I am excited that Washington Wine Month has finally arrived! I am on the road quite a bit this time of year spreading the gospel of Tertulia. I really enjoy seeing so many of you celebrating right alongside me. Personally, I celebrate Washington wine from January 1st till December 31st each year but I digress. I was thinking in this blog post I would talk about some of the history of my favorite wine region and winery and my connection to them, that being Walla Walla and Tertulia of course.
Did you know that the first wines in Washington started in Walla Walla? It is true, Italian settlers got sick of the broken wagon wheels and dysentery along the Oregon trail and decided to go no further. They planted Cinsault in the valley, which we coincidently have in our own Riviere Galets vineyard. Somewhere along the way the Italians stopped making wine. Maybe it was the failed experiment called prohibition, silly teetotalers! It wasn’t for more than 100 years that another Italian family would reignite the torch that would ultimately lead Walla Walla into one of the great wine regions of the world.
It was 1977 when Gary Figgins started Leonetti Cellar named after his grandparents. It was the first commercial winery in Walla Walla and there would be many first’s for Leonetti Cellar. It just happens I was born around the time Leonetti began their first harvest. Once again, I digress. Leonetti would bring Cabernet Sauvignon to the forefront and become Washington’s first cult winery. Close on Leonetti’s heals were Woodward Canyon and then L’Ecole 41. Soon there would be too many to recite. Needless to say, Walla Walla was on the map! (I would like to thank Leonetti for the wonderful scholarship I received while attending the Viticulture and Enology program here in Walla Walla, also the friendship and support from the folks at Woodward Canyon.)
I remember back in 2001 I was working in the tasting room for Chateau Saint Michele in Woodinville. My wife and I took a few days off to visit Walla Walla during Spring Release weekend. We visited about 5 wineries then caught a movie while we sobered up. In the evenings while everyone was living it up at White-House Crawford we were camping just outside of town eating hotdogs and drinking our favorite find of that day. I wouldn’t change anything about those days. We fell in love with not just the wines but the beauty of the Walla Walla Valley. We would dream about living in Walla Walla while I made wine.
The next year I was working in the cellar at Columbia Crest where I specialized in wine explosions. After a year in the cellar I decided I needed to make a change and pursue my dream of becoming a winemaker. One day I called in sick and drove from Kennewick to Walla Walla. I met with the now late Stan Clarke, who I am sure is in heaven right now kicking God’s butt in racquetball. Stan was the viticulture instructor for the Walla Walla Community College’s new Viticulture and Enology Department. He was also in charge of enrolling new students. I briefly met with him discussing my work experience and ambitions. I distinctly recall telling my wife I wasn’t sure what we were going to do because I had just signed up for 20 credits. This was the first step in fulfilling my dream.
During my two years in the Enology & Viticulture program, there were about 50 wineries in the Walla Walla Valley. It seemed like one or two new wineries would pop up each month. The wine industry was exploding. The valley was becoming well known for its quality wines. In February of 2005 I met Jim O’Connell. He came out to visit Washington wine country with my Uncle Greg Lark. I showed them around my familiar haunts. We were all impressed with the sense of cooperation and dedication to making quality wines especially in Walla Walla. Two weeks later Jim gave me a call. He said he wanted to start a winery in Walla Walla and would I be the winemaker.
The winery was born and we chose Tertulia for its name as it translates to a gathering of friends in Spanish. That is what wine is all about gathering with friends and family to share a bottle of wine. I started work just after graduation and Tertulia received its bond a few weeks before the 2005 harvest. I believe we were the 86th bonded winery in the Valley. Over the years Jim’s vision for Tertulia has led us to where we are now. We have a state-of-the-art production facility, three estate vineyards in Walla Walla and three tasting rooms. Along the way some great people have joined our Tertulia. Ryan Driver with the green thumb manages our vineyard crew and our three estate vineyards. They keep me stocked up with premium grapes. We have Kristine Bono who manages sales and has put together an amazing team in our three tasting rooms. Kristine is always on my case telling me I need to make more wine! Now there are close to 150 wineries in Walla Walla and over 900 in the state of Washington. Our success has mirrored the industries with the awards, ratings and reviews we have received over the years. More importantly we are all grateful for the support we get from our club members and fans of Tertulia. Let’s all give a big toast to Washington wine month.