WHAT WE'RE DRINKING AT WW WINE LIMO HQ
Walla Walla Vintners 2014 Carmenere
Castillo de Feliciana 2013 Reserve Tempranillo
L’Ecole No. 41 2014 Perigee (red blend)
Abeja 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon
Chappellet (Napa) 2014 Las Piedras (red blend)
Justin Basel, 33, has been in the wine industry in Walla Walla since the age of 12, when he began helping out with chores at his family’s vineyard and he eventually advanced to become Basel Cellars’ head winemaker in 2005 – at the ripe old age of 21! When his family sold the winery in 2009, he left to work at Corliss Estates for a year before becoming head winemaker at Foundry Vineyards, where he remained until starting his own winery, Solemn Cellars, early in 2017. Born and raised in Walla Walla, Justin has seen his hometown evolve from a small town with little to do to the hub of a well-respected wine region producing some of the best wines in the World. Justin sat down with us in December for an in-depth interview.
WALLA WALLA WINE LIMO: You opened your own winery, Solemn Cellars, in August. How much planning went into it?
JUSTIN BASEL: I’ve been talking about it for the better part of ten years, mostly as an idea. I’ve always talked about starting a small-production winery, even back before my family sold Basel Cellars, but I’m glad I waited. All the planning and hard work has paid off. We opened August 12th. The wine club is at capacity. We only made 800 cases the first year and we’ll go up to about 2,000 cases in 2018. Most of the wine is not distributed, although about 30 cases goes out to restaurants in Seattle, restaurants that I’ve built relationships with over the years. We’ll expand that a little bit in ’18, with a few cases in Portland and Boise and then perhaps some to Spokane/Coeur d’Alene, but I don’t want to do tons of distribution. I’ve spent half my life on the road selling wine. I enjoy it, but at the same time, my son’s 2 ½. I want to be there for my family, sticking around locally.
We want to be a wine that you can’t get in every wine shop and you definitely can’t get at a grocery store When you buy wine at the grocery store, it’s just about the wine. I want my wine to be something special, a package deal. You come to the winery and taste the wine, it’s an experience. You taste the wine, you meet me and my wife [Bree], who works in the tasting room with me. You can ask us anything you want about the wine. We’re doing Somm events and wine dinners. With all the experience I have working at different places in the Valley, what I tried to do with my own winery was take the best of everything and put my own twist on it. We’re still in the honeymoon phase and it’s still super exciting.
WWWL: You’ve got a great winery/tasting room in the old Waters Winery spot. Tell us about it.
JB: The space was originally built in the mid-2000’s for Waters and it had been sitting vacant for a while. Being raised just up the hill it’s cool to come back to a spot that’s so close to my roots. We’re leasing the space, but I expect we’ll be here for a while. At some point I may want to build a winery on my property [next to Northstar], but if we do end up making that move, it’ll be only ¼ mile away! Anything on the Southside feels like home to me.
WWWL: It seems like things have been going smoothly since you opened last August.
JB: The first day was a little stressful. People didn’t know we were open yet and we weren’t on Google Maps yet. We only had four people that first Saturday and it was a little concerning, but by the next weekend the word spread and we were packed. Word of mouth is a great part of the wine business and I’m grateful that people like our wine enough to send people to us.
WWWL: Your wine is great, but to me the biggest reason I like to bring our tour groups in to Solemn is because they get to engage with you and learn about your wine and the winemaking process when they come to taste. It’s a better experience than they’re getting at most places in Walla Walla and I believe it really adds to the experience for our guests.
JB: I really enjoy being in the tasting room. It’s fun meeting people and hearing their stories. But again, you can go into a winery and taste some amazing wine, but have a terrible experience and never buy wine and never go back to that winery. I think it’s important to have both. You’ve gotta have good wine and you’ve gotta offer a good experience. I’ve been in wineries all over the place, whether it be here in Walla Walla, Napa or elsewhere and if the person in the tasting room is in a bad mood that ruins the experience. One of the tougher tasks running a winery is hiring the right people to work in your tasting room. You want knowledgeable people who are excited about the industry and you can train them. But personality is a big part of it and you can’t train someone on personality. It’s not easy to talk to group after group about the same wines and remain bubbly. You just have to find the right person to do it.
