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Celebrate Walla Walla: An opportunity to make a new vintage of wine memories in the valley

Posted in Events, Interviews, Wineries

Vintage memories of Vintage Walla Walla:

Chuck Reininger cracking wise with Rick Small during the Vintage tasting of old WW juice, looking at the legendary winemaker from Woodward Canyon over the edge of a glass of Woody’s Old Vines cab and asking with a wry smile, “Who made this swill?”

Or…

A walking tour of Mill Creek Upland Vineyard guided by Chris Figgins, then participating in a squirt gun fight over a vineyard lunch in 95-degree heat of late spring in the valley.

Or…

Sitting around a roaring bonfire, bundled against the evening chill on a windy, starry June evening and wondering if it was possible to see all the way to Japan from the wheat-covered hilltops north of Walla Walla.

Or …

Following winemaker Dave Merfeld through the Northstar barrel room and into the winery lab for a comparative tasting of samples that would become Northstar mainstays in a few years.

Or…

Enjoying music, wine and the company of friends on a warm evening at a couple of small tables after midnight in the Marcus Whitman parking lot and wondering if Kyle Mussman was going to break up the party, only to have him join in when he walked up.

Or…

Well, you get the picture. Vintage Walla Walla was one of those annual events that helped generate lifelong memories about Washington wines. (The accompanying photos illustrate some of our memories from Vintage WW 2010.)

So my heart cracked a little a couple of years ago when the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance announced that it was replacing VWW with an event called Celebrate Walla Walla Wine. Because Celebrate is a new event, I won’t speculate on what’s ahead this weekend, other than to say the itinerary looks terrific. Here’s what wine alliance boss Duane Wollmuth had to say recently in a brief email interview.

WAWinePR: What is it that makes Celebrate WW special? Other events have great wines, great winemakers, and a great setting – what’s makes this one something that a wine lover shouldn’t miss?

Duane Wollmuth: Well, several things.  Of course, the key is a special focus on Cab this year and the Walla Walla-Napa Valley comparison.  The Cab focus will only be on Friday, however, so attendees will have plenty of opportunities to take and enjoy all other WW wines. Of the six activities taking place over the three days, the feature is the Winemaker Panel, chaired by Paul Gregutt and consisting of three of WW’s premier winemakers/wineries.  The comparison will be between 2009 cabs made specifically from Walla Walla and Napa grapes.  No Columbia Valley grapes, so the winemaker panel is a unique opportunity to taste a head-to-head comparison.

Another attraction is the participation of two of IntoWine.com’s top 100 most influential people in the U.S. wine industry, Patrick Comiskey and Paul Gregutt.

The Vintage pour on Thursday afternoon at Corliss will be wines from the 2006 vintage or earlier.  For the first time, a number of these wineries will be making a small quantity of these wines available for purchase over the weekend for those attending the vintage pour. The Thursday Vintage Pour and Meet the Winemakers wine reception and dinner will take place at Corliss Estates Winery.  This will be a special opportunity to see and experience the Corliss winery and property, as they are not normally open to the public.

WWPR: I’m coming in for the weekend and plan to attend some of the Celebrate WW events – what else do you recommend besides wine tasting?

DW: There are a handful of other activities going on in the community. Here are a few suggestions: Lunch at the Reserve House at Woodward Canyon Winery. (Friday – Sunday, 11:30 – 3 p.m.); A special Riedel wine glass tasting with Georg Riedel Saturday at Pepper Bridge Winery with Georg Riedel; the Walla Walla Farmer’s Market Saturday and Sunday at 4th & Main; the Downtown Summer Concert Series on Saturday and Sunday on the corner of 1st & Main; the living history performance Saturday and Sunday at the Fort Walla Walla Museum.

And many of our wineries are doing special tastings and events – Dusted Valley is having a 10-year anniversary celebration, Forgeron Cellars is doing a vertical tasting of vintage cabs, and SYZYGY is tasting through some of their library wines.

WWPR: This event is all about Cabernet, but if I love white wine, what’s in it for me?

DW: As I mentioned, the focus on Cab is only on Friday.  The vintage tasting on Thursday will include some other varieties as well as will the Meet the Winemakers and Dinner in the Corliss Estates courtyard.  About 60 wineries will be pouring current releases of all varieties so there will be plenty of white and rose wines available.  There also will be ample time over the weekend to visit the Valley’s wineries and taste their wines of any variety.

WWPR: Washington vs. California – what, in your opinion, are the things I should look for when I taste these wines? What makes WA cabernet stand out vs. California Cab, and vice versa?

(Duane deferred this answer to Pepper Bridge winemaker Jean-Francois Pellet. Here’s what JF had to say): The goal here is not to say that one is better than the other. The whole idea behind Celebrate is to expose consumers to different varietals every year. Next year, it will be Syrah. You may notice some differences due to growing regions and the style of the winemaker. But it’s not a tasting to show how good we are. We want to show that cabernets made in different parts of the world are different, but they are all good.

WWPR: If I want to get an autograph for a WA or CA rock star winemaker, who should I look for? And what is the one question I should / or shouldn’t ask them?

DW: I’ll leave this one up to you.  There will be about 70 wineries involved in the weekend.  Who the “rock” stars or can’t miss winemakers are is up to the beholder.  Like my kids, I don’t have any favorites.  Nice political answer, huh?

Celebrate Walla Walla Wine runs Thursday through Sunday. Although many of the winemaker dinners are sold out, Wollmuth said tickets remain for the other events. Why not take a quick impromptu trip over to the Walla Walla Valley this weekend and make some memories of your own.