The Tale of Our Rosé

Spring Release 2014 will be an exciting event at Walla Faces for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the release of our very first rosé! We recently sat down and spoke to winemakers Rick Johnson and Victor de la Luz about the creation of this one-of-a-kind wine.

Choosing the Grapes

Our grapes glowing in the summer sun

Rick and Victor worked hard to find the perfect grapes for our first rosé.

Our rosé is a blend of three grapes: Counoise, Syrah, and Mourvedre. As Rick explained, the rosé was first modeled after the classic ‘GSM’ blend from the Rhône region of France, which uses Grenache instead of Counoise. But when it came time to buy grapes, all the vineyards he approached were out of Grenache! Instead, Rick and Victor sampled Counoise grapes, and fell in love, deciding to use them in place of Grenache. “In fact, next year, we’re contracting in advance for all of their Counoise!” he laughed.

Counoise (pronounced “coon-wahz”) is a rare grape in the United States. Typically grown in Provence, France, the Counoise grape was only recently brought to the U.S. from France—in 1990, California’s Tablas Creek Vineyard brought cuttings of the vine from Château de Beaucastel. Those Counoise vines had to stay in quarantine for three years before they could be used to produce new American Counoise grapes! Even after the first Counoise vines cleared quarantine, it wasn’t until 2000 that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms approved the new wine. Thankfully, by the time we were ready to make our rosé, all that hassle was behind us, and Counoise grapes were readily available in the United States.

This unique combination of grapes means our rosé has a one-of-a-kind flavor. The Counoise grape lends the wine a unique, spicy quality, but the Mourvèdre grapes temper that and create a smooth, velvety texture. Finally, the Syrah increases the wine’s savory notes and balances the wine’s flavor profile. And of course, the wine’s gorgeous grapefruit color absolutely sparkles inside a wine glass. It’s definitely not a wine to miss!

Making the Wine

Rick was more than happy to share with us the process of making the rosé.

Once the grapes were picked, their juice was extracted by using a free run process; we allowed the weight of the piled-up grapes to determine what juice came out. This juice went straight to the fermenters, where it had to be “pumped over,” or circulated, two times a day! Victor sure got tired doing pump-overs again and again.

Victor de la Luz pumping wine

Victor got exhausted pumping the wine over and over and over again!

After the free-run, the remainder of the grapes were crushed for a red wine. Meanwhile, the rosé-in-progress was fermenting away, and once it reached a sugar content of 1.25%, the fermentation was stopped.

The next step was stabilization, which helps give the wine its clarity. At this step, wines are often cold-stabilized—supercooled via expensive equipment. Rick and Victor, however, had a flash of inspiration, and dragged the tanks of rosé out into the frigid Walla Walla winter! “It was so cold,” Rick said, “that Mother Nature did the job for us.” Mother Nature was so eager to do her job, in fact, that they had to bring the wine back indoors before it froze!

From there, it was just a few more steps. The wine was heat-stabilized, filtered with Bentonite clay for three to four weeks, and then racked. Rick and Victor adjusted the sulfur, and then it was bottling time!

Clear glass bottles being filled with rosé

Bottling the rosé was an all-day process.

The Perfect Blend of Talent

Rick and Victor worked together on Walla Faces’ first rosé. “Rick’s much more about the science, and getting the right numbers, while I brought the experience,” Victor said. “It was always nice to have Rick behind me, pointing out the things I didn’t see.”

Both are pleased with the result. “We fell in love with Counoise because of its flavor and floral aromas,” Rick said. “The rosé highlights that.”

“I’m happy with it,” Victor said, taking a sip. “It has a dry, long finish, with a very good balance between the residual sugar and acidity.”

“It’s a sophisticated rosé,” he added. “I can’t wait to start working on next year’s.”

We’re excited to add this striking new wine to our lineup. Once it’s released in May, visit one of our Walla Walla tasting rooms or check out our online store to give it a try!  You’ll be glad you did!

The Season for Pink

Pink wine?  What?

