 and it's not easy to find. If you want some, order it through Efeste.

The Verdict: I love this wine. It's a wine that makes you salivate for more. It has a wonderful weight to it, but not out of balance to the acid. It's also got some savory components like lemon thyme, but has just enough sweetness to make it a worthy mid-day treat.

Efeste tasting room.
The tasting room is open Fri-Sun, 12p-5p. It costs $10 which is refundable on any purchase over $35. The tasting includes five wines, typically two whites and three reds. Two of the owners are always pouring, so you get to meet Dan Ferrelli and Patrick Smith who are awesome guys.

"The sad thing about wine is that there's this perceived pretension because of some of the aficionados who drink wine," says Leighton. "But typically the people in the industry themselves are not. Wine is just like food: it's your palate, your perception, and no one can tell you that you like something or you don't. Taste everything. Don't come into a tasting room with preconceived ideas of what you think something should be. I typically enjoy tasting with people who are far more open minded than the aficionados who come in and say, 'Oh, I only drink cabs.' Really? Are you kidding me? Drink the wines!"

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