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!

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!

Wine 101: What’s the Deal with Vintage?

“Vintage” means one thing when you’re talking about dresses from the forties or that cool thrift shop you’ve always meant to visit, but it means something entirely different when it comes to wine. I’ve always been vaguely aware of this, but unsure of how what exactly it means or, more importantly, how significant it is to making and choosing the perfect wine.

What makes a wine a vintage?

“Vintage” comes from the French “vin,” meaning simply wine. A wine’s vintage refers to the year its grapes were harvested. In France, the USA, and Canada, to be labeled as a vintage, a wine must be made from 95% of grapes harvested that year. Wines from other parts of the world sometimes have up to 15-25% of grapes from other years in their “vintages.”

Why does the vintage change the quality of the wine so much?

“Vintage variation” is the difference in taste between same wines from different years. Sometimes it is barely noticeable and others it can be very striking! This variation all depends on the way the weather influences the grapes during a given growing season.

A good vintage means the weather was well-balanced throughout the entire year. Not too much rain, not too cold or too hot, no unexpectedly harsh hailstorms… This type of balance allows the grapes to ripen evenly and slowly. Too much rain can cause the grapes to rot, while too much intense heat makes them overripe and increases the taste of alcohol in the wine. Lots of rain right around the harvest can leave grapes flavorless and watery. Even the smallest imbalance of weather, be it “too much” or “too little” of any factor, changes the wine.

Interestingly, a bad year for reds could be a good year for whites. A “cooler vintage,” meaning a year growing season with colder temperatures and perhaps more precipitation, can be a death wish for full, spicy red wines but create whites that are pleasantly crisp and acidic.

a quick look at vintages in the last ten years from

A quick look at vintages in the last ten years, from

Likewise, as this “overly simplified” vintage chart from Wine Folly illustrates, a bad year in France could be a good year in Washington, since weather varies so much between regions.

Does the vintage always matter?

To some extent, yes—wine is an agricultural, not an industrial product, and thus the climate and weather will always influence the way grapes turn out.

However, very decent wines can be made from not-so-decent vintage years, which is often where the skill and craftsmanship of winemakers comes in.

Wines that aren’t from the best vintage years often benefit from aging and can turn out great if they are cellared and stored for a few more years!

Further, some regions have less volatile climates than others. California, for example, is one of the biggest producers of wine in the world, but the weather is so dependably, consistently good that the vintages do not change much from year to year. For California wines, the vintage is not always important.

On the other hand, the famous Bordeaux and Burgundy regions in France are places where the vintage matters very much—and their good vintages are so well known that wine merchants often find it difficult to sell Bordeaux wine from an “off” year, even if it is quite good!

Here in the Pacific Northwest, vintage also matters. While the weather is a little easier to count on in the Walla Walla Valley than in the western part of the state, Washington in a place with lots of variation in our weather. Sometimes it snows in the winter and sometimes it doesn’t, and spring doesn’t have an arrival date—it pretty much comes whenever it feels like it!

While it is definitely not the only factor that makes a wine “good,” vintage is a great thing to know about when tasting or buying wine in Walla Walla!

Restaurant Spotlight: Olive Marketplace and Café

When it comes to places to eat in Walla Walla, I have a special place in my heart for Olive Marketplace and Café. When I moved to town, it was the first place I ever went out to dinner. Since then, I have been back more times than I can count, and for good reason: the food is consistently great, the atmosphere is warm and easygoing, and the eatery is wonderfully and dependably always open—even on Sundays! Located a few blocks down from our Inn at Historic Downtown on Main Street, Olive has a lot to offer.

Olive Marketplace and Café

The Story

Olive is owned by Jake and Tabitha Crenshaw, a husband and wife who moved here in 2006 from Seattle so Tabitha could attend the viticulture school program at Walla Walla Community College. According to Tabitha, they stayed “because we both are lifelong food and wine lovers.” They even met working the restaurant industry, she as a waitress and he as a chef. Jake worked at The Marcus Whitman, T.Maccarone’s, and finally opened his own restaurant, Olive, in 2010.

Before Olive, the warm, spacious, two-story space was Walla Walla’s Merchant’s Café for over thirty years. The Crenshaws “wanted to keep Olive in the same spirit,” meaning a place that was always accessible and always open, for three meals a day. Tabitha explained that “we have our patio, for you to sit and people-watch… it’s a place for the whole community, and we think it keeps Main Street fun, and lively, and the place to be in Walla Walla.

They do a lot to keep it lively.  Local artists rotate art shows through Olive about four times a year, with a big opening reception each time. Every Thursday night, local musicians play live music from 6-8pm, an event that Tabitha and Jake pair with a guest appearance by a local winery to offer a tasting for the guests. “Most wineries close around 4 or 5 pm, so it’s great for visitors to get the chance to try one more, or for locals to come who are just getting off work.” Recently, they started replacing one of these Thursdays a month with a beer tasting. “There are actually lots of local breweries opening up around here,”  Tabitha said.

The Food

“The premise is an accessible community gathering place, with farm-to-table local ingredients,” Tabitha explained. “We get a really good mix of tourists and locals—we see our fair share of tourists, and of course we have 80% local wines on our menu, and 10 or 11 of them that you can get by the glass, so it’s a great place to come if you’re in town for wine tasting to sample a few more local wines. But our locals are our bread and butter, they’re here year-round and we love them.” They host discount pizza nights and offer cooking classes, hoping to give back to the town.

The beauty of Olive is that it’s there for almost any occasion—for a morning espresso and pastry; for full breakfast (personally I recommend the strata); for a glass of wine outdoors in the afternoon; for picnic-goers looking to pick up some artisan bread, cheese, seafood, or meats; for a big family dinner, or even late-night dessert.

Devouring the grape and prosciutto pizza that Tabitha recommended...

Devouring the grape and prosciutto pizza that Tabitha recommended…

I also asked Tabitha for her favorite menu item—a hard question, I knew, since there are so many things to try and taste at Olive just for one meal out of the day! “I would probably pick one of our pizzas—the chefs have just nailed the crust, and it’s perfect and crispy and thin. The salmon pizza is delicious, and the prosciutto and grape is really popular too. “

“And then there’s dessert— there are those beautiful layered cake creations up in the front case—you’re stronger than I am if you can go up to the counter and not order one!”

Olive is a staple in downtown Walla Walla, a place to experience good food and a taste of the town’s community. Plus, you never have to wonder if they’re open.

21 E. Main St., Walla Walla, WA 99362

Phone: (509) 526-0200

Open 8am-9pm Daily

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 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!

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.

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!