Wine Talk

Snooth User: penguinoid

Walla Walla terroir

Posted by penguinoid, Apr 28, 2013.

An interesting article --

I've yet to try any wines from Walla Walla -- simply not available here -- but keep reading about them. It's on my to-do list for if I ever visit the US. But it's particularly interesting to see they're taking terroir more seriously, and planting in more interesting (if harder to cultivate) sites.

1 2 next


Reply by EMark, Apr 28, 2013.

Very interesting article, Penguinoid.  Thank you for posting.  This article seems to add credence to recent conversations that hillside plantings might be preferred.

It is unfortunate that you have difficulty sourcing Walla Walla wines.  There is no doubt that they are very exciting.

I have visited Walla Walla on business a couple times over they years and enyoyed those visits immensely.  I have to say the friendliest people I've ever met seem to live there.  It is very much a "small town."  I hope you get to visit, but I also hope you get there soon.  Reading between the lines of the article, if it is invaded by "wine-loving investors" or "bunches of lawyers," I'm afraind that small town charm will lose out to complete yuppification.


Reply by JenniferT, Apr 28, 2013.

I can second Walla Walla being a great place to visit. We went there about a year and a half ago - it was super friendly and still a "real town" as opposed to just being a tourism destination. Plus who doesn't want to go to a place called Walla Walla - that's just why we went there for the first time, without knowing about wine tourism at all. While you're there, you can pick up a couple of shirts for their local baseball team - the walla walla sweets. Their mascot is a mean lookin onion. 

But I digress. On to a more serious matter...

This posting is a timely one. For those interested in venturing more into wine and geology, I would be remiss not to mention Dr. Terry Wright. He's known as THE terroir geology guy in California, and has also done work elsewhere. You can find many of his papers online on his website.

Just a brilliant guy who was a larger than life type of character. I regret to say that he is dealing with a very serious health condition and is no longer active in the field. But the ideas and papers will be timeless. I am also a geologist and was recently considering going down to California to meet with him in person (instead of just discussing his work over the phone) but the recent deterioration in his health condition prevented us meeting.

If you are interested in that type of things, I strongly suggest you check out his site and read the papers. Send along a note if you've found them particularly interesting or inspiring - I'm sure the nice feedback would be appreciated. 

Reply by jtryka, Apr 28, 2013.

Very interesting Article!  I am heading out to Walla Walla at the end of June to do a barrel tasting at L'Ecole followed by a tour of the vineyards the next day, should be a very interesting experience to connect the wines tasted to the terroir, so I'll keep you all posted on my experience.


And yes, Walla Walla is also known for sweet onions in addition to wine, hence the minor league baseball team's mascot!  And of course if you visit, make sure you head south of the border to Pendleton, Ore. to see the woolen mills, very fun!

Reply by Richard Foxall, Apr 29, 2013.

Emark, I was going to ask you if you wanted to be a wine-loving investor in my vineyard.  In fact, because of that article, I am going to name the wholesale company that sells my grapes to winemakers "Bunches of Lawyers."  (For those of you who haven't guessed, I'm an attorney.)

Pretty interesting how in the New World there's lots of effort to reproduce the conditions of the Old.  People differ about whether soil is more important than temperature.  But the grapes that became popular in Old World regions were, to an extent, historical accidents combined with some selection and intervention.  Who is to say that Cab is supposed to taste like it does on the Left Bank, or Sangio should taste like Chianti?  In some ways, it would be interesting to use identical winemaking protocols with grapes from different locations, same variety, and just see what a large sample of drinkers liked better without regard to prejudices. 

JenniferT, thanks for that additional information.  Nowadays many ply that trade, and given how expensive land is, you don't buy acreage in an established area until you've consulted all kinds of experts.  Prof. Wright has worked with some pretty lofty names indeed.

Reply by penguinoid, May 3, 2013.

JenniferT - thanks for the suggestion re Terry Wright. I'll look him up.

Emark - There's a vague possibility I might get to visit Oregon in 2015. If so, as well as visiting the wineries there (I love good Pinot Noir), I'd hope to drive across to Walla Walla. It looks like it's not too far to drive from Portland. It may or may not happen, so I'm not making any plans yet. Whoever's investing, though, I hope the place doesn't become yuppified....

foxall -- Broadly speaking I agree. I'm not sure that planting on in poor and rocky soils necessarily means you then have to copy old world styles. Personally, I'd prefer to try a wine that's authentic to where it's grown, not a copy of something else. There's no reason why Walla Walla syrah should have to taste exactly like Hermitage or Côte-Rôtie. I can see why these might be used as benchmarks, for comparison, but best not to try to copy them.