This May, Walla Faces is adding a new wine to its lineup: the 2013 rosé.  This wine was co-produced by winemakers Rick Johnson and Victor de la Luz.  It is the color of a beautiful Charlotte Armstrong rose— bright, pink and fresh—and it absolutely sparkles inside a wine glass.  With fragrant notes of cinnamon and strawberry, this beautiful beverage will give you a whole new appreciation for pink!

We are certainly embracing pink ourselves here at the winery! In honor of the rosé, we have replanted the gardens, which are now blooming bright with fresh new flowers and roses celebrating our new favorite color.

What makes wine pink?

You’ve heard of red wine and white wine. But how did we make a rosé such a bright color of grapefruit pink? No, we didn’t just blend red and white wines together, as I might have guessed a year ago! The answer has to do with where a wine’s color come from. I once assumed that green grapes made white wine and red grapes made red wine. But this is only partially true. You do need red or black grapes for red wine.  But as it turns out, you can use dark-colored grapes for white wines too!

Well, how does that work?

The color of a wine is actually determined during the winemaking process. After grapes have been harvested, they’re crushed to release their juice.  Left in the juice are the grape skins and seeds, called pomace. For white wines, the pomace is quickly removed from the juice, but for darker wines, the pomace is allowed to soak in the juice.

To make a rosé, as you might have guessed, you take the middle road. Rather than immediately removing the pomace, and rather than letting it soak in the juice until it turns deep red, you allow the pomace to soak for a short amount of time—usually a day or less. The result is a wine that isn’t as pale as a white or as dark as a red, but somewhere between the two.

Why else are we excited about rosé?

Rosé isn’t from a specific grape or region; it’s just a genre of wine, like red or white. The biggest producers by volume are France, Spain (where it’s “rosado”), Italy (“rosato”), and the United States. Most rosé wines are blends of multiple grapes. Some of the most common grape varieties used in dry/European-style rosé are Grenache, Sangiovese, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsault, and Pinot Noir. The grapes that make up our rosé blend are typical of the rosés of the Provence region in France, but we’ve selected entirely North American grapes for the wine.

A rosé can represent the best characteristics of both red and white wines. For instance, some cheeses go better with white wine, some with red; yet almost all pair well with dry rosé, which has the acidity of white wine and the fruit character of red. Our rosé, which is a blend of Couinoise, Mourvedre, and Syrah grapes, is at once spicy and velvety smooth, with both savory and fruity notes. We think it will make a scrumptious pairing with a spicy barbecue sauce, making it perfect for spring and summer parties.

We’re excited to add this striking new wine to our lineup. Once it’s released in May, visit one of our Walla Walla tasting rooms or check out our online store to give it a try!  You’ll be glad you did. Long live pink!

Want to learn more about the creation of our rosé? Read about the winemaking process here.

Chocolate and Valentine’s Day

When you think of Valentine’s Day, what comes to mind? A romantic getaway with someone special? An elegant bottle of red wine? Or perhaps… chocolate? In recognition of the holiday, we’d like to take a look at chocolate—its history, the offerings here in Walla Walla and in our very own tasting room!

Although today, chocolate seems like the quintessential Valentine’s Day gift, its association with the holiday is actually fairly recent. St. Valentine’s Day has existed since the 1400’s, yet it wasn’t until the late 19th century that a Briton named Richard Cadbury introduced “eating chocolate” as a treat to share with one’s valentine. Almost 500 years of Valentine’s Day without chocolate—can you believe it? Naturally, once Cadbury introduced the idea of edible chocolates in lavishly decorated boxes, it took off. And today, heart-shaped boxes of chocolate can be found everywhere in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day!

One place to find delicious chocolates in Walla Walla is the legendary Bright’s Candies. Located in an historic building on Main Street, Bright’s has been hand-crafting candies and chocolates since 1934, and is a local favorite for everything related to sweets. Walk up to the counter and you’ll see rows and rows of handmade chocolates, as well as vintage glass jars filled to the brim with gummies and other candies. Love Jelly Belly jelly beans? A wall in the back of the store is loaded with every flavor imaginable. And for a cool treat during the summer months, Bright’s serves scoops of ice cream. You can even stick your nose to the glass and watch the master candymakers at work! You truly have to see it to believe it.