WWWL: Let’s talk about the first vintage of your Solemn wines. They’re all estate wines, right?
JB: Yes, they’re from Pheasant Run just up the road. That was originally the estate vineyard for Basel Cellars, but when we sold the winery the vineyard didn’t go with it. It’s a great location, right next to Pepper Bridge. You get that big fruit coming through and great balance too. We do fight the freezes there, but that’s part of farming. The ’17 vintage won’t have any Syrah or Merlot due to the freeze, so I had to source grapes from other places for ’17, some Rocks Syrah and a Cabernet from a neighbor.
The first vintage we did four different wines. I don’t do any blending, so everything stays single vineyard, single block. If it doesn’t make the cut, I sell it off. We did a Cabernet Rose, which is pretty rare. To be honest, in ’16 we had a bunch of extra Cab. I wanted to make a Rose and I wanted to do something different. Right after I pressed it, I threw some skins from Syrah on the Cab Rose ferment for about 24 hours and then pressed it again. So there’s no Syrah juice in it, just the skins. What that does is it changes the texture a little bit in the mid-palate and it also changes the color. It’s a really easy drinking wine and it’s a good wine for pairing with food. It was a fun, first release Rose for us.
Then we did a Block 1 Cabernet, which is actually from the top of our vineyard. The acid’s not going to be quite as high as our Block 3 Cab, so it’s softer and more balanced. The Block 3 Cab, which I call the Walla Walla Cab to make it a little less confusing, is more of a traditional, big grippy style Cab. They’re right next to each other, same soil, same oak, same yeast, picked a day apart. On paper the two wines should taste the same, but because of the microclimate they are completely different wines and I like to show that off. When I was working at larger wineries, we’d have to blend those Cabs together for distribution reasons, but now I don’t have to do that.
The fourth wine of my first vintage was the Estate Syrah. Pheasant Run has been known for its Syrah for a long time now, as its older vine Syrah. You get more of that fruit-forward style Syrah, still some of the Earth components, some of the dill. I try not to overdo it on the maceration. If it gets too big, it can be too much of a fruit bomb and then you can’t even really tell it’s a Syrah. You’ve got to find that fine line and not overdo it. I think we did a good job on the ’14 Syrah. It’s definitely one of my favorite Syrah’s that I’ve produced and one of the fastest selling – it sold out in less than four months! It’s also one of the most palate-friendly Syrah’s. Very elegant, soft and easy drinking and you can definitely tell it’s a Syrah. We put some American Oak on it to make it a bit sweeter, but not too much.
WWWL: What do you like to drink when you’re at home on a typical night?
JB: It varies. A lot of wine sure, but definitely beer and an occasional cocktail. One of my favorite table wines in the world is the Stateline Red from Mike Berghan [Gifford Hirlinger]. That’s been my go-to lately – what a great wine. I’m always discovering new local wines. Aluve is one of my new favorites. When I travel to Seattle I try to check out wines that aren’t from here. I’ve got a couple hundred bottles in my cellar and it’s a bit Walla Walla heavy, but there’s wines from all over the World.
WWWL: Hobbies? What do you like to do when you’re not making wine or in the tasting room?
JB: During the summer, I like to take the boat out to Lyons Ferry, right by Palouse Falls. In the winter I’ll go up to Tollgate and go skiing and snowmobiling. January is our slowest month, so we can hop up there in about 40 minutes. No cell phone service, which is nice sometimes. Just unplug a bit. We have a landline if we need it for emergencies. Those are the two things I like to do the most. I did have a great time on one of the rafting trips Andrae [Bopp] does – that was a lot of fun and I’m gonna do another one in 2018. I really like the outdoors; we’re in the Northwest, so we may as well utilize what we have.
WWWL: What’s the best thing about being a winemaker?
