What Made Prohibition Popular in Walla Walla?

Walla Walla’s earliest modern winery started in the 1970s, but Walla Walla had a rich history of winemaking that began in 1859, long before Prohibition. The industry had its ups and downs, but Prohibition definitely stamped out the formal wine industry before it restarted many decades later. Today, Prohibition was almost one hundred years ago, yet even in the middle of Walla Walla wine country, the effects of the dry decade are not far in the past. With the history of wine in Walla Walla, why was Prohibition so popular and how does it continue to influence alcohol policy today?

As recently as November 2011, Citizen’s Initiative 1183 was passed in Washington that ended the state monopoly on liquor sales that had existed since the end of Prohibition. Private liquor sales only began on June 1, 2012. How is it possible that Washington’s treatment of alcohol still relied on laws that were made almost a century ago? I went to the Northwest Archives in Whitman College’s Penrose Library, visited the Kirkman House Museum, and read news articles discussing the issue from 2010 and 2012 in order to find out why, in a region so fond of its grains and grapes, Prohibition was so popular.

A Dry Decade in Walla Walla

In order to understand the historical perspective on Prohibition, I looked through Harriette Robinson’s papers in Whitman College’s Library archives. Harriette Robinson was obviously a “dry”—that is, a supporter of Prohibition (in contrast with the anti-Prohibition “wets”). Her postcard collection and scrapbook of “Temperance, Option League, and Prohibition” news clippings showed me how people of the time argued for Prohibition.

Below are some photos of original publications at the time in Walla Walla. The poem titled “Vote for Me, Papa” was in response to the argument from the “wets” that some money from saloons went towards schools through taxes, and it ended on the line, “If I vote for my boy, I can only vote ‘dry’.” Some newspapers pulled all the stops, being at once patriotic, sentimental, funny, and practical.

“Drys” were particularly aggressive in their campaigns against saloons, which they saw as providers of alcohol and places of temptation and vice. The saloon was shown as a predatory, almost monstrous establishment that wasted and corrupted youth. In fact, one satirical ad for saloons contains the lines, “We are just obliged to have new customers–fresh young blood… If you once get started with us we guarantee to hold you.”

The saloon’s thirst for fresh victims in that ad is no doubt due to the large amount of crime and incarceration reportedly linked to alcohol. After all, it’s hard to visit a saloon if you’re in jail! But saloons reportedly caused more than crime–they caused laziness, too. One November 26th, 1909 article said that “the saloon is a constant temptation to farmer boys; is a constant source of annoyance and expense, by reason of impairing the efficiency of farm help.” Alcohol was a significant social problem, especially for an agriculture-based community like Walla Walla, and it was easy to rally behind its prohibition.

The Kirkman House Museum in Walla Walla has a video exhibit titled “Roaring Twenties in Walla Walla” which explained that most citizens adapted to Prohibition. Breweries offered “near beers” or other wholesome beverages.  However, not all Walla Walla folks were happy about giving up their alcohol, and many continued to produce their own in secret. A 1921 newspaper account of the seizure of an illegal still described dumping one gallon of alcohol every 11 seconds. That’s a lot of moonshine!

The Post-Prohibition Age

Today, Prohibition has been repealed for over 80 years, but that doesn’t mean Walla Walla has returned to its loose laws in the Wild West days of unregulated, “shameless dens of infamy”. It has never been the same since, with a minimum drinking age and mandatory alcohol server training to regulate alcohol sales and consumption.

However, although Prohibition taught America some lessons about alcohol, we’re better off without it. After all, Walla Walla’s booming wine industry never would have flourished under Prohibition. Walla Walla’s fine wines deserve to be poured into your glass–not down the drain!

A New Home for the Tasting Room

If you stroll down Walla Walla’s Main Street and stop at a familiar address, you may be in for a surprise: our downtown tasting room is empty!

Empty tasting room

Now that we’ve moved, the downtown tasting room sure looks empty!

After five years in the same place, we finally decided it was time to move to another location: our winery among the Walla Walla Incubators.