Of course, very little pairs with chocolate—or Valentine’s Day—like red wine. As part of Walla Walla’s “February is for Foodies” promotion, Walla Faces wine has conspired with Bright’s to produce scrumptious chocolate cordials infused with our 2009 Syrah, “Bill”. The rich, dark taste of the Syrah mingles with the smooth, sweet chocolate, producing an exquisite taste combination. We’re sure you’ll fall in love with them!

Through the entire month of February, each wine tasting will be coupled with a complimentary cordial. So if that sounds like your kind of treat, come visit us! We’re open every day from 1-6pm. From all of us at Walla Faces, we wish you a happy Valentine’s Day!

In Walla Walla, February is for Foodies

It may be cold and sunny in Walla Walla during February, but things are cooking here! Literally! Here in Walla Walla, it’s all about food and culture for this entire month. At least, that’s what the “February is for Foodies” promotion suggests, which is about to kick off its third annual iteration.

Started in 2012 as a way to promote local restaurants and wineries in the middle of the otherwise slow season, Tourism Walla Walla’s month-long promotion offers visitors a special glimpse of Walla Walla’s gourmet culture.

Many of the local restaurants are joining in the celebration by offering special menu items throughout the month of February. One of our favorites, T. Maccarone’s, is hosting a “Sommelier’s Valentine Wine Dinner” on Sunday the 16th. And for a breakfast or lunch option, Maple Counter Café is presenting White Chocolate Raspberry Pancakes, drizzled with their homemade Lemon Curd Anglaise. Oh my!

For home chefs who want to whip up delectable meals in their own kitchens, the Wine Country Culinary Institute, located at the Walla Walla Community College, will be offering cooking classes each Saturday during the month. For your $30 entry, you will enjoy instruction, a light lunch and wine tastings. This entertaining lunch will run from 11:30am – 1:30pm. For tickets, call Tourism Walla Walla at 509-525-8799.

Barb Commare, marketing and communications manager at Tourism Walla Walla, says she’s excited for the promotion to begin. “It’s so much fun putting it together and seeing the creativity of local businesses shine through.”

After three years of “February is for Foodies,” Barb has nothing but high hopes for the promotion’s future. “We want it to continue,” she says, “making it bigger and better every year.”

Of course, no celebration of Walla Walla’s food culture would be complete without wine! Many of the wineries will participate in the promotion by offering guests chocolates made locally, by chocolatiers such as Bright’s Candies, Alexander’s and Petits Noirs.

The complete list of this year’s “February is for Foodies” promotions can be found on the Tourism Walla Walla website, right here.

So, how is the weather, you ask? The weather has been quite nice this winter, with very little snow on the Snoqualmie Pass, traveling from Seattle, WA, and along I-84 from Portland, OR. Although this time of year is not known to be warm, we do have many sunny days here in Walla Walla and very little rain.

If you’re looking for something fun to do, something to entertain you, and possibly educate you, this might be just the adventure. Come and enjoy a day or two of food, wine, and fun–you might just discover your inner chef!

Five Ways to Have a Wine-Infused Thanksgiving

Last year, we wrote about our favorite Thanksgiving day wine pairings. After all, a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner needs a great wine to make it truly ideal. However, there’s another great way to kick up your Thanksgiving meal a notch: infuse your food with its perfect pairing. Here are our favorite ways to incorporate wine into your Thanksgiving Day dinner!

1. Make that turkey meat even more luscious with a bottle of Walla Faces Cabernet. Place the turkey breast-side-up in a shallow roasting pan. Make a hole in the skin at the top of the breast. Fill a turkey baster with half a cup of Cabernet Sauvignon and drench your beautiful bird with wine. After that, cook as you normally would.

A Thanksgiving meal and a bottle of wine

Make a place for Walla Faces wine in your Thanksgiving meal!

