Jason Fox, our favorite Walla Walla winemaker, is doing well. A graduate of Walla Walla Community College’s Institute of Enology and Viticulture, Jason is committed to staying in this eastern Washington wine region of note. This very active community college maintains several acres of teaching vineyards for its courses in winemaking. After interning at Walla Walla Vintners, Jason opened his own winery, Lagana, and is waiting for Wine Enthusiast magazine to come and rate his wines. In the meantime, he is winning awards.
Jason, once a star student, has a passion for making whites. Our favorite of these is a delicately balanced Roussanne. The Roussanne grape is from Frances’ Rhône region and has a distinct taste. But Jason and his partner Todd Bernave are expanding their repertoire, and Jason’s latest success is a fine pinot noir from their Breezy Slope Vineyard.
It took only 3 decades for the Walla Walla Valley to emerge as one of the world’s premier wine destinations. A strong sense of kinship and family permeates this valley with six regions and, already, more than 140 wineries like L’Ecole. Close to 3,000 acres of vineyards have already been planted. Its top six varietals are all reds with Cabernet Sauvignon being the biggest one with 38% of all production.
If you don’t have time and a nearby seat, don’t ask Jason, “What’s new?” His response was some wineries followed by an interesting story about an older one. The newbies in the area are Truth Teller and the Armstrong Family Winery with the Valdemars on the way. Chris and Dawn Loeliger began making wine in Woodinville, WA, which is near Seattle, but they are moving to Walla Walla, which is not near Seattle. They came to town as Truth Teller with a jester logo just before spring release weekend. The Armstrong family was also active in Woodinville but harvests in a space in Walla Walla and will completely move to a new facility there when it’s built. However, perhaps the newcomer getting the most buzz, according to Jason, is Valdemar. This family from Rioja, Spain, is opening a winery in Washington that is under construction.
I asked Jason if he knew Christophe Baron and he did. Baron runs Cayuse and is Wine Enthusiast‘s 2017 winemaker of the year. I asked Jason where I could buy Christophe’s wine to try it and he said not to bother. They are expensive and there’s a long list of oenophiles waiting to purchase and enjoy them. Cayuse’s website is replete with comments like “The best winery anywhere—-truly!” Baron is from the village of Charly-sur-Marn in France’s Champagne region. At Cayuse, his initial focus was on Syrah, and he has produced more than 50 wines that have earned 95 point ratings from Wine Enthusiast. However, he recently had a faulty cork problem that resulted in millions of dollars lost and 2,995 cases recalled.
The Walla Walla wine story is far from complete.