Science Says You Probably Need a Vacation

If you’ve been postponing a vacation to the Walla Walla Valley, you might not want to delay much longer! The scientific literature suggests that taking a brief holiday may not only help reduce stress, but promote health and intelligence.

If you’ve been procrastinating on taking a trip, you’re not alone. Americans earn fewer vacation days than workers in other countries. Despite this, the average American worker leaves 17% of their vacation days unused at the end of the year. A full 25% of Americans take no vacations at all. This is unfortunate, since taking some time off from everyday stress is an important step in taking care of yourself.

Need a vacation? This is the view from the Walla Faces Pool Suite at the vineyard.

The view from the Walla Faces Pool Suite at the vineyard.

According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Research in Quality of Life, the best thing you can do to increase your happiness is to plan a vacation. On average, planning a vacation boosted happiness for a full eight weeks. This works just as well for small trips as it does for big trips! Because the anticipation was so key to the effects on happiness, the researchers noted that a few trips may be better than one big, long one. Once you get back, your boosted mood will last for an average of two more weeks. That means that a weekend getaway from, say, Seattle to Walla Walla could make a really big difference for your stress level, adding up to nearly ten weeks of reduced stress!

Among men who are at high risk of coronary heart disease, taking a vacation decreased their chances of having a heart attack by a full 32%. Women showed even more startling results: Women who vacation twice a year are eight times less likely to have a heart attack than women who vacation once every six years. Studies have show that vacations can do everything from lowering your blood pressure to boosting your immune system.

Vacations also increase job productivity when you do get back to work. There is even some evidence that a good vacation will boost your IQ. (Hardly a surprise, given the neurological evidence that stress may shrink parts of the human brain.) Luckily, a few days away in the Walla Walla Valley is an easy solution…

To make a reservation at the Walla Faces Inns and start planning your vacation, click here.

Warm Weather Indicates an Early 2013 Harvest

If there is one word to describe the summer of 2013 in Walla Walla, it is hot. It’s been the second warmest summer on record. The blazingly sunny days have only been outmatched by the incredibly warm nights. As the Washington State University Agricultural Weather Network noted, “Warm, warmest, and warmer is the best way to characterize the 2013 summer season.” This weather pattern suggests that we’re likely to see an early 2013 harvest.

Washington state as a whole averaged more than two degrees above standard weather. The heat also started early this year. In Walla Walla, we were hitting high temperatures by the beginning of July. August was equally hot; it was the warmest that it has been since 1991. During this time, Walla Walla stayed characteristically dry, with only 0.15 inches of rainfall in August. This dry weather is ideal for wine growing, since it allows winemakers to completely control the amount of water that grapes are exposed to.

What does the summer heat mean for the Walla Faces 2013 Harvest?

Rows of Cabernet Sauvignon. Taken at the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard on September 9, 2013.

This heat decreases the amount of time that it takes for grapes to ripen. After veraison, the grapes throughout the Walla Walla Valley began to ripen quickly. This quick ripening process means that the berries are smaller than usual, making their flavor more concentrated. This will create an intense, flavorful wine.

The Walla Faces Estate Vineyard is at a higher elevation than the rest of the valley. As a result, we have a more temperate climate. Consequentially, veraison and harvest are usually a little later for us than they are for the rest of the valley. However, the warm weather is definitely bumping up the date of the 2013 harvest.

A few storms and some anticipated cooler temperatures will probably slow down the ripening process in the next few weeks. Still, we expect an early harvest date and some bold, fruit-forward 2013 vintages thanks to the weather!

Winemaker Profile: Victor De La Luz

Drop by the Walla Faces winery during the week and you’re almost sure to see Walla Faces Assistant Winemaker Victor de la Luz hard at work. He’s the man responsible for the day-to-day operations at the winery and is equal parts cellar master, crisis manager, and barrel-top acrobat.

Victor de la Luz was born Pueblo Mexico, where he had no idea that he would end up in the wine industry. Indeed, he had a completely different talent. “I was a professional folk music dancer,” he laughs.