JB: Enjoying what I do for a living. I think that’s pretty rare. When I talk to most of my buddies about work, they usually complain about their jobs. I don’t ever feel that way, especially now that I own my own place – because if things go wrong the only one I can blame is myself. It’s a great feeling to have that full control. I truly, truly love what I do. I love the farming and the production aspects of the job, but I’d have to say I probably like the farming better because without the farming, the winemaking really doesn’t exist. Having control of my product from the vine to the bottle is amazing. 2017 was a challenging year with the freeze issues -- you definitely earn your money on the winemaking side in years like '17! One of the best days of the years is the day when you finish harvest, but the first day of harvest is also one of the best days of the year!
WWWL: What’s the worst part of being a winemaker?
JB: The selling part of it and the stress that comes with it. Opening the winery has been stressful, but fortunately we’ve gotten off to a good start. We didn’t go in with a ton of overhead, because I’ve seen wineries start up that way and it just adds to the stress. We decided to start small, lease a place, not build something right away. We custom crush at a facility in town, so I didn’t have to buy all that equipment for the first couple of years. That allows us a couple of years to bring in money, make a profit and then start to invest it. One of the most frustrating things was dealing with all the licensing that was required. We were anxious to open and it seemed like it took forever.
WWWL: Tell us about the Young Guns Wine Society.
JB: There were four winemakers when it started and we were all in our early 20’s, quite a bit younger than your average winemaker. When we started out it was Cam Kontos [Kontos Cellars], Greg Matiko [Skylite Cellars], Josh McDaniels [Sweet Valley Wines] and myself. Being that young it was tougher for us at the time to get wine dinners and tasting events set up. So we decided to band together and offer tasting with “the next generation of winemakers” all at one tasting. So instead of tasting wine from one winemaker, people that came to our events would get to taste wine from all four of our wineries and we called it “The Young Guns”. That really helped us get more events. We set it up with the intention of eventually handing it off to the next generation of young winemakers.
WWWL: But at 33, I think you’re still eligible for the Young Guns, no?
JB: I suppose. I feel older I guess because I’ve been in the wine industry for half my life. I think we’ve accomplished what we wanted to do with it, so it’s time to pass it on to others who can make use of it. We’ll always still do wine dinners together, we’ll always hang out.
WWWL: You’ve got 24 hours to live. What bottle from your cellar do you have to open?
JB: That’s a hell of a question! But hey, if I’ve only got 24 hours to live, I’m gonna open as many bottles as I can and go out in a drunken blaze of glory! I’ve been saving an ’88 Woodward Canyon for my son; I want to hand that down as an heirloom, so I couldn’t open that. I have some ’95 Leonetti Reserve -- that would definitely be up there. I still have some of the ’01 Merriment that Trey [Busch] made [at Basel Cellars] and the original ’03 Inspired blend; those are both among my favorites. I think I would just open as many bottles as I could drink till I passed out. If I have to die, I might as well go in my sleep! Maybe I’d even just start blending wines, make one giant dump bucket and siphon it off!
Check back soon for Part Two of our interview with Justin Basel!
WHAT WE’RE DRINKING AT WW WINE LIMO HQ
Otis Kenyon 2014 Malbec
El Corazon/Rotie 2014 Swordfight
Va Piano 2014 Les Collines Syrah
Saviah Cellars 2015 Une Valee (red blend)
Caymus-Suisun 2015 Grand Durif (Petite Sirah)
WHAT WE’RE DRINKING AT WW WINE LIMO HQ
Grantwood Winery 2015 Petit Verdot
Kontos Cellars 2015 Malbec
Northstar Winery 2014 Cabernet Franc
Trust Cellars 2014 The Landing (red blend)
Vincent Arroyo 2014 Petite Sirah (Napa)
WHAT WE'RE DRINKING AT WALLA WALLA WINE LIMO HQ
Adamant Cellars 2014 Artisan Syrah
Tranche Cellars 2013 Barbera
Helix Wines 2014 Petit Verdot
Cadaretta 2014 Syrah
Chappellet 2015 Cabernet Napa Signature
WHAT WE'RE DRINKING AT WW WINE LIMO HQ
Northstar 2013 Petit Verdot
Solemn Cellars 2014 Syrah
Henry Earl 2015 1st and Main (red blend)
Bergevin Lane 2013 Linen Carmenere
Pine Ridge 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet
WHAT WE’RE DRINKING AT WW WINE LIMO HQ
Rasa Vineyards 2014 QED Cabernet Franc
Helix 2013 Pomatia (red blend)
Maison Bleue 2015 Metis (GSM)
Doubleback 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon
Round Pond 2013 Kith & Kin Cab (Napa)
WHAT WE'RE DRINKING AT WW WINE LIMO HQ
Norm McKibben, owner of Pepper Bridge Winery, is one of the founding fathers of Walla Walla Wine. He was instrumental in the expansion of the Walla Walla AVA and as owner or partner in Pepper Bridge Vineyard, Seven Hills Vineyards and Les Collines Vineyard, has been planting wine grapes since 1991, when there were only 40 acres of vineyards in the Valley. Having previously been a partner in Canoe Ridge Winery and Hogue Cellars, he started the Pepper Bridge Winery in 1998. McKibben, now 80 and still the managing partner at Pepper Bridge, was gracious enough to sit down with us for a fascinating interview in June 2017. Check out Part One of our interview with Norm here.
