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!

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.

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.

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!

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!

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.