News & Reviews 2016

Wine Enthusiast | November 2016

Rotie Cellars was awarded some outstanding scores in the November 2016 Wine Enthusiast, including a lofty 94 pointsfor the 2014 Northern Blend. We are honored.

94 2014 Northern Blend Editors’ Choice
93 2014 Southern Blend Editors’ Choice
91 2015 Southern White Editors’ Choice

Rotie Cellars was awarded some very high scores in the November 2016 Wine Enthusiast, including a lofty 94 points for the 2014 Northern Blend

Washington Wine Report | Wines of the Month, October 2016

Sean Sullivan, October 25, 2016

Rotie Cellars Northern Blend Washington State 2014 $48
This wine is a big time winner from Rotie. Aromas of green olive, flowers, blue fruit and earth are followed by rich fruit and earth flavors. It’s as much about feel as flavor.

Rotie Cellars Southern Blend Washington State 2014 $48
Grenaches is out front on this GSM blend. It offers aromas of green herbs and raspberries that lead to ripe, dazzlingly pure fruit and herb flavors.


A very nice review and score from Harvey Steinman at Wine Spectator: 

Sleek and polished, with a spicy apricot edge adding depth to the blackberry and floral flavors, coming together smoothly and showing transparency on the long and expressive finish. Syrah and Viognier. Drink now through 2022. -HS

Sleek and Polished


Washington Wine Blog author Owen Bargreen interviewed Sean in June.

Originally from Tacoma, like many winemakers, Sean Boyd has taken an intriguing path to Rotie Cellars. Previously working as a geologist for ten years in oil and gas exploration, Sean worked his first harvest at Waters Winery in 2004. He decided to start his own winery 2007, focusing solely on Rhone varietals. Sean’s background in soil and mineralology has been a great asset for him. He tends to craft more Old World style Washington Red and White wines, focusing on minimal intervention. Sean started Rotie Cellars in Walla Walla but has recently opened a tasting room near Kerloo and Structure in the SoDo district of Seattle.

Some of his recent bottlings at Rotie are just gorgeous. His 2013 ‘Little g’ Grenache (WWB, 93) is a rich and layered effort that will cellar marvelously. I recently sat down with Sean and talked wine. He was just a delight to talk to as I really liked his straightforward and down to earth style. I think you will really enjoy hearing more about him. Here is my interview with Sean Boyd, owner and head winemaker of Rotie Cellars.

WWB: How did you decide to start Rotie Cellars?

SB: It started being enamored by Rhone wines. I liked the freshness, structure and range within the region then like many things a passion led me blindly into winemaking. I was working for two different winemakers learning 2 very different styles and was figuring what I liked and didn't (2004). After 3 harvest tasting barrels, friends barrels, and friends of friends barrels I started understanding what I liked/didn't out of vineyards and varietals in such a vast growing region with is Washington State/Oregon. In 2007 I convinced my employer to make my own for a reduced salary and Rotie Cellars was born. Walla Walla might be the best place to grow all Whites and Syrahs, and anywhere within the middle part of our state that's planted in rocky, steep relief, and next to a large river is probably the best place to grow Grenache and Mourvedre. Like any passion, or addiction, is that 1 contract leads to 10 and then into our own vineyards. I think we have found one of the best places in the world to grow Rhone varietals and as a region are in our infancy so the future is bright.

WWB: What intrigues you most about the Rocks region? I know you are shifting to having more of your wines from this region. Can you talk about your vine training style and how you expect this training style for the vines at your vineyard to increase extraction, minerality and intensity of your wines?

SB: For me it's the first fingerprint of terroir we have within the state. In blinds you can tell what has rocks district fruit. Many other areas have tell tails but are more focused on heat indices rather than the all-encompassing terroir. The money pit we call a vineyard is one of the best things I have ever done. I wasn't born a farmer or on a vineyard so learning the intricacies has been a challenge but paramount as wine is mostly grown not made. The Rocks District is not without its challenges. We are on low lying land which is susceptible to frost and freeze episodes so burying canes and keeping heads/wood low is how we have choosen grow. Both the Grenache and Syrah are on a hybrid head pruning system, hybrid being we have a trellis to support the weight of Syrah. Syrah is known for flopping and growing major canopies that cannot be kept up without trellising. More to your question the closer to the ground also helps us to grow less wood and focus energy into the ground rather than growing wood. The pruning is 1 cluster/shoot on relatively tight spacing so we are focusing on 6-8 clusters/plant which will develop the concentration and depth we want.

WWB: Your oak treatment in your wines tends to be very minimal. Can you talk about that style of winemaking and the problems that can be associated with using more new oak?

SB: If I won the lottery tomorrow I would buy all the cooperages I love and make my friends use them for a year or two. For me there's popsicle stick tannins in new wood that I can do without. When I'm drinking Rhones I don't want to be chewing on wood. Grenache and Mourvedre need little to no oak while Syrah can benefit from a little more. I'm liking to barrel ferment the whites but that's mainly because Kevin Masterman (Winemaker I work with) has shown me the way.

