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 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 Concrete Eggs for Riesling?

The Walla Faces 2010 Riesling is “Concrete Egg Vinted”. The futuristic appearance may be snazzy, but the real benefit is its myriad of effects on the wine.

Like oak, concrete is porous. Thus, the wine is able to breathe, facilitating richness and complexity without leaving an oaky flavor behind. Like barrel aging, the porous nature of the concrete allows the wine to slowly aerate, providing layers and softness. Concrete-fermented wines also typically maintain a lot of fruitiness.

Additionally, the tank imparts a minerality that lingers on the palate. Because Walla Faces used both concrete and stainless steel for our 2010 Riesling, it took on the characteristics of both stainless steel- and concrete-vinted wines. Like stainless steel-vinted wines, this vintage has a crisp, refreshing effect, without sacrificing its rich complexity.

The Walla Faces Concrete Egg Fermenter, produced by Marc Nomblot.

The Walla Faces Concrete Egg Fermenter, nestled in some barrels!

Concrete has been used in winemaking since the early 19th century, when some wines were fermented in huge, rectangular concrete vats. Although the material is a classic, the egg shape is an innovation! The first concrete egg fermenter was commissioned in 2001 by Maison M. Chapoutier, a winery in the Rhone region of France. French manufacturer Nomblot, who has been producing concrete tanks since they opened in 1922.

Nomblot’s tanks are produced using washed sand from the French river Loire, gravel, non-chlorinated spring water and cement. They are treated with tartaric acid before use. Because the tanks are unlined, they are able to provide an effervescent mineral flavor to the wines they contain.

The egg shape provides in important function: it facilitates circulation. Because there is a one degree temperature difference between the top and the bottom of the egg, the wine slowly circulates through the tank. Since there are no corners, the wine won’t get stuck in every nook and cranny. The result? The wine stays more uniform throughout the fermentation process. As a result, the finished product will be more structured. No one wants a flabby Riesling!

Because the wine is slowly moving through the tank, it also has more contact with the lees, the dead yeast. As the lees break down, they release many compounds such as amino acids, polysaccharides and fatty acids. This so-called “lees aging” helps create additional complexity, as well as an appealing mouthfeel and aroma.

Given the benefits of the concrete egg fermenters, why are they still so rare in the United States? Concrete egg fermenters are a lot of work! For starters, winemakers must take special precautions to prevent the acidic wine from corroding the concrete tank. The length of fermentation is also longer in concrete, as opposed to stainless steel. Finally, with Nomblot as the exclusive maker of concrete egg fermenters, it can be difficult to access them. We had to import the tank from France. As Walla Faces co-owner Debbie put it, “[It] cost a fortune to get it here.”

The concrete egg may add some additional work, but the best things in life are worth working for! The best wines in life? Doubly so.

Winemaker Profile: Chris Camarda

Joining as consulting winemaker, Chris Camarda may be the newest member of the Walla Faces team, but he’s hardly an industry novice. Camarda opened Andrew Will Winery in 1989. “I’d worked in the restaurant industry a long time,” he says. “I always ordered the wine!” Andew Will was named for his nephew, Andrew, and his son, Will. Will is currently working at Andrew Will Winery, making it a family affair.

Camarda was mentored by Gary Figgins of Leonetti Cellar, Rick Small of Woodward Canyon Winery, and Alex Golitzin of Quilceda Creek Vintners, all of whom were founding figures in the Washington wine scene. Camarda recalls, “At first, I was copying them. They looked at my wines and gave me some critiques.” He quickly learned, however, to integrate their lessons into a style that was all his own. “They were three very different people and I got different ideas from each of them.”

Chris Camarda

Chris Camarda

His first vintage, sixteen barrels of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, was an instant success. “People liked the wine and that was a big help! Making wine is one thing but selling it is another.” His first cases were snatched up by Seattle Wine Shops, allowing Camarda a foot in the door of the wine industry.