2. When making stuffing, substitute a cup of chicken broth for a cup of Walla Faces Fusion Red. The smooth cherry flavors will add a layer of depth and sophistication to your final product.

3. Poached pears are a great way to add a bit of light fruitiness to a heavy Thanksgiving meal. Poach them in a medium sized saucepan filled with a bottle of Walla Faces Riesling, a cup of sugar, and a split vanilla bean for an extra treat.

4. In addition to gravy, whip up a red wine sauce with a bottle of Walla Faces Syrah to serve over your mashed potatoes. We love this one by by FineCooking.com. Even better? The sauce can be made a few days in advance so it won’t take up any extra precious minutes on Thanksgiving Day.

5. The Walla Faces 2008 Riesling Ice Wine is the perfect pairing for pumpkin pie. Help them mesh even better by adding a few tablespoons of ice wine your homemade whipped cream after whipping it up!

Feeling inspired? Head over to our store to grab all the Faces wine you need for a scrumptious meal.

May your Thanksgiving be delicious, merry, and full of wine!

The 2013 Fall Teaser

It’s fall! The leaves have turned and are fluttering off the trees, and wineries around the Walla Walla Valley are preparing to open their doors and cellars for the big event this weekend: the 2013 Fall Release!

Here at Walla Faces, we’re busy preparing for our next release, in spring 2014. However, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to celebrate, so this weekend, we’re inviting you to our 2013 Fall Teaser!

We’ll be hosting a cozy reception at our downtown tasting room and art gallery this Saturday, November 2nd, from 3 to 6 pm. For your typical $5 tasting fee (free for our wine club members, of course), you can taste a sample of our work-in-progress 2012 Estate Syrah and our soon-to-be-bottled 2012 Tempranillo.  Tempranillo is a diverse food-pairing wine with great flavors of cherry and plum followed by a little vanilla and clove.  This wine pairs beautifully with lasagna, pizza and other tomato-based sauces.

Come chat with our assistant winemaker, Victor De La Luz.  You’ll enjoy his charismatic personality and stories of this year’s harvest.

We’ll also have some tasty tidbits of  luscious chocolates filled with the 2009 Estate Syrah, “Bill,” and samples of various cheeses paired with our current wines.

A small plate of chocolates beside a glass of red wine

Wine and chocolate–a heavenly pairing for our Fall Teaser!

This weekend’s your only chance! Stop by the downtown tasting room, at 216 E Main St., and celebrate Fall Release with us!

Fall Teaser – Event Details

  • What: 2013 Fall Teaser
  • Where: Walla Faces Downtown Tasting Room and Art Gallery, 216 E Main St.
  • When: Saturday, November 2, 3-6pm
  • Cost: $5 per person
  • Details: Meet our assistant winemaker, Victor de la Luz, sample our upcoming Tempranillo, and try nibbles of Bright’s Syrah-filled chocolates and premium cheese.

Why start a tasting with red wines?

If you’ve dropped by the Walla Faces tasting room, you may have noticed something a little unconventional about our tasting order: we start with our red wines and move to our whites. Usually, when you do a wine tasting, it’s the other way around entirely! So, what is the benefit of moving from red to white wines?

Although the order may seem unusual, the reason we, at Walla Faces, go from red to white comes from traditional wine tasting sequences. There are two classic orders for wine tasting. Firstly, people move from light wines to heavy wines. Because tannins can build up in your mouth, ending a tasting on richer, heavier wines prevents any residual tannins from tainting your impression of a lighter, more playful wine. The second classic tasting order involves starting with dry wines and ending with sweet wines. Moving from a sweet wine to a dry wine can cause the drier wine to taste comparatively sour. Thus, it’s usually best to “end on dessert”.

For many wineries, these two orders are the same. For example, a winery might start a tasting with a dry Chardonnay and end on a sweet, heavy Port. For us, they are not the same! We have a sweet, light dessert wine: our 2008 Ice Wine.

A Walla Faces wine tasting moves from red to white!

A Walla Faces wine tasting moves from red to white!

