The Story of the Noble Rot

Pourriture noble (in English: ‘the Noble Rot’) is a parasitic infection of a grey fungus called Botrytis cinerea. Botrytis affects over 80 different types of plants in the Pacific Northwest, including strawberries, tomatoes, and bulb plants. On most plants, botrytis will rot the stems, fruit, and crowns. The plant tissue will begin to collapse in on itself.

Even in wine grapes, botrytis can pose a major hazard. In extremely damp conditions, botrytis will fester, leading to unusable grapes that have been destroyed by ‘the Gray Rot’. Botrytis qualifies as ‘the Noble Rot’ when wet conditions bring botrytis spores, but subsequent dryness leads to a partial raisining process. As the mold enters the skin of the grapes, its spores begin to germinate. The water inside the grape evaporates, leading to a concentrated sugar content.

The Noble Rot is important for several distinctive dessert wines, including ice wine. For the Walla Faces 2008 Riesling Ice Wine, the cultivation of botrytis added to the sweetness of the finished product. The use of botrytis also increased depth and complexity, especially for Riesling varietals. The deep golden color of the Walla Faces Ice Wine epitomizes the complex beauty of a botrytized wine.

Botrytis, the Noble Rot, growing on Riesling grapes.

Botrytis growing on Riesling grapes.

It’s not exactly clear when botrytis was first used in winemaking. Historical documents show that botrytis showed up in Hungarian literature as early as 1576. By 1730, botrytis was so integral to Hungarian winemaking that vineyards were rates based on the proclivities for cultivating the fungus.

The Germans, however, have a special legend about its origin. They say that the Noble Rot was discovered independently in Germany in 1775. According to the myth, the Riesling farmers were required to wait for their estate owner’s go-ahead in order to harvest. When the messenger delivering the order to harvest was robbed en-route, the farmers were forced to watch the grapes slowly begin to rot. Assuming the grapes to be worthless, the vineyard owner, Heinrich von Bibra, gave the grapes to the German peasants, who used it to make the first late-harvest Riesling.

Now, the use of botrytis is hardly an accident, with many winemaker intentionally infecting their vineyards in order to achieve the complexity and sweetness that proper use of botrytis ensures. (In the Pacific Northwest, however, botrytis is usually introduced naturally.)

How Did the Walla Walla Incubators Come to Be?

The Walla Walla Incubators are the home of some of the most innovative boutique wineries in the Walla Walla Valley. Stop by and you can both taste wines and meet winery owners and winemakers in their domain. I sat down with Jennifer Skoglund, the Airport Manager at the Walla Walla Regional Airport, to talk about the history of the Incubator project. Jennifer has been a part of the project since they built the original three buildings.

The idea came in the mid-2000s, when the Walla Walla Community College was just getting started. Students were graduating from the program, and there was increasing demand for new wineries to accommodate the influx of bright, aspiring winemakers.

Walla Walla Incubators at the airport.

Walla Walla Incubators at the airport

The money for the Incubator Project was appropriated within the State Capital by representative Bill Grant. Grant sadly passed away in 2009 after serving 22 years in the state House of Representatives. He represented the 16th legislative district, which Walla Walla County, Columbia County, southern Benton County and Pasco.

In 2006, with a simple line in the capital budget, the state set aside $1 million to build the original three Incubators. In 2008, the state appropriated another$500,000 for the second two buildings. In addition, the Port of Walla Walla put in an additional $400,000 for the project. The investment of the State and the Port allows the blossoming winery tenants the flexibility to focus their funds on the best equipment available.

The six year limit for the lease was built into the original project. To choose the six year maximum, the Port worked with Dr. Myles Anderson, founder of Walla Walla Vintners and the Interim Director of the Walla Walla Community College Viticulture Program, who initially helped launch the program in 2000. They also worked with Norm McKibben, managing partner in Seven Hills Vineyard, Les Collines Vineyard, Pepper Bridge Winery and Amavi Cellars. Anderson and McKibben helped design the size and the layout of the incubators. The incubators were built with the expectation that each winery would be making about 2,000 cases a year; This was based on Anderson and McKibben’s calculations that this production was the threshold for a startup to be successful. They also determined the length of “incubation”, determining that six years was enough time to “become profitable enough to move out into their own project”, Jennifer recalls.

