Sunrise of the Leonetti Winery in Walla Walla, the oldest bonded winery in the region. This was the start of the W2U wine buyer conference in 2011. It was my first official trip as an Advanced Sommelier and my first research experience. As I have progressed in my career, I have continued to emphasize the importance of travel and learning and hope to pass the torch to a new generation of sommeliers in St. Louis and beyond.
The rolling hills of the Walla Walla Valley, with the Blue Mountains in the back ground. Incredibly, as one travels the 60 miles from one end of the valley to the other, the total amount of rain per year goes from 7 inches to 60! It’s like going from a desert to a temperate forest in 40 minutes. The rain shadow effect the Blue Mountains give are part of the reason the Valley enjoys such a predictable and stable climate for grape growng. The dryness of the region is evidenced by the many patches of yellow in the distance.
Along with grapes, many other agricultural products thrive in Eastern Washington. Apples, cherrries, wheat, barley, and even corn are widely planted throughout the sparsely populated region. Above are local tomatoes grown by Rick Small of Woodward Canyon Winery in Walla Walla.
Sauvignon Blanc ready to be picked the following day. Drip irrigation is essential in some of the driest parts of the region. While winemakers try and not intervene as much as possible, it is still necessary in extreme cases. Water rights and the politics around them are still the biggest hot button issues around the dinner table here. Access to water is critical and can make or break a potential business plan. Some applicants wait years for permits to draw water from the Columbia, Walla Walla, or any other river/water source in the region.
The old guard and the new, Norm McKibben of Pepperbridge Winery stands alongside Greg Harrington, MS of Gramercy Cellars. Both are highly respected champions of the region and are critical to the acclaim received by the area in recent years. Here, they stand together to speak to the importance of leaving as small of a footprint on the land as possible. Greg was the youngest person to ever earn the Master Sommelier pin, at 26! Norm has been making wine in the region since 1982 and is one of the legends in the region.
Below, Rick Small of Woodbridge Canyon discusses the choice of when to pick the grapes, and when to let them hang a bit longer. His Merlot pictured below is not quite there yet, while the Sauvignon Blanc is good to go.
Again a great represetation of what is meant by the term “The Dusted Valley”, a nickname given to Walla Walla due to its hot and dry summers and a persistent westerly wind.
Norm giving a cellar tour to Glenn Bargett of Annie Gunn’s, then saying good bye as we left Pepperbridge for the day.
Walla Walla’s most famous vineyard, Seven Hills. It is definitely unique in the sense that it is facing north instead of south. This is quite rare in the northern hemisphere as the Southeast slope is usually more favored for its extended sunlight hours and warmth from cold northely winds. In the Walla Walla Valley, due to a phenomenon called temperature inversion where the bottom of the valley acts as a storage bowl for cold air as it sinks, the higher hillsides facing north are actually warmer in the winter than the valley floor below. As a result, grapes here are less likely to see freeze damage. Winter temperatures regularly dip below zero in the coldest of months on the valley floor, up here it rarely drops below 15 degrees.
Rising star wine maker Brian Rudin at his then project Cadaretta. He also made the private label rose we used at Olio, and has since become the head wine maker at Duckhorn’s Washington project. Still one of themost knowledgeable and humble wine makers in the business, we look forward to representing his wines soon.
The more modern face of Walla Walla from the well financed walls of Longshadows and Chateau Ste. Michelle.
A happy camper enjoying the afternoon sun!
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