How Did the Walla Walla Incubators Come to Be?

The Walla Walla Incubators are the home of some of the most innovative boutique wineries in the Walla Walla Valley. Stop by and you can both taste wines and meet winery owners and winemakers in their domain. I sat down with Jennifer Skoglund, the Airport Manager at the Walla Walla Regional Airport, to talk about the history of the Incubator project. Jennifer has been a part of the project since they built the original three buildings.

The idea came in the mid-2000s, when the Walla Walla Community College was just getting started. Students were graduating from the program, and there was increasing demand for new wineries to accommodate the influx of bright, aspiring winemakers.

Walla Walla Incubators at the airport.

Walla Walla Incubators at the airport

The money for the Incubator Project was appropriated within the State Capital by representative Bill Grant. Grant sadly passed away in 2009 after serving 22 years in the state House of Representatives. He represented the 16th legislative district, which Walla Walla County, Columbia County, southern Benton County and Pasco.

In 2006, with a simple line in the capital budget, the state set aside $1 million to build the original three Incubators. In 2008, the state appropriated another$500,000 for the second two buildings. In addition, the Port of Walla Walla put in an additional $400,000 for the project. The investment of the State and the Port allows the blossoming winery tenants the flexibility to focus their funds on the best equipment available.

The six year limit for the lease was built into the original project. To choose the six year maximum, the Port worked with Dr. Myles Anderson, founder of Walla Walla Vintners and the Interim Director of the Walla Walla Community College Viticulture Program, who initially helped launch the program in 2000. They also worked with Norm McKibben, managing partner in Seven Hills Vineyard, Les Collines Vineyard, Pepper Bridge Winery and Amavi Cellars. Anderson and McKibben helped design the size and the layout of the incubators. The incubators were built with the expectation that each winery would be making about 2,000 cases a year; This was based on Anderson and McKibben’s calculations that this production was the threshold for a startup to be successful. They also determined the length of “incubation”, determining that six years was enough time to “become profitable enough to move out into their own project”, Jennifer recalls.

The Incubators offer an escalated rental term. As the six years progress, the property becomes increasingly expensive to lease. Jennifer says that this ensures that wineries “do not become stagnant and feel that they can stay here too long”.

The initial three wineries were Adamant Cellars, Lodmell Cellars, and Trio Vintners. Trio was comprised of the Walla Walla Community College Viticulture Program grads. CAVU Cellars and Kontos Cellars moved in next. Trio’s old building is now occupied by Corvus Cellars, and Lodmell’s old building is the site of the Walla Faces winery!

The incubator project continues to support new, blossoming wineries. “I think it’s been very successful,” Jennifer asserted. “It gives people an avenue to start their dreams.”

Walla Walla Wine History

Walla Walla has a rich history of winemaking that traces back to 1859, when A. B. Roberts established one of the first grape nurseries. This nursery contained eighty European grape varietals that had been imported from Champoeg, Oregon.

The wine industry quickly took off in the 1860s and 1870s, when a gold rush in Idaho brought miners through the Walla Walla Valley. Because of their lush vineyards, supply posts were able to sell not only traditional supplies, but grapes and wine to satiate travelers. Even these early vineyards were able to harvest 50 tons of grapes per year.

This locally-produced wine was also sold at local storefronts. For example, Frank Orselli, an Italian immigrant, established a winery at the height of the gold rush. He annually made 42 oak barrels of wine from Muscat, Black Prince, and Concord grapes. His wines were sold at a small bakery right downtown, on the intersection of Second Avenue and Main Street.

Additionally, by 1882, locally produced wine was available in all of Walla Walla’s 26 saloons.

Unfortunately, deep freezes in 1883 and 1884 viciously wiped out the majority of the local grapes. Walla Walla typically experiences a very cold freeze about every six years. Although these freezes do harm the Walla Walla wine industry today, we now plant vines at higher elevations and bury shoots to help mitigate the damage.

Winter_Snow

The Walla Faces Vineyard in the Snow

Even more devastatingly, by the turn of the century, the Idaho gold rush had ended, putting a huge damper on the influence of the wine industry. When Prohibition came to Washington state in 1917, thanks to the Anti-Saloon League, the influence of the formal wine industry completely disappeared.