The Incubators offer an escalated rental term. As the six years progress, the property becomes increasingly expensive to lease. Jennifer says that this ensures that wineries “do not become stagnant and feel that they can stay here too long”.

The initial three wineries were Adamant Cellars, Lodmell Cellars, and Trio Vintners. Trio was comprised of the Walla Walla Community College Viticulture Program grads. CAVU Cellars and Kontos Cellars moved in next. Trio’s old building is now occupied by Corvus Cellars, and Lodmell’s old building is the site of the Walla Faces winery!

The incubator project continues to support new, blossoming wineries. “I think it’s been very successful,” Jennifer asserted. “It gives people an avenue to start their dreams.”

A Natural History of Cabernet Sauvignon

We’re right in the thick of Celebrate Walla Walla, a weekend event dedicated to Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the world’s most recognized varietals. Tomorrow, Walla Faces is hosting a wine-pairing dinner at our vineyard, overlooking acres of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that are just beginning to flower. With all the focus on this beloved grape, we decided to take a look at the fascinating history of the Cabernet Sauvignon varietal.

Cab Sauv

How did this grape variety come to be?

All wine grapes are Vitis vinifera, a species of grape that has been harvested since the Neolithic period between 10,000 and 4,500 BC. The exact origin of Cabernet Sauvignon, however, has been the subject of many wine-related rumors. “Sauvignon”, people speculated, sounds remarkably similar to the French word ‘sauvage’, meaning “wild”. This led some people to hypothesize that Cab Sauv may be derived from the wild Vitis vinifera vines that used to grow throughout France. Others hypothesized that the grape was a subset of the ancient Biturica grape, a grape variety that was cultivated in France by the Romans in the first century AD. Cabernet Sauvignon’s name in the 18th century, Petit Bidure, was used to support this claim.

The mystery was finally solved in 1996, when a geneticist from UC Davis named Dr. Carole Meredith provided micro-satellite DNA data determining Cabernet Sauvignon’s true origins: Cabernet Sauvignon was a cross between two other well-known grape varieties: Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc! Her research demonstrated that the crossing likely occurred in the 17th century by mere chance; two adjacent vineyards containing the two parent varieties led to an accidental cross-contamination… creating one of the most popular red wine grapes ever.

From its birthplace in the Bordeaux wine region, the grape spread across Europe and to the New World due to both its hardy nature, with thick skins that can easily withstand mold or frost, and its rich, full-bodied taste.

Currently, Cabernet Sauvignon is cultivated on 262,000 hectares (650,000 acres) every single year. You can find it growing in almost every wine-producing region of the world. Cab Sauv came to Walla Walla in the early 1970s. It now takes up 41% of the planted area.

Malolactic fermentation and barrel aging at the Walla Faces winery!

Last weekend was the first time that Walla Faces was able to open our winery at the incubators to the general public. Winemaking is a complex art that involves many processes and a skillful hand to do well. Our tiny winery has many processes going at once, making it a bustling place to visit. Each step of the winemaking process affects how the wine tastes when it finally gets to your table!

The Walla Faces winery is divided into two big sections: a warmer area for malolactic fermentation and a cooler area for aging.

Malolactic fermentation takes place in the warmer part of the winery. During this process, bacteria convert malic acid, a natural part of freshly pressed grape juice, to lactic acid. Malic acid is very tart, with a taste almost like an under-ripe green apple, whereas lactic acid is almost buttery. Thus, malolactic fermentation helps reduce the sharpness and bitterness of the wine, improves the mouthfeel, and enhances the wine’s flavor.

Of course, during malolactic fermentation an even more crucial process is occurring: the sugar is being converted to alcohol! About 70% of the sugar has already been turned to alcohol by the time malolactic fermentation begins in a fast, frothy process called primary fermentation. During malolactic fermentation, the remaining 30% of the sugar is converted to alcohol.

After the wine has finished fermenting, it is time for it to age. A cooler section of the winery is reserved for the wine aging in the barrel. Immediately after fermentation has completed, the wine usually still tastes “green”. The porous oak allows for controlled oxidation, decreasing the astringency and adding greater complexity of aromas and flavors throughout the aging process. In addition, the tannins are softened and the wine begins to take on the character of the barrel.

