Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Righteous! Up Close and Personal with Josh McDaniels of Sweet Valley Wines

Sweet Valley Wines, in Walla Walla, was labeled by the press as Washington State's 500th winery. The winery project was established in 2004 and started out as simply with a father and a uncle wanting to showcase their young winemaker's talent. Their first release in 2007 was 105 cases of their signature Double Barrel Red Blend which completely sold out.

Josh McDaniels was that young winemaker and along with his talent, Sweet Valley Wines has seen their winery grow. In fact, a lot is happening at Sweet Valley right now: they have opened a new tasting room downtown Walla Walla at 12 N. Second and have developed a second label. And on a personal note, Josh just graduated from the Center for Enology and Viticulture in Walla Walla, and Josh finally turned 21 on May 4th, right after his third release! With all of this great news for Sweet Valley Wines and Josh, I knew I had to visit with this very ambitious winemaker.

W5: "Okay Josh, I know there is a story here. I understand that Don Redman of Mannina Cellars and Chris Figgins of Leonetti Cellar exposed you to the world of wine. Why wine? What was it about the grapes that intrigued you?"

Josh: "Luckily Don and Chris did expose me to wine and I could not have asked for two better people. I grew up in Walla Walla and remember Gary (Figgins of Leonetti) and my Dad working at the local cannery together. I remember my sisters and I picking peas off of what is now the Loess Vineyard, so I have been around for the growth of the valley to expose me, in ways, to itself.

It had to be wine because of the true beauty, competitive lifestyle, the personal challenge, and the allure that quality and Walla Walla wine has going for it. I guess I have always been attracted to these things, and after hours of working for Don, with no pay, I knew I had to like it, right? I tend to get bored with monotonous work, and the number of hats I can wear in this industry has definitely been a plus too.

W5: "Josh, I 'heard through the grape vine,' actually it was from your father David, who told me you weren't even 21 years of age when you first started on your venture of cellar rat. How old were you and did any of your underage friends think it was cool that you were in an alcohol environment?"

Josh: "My parents were definitely aware of my age at the time (especially my mom), so I am sure he let you know (I turned 21 a few weeks ago, so no more worries!)… I believe I was 15 when I started volunteering for Don as his 'cellar rat.' That soon turned into, with Chris’s (Figgins) help, a small vineyard in my parents backyard, and the beginnings of Sweet Valley.

It was my senior year of high school that we bottled our first vintage of Sweet Valley, the 2005 Double Barrel. A lot of my friends did think it was cool, but that didn’t help me get them out to the winery to help me work. I think at that time, the focus was more on Keystone Light and Pabst Blue Ribbon than premium red wine - - imagine that!

As the winery has gotten more serious, a lot of friends have been there for me, and not just for the alcohol!"

W5: "What is your favorite place to be? In the cellar or out in the vineyards and why?"

Josh: "There’s nothing like being in the vineyard at 6 in the morning with the Hispanic radio stations blaring out of the tractor, and on the other hand, seeing the winemaking process in the winery is amazing too (usually a different music choice though). I could not put a 'favorite' on either of the two, but they do have their moments, for sure."

W5: "Josh, tell me about Sweet Valley Wine's new label, 'Righteous.' I had an opportunity to taste the Righteous Malbec at the Vintage Walla Walla's Pavilion Pour. And it was well - - - righteous! The name and the label are so different from the traditional Sweet Valley label and in fact, it expresses youth. I am betting this is your conception?"

Josh: "The new Righteous label (malbec, red blend and rose') has been a lot of fun for me and yes, it was my conception. And sometimes it really reflects on the lifestyle that I live, in respect to extreme sports, being at the beach, on the mountain, drinking wine, friends, family, God, food, and a lot more. The debut, in this down economy, has been perfect, too. With lower prices and different winemaking styles, it has allowed us to branch out from our typical Sweet Valley customers and reach a whole new demographic- for the most part.

As the label says, I try to bring the class of the Last Supper, and the savvy of surfer dudes into each glass of Righteous Wine. I agree that it does express a sense of youth, but with all of the millennials out there drinking wine, and the baby boomers retiring and wishing they were still young, how could we go wrong? "

W5: "I couldn't agree more with your thoughts on the millennials and us baby boomers wishing we were still young - at least when it comes to the creaking joints.

So, tell me - - what does the future hold for Josh McDaniels?"

Josh: "Lately, my Dad and I have been very busy getting into a vineyard, drawing up our new winery plans, and working on our own private wine label, which have all been our own personal long term goals since the beginning. All of this is being taken very seriously with no hurry, in order to preserve the quality of the grapes and the wine experience. Along with that, I am continuing my education in wine, with plans to move on to my next degree which, as of right now, will be business related. Lastly, I have been building my winery and vineyard consulting company up (j.d. mcdaniels consulting) to be able to hopefully take on more clients upon graduation of college.

Ultimately, the future will be trying to enjoy the life I lead as much as possible."

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