From 2000-2003, Camarda put his methodological mind to work, testing vineyards to find the perfect grape source. “The weather and the vineyard are everything”, he asserts. Camarda looks critically at vineyards for detail work and other signs of a quality grape source. “It’s not like a vineyard, it’s like a garden,” he says. His work on these vineyards transformed his winemaking. He moved from making single-varietal wines to single-vineyard blends. By highlighting the unique attributes of the vineyard itself, Camarda was able to capture the essence of the location.

Andrew Will is still a small operation, making 5,000 cases a year that are quickly snatched up by wine lovers.

Although his vineyard-focused approach was revolutionary, Camarda has a classical eye for winemaking. “I have a lot of respect for tradition,” he says. “I think that although Washington was not a part of that tradition ninety years ago; now we are.” Using his unique blend of traditional methods and off-the-wall ideas, Camarda is able to create something truly unique. “There is a tendency for people to want to make their wines the same and I want mine to be different”, he says. “People just copy what wine critics have liked. In the end, it all ends up being the same. You have one wine and it’s all 100-point wine… It’s the depth, focus, layers, and complexity that makes the great wines, and that’s what I focus on.”

Given Camarda’s dedication to offering unconventional, high-quality wines, it’s no wonder that Into Wine named him as the 33rd most influential winemaker. The 2013 vintage will be his first wines for Walla Faces.

What is Barrel Tasting Weekend?

One of our most beloved holiday traditions has just arrived: Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend! This festive event offers an exclusive opportunity to taste future vintages before they make their way into the bottle. We have carefully selected a few of our favorite barrels to help provide a unique and exciting sample of Walla Faces wines. This is the perfect opportunity for those of you who can’t wait for this wine to make it into the barrel!

This is also your first chance to check out our new winery at the airport. This tiny location forms the backbone of Walla Faces’ wine production operation. We are actively working on new projects right now. Drop by, get a sample, and meet our assistant winemaker, Victor De La Luz, who is bustling about the winery, hard at work.

Downtown, at the Tasting Room, we have opened up a bottle of our Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, the Matthew. It is named for our head winemaker, Matt Loso. This fruit-forward Cab was made from the free run of 100% Walla Faces Estate Cabernet grapes and is normally not available to the general public.

We hope to see you this holiday weekend! Cheers!

The Walla Faces Tasting Room at 216 East Main St. is open 1-6pm.
The Walla Faces Winery at 598 Piper Ave. is open 11-5pm.

Behind the Scenes at the Walla Faces Wine Club


As many of you are already aware, last week Walla Faces was hard at work packing up wine club shipments! It’s always a big endeavor to get wine club shipments out to our wine club members, who live all across the United States. We thought we would show you a little bit of what goes on at wine club shipment time behind the scenes.

This is the first wine club shipment that has included a bottle of Matthew, the 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. This complex, full-bodied wine is made from the free run of the Walla Faces Estate Cabernet grapes and available exclusive to wine club members. We only made 176 cases of the wine! Because this was the first shipment to include a Reserve Cab, we pulled out all the stops. Both Matthew Loso, our winemaker, and Candice Johnson, our artist, signed every single bottle of Reserve Cab! It made for both elegant bottles and very sore hands.

A polished black and white folio gave our wine club members an update on Walla Faces, information on how to best enjoy some of our new wines, and, of course, warm wishes from Rick and Debbie, the owners.

Although we only ship every six months, we spend all year brainstorming on ways to make our wine club even more special. This shipment, we included beautiful handmade glass winestoppers that looked even more stunning against our striking labels.

Bottles With Wine Stoppers

Don’t our Cabernets look beautiful adorned with these wine stoppers? In addition to our Reserve Cabernet, our wine club members received a special early release of the Janice, our Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Janice will be released to the public later this year.

Everything all packed up and ready to go! Each case looks a little difference because we tailor our shipments to your preferences.

It was hard work, but we have finished and gotten our wine club members their packages, save for a few Walla Walla residents who haven’t picked up their shipments in the Walla Faces Tasting Room just yet.

If you are interested in learning more about the Walla Faces wine club, check it out on our website here. Alternatively, if you are in Walla Walla, drop by the Tasting Room at 216 East Main St.! It’s not too late to get some awesome holiday specials available only to wine club members.