Last weekend, for holiday barrel tasting, we opened up one barrel of 2012 Cabernet, which is currently undergoing malolactic fermentation, one barrel of 2010 Cabernet, which is currently aging in the barrel, and our Reserve Cabernet in the bottle. This offered winery visitors the opportunity to see how the wine progressed from

Thank you to everyone who came out and visited the winery last weekend!


Walla Faces is moving our production to the incubators at the airport!

Between 2006 and 2008, the Port of Walla Walla built five Dr. Seuss-colored “incubator” buildings to serve as functional wineries for up-and-coming Walla Walla entrepreneurs. Walla Faces is excited to announce that we will be joining four other innovative wineries at the incubators. We will be in the green building– right in the middle of everything! We are currently busy moving everything in, painting and decorating the space. When it is done, it will be like an industrial art gallery, with white walls and a dark cork floor.

Walla Faces is excited about our new winery location because it will allow us to be much more hands-on in the winemaking process. When Matthew Loso, the Walla Faces winemaker, learned that we were signing the lease, he breathed a sigh of happiness. “Finally,” he said, “a home.” Up until now, we have done something called ‘custom crush’ and our barrels have been stored at another winery. Now, we are doing it all on our own, offering new opportunities for innovation and creativity.

We are also happy that we will be able to share the winemaking process with you. Walla Faces employees are always ecstatic to have visitors in the Tasting Room, and we welcome Walla Faces hotel guests and other visitors by appointment at our vineyard. However, this is the first time we will be able to share the actual act of winemaking with our customers. It is fantastic opportunity to see the production of small, local wineries in progress. You can even do a wine tasting in the bustle of the winery itself. When winter comes, we will also offer barrel tasting at the winery, letting you taste the wine as it progresses.

We haven’t moved in yet and we are still unpacking all of our shiny new equipment, so you will have to wait a little longer to come take a tour. But keep an eye on our facebook and blog! We will tell you when this busy building is open for business.

In the meantime, you can always visit us at the Walla Faces Tasting Room at 216 East Main.

A look at the Walla Faces 2012 harvest!


The decision about when to harvest is one of the most critical steps in the wine-making process. If you harvest too early, the undeveloped tannins will lead to a grassy flavor and a bitter wine. If you harvest too late, winter weather conditions may destroy the entire crop.

Walla Faces harvests our grapes later in the year than most other wineries, a luxury afforded to small vineyards, to ensure that the grapes have had sufficient time to mature. Our pesticide- and herbicide-free vineyard is 10 acres of juicy Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grapes, two varietals that take longer to reach the ideal sugar and acid level. For 2012, Walla Faces is also producing a Tempranillo and a Merlot blend that use grapes from other vineyards. Tempranillo, whose name comes for the Spanish word for “early”, matures quickly. Consequentially, our 2012 Tempranillo was well into its time in the barrel by the time we harvested our Cab and Syrah.

This year, we harvested on October 31st and November 1st. In the days preceding harvest, we kept a very close eye on both the ripeness of the grapes, testing them for sugars and acids to ensure a perfect product, and on the weather, waiting for clear skies. On Halloween, we had a perfect storm of beautifully ripened grapes and crisp, dry conditions.

Every year, we assemble a crew that handpicks our grapes off the vines. They move quickly, allowing us to completely harvest our grapes in a mere two days.

When harvest is over, the grapes are immediately taken to be crushed at a crush pad. Unlike table grapes, wine grapes do not last once they have been picked, so they need to be crushed immediately.

If you have a patient palette, be sure to keep an eye out for the 2012 vintages from Walla Faces. It was a perfect harvest, so our wines are sure to be wonderful as well. In the meantime, drop by the Walla Faces Tasting Room at 216 East Main St. and pick up a bottle of the 2008 vintages.

October at the Walla Faces Vineyard

Cab_SauvIt’s October and starting to get a little chillier in Walla Walla! Even though many of us are starting to abandon our summer apparel of shorts and tank tops for sweaters and hot beverages, the grapes at the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard are still soaking up the sun.

Leaving the grapes on the vine longer allows for that perfect balance of sugar and acidity. Harvesting too early will mean that there is not enough sugar and too much acid. The resulting wine will lack aroma and will often have a “grassy” flavor. Because our vineyard is a very small 10 acres, we are able to be sensitive to changes in the weather, allowing us to harvest at the perfect time. Often, we hold off on harvesting until November. This year, we anticipate waiting another two to three weeks to harvest, depending on the weather. Harvest typically takes only two to three days of hard work.

rows_of_syrahThe luscious grapes aren’t the only thing vineyard visitors are likely to notice. Ever since the grapes underwent veraison, the process by which grapes turn from green to red, they have been a juicy treat for wandering birds. Consequentially, we use speakers playing a soundtrack of “birds in distress” to ward off hungry pests. Thankfully, even though this is the only pest-control measure we use, we have never had a problem with birds!