De la Luz immigrated to the United States in 2004 at age 24, where he went right into the restaurant industry, starting work at the Bonefish Grill. It was during this time that he met winemaker Matthew Loso, who let him work at Matthews Cellars in Woodinville, Washington. Victor was hired as the ‘cleaning guy’, tending to the barrels and tanks. However, his enthusiasm and hard work resulted in a quick promotion! A mere six months later he was already working with the wine, managing the pumps, taking part during “crush”, and driving the forklift. He worked at Matthews for four years.

Walla Faces Assistant Winemaker Victor De La Luz

Walla Faces Assistant Winemaker: Victor De La Luz

While working at Matthews, de la Luz met Hillary Sjolund, the winemaker at DiStefano Winery. Eager to expand his horizons, he took a part time job at DiStefano. Within one week, has passion and dedication was so clear that he was hired as a full-time employee. There, he worked in the winery’s chemistry lab. “I was allowed to do some practice in the lab and written analysis… I made so many mistakes!” he recalls.

In 2011, de la Luz made his first wine that was done all by himself: four gorgeous barrels of Petit Verdot Rosé. “I didn’t kill anybody, anyway,” he laughs. Despite his modesty, the wine showcased a natural talent for winemaking. Its combination of New World and Old World flavors, its minty notes, and its long, spicy finish showcased the best of Petit Verdot. The beautiful balance of sweetness and acidity showed that Victor had a gift.

Last year, in 2012, Walla Faces hired Victor as our new assistant winemaker. He has already contributed to the winery significantly, bringing a fresh perspective to our 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. Victor asserts, “I was following instructions before. Now, with [the 2007], I get to make the decisions.”

Wine 101: How To Do a Wine Tasting

It’s always handy to have a quick review on the steps of one of our favorite activities: wine tasting! Each step of the wine tasting process allows the person drinking the wine to fully appreciate the flavors and aromas of the wine. Once you’ve uncorked a gorgeous bottle, what steps come next?

Wine Tasting Step #1: See

Watch as the wine is poured into the glass. Different elements of the color will become apparent as the wine is poured. Holding the glass by the stem, hold the glass up to the light. By keeping your warm hands away from the bowl, you prevent your fingers from heating up the wine, which can cause a brash alcohol flavor, which may disguise the more subtle flavors hiding in your glass.

The color of the wine can reveal a great deal about the wine. Different grape varieties can produce different wine colors. For example, a Pinot Noir will look nothing like the deep, intense red of a Cabernet Sauvignon. The intensity of the color can cue the observer to how light or heavy the wine may be. Looking carefully, a slight blue hue may indicate the level of acidity.

The opacity of the wine can also yield important clues. For example, an unfined wine like the Walla Faces Cabernet Sauvignons will be much deeper and more opaque than fined wines, like the Fusion Red. Looking at the Fusion’s rim variation, the gradation of color at the edge of the wine, can help the viewers predict its clarity and smoothness. The opacity of the Cabernets suggests that they will be more full-bodied, with great tannins. As they age over the next few years, they will also gain some brown rim variation.

How To Do a Wine Tasting: See

Wine Tasting Step #2: Swirl

Holding the wine glass at the base, swirl the wine. This allows the wine to oxygenate a bit, revealing the true aromas of the wine.

In addition, the aromatic compounds of the wine are released into the air, making them easier to smell.


Wine Tasting Step #3: Smell

Anyone who has ever had a cold knows that tasting is mostly scent. When your nose is plugged up, it’s impossible to taste your dinner, let alone your wine. Wine connoisseurs have known the importance of your sense of smell for centuries.

To smell your wine, stick your nose into the glass and take a deep inhale. Try to determine what flavors you are smelling. Is the wine spicy? Pungent? Floral? Take a few good sniffs, and be sure to compare your first and second impressions.