Getting ideas from Europe can work to a certain extent as a rough guide as to what might grow well where (e.g., syrah liking granite, gamay liking granite and schist but not agrilo-calcaire soils). It would be best not to stick to these too blindly, but I guess they could provide hints and suggestions. And you'd hope the wines you produced were not carbon copies of the European originals. Otherwise, what would be the point?  You could make a second rate imitation Burgundy for twice the price? Surely better to try to make a wine that's unique to where it's grown...

(For what it's worth, this is also why I have a problem with describing wines as "varietally correct". Whether a wine appears to be varietally correct seems to be a major point for wine judges and journalists, at least in Australia. What constitutes "correct" for a particular variety? How much is this defined by wines from existing terroirs? It does also imply that a wine can be beautiful and distinctive, but be marked down because it doesn't resemble wines the judge's ideas of what that variety *should* taste like...)

Nonetheless I'd see these sites as having the best potential to make interesting wine that does reflect where it's grown. There's the hope that an unique site might provide an unique wine.

Not intrinsic to the soil, I guess, but there's always the possibility that someone willing to go to the extra time and work to grow vines in these kinds of sites would also be willing to go to the extra time and expense to make sure that they make seriously good wines from them. Not always true of course, and sometimes the investment can go into the wrong things (too many new oak barrels? reverse osmosis machines?).

Jtruka - will be interested to hear how your tasting at L'Ecole goes!

Reply by EMark, May 3, 2013.

Penguinoid, you certainly can drive from Portland to Walla Walla.  It is about a 4-hour drive, but the route takes you through the Columbia Gorge, and that is pretty neat. I can't say that I've ever done it.  I would fly there, meet our sales rep and make calls with her, there.  She would, in fact, drive from her home near Portland.  (She did not like the turbo-prop aircraft that flew between Portland and Walla Walla.) 

Reply by penguinoid, May 4, 2013.

Thanks for the additional info.

Turbo-prop plane? That almost makes it sound worth flying instead ;-)

Reply by edwilley3, May 4, 2013.

I'm an attorney, too, FOXALL...of course I seldom admit it!

But seriously, even the tequila I've had made from agave grown on a hillside tastes better...well, broadly speaking. Agave grown on the valley floor has a more straightforward, sugar-ripe flavor.

All these wine posts are making me thirsty!  See you folks later!

Reply by EMark, May 4, 2013.

"Turbo-prop plane? That almost makes it sound worth flying instead"

Horizon Air.

Another nice thing about them.  It's been two years since I've been on one of their flights, but they would offer a free (!!!!!!!!) wine of the day or beer of the day.  Obviously, your choice was quite limited, but I never complained since the price was perfect.

Reply by jtryka, May 6, 2013.

Yes, you could fly via Alaska/Horizon from PDX or Sea-Tac, but if I was in either city with a car I would just drive!  The drive from Seattle is beautiful through the cascades, but then it gets a little boring through all the apple orchards in Yakima.  The drive from Portland is much nicer, through the gorge, so beautiful and you can stop and see Multnomah Falls, then stop in Pendleton to see the woolen mills and pick up a blanket, then off to taste in Walla Walla, a great 3 or 4 day trip!


And no worries, I'll probably make a few blog posts about my trip at the end of June (and no, I'm flying this time, but at least I got a first class ticket so I'll be drinking wine the whole way!  Oh and on the last leg from Seattle to Walla Walla, there is always free wine and beer, as everyone is in first class on that flight!

Reply by Lucha Vino, May 8, 2013.

The drive from Portland to Walla Walla is certainly scenic as it follows the Columbia river almost the whole way there.  The drive from Seattle is interesting in bursts as you drive over Snoqualmie pass and then through Yakima etc.  But there are plenty of dull stretches too.

No matter where you start, finishing in Walla Wall will be a real treat. 

Regarding Foxall's idea about winemaking protocol with grapes from different regions.  You should check out the Long Shadows project.  It brings 9 wine makers from different parts of the world to Washington state to make the same type of wine that they make with their "home" winery. 

Reply by JonDerry, May 8, 2013.

Cool story about Long Shadows, never knew.

Reply by JenniferT, May 8, 2013.

I'll second that about long shadows - I really must get down to their tasting room. Thanks for posting about them, otherwise I wouldn't have known about the project at all.

