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.

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.

“Pairing on Main” Raises Money for Cancer Fund

September 21st was a busy day in the Walla Faces Tasting Room. (It was one of those days where your pace has to be consistently stay between a fastwalk and a sprint.) Not only did we have an endless stream of customers during our regular tasting hours, between 1 and 6, at 6pm the entering crowds became a veritable flood. It was time for “Pairing on Main”, a food and wine event organized by Providence Saint Mary Medical Center, a local full-service hospital.

2013 was the 9th annual Providence Saint Mary Gran Fondo. Gran Fondo, which means, “the Great Ride” started out as a bike riding event to help raise money for the Cancer Special Needs fund. This fund is essential for providing support to local cancer patients. Help ranges from medication to wigs and supportive undergarments for breast cancer patients. Since its advent, it has expanded, allowing participants to choose an event, including a walk, a motorcycle ride, a 5k fun run, a horse trail ride, and a cycling event. For the past five years, Providence Saint Mary has also organized a “Pairing On Main”, which couples local wineries and restaurants to create a series of culinary experiences as guests. This is Walla Faces’ second year participating in “Pairing on Main”.

100% of the money that is raised from Gran Fondo goes directly to Walla Walla patients and their care.

I sat down with Mardi Hagerman, the Providence Saint Mary Resource Nurse, who was the brains behind Gran Fondo. “I was the original act in town for it!” she proclaims. “We needed to make some money for the special needs fund… the idea came up in the hallway with a nurse who was a cyclist, working with the Whitman cycling team.” The addition of “Pairing on Main” was the brainchild of Walla Walla Chef and Caterer Ceil Blain. “It just took off!” Mardi notes.

Participants receive a wineglass and a map. They migrate from tasting room to tasting room, each of which provides a sample of wine and a perfectly paired bite-sized hors d’œuvre, catered by one of Walla Walla’s finest restaurants. The first “Pairing on Main” sold 75 tickets. Now, the capacity has been bumped up to 150. “We’re not going to go above that because we are cognizant of the generosity of our vendors on main street, who are donating their food and wine… the restaurants are still serving guests plus doing our event!” Mardi confirms. “Our downtown proprietors are so generous.”

Mardi continues, “[This year] was very successful.” The 2013 Gran Fondo raised a record-breaking $29,000 for the Providence Saint Mary Cancer Fund. “The first year, we made $900,” Mardi notes. “Every year, people are a little more familiar with us and a little more sensitive to our cause. After all, there’s no one that isn’t affected by this diagnosis, whether it is a personal diagnosis or a family diagnosis.”

Our Pairing on Main Volunteer, Mardi Hagerman, and Walla Faces Owner Debbie Johnson Pose for a Photo

Our “Pairing on Main” Volunteer, Mardi Hagerman, and Walla Faces Owner Debbie Johnson Pose for a Photo

Mardi is not only in charge of organizing the event, she is the brawn behind the operation as well! “I’m the waitress,” she says. “I help out where I’m needed. I got my food handler’s permit so that I could do the grunt work.”

This year, Walla Faces was paired with Whitehouse Crawford. We served both our 2008 Syrah, a library wine with a perfect balance of white pepper and blackberry notes, and our 2010 Riesling, an off-dry wine that’s as complex as it is crisp. After tasting our wine, Whitehouse Crawford Head Chef Jamie Guerin prepared a Capocollo, jalapeño, goat cheese, and arugula salad-stuffed gougères. These cheesy French pastries are a wine-pairing classic; in France, they are traditionally consumed in wine cellars as a part of a wine tasting. In addition to donating our wine, 25% of Walla Faces bottle sales during the “Pairing on Main” were donated to the Providence Saint Mary Cancer Fund.

“Every year, I am overwhelmed by the generosity of this community,” Mardi says. “I have met so many wonderful people thanks to ‘Pairing on Main’, who have a strong heart for what we do.”

“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.

10 Ways You Know You Have a Winery Dog

Visitors to the Walla Faces Vineyard have almost certainly met Angel, Rick and Debbie’s bubbly and lovable 6-year-old shih tzu. As the most good-humored member of the Walla Faces team, she has fully embraced her role as winery dog.

Angel was adopted as 6-week-old puppy by her original owner. When her owner sadly passed on last year, Debbie’s close friend began to spread the word about the vivacious animal. “Shirley posted about her on Facebook and in twenty minutes she was my dog,” Debbie laughed. In July 2012, she joined another winery dog, Red, an elderly greyhound rescue, who passed away in January.