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Wine Tasting Step #4: Sip

Of course, if you are doing a wine tasting, you have to taste some wine! Start with a small sip to cleanse your palate. Next, allow the wine to hit all parts of your tongue. Different parts of your mouth will reveal different flavors. If you like, you can slurp the wine in your mouth, allowing for even more oxygenation.

The wine will change in your mouth. The first phase of wine tasting is called the attack phase, where the alcohol, tannins, acidity, and residual sugar are clear. Next, in the evolution phase, the flavor profile of the wine comes out.

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Wine Tasting Step #5: Swallow

There aren’t very fancy instruction for swallowing! Be sure to note how long the finish remains in your mouth. Some wines will persist on your palate, whereas others will have a more short-lived finish.

Of course, don’t forget the more important wine tasting step!: savor and enjoy the wonderful wines you had the opportunity to try!



A Natural History of Syrah

Syrah is one of the most popular grape varieties in the world. Its wines are typically full-bodied and powerful, with peppery and fruity flavors. Although we all know why we love this grape, the question remains: how did Syrah gain the prominence it currently holds in the international wine scene?

Three Walla Faces Syrahs! 2008 Caroline Syrah 2007 Frank Syrah 2009 Bill Syrah

Three Walla Faces Syrahs!

In Australia, Syrah is referred to as Shiraz. This has spurred several myths about its origin. Shiraz is a 4,000+ year-old city in Iran that is known for its wine. Indeed, the world’s oldest sample of wine, dating from a staggering 7,000 years ago, was discovered in clay pots near Shiraz.

The most common myth suggests that the  Phocaeans brought Syrah from Shiraz to their colony in Marseille on the southeastern coast of France. From there, it gained popularity and began to move north, to the Rhone region of France. (The myth does not explain how the grape mysteriously disappeared from Marseille shortly afterwards!) Another variation on this myth attributes the grape’s origin to a French knight named Gaspard de Stérimberg, who participated in the crusades in the 1200s. He traveled to Persia (modern day Iran) and returned with the grape in tow. This also seems unlikely, as the crusaders certainly did not travel all the way to Persia!

DNA testing by Dr. Carole Meredith, a geneticist who heads the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis revealed the truth about this beloved grape. It is a cross between two little-known varieties: Dureza and Mondeuse blanche. Dureza is grown exclusively in the Rhone region of France. Although it has been used historically because of its heartiness and high yields, Dureza has fallen out of favor in recent years. By 1988 only a single hectare (2.47 acres) of the grape was left growing. That’s as if the only Syrah on the planet was what we have on the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard! Dureza is also not on the list of allowed wines by the French AOC. Mondeuse blanche is similarly rare. A mere five hectares (12 acres) are left, all in the Savoy region of France.

Because of the parent grape varieties are both from a very small region in southeastern France, we can conclude that Syrah originated there as well, probably in northern Rhone. The exact time of the cross is not clear. Historical documents by the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder suggest, however, that the cross may have occurred around 20 AD.

Although Syrah is clearly a very old variety, it wasn’t until the 1700s that it began really making a splash. In northeastern Rhone, there was a hill topped with a hermitage (a chapel) built by Gaspard de Stérimberg, the knight of legend. Hermitage wines, red blends made up primarily of Syrah grapes, were consumed worldwide. (They were a favorite of Thomas Jefferson!)

Syrah was brought to Australia by a Scotsman named James Busby in 1831, who collected a wide variety of grapes for the land down under. As a result, he has been dubbed “the father of Australian viticulture”. By the 1860s, Syrah was one of the most popular Australian varietals. Syrah first came to America in the 1970s. It was planted in California by wine-enthusiasts who called themselves the “Rhone rangers”. It finally made its way to Washington state in 1986– almost two thousand years after the grape was first crossed in France.

Syrah is also frequently grown in Switzerland, Chile, Argentina, and South Africa.

Syrah has even gone on to spawn its own offspring! An accidental cross-pollination between Peloursin and Syrah yielded Petite Sirah in a small vineyard in Tullins, France in the mid-1860s.