The grapes are not just a treat for birds- they are a treat for humans as well! When you bite into one of the Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah grapes growing at the Walla Faces vineyard, you will be surprised by the opulent sweetness. Although the grapes are very sweet now, much of that sugar will be converted to alcohol during fermentation. Wine grapes are also smaller, softer and juicier than table grapes. The Cabernet Sauvignon grapes have a subtle hint of cherry with a deep fruitiness, whereas the Syrah taste almost like blueberries. This will contribute to the ultimate flavor of the wine, although these differences are significantly enhanced during the wine-making process.

Both the skin and the seed also hold important clues about the wine. The skins play an important role in the wine, giving it both its color and most of its flavor. Both Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah have very thick skins, allowing them to be robust, age-worthy wines. The Syrah has slightly thicker skin than the Cab, making the tannins more prominent in that wine.

The seeds help give clues about the ripeness of the grape. As the berries ripen, the prominent seeds inside the grapes change from green to brown. Looking at the seed color is a quick and easy way of assessing ripeness.
Overall, our grapes are coming along very nicely. File this away for future knowledge: 2012 is sure to be an amazing vintage!

All photos in this post were taken Saturday, October 6, 2012 at the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard.

Why Walla Walla for Wine?

There are about 700 wineries in Washington state, making us second only to California in wine production. Over 100 of these Washington wineries are situated in the Walla Walla basin. So what helps our beautiful grapes grow so well in this area?

Walla Walla means “many waters” in the Native American language Sahaptin. These waters flow down to this small town at the foot of the Blue Mountains, irrigating the 1,800 acres of grapes that grown in the region. In addition to vineyards, Walla Walla is known for its orchards, wheat, and onions, all of which benefit from the amazing rivers that flow throughout the area. Because Walla Walla does not get much rainfall, growers can perfectly control the amount of water their grapes receive for the most delicious product.

Washington State
The complex history of the Walla Walla soil has also helped facilitate the wine industry. 15,000 years ago, glacial floods brought mineral-rich silt to the area. Heavy winds deposited a form of silt called loess into the soil, allowing for the perfect amount of drainage for the grapevines. Finally, volcanic eruptions covered the area in rich ash. Volcanic ash breaks down quickly and releases minerals when it is in contact with the sun, making it ideal for nurturing growing vines. (Indeed, most world-renowned wine regions, from Napa to France to Italy to Germany have benefited from volcanic ash in their soil.)

Cabernet GrapesBecause Walla Walla is on latitude 46°, just like the Burgundy and Bordeaux regions of France, it has long summer days and short, cool nights to create the perfect balance between sugar and acidity in the final wine product. Regardless of the stereotypes about Washington as a super rainy state, during the 200-day long growing season, Walla Walla has two hours more sunlight per day than California. Thanks to Walla Walla’s extended summer, grapes can be left on the vine longer than they can in most places. Walla Faces, for example, often doesn’t harvest until the middle of November.

It’s no wonder that Walla Walla has been producing some of the best wines in the country since in the mid-1980s.

The first grapes were planted in Walla Walla as early as the 1850s, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the industry really began to take hold. Although Walla Walla originally gained notoriety for its Merlot, it is now producing some of the most delicious American Syrahs and Cabernets. 41% of the grapes grown in the Walla Walla Valley are Cabernet Savignon, followed by Merlot and Syrah. These luscious reds should not be missed. Our delicious white-peppery Syrah, smooth Fusion Cabernet blend and fruit-forward Reserve Cabernet all benefit from the amazing region where they are grown.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Riesling, Ice WineWalla Walla has even more to offer than the wine. Walla Walla has a myriad of upscale restaurants, a rich art and music scene, beautiful historic buildings, lush parks including a locally-run aviary, and a the longest-running symphony on this side of the Mississippi River.

If you want to visit these exceptional wine-growing conditions yourself, make your reservation at our hotel at the vineyard here.