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!

Walla Faces Spotlight: Lori Fischer and Winery Tours Walla Walla

Walla Walla Winery Incubators

Lori taking a group to the Walla Faces winery at the Incubators

This week’s Walla Faces spotlight will feature Lori Fischer, owner of Winery Tours Walla Walla! Lori has been in the wine tour business four years, after retiring from her previous job as a middle school teacher in the greater Seattle area. With the Cabernet Cab, Lori takes wine lovers on fun, friendly, behind-the-scene custom tours of Walla Walla wineries.

There are a number of things that make Lori’s wine tours stand out in Walla Walla… Winery Tours Walla Walla is one of the few Washington State licensed wine tour companies in the area, and Lori is a trained and licensed chauffer. Every wine tour is five hours long and includes a complimentary lunch, bottled water, and chocolates. The wine tours may include wineries that clients wish to visit, and those Lori might recommend. She works hard to create working relationships with many wineries, wine makers and owners. A tour with Lori can assure you and your guests wonderful tasting room experiences. She can even help to schedule behind-the-scenes tours of wineries’ vineyards, production areas, and more! (All appointments for behind-the-scenes tours must be made in advance.) As the owner of a wine tour company, Lori loves to teach people about the Walla Walla wine industry and wine etiquette, and can tailor tours based on a client’s preferences for wine varietals or price points. While weekends usually book first with wine tour appointments, Lori can schedule and plan great wine tours for any day of the week. In fact, she recommends booking wine tours on a weekday to beat the Walla Walla weekend wine tasting rush.

Fischer Tours

Winery Tours Walla Walla Van

With a straightforward but friendly attitude about her wine tours and proper wine etiquette, Lori wants to make sure that her clients are able to have fun and leave the tour with a greater appreciation for wonderful Walla Walla wine. We have a great relationship with Lori, and from time to time she even takes people on her wine tours up for a tour of the Walla Faces vineyards! If you’re coming to Walla Walla and would like a chauffeured wine tour, be sure to look up Lori and her Cabernet Cab. We hope to see you soon in our tasting room!

You can reach Lori Fischer via email or phone at 509.540.9518.  Check out her website!