We’ve adjusted the traditional wine tasting order to really showcase the wines that we make, moving through the wines the same way you might move through a meal. We start with our ‘appetizers’, which are our lighter, smoother reds: the 2008 Fusion Red and the 2009 Syrah. We move to our ‘entrees’, the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2008 Reserve Cabernet. Finally, we end on our ‘desserts’, the 2010 Riesling and 2008 Riesling Ice Wine. Within the red wines, we stick to the classic ‘light to heavy’ order. However, by moving from red to white, we don’t affect our palettes by putting sweet wines ahead of their dry counterparts.

The “whites to reds” order is usually a good rule of thumb. However, it is sometimes necessary to adjust a rule to fit wines you want to highlight!

Wine Grapes Vs. Table Grapes: A Comparison

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting our vineyard just before harvest, you might be surprised at the dramatic differences between wine grapes and table grapes (the grapes you might buy in the grocery store)! Although both wine grapes and table grapes are the same genus, Vitis, they have many disparate characteristics.

Wine grapes are always one particular species of grapes: Vitis vinifera. This is a species that is native to the Mediterranean region, ranging from central Europe to northern Iran. Table grapes, on the other hand, vary. Some table grapes, such as Red Globe grapes, are also Vitis vinifera. Others are a cousin of the traditional wine grape. Concord grapes, for example, are Vitis labrusca, a vine that is native to the Eastern United States.

Table grapes and wine grapes have been selectively bred for different qualities, meaning that the grapes are pretty dissimilar! In comparison to table grapes, wine grapes are very, very small, closer to a centimeter in diameter. They have very thick skins, which will ultimately impart a lot of flavor onto the wine. Table grapes tend to have thin skins that are easier to munch on, meaning they’ll pop delightfully in your mouth. Wine grapes also have big seeds, which take up a huge part of the fruit. As a result, when you bite into the thick skin of a wine grape, they’ll sploosh open, leaving you with a big, hard seed.

Table grapes vs. wine grapes Walla Faces

Table grapes vs. wine grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon from the Walla Faces vineyard)

Wine grapes are also much sweeter than table grapes, since that sugar is necessary for fermentation. Wine grapes are harvested when they are around 22-30% sugar. Table grapes might be closer to 10 or 15% sugar.

In addition to the genetic differences between wine grapes and table grapes, the vines are also treated differently. The T-shape of the grapevines maximizes their exposure to the sun. Table grapes use a trellis system in which the grapes hang under the vines. They get less exposure to the sun this way, but they don’t rub against each other. This increases the amount of fruit they can produce, yielding up to thirty pounds of grapes per vine. (For comparison, wine grape vines would be lucky to get to ten pounds!)

Worldwide, there are 75,866 square kilometers dedicated to grapes. A solid 71% of these grapes are used for wine. 27% are consumed fresh fruit and 2% as dried fruit. Thus, it seems that even though wine grapes aren’t as delicious right off the vine, their unique characteristics make them the more popular of the two!

Walla Faces 2013 Syrah: Harvested!

At the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard, we grow two of Walla Walla’s signature grape varieties: Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. These two grapes ripen at different rates, meaning we need to harvest on different dates. The Syrah grapes are always ready to pick before the Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Cabernet grapes are usually 2-3 weeks behind the Syrah in terms of being ready to harvest.

As predicted, the warm summer weather bumped up the date of harvest significantly.  Last year, we harvested our Syrah grapes on Halloween. As the Tasting Room staff handed out candy to swarms of Walla Walla youth, Rick, Debbie (owners) and our vineyard staff were hard at work harvesting the grapes! This year, we harvested the Syrah almost a month sooner: on October 5th.