The idea of new world wines seeking to replicate old world typical characteristics has always seemed strange to me. In that light, I guess the phrase "varietally correct" is even more misleading/inappropriate. When I think of the phrase, I think of how a wine made of grape variety x tends to a given soil and climate that is typical of place a pure expression of that variety (e.g. with minimal manipulation or interference on the part of the winemaker). I certainly don't think the phrase applies without the context of place.

Typical or average would probably be a better word than "correct" - as it isn't like wines that are atypical examples amongst similar wines in a given region are wrong!

I did have two Drouhin PNs side by side, one from Oregon and one from Beaune about a week hopes that I might get a glimpse of winesthat are different primarily due to place....that sounds a lot like the angle of the long shadows project. 

To that end, I have driven from Vancouver - Portland - Seattle many times and I love the drive. I always drive when I head down to wine country in Washington/Oregon. I like driving more than flying anyway as it gives me more flexibility and freedom to spend time in places that are not on my radar before I leave on a trip. :)

Reply by GregT, May 8, 2013.

Jennifer - did the same winemaker make the PNs from Drouhin?

There are winemakers who make wine in multiple places/countries. To the extent that they're consistent, maybe you find their hand dominating the grape. For example, people don't hire Michel Rolland because they never know what he's going to do, they hire him for the Rolland touch. Ditto guys like Randy Dunn.

In Spain you have people like Mariano Garcia, who works with similar grapes in different regions, and people like Raoul Perez, who works with just about anything, originally in a small region but increasingly around the world. Then you have people like Chris Ringland, who makes 100 point wines in Australia and in Spain. 

"New" world wines shouldn't try to replicate "old" world wines - that's the antithesis of good winemaking IMO. It's why guys like Brian Loring are kind of more interesting than people who try to make a PN as if it's from Burgundy even tho they're somewhere in CA. 

Walla Walla is pretty big, so it's hard to talk about "terroir" there and claim to find it in various wines, but it's definitely a great place to make wine. Ash Hollow, Forgeron, Cougar Crest, Northstar, Three Rivers, Syzygy, Seven Hills, Rotie Cellars, and Isenhower are all putting out pretty good stuff. Pepper Bridge might be the best IMO, based on what I've had, but all of them can be pretty good.

And then there are wineries that use grapes from the region but that aren't located there.  

Reply by JonDerry, May 8, 2013.

Isn't the new world/ old world more about style than place?

How about someone who tries to make wine like they did a generation ago with lower alcohols and greater aging potential? To me that's just old world styled even if it comes from a "new world" country.

The reverse is also being done in Bordeaux, Burgundy, and other countries like Italy and Spain. New world style, old world place.

Reply by penguinoid, May 9, 2013.

I'm thinking driving sounds the best option. I've heard the TSA has made flying in the US ... somewhat less pleasant than it used to be. Just need to remember to drive on the right ;-)

JenniferT -- in the context of Australian wine judging, the term varietally correct is used without any regard to where the wine's from. And not being varietally correct does seem to be taken as being incorrect -- the wine can lose quite a lot of points for that, from memory, if you care about points.

I've tried Pinot Noirs from Burgundy which definitely show the influence of place -- same vintage, same winemaker, different vineyard. The differences can be very obvious.

Lucha Vino -- hadn't heard of Long Shadows, thanks for the link -- looks interesting!

GregT -- Agree the new world shouldn't try to slavishly copy existing old world styles. I've heard this used to argue that new world producers shouldn't try and produce more restrained, elegant wines (as opposed to rich, ripe "fruit bombs") but I think that's taking the argument too far. It's okay to use old world methods, just don't try and make carbon copies of the wines...

I've not heard of Brian Loring before. He looks like he makes some interesting wines, though I note his pinots all seem to be 14.5%+ ... I generally prefer lower alcohol in pinot, though not always. I'd certainly be interested to try them.

I wasn't aware Walla Walla was a particularly large region -- most articles I've read imply it's fairly small. Beware of believing what you read, I guess! Wikipedia says its 1,200 acres, which is not so small... In contrast, the McLaren Vale is 16,432.5 acres (6,650 ha -- from Wine Australia's Winefacts website). You can talk about the terroir of the Mclaren Vale in broad terms, but if you want to get into any real detail you need to talk about sub-regions or individual vineyards. I guess that's the case for all but the smallest of wine regions.

Reply by GregT, May 9, 2013.

That's what I meant about fairly large - it's not a large appellation as compared to many places, but there are too many local differences to speak about Walla Walla in anything but the broadest terms - climate, sunlight hours, etc. Same for any region of course.

