Appellation Article

Walla Walla Valley

Last edited on 5/7/2011 by Eric
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The name translates as easily as it rolls off the tongue: Walla Walla. Many Waters. To the earliest Native tribes, the many waters came from the nearby Blue Mountains and gathered to form the Walla Walla River on its way to join the Columbia to the west. The waters flowed first; however, into a fair-sized Valley carved in the mountain's foothills, and bordered in part by the terrain of what is known as the Columbia Plateau. Tribal members knew the Valley's generally milder climate could maintain their people in winter villages. There were lush wild grasses which could sustain horses and attract game from the winter snows of the nearby Blues, or from the giant high plateau that becomes desolate and dangerous during the cold season. The rolling terrain and numerous watersheds offered protection from nature and other hazards of the day. Here the water was plentiful and full of fish and seldom froze, even in the coldest years. The meadows were wonderful places to gather with other people to trade, compete and celebrate treaties. Compared to the region around them, the Walla Walla Valley was a safe refuge from the treacherous conditions which can often be found during the winter for hundreds of miles around. In this unique growing region, most of the earliest records of grapes and winemaking reference the Italians who had immigrated here in the mid to late 1800's and who brought with them their tradition of growing, making and drinking wine. Vines with these origins still exist in the Valley today. The first post-prohibition winery was Blue Mountain Vineyards. It was bonded in 1950 by the Pesciallo family where they produced Black Prince and other Italian varietal wines for a period of several years before succumbing to economics and climate. To the wine world of today, Walla Walla has become know for the quality and style of its red wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with Syrah gaining notoriety in recent years. In the1970's, the pioneers of today's wine community began to think similar thoughts: that the Walla Walla Valley, with its long history of fruit growing, moderate climate, wine-making heritage, and interesting terrain might just be a place to grow vines and make wine on a commercial scale. These pioneers of the region applied for and received approval of the Walla Walla Valley as a unique American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1984. It was the third in Washington State and also includes a portion of land in Oregon. In the time leading to the recognition of the appellation, four wineries had been bonded starting with Leonetti Cellar, and shortly thereafter, Woodward Canyon. L'Ecole Nº 41 and Waterbrook soon followed. In addition to the smaller vineyards that were being planted, the Valley's first large-scale, commercial vineyard Seven Hills was established. By the time the BATF recognized the Walla Walla Valley AVA, the Valley was beginning to gain attention from within the wine industry, as well as attracting publicity from journalists and media outside the region. The foundation for today’s industry had been laid and the benchmark for quality had been set. In addition, fruit from the area was now being harvested and a baseline for understanding the local growing conditions was being constructed. Every few years another winery would join the fold and take up the challenge of producing the highest quality wine and the growing of outstanding fruit. Seven Hills Winery and Patrick M. Paul each got their start during this time. More vines were added, although acreage increases were small each year. The industry was small and everyone knew everyone else involved, while the welcome mat remained out for any newcomers. Growers and winemakers alike regularly shared time in the cellar or at the table and together learned more about wines and vines. By 1990 there were just six wineries and the Valley's grape acreage stood at perhaps 100 acres. The total collective production of wine was microscopic by any measure, but it was the quality that was being noticed by many inside and outside the trade. As the tiny trickle of wine produced in the Walla Walla AVA began to flow to the outside world, a "wine renaissance" was beginning to happen globally. The Pacific Northwest had staked a claim in this new wine world and as people learned about the region, they also began to hear about Walla Walla. This interest spread rapidly to those with Walla Walla connections. The early 1990s saw the planting of more vines and the establishment of another large-scale vineyard, Pepper Bridge. At the same time, a group of local investors, working closely with the Napa based Chalone Wine group, laid the foundation for Canoe Ridge Vineyard, the Valley's first winery supported in part by a major outside investor. As the industry has grown, many new wineries have gotten their start in the arms of an established winery. Waterbrook Winery's modern production facility started the trend, sharing space, equipment, and any help needed. Other wineries also adopted “extra guests,” a practice that has helped form close, personal relationships throughout the local industry. By the turn of the new century, the Walla Walla Valley wine industry had 22 wineries and 800 acres of grapes. In the year 2000 the AVA had been expanded back to the original boundaries proposed in the1984 application. The year 2000 also saw the formation of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance with 100% of the Valley's wineries and 98% of the Valley's planted acreage represented. Today, more than 60 Walla Walla Valley wineries and more than 1,200 acres of Walla Walla Valley grapes contribute to the ever growing, international acclaim garnered by the wines of this newly-emerging region of Washington State.