Terroir…it’s that French word best described as a sense of place—when a lover of cabernet sauvignon can distinguish a glass from Bordeaux to Napa Valley to the Coonawarra region of Australia—and the Walla Walla Valley is quickly joining the cast.
At last weeks’ Walla Walla Wine at Pure Space event, over 50 wineries brought Walla Walla Valley to Portland, Ore., pouring more broadly-grown Columbia Valley wines alongside those Walla Walla Valley AVA crowd-pleasers that are becoming more internationally-recognized with every vintage.
I spoke at length with Jean-François Pellet, Swiss winemaker for Pepper Bridge Winery and Amavi Cellars, whose excitement for the growth of Walla Walla reminded me of a proud father holding his first born. He brings to Walla Walla grape-growing and wine-making experience in Switzerland, Spain and the Napa Valley and is committed to sustainable winery practices which he demonstrates as vice-president of VINEA—an association with 22 current winery members that practice and promote sustainable viticulture.
Tom Danowski, executive director of the Oregon Winegrowers Association, was also in attendance visiting with vintners, catching up with old friends and meeting new faces. His presence served as a reminder of one of the several characteristics that makes Walla Walla Valley so unique—this AVA straddles two states.
Two-thirds of the AVA lies squarely in Washington while the remaining one-third is in Oregon. But you won’t find any Ducks vs Huskies rivalry here. What’s good for Oregon is good for Washington in the wine world and they display the camaraderie that is a trademark for successful wine regions all over the world.
I did sense a celebratory buzz in the air and, on more than one occasion, my suspicions were confirmed that it was over the newest member of the family. On February 5th The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater became Oregon’s 18th official AVA. This area, comprised of 3,767 acres entirely in Oregon, isn’t just gravelly soil. Its soil is covered in cobblestones and was specifically chosen by French winemaker Christophe Baron of Cayuse Vineyards for its similarity to France’s southern Rhône region where the famed Châteauneuf-du-Pape hails from.
Although the Walla Walla Valley is best known for bold cabernet sauvignons and smooth merlots, I enjoyed some smoky carménère from both Skylite Cellars and Spofford Station Vineyards as well as a 100 percent roussanne from Otis Kenyon with bright, refreshing acidity and melon on the palate. Bunchgrass Winery was pouring a slightly-spicy semillon and Gino Cuneo is bringing the best of Italian wines to the east side with his lineup of 100 percent sangiovese, Ripasso and Seccopassa—chewy, food-friendly wines incorporating old world wine-making styles.
The stand-out wine of the day for me had to be Figgins 2011 Estate Red—a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petite verdot. This rich, elegant, smooth wine is showing a surprising amount of layers for the cooler growing year that 2011 was. But, hey, we’re talking about Chris Figgins, son of the founders of the famed Leonetti Cellar. The seed doesn’t fall far from the vine.
For more information on Walla Walla Valley wines, go to www.wallawallawine.com.
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