Walla Walla citizens turned to homemade wine. They were allowed to make up to 200 gallons of wine per year without a permit. Grapes came not only from Walla Walla, but from Marysville, Sunnyside, and Stretch Island. Grappa, a fragrant, grape-based brandy, was also frequently made in homes, although Federal agents were able to shut down some of these illegal distilleries.

At the end of Prohibition, Zinfandel grapes were shipped via train from California. The wine was made by Italian immigrants. In the the 1950s, a variety of winemakers attempted to start commercial wineries. The first attempt was by Bert Pesciallo. Unfortunately, another deep freeze in 1955 shut down many of the attempts to revive the wine industry.

Finally, in 1977, Leonetti Cellars opened, triggering a wave of commercial wineries. A mere seven years later, the area became federally recognized as an American Viticultural Area (AVA). At that time, it covered only 60 acres of vineyards and included just four wineries. As Walla Walla wines began to get national recognition, the wine industry began to flourish again. Now, over 175 wineries operate out of the Walla Walla Valley, including, of course, Walla Faces.

Five Reasons to Celebrate Washington Wine Month

Walla Faces Estate Vineyard

Walla Faces Estate Vineyard

What will you take home?

What will you take home?

March is Washington Wine Month, a month dedicated to the best of this region’s vineyards, wineries and drinks. But why celebrate Washington Wine Month?

1.  Wine is an important part of Washingtonian agriculture

Wine is the fastest growing agricultural sector of the state, with a 400% increase in the past two decades.

The state has 13 federally defined American Viticultural Areas, and 12 of those 13 are in Eastern Washington. 99% of Washington’s wine grapes are grown east of the Cascades. Thus, Eastern Washington is one of the largest producers of wine in the country.

Cumulatively, the state has over 350 wine grape growers. This wine growth adds up to 43,000 acres. As a result, Washington vineyards produce more wine grapes than any other state in the nation save for California.

2.  Wine is important to Washingtonian history

Wine grapes have been growing in Washington State since 1825. From there, they followed the moving settlers. German and Italian immigrants pioneered early winemaking in the 1860s and 1870s. By 1910, wine grapes were common throughout the entire state.

3.  Washington wines are diverse

Washington wines have huge diversity in both varietals and style. Unlike some areas, which may specialize in only a few varietals, our state offers high quality wine of many types. Whether you love Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling or Syrah and Chardonnay, Washington wineries have many amazing choices of your favorites.

Almost equal amounts of space are dedicated to red and white varietals, offering the maximum amount of choice for consumers.

Washington wineries produce virtually every style of wine. Rosés, sparkling wine, fortified wine and ice wines are all produced here. Furthermore, innovative winemakers in Washington state are eager to try out new techniques or re-introduce more classical methods with a modern twist.

Of the 12 million cases of wine that Washington wineries product annually, there is almost certainly something for everyone.

4.  Wine is an essential part of the Washington economy

Washington State has over 750 wineries, a number that has more than doubled since 2005.

The Washington wine industry employs 30,000 full time workers inside the state. Wine supports everyone from farmers to machinery suppliers to laboratories to retailers. It also serves as a catalyst for other forms of commerce, such as tourism. In Walla Walla, our amazing restaurant scene is supported by tourists who visit to find the perfect Cabernet or Syrah.

According to a 2011 report by the Washington State Wine Commission, our state’s wine has a $14.9 billion annual impact on the US economy.

5.  Washington wines are delicious

Anyone who is familiar with Washington wines knows that there are some damn good wines here. Paul Gregutt, wine writer for both the Seattle Times and the Wine Enthusiast, observes that Washington wines are characterized by their purity, their ripe tannins and their bright acidity.

So, will you celebrate Washington Wine Month with us?

As Washington State Wine Commission president Steve Warner points out, “Washington Wine Month is a time to commemorate the hard work of Washington’s more than 750 wineries and 350 wine grape growers”. This month also allows us to honor Washington’s heritage, economy and agricultural industry… and drink some amazing wines to boot!

Walla Faces encourages you to celebrate Washington wine month by visiting Washington state wineries and vineyards. If you make it to Walla Walla, be sure to visit us too!