Now, Syrah has become one of the most popular grapes for wine production. At a staggering 142,600 hectares (352,000 acres) worldwide, it is the seventh most grown grape variety. In Walla Walla alone, 11,000 tons of Syrah are harvested annually… and that number is only increasing!

Why Concrete Eggs for Riesling?

The Walla Faces 2010 Riesling is “Concrete Egg Vinted”. The futuristic appearance may be snazzy, but the real benefit is its myriad of effects on the wine.

Like oak, concrete is porous. Thus, the wine is able to breathe, facilitating richness and complexity without leaving an oaky flavor behind. Like barrel aging, the porous nature of the concrete allows the wine to slowly aerate, providing layers and softness. Concrete-fermented wines also typically maintain a lot of fruitiness.

Additionally, the tank imparts a minerality that lingers on the palate. Because Walla Faces used both concrete and stainless steel for our 2010 Riesling, it took on the characteristics of both stainless steel- and concrete-vinted wines. Like stainless steel-vinted wines, this vintage has a crisp, refreshing effect, without sacrificing its rich complexity.

The Walla Faces Concrete Egg Fermenter, produced by Marc Nomblot.

The Walla Faces Concrete Egg Fermenter, nestled in some barrels!

Concrete has been used in winemaking since the early 19th century, when some wines were fermented in huge, rectangular concrete vats. Although the material is a classic, the egg shape is an innovation! The first concrete egg fermenter was commissioned in 2001 by Maison M. Chapoutier, a winery in the Rhone region of France. French manufacturer Nomblot, who has been producing concrete tanks since they opened in 1922.

Nomblot’s tanks are produced using washed sand from the French river Loire, gravel, non-chlorinated spring water and cement. They are treated with tartaric acid before use. Because the tanks are unlined, they are able to provide an effervescent mineral flavor to the wines they contain.

The egg shape provides in important function: it facilitates circulation. Because there is a one degree temperature difference between the top and the bottom of the egg, the wine slowly circulates through the tank. Since there are no corners, the wine won’t get stuck in every nook and cranny. The result? The wine stays more uniform throughout the fermentation process. As a result, the finished product will be more structured. No one wants a flabby Riesling!

Because the wine is slowly moving through the tank, it also has more contact with the lees, the dead yeast. As the lees break down, they release many compounds such as amino acids, polysaccharides and fatty acids. This so-called “lees aging” helps create additional complexity, as well as an appealing mouthfeel and aroma.

Given the benefits of the concrete egg fermenters, why are they still so rare in the United States? Concrete egg fermenters are a lot of work! For starters, winemakers must take special precautions to prevent the acidic wine from corroding the concrete tank. The length of fermentation is also longer in concrete, as opposed to stainless steel. Finally, with Nomblot as the exclusive maker of concrete egg fermenters, it can be difficult to access them. We had to import the tank from France. As Walla Faces co-owner Debbie put it, “[It] cost a fortune to get it here.”

The concrete egg may add some additional work, but the best things in life are worth working for! The best wines in life? Doubly so.

“Jazz and Wine Among Friends” to take place at the Walla Walla Incubators

Friends of Children of Walla Walla, a local non-profit dedicated to providing adult mentorship for Walla Walla youth, is holding their sixth annual “Jazz and Wine Among Friends” fundraising event. Formed in 1999, the organization has helped hundred of Walla Walla children build confidence, increase academic performance, and avoid delinquency. Embracing the vibrant music and wine scene in the Walla Walla Valley, executive director Mark Brown puts together a yearly weekend-long event featuring some of the best musicians and wineries in the area. The event is always a blast! All proceeds go to Friends to help vulnerable children in Walla Walla.

Walla Faces participated last year, hosting music at our downtown tasting room location. This year, we are upping the ante! On Saturday, August 24th, from noon to 3pm, “Jazz and Wine Among Friends” will at the Walla Walla Incubators, the site of the Walla Faces Winery!

Local artist Gary Winston will be among the artists playing at Jazz and Wine Among Friends.

