Friday, March 31, 2006

French Renaissance in Walla Walla

In the April 2006 issue of the Wine Spectator, an article titled "Washington State, Europe's Newest Appellation?" by Seattle Times wine writer Paul Gregutt describes the abundance of European wine-making talent that is already evident among Washington's wineries and helping the state's wine reach a new, sophisticated level.

Many talented winemakers from France are finding their way to Walla Walla, especially. There are many reasons: the soil is conducive to growing traditional French wine grapes, the climate is similar to Burgundy and Champagne, and there is a growing industry to learn from as well as advise. Perhaps most important, these young winemakers emigrate to come to our valley because it is easier for them to assume positions of authority in the business here as opposed to in France, where it is difficult for them to become executives until the older, established leadership in the industry passes on -- and especially difficult if they do not come from a winemaking family and business. Also, if you are a young adventurous winemaker who hails from a winemaking family, often you are shackled to a very particular winemaking tradition and style of wine; there's no encouragement or room to branch out creatively.

In any event, we are blessed to have these viticulteurs and their talents here in the valley, among them:

Christophe Baron at Cayuse Cellars
Virginie Bourgue at Bergevin Lane
Marie-Eve Gilla at Forgeron Cellars
Serge Laville at Spring Valley Vineyard
Gilles Nicault at Longshadows Vintners
Jean-Francois Pellet at Pepper Bridge Winery and Amavi Cellars(3rd generation Swiss winemaker)and most recently,

French winemaker and Napa Valley resident Phillipe Melka recently bottled his first wine (a Bordeaux-styled blend called Pirouette) for Longshadows Vintners.

In the article, Gilles Nicault really sums it up, I think, for young French winemakers seeking to establish themselves in the New World, especially in the Walla Walla area. "In France," he says, "there is no way I could make Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Riesling all together at a single winery!"

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