California is, of course, the biggest wine producer among the 50 states. I live in #2, Washington. Many may be surprised to learn that Washington IS #2. Among its excellent wine producing areas–Horse Heaven Hills, the Yakima Valley, etc.–my favorite is Walla Walla. Ruth & I usually spend our first day on the road there when heading east to see what’s new and visit a few more unfamiliar wineries. This year our visit unexpectedly included the Center for Enology & Viticulture.
The growth of Walla Walla as a wine region happened rather quickly. The wine being produced there in the 1920s was homemade with only 1 commercial enterprise, Blue Mountain. In the 1970s Leonetti opened for business: #2 Woodward Canyon was founded in 1981. One of our favorites, L’Ecole No 41, was next. It’s in an old schoolhouse. It wasn’t until 1984 that the 4 existing wineries in the Walla Walla Valley were recognized as a new viticultural area. Thirty-two years later there are more than 100 wineries surrounding Walla Walla, which has exceptional terroir.
There is no exact translation for the French word terroir in the English language. It’s well described in Walla Walla literature as “the force of regional character”. Terroir is the reason why a cabernet sauvignon from one place will never taste quite the same as one from another. Walla Walla’s terroir derives from 4 types of soil–cobblestone river gravel, loess, deep silts, and thin silt influenced by basalt. Various microclimates also help produce great wines.
This year Ruth & I visited Pepper Bridge, Tranche, Beresan, and Lagana. Pepper Bridge was family-owned, competent, and expensive. Named for a Ukrainian region, Beresan has been around for a while producing estate wines of limited production. We were already familiar with their fine vintages. 12 year old Tranche is a competetive comer with great wines, well deserved ratings, and some cheaper finds. La Gana was the most exciting because its new and run by an exceptionally talented young winemaker, Jason Fox. Jason makes an especially dynamite Roussanne.
Jason is a graduate of the Viticulture & Enology Program being offered by the Walla Walla Community College. This is the first state funded licensed winemaking program in the area. Its staff was unusually welcoming. Eli Magun spent a lot of time with me He invited us to take a tour to learn even more, but it was late in the day so Ruth & I promised to return. We look forward to exploring The Center’s new facilities to learn more about this burgeoning program that has already produced Jason Fox and increased the number of new wineries in Walla Walla.