“Let the Vineyard Speak” – Musings on the Walla Walla Experience at the 2010 Wine Bloggers’ Conference

“Let the vineyard speak.” – I heard this phrase a couple of times during the whirlwind of experiences at the WBC 2010 in Walla Walla. To summarize what I learned about Walla Walla and the wine, I honestly believe that the artisans making wine in this region use this phrase as a guiding mantra.

In general, all the producers, growers and owners we met expressed a commitment to minimal intervention in the growth and path towards finished product. The results are an increasing number of organic wines that are really excellent examples of the region’s terrior.

I had some experience with Washington wines prior to visiting, and learned a great deal about the hallmarks and breadth of wine experiences available in the valley. Some but not all of the things that stuck with me are:

  • A commitment to elegant meritage style blends. Of the many we sampled, there was a distinct elegance characterized by beautiful floral hints, followed by in some cases the lovely graphite and rustic mineral finish often associated with Bordeaux.
  • “Letting the vineyard speak” was evidenced by the rocky, mineral soils we observed in the River Rock Vineyards, and tasting it in the fantastic Buty Wines grown there.
  • Balance was a hallmark through out the lineups of many of the wineries. There were very few “monster” wines; even the Syrahs and GSMs had nice balance and finesse. (The exception being the wines of Charles Smith, whom I sense wouldn’t have it any other way. – we wouldn’t want him to either, as they are such fun wines).
  • The whites were full of Old World-esque minerality (DeLille’s Chaleur White – wow!), and wonderful acidity. I loved the number of seafood beckoning Chenin Blancs, and gorgeously subtle Rieslings.
  • Another highlight was the handful of Rosés we sampled. Spicy, with light red berries, they are fantastic summer wines at even more striking prices. Barnard and Griffin, Mannina (made from Sangiovese) and L’Ecole 41 (whose is a Grenache rosé) all had delicious sips under $20.

Walla Walla is a fantastic place that is so welcoming for the wine enthusiast. The vineyards are beautiful and the vintners are warm and genuinely interested in sharing the work that they do. The town center of Walla Walla is also a great stepping off point to explore the wine, with dozens of tasting rooms, cool restaurants (tasty pizza at The Olive, by the way) and a fantastic mix of generations of architecture.

  • lisamattson

    Dear Sean,

    It was nice to meet you (albeit briefly) at the Wine Bloggers Conference. I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to talk more.

    The video diaries we recorded are now live if you want to check them out at YouTube’s Wine Bloggers Channel.

    Not sure if you attended our panel discussion on vlogging, but the Jordan vlog launched in February and is located at http://blog.jordanwinery.com. If you have any suggestions on content, I’d greatly appreciate the advice from a veteran blogger.

    Hope to see you in Charlottesville next summer – if not before.

    Lisa Mattson
    The Journey of Jordan: a wine and food video blog

  • http://www.justgrapeswine.com Shea

    Nice reflections Sean, and a reminder that we really need to share a bottle again sometime soon – it's been ages. I always wonder about that phrase 'letting the vineyard speak'. Sometimes I think it is so vague as to mean nothing and it is so often appropriated to mean almost anything by marketing types that I'm not sure it communicates much to consumers. This is a shame given how it CAN be conceived (as your enumerated points spell out). Is this just a way to have a catch-all phrase instead of the fear that consumers will get scared off at all the technicalities of wine making? I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

  • Shea

    Crap, just realized that Graham wrote this – well just ditto all that to you too Graham

  • Graham

    Thanks Shea. I agree that this can be a trite statement, and I struggled with the lean toward cliche. However, it was a consistent theme amongst the winemakers we met. They were not trying to be something they are not, and the wines we tasted reflected this in my mind.

    The wines are, for the most part “honest” and the producers do not spend time justifying or over compensating with what “they were aiming for.” There is a sense of not letting the brand or the maker be the “sage on the stage” as we say in education, but more a “guide on the side” letting the wine do the talking. In my opinion, this is nice to see.

    The “catch all” nature is a struggle I agree. In this situation I would say if they can emphasize the “minimal intervention” idea it will be to their benefit as people are desiring this in all the products they consume.

    In general, I like the direction of the wines, and the approach of the people we me there. I think there are many producers around here who could learn a great deal from this example.

    It certainly would be good to sip a glass again soon. Your notes on the Thackery wines were good stuff. I was sad to miss this. I have an '03 Mencia I had planned to bring. Will save it for a gathering soon.

  • http://drinknectar.com Josh Wade

    Wonderful recap. It's great to be introducd to your blog. I'm a first time reader and I think we met at WBC, but hard to tell with all the people that were there. I look forward to reading more from you.

    (nectarwine on twitter)


  • Graham

    Thanks Josh! Appreciate the feedback. Cheers!