WWB: One of the best Grenache wines from Washington that I reviewed last year was your 2013 Rotie Cellars 'Little G' Grenache (WWB, 93), that showed incredible character and balance. Can you talk about this fantastic wine?

SB: Yes Little g is one of our favorite kids. Year in and year out this is from a site 40-50' up from the Columbia river just down from Goldendale. It's picked the latest possible in the state in the beginning of November and is hanging at 24.5 Brix. This translates to long hang time with incheck Alcs. Most of our Grenache is coopered in 500L Puncheons so we usually pull out 100-150 cases of this pure Grenache that looks more like a Pinot, yet it has the backbone of Grenache. Here you have the dichotomy between a rugged grape that needs the highest heat indices to produce which is comparable to a temperate varietal that requires the least.  

WWB: You have now released some of your 2014 red and white wines. Are you excited about this hot vintage? Can you talk about how you feel this vintage turned out and how the vintage influenced the wines? How was this vintage different an then new, 2015 vintage?

SB: Number one is we have our estate coming online for Syrah within the Northern Red. We are starting the shift into what will be 100% Rocks District fruit within the 2015 vintage Reds. The barrels are getting darker and deeper so we cannot wait for this transition. Right now we are 70% Rocks District with the remaining 30% coming from higher elevation Walla Walla which helps the acidity. In 2015 we had a hot start to the year yet August and September were cooler than normal which saved us. Hope the same to be true for this year as we are 2 weeks ahead of last year on 5/31 as I write this. 2014 was hot but our Syrah and white vineyards in Walla Walla did very well and our GRE and DRE are from areas near steep relief, wind and large rivers. We are so far North that the diurnal shift helps us to retain the acidity naturally and there are tricks within management that can help retain acidity.


2016 brings many beautiful changes to Rotie Cellars: new plantings, new staff, new SoDo tasting room.

We are pleased to announce that eight acres of Syrah have now come online from our estate vineyard in The Rocks district of Milton Freewater, one of Washington’s newest and most distinct AVA’s. This past fall we harvested 4th leaf Syrah and now have a clear path to the future. The Northern blend will be 100% from the Rocks District in 2016, expressing this unique site. 

We are planting seven acres of Grenache on the remaining estate property this year, so will have to be patient another four years before the vineyard is fully up and running. Both these vineyard plantings are not your traditional plantings. We are implementing a hybrid head training system, best described as the Goblet. It offers numerous key advantages including frost-hardiness, better sap health, and energy from the rocks. This training style currently makes up less than 200 acres planted in our state.

Imagine a head of a vine 6-8 inches above the rocks. Much like a tree we are picking the best, healthiest canes to use every year. At the end of the season we cut back to two buds which creates a head that is more representative of a tree than a vine. Each vine has to be pruned independently as no two are the same. Keeping this head close to the ground focuses the energy of the plant through a short and direct route to the fruit zones. Thus creating what quality and consistency truly are. Also over the winter months we can bury each “head” to protect against a major freeze. To say I’m excited is the understatement of the decade!

Now on to our team! My good friend Kevin Masterman and I have crossed paths a couple times. Kevin has run harvests at a couple wineries you may have heard of such as Abeja, Corliss, and Ramey, and a couple you have never heard of out of Australia. I seized the opportunity to hire Kevin to help with all aspects of wine making for Rotie and Proletariat which are produced out of the same facility. His passion, work ethic, palate, and friendship are hard to quantify and I’m pleased to introduce him to you all. We're lucky to have him on board.

Many of you have met Tioni Healy in our Walla Walla tasting room. Tioni has a character that brightens any room. What you may not know about her is that she is one of the best chefs in Walla Walla, perhaps the northwest. Tioni has agreed to manage our SoDo tasting room and help us share our commitment to creating the best Rhone blends possible from Walla Walla fruit with a broader audience. Tioni will bring all that you love about visiting Rotie in Walla Walla and create an experience with some local Seattle soul in our new tasting room. 

Which brings us to the Rotie Cellars SoDo Tasting Room opening April 1, 2016. We are in good company in SoDo, setting up shop in the same complex as Kerloo and Schooner Exact. The space is naturally lit with big windows, high ceilings, and a friendly patio, and centrally located to downtown at 4001 South 1st Avenue. 

We like to see our wines on shelves, but we prefer putting wines in the hands of our customers directly.The whole idea of our Rotiesian club has been to give back to the crew who has supported us from the beginning. We hope this is felt by our members in our lifetime pricing policy, advance access and special pricing on Homage, Dre, Little g, and VdP. Not to mention a couple kick ass parties each year.

Rotie Cellars is growing into the brand I hoped it could be. Our commitment to you is to continue planting and growing in the right areas specific to the strength of each varietal, to to make structured and balanced Rhone Blends based on the vines’ terroir to the best of our abilities.

This is what drives us and I’m extremely excited for our future. 

Thank you for supporting us this far in my vision– I am so pleased you can join us on this ride.

2016 brings many beautiful changes to Rotie Cellars: new plantings, new staff, new SoDo tasting room.