WALLA WALLA WINE LIMO: One thing that has attracted myself and many others to Walla Walla is the community between the wineries and the winemakers here. I think its unique and not something that’s common in other wine regions.
NORM McKIBBEN: Back when we were first starting there was some jealousy across the state that I wasn’t crazy about. At the time I used to go to Napa quite a lot and I’d meet winery owners who would say things like “Don’t go over there, the wine’s not any good” [about their neighboring winery]. Way back when, myself, Rick Small, Gary Figgins and Marty Clubb, we all bought into the idea that If you don’t care for someone’s winery and someone asks you for a recommendation, you just don’t mention that one. We did have one person for a while, he’s no longer in the business by choice, who would talk down about other wineries and he was killing himself by doing that.
WWWL: Not a good idea in a town as small as Walla Walla.
NM: That’s right. We still have writers from out of town come through here and say what a fascinating community we have where the wineries all work together to support each other. I’ve trained my people here [at Pepper Bridge] that when someone asks where else they should go, to give them a list with suggestions on where to go because after they’ve tasted here we should have a good idea what kind of wine they like.
WWWL: I’d like to get your opinion on something that I find troubling that’s going on in other wine regions on the West Coast. If you go to Napa these days (or even Santa Barbara or Oregon), most of the wineries will not refund the tasting fee when you purchase their wine – even if you’re buying $200 of their wine. I don’t understand that.
NM: I don’t either. It’s a lot different than when I first went to Napa in the early 60’s when I was a very young engineer working on the construction of the Transbay Tube. There were seven wineries back then and none of them were charging tasting fees yet.
WWWL: To me, it takes away from the experience that your guests are having at the winery and for some of those wineries doing that [not refunding tasting fees with wine purchase] it begs the question of whether they’re in the business of collecting tasting fees or in the business of selling wine. Obviously tasting fees are necessary because otherwise you’re going to get people coming to drink your wine for free who have no intention of buying wine.
NM: We were actually the first winery in Walla Walla to charge for tasting for exactly that reason; we were just getting swamped with people coming to drink for free. We actually pour about the same dollar amount of wine [equivalent to the tasting fee] in our tasting room.
WWWL: That’s interesting -- I don’t think most wineries are doing that.
NM: About every four years or so I make a trip down the coast and visit the different regions to see what’s going on. There’s some very good wines in California, but the one place we beat them on is Merlot. They tried to kill it with the Sideways movie.
WWWL: I’ve been told that some wineries that made wine they could have called a Merlot [because it had at least 75% Merlot in it] instead labeled it as a red blend because of the backlash against Merlot.
NM: One thing people don’t realize about that movie is the irony of the very last scene. They were drinking a ’61 Cheval Blanc, which is actually a Merlot! It’s supposed to be an inside joke, but very few people caught it.
WWWL: I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but I’m interested in your reasoning. Two distinct, completely different wineries in Pepper Bridge and Amavi. Why two wineries instead of just one?