Even beyond her wonderful personality, Angel epitomizes what it means to be a winery dog in at least ten ways.

Angel, the Walla Faces Winery Dog

Angel loves chewing on corks. It’s her favorite pastime!

10 Ways You Know You Have a Winery Dog

  1. Her favorite chew toy isn’t available at the pet store– it’s a wine cork from your favorite bottle of wine!
  2. You  trust her not to knock over an open bottle of Riesling.
  3. She gets her exercise running up and down rows of grape vines.
  4. If you spill a few drops of Cabernet, she’s always there to lick up the mess.
  5. Since dogs have 20 times more scent receptors than humans do, she can smell your wine better than a master sommelier.
  6. She loves resting under the shade of an oak barrel.
  7. She’s even more loyal than a wine club member.
  8. She sits in front of the door at the tasting room, eager to greet any customers.
  9. She has you worried about what pairs best with her kibble.
  10.  She loves the terroir so much that her fur is completely covered in it!

Angel the winery dog

Science Says You Probably Need a Vacation

If you’ve been postponing a vacation to the Walla Walla Valley, you might not want to delay much longer! The scientific literature suggests that taking a brief holiday may not only help reduce stress, but promote health and intelligence.

If you’ve been procrastinating on taking a trip, you’re not alone. Americans earn fewer vacation days than workers in other countries. Despite this, the average American worker leaves 17% of their vacation days unused at the end of the year. A full 25% of Americans take no vacations at all. This is unfortunate, since taking some time off from everyday stress is an important step in taking care of yourself.

Need a vacation? This is the view from the Walla Faces Pool Suite at the vineyard.

The view from the Walla Faces Pool Suite at the vineyard.

According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Research in Quality of Life, the best thing you can do to increase your happiness is to plan a vacation. On average, planning a vacation boosted happiness for a full eight weeks. This works just as well for small trips as it does for big trips! Because the anticipation was so key to the effects on happiness, the researchers noted that a few trips may be better than one big, long one. Once you get back, your boosted mood will last for an average of two more weeks. That means that a weekend getaway from, say, Seattle to Walla Walla could make a really big difference for your stress level, adding up to nearly ten weeks of reduced stress!

Among men who are at high risk of coronary heart disease, taking a vacation decreased their chances of having a heart attack by a full 32%. Women showed even more startling results: Women who vacation twice a year are eight times less likely to have a heart attack than women who vacation once every six years. Studies have show that vacations can do everything from lowering your blood pressure to boosting your immune system.

Vacations also increase job productivity when you do get back to work. There is even some evidence that a good vacation will boost your IQ. (Hardly a surprise, given the neurological evidence that stress may shrink parts of the human brain.) Luckily, a few days away in the Walla Walla Valley is an easy solution…

To make a reservation at the Walla Faces Inns and start planning your vacation, click here.

Warm Weather Indicates an Early 2013 Harvest

If there is one word to describe the summer of 2013 in Walla Walla, it is hot. It’s been the second warmest summer on record. The blazingly sunny days have only been outmatched by the incredibly warm nights. As the Washington State University Agricultural Weather Network noted, “Warm, warmest, and warmer is the best way to characterize the 2013 summer season.” This weather pattern suggests that we’re likely to see an early 2013 harvest.

Washington state as a whole averaged more than two degrees above standard weather. The heat also started early this year. In Walla Walla, we were hitting high temperatures by the beginning of July. August was equally hot; it was the warmest that it has been since 1991. During this time, Walla Walla stayed characteristically dry, with only 0.15 inches of rainfall in August. This dry weather is ideal for wine growing, since it allows winemakers to completely control the amount of water that grapes are exposed to.

What does the summer heat mean for the Walla Faces 2013 Harvest?

Rows of Cabernet Sauvignon. Taken at the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard on September 9, 2013.

This heat decreases the amount of time that it takes for grapes to ripen. After veraison, the grapes throughout the Walla Walla Valley began to ripen quickly. This quick ripening process means that the berries are smaller than usual, making their flavor more concentrated. This will create an intense, flavorful wine.

The Walla Faces Estate Vineyard is at a higher elevation than the rest of the valley. As a result, we have a more temperate climate. Consequentially, veraison and harvest are usually a little later for us than they are for the rest of the valley. However, the warm weather is definitely bumping up the date of the 2013 harvest.

A few storms and some anticipated cooler temperatures will probably slow down the ripening process in the next few weeks. Still, we expect an early harvest date and some bold, fruit-forward 2013 vintages thanks to the weather!