Five Years of History

Walla Faces has been at the downtown tasting room for quite some time. In November 2009, we poured some of our very first bottles of Walla Faces wine behind its doors–a 2006 Fusion, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2006 Syrah. We loved meeting all the different people who came to visit, from our hotel guests to Walla Walla locals, and everyone in between!

Crowd of people at Walla Faces

For more than two years, the downtown tasting room was a popular place for live music.

For a number of years, the downtown tasting room featured live music on a weekly basis. Many local musicians came out to play at the tasting room, drawing crowds and adding another hot spot to Walla Walla’s nightlife. Although the live music events were eventually discontinued, we were always happy to give back to the community in that way.

We see this move as an extension of that sense of community. Although we’re sad to leave the downtown tasting room, we’re excited to announce that its place on Main Street, as well as two other storefronts in the Hungate Building, will soon be filled by a variety of independent restaurants. We love Walla Walla’s rich variety of dining options, and are eager to see how these new businesses add to it!

(To assuage some concerns, if you’ve enjoyed staying at our downtown inn in the past, never fear: the Walla Faces Inns at Historic Downtown haven’t gone anywhere.)

Our New Location

But we’re hardly done pouring tastes of our Walla Faces wine! Even though the downtown tasting room is closed, you can still sample and buy Walla Faces wine at our new location: the winery out near the Walla Walla Airport.

Walla Faces winery

Our new home: The Walla Faces winery!

Our tasting room at the airport is just a few minutes’ drive from both of our hotel locations–in fact, from the winery’s front door, you can see the green leaves of the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard. What’s more, since this building also houses our production facilities, while you enjoy a tasting at our new location, not only can you learn about our wine and the Walla Faces story, but you can also watch co-winemaker Victor de la Luz hard at work, carefully crafting Walla Faces’ future wines! A tasting out at the winery puts you at the heart of the Walla Faces experience, from vine to barrel to bottle.

Visiting Us

Our new tasting room is open every day from 11am-5pm, which makes it perfect for a number of different itineraries. If you’re staying at our downtown hotel, try starting your tastings off with a visit to the winery. Not only do our early hours make us perfect for starting a day of tasting, but our location at the airport, surrounded by other fantastic wineries, means you can follow up your Walla Faces visit with an assortment of other tastings before you head back into town! If you’re staying at the vineyard, it’s easy to make one last stop at Walla Faces on your way back to the inn–after all, we’re only two minutes off the highway!

And of course, as you’ll notice when you visit, there’s no shortage of beautiful views.

Golden wheat and blue skies

From the front door of the new tasting room, you can see fields and fields of golden wheat.

This is a big change for Walla Faces, but we’re excited for the new opportunities it presents. Join us at our new tasting room–we can’t wait to see you!

Visit us at the new Walla Faces Winery and Tasting Room!
598 Piper Ave., Walla Walla, WA 99362
Open daily 11am-5pm
(877) 301-1181

All About Rhône Wine Country

As anyone who has experienced the wines of Walla Walla knows, Syrah is one of the flagship wines of the region. Its deep color and full flavors have made Syrah one of the most notable grapes of the Walla Walla Valley. The history of the Syrah grape is long and mysterious, and while the Syrah grape–surprisingly–did not originate here in Eastern Washington, the region it comes from is a fascinating site of wine history as well as an exciting counterpart to our own home here in Walla Walla.

This, of course, is one of the oldest wine regions in the world — the Rhône, located on the Rhône River in southeastern France.

Rhône Valley

The Rhône is legendary for wine–although its scenery is breathtaking as well. Photo by Peter Gorges.

The Rhône is impressive simply for the sheer length of history that wine has in the region. As far back as 600 BCE, Greeks and Romans were enjoying and writing about the region’s wine. The varieties they described could either be Syrah or one of its parent grapes.  Scientists hypothesize that the grape we know today as Syrah was most likely cultivated for the first time in this region. One thing’s for certain: two thousand years later, the Rhône’s popularity and renown have only increased!

Generally, the larger Rhône wine region is broken up into two distinct sub-regions, the Northern and Southern, each with its own identity and flavor of wine. These fascinating regions combine the fertile climate of the south of Europe with the rugged chill of the north, to produce a variety of wonderful wines. They showcase the importance of climate on wine, and illustrate how even a small difference in location can yield vastly different grapes.

