Quilceda Creek: One of the American Classics
Among the few industries in the United States that have survived all the shifts in generations, technology, fashion, social change, wars, industrial advances, collapse, and rebirth, few have done so as well as wine. The first Europeans to explore the United States around 1000, Vikings, called it Vinland due to the incredible quantity of grapes they found growing there. In the 1560’s, French Huguenots made the first recorded wines, in what would now be Jacksonville, Florida. The early colonies in Virginia and the Carolinas included winemaking as a goal in their charters, and finding the native varietals unsatisfactory, began bringing over Vitis Vinifera in the early 1600’s. In 1787 the first commercial winery was founded in Pennsylvania. In 1920, Protestant lobbyists and social progressives managed to pass the Volstead Act, resulting in 13 years of devastating prohibition. And still, the industry not only persevered, but grew.
“Simply put, Quilceda Creek makes brilliant wines in virtually every vintage since 1979; an unbroken, unparalleled track record of excellence in Washington State.”
-Paul Gregutt, Washington Wines & Wineries
Washington State also has the reputation of being a young wine region, yet the first vines were planted in 1825, almost 200 years ago. The explanation for this misconception likely stems from the fact that the wineries were remote and almost completely overlooked by any critics. The first shift began in the late 1970’s when a few wineries began to garner serious attention. Wine & Spirits Buying Guide selected the 1978 Leonetti Cabernet as the best American Cabernet of the year, featuring it on the cover photo. And in 1979, another seminal winery was got its start, Quilceda Creek.
Quilceda Creek also has its share of history. Going back a few generations will lead you to Prince Lev Sergeyevich, who was the acclaimed winemaker to Czar Nicholas II (1868-1918). Another relative, Prince Nikolay Dmitriyevich Galitzine, was the last prime minister of Czarist Russia. Alex's father changed the spelling of the family name from "Galitzine" when they migrated. Founding winemaker, Alex Golitzin, was born in France in 1939, and he can still remember when American soldiers arrived in Paris to end the German occupation.
After the war, Alex’s uncle, André Tchelistcheff, sponsored his family and brought them to the United States. Tchelistscheff, of course is a legend of American wine, having made his name as winemaker for Beaulieu Vineyard from 1938-1973, and influencing generations of winemakers. After his time at BV he consulted for a number of wineries, including Chateau Ste. Michelle, and it was during this time that he convinced his nephew Alex to turn his winemaking hobby into a commercial venture.
Starting with the 1979 vintage, Quilceda Creek was launched. By the mid-80’s they were becoming critically acclaimed by budding wine writer, Robert Parker. In the late 1980’s, Alex’s son Paul came on board and suggested that they attempt a reserve style of Cabernet Sauvignon, starting with the 1988 vintage. This is the shift that catapulted the winery into universal critical acclaim and established Quilceda Creek as one of the finest wineries in the world.
In 1993, Paul Golitzin assumed the role of head winemaker and continues to this day producing the wines for Quilceda Creek. Under his lead, the wines have received four 100 point scores from Robert Parker, they were twice selected as the #2 wine in the Wine Spectator Top 100, they have been praised by Jancis Robinson, Stephen Tanzer, and many other critics, and they are now some of the most sought after and difficult wines to get.
History is an amazing thing- fascinating, and enriching- but it doesn’t always lead to an interesting present. Sometimes wineries fade, fall off, and all we are left with is history and nostalgia. On the flip side, wineries like Quilceda Creek have only improved and refined what they built almost four decades earlier. They are producing the finest wines yet, and that hunger for perfectionism drives them with each new vintage. With a history of princes, legends, and acclaim, they could easily ride on their name alone for years to come like many have before, but the Golitzin family is not the kind to do this. To make the greatest wine possible requires something different each vintage, and Quilceda Creek remains intent on figuring it out. They have an impressive past, certainly, but not nearly as exciting as their future.