NM: I had promised Jean Francois when he came up from Napa that he could always make Bordeaux wines and we were doing that at Pepper Bridge. But then I planted the Les Collines Vineyard and that vineyard produces great Syrah grapes. I debated back and forth with myself – and I’m not sure yet if I made the right business move – but I already owned that piece of property [where Amavi Cellars ended up being built]. I almost put a house on it! But it had such a beautiful view, we wanted to make Syrah and I also wanted to be able to make wines that were at a bit lower price level, to make it easier for people to discover the wines.
WWWL: Tourism in Walla Walla just keeps growing year after year. Your thoughts on that?
NM: The town has changed so much since I was first here in the 60’s. When I came through the first time it was all farm equipment and hardware. We had two restaurants, a Chinese restaurant and a homestead. Now we’ve got Seattle-quality restaurants – and prices.
WWWL: It’s great that those restaurants are managing to make it even though there’s so much downtime in the winter.
NM: That’s just it, they have to make it in a shorter season here. It’s the same with the hotels. Seattle’s hotel rooms are about 90% occupied year-round. I recently met a Filipino couple who are putting in an eight-room high-end bed and breakfast in Lowden. That’s the kind of thing we need. And out on the old Bergevin homestead some Chinese investors are putting in a very large restaurant and hotel and Va Piano is involved in that.
WWWL: What Walla Walla really needs is a restaurant or two on the South side.
NM: I tried to put one in a few years back. Tom Drumheller, who owns a string of restaurants, was going in with me to put a restaurant in the field below Pepper Bridge, but the County blocked us. They said we couldn’t put it on agricultural ground. I don’t like to fight with the County, I lean on them when needed, but at that time there weren’t as many wineries over here, so they probably figured there wasn’t a need for it.
WWWL: What’s your thoughts on the future of wine in Walla Walla and Washington State? How much more can it grow?
NM: While the growth can seem a bit scary, right now Washington State sells about 6% of the wine sold in the United States – and the United States is still a small percentage of the wine sold throughout the world. I think the wine industry and the town will just keep growing and we’ll have to have more restaurants and hotels come in to keep up with us. Because you don’t drive over here from Seattle and go back the same day – you’ve got to stay overnight.
As I’m sure you well know, when you go into the wine business you’ve got two choices – keep your winery small, selling high-end wines over the counter or you have to go out and distribute your wines. The distribution part has gotten more difficult as the giant distributors keep gobbling up the smaller distributors. Those large distributors aren’t interested in a winery the size of Pepper Bridge no matter what our reputation is because they want to make deals with large grocery chains to get the price way down and they want to talk pallets instead of bottles.
WWWL: What do you think it will take for the real estate prices to increase significantly in Walla Walla? With the growth in the wine industry and all the nice restaurants here you’d think prices would go up a lot. But the prices are still somewhat depressed; it seems that the prices can’t go up much until the people that live here full-time figure out how to get higher paying jobs.
NM: I think it’s a product of the average age of the residents in town. When I first came to Walla Walla there were mostly wheat ranches. The oldest son would inherit the wheat ranch when the parents got to an age where they decided they should quit working. The oldest son would then take over the ranch and support the parents the rest of their lives. The younger boys would either work under him or leave the area -- and most of them left the area. And the girls would either marry a rancher or leave the area. Because of that, the average age was way up when I first got to town. But it’s way down now, as business attracts people looking for work. We have no trouble finding people to work the counter, but it can be difficult to find competent people with experience who know the wine business.
WWWL: Tell me a bit about your family. I believe you have five children and two of them are working in the wine industry.
NM: That’s right. My oldest son Shane manages our largest vineyard and my son Eric manages Amavi. I have three daughters, all of whom are professionals working in the Seattle area. Two daughters have PHD’s, one is an attorney and one did brain cell research for several years. Now she’s on Vashon, designing clothes and selling them on the internet. I make frequent efforts to get them to move back to Walla Walla!
WWWL: What do you like to drink when you’re at home on a typical night?
NM: I used to drink a lot more Bordeaux than I do now. My wife actually prefers the fresh fruit instead of the older wines. If we ever come close to having fisticuffs it would be over the fact that I brought her a 20-year old bottle of Bordeaux and she’d say she’d rather have a good wine (laughs) like the ones we have here in Walla Walla. I’ve shifted a bit over the years. I grew up liking a lot of wine from Burgundy, but my palate doesn’t pick up all the little nuances that I used to get. I can tell you this – your palate doesn’t improve with age.