The northern Rhône region is hilly and full of steep, stony slopes carved by the river over thousands of years. It has harsh winters and mild summers, with a climate largely dominated by the powerful mistral wind, which brings in the cool air of northwestern Europe. This climate is ideal for Syrah grapes; in fact, Syrah is the only pure red wine that may be labeled an official regional product of the northern Rhône. Here, some of the worlds oldest and highest quality wines are grown and produced. It’s fair to say that the northern Rhône was the first Syrah country on Earth!

The larger Southern Rhône is a broad valley that straddles the river as it enters a more Mediterranean climate. This means warmer winters and hot summers, and a larger variety of grapes that can be grown. Reflecting this, the most popular reds from this part of the region are blends—which of course, almost always include Syrah.

As lovers of Syrah, we find the Rhône to be an inspiring parallel to Walla Walla. Hot summers, cold winters? Mountain hillsides and warm valley floors? A thriving industry with strong Syrah and a community that cares deeply for the quality of their wine? Hopefully in 2,000 years, we will still be singing the praises of Walla Walla wines as well.

Interested in exploring Walla Walla, the “Rhône” of Washington? Book a stay at our Walla Walla hotels to experience Washington wine country firsthand.

 Rhone Valley photo by Peter Gorges, released under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license. Thank you, Peter!

The History of the “Walla Walla Inns at Historic Downtown”

The Walla Faces Inn at Historic Downtown is housed in one of the oldest, most prominent buildings in Walla Walla: the Hungate Building.

Erected in 1905, this building has stood on as Walla Walla has progressed from a rural farming town to a bustling, elegant destination.

The Washington Territory was created in 1853 and Walla Walla County was created a mere year later. Subsequently, the city of Walla Walla was laid out by the surveyor H. H. Chase in 1859. The property is a part of the oldest patent in Walla Walla, dated from 1861, which was before Walla Walla was incorporated as a city. Its first owners were A. J. Cain, the newspaper financier and Walla Walla prosecuting attorney who was known as “the Father of Columbia County”, and A. H. Reynolds, who established Walla Walla’s first bank. The area housed a grain warehouse in 1884, an agricultural supply store in 1888, and a blacksmith shop in 1894. Although these small businesses fit the needs of the rural farming community, some local businessmen had grander ideas.

In 1903, the property was purchased by Harrison H. Hungate, an educated farmer who served as the Walla Walla County treasurer. The area that now houses a bustling downtown was rows of stables and Hungate had to seek permission of the livestock owners to build his two-story building. As soon as the ink was dry on his contract, Hungate got to work.

Hungate employed an architect named Henry Osterman, a German immigrant who designed many of the prominent buildings in Walla Walla, including the Whitman College Administration building, Green Park Elementary, Sharpstein Elementary, Liberty Theater, and Carnegie Library.

Osterman immigrated to the United States in 1889, where he worked as a carpenter. On the side, he designed his own house and learned to speak English. His skilled work garnered so much attention that he was able to open an architectural firm in 1899. According to the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, Osterman designed “practically all the important business and office buildings in the city, together with many of the finer residences”.

The exterior of the Hungate Building in historic downtown Walla Walla

The Hungate Building in historic downtown Walla Walla, home to Walla Faces

Construction began in 1904 and the Walla Walla Hotel was finally erected in 1905 with the same address that the Walla Faces Hotel at Historic Downtown holds today: 214 East Main. When Hungate died in 1916, his daughters split inn property equally. It was kept in the family until 1972, when its ownership again came into flux. The Hungate Building hosted a variety of short-lived businesses ranging from ice cream to barber shops.

Rick and Debbie Johnson, the Walla Faces owners, purchased the Hungate Building in 2005, continuing the building’s historical tradition as one of the most prestigious hotels in the Walla Walla Valley.

Want to see it for yourself? Check out our Hotels page for more information about the Hungate Building’s latest evolution and to make a reservation!

A History of the Glass Wine Bottle

You have to love a glass wine bottle. Always perfectly shaped, sized, and handled.

