Flowering grape vines at the Walla Faces vineyard

Every year, grape vines go through an annual growth cycle that ultimately produces the ripe, juicy grapes needed for winemaking. June is a particularly exciting time at the vineyard because many of these steps occur in quick succession. We started June with some gorgeous budding grapes.

Budding grapes at the Walla Faces Vineyard.

Budding grapes at the Walla Faces Vineyard, taken May 30, 2013.

Wine grapes have high seasonal nutritional needs. As a result, when the buds first appear, we spray the grapes in the Walla Faces vineyard with a micromineral composition that helps them grow to their fullest potential. For example, spraying the buds with boron can help improve bud growth.

After the budding stage, the grapes will begin to flower. This is a a very-weather dependent step. During warm years, the grapes will flower early, whereas at cooler temperatures this step will be delayed. At our vineyard, we typically see flowering starting somewhere between the first and last weeks of June, depending on the weather. This year was pretty typical; flowering started a couple of weeks into the month.

Flowering grapes at the Walla Faces Vineyard.

Flowering grapes at the Walla Faces Vineyard, taken June 16, 2013.

Cabernet and Syrah grapes (as well as most Vitis vinifera grapes, the species used for winemaking) are self-pollinating. Sometimes wind and insects will help the process, but in general pollination is contained within the grape vine. Once the ovary is fertilized, the flower will begin to turn into a grape berry, surrounding a large seed.

Fruit Set at the Walla Faces Vineyard

Fruit Set at the Walla Faces Vineyard, taken June 30, 2013.

Both the Syrah and the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes have stopped flowering now. They have entered the fruit set stage. These baby grapes will be the basis of the 2013 vintage.

Celebrate Walla Walla

The first Celebrate Walla Walla took place this past weekend. The 70 participating wineries came together to concretely demonstrate how special the Walla Walla Valley wine region is. On Saturday, Walla Faces hosted a winemaker dinner at our estate vineyard. The dinner featured the wines of four boutique wineries: CAVU Cellars, Corvus Cellars, Kontos Cellars, and, of course, Walla Faces! Each of these small wineries makes their wine at the Incubators at the airport. Our side-by-side wineries produce some of the most exclusive, innovative wines in Walla Walla.

The 77-degree Saturday was the perfect weather for sitting by the pool, admiring the flourishing Cabernet grapes, sipping wines, and dodging Angel, the winery dog, as she tried to acquire some snacks for herself.

The evening commenced with appetizers, including Copper River salmon flatbreads, topped with Dijon and local Monteillet fresh chevre. We also featured roasted red potatoes, which had been dug up that very morning from Chef Greg Schnorr‘s garden, and were complemented by a Parmesan souffle.  Mini BLTs made from jowl bacon also featured Chef Greg’s home-grown ingredients; Greg is known throughout Walla Walla for his hand-raised pork. Each of the four participating wineries cracked open a few crisp, chilled bottles to kick off the celebration! CAVU’s Barbera Rosé, Corvus’ Viognier, Kontos’ Gossamer White and Walla Faces’ Riesling all helped provide the ideal complement to the light appetizers and warm June day.

The second course included a Walla Walla Sweet Onion soup, with juicy braised oxtail at the bottom of the bowl. A toasted baguette covered in Gruyere was lovingly placed on top of each portion. This soup was paired with the Kontos Cellars 2009 Alatus Blend, a classic-tasting blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc that perfectly complemented the rich earthiness of the soup.

The third course was a duck confit ravioli, nested in an bolognese filled with more duck confit. A carrot and celery topping adorned the hand-made raviolis, which were created using duck eggs for the dough. Paired with the CAVU 2010 Barbera, a bold and spicy varietal that is an uncommon find in the Walla Walla Valley, the fatty duck flavors melted perfectly in my mouth.

The fourth course was a cherry stuffed pork chop straight from Chef Greg’s farm. “I named them after monsters this year,” Chef Greg quipped. “I believe that today we are eating ‘Kim Lard-Ashian’.” The bitter fresh arugula balanced the sweet, sage-stuffed cherries. The 2008 Walla Faces Fusion Red was the perfect pairing. This egg-white fined blend of Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, and Syrah has dark cherry flavors that perfectly complemented the cherries in this dish.

The fifth course was lamb with a wild mushroom demi glace over a spoonful of whipped potatoes, which was paired with a 2009 Corvus Syrah/Petite Sirah blend. The allspice, plum and pepper flavors make this earthy, full-bodied wine great for lamb dishes.

Desserts included dark chocolate truffles, fresh Klicker strawberries over Hungarian shortbread, candied walnuts and a myriad of cheeses, served with the Walla Faces Ice Wine.

The dinner was an incredible success, with the beauty of the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard, the mouth-watering flavor of the food, and the locally-made perfection of the wines melding together to showcase the best of what Walla Walla has to offer. We were happy to celebrate this region with both Walla Faces regular customers and brand new faces. Thank you to everyone who helped this event happen or who attended. For those of you who we didn’t see, please feel free to come visit all four wineries out in the “winery district” at the Incubators by the Walla Walla airport.

