Thoughts on the Walla Walla Winemaker Interviews

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 02-06-2015

Walla Walla Valley (Wikimedia)

Walla Walla Valley (Wikimedia)

Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a number of questions to a winemaker. Over the past couple of months, we have focused on the winemakers of the Walla Walla Valley: John Freeman at Waterbrook Winery, Tanya Woodley at SuLei Cellars, Reggie Mace at The Mortal Vintner, Marty Clubb at L’Ecole, Paul Gregutt at Waitsburg Cellars, and, most recently, Dan Wampfler at Dunham Cellars. What a lineup! We were glad to feature each and every one of them.

This week, instead of featuring a new winemaker, we propose to take a look back at our interviews with Walla Walla winemakers to tie up the series. We think we can draw a few generalizations about the place from some trends we’ve observed in the winemakers’ responses.

So take a look at our thoughts below the fold!

John Freeman

John Freeman

First, our interviewees have praised — over and over again — the special, collaborative atmosphere of Walla Walla. John Freeman (left), for example, mentioned Tanya Woodley (right, below) as a winemaker that he’s excited about; and unbeknownst to him at the time, we would kick off our series of interviews with Walla Walla winemakers with Tanya.

Here’s how Tanya explained settling down in Walla Walla: “The varietal diversity brought me to Walla Walla, but the winery camaraderie and support have kept me here.”

Reggie Mace elaborated: “Loaning equipment, bottling, sharing advice, hauling fruit together, you name any effort in the wine business that can benefit from cooperation and it’s happening in Walla Walla.”

And Dan Wampfler: “Each winemaker and grower here is willing to share and assist others, the mentality being a ‘a rising tide floats all boats.’”

I could keep going, but the trend is clear. Walla Walla winemakers have succeeded in developing and maintaining a special community. Which is all the more impressive because . . .

Tanya Woodley

Tanya Woodley

Second, Walla Walla has grown explosively over the past few decades. We saw this growth in two ways.

On the one hand, we interviewed a number of younger winemakers who joined the Walla Walla community relatively recently. Dan came over to Dunham in 2008. Reggie also started at Dunham that year. John came over to Waterbrook in 2003. Tanya, in 2005 (not from far though — from Oregon). No doubt that the number of young winemakers we interviewed reflects the rush to Walla Walla of a new generation of winemakers to establish themselves.

Marty Clubb

Marty Clubb

We also heard from Marty Clubb (left), who gave a more historical perspective on the growth of Walla Walla AVA. Marty described Walla Walla back in 1989 as a “[s]leepy little town,” with a “boarded up downtown,” and “no restaurants to speak of,” but just “[a] beautiful setting” with “[a] few crazy people who thought they could grow grapes and make wine.”

And then Marty chronicled the “[e]xplosive growth in the wine industry (150+ wineries now) combined with a growing art community, thriving downtown foundation, coupled with tourism, nice hotels and quant B&B’s, rich restaurant scene, all with the positive aspects of a small town culture.”

Paul Gregutt (credit: Karen Stanton-Gregutt)

Paul Gregutt (credit: Karen Stanton-Gregutt)

Paul Gregutt (right) agreed. When Paul began covering the Walla Walla Valley in the mid-1980s, “[t]here was nowhere to eat in town,” forcing him “to drive to Dayton to get a decent meal,” and “there were hardly any vineyards.” The pioneers were few and far between, but they included: “Gary Figgins (Leonetti Cellar), Rick Small (Woodward Canyon), Baker and Jean Ferguson (L’Ecole No. 41) and Eric Rindal (Waterbrook).” And now?  ” Well, how hasn’t it changed? The downtown is thriving. There are around 150 wineries. There are close to 2000 acres of vineyard. There are many fine dining places, as well as food trucks galore. There are several dozen tasting rooms within a few blocks of downtown. There are major wine events throughout the year, from Cayuse weekend in early April on through Barrel Tasting Weekend in December.”

Dan Wampfler

Dan Wampfler

Third, the winemakers at Walla Walla are convinced that it is capable of producing world-class wines from a number of different varieties. Dan Wampfler (left) explained that “[t]here are amazing meso-climates in Walla Walla, with multiple vineyards that are a showcase in each area.” Paul elaborated: “As vineyards have been planted throughout the AVA, upwards of a half dozen quite distinct sub-regions have emerged.” An while “in the context of all Washington wines, it’s pretty clear that Walla Walla Syrah and Merlot are especially distinctive,” “almost any of the red grapes do well there, including such up-and-comers as Tempranillo, Sangiovese and all the Bordeaux grapes.”

 

Reggie Mace

Reggie Mace

Over the past couple of months, the Walla Walla winemakers have painted a portrait of the AVA to us. Walla Walla is a close-knit community with a collaborative spirit; one that has stayed that way throughout the recent expansion; and one which is capable of producing a number of varieties throughout its diverse sub-terroirs. What an exciting place.

Story-telling aside, the quality of a viticultural region ultimately will be determined by the quality of its wines. As Reggie Mace (right) summed up his winemaking philosophy: “Make great wine. That’s it.” Indeed. We look forward to Walla Walla’s continued growth — and to its increasingly sophisticated wines.

Anything else that you noticed throughout our series of interviews of Walla Walla winemakers? Any feedback on this new format of interviews? Any suggestions for a future viticultural regions to feature? We’d love to hear your comments.

Comments are closed.