As far as old world v new world, one should probably define what one means. I don't know that old world means lower alcohol and to think that people intentionally made wines with aging potential is a mistake - I think that a)they just weren't able to sell all their stuff, and b)they didn't know how to make the wines any differently. In other words, not so much a choice as the default setting. 

For me, old world generally means dirty winemaking. One of the great innovations of UC Davis is that they promoted clean winemaking. For the people who think brett adds some kind of distinctive terroir note, they should talk to M Chapoutier, who believes that it's always and forever a flaw that does nothing but mask your local terroir. And then there are various other types of bacteria, etc. 

The actual alcohol level has nothing to do with ageability or whether something is new or old style, it has more to do with the taste of the winemaker and the season. I tasted some wine recently, a vertical of his wines with a winemaker. He was proud of his 1997, which was a cold, rainy, horrid year and I found the wine to be a bit thinner and watery and oddly, alcoholic, even though it had one of the lowest levels of all the wines we tasted. OTOH, the 2010 was simply outstandingly spectacular and balanced and delicious and when I checked the bottle, it said 15.5%!  I asked him about it and he shrugged and said that's pretty much what happened - he picked the grapes at the same quality level he always did. Some people pick when the grapes start to soften from ripeness - he hates that because he thinks you lose the acidity you need. Anyway, I'm willing to be that the higher alc wine lives far longer than the more diluted one, and since he's made the longest-lived wines in the world so far, that's going to be for a long time.

BTW - Walla Walla has some interesting grapes beyond the usual Cab/Merlot - Seven Hills for example, makes a Tempranillo that's pretty good. I have hopes for the region insofar as breaking the stranglehold of Cab/Merlot/Pinot Noir/Syrah as the only grapes worth doing in the US. 

Reply by JonDerry, May 9, 2013.

So these bottles of '87 Dunn Cabernet that we enjoy so much today, it's because of dirty winemaking and bacteria? Seems a little off, when napa cabernet alcohols averaged around 13.5% in the 80's and now they're pushing 15%. Would seem Parker had a lot to do with pushing the style, but I don't deny there are other factors.

Reply by penguinoid, May 13, 2013.

GregT -- okay -- I do think you can talk about the terroir of a larger region, if you keep in mind it will have to be a bit of a generalisation. But you can, for example, identify characters that are unique to Clare Valley Shiraz and different from McLaren Vale Shiraz, and vice versa. But to really talk in any detail you do need to get down to the level of individual vineyards, or sometimes blocks within vineyards ...

Agree with you re the alcohol levels thing. I was just noting that one argument I've heard numerous times is that new world wines shouldn't copy old world wines, and therefore all new world wines should be high alcohol/over-ripe (and by extension all old world wines low alcohol/under-ripe). It is very simplistic and easily disproved -- e.g., by looking at Châteauneuf-du-Pape -- but seems widespread. I should have emphasised that it wasn’t really a viewpoint that I agreed with.

I'm not so sure I agree with you re dirty winemaking. I think UC Davis (and the Uni of Adelaide, where I'm currently a student) have actually gone too far in over-emphasising cleanliness. Yes, you need the winery to be clean and you do need to be careful about hygiene to a certain extent. It's certainly true that some old world wineries used to be terribly lax, and maybe some still are (though most of the good ones have improved). But equally winemaking is not improved by trying to work in a completely aseptic manner. If you're doing un-inoculated "spontaneous" ferments, then allowing a population of wild yeast to build up in the winery is often beneficial, for example.

Much as I respect Michel Chapoutier as a winemaker, I don't feel I have to agree with everything he says. I'd have to disagree with him here. Brettanomyces, in small amounts, can be complexing. The main problem is that it doesn't always want to stay present in small amounts. Keeping it from killing the wine completely would be a challenge, to the point where you wouldn't normally want to encourage its growth, even if you liked the characters it provided. It is difficult, though.


Reply by penguinoid, May 13, 2013.

Also, back to Walla Walla -- it is good if they're experimenting with alternative varieties. It'd be a shame to restrict yourself to just a handful, especially given that they're not always going to be the best variety for a given site. It might just so happen that your site is perfect for Saperavi ... or Nero d'Avola ... or Grenache and Mourvèdre. The main problem is that trial and error is expensive and has to be a very long term project. It'd be annoying to find out after, say six years that actually your site is grows pretty poor quality Grenache (or whatever you planted).

1 2 next

Continue to the end of the thread to reply
Back to Categories

Top Contributors This Month

1498622 Snooth User: Really Big Al
1498622Really Big Al
86 posts
127503 Snooth User: rckr1951
73 posts
847804 Snooth User: EMark
41 posts


View All

Snooth Media Network