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.

Walla Walla Wine History

Walla Walla has a rich history of winemaking that traces back to 1859, when A. B. Roberts established one of the first grape nurseries. This nursery contained eighty European grape varietals that had been imported from Champoeg, Oregon.

The wine industry quickly took off in the 1860s and 1870s, when a gold rush in Idaho brought miners through the Walla Walla Valley. Because of their lush vineyards, supply posts were able to sell not only traditional supplies, but grapes and wine to satiate travelers. Even these early vineyards were able to harvest 50 tons of grapes per year.

This locally-produced wine was also sold at local storefronts. For example, Frank Orselli, an Italian immigrant, established a winery at the height of the gold rush. He annually made 42 oak barrels of wine from Muscat, Black Prince, and Concord grapes. His wines were sold at a small bakery right downtown, on the intersection of Second Avenue and Main Street.

Additionally, by 1882, locally produced wine was available in all of Walla Walla’s 26 saloons.

Unfortunately, deep freezes in 1883 and 1884 viciously wiped out the majority of the local grapes. Walla Walla typically experiences a very cold freeze about every six years. Although these freezes do harm the Walla Walla wine industry today, we now plant vines at higher elevations and bury shoots to help mitigate the damage.


The Walla Faces Vineyard in the Snow

Even more devastatingly, by the turn of the century, the Idaho gold rush had ended, putting a huge damper on the influence of the wine industry. When Prohibition came to Washington state in 1917, thanks to the Anti-Saloon League, the influence of the formal wine industry completely disappeared.

Walla Walla citizens turned to homemade wine. They were allowed to make up to 200 gallons of wine per year without a permit. Grapes came not only from Walla Walla, but from Marysville, Sunnyside, and Stretch Island. Grappa, a fragrant, grape-based brandy, was also frequently made in homes, although Federal agents were able to shut down some of these illegal distilleries.

At the end of Prohibition, Zinfandel grapes were shipped via train from California. The wine was made by Italian immigrants. In the the 1950s, a variety of winemakers attempted to start commercial wineries. The first attempt was by Bert Pesciallo. Unfortunately, another deep freeze in 1955 shut down many of the attempts to revive the wine industry.

Finally, in 1977, Leonetti Cellars opened, triggering a wave of commercial wineries. A mere seven years later, the area became federally recognized as an American Viticultural Area (AVA). At that time, it covered only 60 acres of vineyards and included just four wineries. As Walla Walla wines began to get national recognition, the wine industry began to flourish again. Now, over 175 wineries operate out of the Walla Walla Valley, including, of course, Walla Faces.

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!


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.

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.

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.

Walla Faces Spotlight: Black Tie Wine Tours

Black Tie Tours Walla WallaIn our new blog series, we will be featuring community members, businesses, and Walla Faces friends! Our first interview with Brian Gaines was a huge success, and thank you again to all who have supported Brian over the years. Our featured friend for this week is Black Tie Wine Tours, a wine tour and transportation company in the area who has been providing convenient and luxury wine tours to the Walla Walla area for around nine years. I talked with Amy, the Black Tie Wine Tours manager, about the business and wine tours in the Walla Walla area.
Black Tie Wine Tours caters not only to Walla Walla tourists, but also to community members who want to safely enjoy all that the Walla Walla Valley has to offer. After all, Black Tie aims to provide the best wine-tasting experience possible to its patrons! Their fleet consists of limos, vans, town cars, and stretch SUVs that are all licensed, insured, and have passed stringent industry inspections and follow regulations. All drivers have been chauffer-trained, and the business prides itself on its longstanding reputation as one of the most professional wine tour services in the area.
Black Tie is happy to help clients create a wine tasting route, or to follow a previously planned route. They encourage clients to send in an itinerary ahead of time if they have wineries in mind to plan an efficient and logical route, and to notify wineries ahead of time of large tasting groups. However, they recommend that for the best, most authentic wine tasting experience while using their services, clients should explore the wineries outside of the downtown area that is only really accessible by car. (Black Tie strongly encourages wine tasting in the downtown area as well, but by foot! Driving, parking, and traffic can create inconveniences and cut into wine tasting time…)
Amy says that the best part about working for Black Tie is the people she meets while working, and providing a fun and safe way for wine tasters to explore the Walla Walla Valley wineries. In the future, Amy hopes to see Black Tie and other wine tour companies in the area develop greater solidarity in order to provide more available transportation services to Walla Walla. Additionally, she hopes to strengthen bonds between Black Tie and other wineries in the area to provide the best wine tasting experience possible for tourists and community members alike.
Thanks Black Tie, for all that you do!

You can call Black Tie at 509-525-8585,  email a reservation to reservations@blacktiewinetours.com, or visit their website here.