Glass has been around a long time. Naturally occurring obsidian glass has been used in human tools since the Stone Age! The first true glass was produced around 3,000 BC in Northern Syria. In South Asia, glasswork was used beginning around 1730 BC. The ancient Romans were particularly well-known for their glasswork, which was used both domestically and industrially. They developed the technique of glassblowing, which was used to make wine bottles. It’s no surprise, then, that the term “glass” was first used by the Romans.

Sadly, the delicate glass of yore wasn’t a good method for storing wine. Because it was too fragile to travel, wine was usually stored in clay pots called amphorae. However, glass was still used on occasion- people would pour their wine into hand-blown glass bottles for fancy events. When glass bottles did need to be shipped, they were wrapped in straw. This protected them and allowed them to be stored upright.

In ancient Rome, amphorae were used instead of glass wine bottles.

In ancient Rome, amphorae were used instead of glass wine bottles.

In the 17th century, the invention of the coal-burning furnace changed that. The hotter temperatures allowed for thicker, darker glass that had previously been impossible to produce. Add in the invention of a cork closure and you have yourself a decent way of transporting wine!

Bottles were still completely un-standardized, meaning that they came in all shapes and sizes. The colors also varied wildly. Instead of standard wine labels, bottles were usually only marked with a stamp from the bottle maker.

By the 1730s, people began to recognize the importance of different winemakers, grape varieties, and vineyards. People also began to age their wine. They were stored just as we store bottles today! They were laid on their side to avoid spoilage and to allow the drinkers to watch for sediment. As a result, the fat, round bottles fell out of favor, paving the way for the long, sleek bottles we use today. However, bottles were still not standard. They were a “lungful” of the glassblower’s air- usually between 700 and 800ml. Thus, in some places, such as England, it remained illegal to sell wine by the bottle; they were sold by the barrel and then poured into non-standard bottles. (This remained the law in England until 1860!)

In 1979, the US set the standard size for a glass wine bottle: 750ml. In order to allow for easy trade relations, the European Union quickly adopted the same standard.

Now, of course, 750ml glass bottles are a ubiquitous part of the wine world. The feeling of a cool glass wine bottle in your hand is only matched by the flavor of the wine on your palate!

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!

A Natural History of Cabernet Sauvignon

We’re right in the thick of Celebrate Walla Walla, a weekend event dedicated to Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the world’s most recognized varietals. Tomorrow, Walla Faces is hosting a wine-pairing dinner at our vineyard, overlooking acres of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that are just beginning to flower. With all the focus on this beloved grape, we decided to take a look at the fascinating history of the Cabernet Sauvignon varietal.

Cab Sauv

How did this grape variety come to be?

All wine grapes are Vitis vinifera, a species of grape that has been harvested since the Neolithic period between 10,000 and 4,500 BC. The exact origin of Cabernet Sauvignon, however, has been the subject of many wine-related rumors. “Sauvignon”, people speculated, sounds remarkably similar to the French word ‘sauvage’, meaning “wild”. This led some people to hypothesize that Cab Sauv may be derived from the wild Vitis vinifera vines that used to grow throughout France. Others hypothesized that the grape was a subset of the ancient Biturica grape, a grape variety that was cultivated in France by the Romans in the first century AD. Cabernet Sauvignon’s name in the 18th century, Petit Bidure, was used to support this claim.

The mystery was finally solved in 1996, when a geneticist from UC Davis named Dr. Carole Meredith provided micro-satellite DNA data determining Cabernet Sauvignon’s true origins: Cabernet Sauvignon was a cross between two other well-known grape varieties: Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc! Her research demonstrated that the crossing likely occurred in the 17th century by mere chance; two adjacent vineyards containing the two parent varieties led to an accidental cross-contamination… creating one of the most popular red wine grapes ever.

From its birthplace in the Bordeaux wine region, the grape spread across Europe and to the New World due to both its hardy nature, with thick skins that can easily withstand mold or frost, and its rich, full-bodied taste.

Currently, Cabernet Sauvignon is cultivated on 262,000 hectares (650,000 acres) every single year. You can find it growing in almost every wine-producing region of the world. Cab Sauv came to Walla Walla in the early 1970s. It now takes up 41% of the planted area.

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.