Local artist Gary Winston will be among the artists playing.

The band, Soul Essentials, may be a new name, but the artists will be familiar to anyone who loves the Walla Walla music scene. Gary Winston, Gary Hemenway, and Doug Scarborough will be putting their own spin on soul-influenced jazz. The incubators will be rocking with their powerful tunes!

The Walla Faces winery will be open during this time. Guests are encouraged to drop in and purchase a glass of wine or do a wine tasting before, during, or after the music. It’s also a great opportunity to see a location where some of the most innovative new wineries produce their wares.

Tickets for the Saturday afternoon “Jazz and Wine Among Friends” event cost $10 and are available at the event or online at We hope to see you there!

Veraison at the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard

If you’ve stopped by the vineyard in the past few days, you may have noticed a beautiful thing: Veraison has finally come to the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard!

Veraison is the process by which grapes turn from green to red. Before verasion, the grapes are simply getting bigger; cells divide and expand, resulting in larger and larger grapes. After veraison, grapes begin to ripen: the acidity of the grapes decreases, sugars become concentrated, and chemicals that give off herbaceous aromas degrade, leaving you with a beautiful, fruity scent. The berries will also get much softer. Prior to verasion, the grapes are very firm. Afterwards, they become much more supple. This is also the point at which a keen observer may be able to discern the characteristics of different grape varieties.

We’ve seen veraison in other vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley for weeks now, but the signs are just now appearing on our grapes. There are a few reasons that we see this difference. The first reason is the grape varieties that we grow: Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, takes a very long time to ripen. Vineyards that grow varieties such as Merlot, which ripens much more quickly, will see veraison earlier in August. Indeed, only our Syrah is showing signs of veraison. The Cabernet Sauvignon is usually two or three weeks behind!

The second reason that veraison occurs later for Walla Faces is because of the location of our vineyard. We are at a higher elevation than much of the Walla Walla Valley. Our vineyard is cooler during the Spring and Summer, but warmer during the end of summer, which helps give our wine a nice balance between sugars and acidity. (Our location also helps in autumn and winter. The warmer temperatures in cooler months help protect our grapes from freezing!)

In addition to being one of the later vineyards to see veraison, we are also one the last to harvest! This means we have many more weeks to admire our ripening grapes.

Photos taken at the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard on August 16, 2013.

Restaurant Spotlight: Andrae’s Kitchen

The TripAdvisor reviews for Andrae’s Kitchen might catch you by surprise. The rave reviews assert, “Lunch in a mini mart never tasted so good!”, exclaiming that “this is the best food you’ll ever get in a gas station!” It’s hard not to imagine that they are damning with faint praise. In actuality, they are dramatic understatements. The two Andrae’s Kitchen locations (a brick-and-mortar location called “the co-op” operated inside of a gas station, and their food truck) serve up some of the most fun culinary treats in the Walla Walla Valley!

My first experience with Andrae’s Kitchen was at a food truck event. A group of friends popped over to various booths, grabbing tacos, burgers, and salads from a myriad of food trucks. But nothing beat the goat ragu poutine I had grabbed from the Andrae’s Kitchen food truck. They admired my dinner enviously.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Andrae’s Kitchen so soundly delivers; Chef Andrae Bopp was classically trained in New York at the French Culinary Institute. He says, “[Cooking] is something I’ve been involved with my whole life. I finally came to the realization that it’s what I needed to be doing.”

After culinary school, Bopp worked in fine dining, cooking in prestigious restaurants that included Bouley, Danube, Balthazar and Le Bernardin. Bopp’s desire to open his own restaurant led him to Boise, Idaho, where he opened Andae’s, a contemporary French bistro, which was named “Best Fine Dining Restaurant”. His numerous accolades included the Washington State Wine Commission award for the “Best Washington Wine List Outside of Washington State”, awarded for his extensive Walla Walla Valley Wine list. Andrae’s was open for five years, between 2003 and 2008.

