By Kori ~ October 13th, 2008.
Walla Walla Valley is one of the oldest of Washington State’s nine AVA’s. Established in 1984, it encompasses over 1,200 vineyard acres. Located within the greater Columbia Valley AVA, Walla Walla Valley covers the area around the town of Walla Walla, Washington, and also dips across the state-line into Oregon near Milton-Freewater. To the locals, the area south of Walla Walla on the Oregon side of the state-line and west of Milton-Freewater is known as “The Rocks.” It is prized land that was first put into vines by Christophe Baron of Cayuse Cellars in the 1990s. Until recently, most of “The Rocks” have been planted to apple orchards. But more and more vineyards are going in and many of the apple orchards are being pulled up to make room for vineyards.
As I mentioned in my Wine Blogging Wednesday post last week, we recently had the opportunity to spend a day touring vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley with local winemaker, Rich Funk of Saviah Cellars. We had a wonderful day visiting five different vineyards just south of the Oregon-Washington state-line where Rich sources some of his grapes. It was a perfect time to visit as some of the grapes were only a week to ten days from harvest. It was a special treat to be able to walk up and down the rows and even pick and taste grapes.
Most of these vineyards are comprised of rocks and lots of silt that was deposited in the Walla Walla Valley after the lava floods at the end of the most recent Ice Age. In fact, according to Rich, stones are up to 200 feet deep beneath some of these vineyards. These rocky soils provide excellent drainage.
Watermill Estate Vineyard, planted by the Brown family in 2006, is comprised of 15 acres of well-drained, rocky soils. Grapes from Watermill Estate are used by Saviah Cellars and Watermill Winery. We had the pleasure to taste grapes from each variety planted at Watermill Estate: Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Mourvedre, Tempranillo, and Syrah. I had never tasted wine grapes straight from the vine before and was amazed at how good they were. I guess I was expecting them to be more bitter, but they were quite yummy. After tasting the grapes, it’s no wonder I enjoy the finished product so much.
Seven Hills Vineyard was originally planted in 1980 and has been expanded over the years to its present 200+ acres. It boasts some of the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the Walla Walla Valley. Of the five vineyards we visited, Seven Hills has the highest elevation.
Windrow Vineyard is the original Seven Hills Vineyard and is comprised of 18 acres. Rich does not currently source grapes from Windrow but we drove through it to get to the adjacent McClellan Estate Vineyard.
McClellan Estate Vineyard, planted by the Brown family in 2003, features five Bordeaux varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Here we tasted some Cabernet Sauvignon grapes which are trellised on a Geneva Double Curtain. Grapes from McClellan Estate are used by Saviah Cellars, Watermill Winery, and Seven Hills Winery.
Saviah Estate Vineyard is Rich’s 11-acre estate vineyard that was planted just two years ago adjacent to Waliser Vineyard. Rich will get his first crop of Syrah and Malbec here next year.
We found this to be a very educational day in wine country. Not only did we get to see some great vineyard sites, but we had the opportunity to discuss “all things wine” with one of Washington State’s best winemakers. Rich Funk has already produced some outstanding wines for both Watermill Winery and his own Saviah Cellars, but I am excited about the prospects for even greater heights in the future.
Filed under: American Wine, Oregon Wine, Vineyards, Washington State Wine