Great Northwest Wine: Walla Faces is “Excellent”!

It’s always an honor to receive good reviews, whether for our hotels or our wine. This spring, Walla Faces won the TripAdvisor 2014 Certificate of Excellence for the second year in a row, and today, we’re excited to share two excellent reviews of our wine from Great Northwest Wine!

Great Northwest Wine is an online magazine about wine in the Pacific Northwest, featuring industry tidbits, news about wine, and wine reviews. The project of Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue, two seasoned journalists and wine writers, it updates daily with new content, and is a must-read website for wine enthusiasts, particularly those in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

We sent Great Northwest Wine two samples of our wine–a bottle of the 2012 Tempranillo and a bottle of the 2012 Estate Syrah. The reviews, we’re happy to say, were sparkling.

2012 Syrah and 2012 Tempranillo

The review of the 2012 Tempranillo compliments the choice of fruit–grapes from the “stellar” Stone Tree Vineyard in Wahluke Slope, WA. It describes the wine’s dark fruit flavors and the “splash of cola and creaminess” before settling on a final rating: “Excellent.” Similarly, the review of the 2012 Estate Syrah describes its aromas as “enticing” and its entry and finish as “rich”, and also rates the wine as “Excellent.”

We’re very honored to receive such praise, and want to congratulate co-winemakers Rick Johnson and Victor de la Luz, as well as consulting winemaker Chris Camarda, for a job superbly done!

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!

Holiday Barrel with Walla Faces

Every winter, Walla Walla wineries ring in the holiday season with one of the biggest events of the year: Holiday Barrel Tasting! On the first weekend of December, wineries across the valley open their doors for special events and samples of upcoming wines. Walla Faces is celebrating Holiday Barrel on Saturday, December 7th, and we want you to join us!

Come to the Walla Faces Winery on Saturday the 7th for an afternoon of good wine, good food, and good company. For your standard $5 tasting fee, you can meet some of the faces behind Faces, like co-winemakers Victor de la Luz and Rick Johnson! We’ll be pouring our normal full flight of six Walla Faces wines, plus we’ll have exclusive barrel samples of our upcoming 2012 Syrah, 2012 Tempranillo, and 2013 Rosé, all served up by Victor himself. Bottles of these wines won’t be sold for another few months, so it’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity!

Co-winemaker Rick Johnson stands among barrels of Walla Faces wine

Co-winemaker Rick Johnson will be on hand to tell you the Walla Faces story from the vineyard to the bottle.

Victor and Barrel

Co-winemaker Victor de la Luz is eager to show off our barrels–and the wine in them!

In the mood for snacks? Treat your palate to scrumptious pairings, like gourmet cheeses, or cordials from Bright’s Candies, filled with our very own ’09 Syrah, “Bill”.

To top it all off, we’ll hold a drawing at 3pm, and the winner will go home with a free night at one of the Walla Faces Inns – your choice of the location! All of this, for only a $5 tasting fee. What better way to celebrate Holiday Barrel?

Wine Club Benefits

Members of our wine club not only get free admission to this event, but can also bring along up to three guests free of charge! This event is the perfect opportunity for wine club members to taste an early sample of the wine they’ll receive in their spring shipment.

If you aren’t a wine club member, it’s easy to sign up! Visit the Join Our Club page on our site or visit our downtown tasting room to learn more and join.

Holiday Barrel – Event Details

  • What: Holiday Barrel Tasting
  • Where: Walla Faces Winery, 598 Piper Way at the Walla Walla Airport
  • When: Saturday, December 7, 11am-4pm
  • Cost: $5 per person
  • Details: Taste sneak peeks of our upcoming Tempranillo, Syrah, and Rosé, enjoy wine-filled cordials from Bright’s and gourmet cheeses, meet the faces behind Faces, and enter to win a free night at one of the Walla Faces Inns!

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.”

Chris Camarda Joins Walla Faces

Walla Faces is proud to welcome Chris Camarda as our new consulting winemaker. His passion, methodological nature, and uniqueness are the perfect pairing for Walla Faces wines. With the opening of our new winery and the introduction of Camarda, Walla Faces is evolving into a new, more sophisticated vintage.

Camarda is a seasoned winemaker who built his prestige on both single-varietal wines and blends that allowed the vineyard to truly shine through. By processing grapes from different locations identically, he was able to distinguish the unique characteristics of Washington vineyards. As a result, he the perfect person to showcase the rich Cabernet and Syrah grapes at the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard. As owner of Andrew Will cellars, he has also established his ability to create beautifully balanced Bordeaux-style blends that are absolute stand-outs.

Walla Faces Owner Rick Johnson, Winemaker Chris Camarda, and Assistant Winemaker Victor De La Luz

Walla Faces Owner Rick Johnson, Consultant Winemaker Chris Camarda, and Assistant Winemaker Victor De La Luz

In addition to Camarda, we are happy to announce that Victor De La Luz will be serving as our full-time Assistant Winemaker. Victor has been an essential part of our transition to the new winery, and has cared for our gorgeous barrels like a loving parent. His diligence, flair for winemaking, and contagious smile create the perfect storm out at the winery.

These new faces are the next step in developing a distinct identity in our wine. We are already known for our smooth Fusion red, approachable Syrah, luscious Cabernets, and unconventional Rieslings. This will give us even more opportunities for innovation and refinement. The 2013 wines are sure to be our most exciting vintage yet!