Before Walla Faces
Walla Faces began as a pipe dream in the mind of Rick Johnson as he traveled through Europe in the summer of 1975. As he tasted European wines and experienced the rich art and architecture of the region, he dreamed about living on a vineyard, making wine, and surrounding himself with culture. When he returned to the United States, however, he put his dream on hold.
In 1999, Debbie Higgins met Rick. They fell in love, and got married on the eve of the new millennium. As they discussed their future together, Rick shared his dream of living a wine-touched life, and found the Debbie was totally on board. Together, the two of them searched for the perfect property for five years, and finally found it in Walla Walla.
When Rick and Debbie moved to Walla Walla in 2005, they bought the historic Hungate Building, now home to the downtown tasting room and hotel rooms. At the time, the Hungate Building was an apartment building, but not an exceptionally nice one, so Rick and Debbie remodeled it. One day, Rick had the inspired idea of converting it into a hotel instead of an apartment, and the Walla Walla Inns were born.
In July 2006, Rick and Debbie acquired the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard. Originally planted in 1999, it consists of seven acres of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and one and a half acres of Syrah grapes. They wasted no time in starting the winemaking process, and the first Walla Faces harvest was in fall of 2006.
Around this time, Rick and Debbie were trying to figure out how to brand their wine. Originally, a close friend from Seattle, Teri Citterman (the namesake of the 2009 Riesling), had suggested they call themselves “Faces”. Rick suggested adding “Walla” to the name, and another friend, Bill Denton from Dallas (and namesake of the 2009 Syrah), had the home-run idea of using the artwork of Rick’s sister, Candice Johnson, on the bottles. It was the birth of the Walla Faces brand.
Walla Faces Grows
In the beginning, Faces had the grapes, but no one to process them. We worked with Forgeron Cellars for the 2006 and 2007 wines, meaning that the grapes were crushed, fermented, and aged all at Forgeron. In 2008, Faces moved production to Bergevin Lane.
During this time period, between 2006 and 2008, the Port of Walla Walla built five colorful buildings near the Walla Walla Airport to serve as functional wineries for up-and-coming local wine entrepreneurs. Known as the “Incubators,” the idea was that these buildings would give fledgling wineries the facilities they needed to grow, and after about five years, they would hopefully have enough assets to move to their own production facilities. Walla Faces continued to process at Bergevin Lane for another four years, but the Incubators were to be the next big step for Rick and Debbie’s dream.
In November 2009, after years of preparation, the first Walla Faces wines were released: a 2006 Red Blend Fusion, a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, and a 2006 Syrah. These wines were poured and sold in the downtown tasting room. At the same time, the hotel was renamed from the Walla Walla Inns to be included in the umbrella name, Walla Faces.
The fall and winter of 2012 saw big changes for Faces. In October, Faces left Bergevin Lane and moved to our own facilities in an Incubator building. The next month, in November, we brought in the help of a talented and passionate assistant winemaker named Victor de la Luz—who turned out to be so enthusiastic and talented that he became a full-time Faces employee! In December, Walla Faces’ winemaker moved on, and the following March, the seasoned Chris Camarda, of Andrew Will Winery, came on as Faces’ consulting winemaker.
Walla Faces, Today and Tomorrow
Faces has been the continued realization of Rick and Debbie’s dream, but it would not have been possible without the help of dozens of uniquely talented individuals. In recognition of this fact, each year, Rick and Debbie name their wines after different people who helped them get where they are today.
And where is Walla Faces today? Today, the Walla Faces winery produces roughly 2,000 cases of wine each year, a number we plan to grow to 5,000 or 10,000 in coming years. Our wine is award-winning—at the Dallas Morning News Wine Competition in 2013, our 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon won a gold medal. Wine Spectator awarded 90 points to the 2007 Syrah. It’s been a long journey for Faces, but we’re excited about the future and eager to see what comes next.
Walla Faces is the sum of many parts: Wine. Inns. Art. It’s Rick and Debbie’s passion for sharing all they have between them with all those who come through their door.