Eventually, Bopp decided to re-locate to Walla Walla, where he started a plan for a more casual, quirky menu, with the goal of combining his love of wine and food. Bopp says, “[I came to Walla Walla] because of the wine and food culture here… a lot of good buddies I made from having the restaurant in Boise convinced me that this  was where I needed to be!” In 2010, Andrae’s Kitchen, Walla Walla’s first gourmet food truck, opened its doors for service. It was followed by the “co-op”, a physical location located inside of a gas station, about a year and a half ago.

The menu ranges from blackened catfish to halal-style chicken. The food verges on being addictive; when they released their most recent menu item, a gyro, I had one for lunch three days in a row. Bopp explains, “I pretty much make food that I want to eat. I look at my menu and there’s nothing on there that I wouldn’t love to eat. Fortunately, the things that I like to eat have translated well to what other people want to eat.” Clearly, one of the things Bopp loves to eat is breakfast, as both breakfast and lunch are served all day.

Although the menu is charmingly funky and the atmosphere of a gas station is hardly reminiscent of fine dining, the food clearly takes the skill of a chef. “[I use my classical training] by utilizing both technique and flavor profiling. I make sure everything tastes the way it’s supposed to taste… I build flavors.” Their fun and engaging menu earned them the title of Sip Northwest Wine Country Caterer of the Year.

The food truck goes out of town on the weekends, visiting wineries, catering events, and showing up to local team “Walla Walla Sweets” baseball games.

The AK Co-Op is located at 706 West Rose, Walla Walla, WA, 99362. They are open seven days a week from 6 am to 6 pm. They have both a drive-through and indoor seating. The food truck can be found by following Andrae’s Kitchen on twitter.

Why is Red Wine Kept in Dark Bottles?

The biggest reason that red wine is kept in dark bottles is to avoid damage from light. Light is a form of radiation that moves in waves. Short wavelengths, such as ultraviolet (UV) light, are very high energy, whereas longer wavelengths, such as infrared light, are much lower energy. Visible light falls right in the middle, with wavelengths between 400 and 750 nanometers.

Clear glass is transparent because it lets all wavelengths of visible light through. Thankfully, even clear glass can protect a bit from UV light. However, dark glass is needed to protect from visible light. Light-strike damage can occur under both natural sunlight and in artificial lighting. They are most commonly caused by wavelengths at 340, 380, and 440 nanometers, which includes both visible and ultraviolet light.

Light-strike damage, from either UV light or visible light at the blue end of the spectrum, causes a series of chemical reactions. Sulfur-containing amino acids will react with riboflavin or pantothenic acid, forming:

  • Dimethyl sulphide (DMSP). Known as the “smell of the sea”, this is the metabolite given off by marine algae that gives ocean water that cabbage-y, fishy smell that is characteristic of marine environments.
  • Dimethyl disulphide. This is the chemical emitted by the Dead Horse Arum Lily. The chemical attracts flies because of its similarity in smell to fetid meat.
  • Hydrogen sulphide. This is the chemical that gives the aroma of rotton eggs.

These are certainly not things you want to see on wine tasting notes!

Walla Faces red wines are kept in amber glass and whites are kept in green glass bottles.

Walla Faces red wines are kept in amber glass and whites are kept in green glass bottles.

Amber bottles offer almost complete protection from ultraviolet light and significant protection from visible light. Green glass offers a little less UV protection, but, since it is usually used for wines that should be consumed more quickly, it is usually enough to prevent degradation of the wine. According to WRAP, amber glass blocks 90% of harmful rays, whereas green glass blocks closer to 50%.

There are also natural components of the wine that can help prevent light-strike damage. For example, phenols, such as tannins, can help protect wine. Because red wines have more tannins than white whites, red wines will be less likely to be damaged from light exposure that would ruin white wines.

However, since red wines tend to be cellared longer, they are more likely to be exposed to light before they are consumed, so they need to be kept in darker bottles. Thus, red wines are usually kept in amber bottles and whites are often kept in green ones.