WWWL: I’m gonna put you on the spot here. Hypothetically, the world’s going to end in 24 hours. What bottle in your cellar do you have to open?
NM: I’m biased here of course, but it’s a 1999 Pepper Bridge Cabernet. I turned 80 last September and I opened up a Magnum each of our 1998 Cab and our 1999 Cab and they’re both drinking beautifully. I don’t know how much longer they’ll last – I tell people that I no longer think in terms of 20 years into the future when talking about a bottle of wine (laughs). I’ve got some very nice old wines that I like to taste and show. I think a 15-year-old wine that still has some fruit in it is preferable to the real old ones. I’ve got some of the first Woodward Canyon vintages, but I don’t have any of the ’78 Leonetti. In fact, Gary (Figgins) and I drank the last one together. I bought Randy Dunn’s wines [Dunn Vineyards in Napa] for a long time because they were supposed to last forever. They didn’t. I bought some for the grandkids for when they turn 21, but the wines have gone over the hill.
WWWL: Thank you so much for your time. This was fascinating.
Noe Martinez, the cellarmaster at Rasa Vineyards, sat down with us recently to talk about Rasa, his career in the wine industry and his new wine label, Xenolith Vintners. For information on Noe's wines and to join the Xenolith mailing list, go to www.xenolithvintners.com.
WALLA WALLA WINE LIMO: Let’s talk a bit about your background, where you’re from and how you got into wine.
NOE MARTINEZ: I was born in San Francisco, but we moved a lot as a kid; I lived in Guatemala for a couple of years with family down there. I was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household, so when I was nine, we moved to Israel and became Israeli citizens.
WWWL: That’s a pretty dangerous place to live!
NOE: When we moved there it was actually between the Intifada’s. There was five or six years of peace and it was a really great time to live in Israel. We moved from there right around the time that the second Intifada began. From Israel we moved to England, but eventually ended up in Seattle, as my mom [a computer programmer] was working for Amazon. And then I ended up at WSU.
WWWL: How’d you get into wine?
NOE: I was raised in a religious family, so we always had wine for Friday and Saturday dinners. Because I moved so much, I was home schooled and when I was 12 as a chemistry project we learned about fermentation and I made beer and wine. I just thought that was the coolest thing. I became responsible for making the bread for the family every week. And then when I got to WSU at age 16, I started making a lot of beer and wine. I was originally more into beer because at the time I thought that it was a more noble profession (laughs). It wasn’t until I moved to Walla Walla and started going through the wine program at the Community College that I really developed a love for wine.
WWWL: So how long have you been at your current job at Rasa?
NOE: I’ve been at Rasa since the spring of 2014. I studied under Billo (Rasa Vineyards winemaker) when he was a teacher of Viticulture at the Community College.
WWWL: Where did you work before landing at Rasa?
NOE: I did crush at Garrison Creek in 2009, then I spent a couple of years with Charles Smith Wines. After that I worked crush at Artifex and then I was the Assistant Winemaker at Cougar Crest for three years before coming here. Mark Hoffmeister was the cellarmaster at Rasa before me and he and I used to sit next to each other in the front of Billo’s class. Mark was leaving and it was a great opportunity and perfect timing for me. It was great because it kept me in Walla Walla and kept my family rooted in this place that we really like – I have a wife and three kids (ages 7, 3 and 1).
WWWL: So how did you end up in Walla Walla in the first place?
NOE: I was living in Pullman and working in restaurants at the time and through a friend I heard about the opportunity for a job at the Whoopemup Hollow Café [in Waitsburg at the time]. I’d heard about the wine program in Walla Walla and there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for advancement in Pullman, so I decided to go where the opportunity was – my first job at Whoopemup was as their dishwasher and I just moved up the ladder. Now, as a cellarmaster it’s kind of like being a glorified dishwasher, but it’s a lot of fun and there’s a lot of glory.
WWWL: That leads to my next question – what exactly does a cellarmaster do?