As winemaking has progressed, it has become increasingly scientific. In centuries past, vineyard owners decided when to harvest based on taste alone. Now, most wineries use quantitative analysis to ensure that their grapes are top-notch at harvest. At Walla Faces, we do a bit of a hybrid. On Thursday, October 3rd, we brought our grapes to ETS Laboratories, an analytical lab that provides services to Walla Walla wineries. There, we measured the sugar, acidity, and pH. Our grapes tested at 26 Brix (26% sugar), suggesting that harvest should be imminent. These slightly higher sugar levels help us ensure that the flavors of our wine are fully developed before we start crush. However, we feel that you cannot harvest based on numbers alone. Our second step is to go through the vineyard and taste! We are immortalizing this flavor, so it has to be perfect. Rick and Victor de la Luz (Assistant Winemaker) tasted the grapes and found them excellent.

 

“We spent Friday rallying the troops!” Debbie, a Walla Faces owner, noted.

Victor called our vineyard crew to see if they were available to pick on Saturday.  Fortunately, they were available to pick Saturday morning.

On Saturday, the weather was brisk, but sunny, in the high 60s. Ten people, including Victor and the two owners, Rick and Debbie, hustled. They managed to harvest our grapes in three hours. From there, the grapes were brought to the Walla Faces Winery for crush. Rick, Victor, and helpers sorted the grapes and crushed them, finishing at one thirty Sunday morning!  The Syrah grapes are now fermenting on their way to becoming our 2013 Syrah.

Although the Walla Faces 2013 Syrah is well on its way to your table, the big task is still yet to come. We have 7.5 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon that are yet to be harvested.  We will start harvesting these grapes next week.

“Birds in Distress” Soundtrack Humanely Controls Pests

Visit the Walla Faces vineyard this time of year and you’ll be greeted with an inelegant soundtrack. “SQUAWK, SQUAWK, SQUAWK.” An audio recording called “Birds in Distress” is our method of keeping hungry wildlife at bay.

Walla Walla’s bird population is beloved by nature-enthusiasts, but is less appreciated by those of us who tend to vineyards. This region hosts a variety of resident birds, such as Song Sparrows, Bewicks Wrens, Downy Woodpeckers, and Great Blue Herons. During the fall, though, the bird population skyrockets. This is because Walla Walla is smack in the middle of the Pacific Flyway, a migratory corridor that runs from Siberia to Patagonia. Most species of bird pass through Walla Walla between late summer and autumn. This means that Walla Walla is saturated with birds at the exact time that our grapes are particularly succulent.

House Finches, American Robins, and European Starlings are especially likely to pose a threat. At the Walla Faces vineyard, we usually see perky Starlings. European Starlings are an invasive species that was introduced to the United States 1890. A wealthy Shakespeare-lover named Eugene Schieffelin released a flock of starlings in New York’s Central Park as a part of an ill-thought-out plan to introduce every bird mentioned by William Shakespeare into North America. By the 1940s, starlings were common in the Pacific Flyway. In Walla Walla, we see these migratory birds every year.

European Starlings are kept at bay by "Birds in Distress" noises.

European Starling

For obvious reasons, this migratory pattern can result in significant crop losses. (We don’t blame the birds; our grapes are pretty darn delicious!) In response, vineyard growers have been forced to come up with creative solutions to help reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides for wine grapes without sacrificing their crops. Some alternative methods of pest control, such as netting, can be costly and frustrating. It’s also quick to tear, difficult to store, and needs to be replaced every three years or so.

At the Walla Faces Vineyard, we project the distress calls of birds. This audio recording, called “Birds in Distress”, is our only method of bird-control. (We also have a couple of scarecrows, but the birds don’t seem too concerned by them. The scarecrows seem to be less of a pest-control method and more of an accidentally-festive decoration.)

“Birds in Distress” is played during daylight hours. When the birds hear the various distress calls, they feel threatened, and avoid what they assume is a dangerous area. According to the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, broadcasting alarm and distress calls substantially reduces the percentage of crops that are lost to avian munchers.

Anecdotally, we can definitely say that we’ve seen an effect. Thanks to our bird distress-call recording, we’ve been able to keep birds away from the vineyard in the least intrusive, most humane way possible. We’re pretty sure that this is cause for a toast!

Want to feel like you are at the vineyard with us? You can listen to a “Birds in Distress” audio recording here.