NOE: Billo, our winemaker at Rasa Vineyards, makes all the winemaking decisions. When the fruit comes in, he tells me what he wants to happen. I’m the one that knows how to make it happen and it’s my job to make sure it happens on time, on his schedule. I also manage the cellar crew here. My job is to do the best that I can to fulfill Billo’s wishes and needs as far as what he wants to have happen at the winery. And also to be his eyes and ears, tasting the wines constantly and letting him know which wines might be in need of more attention.
WWWL: Tell us about the winemaking philosophy behind the Rasa wines.
NOE: At Rasa we’re really interested in terroir. We’re interested in finding terroir and emphasizing terroir. We work with lots of different vineyards and we look for the best vineyard blocks that we can get a hold of. We try to find out what those vineyard blocks bring to the table – what is it they have to offer and how we can make the wine express itself as best as possible. When we get to the end of the wine’s life cycle in the barrel, we go through blending trials to determine which wines will be used in blends and which will be isolated as single-vineyard.
So to summarize, our winemaking philosophy is sort of “Wait and See”. We bring in fruit we like, we work with the vineyard managers and we sort of let the wine make itself, guiding it slowly through its natural process. And end once we’ve seen what the wine has become and where it’s going then we figure out whether the wine can be bottled on its own or what we need to do to it to put it together. That’s why we have such a broad spectrum of wines – last year we bottled 15 or 16 wines and they came from over 100 different lots, all independently managed and curated.
WWWL: Tell us about the tasting room experience at Rasa. We love bringing people to Rasa because it’s such a unique experience. The guests typically get to interact with the winemaker and learn a bit about the wine and the story behind each of the wines. Billo quite obviously enjoys meeting people and sharing his wine with them.
NOE: That’s true. Until recently the tasting room was right in the production area of the winery, but we moved it so now you can taste the wine without worrying about getting splashed (laughs) and you can actually watch the production going on while you’re tasting our wines.
WWWL: What do you like to drink on a typical night?
NOE: I’ve been drinking a lot of Grenache lately. My favorite wines in the whole world are Châteauneuf-du-Pape , Vieux Telegraphe and Seppeltsfield Port. In the last year there’s really been a nice influx of affordable and delicious Grenache and GSM blends in Washington and I’m really enjoying those. Before I got into Grenache, my go-to was Sauvignon Blanc. It’s dangerous, it drinks like water (laughs).
WWWL: You’ve got 24 hours to live – what bottle in your cellar do you have to open?
NOE: I think it would probably be an ’03 Morrison Lane Syrah. ’02 and ’03 were spectacular vintages for Syrah in Walla Walla. Morrison Lane is an incredible vineyard and I think that ’03 is the bomb. I’ve been holding on to that one for a while, almost afraid to drink it because there’s so little of it left – and once it’s gone it’s gone! It was a beautiful vintage.
WWWL: So you’ve got a new venture, your own wine label, that’s just being released. Tell us about that.
NOE: Yes, it’s called Xenolith Vintners. A Xenolith is a foreign fragment of rock that’s imbedded in another piece of rock. Our first wine is 100% from The Rocks in Milton Freewater. Pretty tiny production for the first vintage, only 30 cases. We don’t have a tasting room, but we will have an event at Fall Release [November 4th from 10am to 2pm] at the Powerhouse Theater. Our website is at www.xenolithvineyards.com. The wine can be purchased at our website and we ship to 36 states or it can be picked up at the event at Fall Release. In order to attend the event, you have to join our mailing list [free to join] and the information on joining the mailing list is also on the website.
WWWL: What’s the price point on the GSM and are there other Xenolith wines in the pipeline?
NOE: It’s $45. There will be other wines, but I’m still working on them. I really only want the best wines to come out with this label. The next releases will probably be a Cab and a Viogner.
WE WOULD LOVE TO HAVE YOU VISIT SOON!
Walla Walla Wine Limo is legally licensed and insured. WA State UBI #603600954
Cities we serve: Walla Walla, Milton Freewater (OR), Lowden, Touchet, Waitsburg, Wallula, Dayton, College Place, Pendleton (OR), Pasco, Kennewick, Richland, Burbank, Dixie, Prescott